Category Archives: life

What kind of neighbor are you?

Do you know your neighbor? Do you? Do you know what’s going on in his world? Do you know the difficulties she faces? If they were in an emergency situation, could they come to you and ask you to watch their daughter for a couple of hours?

wilson_fencePerhaps you say hello when you walk your dogs in the morning.

Perhaps, when you meet across the mailboxes in the afternoon, you chat casually.

But do you know your neighbor?

I can’t say that I really do. As I get ready to leave this home I have lived in for three and a half years, I find myself convicted. I don’t know my neighbors–not really. We’re friendly. We say “hi” and “how are you,” but with the exception of one (and I’m so glad we became friends, Tianna!), the truth is, I’d be hard pressed to tell you their names.

Shame on me!

My whole life I have dreaded living what I have coined the “treadmill existence.” To me, this is the daily grind. We wake, we go to work, we come home, we sleep, we wake, we go to work . . . over and over again.

To avoid this, I thought I needed to do something exciting. I needed to live overseas and be a missionary. Or I needed to be a best selling author. Or I needed to find something other than this ordinary, soccer mom (or in my case football/gymnastics mom) existence.

Ironically, God seemed to determined to keep me in that soccer mom sort of existence–and if so, either he was okay with the treadmill existence–or (much more likely) I was missing something!

No, huge surprise here, but I now realize, I had it all wrong.

themostinterestingmanintheworld_1426The treadmill existence is not about the job we do or where we live. It’s not about a great list of accomplishments or a wall full of awards.  You don’t need to be the Dos Equis’ most interesting man alive to get off the treadmill.

It is about our mindset. It is about seeing the opportunity for the divine, for change, for influence in every moment.

Perhaps it’s a little easier for me to see this than most. Being a psychology professor, I see how the impact of what I teach has the possibility to change lives, and it transforms the way I look at those moments in the classroom. They are loaded with possibility, potential. What I say today has the potential of altering the course of a life (in a positive way, or possibly, even in a negative way–very humbling thought!)

But the truth is, every moment of our lives is filled with that same potential.

7089479-business-woman-rushingThe other day, I was cleaning up after my work out at the gym. I was in a hurry. I was running late for a conference call, and I needed to get ready to meet one of my friends for a night out. Just as with my neighbors, though I’m friendly with several people at the gym, I don’t really know anyone by name or well, so nothing should have gotten in the way of my mad dash for the door.

But there was this woman, a woman I had never seen before. And she sighed. Not just the “I’m tired” sigh. Not the, “this has been a really long week sigh.” No, this sigh was something different, and I couldn’t resist commenting on the weight of her sigh.

She responded that her workout had knocked her on her butt.

I made some comment about that being the sign of a good workout.

despairTo which she responded, “No, you don’t understand. It literally knocked my on my ass. I have MS. This is my therapy, and I can’t even do it.” And she sat down and started to cry.

I didn’t know this woman. If not for my inane comment about her sigh, I would have walked right on past, and never known the despair that was eating her up inside. I would have made my conference call, hung out with my friend, and this woman would have left with her burden of despair still firmly on her shoulders. Instead, I found myself with an opportunity of helping a fellow human being. It was time to get off the treadmill.

I didn’t know this woman, but I knew her pain. And I knew that I needed to stay and listen, and offer what comfort I could, conference call be damned!

That moment was one of possibility. It was an opportunity to be God’s hands’ extended. And I could easily have missed it.

How many times have I missed those moments, caught up in the hustle and bustle of the treadmill life, the relentless daily grind? How often, with my eyes focused at the task at hand, have I missed the divine, the chance to get off the treadmill, and to make a real difference in someone’s life?

Too often I fear.

Which of my neighbors has cried out to God for help? And I could have been part of the answer. Who has needed to know that they aren’t alone, but I’ve been too wrapped up in my own world to see?

I despised the treadmill existence, and yet I have had opportunity to get off that treadmill,  time and time again, but I have been too blind to see the opportunity.

In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg put it this way:

sonrise-burning-bushAnd Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Everything turned on Moses’ being willing to turn aside–interrupt his daily routine to pay attention to the presence of God. He didn’t have to. He could have looked the other way, as many of us would. He would have just missed the exodus, the people of Israel, his calling, the reason for his existence. He would have missed knowing God. But he didn’t miss it. He stopped. He “turned aside.”

I don’t want to miss the reason for my existence. I don’t want to miss my calling because I can’t see what’s right in front of me.

I need to live my life in this way. I need to have my eyes open so that I see the burning bush moments, the moments when I get to be the arms, and the voice, of God.

I need to get off the treadmill.

And it starts with seeing.

Seeing our neighbors and their pain. Seeing our coworkers and their struggles. Seeing the needs of our community and stepping out of our daily grind enough to be the one to meet those needs.

Our society, according to a recent gallup poll, is one third Christian. Nine out of ten Americans say they pray everyday. And yet, we are notoriously bad about living with our heads in the sand, being too consumed with our own lives to see the struggles of those around us.

handsThis is what Jesus means by reaching the lost–and most of us are failing.

It is time for us to embrace our purpose. To see that each moment is heavy with possibility. To get our heads out of the sand, and to see.

Will you join me?

We don’t want to miss our burning bush–because that is what it’s all about.

 

A New Definition of Good

A friend of mine received bad news the other day. She has had a lot of bad, difficult, and painful things happen in her life. More than the average person for sure.

angryShe was angry. She was angry at the world, and most of all, she was angry at God. She publicly questioned the goodness of God. She pointed out the inconsistency, the unfairness, the disproportionate pain and difficulty even among Christians. Her conclusion, in that moment, was that God was not good.

Last week was my daughter Serena’s birthday. She would be fifteen years old this year. She’s been gone for fourteen years, and I still miss her every day. I too, most certainly have, at times, questioned the goodness of God.

Like my friend, I have not failed to notice the disproportionate amount of suffering some have to walk through when compared to so many others. Like my friend, it has caused me to question the goodness of God. But unlike my friend, despite the pain and suffering that I have walked through, that I am currently walking through, and that I, no doubt, will have to walk through in the future–still I say–God is good.

God is good all of the time.

It is our definition of what “good” means that has to change.

heroes_vs_villains_mediumAs human beings, we have an inbred sense of fairness, of justice. Jung liked to call them archetypes. It is the idea that if I do good things, good things will happen to me. Evil deeds on the other hand will be punished. If I treat people fairly, I will myself be treated fairly.

The problem is, despite these deep-seeded instincts, that’s not the way the world works.

And it’s not the way God works.

As I mentioned in my last blog, God is not all that concerned with our comfort. In fact, the Bible is abundantly clear that a walk with Christ is a walk of suffering. He talks of refiner’s fire, and he talks of needing our roots to go to deep to find the streams underground so that we can survive the times of drought. He talks of making a way in the wilderness–he doesn’t say he’ll remove the wilderness, but that He will make a way through it.

And yet, the Bible also says that God is good. His goodness is not altered, affected or diminished by the suffering we walk through.

How can that be?

Logically, it must mean that the suffering itself is good for us. Remember, God’s goal is not our comfort, our prosperity, or our happiness. His goal is our transformation.

Our transformation happens in the fires of suffering.

82e36afee241e4603f100c1355976f28It’s easy to say. It’s easy to preach the necessity of suffering. It’s easy to see the truth of it–but it’s mach harder to do it. To not only walk through it (often we have little choice in the matter), but to embrace it.

My personal world is in upheaval right now. The truth is, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself the other night. I don’t deserve what I’m going through. I was a good girl, who made good choices. I’ve always sought God’s will. I’ve never done drugs. I don’t get drunk. I didn’t have sex before marriage. I don’t lie, cheat, or steal. I am a basically good person who has tried to help people in need. Sure, I lose my temper sometimes, and sometimes I can be selfish, and sometimes lazy, but in the scope of things, I am a good person and I don’t deserve all this pain.

Like my friend, I was feeling full of self pity. My pain was unfair. Since I was twenty I have walked through one difficulty after another. It was unjust. Poor, picked on me.

But that same night, my daughter began to cry. She opened up about how her own struggles with the goodness of God. She didn’t understand why she had to walk through this, when her friends didn’t have to walk through anything. She always tries to do what’s right, and yet, instead of being rewarded, here she is have to walk through a season of suffering and her friends don’t, even though her friends so often make wrong choices. Such hard truths to struggle with at the age of ten!

It’s hard to explain what I felt in this moment. I felt a little bit like God had called me on the carpet. The truth is, I knew exactly what God would say to this–we should not compare our lives to the lives of others, because what God has for us is not what He has for them. That God is not concerned with our comfort or our happiness, but rather our transformation. That life isn’t fair, that God never said it was, and He isn’t concerned about the “fairness” of it at all.

Shame on me for wallowing in self pity when I know the truth!

And shame on me for not living it in a way that my daughter can see the truth through my life.

I held my daughter as she cried, and I explained these hard truths to her, and I prayed with her.

I didn’t pray for her comfort or for her protection, though my mother’s heart very much wanted to do just that.

I prayed for God’s will in her life. I prayed that God would give her strength in the difficulties. Faith in the darkness. And the eyes to see the goodness of God even when all around her seemed to call that very goodness into question.

Facebook-20140427-123611I prayed that God’s will would be done. And I know what that means.

But, I want the best for my daughter, not the easiest–just like God does for me.

The easiest is very rarely the best. The best takes work. The best is hard. It is often painful. Sometimes it’s downright awful.

But, just as my prayer for Arabelle, God wants the best for me–for us.

And doing what’s right, even when it hurts, that is the definition of good.

I’m pretty sure it hurts God’s heart, just like it hurt mine, but he knows it’s best.

And yet again, I need to trust that my Father knows best.

So yes, God is good–all of the time.

God, help me to see your goodness, not as a measure of what you’ve done for me, not as a measure of what I have or do not have, but for who you are–a God who walks with me through my pain and through my suffering so that I can get to the other side and be transformed.

What’s Your Standard of Measure?

Our society has it totally wrong. (No surprise there–oh, let me count the ways it has it wrong!)

No, I’m not talking the current political mess (though I easily could, and just might, at some point, dip my toe in those waters).

I’m not talking about the government, or the establishment, or of race and gender equality, or the many topics and ways that society as a group gets it wrong.

I’m talking about us. We, the society of individuals, we have it totally wrong on a fundamental level.

Case in point, I want you to think back to your last class reunion. What thoughts occupied your head prior to attending?

i-am-not-good-enough-L-EseIyyI can tell you what occupied mine.:I need to drop the last of that baby weight. I want to look good. . . which dress should I wear…and then I started cataloging my accomplishments. How much had I accomplished? Would they think me successful, or would they think I was a massive under achiever? Had I done enough, accomplished enough?

My guess is, most of you would have had a similar train of thought. And it shows an inherent flaw in how we approach this wild and wonderful journey we call life.

We are preoccupied by the doing–but what we need to embrace is the becoming.

Not_Good_Enough_by_graphiqualAs I approach the ripe old age of forty, I’ve been taking stock, and I haven’t liked what I’ve tallied. I’ve been left with this disappointment, this sense of dissatisfaction that it isn’t enough–that I haven’t done enough–that I’m not enough.

But I’ve got it all wrong. My standard of measure is off. My worth as a human being is not weighed by the things I’ve done, the mountains I’ve climbed, the awards I’ve won–it’s much more simple than that. My worth is measured by how well I have allowed God to make me into the person he wants me to be.

Just as yours is.

Lynne Twist, in her book The Soul of Money refers to something she calls the scarcity principle which is her term for this “never enough” idea that seems to eat away at most of us these days. She calls it the”great lie.” In reference to this concept she says:

Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.”

She pegged it. She pegged me. I’ve been buying the lie that society has been selling and I’ve been allowing it to tell me that I’m not enough.

My to do list, my already done list, my list of accomplishments, is not the embodiment of my worth.

So often, we look at where we thought we would be, where we think we should be, and when we’re not there, when life doesn’t look like we thought it would look, we feel like we’ve failed. But we’ve missed the fundamental–God was never concerned with our destination, he was concerned with who become on the journey.

climbingYouth Groups all around the country can be blamed a little bit for this misconception. Every youth group I know used to sing the song “I’m gonna do great things, accomplish great things, climb every mountain with God.”

That sounds great. It gets us jazzed. It imbues us with a great sense of purpose–but it also causes us to misconstrue what this journey we call Christianity is all about.

Christianity is not about doing great things, it’s about becoming who we are meant to be–and who we are meant to be is not made on the mountain tops, but rather in the valleys.

My standard of measure is not what I’ve done, but how much I’ve allowed God to transform me.

This disappointment I feel in myself is not really about the list of things I haven’t done and accomplished. It’s about how I’ve not yet become who I am meant to be.

John Ortberg in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted puts it this way:

Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed by my lack of disappointment…the older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem–my failure to be the person God had in mind when He created me.

Yikes. I’ve been worried because my tally of accomplishments is to short and paltry, but what I should have been worried about is that innate lethargy that seems to find all of us as we leave our youth behind. Too often, as life takes on its treadmill quality, I have gotten lost in the details, and have had too little motivation to focus on the becoming–therein lies the real issue.

Ortberg calls it being dis-appointed with God, as in, missing the life that I was appointed by God to live.

My life might never look how I thought it should look when I was twenty. I might never do the great things I thought I would do. But the more important question is, will I become who He wants me to be?

Will you?

That’s all He ever asks of us.

919d35bde32013777cc945aa5b2b78e6Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that includes doing, and sometimes it even includes the mountain tops, but more often than not, the work is done in the anonymous seasons of life, and in the valleys–and it’s important to remember that. These are the seasons that, if we allow Him to work, He will look at us one day and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

And that’s the only standard of measure I need.

Maybe the Chubby Hubby isn’t the Problem…

man-eating-chips-400x267We’d all like to lose a few (okay, maybe not all–there are a blessed few out there completely content with your body size–damn you all! 😉 ). We assume that it’s that extra cookie that we add on at the Starbucks counter, or when we bow to temptation and take that late night jaunt to the drive through at Mickey D’s, but what if the real culprit isn’t that juicy burger, your sugar fix, or that bag of barbeque Lays?

What if, the real culprit is not food at all, but the amount of sleep you’re getting at night? According to Shape magazine, it might be sleep undermining all your weight loss efforts.

article-2538937-1AA3DA7400000578-149_634x706The debate about the best way to achieve a healthy weight always revolves around eating and movement. If you want to look better, the most common suggestion is “eat less and move more.” But it’s not that simple, or even accurate. Sometimes you want to eat less and move more, but it seems impossible to do so. And there might be a good reason: Between living your life, working, and exercising, you’re forgetting to sleep enough. Or maybe, more importantly, you don’t realize that sleep is the key to being rewarded for your diet and fitness efforts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35 percent of people are sleep deprived. And when you consider that the statistic for obesity is nearly identical, it’s easy to connect the dots and discover that the connection is not a coincidence.

Can sleep possibly be a contributing factor in our body size?

According to the Mayo clinic, yes, “it might be. Recent studies have suggested an association between sleep duration and weight gain. Sleeping less than five hours — or more than nine hours — a night appears to increase the likelihood of weight gain.”

That there is a correlation between insufficient sleep and obesity appears undeniable.

When considering the bulk of research on the subject, the Harvard School of Public Health states:

Most studies that measure adults’ sleep habits at one point in time (cross-sectional
studies) have found a link between short sleep duration and obesity…The largest and
longest study to date on adult sleep habits and weight is the Nurses’ Health Study,
which followed 68,000 middle-age American women for up to 16 years. Compared to
women who slept seven hours a night, women who slept five hours or less were 15
percent more likely to become obese over the course of the study.

 

Whether the lack of sleep is actually causing the weight gain, or is the by product of some other X-factor is where things become a little bit sticky.

nighttimeSome believe that the lack of sleep does not directly cause the weight gain, but rather predisposes us to make poor decisions that indirectly are causing the weight disparity. Web MD puts it this way:

It’s true: Being short on sleep can really affect your weight. While you weren’t sleeping, your body cooked up a perfect recipe for weight gain. When you’re short on sleep, it’s easy to lean on a large latte to get moving. You might be tempted to skip exercise(too tired), get takeout for dinner, and then turn in late because you’re uncomfortably full. If this cascade of events happens a few times each year, no problem. Trouble is, nearly two-thirds of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep during a typical week …Skimping on sleep sets your brain up to make bad decisions. It dulls activity in the brain’s frontal lobe, the locus of decision-making and impulse control….So it’s a little like being drunk. You don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions.
 
However, others think the lack of sleep might be playing a more direct role. The Mayo clinic explains it this way:One explanation might be that sleep duration affects hormones regulating hunger — ghrelin and leptin — and stimulates the appetite. Another contributing factor might be that lack of sleep leads to fatigue and results in less physical activity.

Whether lack of sleep is directly or indirectly causing those love handles you despise, it is a factor in their existence.

So, tonight, when you’re tempted to watch just one more episode of your choice on Netflix, or drink that frappuccino after 6 pm, you might just want to resist. Your waistline will say thank you.

 

How Emotion Hijacks our Reason

20120818_mo-running-from-bearWe’ve all heard of the fight or flight response, and we get it. We see a grizzly in the woods and our instinct is to run screaming. Makes total sense (though it will get you killed, so don’t do it).

What most of us don’t realize is that we also have this same response to intense emotional situations. Feelings of shame and betrayal hijack our limbic system the same way that spying a King Cobra would.

According to Psychologist Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly:

“When shame descends, we almost always are hijacked by the limbic system. In other           words, the prefrontal cortex, where we do all our thinking and analyzing and                             strategizing, gives way to the primitive fight-or-flight part of our brain.”

heart-mindThat instinct you have to run and hide after you’ve said or done something incredibly stupid? Yep, that’s the fight or flight response too. In his book Icognito, neuroscientist David Eagleman describes the brain as a “team of rivals.” In other words, in these emotional interactions, it is quite literally a battle between the heart (or our emotional selves) and our minds. That disparity between what we know in our heads and what we feel is a real battle, and whichever wins is going to call the shots in terms of our behavior.

Eagleman puts it this way:

away“There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior…the rational system is the one that cares about analysis of things in the outside world, while the emotional system monitors the internal state and worries whether things are good or bad.”
toward

Our response to these emotional confrontations isn’t that much different from the one with the grizzly. In classical psychology terms, Karen Horney’s theory that we move toward, move against, or we move away explains it best.

According to Dr. Linda Hartling’s research while at the Stone Center at Wellesley, in these types of situations, we tend to move away by withdrawing, hiding, and keeping secrets. We move toward by attempting to appease and to please. We move against by attempting to gain power over others through aggression, both verbal and physical.

The reality is, we likely do all of these in different situations with different people at different times. The important thing is to recognize it for what it is, our limbic system hijacking our reasoning.

We need to learn to spot it, take an emotional step back, and give our reason a chance to come back on line.

 

 

There’s a little bit of magic in all 0f us, and it’s called the mind

Savoring-ChocolatesWhat would happen if you were to eat something unhealthy but believe it was good for you … or something healthy but believe it was bad for you?

I doesn’t matter, right? If it’s healthy, it’s healthy. That’s simply a fact.

78653217_2And no matter how often you tell yourself that pan of brownies is actually good for you, it doesn’t make it so, right? I mean, that’s common sense.

Or not.

Wait a minute…what?

I can’t possibly be telling you that you can just think the calories out of your brownies?! What kind of quack am I?! I mean that’s ridiculous! You’re just going to stop reading now. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But wait, just for a minute. Hear me out.

Okay, so you can’t make those brownies into a carrot stick no matter how hard you try, BUT it seems that what we believe matters more than we think. Our body responds to how we view something. How our body reacts and interacts changes based on what we tell our brain is true.

This shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds. We do things like this all of the time.

Seriously. No joke.

Take phantom limb pain. One of the ways we handle it is through something called mirror therapy. We quite literally trick the brain into thinking that the missing limb is still there–even though it’s not.

By using a mirror, we envision a leg where there is no leg, and the brain responds sort of like this:

“Oh! Dear me! My mistake! So sorry! There is a leg there. I see it now. Well, let me just get rid of this pain for you. My mistake. Won’t happen again!”

And poof! The pain goes away.

Are we still missing the leg?

Absolutely!

Are our nerves still sending a static message to the brain?

Yep.

But we’ve tricked the brain into believing there isn’t a problem.

How about another example: stress.

Are you stressed?

stress-300x266I’m stressed.

I’m not sure you can live in this modern world and not be stressed.

For years we have been told that stress is bad for us. It makes us sick. It can even kill us.

Many have mistakenly believed that stress can cause cancer. Research has never supported this. Though there is a correlation between stress and cancer, there is nothing that backs up the idea that stress causes the cancer. A basic research principle there: correlation does not equal causation.

We are now finding out that we have been demonizing stress to our own detriment. Stress itself is not bad. It is only the belief that stress is bad that gives stress the power to harm us.

Huh? What kind of psychological mumbojumbo is this? I’m losing you again, aren’t I? Hold tight. It sounds like mumbojumbo, but it’s not.

It’s backed up with research, and it’s pretty amazing. Check out this TedTalk and let the experts say it better than I can myself: Kelly Mcgonigal TedTalk Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

163808-Good-Morning-Let-The-Stress-BeginStress itself is not bad for us. In fact, we need to take our stress response and make it work for us.

I decided to take this concept and consciously practice it recently when confronted with a crisis in my own life.

As a professor of Psychology, I am very aware of the cycle of the stress response and exactly what is happening in my body when the fight/flight response is triggered. I felt the acceleration of my hearbeat. I felt the blood pumping in my veins. I was aware that my lack of appetite was due to my body focusing its energy on more important needs. I was aware of the the cortisol flooding my system to ensure that I had energy despite my lack of nutrition. I was consciously aware of my body’s response to the crisis at hand, and I told myself just what I was told to tell myself: this is a good thing. This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge and to overcome.

Phase two, I called my friends and family. Remembering the second part of Kelly Mcgonigal’s TedTalk, I got the people who love and care about me involved. I didn’t try to do it on my own. I didn’t let pride or embarrassment keep me silent. I knew I needed friends, and I called them. And they came, because my friends and family are awesome that way!

This was the second worst crisis of my life, only topped by the diagnosis and subsequent death of my first child.

It was bad. Really, really bad.

in-times-of-great-stress-or-adversity-its-always-best-to-keep-busy-to-plow-your-anger-and-your-energy-into-something-positiveAnd yet, I handled this crisis better than any crisis in my life. My body empowered me to deal with it, and my very belief that it would, ensured that it did. It didn’t make the situation any less terrible, but I handled it so very much better!

And I am continuing to handle it so much better, because, though the initial crisis is over, the stress and the aftermath are going to take a long, long time to deal with, and the continued stress I feel can sap my energy and will, or it can feed me.

I choose the latter.

I know my body is designed to help me withstand and overcome just such situations, and I’m going to let it do just that.

The Huffington Post puts it this way:

This isn’t exactly new material. Think of Shakespeare’s wisdom that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or this affirmation by 19th century Christian religious thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy: “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (See #9 on: “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) 

In other words, the more research we do, the more the link between our spirit/soul/consciousness and our physical selves becomes evident. What we think matters. Negativity hurts us physically. Whether it is our inner dialogue telling us how we don’t measure up and how we can’t ever achieve what we want to achieve (for more on this concept see my earlier blog: Queen of Schmucks ) or whether it is telling ourselves that our biological stress response is bad for us, negative thoughts take a toll on our physical bodies.

We need to change how we think.

How do we go about it? Well “Forbes” magazine breaks it down and gives us some practical steps in how we can begin to change our mindset about stress and make it work for us:

Tembracestresshen, follow this three-step process for cultivating a new stress mindset over the next month:

Step 1.

Acknowledge stress when you feel it, notice stress in your body.

If you have a difficult time noticing what you feel in your body, try meditating for just five minutes a day.

Step 2.

Welcome stress by knowing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect with the positive motivation behind the stress?

What is at stake here? Why does it matter to you?

Step 3.

Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting time trying to manage stress. Think of something you can do now and take action aligned with your values and goals.

If you believe the research, this short intervention can change your life.

Changing how we think is hard. It takes conscious effort and time. We can’t change our thinking over night.

For the optimists out there, we have a built in buoy system that makes it a whole lot easier.

For the pessimists, it might well be an uphill battle–but it’s a battle worth fighting.

It just might save your life.

Being a Reluctant Hero: the true role of the parent

27d71d088b682abee8b4e7488530b1c4Last night I was snuggled in my bed with Arabelle. We were all cozied up in a pile of blankets trying to hold off the last effort of Winter to make any real impression on the north Texans this year. It was chilly, but honestly, I think he failed in his attempt–no real winter here this year.

Arabelle had her head on my shoulder and my face was nuzzled into her hair. It was one of those perfect moments that make life just so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the topic of conversation wasn’t quite so beautiful. We were chatting about all the pre-teen drama that little girls create, and boy do they create a lot!

As I listened to Belle’s tales of woe, I found myself thinking back to my own pre-adolescent years, and I wasn’t feeling very nostalgic! I cringed inwardly as the memories of awkwardness, insecurity, and immaturity came flooding back. Those years are just so hard! Doesn’t matter who you are: the outcast, the nerd, the average, or the popular, it’s just downright awful most of the time.

Everybody is insecure, uncertain, and too often hurtful to others, as they try to transition from a child into this strange new world of the preteen. Too often, out of that insecurity, girls can get really catty and be downright mean. I’d lived it, and now my precious little girl was living it.

images (1)I listened to Arabelle pour out her worries and struggles with a twinge in my heart. I wanted to protect her from these years, but I knew I couldn’t. At best I could help her get through them, and part of that would be helping my very sensitive and insecure daughter to not take things too personally, and to help her believe in herself.

With that in mind, when she began her litany of how she didn’t measure up, I countered with all of the wonderful and unique things about her. And I had a big list that I was determined would help her see her worth.

For every positive I laid out, she counteracted with its negative.

Finally in exasperation she sighed, “I wish I was like you! You’re perfect!.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I turned so I could look into her eyes.

“Well you are!” she answered back to my look of shock, and she began a long list of all my attributes.

Idownload (1) was a bit stunned. I sat up and blinked stupidly at her for a while and then finally said, “But you know how imperfect I am better than just about anybody! You live with me! You see the times that I’m impatient or when I lose my temper. When I’m not as thoughtful or as kind as I should be!”

“But mom, you always have a reason for those things.”

“But that doesn’t make them right! It’s still wrong that I do them!”

She shrugged. “I still want to be just like you. You’re my hero.”

Wow. I’m her hero.

I didn’t ask to be her hero. I don’t think I want to be her hero. But I guess it doesn’t really matter if I asked for it or if I wanted it–it’s what she’s made me–a hero, albeit a somewhat unwilling one.

Rather than feeling flattered by that pronouncement, I felt humbled and a little scared.

My mind flashed back to a conversation we had had earlier that day where I had done something that had so clearly echoed my own mother. “Ugh! Grandma just pulled a body snatch on me! Clearly that wasn’t a Mommy thing to do! How does Grandma do that?!”

Arabelle had laughed and said that being like Grandma wasn’t so bad.

I jokingly teased her that she needed to beware, because when she became my age, she would find herself echoing what I do and say in ways that she never thought she would, even in the ways she had vowed to never be like me. “It happens to us all,” I teased her. “I’ll do something and all of a sudden I’ll see a flash of my father doing the exact same thing in the exact same way…it’s kind of creepy!”

She was going to become just like me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It hit me with a new clarity.

Contest-flier_1I’m her hero. She is watching me. She wants to be like me.

What I do and what I say, how I act and how I fail to act, all of these she sees, and many of these she herself will become. And in time her children, and her children’s children. Passed on from generation to generation…

The responsibility, when you really take the time to wrap your mind around it, is staggering.

All parents, at least all the good ones, realize that they are setting an example for their children. We understand that they are learning based on what we model, but I don’t think we fully understand what it means.

When we become parents, we really are like the potter with a lump of clay, but what we sometimes don’t think about is that, even when we are not actively molding that clay, we are still molding it.

In fact, most of the molding of that clay happens, not from our active working with the clay (active parenting), but rather from the inactive moments. The moments observed by those big, innocent eyes. Not only our observed actions, but our observed inaction. When we fail to act. When we fail to fight for something we believe in. When we let lethargy seep in and cause us to accept less than the best from life and the people around us. When we allow someone to ignore us, disrespect us, or knock us down, and we don’t defend ourselves. When we’re confronted with the obstacles in life and we don’t fight back, but instead give in.

All of these too are children see, and they will follow in our footsteps.

I find myself thinking of all the ways that I don’t want my daughter to be like me. Those are the very things that I need to work on. Yes, there are lots of ways I would be happy to have her follow in my steps I do many things well, but that doesn’t discount the ways that I want her to be better than me, more than I am.

4029757ce58eb958d4137859df44694fAnd I am realizing in a way I never have before, that the best way to do that, is to be more than I am. I need to become what I hope she will one do become, so that she has an example walking before her, one that I feel like is totally comfortable with her following–and I’m not there yet.

I know I can’t be perfect. I know I will fail and I will fall, and no matter how hard I try, those failures may hurt my daughter and she will carry some of that into her future. But I need to know that I did my best, that I became the best I could be so that she can be the best that she can be.

I didn’t ask to be a hero. I don’t deserve to be a hero.

I’d better do my best to become one though. There is a little girl who is watching me to see what heroes do, and one day she will echo the choices I made.

That’s an awful lot to live up to!

I Choose Happiness; What are you Going to Choose?

I’ve been doing a lot of research on happiness lately.

As many of you know, I started a new position as a professor of Psychology this January. It’s been a good ten years since I’ve delved into all things Psych, and I’ve enjoyed diving back in. What I’ve been finding excites me. Some of this I had known, but haven’t thought much of in the intervening years. But much of it is new. The research keeps revealing new information, and the more we understand about happiness, the more I find myself in awe at the intricacy of our biology, our emotions, and ultimately, our spirituality. We are not an accident. Our design is not an accident. We are amazingly and wonderfully made.

happiness-flowchartThe more that is learned about our biology, the more we realize it is wrapped up in our spiritual/emotional self. We are also beginning to realize that we have more control over who we are, what we feel, and even sometimes, the health of our own bodies than we previously understood.

This excites me. We are not at the whim of fate. We are not a pawn in the hand of chance. Our happiness is not contingent on what we have/don’t have or even what happens/doesn’t happen to us. Our happiness is not determined by outward forces, but rather by inward resilience, and everything is indicating that this can be learned. Happiness is quite literally a state of mind.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I can’t help but love this. I can control my own happiness. I’ve always believed that, but now all the research is backing up that belief. I might not be able to control the random hand of chance as it forces itself into my life, but I certainly can control how I respond to it.

I have often wondered why two individuals can experience the exact same conflict and yet have a completely different response to it. Is this merely the result of personality differences? Is it simple genetics? Are some predestined to be more capable of handling conflict than others? Are they simply, genetically speaking, more resilient? Is there an X factor–some unknown factor that creates resilience? What exactly is resilience anyway?

I’ve always struggled with the idea that it is purely genetic. That simply isn’t fair. Why should some be given the ability to deal with life’s difficulties and others not? It simply feels a bit too Calvinistic to me, stinking too much of predestiny. Would God really stack the deck against us like that?

My husband and I have both experienced a lot of grief and loss in our lives, an exceptional amount, at least by American standards.

(Nolana aplocaryoides) Pan de Azucar National Park

I tend to bounce. That doesn’t mean that I never feel depressed; I most certainly do at times. It doesn’t mean that I never get angry or feel twinges of bitterness; I’m no stranger to either of these feelings. What it does mean is that, no matter how horrible the circumstances, the sun peeps through the clouds. I see a solitary flower growing in the desert. It might be scraggly and undernourished, but I still find that flower. The weak ray of sunshine somehow manages to find its way past the cloud cover.

In other words, I always find hope. Hope in today. Hope in a better tomorrow. Hope that if I keep fighting, there will be something good at the end. Hope that there is a purpose to all the pain.

lostgirl05-300x168Sometimes I feel like a prize fighter. I scrape myself off the mats, still sore and bruised and bleeding. I’m barely able to stand, but by golly, I’m going to stay in the ring and give it another shot. I’m going to keep fighting, and when I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I’m going to dredge up some more chutzpah and somehow keep going even if it’s on will alone.

Sometimes I question my sanity. I know I’m going to get knocked down again. I know that by putting myself in the ring, the blows are inevitable, but I do it anyway. One would think that after being beaten to a pulp, I’d have a better sense of self preservation than that.

Or maybe, at an elemental level, I understand something hugely life altering…that life doesn’t exist outside of the ring. That life, with it’s blood, bruises, and broken limbs, is still vastly superior to a life lived in the bleachers–observing, but never participating.

Bobo-Doll-experimentAll I know is that, no matter how many times I get knocked down, something inside of me makes me bounce back up again. I just keep getting up like one of those bobo dolls, no matter how hard you hit them, no matter how hard you try to keep them down, they somehow keeping getting up.

Sometimes I’ve compared myself to a buoy. Buoys can be submerged, but they always rise. I know that no matter what life throws my way, I will rise. Life will be good again. And the hope of that sustains me in the periods of drought and famine.

Aaron, on the other hand, doesn’t bounce. He reminds me of a rock thrown out on the water. He tends to sink. When things get dark, they tend to be black. He can’t find the sun. He begins to wall himself off, protecting himself. He is like a turtle that crawls into his shell and no amount of coaxing will get him to come out.

We are polar opposites in this. I am an optimist and he is a pessimist. I bounce whereas he sinks.

optimism-pessimismSo, does he just throw in the towel and say that, “Well, since I’m genetically pre-disposed to sink, I guess I’ll go ahead and lay down and die. What’s the point anyway?”

Obviously not. Giving into hopelessness and depression is never an answer.

What the research shows us is that though it might be much more difficult for the self-professed pessimist to rise back to hope and happiness after a huge blow, it is still in the realm of possibility.

Blog-Entry-1-AmeyGod made us all capable of great resilience. It just comes easier to some of us than to others.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share the tools I have, along with some of the new research out there. I haven’t figured all this out yet–no one has. I am not claiming to be an expert, but more a pilgrim. I am pooling my knowledge of psychology, my understanding of God and the human spirit, and my own hard-won experience in an effort to share the the wisdom I’ve learned and the tools that have proven to work.

If you’re an optimist, you probably do some of this instinctively, but we can always get better at how we manage stress and crisis.

If you’re a pessimist, don’t throw in the towel and consign yourself to a glass half full mentality. It’s a lot of hard work, and it takes some dedicated cognitive therapy, but you too can begin to experience the buoy experience of resilience.choose-happiness

 

 

Are you comfortable? Then it’s time to rock the boat!

stock-photo-5337523This morning, after dropping the girls off at school, I headed straight for the coffee pot to get a warm up on my now cooled coffee. I picked up the pot and stared at it blankly. It was empty. I blinked stupidly at it for a moment. It was empty…how was it empty?

I went through my mental list…Aaron grabbed a travel mug full before he left…still should have been a cup or two more…I had made a full pot, right? Of course I did! When would I not make a full pot in the morning? Silly thought, that! Well, then where did it go…

Gavin.

Gavin hadn’t headed to the bus stop yet when I left for the girls… Gavin?! My 11 year old son, 6th grade… coffee?!

I headed for the front door, and peeked out. The bus hadn’t come yet. Gavin was still there. I pseudo shouted (didn’t want to be too loud with still sleeping neighbors) and pantomimed toward him and my coffee mug. He pretended ignorance. I tried again. A distant, “Maybe…” was his response.

A maybe from Gavin means “Yes, but I don’t want to full out admit it lest I get into trouble.”

I stood blinking at him as he lifted my Starbucks travel cup and shot a hesitant smile in my direction.

boy-cup-cute-drinking-hot-Favim_com-264574My son helped himself to a cup of coffee, and as I watched I saw he was really drinking it.

I didn’t know how I felt about this. Too much change. My baby was just changing way too much for comfort. It was just such an adult thing for him to do!

He brushed his hair this morning. On his own. Without me having to tell him to do it, or more likely, just having to do it myself. He didn’t just wet it down and call it good—he brushed it.

Obviously there is a coffee drinking girl in the picture and she obviously takes the same bus he does. My kid is growing up.

why-turning-forty-is-actually-pretty-great-0
That’s a heck of a lot of candles!

If this wasn’t enough evidence of the ticking of the great clock of time, the fact that my two best friends just turned forty is irrefutable evidence of that darn clock. They’re forty, which means, I’m next. Granted, I have to turn thirty nine before I can turn forty, but it adds the sense of impending age, as if it is hanging over my head ready to swallow me into that group of officially past our prime, not yet elderly, but showing signs of wear and tear humanity.

And it doesn’t help that I keep getting invitations to join AARP in the mail. My husband, less than a year my junior, doesn’t get invitations to join, nope, not a one. But they keep rolling in for me! Maybe it’s because his man bun makes him look young and hip, maybe it’s because he still looks about thirty despite the slight graying at his temples. Maybe it’s because I’m  starting to look fifty, sixty…what’s the age to join AARP anyway! Surely it’s not 38! Geesh! They could at least wait until I turn 40! Come on already!

All of these factors are combining to force me to confront the reality that my life is about half over. That reality floats on the edge of my consciousness.

It’s not a vanity thing (though that’s there). It’s not the new wrinkles or the pudgier figure I now sport. It’s not that the face in the mirror sometimes doesn’t see like mine.

timeIt’s all about the time.

When you’re young, it feels like time spreads in front of you unending. There is so much of it, and you don’t really have a sense of it running out, ending–EVER. It feels like you have forever to do all the things you want to do. Years and years tumble before you in an endless string, all of this time to accomplish your dreams.

When you start nearing that forty mark, when your face shows the signs that your youth is fading, when your children start approaching their hero days and you begin to realize that you really are just a supporting character in their stories, the reality that the road does end, that time does run out, that it is limited and finite, starts to come home to roost. And that is uncomfortable to say the least.

As I have a tendency to do, I was reading a fantasy series the other day and was contemplating all the things that I would do with my time if, like a vampire, I didn’t have to worry about an aging body and an eventual death. As I contemplated, (and oh, the list was so long) I started to think of all I wouldn’t have the time to do. The books that will go unread, the countries that will go unseen, the languages I will never learn to speak, the things I will not have the time to learn…

I didn’t think of these things when I was twenty, because, though my time was limited even then, it didn’t feel limited.

This line of thought, rather than depressing me (though it does sadden me that, though I do happen to believe that there is life after to death, I don’t know that the things that matter now will matter then…will I want to read piles of books, or with immortality, does our need for knowledge disappear because we will know all things?) lit a fire under my oh, too comfortable derriere. If my time is finite, and quickly moving through the hour glass, I should not waste it on a treadmill (the figurative one).

ground hog's dayI don’t want to spend the last half of my life simply seeing the same scenery, living the same days over and over again (sometimes life feels a bit like “Groundhog’s Day,” doesn’t it?).

I need to get a move on it. I need to take some risks, and dare to make my dreams happen before it’s too late, before I run out of time.

It’s so easy to get comfortable, particularly as we get older. We surround ourselves with all these things that make us feel safe, cozy and well, comfortable. Our routines, our houses–all this stuff. We settle in. How could we risk all of this? It’s not practical.

Hmm…I think we give up more than we know in the name of practicality.

doubtMany dreams have died a slow death in the names of comfort and practicality.

Dreams, by their very nature, are at odds with comfort and practicality. They require guts, and risk, and daring.

No one is going to come and hand you your dream. The pursuit of dreams requires something from you–room for possibility–room for impossibility.

This idea has been coming at me from several directions all at the same time, and, being that I have been spending a lot of time in prayer about this very thing, I have chosen to believe that all of these are a confirmation that I need to get out of my comfort zone, stop being so practical, and start giving possibility a bit more room in my life.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained…

The pastor who spoke at our church on Sunday said something that really rang true with me. Sometimes we eliminate the possibility of the miraculous. If we are continually living within the box of practicality, of only what we know we can [afford, do, be] we never give the miraculous a chance.

I want the miraculous. I want to not just live comfortably, but live passionately knowing that I’ve made the most of the 80 or so years I get on this planet. I’m not going to get that by playing it safe.

When I read the Bible, I don’t see anything that leads me to think that we are supposed to live our lives in the pursuit of comfort. Show me one disciple who lived comfortably. You can’t.

The truth is, the Bible again and again tells us that life will be uncomfortable, or even more, if will be downright HARD. A continual test of faith.

comfort zoneIs your life a continual test of faith? Are you comfortable? Do you have a pretty good idea what your days are going to look like from today to the end of your life?

If your answer is yes, I believe you’re doing it all wrong, and I dare you to dare yourself for something MORE.

I’ve stepped out and taken a chance. I’ve given up my reliable, steady fulltime position at a job I didn’t really like and have accepted a job as an Associate Professor of psychology in one of our local colleges. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, though I always envisioned English, not Psychology. This is a dream of mine. A dream that requires an amount of risk.

I’m excited–and terrified.

It’s a risky move. The biggest risk factor that is killing my controlling nature is that, like most associate professor positions, it is part time, not full time, and so I’m going to have to supplement my income. I am going to need to make up the difference via tutoring, piano lessons, and hopefully, eventually, the odd writing job. Lots of uncertainty there.

Is it risky?

Yeah, that is definitely there. Giving up a sure thing is always risky.

But does it open the door of possibility?

Absolutely!

The time and opportunity to make a go of it as a writer is there. If I ever had a chance to do it, to make it, it’s now.

Not to mention the opportunity to be more present in the lives of my children, to capture the moments in these swiftly fleeting days.

Not to mention…I get to be a professor!

There are times when the uncertainty of it is very scary.

There are times that I want the security of the comfortable.

fall flyBut I confront these with the assurance that living life means taking risks, and with the firm belief that, if it’s what I’m supposed to do, it will work out. Somehow. And I do think it’s what I’m supposed to do.

So, I’ve stepped of the ledge. It’s time to see if I can fly or if I fall. Either way, I think it’s the right decision.

I take that back. It’s the only decision.

I Dare you to Fail–it might be the best thing you ever do!

mean-old-ladyI had the worst first grade teacher ever. She was a cranky old bitty who thought I was stupid, who broke all my pencils, and who threw my shoes in the garbage. I hated it her.

But I owe her a huge thank you.

She was my introduction to difficulty. She was my very early initiation into the practice of not perseverance, but of overcoming.

I could have accepted her early analysis of my intellectual capabilities. I could have started the inner monologue of my incompetence, my inability, and my general suckiness, but instead, despite my immature, impressionable six year-old mind, I made impossiblemy very first decision to overcome, to confront her analysis head on, and to prove her wrong.

That was the first time I confronted an obstacle, and I believe it set the precedent for how I would handle all the obstacles to come.

Where did my courage to deal with the difficulties that have come my way over the last several decades come from?

I believe that it came from that very first experience with her. She had told me I couldn’t. She had told me I was dumb. She had labeled me and written me off. But I didn’t accept that, and by third grade I proudly walked the long hall to her room to hold my report card full of A’s to her startled face. Dadgummit! I had done it! I had proven her wrong, and if I’d proven her wrong, why couldn’t I overcome the next obstacle, and the next one? I had overcome, and that overcoming gave me faith that I could do it again.

Because of her, from the very beginning, I was only too aware of my imperfections. I never labored under the false perception of perfection, so when I screwed up, as I inevitably did time and again, it was not  the end of my world. I did not label myself as a failure, but instead, I recognized that I could do better, be better.

failure-and-successI was very aware of my ability to change and to grow, because I had proven that ability from the tender age of six. I had proven to myself that I could be better tomorrow than I was today. I never thought I was perfect, but I knew that with effort, with tenacity, I could be more than who I was currently.

If I had stepped out of the gate with straight A’s, if it had come easy to me from the very beginning, if I hadn’t had the very early lessons in difficulty, would I have had the courage to confront obstacles instead of just avoiding them? Would I have been scared to risk failure and take chances if I wasn’t thrust into it so early on?

According to Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset: the new Psychology of success” I very well might not have. How we deal with failure early on, predicts how we are likely to deal with it our entire lives–unless me mindfully make a decision to deal with it differently.

If, when we are confronted with difficulty, we choose to overcome it, we will keep daring, keep risking, keep pushing our limits to see what we are capable of doing.

If, when confronted with difficulty, we back away, and stay in our comfort zone of what we know we do well, in our zone of tried and true success, we are likely to never find the true potential of what we could do.

failureAnd it all starts when we’re just little peanuts. If we allow our failings to be an impetus for growth, rather than a label of who we are–a failure–we can become so much more.

It is that very willingness to confront the obstacle that I learned way back then that keeps me blogging. I have blogged for years, and yet my following consists mainly of my mother, a couple of loyal family members, and a handful of faithful friends. Logic says that I should have given this up long before now, but am I going to quit? Nope. I’m going to keep doing it, becoming better, working out the kinks, until one day, I firmly believe, someone (hopefully lots of someones–and this isn’t to say I don’t appreciate you, my faithful few!) is going to notice.

And my novel. I know it’s going to get rejected. Probably many times. Is that going to stop me from writing it, or from sending it out to the inundated world of agents and publishers?

The-best-success-stories-often-begin-with-failure_-8x10Absolutely not. It didn’t stop Stephen King and it didn’t stop J.K. Rowling, and it’s not going to stop me. I will keep working on it, tweaking it, taking the advice and suggestions I am given, until finally, one day, someone says, “Yes. I’m going to take a chance on you.”

Sometimes, this mountain I’m trying to climb seems insurmountable, and I am tempted to throw in the towel, but I just can’t do that.

Thank you, Kelly, for the nudge I needed through the book “Mindset” you sent my way, and thank you Chris, for the nudge you gave me with the book “Daring Greatly.” It is a good reminder to keep going, keep trying, and keep believing, that by daring to it, and myself out there, I am doing something worthwhile.

And thank you Cassandra for telling me you “want to be [me] when you grow up.” You say that to me now, not as a published author, but as one who is daring to try to become one. It reminds me that it’s not the success I achieve, but the willingness to dare to achieve it that is truly admirable.

So, if it’s the willingness to try that sets us apart, what is it that you need to be willing to risk? What is it that you need to dare to do? Aren’t you curious of just how much you can achieve?

Daring to risk and failing, does not make you a failure. It makes you courageous. I dare you to dare with me.