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A Birthday Surprise!

The weekend before my 40th birthday, Dennis and I had plans for dinner with my dear friend Christina and her boyfriend Tom.  We were planning to go to their favorite Italian restaurant that they rave about! I was excited about trying the food and having a fun night out with our friends.  However, the day before was a rough one for me.  I was very down and felt like I wouldn’t make very good company.  I texted Christina: “Just want to forewarn you that I’m struggling with some anxiety right now so I may not be my typical cheerful self. But, I love having the time to connect with you!” She quickly replied: “Oh my sweet friend. I love you regardless of your mood. Thanks for your honesty.”

This brief exchange calmed my nerves and my heart.  When Dennis asked me later that evening if I felt up to going out the following night, I was able to reply, “Yes, I want to connect with my friend. It’s okay if I’m not feeling great.” 

Emotions truly are like the weather; they’re always changing.  I decided to dress up a bit for dinner and had stopped struggling with the anxiety by the time we left.  Sienna took pictures of us by the fireplace (like we were headed to prom!) because she said we looked so nice together.

As Dennis drove and we chatted about my upcoming birthday, I thought about how supportive and caring he is, especially when I’m in a dark place and need to lean on him.  We got to Christina’s early and sat in the car talking when suddenly I touched his hand and said, “You really love me.” I can’t remember what prompted me to say that, but I remember feeling so loved.  We were meeting at Christina’s to take an Uber to the restaurant.  It’s in a busy area near downtown so I figured we were trying to avoid parking issues.  We went inside and were directed to an upstairs room.

The upstairs is small, with just enough room for a long table for one large party.  When we got to the top of the stairs I was met with cheers of “Surprise!” by most of my dearest friends in San Diego!   I was shocked.  I instantly gave Christina a long hug and then turned to Dennis, “Did you know about this?!” He had the biggest smile on his face and conceded that he knew.  Turns out he and Christina had been hatching this plan for weeks. 

As I looked at the gathered guests I thought: “These are exactly the people I would invite to my party!”  Which made me feel seen and known by my husband and friend.  As I tried to recover from the shock, another thought flashed in my mind: “I’m not up for this.  I can’t be on for everyone.”  Fortunately, I took a moment to pray and the Holy Spirit quickly comforted me with another thought, “Just let them love you.  You don’t have to perform for them.”  I got a little teary as I sat down and started talking with my friends. 

My friends love me.  Dennis loves me.  These thoughts occurred to me within a half an hour.  Why did this feel like a revelation?  When you repress your feelings, you don’t just repress the “negative” or painful ones, you also repress joy and tender moments of connection.  When I open my heart and allow myself to feel my emotions, everything becomes heightened and intensifies.  When I let myself feel, then I could actually feel loved. 

The surprise party was utterly delightful!  I soaked up the time with my loved ones and enjoyed the conversation.  Many of my friends didn’t know other guests at the party, so it was very fun to watch them connect and find commonalities.  After being “in my head” so much, it was such a joy to be present and have fun!  The food was delicious too.  One of the fun things about surprise parties is hearing all the backstory that you weren’t aware of when it was happening. To think, all this planning and plotting for me!

Being able to feel joy and true happiness within a period of anxiety and darkness is a lesson I will remember.  When we don’t feel upbeat or happy, that’s precisely when we should engage with our loved ones and lean on them for support, encouragement, connection, joy, and fun.  Our feelings are constantly changing.  Moments of tenderness and joy may be just around the corner.  

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I'm Tired.

I’m tired. 

I don’t admit that often.  Or, if I’m honest, at all. 

Being tired is not something I acknowledge or claim in my day-to-day life.  I have an inner critic that tells me I have to keep moving, keep proving, keep earning something, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what.  I need to keep checking things off the list, although it’s not a literal “to do” list anymore.  I stopped keeping those years ago when I realized how disconnected I was from my life.  Instead, it’s now a mental list of all the “good” things I need to be doing or rules for behavior I must uphold.  From eating habits to exercise, housekeeping to responding to work emails, there’s always some “next right thing” I should be doing. This striving requires me to live within my own mind too much of the time.

The past several weeks have been hard.  Insomnia triggered anxiety returned to my life in Paris and has been a fairly consistent companion ever since.  I have had some good nights of rest, but dropping this struggle for control has been hard.  My always active mind keeps searching for a fix, which I know is an illusion of control.  When I let go, I cling to God and pray for help in surrendering to His grace, love and perfect will. 

Recognizing how little control we have over our thoughts and feelings was a huge lesson for me. However, when I experience painful emotions and have negative thoughts, my mind still goes into fight or flight mode and I struggle to change my thoughts and feelings.  I’m actually really good at repressing my emotions by reframing or focusing on thoughts and feelings that give me a sense of control. 

But, I don’t want to continue to strive for control over my emotions.  I want to trust God and allow myself to feel my emotions.  I want to be able to say, “I’m tired” when I feel it, rather than repress that feeling from myself.  I want to stop the incessant evaluation and judgments that I hold on to in an attempt make life feel predictable and safe.  I want to surrender.

In The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection, Richard Plass and James Cofield write: “True surrender is not resignation or a passive giving up on life.  Surrender is a Spirit-empowered act of courage.  It is the willingness to offer our lives to God and trust him with the outcome.  It is giving our lives to God each day, recognizing our dependency on him.  It is trusting God even when what we are living is dark and confusing and something we never thought we would have to live.”

Surrender and acceptance of painful emotions happens over and over again within the present moment.  One of the strategies I often use to acknowledge when my thoughts have hooked me is simply to thank my mind.  Tonight, while cooking dinner, I added something powerful after “Thanks Mind!” I silently thought, “I’ll just trust God.” 

I let go of control and surrender, little by little, moment by moment, as I unhook from my unhelpful thoughts and focus on the grace of God through Jesus.  Even when I’m anxious, sad, frustrated, confused, or yes, tired.   

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Deepening my Trust in the True, Good and Beautiful Triune God

I feel like I’m in the middle of what may come to be known as “My Awakening 2.0”. The recent trip to Paris triggered an intense period of insomnia and related anxiety that feels pretty awful. I know that my struggle to accept these feelings has exacerbated the issue, but I’m finding it hard to truly let go and cease trying to “fix” my negative thoughts and feelings.

However, unlike back in the summer of 2013, I now have coping strategies to help me get through the day – thank you, Lord! The basis of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is that we have very little control over our thoughts and feelings, but a lot of control over what we choose to do and where we put our attention. Most of the acceptance tools are meant to allow painful thoughts and feelings to be, without struggling with them or trying to change them.

So, in the course of a given day, despite how tired or emotional I feel, I’m able to pray for strength, focus my attention on what tasks need to be done at work or home, and do them. In these moments, I’m not fighting my thoughts and feelings, but letting them be while I carry out life activities in the present moment. Ironically, I’m probably better at my job when I’m in this state because I’m very intentional about my actions and don’t fall into the blind optimism that can lead me to avoid analyzing pitfalls with my Team and our work!

Today I’m seeking God’s peace and faithful guidance as I continue to surrender to His perfect will. Responding to an urging, I picked up an inspiring book that I’d read this past summer. It’s called Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton. One section was dog-eared and highlighted. As I re-read it today, I was moved. It captures my struggle so well:

“… God is dealing primarily with our “trust structures,” especially those deep postures of our being that do not rely on God but on self for our well-being. Here we make the devastating discovery of all the ways in which we are captive to our own anxieties, driven by our need to control God and others and impose our own order on things. We begin to get a glimpse of the false self that functions primarily to keep us safe rather than helping us to know how to abandon ourselves to God. At this level, we must take a hard look: are we really trusting ourselves to God and to the flow of God’s Spirit, or are we bound up by defensive, self-protective patterns that serve only to help us maintain our fragile sense of security and well-being in the world?” (pg. 103).

Oh man, my false self is such a pro at creating an internal world that makes me feel safe and “in control” and totally self-absorbed! As God so artfully orchestrates, I’m currently reading a book referred by another Cambridge mom that deals specifically with the false self. It’s called The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection. The co-authors Richard Plass and James Cofield describe their use of the term false self as a translation of what St. Paul refers to repeatedly as “the flesh”: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7: 17-18). Plass and Cofield describe the flesh or false self as “a toxin, corrupting our deepest connections with its self-absorbed, exaggeratedly self-reliant spirit. It is a deep mistrust of the true, good and beautiful triune God,” (pg. 60).

Yikes, is this ever convicting.

I know, deep in my soul, that the process of letting go of my sense of control, accepting my thoughts and feelings, and thereby trusting God above all else was real when I went through my “awakening” back in 2013. All that I learned then is still true today. Unfortunately, my sinful nature twisted these beautiful lessons into a clever way to feel in control of my feelings. My thought process went something like this: If I simply accept my thoughts and feelings, then they will feel under my control (i.e. I’d feel contented and “good”).

Letting go of my need to control my thoughts and feelings is my primary struggle. Accepting my anxiety and fearful thoughts, without striving to fix or change them, requires me to fight all my old urges. There is no positive mantra or reframing that I can do to make these feelings less painful. This is when I have to rely solely on my deep trust in God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths, (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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Life Lessons from Cool Runnings

Friday nights typically mean “Family Movie Night” and pizza (eggplant mini pizzas for me!) around our house. This past Friday, it was my turn to pick the movie so we searched through all the movies from my childhood on Disney Plus. I picked Cool Runnings, the early 90s movie about the Jamaican Bobsled team. I hadn’t seen it in at least 20 years, but remembered that my siblings and I loved it. Actually, I have a very vivid memory of watching it the Henderson’s house, our dear family friends. It was fun uncovering that memory of childhood!

Right off the bat, Mateo loved the movie because of the ridiculous potty humor! He is a nine-year-old boy through and through. His hysterical laughter got the rest of us giggling over the silliness of it all. Midway through the movie, Sienna exclaimed, “Wait! This is in our movies to see before you grow up book!” “Oh, you’re right!” I replied. Years ago we picked up this very fun little book at our favorite (now closed) bookstore in Seaport Village called Upstart Crow: 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up. It’s been fun to check off the movies we’ve seen and consult the book to help us choose good films for Movie Night.

I’d forgotten what great messages are conveyed in Cool Runnings. Without giving away the entire movie, the first wonderful message is of forgiveness as the main character, Derice and another sprinter, named Yul Brenner (!) forgive their competitor that accidentally fell and tripped them, causing all three men not to qualify for the Olympics. They decide to use their sprinting ability to form the first ever Jamaican Bobsled team, along with Derice’s best friend (and champion pushcart driver) Sanka.

The team faces a lot of adversity as they select a coach, played by John Candy, who was disgraced twenty years earlier for cheating at the Olympics. He’s ostracized by the bobsledding community, so the team receives a hostile welcome when they arrive in Canada for the Calgary Olympics. One of the teammates poignantly acknowledges a painful truth when he says, “We’re different. People are always afraid of what’s different.”

My favorite moment in the movie brought tears to my eyes. Derice is asking his coach about the cheating scandal, the night before their final heat in the Olympics.

Irv: You wanna know why I cheated, right?

Derice Bannock: Yes, I do.

Irv: That’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I’d made winning my whole life. And when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. You understand that?

Derice Bannock: No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.

Irv: Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.

Derice Bannock: Hey, coach… how will I know if I’m enough?

Irv: When you cross that finish line tomorrow, you’ll know.

Without giving away the ending, this exchange foreshadows the emotionally charged conclusion of their race. When Irv said of the gold medal, “But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one,” Mateo asked me, “What does that mean?” I knew this could be significant for him, this child that always wants to do the right thing. “Well, it means that your worth shouldn’t be determined by what you accomplish,” I replied. He nodded slowly and I knew this was just a seed being planted, rather than a huge life lesson being learned.

Who knew so many life lessons could be wrapped up in a film about bobsledding! Have you seen Cool Runnings? If not (or not recently), it’s definitely worth a viewing, especially with kids. Although you may have to endure some toilet humor for awhile after!

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The Pursuit of Happiness.

On Monday afternoon, after finishing a book that morning, I went to the library at lunchtime to browse the shelves and find my next book to read. I had a huge stack of “To Be Read” books at home, but a seeking instinct encouraged me to find something else. I headed toward the Christian section and noticed a book on the shelf across the aisle. The title America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks caught my eye. I mean, how could it not?

The author, Ruth Whippman, is a British journalist that moved to California with her husband and baby son when she was in her late thirties. She explains that cynicism is deeply ingrained in the British psyche and she was surprised to discover that Americans seek and discuss happiness constantly. As she was feeling displaced and homesick, she became curious about the American concept of “the pursuit of happiness” and started to investigate. What she discovered is that Americans, despite all the effort they put into pursuing happiness are actually not very happy.

Specifically, she notes that most of the positive psychology and happiness advice focuses on an internal experience that must be pursued independently: “Increasingly, Americans are chasing happiness by looking inward into their own souls, rather than outward toward their friends and communities.” Most of the slogans about happiness support this concept, such as “Happiness comes from within” or “Happiness should not depend on other people” or “Happiness is an inside job”. These ideas are meant to be empowering, but they do not jive with actual experience. Most studies show that the happiest people have deep social connections and spend a lot of time with people in their communities.

Whippman spends several chapters unpacking aspects of American culture that are embracing the concept of positive psychology such as the workplace, social media, and parenting. The message that all of these pursuits send is that we should be able to achieve happiness through grit and effort. However, constantly seeking to be happy internally often keeps us from experiencing the rich, full life around us.

While a lot of the commentary was a bummer to read, I felt affirmed in reading this book because it echoed a lesson I learned years ago through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: we cannot control our feelings. Seeking to only experience positive emotions or happiness is actually a trap. We spend a lot of mental energy and focus trying to keep negative or painful thoughts and feelings away, which keeps us from the meaningful life we want to lead.

Happiness comes from the same root as “happen” or “happenstance” which means that it is something temporary and often fleeting. Seeking to hold on to these positive feelings (and avoid painful ones) isn’t a fruitful way to spend our time. Living a life aligned with our values will bring about a sense of gratitude and satisfaction, but also will comprise the full spectrum of human emotions.

At the conclusion of America the Anxious, Whippman write something that sounds like it came straight from The Happiness Trap:

Beyond that, I’ve realized over the last year or so of obsessing over this topic, that if we want to be happy, what we really need to do is to stop thinking about happiness… And really, that’s a liberating thought. For the slackers of this world, the idea that the harder we strive for happiness, the less likely we are to achieve it is good news. Now we can relax in the knowledge that if we concentrate on the life and liberty bits, if we focus on living a connected, fulfilling, and meaningful life, then if we’re lucky, happiness might just hitch a ride.

America the Anxious, pg. 219.

Given my recent bout of anxiety, I’ve been returning to practices of defusion and accepting my painful thoughts an feelings. Reading this book helped me recognize how unhealthy ideas about happiness permeate our society. The belief that we should be happy and maintain positive feelings all the time runs rampant. In order to achieve these feelings, many people turn to distraction, substances, or activities to keep themselves from feeling genuine emotionally ups and downs.

So, if you’re not feeling very happy just now, please know that you’re completely healthy and normal! Our emotions change all the time, like the weather. When we focus our attention on doing things that align with our life values, rather than trying to suppress or change our thoughts and feelings, our life will be much more rich and meaningful. And likely we’ll encounter happiness along the way.

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L' acceptation (Acceptance in French)

The idea of going to Paris, or really anywhere across so many time zones, scared me.  I wanted to go on this trip to celebrate two milestones: Dennis and my 15th wedding anniversary in November and my upcoming 40th birthday on January 31st.  It sounded fun, like something monumental. Plus, Sienna has been dreaming of visiting Paris for a while and we’d celebrate both hers and Mateo’s birthdays while on the trip.  There were many reasons to go on this family adventure.

But, beneath the surface, I was terrified that this trip would trigger a bout of insomnia like the jet lag did in 2001 when I returned from Okinawa.  I told myself that I was “accepting” my fear by not giving in to it.  The very fact that I was going on the trip meant I was “facing the fear and doing it anyway” – right? 

Looking back, I recognize that my fear kept me from engaging in the planning of this trip. My attempt at acceptance actually became repression of painful feelings which caused me to avoid deeply committing to the process of planning and dreaming about this adventure.  Fear caused me to withdraw and go through the motions, without opening my heart to the experience.

Then, my worst fear came true.  I laid awake for hours our first night in Paris.  The second night was the same, though I finally crashed for several hours of interrupted sleep.  The third night, I didn’t fall asleep at all.  The anxiety was acute and I woke Dennis in the middle of the night to sob and seek comfort.  He was loving and supportive, staying awake the rest of the early morning hours to keep me company.  I finally called my sister at 4:30 a.m. local time (fortunately early in the night back in California) where she helped me recognize that my staunch refusal to take a sleep aid was actually a way of trying to control the situation.

I knew that acceptance of this situation would bring peace, but my struggle switch was firmly in the on position and I couldn’t release my need to fix what was happening.  My mom, kids and me found a Pharmacie and purchased a sleep aid (basically Benadryl) to take the edge off my insomnia fear.  That fourth night in Paris, I had to take multiple doses to finally rest, but somehow that night, acceptance slowly creeped in.  I’d experienced three days of exploring this beautiful city and I had been present.  Yes, there were painful feelings and nagging thoughts about this inability to sleep, but I was able to defuse them and refocus on the experience of being there, with my family, taking in these new sights.  

Fear of not sleeping had been replaced with the actual experience of not sleeping.  I could handle these feelings in the moment.   

By the end of our trip, I slept a restorative 8 hours straight without a sleep aid.  Acceptance brought peace and relief.

Coming back home, the nine hour time-change meant that we didn’t see daylight for 24 hours. My body clock was so thrown off and I felt the fear creep back in.  As I laid awake the first night home, I kept telling myself that I would not take a sleep aid.  I would not give in to the fear and try to fix the situation. No sleep came that night and my anxiety was again extremely high.  I practiced my expansion skills observing the painful feelings in my body, breathing deeply, and giving the pain all the room is needed to move on.  I prayed and found moments of peace.  At one point, I thought, “Maybe it would be wise to take a sleep aid tomorrow night” and I felt such relief at this simple idea.

At Target the following day, I purchased a box of ZZZQuil, figuring it looked pretty basic and would do the trick.  That night I took one dose and about ninety minutes later, a second dose.  When I was still awake another hour later, I Googled the effectiveness of ZZZQuil and discovered a message board full of insomnia suffers claiming that ZZZQuil did nothing to help them sleep and in fact felt like a stimulant!  It’s ironic how validating these strangers’ comments felt.  I dug out a dose of trusty NyQuil and finally crashed that night. 

I threw the box of ZZZQuil away the next day with a sense of satisfaction.  There wasn’t some magic pill or solution to fix this deep fear.  I felt so much closer to acceptance in that moment.  In the end, taking or not taking a sleep aid was not the critical piece of this story. Sleep aids have their usefulness and are most effective when taking when a spirit of acceptance.

I struggle with wanting to control my feelings.  I want to feel “positive” feelings and fuse with “positive thoughts”.  This is the “Happiness Trap” – the idea that only “positive” feelings and thoughts are acceptable.  The actual experience of lying in bed awake is not painful, it’s the feelings of anxiety and racing thoughts that tell me: “You’re broken” or “You should be able to control this” that cause me distress. 

I’ve been through this pattern of insomnia fear and acceptance several times since my awakening in 2013.  As such, I’d learned that true acceptance brought relief of fear and anxiety.  Therefore, I started to tell myself that I “accepted” the feelings in an attempt to control my feelings.  In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris cautions readers again and again not to use acceptance techniques as control techniques because they will eventually fail.  True acceptance means that you allow your feelings to be, without struggling to push them away or change them. 

Another huge realization of my awakening was how frequently my mind creates dichotomies between good and bad, right and wrong.  These judgments are another way of trying to control my thoughts and feelings.  So, deciding that I “would not take a sleep aid” prior to the trip and again upon returning from Paris, I made a judgment that sleep aids indicated weakness and I shouldn’t need one.  Acceptance could actually involve recognizing my body’s limitation and the impact that a 9 hour time change would have on it, and taking along a sleep aid in case it could be helpful.  

This post describes an intense inner experience, that doesn’t come across in the sharing of vacation photos on Instagram and Facebook.  It requires vulnerability to share the hard and painful parts of myself.  All this to say, our trip was also fun, rewarding, full of good memories and new experiences.  Life isn’t good or bad.  Experiences are not completely highs or lows. They are a mix of both, all the time.  Memories of feeling fear and anxiety will be there when I reflect back on our Paris trip. But so will memories of the places we saw and the experiences we had: moments of silliness, watching the kids taking photographs, and exploring a beautiful city with the people I love.  

Growth for me involves not having to judge or label this trip as either good or bad.  It was a great trip that also involved a lot of hard emotions for me.  This is acceptance.

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Whatever Is – Is Best

At my kids’ school, they have an annual Speech Meet, where all the 1st through 6th graders memorize a piece of poetry, scripture, fable, or historical speech (for the older grades) and present it before a panel of judges. Last year both Sienna and Mateo presented several verses of scripture, but this year they each looked for a poem to memorize.

The act of selecting a poem really demonstrated the differences in their personalities! Sienna has artistic soul and loved reading through poems looking for one that “sounded like her.” She let me read her several options from a book called “The Best Loved Poems of the American People” which I was given for my 16th birthday and carried around with me all these years!

Mateo, on the other hand, agonized over his selection after his teacher didn’t approve his initial choice of a silly Shel Silverstein poem. As I read him option after option, and Dennis found him even more possibilities online, he became increasingly agitated. One night as he was going to bed, he told me, “It really isn’t helpful when you give me so many options. It doesn’t help.” I apologized and told him, “I’m sure you can handle this, Teo.”

We have similar personalities, Mateo and me. We want to do the right thing and that can lead to debating simple choices. I could see that he was trying to pick the perfect option, which simply doesn’t exist. Also, we can tend to be “in our heads” which makes it difficult to connect to the emotional depth of poetry. The “head versus heart” dynamic was so interesting to see! Personally, it was very fulfilling to experience tender moments while reading Sienna poems. I remembered how I used to love poetry when I was young, back before I repressed my feelings.

Finally, we got down to crunch time and Teo had to make a choice. He asked for help and I zeroed on in one option I thought he would benefit from memorizing. Acceptance is such an important virtue for “perfectionist” type people, so I encouraged him to choose a poem called: Whatever Is – Is Best by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. He liked it and is happy with his choice. Now on to the memorization process!

WHATEVER IS – IS BEST

I know, as my life grows older,
And mine eyes have clearer sight,
That under each rank wrong somewhere
There lies the root of Right;
That each sorrow has its purpose,
By the sorrowing oft unguessed;
But as sure as the sun brings morning,
Whatever is – is best.

I know that each sinful action,
As sure as the night brings shade,
Is somewhere, sometime punished,
Tho’ the hour be long delayed.
I know that the soul is aided
Sometimes by the heart’s unrest,
And to grow means often to suffer –
But whatever is – is best.

I know there are no errors,
In the great Eternal plan,
And all things work together
For the final good of man.
And I know when my soul speeds onward,
In its grand Eternal quest,
I shall say as I look back earthward,
Whatever is – is best.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Lately I’ve realized some interesting patterns in my thoughts. Through a lot of self-reflection, I’ve learned that I deeply want to be good and do the right thing.  This is commonly called perfectionism, but actually “being good” is most important for me.  It’s not that I need to be perfect or have others view me as such, but I strive to always do the right thing which then provides a sense of being good. 

The thought pattern I’ve witnessed on several occasions goes something like this:

First, someone communicates a situation to me wherein I perceive they think I did something wrong. And, due to my hyper sense of responsibility, this potential error can be something incredibly small and insignificant!

Next, my mind starts spinning stories in an attempt to regain my sense of “being good”.  My thoughts reframe the situation to retain my sense of rightness. In other words, self-justification kicks into overdrive!

Often, this story involves discrediting the person who communicated the situation or mistake to me.  As in, if they’re wrong then I can be right. There’s a very unhealthy black/white, right/wrong dynamic at play when this is happening. Then, in a vicious cycle, I then start feeling badly about myself for thinking uncharitable thoughts about this person.   

Recognizing this has been very powerful!  I can now step back and observe this thought pattern instead of getting all fused with the stories my mind is telling me. 

As I’ve talked to several friends and family members about this thought pattern, I’ve learned that most people have routine stories they spin.  For some, whenever they perceive a need they deeply feel that they must meet it for other people.  Others routinely confront injustices and feel called to right the wrongs they encounter. 

We all tell ourselves stories in an attempt to make sense of the world around us.  Reframing has become a popular idea and is defined as a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.  Our reality is partially shaped by these stories that we craft and then believe.   

I successfully reframed a situation last week.  Sienna’s class is going to Williamsburg next March and she desperately wanted me to go as a chaperone.  I’d applied, along with several other parents.  Due to the ratio of girls and boys they ended up selecting two moms from her class to chaperone (along with a few dads).  I worried about the situation quite a bit. I was concerned Sienna wouldn’t want to go on the trip if I wasn’t selected to chaperone.  When I learned that I would not be going on the trip, it took the better part of the day to reframe the situation. 

All along I’d been praying that God would work all things for good, so I started looking for hidden blessings in the situation.  Since the trip occurs during the spring busy season for my company, I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to manage trying to take a vacation during this stressful time of year.  Fortunately, Sienna is now open to going on the trip without me, which will be a great experience of growth for her. 

The stories we tell ourselves are not innately good or bad.  They can be helpful and useful or destructive and painful.  I think the real trick is being able to step back and observe our thoughts for what they are: stories that run through our minds.  When they help us live according to our values, we should certainly embrace the story.  But, when they cause anxiety and frustration while we attempt to control the world around us or justify ourselves, it brings great peace to let go of the story. 

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Ups and Downs in Sports and Life

The fall is my favorite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the coziness and anticipation of the holidays.  I love pumpkin everything, wearing sweaters (now that it has finally cooled down in San Diego!) and settling in to a school routine.  Dennis and I have always loved football season, but now we have another sport to look forward to: soccer!  Mateo has played for four years now and I absolutely adore watching him play! 

He has a gracefulness and intensity on the soccer field.  As his mom, I get very emotionally involved in his games.  I cheer, scream, laugh, and sometimes even cry.  It’s the full spectrum of emotions!

A few weeks ago, his game was particularly enthralling.  First, he had an accidental hand ball in the goalie box which resulted in the other team scoring on a penalty kick early on.  I watched him respond with little emotion to this setback.  Then, later in the game, he scored two goals!  The second of which was on a corner kick he took and I miraculously caught on video!  I’m usually enjoying the game too much to take photos or videos, but I’d heard the coach tell Teo he was about to get a rest, so I figured I’d record for the last minute he was on the field. 

On the car ride home we viewed the video clip to relive the moment again.  This time, I noticed that, although it was a strong kick, the goal could largely be attributed to the goalie mishandling the ball. I felt badly for the little goalie and it reminded me of Teo’s hand ball at the beginning of the game.  Adversity in sports is constant.

With these ideas fresh in mind, I ran on the treadmill that afternoon and watched a college football game.  One highlight was a long pass downfield where the wide receiver made an exceptional play!  As he celebrated his catch, the defensive back was sprawled on the field, totally defeated.  It hit me, many moments in sports represent both an achievement and a failure. In some ways, you cannot have a high without a corresponding low.  Think about it: a pitcher striking out a batter represents his success, while the batter has failed.  Whereas, a home run represents the batter’s success and the pitcher’s failure. 

From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the victorious player is the “winner” and the defeated player is the “loser” in these moments.  However, this one moment in time could actually represent an inverse reaction. What if the wide receiver who made the amazing catch decides this play proves what a wonderful player he is and therefore he stops working so hard at practice?  What if the defensive back uses this moment of defeat to motivate himself to practice harder and grow as a player? 

Growth happens throughout our lives in so many ways.  Each moment and experience has the potential to further our growth and development.  This reminds me of the famous quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  Isn’t it true?  Most of the learning and growth we experience in life comes from hardships, failures, or setbacks.  When things aren’t working well is when we have to dig down deep and evaluate our behavior and actions to see where we can improve. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in my children’s moments of failure and hardship.  It’s important that they build resiliency and the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again.  When I jump in to soften a failure or manage their feelings, I’m actually robbing them of the fuel to learn and grow.  Those moments of adversity are important teachers. Actually, Teo demonstrated this growth mindset during that soccer game. When I asked him, “How’d you feel after the penalty kick?” he replied, “Oh, it was okay. I just figured, we’ll have to go score some goals.”

My Awakening, Uncategorized

Supernatural Common Sense

Through all of these years of personal growth and letting go of control, I continually fall into an illusion that I can somehow perfect life by always doing the right thing. Time and again, I’ve had to realize the trap I’d fallen into and slowly, intentionally return to a place of surrender and rest in God. Part of acceptance is learning not to shame myself for this pattern. Instead, I try to be gentle with myself and return to the mindfulness techniques of prayerfully letting go of my thoughts and allowing my feelings to come and go.

I recently finished Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which I marked up extensively! Reading it, I a similar feeling that I had when reading Ronald Roleheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Merton expresses such simple but profound truths about the human condition and our relationship to God. One quote that I highlighted with an “Awesome!” comment in the margin was: “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God,” (p. 128). This reminds me of when Rolheiser said “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, p. 20)

These simple statements ring with such truth in my experience! The further I stray from God and being mindful of His will and ways, the more I focus on myself and strive to perfect the world around me (as if it was within my power to perfect anything!). Merton also says:

In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.

No Man is an island, 120.

God is so mighty and righteous that our feeble minds scarcely can conceive of His greatness. There is a deep peace that only comes from recognizing God’s perfection and our relative weakness. Our society generally sends a message of self-actualization that, while attempting to empower us, actually intensifies our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. We cannot do it all, have it all, or be it all in this lifetime. Recognizing our limitations and resting in God’s provision for us brings such peace.

Merton describes this concept of Christian humility as “first of all a matter of supernatural common sense.” He goes on to explain that “it teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are.” I love this! I find such irony in the fact that embracing my limitations, weakness and sinfulness provides the peace and security that the world fails to impart through self-esteem and self-empowerment. Merton concludes, “If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God.” Amen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we discern God’s will in our lives. He calls us to act and fulfill vocations within His kingdom, so we clearly have to do more than simply rest! Being present and really seeing the people around me is the best way I know to love and serve them. Prayerfully maintaining this supernatural common sense that reminds me of my neediness for God, also allows me to extend grace and love to others.