What we think BECOMES

I’ve been pondering how the choices we make can impact our lives in very big, and very real, ways.

Most choices are so small, so innocuous, so seemingly innocent, that we often make them without really thinking at all.

We dismiss the voice of caution. We disregard the impulse to wait, to think it through. We get swept up in the moment, and it seems harmless enough, so we just go with it.

What really got me started on this journey was my second book. Many years ago, I became intrigued by a question. I had heard of a young mom who had cheated on her husband. To all casual observers, they seemed like a happy couple. They were in love. They had a beautiful family. She was a good person.

What does it take to get a person, a good person who loves his/her spouse, to take that step?

I wasn’t curious about the casual cheaters; that’s a whole different animal, but the ones who aren’t wired that way, who aren’t narcissistic, who do try to do the right thing–how do they choose such a devastating path?

As I contemplated, I attempted to put myself in the head of a person like this. It very quickly became obvious to me that it isn’t a single decision; it’s a slow slide into a choice. It’s not one choice made in a vacuum. No one wakes up and decides to take that step unless they have already been riding the landslide of dissatisfaction.

It starts with the little choices. The seemingly innocuous ones. It starts in the mind.

Depending on the person and the situation, that journey can look, and be, very different, but I believe, it all starts with careless thinking.

the mind1As a Psychology professor, I have long had a fascination with the mind. The mind is powerful. What we think can literally change who we are and how we live.

I’ve explored this topic multiple times in terms of self-talk, the lies we tell ourselves, and the false narratives that we adopt as truth, but I think there is another angle that gets less attention. It’s even more subtle, and it is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction.

Our daydreams. Our wishes. And our comparisons.

Alicia Britt Chole puts it this way in her book Anonymous.

Consider a new parent drowning in diapers who daydreams about the freedom and time he would have if he were still single or childless…who wakes up with less patience and more resentment toward his spouse and children. Or a woman lost in daydreams of being swept away by an attentive Prince Charming…who wakes up, rolls over, and wonders why her husband is looking more and more like a frog. Or a young professional smiling, lost in a daydream about high-profile companies fighting over him with ever-increasing pay scales…who wakes up somehow less satisfied and motivated in his current job (Chole 122).

Thoughts like these start the landslide. They fester. They breed dissatisfaction.

Not everyone has the affair, chooses a divorce, or makes a huge devastating choice of one kind or another, but MANY live in a haze of discontentment. Dissatisfaction that steals their joy and kills the love.

And it starts with such small choices.

Reading too many romance novels.

Chatting with someone who isn’t your significant other through social media (hey, it’s just talking–no harm no foul).

Daydreaming about the what if’s (what if I hadn’t married her? What if I’d stayed with so-and-so? What if I’d taken that job instead?).

Comparing your spouse to your friend’s spouse, or your job to the job someone else has–social media is terrible in this regard. The photoshopped version of our “friends” lives always make the grass seem greener somewhere else…anywhere else.

And before you know it, dissatisfaction has begun to grow.

Chole puts it this way:

Vain imaginations make us discontent…we often dismiss our daydreams as harmless, as though our minds were some sort of locked vault (Chole 122).

The thing is, we know better. Psychology has shown us again and again that our mind is a HUGE influencer. What we think is what becomes. What we think infiltrates our emotions, our lives, our decisions, our families.

Our minds are not contained environments; they are controlling environments (Chole 122).

We need to pay attention to the stray thoughts we think, to our daydreams, to the comparisons we make–because they influence everything.

Terrible life destroying decisions start here.

Perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent start here.

Our tomorrow starts here.

We need to pay more attention to these stray wishes and dreams. And sometimes, we need to make a choice to stop wishing, stop dreaming, and to remember why we chose to be exactly where we are–because there was a reason, and very possibly that reason still exists if we only take the time to remember it.

the mind

 

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Review: The Ghost Orchid

Rating: 3.5 stars

I enjoyed this book. I did. But, there were a couple of very large flaws that prevented me from loving it.

ghost orchidThe book is the type that typically pulls me in completely. The premise, including its duel timeline where the present is unraveling an incident or mystery from the past, accompanied by excellently written prose, is one of my favorites. The plot was interesting, even if the mystery was pretty predictable–I anticipated every single “aha” well in advance of its unveiling. Still, I enjoyed it despite this, and had it not been for a critical couple of factors, I likely could have loved the book despite this. Goodman’s style reminds me very much of Susanna Kearsely who happens to be one of my favorite authors. That being said, she does differ from Kearsley in a couple of regards. The first being her characterization.

Characterization, or a lack thereof, was one of the fatal flaws in this novel. Goodman has a full cast of characters, both in the past timeline and in the present one, and she doesn’t do a good job of developing any of them. For the first third of the book, I felt entirely detached from the characters. Things got marginally better as the novel progressed, but not by much. I didn’t feel like I knew any of the characters which meant that I didn’t care overly much what happened to them. As a writer myself, I’ve always seen characterization as being absolutely integral to the immersion aspect of a story. A reader has to care. A reader must understand why a character is doing what they’re doing. I felt like Goodman only got skin deep, even with her main characters. Like I said, it wasn’t non-existent, but it certainly wasn’t well developed either.

My other big issue was with the Ne’Moss-i-Ne and Jacynta angle. I felt like this aspect of the story dangled. It wasn’t fully established. Ne’Moss-i-Ne didn’t really tie in to the past timeline at all–except through Corinth’s heritage. Why was Aurora drawn to her story? Why would she build a fountain essentially honoring her? There were hints that Bosco had been cursed by Ne’Moss-i-Ne…was this why? It really wasn’t established.

And why would Ne’Moss-i-Ne, a wronged young woman, lure other women to their deaths? It wasn’t in her character. Wouldn’t she have felt more inclined to protect them? Especially Corinth and Ellis who were her descendants? It just didn’t make sense. Especially with the whole raven feather protection aspect of the story. These ideas seemed to be at odds with one another.

The Jacynta idea was just left hanging there completely undeveloped. What was the point of this “character” if you can call it that? Just symbolic of the haunting of Bosco? It didn’t add anything to the story.

Because of this, I very felt dissatisfied by the ending. Ending by fusing Corinth and Ne’Moss-i-Ne together through symbolism didn’t really make sense. It just didn’t work for me. Ne’Moss-i-Ne tried to kill Corinth and her baby, but now that Corinth is dead, they’re buddies? And why would Ne’Moss-i-Ne care that Ellis had figured out Corinth’s story? Why would she appear at this time to Ellis? And who the hell is the man supposed to represent? Tom? Ne’Moss-i-Ne’s betraying lover? I have no clue. Goodman was trying too hard with her symbolism here. I like the idea of the Ne’Moss-i-Ne myth, but it just didn’t work, not as she wrote it.

That being said, despite these shortcomings, I did enjoy the book. I do, however, feel that, with a little bit of revision and tweaking, it could have been a truly excellent book rather than just an okay/good one.

Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette

3.5 Stars

This is the second unorthodox epistolary novel I’ve read in the last two weeks. Again, I find myself appreciating the attempt, but dissatisfied with the whole. It was entertaining. It was clever. I did laugh frequently.

But as a story, the disjointed tid bits, the huge sections of telling and not showing, the hugely stereotypical caricatures that were the characters, left me on the outside looking in. I want a story that pulls me in, immerses me.

Even when it’s fantastical, I want a level of believably. I want characters that are empathetic. Bernadette was on a 20 year temper tantrum. I find that sad and horrifying, and not at all something I can identify with. The most grown up and rational character in the book was a teenager. Yes, I know that it’s satire, and that the extreme exaggerations are funny, and they are, but it’s not a novel. It’s a comedy sketch. I found most of the characters unlikable in the extreme–absolutely cringe worthy.

where'd you go

If you want a laugh without much substance, sure, pick it up.

If you’re looking for a good read with some actual meat to it, with compelling characters, this is not the book for you. You won’t find it here.

Are you a dumbass? (Oh, pardon me, I meant a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions)

After being stuck in traffic for far too long today, I couldn’t help but think of this blog…

musings from the trenches

When I was a girl I never swore. It was a matter of principle. My Mama had always said that swearing was a sign of ignorance. If you swore, it just meant that you were too stupid to come up with something better to say. And besides, I was a good Christian girl, and good Christian girls didn’t swear.

Blonde shocked woman holding anxiously the hand over mouth

It made sense to my young influential brain, so I didn’t question the logic, and I just didn’t do it.

But then I became an adult, and I came to realize the value of a well placed curse word. Sometimes, nothing says it better. It might say it with more intelligence, or even say it  more specifically, but not better.

As a writer, choosing the best word for a situation is very important, and so, I very frequently find myself swearing these days–much to my mother’s chagrin.

Case in point:…

View original post 443 more words

Start now. Not tomorrow. Not later. Not someday. Start NOW.

A couple of years ago, after my son turned 13, I realized that I only had five years left with him.

It felt like a sucker punch. Five years.

Five years to make him into a somewhat responsible human being.

Five years to instill all the values and habits for a healthy foundation.

Five years to somehow fit in all the things that I’d been putting off…that we’d do “someday.” “Later.” “When we have more time.”

Only five years.

laterThis was a complete paradigm shift for me. All of a sudden, I realized just how limited our supply of time is. Just how important it is to START NOW.

Not tomorrow.

Not someday.

NOW.

For me, one of the big somedays that I had continually put off was family vacations.

I had always wanted to go on family adventures. To make memories. To bond.

It was something that we really hadn’t done when I was growing up. Something I had always wished we had done. Something I had promised myself I would do with my own children.

But there was never the time.

Or money.

Or…the excuses went on.

But two years ago I realized that if I kept allowing those excuses to get in the way, it would NEVER HAPPEN.

I wasn’t okay with that.

The truth is, as a single mom, I had less money than I had when I first started making the excuses. That excuse was very real. And very valid.

But I was very determined.

I started thinking outside the box.

Flying was out. Too expensive. So wherever I went, I’d have to drive. With three kids. And I would be the only driver…

That was crazy! I couldn’t do that! …Could I?

Why not? It would be tough, sure…but, I could do it. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, but yeah, I could do it.

us1I did do it–On a shoestring budget, mainly staying with various friends across the country. We went to Nashville, drove the Dragon’s Tail through the Appalachian mountains from TN to NC. We went to the ocean in NC and saw the Civil War sites in VA. We went to Washington D.C. and then on to Gettysburg.

And it was awesome.

And it was hard.

But it was totally worth it.

Which is why, this year, two years later, we took to the road again. This time out west. From Carlsbad

us2

Canyons to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, AZ. We, of course, had to swing further west to take in the Grand Canyon before heading to Mesa Verde, Durango, and the Maroon Bells, CO. And, if we were already that far, how could we not take in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone,  and heck, half of Yellowstone was in MT anyway and I’d always wanted to see Glacier National Park…

I’m still a single mom and still the only driver.

I still had my excuses.

startBut I’ve come to realize that we will always have our excuses. The timing will never be perfect. There are ALWAYS reasons to put it off until tomorrow.

But is it important to you? Will you regret not having done it? Is it worth finding a way, MAKING a way?

Then start. Start now. Start with fear and start with doubt. Start with imperfections and start with failures….

But START.

 

I Can’t–the two little words that will get you precisely no where

I just got back from an amazing vacation.

In the middle of June, I hopped in my pathfinder with my three kids and we headed west. We went everywhere: New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. We hiked, and rafted, canoed, and hiked some more. We camped in bear infested territory. Cooked over the open fire.

usAnd did I mention that it was just me and my three kids?

Just me. And three kids. None of whom could drive…

Going from Texas, to Montana, to Wisconsin, back to Texas…

And I was the only driver.

And it was awesome.

Okay…Why am I bringing this up? Am I trying to pat myself on the back? Show how tough and cool I am?

No…but I do have something I want to prove, and it’s wrapped up in two simple, but incredibly powerful words: I can’t.

As I’ve talked with people about my trip, so many people have said, “Wow! That’s amazing! I could never do that.”

My answer is, “Uh, yeah you can.”

I’m no better than the next person. I’m not stronger or braver or smarter or whatever it is that people seem to think allows me to do what they “can’t.” There is no tangible reason I can and they can’t.

The only difference is I refused to accept those self imposed limitations. And that is exactly what they are–self imposed.

Lately, I’ve heard those words, “I can’t,” from so many different people.

I can'tI can’t say that…

I can’t do that…

I can’t be that…

I’ve started paying attention. Watching. Noting.

Those words tend to be a self fulfilling prophecy. What we think we can’t do, we never try, and therefore, we don’t do it–whatever “it” is.

It’s not that we can’t. It’s that we don’t.

We never try. We give up before we even know our limits. We accept less when we might have so much more. Because we have made an arbitrary decision that we can’t.

I find myself pondering which ways I have accepted the self imposed “I can’t.” Where have I, in anticipation of failure, simply thrown in the towel before I’ve ever even tried? Where have I allowed those pesky words to limit who I am, and who I can become?

self-imposed-limitations-215x300Pay attention. What areas of your life are you giving up on because you “can’t?”

What if it’s not that you can’t, but that you don’t think you can? Have you actually tried? Or have you just imposed limitations on what you are even willing to attempt?

Yeah, it might not be easy. But very little worth having in life is easy. It might be downright difficult. It might stretch you to your limits…it might surpass your expected limitations completely…and you might just find out, like I did, that you are capable of doing and being so much more than you imagined.

I dare you to turn the “I can’t” into “I can.”

I can’t wait to find out just what you can become!

 

 

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

funny-dating-memesI don’t often feel the lack of a man in my life, but occasionally, in the few spare minutes I have here and there, I realize that I really would like a partner. In these moments, I typically pull up the Bumble app.. Maybe there are other venues that work better, but as I said, I don’t want it quite enough to lay money down for it, and Bumble is free. So in these moments of weakness, I open up the app, and–let’s be honest–I go man shopping.

There are so very many problems with this. For one, my ambivalence to the idea of a relationship probably means it’s doomed before it ever begins. The fact that it really does feel like shopping…well, that’s just kind of sad and wrong. And, perhaps the biggest problem of all, is the fact that all you have to go on to find your next potential soulmate is a bunch of pictures and a postage-stamp sized bio… it’s pretty much inevitable that this becomes an exercise in lookism. And let’s be honest. No matter how good I might (or might not) look at 42, I can’t (at least in my head) compete with the bright, shiny new penny 20 somethings.

I am a confident, funny, and interesting woman in person. On paper…well, it’s hard to do myself justice. But online dating is just the way of the world these days. How else are we supposed to meet someone? I teach at a high school. Not like there are a lot of options there for obvious reasons. I go to a small church that seems to be comprised of 75% women and 25% married men. Again, no dating pool.

meet cuteI never was into the bar scene, and any guy my age who still is into the bar scene…well, let’s just say, I want a man not a boy and they are not to be found there. So, unless I’m one of the lucky ones to meet my soulmate at Whole Foods as we ponder which melon to buy and reach for the same melon at the same time… I’m stuck with an app.–despite all it’s shortcomings.

On Bumble, despite my education, experience, and general awesomeness, I am reduced to a picture. And let’s be honest, that is a cesspool of insecurity right there.

As if aging alone didn’t stir up enough phantom doubts of faded beauty, I have the lovely memories of past failure to spar with on a regular basis. As a woman who was cheated on, lied to, and eventually dumped, I often find my mind a battlefield. Luckily, as a professor of Psychology, I usually know how to win this battle.

how-to-practice-positive-self-talkI have long understood the concept of self-talk, aka. the narratives we tell ourselves in our heads. Because of this, when I catch a stray hurtful, self-defeating thought flitting through my brain, I pin it down, confront it with truth, and make sure that my emotions aren’t the ones fueling my self-concept, that truth is. I understood this long before I became a counselor or Psychology professor so, needless to say, at this point, I’ve gotten really good at it.

Despite this, I have struggled with my sense of self. Often times, I find myself wrestling with my worth based on my perceived worth in the eyes of others. Just a few days ago, I found myself feeling really cruddy as a result of this very thing.

online jokeThis weekend, in one of my rare “wouldn’t it be nice to have a man to talk to and who cared about me” moments, I pulled up the Bumble app.. As is too often the case, I was mostly underwhelmed. Let’s just say the dating pool looks more like a stagnant pond at this point of my life: the good ones are married, the newly divorced good ones are in some sort of midlife crisis and want to date a series of empty-headed, big-busted twenty year olds, which leaves mostly the socially awkward, unmotivated, and just plain scary candidates for the rather amazing single forty year old women out there. Typically, this is where I half-heartedly swipe right on a couple of guys who don’t look “too bad,” but leave me feeling no real enthusiasm in what has become an all too familiar routine of ennui.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone on dates. Quite a number of them. There even have been a couple guys who made it to a second date, mainly because I convinced myself that, though I still felt zero enthusiasm, they were “nice” and maybe, after warming up to them a bit, I might somehow grow some enthusiasm. Yep, I’m a die-hard optimist, but so far that optimism hasn’t panned out.

This weekend was a bit different. Every once in a while, I’ll run across a guy who I feel some enthusiasm for. Like any self respecting woman, I have my list of non-negotiables as well as preferences, and this guy seemed like we might actually have a shot at interesting if not soul mate.

bumble-vs-tinderSo, I swiped right, and sure enough…Boom! Match! He had swiped right on me too. I pondered a moment for a decent opening line, typed it out and hit send. And then I waited.

And waited…

And waited…

Guys only have 24 hours to respond on Bumble before the match disappears. And as the time ticked away, and there was no response, I found myself with a big question mark.

Why? What changed? Why did a guy, who thought I was a Match, change his mind?

But the thing was, there were no answers, not even potential answers, there were just questions.

The problem with this is that the brain is a meaning making machine. In the absence of answers, our brain makes up it’s own, and too often, it’s our insecurities that rule these narratives. And I am certainly no exception to this.

Woman-mirror-600x300I’ve been feeling a bit frumpy lately. I’ve gained a few pounds, I’ve gained a few wrinkles, and I got a haircut that makes me feel, well, kind of blah. So my insecurities piped up with their version of events:

It’s that picture you added–the full length one. Clearly, you must look fat. I mean, look at those arms! Tall works if you’re lean, but you’re clearly not lean, and that is all that comes across in that photo–very, very un-lean. Delete the picture. Hide yourself. You do better in person.”

negative self talkAll it took was that whisper through my brain, and my brain ran away with it. I found myself eyeing my figure in the mirror, noticing every ounce I’ve gained, every little soft spot. I found myself ditching my heels for flats, though I love my heels. Why accent my height, when my height is already so noticeable? I found myself changing my outfit–not once, but often several times–because I “looked fat.”

All because my insecurities wrote the script of their version of events and my brain which wanted meaning said, “Sure! That works! Makes sense. That must be the reason.”

But I literally have no clue what the real reason was.

Perhaps it was a busy week at work, and he was too distracted to worry about Bumble….

Perhaps he didn’t get the notification at all and so has no clue that we even matched…

Perhaps he just started dating someone and he wants to see what happens before he deletes the app….

Perhaps he’s really married, and his wife has gotten suspicious, and so he’s decided to lay low for a while…

Perhaps he doesn’t like educated women…

Perhaps…You get the idea.

the lies we tell ourselvesI literally have no idea why he didn’t respond, and the vast number of the possibilities have nothing to do with how I did, or didn’t, look in that dress.

And yet, I was so convinced that it was the picture, that I sent it to a guy friend asking for his reassurance that I didn’t “look fat.”

When this happened, I didn’t really see it for what it was. It was only as I was reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “Rising Strong” yesterday that I began to see this situation clearly.

Though I have a good handle on my inner self-talk, I have allowed what Jonathan Gottschall, a writer and English Professor, calls confabulation to act as a runaway train in my mind. He explains that there’s growing evidence that “ordinary, mentally healthy people are strikingly prone to confabulate in everyday situations.”

Okay, so what does that even mean?

Confabulation is a term often applied to individuals who have dementia or a brain injury. When these individuals have a “hole” in their story, they fill it with something that they decide is true, but is, in actuality, false. There is a growing pile of evidence that suggests that this is not a problem isolated to those with memory or brain trauma–it is an issue for all of us–on an ongoing basis.

Brene’ Brown goes so far as to call these stories we tell ourselves “conspiracy theories,” and I believe that is a fitting descriptor. A conspiracy theory, by definition is a story that is based on limited real data and imagined data that is blended together into a coherent and emotionally satisfying version of reality…isn’t that exactly what I did with the lack of a response and the picture? I had extremely limited, circumstantial at best, evidence. And yet it “made sense” if I bought into the validity of my insecurities…

I think if you are honest with yourself, you can quickly see where you have done the very same thing.

Perhaps it was a fight with your spouse. You interpret his reaction as unloving because you are convinced he doesn’t love you anymore…

Perhaps it was the “indifference” of your wife because she no longer finds you “sexually attractive” because you are feeling insecure about those love handles…

Perhaps it’s that your best friend doesn’t think your friendship is “important enough” to respond to your message because you are feeling like no one cares…

Perhaps it’s that old classmate who “pretended” not to see you at Target…

Perhaps it’s that you didn’t get the promotion because your boss “doesn’t respect women…”

stories

Could any and all of these be true? Possibly. But are they? Or are you allowing the 

runaway train of your insecurities to script the incomplete stories of your life? Are you buying into self-created conspiracies that confirm your doubts?

I think you should start taking a closer look at these scripts and asking yourself what parts are true, and what parts are conjecture.

I know I’m going to start paying a whole lot more attention to these stories. I want my stories to be based on truth, not fear and doubt. And, as we are learning, what we think is so often the truth we make.

 

Did you know that you have a super power? The question is, how are you using it?

My community has a Facebook page, as most communities do.

It’s filled with drama, as most community pages are.

rant“To the jerk in the black Chevy truck who cut me off today…” snap, post, rant…

“To the house who put the mannequins hanging from trees…how could you! That’s not Halloween decor! That’s cruel! Don’t you know some of us have lived through suicide!” Snap, post, rant…

“To the boys who stole the pumpkin from my front porch, I have you on camera, you little *#@*@!” Snap, post, rant…

“To the red Impala who was speeding down the school zone…asshole!” snap, post, rant…

Notice a trend?

I sure have.

I see posts like this on almost a daily basis on my community page. And I live in a nice, safe, family-oriented suburban town.

We, and I mean the universal we here, we as human beings in the technologically inundated 21st century, take our negativity, we post it for the world to see, and we grow it.

dwelling on the negativeWe dwell on it. We find people who feel the same way we feel, who think the same way we think, and what should have been a blip on the radar of our day, becomes a mountain, a pattern, a habit.

And if anyone should dare dissent, well then things will really devolve.

We want only people who agree with us, only people who look at life the same way we do, only those whose perception matches our own. Anyone else…well, they will get attacked.

But, I’ll talk more about that particular aspect later.

Today, I want to address this inclination we seem to have to take a small moment, blow it up into something much larger, post it on our social media venue of choice, and watch it grow into something as large as one of the big floaties we see in the Thanksgiving parade.

We feel validated when we vent our frustrations and they are affirmed by others. On the surface, it seems harmless, but let’s think about this a little bit. It might not seem like such a big deal, but the Psychologist in me shudders. There is so very much wrong with it!

The ease with which we confront, attack, and demean others through social media is appalling. The damage it does, both to ourselves and others, is easily missed if we’re not looking for it. Things are said through the screen that we would never think of saying in person–and the consequences of this are worth examining.

other sideThe screen impersonalizes the confrontation. We can forget that there is an actual person on the other end of that glowing screen. A real person with feelings, problems, and a life that is just as chaotic, stressful, and overwhelming as our own. And because we forget, because we aren’t looking into their eyes, we too often become the worst version of ourselves, saying whatever we want to say, feeling almost empowered by it. We get to win the fight, uncontested, because we are the only one swinging punches, but at the end of the day, we get the high of the win, without seeing a bruised and beaten body at our feet. We feel that there are no consequences to our hateful, angry words, because we can’t see them.

But there are consequences.

beaten upThere are consequences to the person on the other side of that screen when they see that post. Just because you can’t see them, just because you don’t see those bruises, or the split lip, or the blood running from the cut to the head, doesn’t mean that your throws didn’t connect. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean that they don’t feel them.

There are consequences to you too.

negative mindNegativity is a mindset, and it becomes a habit. It colors our day, which colors our world, and what could have been a positive day, descends into a day filled with angst, irritation, and spite. All because we took one moment of frustration, and decided to nurture it. The blip becomes a mountain, and that mountain blocks the sun.

And there are consequences to everyone who jumps on the bandwagon with you as well. You have just colored their world in shades of gray. You have transferred you angst, your irritation, and your spite to the people around you…

dramaCongratulations! If you wanted to make a difference in this world, you have…just not in the way you may have hoped.

And let’s look at this on a purely common decency level. Whatever happened to giving people the benefit of the doubt?

Don’t get me wrong, when I get cut off in traffic, I can swear like a sailor, but I draw the line at publicly shaming someone.

Posting a picture of the car with their license plate? Seriously, let’s call that what it is–it’s bullying.

Are you free of mistakes? Bad days? Stupidity? Distraction?

I’m sure not. I have accidentally cut people off a time or two. I’ve been distracted, even careless, on occasion. In those moments, could someone call me out just like I see these people being called out?

Yep. But we don’t know their story. Remember that, because they do have one. A story. A life. And very real things that might be happening to cause that lapse that you have censored them for.

It pays to give them the benefit of the doubt. Less angst for you, and patience and compassion for others. It does wonders for the soul!

It puts me in mind of an incident that happened to me many years ago.

It was literally just a couple of days before my daughter would die. I was a wreck. My days were filled with trying to get a lifetime worth of hugs and snuggles with my darling girl, and my nights were a miserable haze of half sleep as I kept one ear tuned to the beeping of the monitors that were literally keeping my daughter alive at that point. One fluctuation of the monitors and I had mere moments to get to Serena before she stopped breathing. If I slept, my daughter could die. I was pulled taut as a wire from the stress of it all.

One particular day, I decided I needed to get away, just for an hour or so. I felt overwhelmed by everything that was happening. I just needed a minute to feel normal.

As I have a bad habit of doing, I decided some retail therapy would do just the trick. I got into my car, and drove to Kohl’s.

After a bit of wandering and trying to be normal, an impossibility at that point in my life, I left with a couple of bags feeling a little less horrible, but sort of dazed and zombie-ish.

That was about to change.

inside outsideAs I was pulling out of the parking lot, I swung just a little wide, and somehow scraped the car next to me. I was horrified, I’d never done anything like that before, and I certainly haven’t since. My mind was just swallowed with agony and wasn’t functioning properly.

The owner of the car happened to be there, and as soon as I stepped out of my car, they let me have it. They called me several nasty names. They told me I was an idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to drive. And they went on and on, until I, finally, burst into tears, sobbing, spilling the story of my dying daughter.

On the outside, to the undiscerning eye, I looked fine. But a smile can hide a million hurts, and in my case, how I looked, and what I actually was in that moment were very different. I was raw and bleeding. And they had attacked an already incredibly wounded human being.

It was their turn to be horrified.

Yeah, what I did was stupid. But in the world of problems, a scratch on a car is pretty small when compared to a dying infant. They had reacted, and they had further wounded an already deeply suffering human being.

That day taught me a lesson that I have thought back on many times since.

Give the benefit of the doubt before you attack. You have no idea what is going on in the life of the person you just thoughtlessly attacked. Most of the time, their daughter isn’t going to be dying, granted, but it could be something equally large.

A mother fighting cancer.

A cheating husband.

Another miscarriage.

A dying grandparent.

The list is endless in this world filled with difficulty and grief.

what we makeSo, what if we help our fellow humans out, and help ourselves out in the process? Let’s let the blips be what they are…blips. Let’s post things that are supportive and uplifting. Let’s offer patience and compassion to those around us.

Let’s start a pattern that affects the world around us in the way that we want it to be affected. When you do, I strongly suspect you’ll start seeing a domino effect.

 

 

 

 

 

What kind of Hero are you?

As an English teacher, I am very familiar with the concept of the “Hero’s Journey.” It is an archetypal construct that we see repeated over and over again in literature, and for very good reason–it touches close to home–it is a reflection of the human experience.

Heroes-pinArchetypes, if you’re not familiar with the idea, are, in essence, symbols, ideas, or concepts that we, as human beings, all hold in common. Carl Jung believed that this commonality is part of what he termed genetic memory–in other words, memory that is quite literally passed down through our DNA.

An easy example would be mice. Why in the world do so many of us fear mice? They are itty, bitty little things but they send many people squealing, running for cover, or hopping on the nearest chair.

Why? And why only some people, but not all?

Well, in terms of genetic memory, we theorize that it stems from our ancestors run-in with the Black Plague. Mice, or more correctly, rats spread the disease that decimated Europe. For those of us who run from the furry, little creatures, our ancestors watched their friends and family die around them. All because of the little, itty, bitty creatures. And they passed the consequent fear of those little, furry creature on to us, their progeny, (however many times removed).

mouseThose of you who don’t run screaming for the hills at the sight of a mouse? Either your ancestors were fortunate enough to escape a run in with the Black Death or they simply didn’t pass that fear on to their ancestors. Thus, mice are just cute, little, furry creatures to you.

I’m quite sure that someone in my line must have watched their whole family drop like dominoes because I absolutely HATE the little things myself.

Archetypes stem from these universally held concepts such as good conquers evil. It also extends to colors: black symbolizing death, fear, and rot. Or to settings: the mountains symbolizing obstacles, adversity, a journey, etc.. Archetypes permeate our society in big and little ways–and none more so than the Hero’s journey.

The-Herošs-Journey_text-imageThe idea of the Hero’s Journey is quite basic. An ordinary person is called out from his ordinary life by something extra-ordinary. He is called to a road he never intended to travel. He struggles with what that road is asking of him. He longs to go back to the way things were “before.”

In literature, the hero or heroine ultimately come to terms with the call and rises to the occasion, overcoming the obstacles and embracing his hero nature.

Not necessarily the case in real life.

What do I mean?

depositphotos_87220294-stock-photo-boy-warrior-fighting-with-dragonsWell, just like all archetypes, I believe this one was born directly out of real life. As I’ve established before, all people, at some point, are going to be forced to wrestle with dragons (aka adversity) whether that comes in the form of sickness, betrayal, violence, death, etc….the “dragons” take many forms, but in the end, we all must wrestle with them.

Granted, it is rarely as obvious as Harry Potter being called out of the mundane life to one of wizardry or as Katniss Everdeen being called to take on the corruption of her society, but still, we are all, everyone of us, called to our own, personal hero’s journey.

But too often, we don’t come to terms with the journey. We don’t rise to the occasion. We don’t defeat the dragon.

As anyone who has followed my blog knows by this point, I am a huge fane of Brene’ Brown. In her book “Rising Strong,” she states:

You may not have signed up for a hero’s journey, but the second you fell down, got                 your butt kicked, suffered a disappointment, screwed up, or felt your heart break, it               started…it happens to every single one of us. Without exception. The only decision we           get to make is what role we’ll play in our own lives.”

If you read my last blog, and reflected on how you typically react to adversity, you should have a decent idea of what “role” you typically take in terms of your hero’s journey.

Let’s take a moment to envision it in the role of a story…do you rise to the occasion? Do you overcome? Or when Voldemort enters the scene, do you run for cover? When society is falling apart around your head, do you pretend that nothing is happening?

Do you like the ending of your story?

If your answer is no, then I have some really good news for you: in this story YOU get to choose the ending.

What kind of hero do you want to be? 

This doesn’t always mean you win, at least in one sense of winning. Sometimes our Voldemort is cancer, and the cancer wins. Sometimes that car accident steals your daughter from you. Sometimes your husband leaves you for another woman.

When looking at that sense of winning, we don’t always win, but we do still win.

An easy example for me personally is my daughter, Serena. Many of you know that my daughter died of SMA almost 16 years ago. That was my first real call to the hero’s journey. It was the initial conflict. It was the first real breaking of my heart. She died. I didn’t win in that sense of winning. But I did win.

How in the world can I say that?

hidden strengthBecause I chose my ending, and that ending was to wrestle with the pain, to “lean into it” as I like to say, and to choose to defy my circumstances, and to overcome.

I chose my ending. We all get to choose our endings.

How does this work? How do we actually do this?

I’m going to refer to Brene’ Brown a lot as I explain this. When I first walked through this personally, Brene’ Brown hadn’t written her books, and I had no clue who she was, but as I’ve read her books, I’ve seen the reflection of my own journey, and I’ve seen the reflection of the journeys others have made around me, in her work. My life and my observations validate what Brown found in her research.

If you’ve ever wondered why the same event can cause one person to rise, and the other to sink into bitterness, brokenness, or addiction, she can answer that question. She unpacks the concept of resilience.

If you want to choose to write your own story, if you want to change the ending, it means “getting uncomfortable; it’s choosing courage over comfort.” If you’re going to write your ending, you need to be willing to get down in the mud and wrestle. It’s going to get messy.

Our instinct is often the opposite, to disengage to self-protect. To deny what we feel, to hide from it. In Brown’s words “We can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are, get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.”

Brown breaks this down into a two step process.

1) engaging with our feelings

2) getting curious about the story behind the feelings–what emotions we’re                           experiencing and how they are connected to our thoughts and behaviors

This sounds deceptively simple. It’s not. Oftentimes we deny what we feel saying that “we didn’t care anyway.” Or we mask hurt with anger. Or we transfer emotions we don’t understand onto a person who is an “easy” target (aka our spouse or child, brother or sister, etc.). Or we self-flagellate. The list goes on.

All of these are methods of not engaging with our emotions. They are ways we choose to disengage.

When I lost Serena. I was angry. I was angry at God. I was angry at mothers who still had their children. I was angry at the whole world.

I remember how that anger made a lot of people uncomfortable. It wasn’t “Christian” they said. Ironically, I never felt that condemnation from God. From Him, I felt a sense of encouragement, that He was not intimidated by my anger, I also felt a recognition that denying what I felt wouldn’t make the feelings disappear. I had to wrestle with them to get through them.

When we deny what we feel, we get stuck. I’ve seen it happen to so many people. They deny the hurt happened. They deny the violation of what was done to them. They pretend that they are not angry at the abandonment they feel. They pretend the brokenness isn’t really there. And so they get stuck right there, in that moment where the hurt, abandonment, violation or brokenness occurred.

The movie “The Shack” illustrated this so beautifully. When the main character asks “God” in agony why he would bring him back to face what was done to his daughter, “God” simply says, “Because this is where you got stuck.”

We get stuck at the moment where we stop dealing with our pain. It has to be dealt with. There is no other option.

Ignoring what we feel does not make it go away–it lets it own us.

Brown puts it this way:

     The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The           opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from       tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not         to deny the story, but to defy the ending.

When Serena died, I could have become bitter. I could have lost my faith. I could have cut myself off from risking, from loving. Many do after getting shattered the way that the death of a child shatters you. Knowing that kind of pain, you disengage, not wanting to be hurt like that again.

fallingBut I made the decision years ago, before I understood what that decision meant. Risk was worth the pain. To fly, you have to fall. To succeed you have to fail. To love you have to break.

Serena was the first step of my hero’s journey. There have been many failures and setbacks and heart breaks since. There have been many times when I have felt the temptation to disengage, to step back, to self-protect.

But I just can’t do it, because I know.

I know the truth.

Brown says that “courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” and I believe her; I feel it. There is no going back.

And I’m glad. I don’t want to go back, even when I do. I don’t want the easy out. It’s not an out at all. It’s chains. It’s a prison. It’s being stuck.

God, as He so often does, gives us the principle of this truth. We say it. But we rarely fully grasp His meaning.

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Not just the good moments. Not just the easy ones. Not the comfortable ones.

Everything.

Contest-flier_1But we have to choose to defy our ending, and let Him work His magic in us.

He wants us to lean in and wrestle with our adversity like Jacob wrestled with God–to wrestle and not let go until the blessing which comes out of the adversity is ours.

When we trust God enough to lean into our hero’s journey, it leads to our good, our growth, and our overcoming. It is the ending we want, the ending He created us for, and it is how we rise strong despite horrific circumstances, crippling pain, and agonizing betrayal.

We lean in, we wrestle, and we trust for the ending that can be.

Choose to be brave. It’s what you were made to be.

 

 

 

Who are you? A scrapper? A volcano? A House of Mirrors? Let me tell you how you can find out.

In my English classes, we have a unit called “Dealing with Difficulty.” One of the things we have found as educators is that students, from a very young age, don’t like to “deal” with the difficulty they confront in life. And it starts with the small stuff: the words they don’t know, concepts they don’t understand, allusions they have no frame of reference difficultyfor. When they hit these parts of a text, they skip over them. They try to make sense of the piece using just the easy parts–and so their understanding is fundamentally flawed. They miss the big picture, the purpose, the ah, ha moment.

All because they didn’t want to deal with the difficulty.

We so often are just like my students. We skip over, hide, ignore the difficult pieces, so we never learn. We never grow.

We just keep making the same mistakes over and over again–because we skip the middle.

One of my favorite Ted Talks is by a lady named Caroline McHugh, and she puts it this way. Many of us claim to have years of experience, let’s say 20 years of experience, but in reality, we only have one year of experience 20 times–in other words, if we are not learning from that experience, we have gained nothing and are just repeating the same mistakes 20 years later, that we made at the very beginning.

Many people live life in this way, and it all comes down to difficulty: loss, failure, adversity.

Adversity seems to be the theme of my adult life. I’ve certainly had more than my fair share of it. Perhaps that is why I seem to have a heightened awareness of its impact–often wildly different–on people.

Adversity is a given–not a possibility, but rather an inevitability. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when.

Perhaps this is why adversity doesn’t really scare me. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it, and you can’t wish it away. It simply is–pretending any differently is just a waste of breath, time, and energy.

fake-life-make-mistakes-Favim.com-2596418And yet it is what so many of us try to do.

We Americans like to photoshop our lives. We like things to be pretty. Wrapped up with a bow. Perfect and pristine.

But life is simply not like that. It is often ugly. And hard. And painful. It often isn’t fair. It’s often unjust. The good guys, quite frequently, lose.

Or at least in the traditional sense that is.

I don’t believe adversity, failure, loss, grief–difficulty in whatever form it takes, is loss.

I believe it is opportunity.

magic in the middleIn the words of Brene Brown “the magic happens in the middle.”

But we so often want to skip the middle.

What does she mean? What’s the middle? Well let me explain it using an analogy that is very personally applicable for me right now. Divorce.

As I mentioned in a previous blog,  everybody tends to react differently to a divorce. Many people want to jump very quickly from their former relationship, into a new one. They want to skip the middle. They want to move from brokenness straight into wholeness–but it doesn’t work that way.

The middle is hard. The middle is painful. It’s often lonely and it tastes a lot like failure. It is the place where our questions often don’t have answers and our fears loom large. It is where we question our worth and our value.

But it’s here in the middle where we learn. We learn what we did right and what we did wrong. We learn our areas of weakness and our areas of strength. We wrestle with our worth and come to realize that it does not come from another person, a talent, a career, or anything else outside of ourselves. Worthiness is a God given gift and it comes from who we are–or more aptly–whose we are.

wrestling in mudThe middle is like wrestling in the mud. You are going to get dirty. You will get beaten up. You’re going to feel every bruise, every scratch, every dagger to the heart.

And so most of us don’t want to go there. We like the safe, the easy, the pristine–and the middle is none of these things–so we will do anything in our power to avoid it.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal said this about adversity: “I don’t even know who a character is until I’ve seen how they handle adversity. Onscreen and offscreen, that’s how you know who someone is.”

Who are you?

Who am I?

In the face of adversity, how do we measure up?

The truth of that statement really zinged me, and it got me thinking about the different approaches I have seen to adversity. I know which one I am, which one are you?

ostrich-head-in-sandThe Ostrich: Do you have your head in the sand? Do you ignore your problems, pretending that, if I don’t acknowledge them, they’ll just go away?

The Coward: Do you run and hide from your problems? Do you leave a wake of broken relationships behind you, cutting people, jobs, connections off as the going gets tough?

house of mirrorsThe House of Mirrors (aka transference): Do you project your problems onto someone (anyone) else as a means of ignoring your problems? Is it always a case of the blame game? It’s his fault because…. It’s her fault because….

The Volcano: Do you avoid dealing with the real issues by hiding in anger? Does anger seem to be the the only emotion you’re feeling these days? Then you’re probably a volcano, using anger as a shield for your real problems.

female-ec-the-damsel-in-distressThe Damsel in Distress: Do you tend to expect a white knight to come riding up to “fix it?” Do you tend to wait for someone to come and save you from your problems? Do you think that if only…(x), then all of these problems will go away? Then you probably fall into this category.

The Peacock: Do you tend to magnify your strengths, your talents, your looks in an effort to minimize your failures? Do you puff your ego so you don’t notice the hits you’ve taken? Well, then you’re just going to keep taking those hits and you’re going to start looking like a weight lifter with chicken legs, developed in some areas, and tragically weak in others…

hermit.pngThe Hermit: Do you cut off from everyone and everything? Avoiding life in an effort to ignore your problems? Do you hide in video games, tv shows, even books, in an effort to live in a different world to escape from your own? This category can often include those suffering from depression, in that depression, that completely disconnect.

The Scrapper: Are you a fighter? Are you willing to get down and dirty in your effort to overcome? Do you look failure in the eyes and determine to triumph? Then you are probably a scrapper and are in a pretty good place, learning from your set backs and overcoming difficulty. Congratulations–there aren’t too many of you out there!

No matter which role you tend to play, it doesn’t define you. The great part is knowledge–self awareness–is the first step in being different. You get to choose your role.

Don’t want to be a hermit?

Then choose to be a scrapper!

You can choose the role you get to play at any time, in every situation. It is all up to you.

Don’t know how? That’s okay! Check out my blog next week for the first installment on how to change the role you’re currently playing!