Getting Out of My Head and Into My Life, In New York City

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Sometimes the greatest insights into ourselves come in the most unexpected ways.

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At the end of January, Dennis and I got to take an amazing trip, just the two of us!  My dad and stepmom gifted us with a trip to New York City to see my childhood friend Sara Bareilles perform in her Broadway musical Waitress.  We had a simply wonderful time!  In addition to Waitress, we saw two other Broadway shows: The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera.  In four and a half days we saw so many of the major attractions in NYC – Central Park, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial, The Met, Rockefeller Center, and Top of the Rock, to name the highlights.  It was so fun to be just the two of us, exploring and having adventures. We left plenty of space in our itinerary for spontaneous plans, which made for a more adventurous and exciting trip.

While touring the Michelangelo exhibit at The Met, I had an insight into myself that stopped me in my tracks.  Instead of gazing at the art and experiencing it directly, I was drawn to reading the commentary next to each piece.  Rather than having an emotional reaction to the art, I wanted to understand the history, context, and importance of the artist or subject.  When I realized this, it was somewhat startling.  I feel like I’ve come so far in my personal growth of being present in the moment and accepting emotional ups and downs, but still… I’m naturally inclined to analyze and think about something as emotionally significant as art.

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Returning home, I’ve been contemplating this realization.  I want to give my emotional life more of my attention, and not spend so much time “in my head”.  Why do I tend toward analyzing rather than experiencing the world?

This afternoon, I read my mom’s recent blog post at her website: A Woman’s Path.  She wrote about a book she read called “Starting With Why” and the concept of getting to the why behind your behavior through the Golden Circle exercise:

The Golden Circle, as described by Sinek, is a method we can use to bring about a clear understanding of why we do what we do. The Golden Circle represents 3 circles, one within the other.  The largest circle represents what we do.  The middle circle represents how we do it, and the inner circle, or the core, represents why we do what we do.

Returning to the epiphany at The Met, I struggled a bit with the words and then drew out a Golden Circle that went like this:

  • What: I tend to analyze and pay attention to my thoughts instead of directly experiencing my emotions
  • How: By ignoring feelings and fusing with my thoughts, I have a sense of safety and control
  • Why: I ultimately fear that I’ll encounter something that’s emotionally overwhelming

I can feel that I’m on the cusp of another deepen layer of growth that is necessary for my personal development.  It’s important and necessary, but not easy.  It’s so obvious to me that the path to peace is through Christ.  I can’t keep devastation and pain away, but I can certainly seek the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Creator of the Universe to provide love, hope, guidance, and wisdom.

I’m clinging to my Savior as I pray for continued growth.  I want to feel life more than analyze it.  But, the only way that feels safe for me is when I’m trusting in God.  When I’m “in my head” my ultimate trust is in myself, my thoughts.  But, when I am present and not trying to control my emotions, I put my trust in God.  So much more comforting! I know that I’m a more loving wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend when I can accept my feelings and be in the moment with my loved ones.  I’m praying that God continues to draw me close and show me how to embrace Him more.

Seeking Peace Where it Can’t Be Found

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Living in our postmodern, technological age, we are inundated with information all the time.  Browsing through the bookstore or library (two of my favorite activities!) reveals that there’s pretty much no topic that hasn’t been researched and written about.  I’m a fan of physical paper books, but there’s obviously a nearly infinite number of electronic and online sources of information.  From diet plans, cookbooks, and exercise advice, to personal productivity, self-help, and religion, if you have a problem, there’s at least a dozen sources of potential answers.

Culling through all the noise and conflicting advice is enough to make your head spin.  There are certainly useful and sometimes very helpful ideas that we can implement in our lives in practical ways.  But, as a Christian, I’ve found that all the worldly advice and self-help rhetoric can never compare to God’s perfect guidance.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses from Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 4-7

When I’m striving for control, I can dive deep into the latest research, diet, or other self-help approach, seeking to improve myself and be healthier, smarter, and more productive.  But, none of that information can ever give me what I deeply desire.  It can’t fill the God-shaped hole inside me or provide the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.  In fact, instead of lasting peace, this striving for control ultimately leads me away from God as I rely on my own understanding.

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When I trust in God and rest in prayer, I am consistently amazed by how perfect His timing is, how the right words come to mind and prompt me to act in loving ways so I can connect with those around me.  What truly matters always gets the appropriate amount of attention and time when I stop striving to control and accept the world around me.

If you step back and think about it, this striving and seeking our own way forward, instead of relying on God, it’s pretty ridiculous.  The Creator of the universe has made Himself known through His Son and communes with us through the Holy Spirit, so that we always have access to Him and His perfect love.  But, so often, our sinfulness drives us into ourselves and we believe the lie that we can make it on our own.  Instead of turning to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we trust our feeble, limited wisdom.  Craziness!

There’s undoubtedly a lot of wise and helpful advice and information in all types of mediums that we can read and learn.  I’m a lifetime student at heart and still love going to a coffee shop to read and take notes!  It’s my special “me time” that I try to carve out on a weekly basis.  But, now I’m doing it prayerfully, asking for proper discernment, so that trusting in God is always foremost in my heart and mind.

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

Teaching Kids to Face Their Fears and Do it Anyway

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This morning, before dropping Sienna and her best friend off for their first day of Broadway/Disney singing camp, we headed to the park by our house to bring Teo to his first day of P.E. in the Park.  The P.E. teacher at school is our neighbor and he’s been running this activity a few days a week throughout the summer.

When we arrived, about ten kids were already out on the field, kicking a soccer ball or tossing a football around.  I had to hurry to pay the Coach and get back in the car to get the girls to camp on time.  Teo slowly climbed out of the car with his water bottle.

“Lovie, I’m going to go.  Have fun!” I said.

“Okay…. but, wait Mom,” came his tentative reply.

I gave Teo a hug and kiss and encouraged him, “Go on out to the field with the kids.”

He slowly made his way toward the field.  As Sienna and I got in the car, I watched Teo from the rearview mirror.  Oh, my heart.  It was tough to see him surveying the field and trying to find an opening to join the group of kids already engaged in games together.  I knew the Coach would soon get them organized into a group game. Also, it’s good for him to face these moments.  I was so proud of him bravely joining the group and could totally relate to that feeling of being on the outside looking for a way to join the fun.

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This moment reminded me of something I’ve been learning this summer.  As parents, our job isn’t to protect and shield our children from the troubles, disappointments, and challenges of life.  Rather, we are here to guide and equip them to face their fears and struggles so they can learn and grow.

During the kids’ summer program at school, they went on a field trip to the movie theater each Monday.  At this particular theater, Teo recalled that the advertisement for concessions involves a roller coaster ride and the popcorn “pops” really loud and startles him.  He was pretty concerned about going on the fieldtrip the first week and begged me to keep him home.  At first, I actually said, “Seriously, Teo – you’re scared of the popcorn?!”  But, then I realized that I needed to work with him through this fear.  (I think the real emotion came from last year when he accidentally misplaced his fieldtrip t-shirt at the pool and was embarrassed by the way they tried to decipher whose shirt it was.)

When we got to school that morning, I asked him “What would make you less scared of the popcorn?”  He suggested that he could sit with one of the teachers.  So, after signing them in, Miss Rose was nearby and I encouraged Teo to tell her about his concerns.  He did and she said she’d try to sit with him.

Turns out, they were able to leave the theater for the thirty seconds or so that the startling popcorn was on the screen.  The following week, he asked Miss Rose to sit with him again.  She replied, “Yes, Mateo.  Just be sure to find me when we’re at the theater.”

On the third consecutive week, Miss Rose was on the phone as I dropped the kids off.  Teo wanted me to stay so he could ask her to sit with him again.  I told him, “I have to get to work, Lovie.  You can ask her, I have faith in you.”  He nodded confidentially and I left.  Walking to the car, I felt such peace.  He had a fear that was bothering him a lot.  But, rather than saving him from the source of his anxiety by keeping him home or telling the teacher what he needed, I’d encouraged him to express his feelings and ask for the help he needed.  He’d learned to face his fears and do it anyway, a lesson that I’d recently been learning too!  Teo’s confidence to handle the situation grew each week, even if his fear of popcorn hadn’t receded.

 

Graceful Teachable Moments

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Rushing kids to get ready and out the door in time to make it to work by 8:15 a.m. feels like a fate worse than death. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it often, but this week I did.  Adding to the equation that they have been going to bed late, sleeping in, and generally in the slothful mode of kids in summertime, just about pushed me over the edge.

When we finally left the house to head to their summer program, Sienna realized that we’d forgotten to apply sunscreen. No, correct that… I had forgotten to apply sunscreen to her and Mateo.

“Mom! You forgot our sunscreen!” she accusingly cried.

“You’ll be okay,” I passively replied.

“No, we’ll get sunburned! Why didn’t you put sunscreen on us?” my persistent daughter asked.

“Because I’m a bad mom! What do you want me to say, Sienna?” was my lovingly maternal response.

I sighed, already regretting my comment. “Breathe,” I told myself.  For the next few blocks, I just drove and took deep breaths.  Gazing in the rearview mirror, which is always pointed toward my kids when they’re in the car, I noted the sad expressions on both their faces.

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Pulling the car over to the curb, I turned around to face them.

“I’m sorry. Mommy has a lot of responsibilities and today I was anxious to get to work on time to make sure a room was setup in time for a meeting.  You two are my most cherished and important responsibilities and I love you so much.  Work is important too because it provides money for our family.  Sometimes mommy gets overwhelmed, but I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“It’s okay, Mom” Sienna replied.  Teo smiled at me as he patted my hand.

We parted with big hugs and kisses a few minutes later. On the drive to the office, I could have beaten myself up for responding harshly and sarcastically instead of patiently and lovingly.  But, instead, I prayed and remembered that God is gracious and forgiving.  This was yet another opportunity to demonstrate that love and grace to Sienna and Teo.

Recently, Sienna has begun telling me she’s sorry for talking rudely or unkindly. She’s started reflecting on why she chose to behave a certain way and expresses regret when she hurts her loved one’s feelings.  In these moments, it seems like she’s mimicking me.  I’ve made it a point to ask for forgiveness when my words and behavior don’t match my loving intentions.

We all get frustrated and short-tempered from time to time and say things that hurt others. We try to do better, but we’re sinners and we’ll inevitably fall back into wanting things to go our way and getting frustrated with the people around us when they don’t do what we want them to do.  Being quick to acknowledge when we sin against those we love and seeking their forgiveness is what I hope our kids are seeing and learning.

I guess it’s fortunate we have so many good teachable moments.

 

Musing on Expectations and Being an Upholder

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I’ve followed the work and blog of Gretchen Rubin for probably a decade now… wow!  She’s the writer behind The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and most recently Better Than Before.  She has created a framework that’s the subject of her next book: The Four Tendencies.  Gretchen has been blogging and talking about this framework on her podcast for a few years now.

The Four Tendencies framework divides all people into one of four categories, based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations.  Here’s Gretchen’s explanation of the tendencies:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

When I first started reading about this framework, I knew that I was either an Upholder or an Obliger.  So, I took the quiz to get a definite answer!  Upholder, indeed.

For years I’ve followed Gretchen’s discussion and explanation of the tendencies with minimal interest, especially after I went through my awakening.  I liken the Upholder tendency to an A-type personality, where you need things to be a certain way.  As I strove to be more present in the moment, let things go, and not plan excessively, I tried to turn away from my Upholderness.

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Then, last week, my Team at work held one of our weekly huddles to discuss The Speed of Trust, a program that my firm has been working through the past few years.  The behavior for that day was one I struggle with: Clarify Expectations.  Generally, I’d been thinking about the concept of expectations and how to be better at identifying when an expectation had been set.  Later that same day, I was walking and talking with a friend at work when I noted this issue of expectations and explained that inner expectations hold such power over me.  I gave as an example my weekend long runs.  If I run less than the 10 miles I had planned (i.e. expected), I feel like I failed.  Nine miles?  Not enough because it’s less than what I had set out to do.

Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind: “Because you’re an Upholder.”  Oh yeah.

Re-reading through the material on her blog and listening to Gretchen’s podcast on The Four Tendencies, a lot of aspects of this expectation issue became clear to me.

As I had identified during my awakening, my tendency leads to a high risk that I will be too conscientious at following an expectation once I set it.  That’s why keeping a planner doesn’t help me stay organized, but instead feels like a task master and tends to pull me into my mind and out of the moment. Planners are a great tool for some people, but not for me.

Also, I’d recently focused on being more intentional about my actions.  I realized that what I called “being intentional” was synonymous with clarifying expectations.  As an Upholder, I was setting inner expectations ALL THE TIME, but without consciously being aware of them.  For example, I would have a passing thought that we could go to the library to return books tomorrow, and then it would become an expectation that I needed to meet.  The trouble arises later when something else derails that “plan” and I feel like I’ve failed to do something that I set out to do.

By the way, I recognize how neurotic this post makes me sound!  But, it’s actually very freeing to label this tendency and be able to recognize it’s virtues and drawbacks.

In terms of positives, I can readily set goals and met them without much external accountability.  When I set decided to run a marathon last year, I did it.  I trained and focused, and was able to cross that goal off.  When I started running with the club, I had several folks comment that they’d never be able to run 20 miles on their own, as I had recently done. That surprised me, but now I recognize that those folks were Obligers. They could meet an external expectations but not necessarily an inner one.

Also, I love tracking things and keeping logs to reinforce good habits.  When I’m focusing on low carb and a whole foods diet, there’s nothing that brings me more satisfaction that logging my blood sugars!

The major pitfall is the one I describe above, inner expectations can take over and make me feel chained to my to do list.  But, I believe the key is being mindful and aware of when an inner expectation has been set.  Because the great trick is, I can always set another expectation instead!  This is why the mantra “Why don’t I wait and see how I feel…?” works so effectively for me.  When my mind starts spinning on the various options of what I could prepare for dinner that evening, I can stop and think “I’ll wait and see when we get home” and the expectation becomes “wait and decide later” instead of trying to make a decision now.

This insight also made it clearer why I struggle to Clarify Expectations with others.  I have so many unconscious inner expectations, that it’s challenging for me to identify them as such.  This is where mindfulness and being intentional helps me so much.  When I can identify an expectation, it becomes much easier to clarify it with others.

In hindsight, I realize that my push/pull relationship with following Gretchen’s work was a reflection of our shared Upholderness.  A lot of her habits, tricks, and insights really resonate with me.  However, when I was learning to be more present and less “in my head” I would pull back and revolt against her suggestions.  The thing I now see is that a tendency is fairly hardwired and you can’t really turn it off.  Instead, by embracing my Upholder tendency, I can figure out how to avoid the pitfalls and therefore struggle with myself less.

Now I’m excited to have my husband take the quiz – though I’m pretty sure I know which tendency he is!  That’s where this framework can be so helpful, in identifying more effective techniques within relationships where two different tendencies meet.

Take the quiz and let me know what you think about your tendency!

Diabetes Blog Week – Day 5

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It has felt reflective and familiar to write about diabetes this week.  Although I don’t ever get a break from living with diabetes, I’ve taken a pretty long break from regularly writing about it!  For several years I wrote about diabetes for HealthCentral and chronicled both of my pregnancies.  It was my first experience with blogging and very rewarding!

Today’s prompt is: Lets wrap up the week by sharing a little more about ourselves, beyond the chronic illness we or our loved ones live with.  Share an interest, hobby, passion, something that is YOU.  If you want to explore how it relates to or helps with diabetes you can.   Or let it be a part of you that is completely separate from diabetes, because there is more to life than just diabetes!

The thing that’s most important to me is my faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Embracing my own sinfulness and need for a savior has helped me to mindfully surrender to God’s perfect will, more often.  A few years ago, I realized that diabetes was one of the only things that I didn’t take to God in prayer.  I’d pray for my loved ones, for peace, for wisdom and insight, for guidance, for the healing of others, and so many other things.  But, praying for help managing my blood sugar?  Nope, never.  It was like this little segment of my life that I was supposed to control on my own.

Control is something I struggle with and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the hallmark of this disease I have is “good control”.   Being able to plan ahead, take note of variables, and make decisions on food and insulin all come together to help me keep my blood sugar under control.  When I’m feeling the need for a sense of “control” in my life, I tend to turn away from God.  I stop surrendering and start relying on myself.  I will plan incessantly and start to feel like my own efforts are keeping everything manageable.

When I first realized this disconnect and tried praying about my diet choices and diabetes management, it felt like such a relief!  Letting go of this need for perfection and having “it all figured out” in other areas of my life then flowed to diabetes as I began asking for guidance in managing my blood sugar.

Diabetes Blog Week – Day 4

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Oops, I’m a little behind in getting this post written!  But, better late than never…

Today let’s revisit a prompt from 2014 – May is Mental Health Month so now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with, or caring for someone with, diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and / or your loved one, and how do you cope?

When I think of the emotional toll that diabetes takes on me, the simplest example pops into mind.  For me, each and every blood glucose test (of which I average about 10 per day) provides an emotional response of some sort.  If my blood sugar is “good” – meaning in range between 80 mg/dl and 160 mg/dl, then I’m pleased.  If it’s “really good” – somewhere between 90 mg/dl and 130 mg/dl, I’ll feel a bit of pride and satisfaction, as in “I’ve got this!”

On the other hand, high blood sugars get me down.  They make me feel defeated and slightly guilty for not having either made different food choices, calculated a more accurate bolus, or generally not managing my blood sugar “correctly.”  When I experience a string of high blood sugar, the emotional response is more pronounced.  I’ve often had the experience of noticing I’m feeling down, and when I check in on my emotions to wonder why, I’ll recall “Oh, that’s right, my blood sugars have been running high.”

For the most part, I haven’t ever rebelled against this disease or wondered “why me?”  I took up the perspective my parents instilled, that this disease would make me strong and capable.  I’ve had my periods of burnout, of course, but on the whole I’ve taken blood sugar management as a goal to achieve.  Also, I figure the food restrictions I’ve embraced are just what all healthy diets should consist of, so I don’t feel unduly deprived.  When I was pregnant and on a very strict diet, I loved it!  Something about the control and achieving those “good” blood sugars on my logs felt like getting little gold stars all the time.

I think it’s funny – having diabetes itself isn’t what gets me down, but having a blood sugar of 225 mg/dl can put me in a funk for a couple hours.