Category Archives: alive

Sorry I Missed Your Call. I’m Busy Riding the Autism and OCD Parenting Roller Coaster.

When I was a little girl, my parents would take us to the county fair or to Six Flags over GA to ride roller coasters. I was always the type who would get on any ride or roller coaster not because I wasn’t terrified, but because I knew I wouldn’t die and that at the end I would be so exhilarated that I did it! Some of the rides were fun, but some I would just have to hold on tight and scream my lungs out to endure until the end. When you scream out “Stop the ride! Let me off!” no one hears you. They can’t stop the ride just because you want off or you think you are going to have a heart attack. No one cares. You can scream or cry all you want to, but it changes nothing. You just have to hang in there and endure. You have no idea when it will be over. It feels like forever. You can’t even really think straight to evaluate how far along in the track you are. You just hold on tight, scream, cry, pray, and try not to throw up. This is very similar to my experience as the parent of a child with autism who is going through the tween years and has recently developed OCD as well (because no, Lord, autism just wasn’t enough). It often seems as if just when I have caught my breath and think I’m gonna survive this thing just fine, I am thrown into another upside down loop de loop, tilt a whirl and I’m in danger of losing my lunch, my glasses, and looking pretty rough when I get off this thing. Thankfully, I get a chance to get off this roller coaster sometimes when my son is at school or at my mom’s when my husband and I have a date night, but even then it feels as if although I’m not actively riding it, I’m just standing in line, trying to settle my nerves taking deep breathes and waiting to get back on again.

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I love my son more than anything and we have beautiful, wonderful moments which are exhilarating like the moment when the roller coaster stops and you smile and laugh with glee because you did in fact survive this thing and the endorphins and adrenaline are pumping through your body. Woohoo! A sweet hug! Another milestone met! Another new word! Eye contact! Potty trained! He only turned the light switch on and off 11 times instead of the usual 12! But, watching him struggle so much in spite of all of the extra stuff I am doing and buying and trying….well it makes me want to scream “Ahhhh I  hate this ride! Someone get me off! I’m gonna puke again!” pretty often.

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ASD is a spectrum and presents in a lot of different ways for different kids and adults. You may have ASD yourself or have  a child who has ASD or OCD and it may feel like a walk in the park to you, I don’t know. All I know is my experience and my truth about how it feels to parent my particular child in my particular circumstances and it feels hard right now. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on things, here comes another loop I’m thrown for whether due to a new developmental stage, illness, finances, etc.

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I think people must assume that because I say  it is so hard, I’m just doing it wrong. I wish they could see how much time, money, energy, therapies, diets, supplements, now even medicine we are doing to try and help my son thrive and be happy day to day. I feel like I should be able to make this work somehow. I should be able to not look so frazzled or I should be able to stay in Mary Poppins mode and not ever raise my voice. I should just get up earlier to avoid looking disheveled and a mess at the morning drop off at school (nevermind I’ve been dealing with his sleep issues all night long and I work late two nights per week). I should pray (check, I pray almost constantly). I should work from home. He should take this supplement (yep, already taking it), we should try this diet (yep doing that), I should _______________ (not be writing about it?). I should change my perspective (yep in therapy myself trying to do that). There has to be something I could just fix and make this easier on myself. I wish there were. I spend hours each day researching how to make this better, how to be a better mom, how to accept this unusual life journey and find more joy in it, how to make my marriage survive this, how to help my other son cope, how to make extra money to fund my sons needs, etc. Although many of the things we have done for our son and for ourselves have helped tremendously, I am still working uphill just to get my son to the most basic level of functioning and to get my family to the most basic level of functioning. Even Pollyanna would admit that’s kind of hard.

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Each day is a roller coaster of stress and I am horrified at how I must appear from afar. This is not me. This is me just trying to survive. My son isn’t going to go into remission after his treatment. He isn’t going to be sick for a little while. This is a long-haul thing for us. A marathon, not a sprint. I feel like the main character from the movie “Bad Moms” who is just stressed to the max, except I don’t have the option of just telling everyone to take care of themselves for once, because my son can’t. So, I publicly apologize for seeming constantly scattered, self-centered, crazy, stressed out, no time for small talk, snappy with the front office staff at the school, not put together, too focused on my son’s ASD diagnosis, flaky, not a good friend, forgetful, not 100% on top of every little detail at work, not having the energy to invest into things that aren’t my business or I don’t care about anyway, frequently venting to my BFFs, always broke, not able to hang out much, bursting out in tears and saying “But I work 3 jobs and what we are doing now is already so hard!” when my son’s reading teacher asks me to do add extra homework, frequently not able to answer the phone, giving up on daily gym workouts, holding tight to my Saturday morning yoga time, not up for any kind of “fitness challenge” because my life is already a 365 challenge, or just distant and crabby in general. I apologize for being strangely open (oversharing) and also really defensive (pretty much not wanting to hang out with non-special needs parents much at all).

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This is my norm, this is my life. I am just trying to hold on tight, scream, and survive it without losing my lunch just like a kid riding a killer rollercoaster. I promise you that this has nothing to do with you, I really do like you a lot. I would love to be able to hang out with you more, to relate to your stories about your kids extracurriculars and how proud you are, to put more effort into my home businesses selling amazing things, to have more of a social life that is not online in nature, to laugh more, to volunteer more at church instead of crying through all the songs just to release all that stress, to be able to just throw my kids in the mix of all the other kids at church and go chit chat with the other moms rather than having to go sit next to my son and try to hold back my tears as I rub his back while he’s biting himself and rocking back and forth because the music is too loud and there are too many kids having too much fun in there.

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Maybe we all have our roller coasters, I don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of your mind or home, but I do know that it really does help to just let it out and scream your head off sometimes when you need to, to hold on tight to the people you love, throw your hands up and laugh hysterically sometimes, breathe deeply, and remember that you won’t die even though you may feel like it on the loop de loops. We special needs parents will survive as we wing it together. If you need to talk to someone who “gets it”, call me. It will likely go to voicemail, but I will call you when I’m driving alone in the car. Reach out to Parent2Parent or a support group. You don’t have to ride the roller coasters alone, there are plenty of seats and we can hold hands and scream together as we go through the dips and curves.

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Christmas Miracles

Every Christmas, I look for miracles. My dictionary reads: A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being, magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader. So what miracles would this year bring, I wondered? I have been  praying for miracles for an injured family member, an overwhelmed friend,  a little girl in my community who is fighting cancer and for Joey Feek, whose music and testimony has touched my heart deeply in a way I can’t logically explain. My sons and I have been donating to (because sometimes you have to help miracles along with love when you can) and praying for the refugee women and children who are in need of so much more than we have to give. This world really needs some miracles right about now, doesn’t it? 

So, I was praying for people who needed a miracle. I was keeping my eyes and heart open in gratitude to see the many miracles all around us that we all too often fail to see. But, in some ways, I just wasn’t feelin’ it this year. Ever had trouble just getting into the Christmas spirit? You try and try and just can’t quite get there? That was me this year. I had been feeling a little (ok a lot) burned out. Stressed out. Feeling stretched beyond my limits, but without any real options to change my situation or reduce my stress load anytime soon (believe me, I’ve rolled my options around in my head 1000 times, crunched numbers, and I’m just gonna have to hang in there as is unless an amazing new opportunity that doesn’t involve selling anything comes along). My headaches had started coming back. All of this was waaay before Christmas even rolled up…I was feeling like this in November. The past year had been filled with challenges at work, home, financially, everything breaking down all at once, health issues, etc.  So that’s where I was at emotionally in early November. Cringing as the stores brought out Christmas decorations and my go-to uplifting Christian radio station started playing “Jingle Bells”. Just exhausted, wanting to hop on the first plane to the Bahamas and run away from it all before Santa even flew in to take up residence at the mall. And then something interesting started happening….

Through a strange serious of events, I was called to help a young woman (not a client). More disadvantaged, alone, scared, and facing many more obstacles than any of my clients, she was someone I could not in good conscience decline to assist. But, if I’m honest with you, I have to admit that some of my first (selfish) thoughts were, “oh no, Lord why me? I don’t even know if I can be of much help or if this is just going to cause me more headaches and be the stress that pushes my sanity into a ditch. I know I’m supposed to be servant-hearted, but I’m dry bones, Lord have mercy I’m tired. And in December? Really?” But, I answered the call nonetheless. It was a situation I am uniquely qualified to help with for many different reasons due to my life experience and professional training. Saying yes, I will help, has resulted not in further burnout, but instead in my own Christmas blessing! God and those mysterious ways again…

My faith is expanding as I’m seeing God work in miraculous ways in this seemingly impossible situation. I’m doing my part to be love and practical help (within my means) to someone who needs lots of love and support right now. In doing so, my heart has been touched deeply, my faith expanded, and I have been re-energized about my calling and my life’s work as a counselor. So many things have come together in such a short period of time. God’s hand is undeniably all over it stirring sweet grace and mercy into the situation with the help of a network of believers as generously as Paula Deen stirs butter into her recipes with a spoon. The Body of Christ has come together so beautifully it is restoring my faith in my fellow Christians (many of us didn’t even really know each other well before this need arose and we don’t even come from the same church family). I wish I could tell you the details and tell you the full story, but I need to keep the details private. My part of it is just doing what I can and thanking God for this Christmas blessing of expanded faith and confirmation that I need to stop feeling guilty for not doing things that are not my callings and the gentle yet firm reminder to say yes to my callings even when they don’t make sense or appear at first glance to be too much. Lord, your yoke is easy and burden light (Matt. 11:30) because what you ask us to do, those things that are our true callings, end up blessing us back in return.

Speaking of miracles….at Christmas, I always meditate on Mary and what it must have been like for her. She was called to do something completely out of her comfort zone, something that initially jeopardized her upcoming marriage/life plan/stability, her safety, stretched her heart and soul, put her on a physically arduous journey to Bethlehem and upon her arrival (in active labor no less) was told there was no room at the inn. No room. No. The world couldn’t make room for her or this baby. Mary did what she was called to do in spite of all of this, even though it was hard and illogical. She was likely feeling exhausted and scared. What that moment must have been like between Mary and Joseph as this young couple struggled through labor and birth far from home in a stable with animal noises and smells. What would it have been like for Mary to be lying on hay, nursing baby Jesus and see the shepherds and the 3 wise men from the Far East converging upon them to gaze at their baby in wonder and awe, handing gifts of great value to this poor couple who no one could make room for just a few hours ago!? Wild. What a wild night. Mary bore a lot, but how blessed among women did she feel at the end of that night? Maybe she still felt confused and tired, but certainly she must have been more sure of her calling and her faith must have been expanded exponentially with baby Jesus lying in her arms and a star shining brightly above that stable.  

This is the true miracle of Christmas. The story that we can reflect upon in gratitude year after year with its rich symbolism and continued relevance, regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of if our prayers are answered as we wish they would be in our human understanding, the original Christmas miracle is one that we all too often overlook as we listen to the voice of the world that tells us the lie about “buying Christmas.”  I’ll take the original Christmas story over the modern consumerist story any day.

 

God Is In the Weeds…and the Radio, Thrift Store Books, Trees…and Muck, Mess, and Shattered Glass

It makes no difference to me what you call it…I call it a lot of different things myself and I realize that none of my words, my labels are sufficient at all. Words just fail me. That’s the beauty and mystery of it. God. Great Spirit. Great Mystery. Great Weaver. The Universe. Abba. Divinity. Holy. That which cannot be explained. Supernatural. Awe. Wonder. Agape. Energy. Life Force. Creator. Healer. Lover. You are all of these and so much more to me. I tried to deny you based on logic and reason at one point, as any scientist “should” (but wait, aren’t we taught absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?) And yet, I feel you all around me in inexplicable ways. In the weeds, the radio, books that jump off shelves at me at the thrift store, a tree, my messy and crazy job, and thinking about babies….How does all this stuff connect? This is how it weaves together for me:

I feel you, hear you, see you in…

Thrift Stores. A book found me at the thrift store this week…I say it found me because it literally fell off the shelf as I walked by. It is called “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. and although I am only half-way through, I feel God speaking to me through every story within the pages of this gift of a book that Rachel has blessed me, and all who care to read it. In it, I have found such pearls as this which I need to be reminded of as a counselor: “We do not serve the weak or broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, compassion, generosity, or acceptance. Through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, our active participation, our belief. No matter how we do this, our service will bless us. When we offer our blessings generously, the light in the world is strengthened, around us and in us. The Kabbalah speaks of our collective human task as Tikkun Olam; we sustain and restore the world.”  

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Sustaining and restoring…don’t we all need some more of that, on the personal, familial, societal, and environmental levels? Why is it so hard to love one another? Why must we get caught up in these us versus them battles that rage constant? What would happen if we all took on this collective task? What does it look like for me to take on my part of this task just for today?

For me, today it looked like getting up and trying to love on my family the best I can even though I’m not perfect and they aren’t either. It meant going to church, singing my heart out, and finding something beautiful in the sermon and loving the people there even though they aren’t perfect and I’m not either. It means tomorrow going to work at a shelter for women and children who are fleeing domestic violence or who have become homeless in other ways due to it.

Muck, Mess, Shattered Glass. My job isn’t glamorous and doesn’t award many accolades; it often stretches me to the edge physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it is my calling and it is one of the places where I feel God teaching me and breathing life into my spirit the most. There, my job is to show love, to offer guidance and encouragement, to not rescue or fix, but to serve the best I can in a woman’s empowerment and her children’s healing. Sometimes that looks like carrying a woman’s bags in as she and her children move in. Sometimes it looks like unloading a truck full of food to feed our residents until my back is aching but I force myself to be thankful for my strong back that will feel just fine tomorrow. Sometimes it’s holding and rocking a sick child and wiping their boogers or a child throwing up on me. At times, it has been wiping poop or dealing with overflowing toilets or being hit and scratched and cursed at by traumatized children…and learning to show love anyway. But other times, I am unexpectedly blessed with the giggles and smiles of children dancing in dress-up clothes holding my hands twirling around when the realization of how far they have come in the few months since they have moved in and how far I’ve come since I started this job 5 years ago comes to me like a light bulb coming on. I am a better mother, friend, daughter, wife, human because of this job. It has helped me find God and understand how to love in the ugliest, hardest situations. In the muck, the mess, and the shattered glass on the floor that I have to clean up. Trying to piece it back together into something new. Something beautiful and strong. Like God is doing with me and the women and children I am privileged to serve in this way.

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Trees. There is a tree in my yard that has fallen and we thought was dead, but somehow year after year remains alive. I walked down to the creek to see where the base of the tree was and how this thing was still alive at all. The base of the tree roots is hanging down into the creek. When it fell, the roots slid right into water. I relate to this tree. When my life was at its worst and I was free-falling, I somehow fell into living water. Into the divine. Into a spiritual journey that is still going and I pray never ends. Something awoke in me. And when I saw this tree, it too became a part of my awakening.

Songs on the radio. I have playlists of songs that speak to my heart and soul and make me feel different things. But, my favorite thing is getting in my car after work or just going about my day and hearing a song that makes time stop and my spirit connect with something important that somehow got lost in the day to day shuffle. It doesn’t matter who the artist is or what genre. This week it was Tracy Chapman and Adele reminding me of the deep love I have for my children and reminding me that is exactly how God feels about me.

God is in the weeds. I used to be a waitress and when we would be up to our eyeballs in customers and about to lose our sanity and tips, we would say “I’m in the weeds, help!” to each other. That is when someone would give us the most help and where a lot of friendships and alliances were made. In the hard times, we find out who will love us and help. We appreciate it all the more. We can see God’s love in those “in the weeds” moments when people help and when we help them.

I think God is also in garden weeds. Last week, I watched as two birds danced around my poke plants, eating the berries and thought “what if I had pulled it up? I wouldn’t have these two unusual and beautiful birds dancing around blissfully in my yard. I wonder what else would be missing if these birds weren’t here?” I felt a holy awe as I watched and gave thanks for the interconnected nature of life and for embracing the life of this “weed” many would just pull up and toss aside or spray RoundUp to prevent growing in the first place.

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Be still and know. Seek and you shall find. Perhaps we don’t even have to try that hard to find, but just be open to receive the awe and wonder that is all around and trying to get our attention…in the thrift store, in a book, in a song, in birds, trees, weeds, and so much more. 

Of Mourning, Dancing, and a Polka-Dot Dress

On a cold, grey December day in 2012, I said goodbye to one of my dearest friends. Friend isn’t even an adequate word. This friend had helped me through some of the worst seasons of my life and helped me find joy even in the months and years I wanted to literally run away from my life, my struggles that seemed never ending, and the pain I held in my heart as I forced a smile onto my face in daily life. It was an unconventional and unlikely friendship by all outward judgment, but it is one I cherish to this day. He: a deeply depressed and lonely person. Me: a young, frazzled mom feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, having almost daily panic attacks while trying to attend to my children, go to school, and work a job. Somehow, our brokenness collided and somehow started a healing process for us both. With each other, we were both able to smile amidst the hand life had dealt us.

And then he started getting sick. First, just stomach aches. The stomach aches would come and go. Good days and bad days. I figured it was gallstones or something. He saw a doctor and they didn’t think it was anything serious, probably acid reflux. The medicine didn’t help. Then, things started to take a turn for the worst, then a nose dive for the worst. The doctor ordered some invasive medical tests. I took him to those appointments, sitting in the waiting room reading a book until it was time to go back and see him in the recovery area. The doctor tried to ascertain if I was his daughter or wife or what (“just a friend”) and we laughed a little about that when the anesthesia was still in effect. I helped him to my car and took him to get a Steak and Shake milkshake that sounded good to him. He couldn’t even drink more than 2 sips. I knew this was more than acid reflux. It got so bad that I took him back to his family doctor one day and went in with him to his appointment. With tears in my eyes, I said “please, this is serious, help him.” The doctor took a closer look and realized he was jaundiced and I saw a look of serious concern spread across her face. She ordered some blood tests and a full-body scan.

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He received the dreaded phone call about his results when I was on my way into work one day. Employers don’t look kindly towards “I need to take a month off to attend to my sick friend” so I had to trudge on taking care of him while having to go into work and perform while holding back my desire to curl up in a ball and cry. I received a text in a Kangaroo gas station parking lot that would change everything. “It’s not good, it’s cancer, it’s terminal.” Leaning on my steering wheel, I whimpered like a dog, barely able to catch my breath. I texted back, “You are not alone in this.” It was all I knew to say. His daughter bluntly asked me to just cut ties now unless I was in it until the end. Not a second thought, yes, I am in this. I don’t leave the ones I love in their time of need.

I still had to keep the rest of my life running as my friend was slowly and painfully dying. I couldn’t lose or quit my jobs. I couldn’t neglect my kids. It was really hard to explain to my children’s Daddy who was planning a wedding with me after we had finally reconciled why I was going to visit another man daily who was dying, but somehow he understood the best anyone could under the circumstances.

Then, that December day came when we said our last goodbyes.  I got some sort of closure. I sat in the 3rd row of the chapel during his memorial service silently shaking and weeping in a black dress with frills and tiny white polka dots. A close friend of mine who had lost touch with me for a year or so due to her own difficult life circumstances and issues really came through for me that day. She simply sat beside me so that I wouldn’t be alone in that pew. She held my hand and anchored me when I felt like I was going to pass out. She understood the gravity of the situation because she was one of the only people I have ever been able to tell everything to. We have gone through some difficult things since then, but that day (and others) will forever anchor me to her, no matter what.

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Psalm 30:11 (ISV) says: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with a garment of joy.” During my period of mourning, I had read this verse and felt a mixture of impossibility and hope. Although I have always loved to dance, I didn’t dance for a year. I didn’t feel music in my body, I didn’t feel anything except a crushed heart for many months. Most people didn’t realize what I was going through, and thus didn’t offer support because this was not my spouse, my child, my parent, etc. It was admittedly an odd friendship. I learned there is a name for this kind of grief: disenfranchised grief .  I realized it was up to me to do this grief thing more or less on my own. I started seeing a counselor. I had started going to yoga classes before he passed away as a way to cope with the anxiety and panic attacks I was having. I continued this and found myself crying silently in class as yoga helps release deep emotions. Yoga was a huge part of my grief journey. It helped me re-connect to my body and my numb or conversely chaotic emotions. I prayed, I read stories of grief and mourning. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman spoke to me on a deep level, although it is not necessarily a grief oriented book. The characters all experienced losses and had to go on heroically. I feel that it is important to share what helped me during the grief process. It is an active process and not a passive one waiting to one day be ok.

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Fast-forward to 2015. I am usually so busy with work, kids, home, etc. that I don’t go out much if at all. I just try to keep my head above water on any given day juggling all my responsibilities. I had made a new friend whose kindness and genuine Christ-like love for others still has me a bit in awe. He gifted my now-husband and me two tickets to a charity gala. My husband and I went to the gala and in a series of unfortunate wardrobe events, the dress I had planned on wearing didn’t work out. We were late to the event, so I just grabbed the first thing in my closet that would work without thought. It was the black frilly dress with tiny white polka dots on it that I had worn to my friend’s funeral. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I just threw it on, grabbed my high heels and ran to the car. We were bickering on the car ride over to the country club about some matter of no importance. So, when we arrived, we both grabbed a glass of wine immediately. I seldom drink, so when I allowed a couple more glasses to find their way into my hand, I am not even going to lie. I was drunk. Then the music was crunk. And before I knew it there I was dancing in my seat then up on the dance floor doing the Cupid Shuffle then dancing to “Que Linda Back It Up” and my dancing was hearkening back to days of yore when I would shake it like a Polaroid picture and drop it like its hot on a regular basis. My husband isn’t the dancing kind, so he just sat mortified, amused, or perhaps jealous at the table drinking another glass of wine….it was pretty hilarious but also the source of some bickering on the way home about why my kind of dancing isn’t appropriate for public viewing. That was fine though. It was worth it. The next morning I woke up and realized that I had worn my FUNERAL DRESS to the gala and my MOURNING had literally been turned into DANCING and JOY.

Sometimes I still feel a wave of grief welling up in my heart and I let it wash over me. It comes and it goes. No point fighting it. Just like an ocean wave, you just ride it out. If you fight the rip tide, you will lose. But if you surrender, you will come out the other side. But, I smile at the fact that even this one time I was able to dance and rejoice. I also now understand why wine is a prominent feature in the Bible.

I’m still winging it through this grief and dancing and joy thing….do you relate to my story? Leave a comment with some advice or your experiences and let’s wing it together.

“What Is RIGHT With You?”

What’s RIGHT with you?  In my experience as a counselor, that is one of the most important and powerful questions we can ask our clients and ourselves. How many of us have heard in our childhoods and even adult lives from various people, “What’s wrong with you?” Bullies and even well-meaning people in our lives often point out all that is weak or not quite right.

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When I was still in graduate school, I co-facilitated a group for female college students. I could write a novel on all that this group taught me, but one particular moment turned on a huge flashing neon light-bulb in my mind. I listened to a young woman talk about herself in nothing but negative terms. All her psychological diagnoses, her family’s problems, etc. She had no problem letting all of her ugly be known. She was rude, excessively sarcastic, and nasty to the other people in the group. She clearly felt repulsive and wanted to preemptively push others away. No one needed a degree to see that. I could have become all caught up in trying to diagnose her and figure out interventions to directly confront all of the ugly behaviors and thoughts. But, instead, I thought, “she does this all day long, what she does in her mind is focus on the ugly and the brokenness and push people away. I won’t become complicit in that.” So, I said to her, “What is right about you?  I have a feeling you don’t spend much time thinking about those things by the way I am hearing you describe yourself in nothing but negatives, but there has to be something good or strong about you.” She got really quiet and I could see tears in her eyes. I could tell I had taken the right approach because it got underneath her “I’m just ugly and broken” defenses. She would have LOVED for me to “confront” her issues, hold her “accountable”, tell her just how nasty she was, etc. but I just refused to go along with that. That wouldn’t have been therapeutic for her. I wonder now, years later if she’s still embracing the ugly or if she has grown into her strengths.

I once heard an analogy that goes like this: within each person is a seed that naturally wants to grow. All of the problems, shame, weaknesses, and diagnoses are piled so high on top of that poor little seed that someone needs to gently pull back the 6 feet of dirt a bit so the seed can sense that there is light to push toward and then do its work of pushing up toward the light. As a counselor, I don’t make the client grow, they do that themselves. I just pull back the excessive dirt (we all need some dirt aka challenges and resistance in order to grow after all), I’ll add some water and fertilizer (encouragement) and remind them that they still have the capacity to grow, that there is still light up there somewhere to reach towards.

seed

Most (although not all) clients are well aware that they are all kinds of jacked up. Isn’t brokenness and imperfection the hallmark of the human experience after all? Who among us is perfect? Thank goodness we don’t have to be perfect to thrive. All around the world there are people who are thriving and happy in spite and even because of their brokenness and limitations. In my experience thus far, the problem is that many people get stuck in negative feedback loops to the point that they aren’t even sure anymore if they are something other than just depression, addiction, crippling anxiety, self-destruction, shame, chronic illness, unending grief, stress, the traumatic thing that happened to them, a failure at relationships, someone who has given up on life, etc.

reframing

I believe most people who come to counseling willingly (not court-mandated or DFCS-mandated clients, because that is a whole different animal right there) need to be reacquainted with their strengths. They can leverage these strengths to overcome their dysfunctions and thrive in spite of their diagnoses.

How does a counselor help a client identify what is right about them? It is important to start with communicating verbally and non-verbally to clients the desire to truly understand them and their lives as well as the desire to help them heal and create the life they want to live. I cannot identify a clients strengths or even true problems if I don’t first take the time to understand and empathize with that client(s). It can take weeks for someone to fully tell their story. I just keep asking questions. I pay attention to the way they tell their story, talk about themselves and others, the patterns, the themes, the major players, etc. I watch my tone of voice and my body language. I never want to communicate harshness, judgment, sarcasm, or frustration. I cannot help someone at all if I do not attempt to understand them and care about them as a fellow human being just trying to do the best they currently know how to do.

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In listening to someone’s story, sometimes I realize that the client has hyper-focused on weaknesses to the point of forgetting they have strengths at all. But the fact is, everyone has strengths. Every single person on the planet. It doesn’t matter if you can’t read or write, if you are homeless, a drug addict, or if you have a disability that makes life extremely challenging. You still have strengths somewhere in there. You still have abilities even amidst the disabilities. Even when we feel like “I can’t do this”, we can look back and realize we have been doing life thus far and must at least have some level of courage to keep going.

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Perhaps you might think this focus on strength and what is “right” with someone is naive or simplistic. I can only tell you that I have seen from experience the power in being intentional about modeling for clients the ability to practice self-compassion and compassion for others, trying to understand themselves, and focusing on their strengths rather than just getting stuck on pathology or limitations. I couldn’t be a counselor if I didn’t believe that within each person exists the possibility for healing, change, and empowerment. So I ask, what is right with you? Let’s keep asking that of ourselves and of others and we wing it together. 

Joyful Movement: How did you enjoy moving your body as a child? What would joyful movement look like to you?

Remember when you were a child? All wild and free doing whatever felt good? I do. I remember swimming being the most exciting, wonderful thing ever. I looked forward to Summer all year, daydreaming about spending the whole day in my grandparent’s pool or going to swim at the local college. I remember frolicking through the woods behind my great-grandma’s house running as fast as I could and then exploring the plants and animals slowly and with care. I remember dancing wild and crazy in my room to the Aerosmith CD my Dad gave me. I remember the first time I rode my bike without training wheels when I was 4-years-old. My Dad right behind me holding onto the seat and telling me “Go for it! You got it!” looking back and realizing he wasn’t holding on anymore and I really was doing it! I rode my bike all over the neighborhood, to the corner store, to my friend’s house. All smiles and freedom in the sunshine. I felt powerful and able. I felt free and relaxed.

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Then I became an awkward teenager…I remember a shrinking feeling when I looked around and realized I was not very “athletic” when it came to team sports or “talented” when it came to dance. I didn’t try out for the dance team or anything else because I didn’t feel good enough. I was confident in my intellect. My body? Not so much. I dislocated my knee dancing when I was 9-years-old and suffered through a 7-month recovery period. Ever since that day, I distrusted my body. I wanted to keep it safe so that I wouldn’t be injured again. I was just “not the athletic type” so I shunned physical activity except what was required to pass gym class or work my Summer and after school jobs.

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Sums up my teen years…

After the birth of my 2nd son when I was 23, I realized I had to get into the gym or let myself go. Two choices. So, I joined a gym and pushed myself to the limit running, lifting weights, eating a low-carb, high-protein diet, tanning, etc. I became a typical “gym rat” and didn’t listen to my body or enjoy what I was doing at all. I did enjoy the endorphin rush from running and I enjoyed listening to music while I ran, but this wasn’t about body love. It was all about subjugating the body and pushing through workouts with force and anger to look a certain way rather than trying to have any amount of joy or fun. I pushed so hard, in fact, that I injured my knees, my foot, developed heart palpitations, etc.

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So, I had to take a break from that. I started going to a yoga/Pilates class because it was all that I could do other than walk. I loved it. I ENJOYED it. Wow, exercise could be…fun? joyful? something I look forward to? That started me thinking….what if I went back to enjoying moving my body like I did when I was a little girl? What if I did what my body enjoyed? What if I cut out the nasty protein shakes and low-carb protein bars and ate food that both nourished my body and tasted good? What if I started swimming again? Riding a bike again? Going to yoga/Pilates and Zumba dance class instead of the “Pump” weightlifting class I hated? What if I followed my body’s wisdom?

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My sons and I have discovered that swimming is “our thing”. We go at least once per week to swim at the indoor pool at the local aquatic center. We swim in the lake and outdoor pools in the Summer. It is a way to be active that we all enjoy rather than suffer through. We also enjoy racing each other down to the lake behind our neighbor’s house and back to our house. We play. We have fun. I dance around the house wild and free when no one is here but my kids. They join in. I can’t afford a bike right now and don’t know where I would ride it in my town where I wouldn’t get run over anyway, but one day…one day….’

And you know what happened ? By listening to my body, moving it in ways that feel joyful, fueling my body with delicious and nutritious food I’m still physically fit (although no longer a stick figure). I am healthy. I am happy. I am joyful. I no longer pressure myself to suffer through 2-hour workouts and eat food that tastes like chalk or cardboard.

The body is pretty wise. It often tells us what we need to hear but don’t want to hear. Our mind can justify pushing ourselves to the limit and white-knuckling it through life, but the body screams “No!” in many ways we often ignore until we are physically debilitated.  For so many, exercise is something they have written off because they don’t want to join a gym, push through workouts they don’t feel any joy doing, and they don’t feel like a “gym person” or “the athletic type.” The truth is, all the human body requires to be healthy is movement and good nutrition. That movement can be any type of movement. We just gotta move!

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How did you enjoy moving your body as a child? What would joyful movement look like to you?  Just for today….let’s wing it without a plan and try to soak up some fun along the way. 

Just Say “NO”: Underwhelming Our Family Schedule

“Jen, don’t feel like you have to be on all the committees for the PTO and all the other junk people will pressure you into when you have kids. The best thing you will ever learn as a mom is how to just say NO.

I remember my Mama giving me this nugget of wisdom when I was just a little girl and she was slaving away baking all this stuff for some PTO bake sale she had somehow gotten stuck baking the majority of the treats for after working all day at her job. I tucked away that little nugget of wisdom and thankfully remembered it when I had my own children and all kinds of requests coming at me to “get involved” “make a difference” “sign up!”

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For a long time, I thought I had depression or anxiety. Turns out, I didn’t. I just had an overwhelmed schedule that was underwhelming my spirit. I felt dead inside and constantly “on high alert” scrambling, trying to be on time, to get everything on my list done, to achieve at work, at home, and anywhere else I could. Then, I started having migraines and feeling like I had no motivation. I burnt out. I got to the point where I threw my hands up and just said “NO! Living like this is not really living!” and I quit one of my three part-time jobs, stopped feeling like I had to bake cupcakes for the class party (those Publix cupcakes are really pretty decent) or had to go with my kids as a volunteer on every single class field trip , realized my 4-year-old would survive and thrive without the team sports I signed him up for even though he didn’t ask me to, and I didn’t have to sign up for everything there is in terms of church service or volunteer stuff in the community, etc.  I basically just quit.

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I quit everything other than my job, my family, and the things I actually enjoyed. I zoomed out and realized that first things first really is a good philosophy. I have to take care of me first, my family second, and if there is anything left over, then sure I’ll let that overflow and help out somewhere. But, right now there isn’t any overflow. Or very little. I do lead a women’s group on Sunday mornings, but that is because meeting with other women and talking about Jesus is something that I love doing, not something I have to grit my teeth through. I am tired of gritting my teeth through life. Instead, I vow to enjoy life and let my children see me doing it.

My Mama’s wise advice has become my mantra. It helps me feel less guilty about having no desire to “get involved” and “sign up!” due to the fact that I feel like most days I can barely keep my head above water trying to raise two young children (one with special needs), work 2 jobs, make some half-hearted attempt to cook and keep my house semi-clean, and spend some romantic time with my husband at the end of the day trying to keep our marriage from falling into complacency or roommate status. Ain’t nobody got time for nothin’ else! At least not this mama!

I think we all owe it to ourselves and our kids to make a life that we actually enjoy living rather than being “Yes girls” who are so pressured into service (either through our own internal chatter or other people’s requests) we feel like the life is being sucked out of us and there is no time in our schedule to breathe or actually enjoy mothering and living. 

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I love my kids. They bring so much joy to my heart. I love playing outside with them in the sweet bliss of knowing I have NOTHING on my schedule. No school, sports, church, or extended family events on my calendar that day. My kids have expressed zero desire to sign up for sports, thank you Jesus! They would rather play with each other out in the yard than get together with a big group of kids or a team. I certainly don’t want to sit around watching them practice and ferrying them around in Mom’s taxi service from one activity to another. I am thankful that my boys love free play and free time outside as much as I do. We are a spontaneous and unscheduled family because I refuse to do things just because we “should” do them.  One day if they really, really, really want to play sports, I will allow it and figure out some kind of carpool co-op, but today I relish the fact that my kids are so much like me and I will not push them to “fit in” and do team sports or anything else that doesn’t bring them joy. We would rather go swim, run around the yard, go find a cool place to hike, or go paint some pottery together at INK. That’s just us. I love us.

We love our church family and I am so thankful they have made my son feel welcome even with the challenges that go with his special needs. Our whole family looks forward to going every Sunday morning and worshiping, learning more about Jesus, etc. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say. Wednesday church isn’t for our family. We love ya’ll, no hard feelings, but it just isn’t for us.  1) It’s too much for me because I run my butt off all day at work for 8 hours helping women and kids in crisis at a shelter and I have to go back and do it all again Thursday nights. Call me selfish, but I want to sit down and chill with MY kids when I get home on Wednesdays. I miss my kids and my husband. I want to sit around my dinner table and talk with them in an unrushed manner. I want to go hike down to the lake and talk to my kids about their days. I want to sit my butt down and breathe. I need a slower pace after a hectic day. I just don’t have anything left in my heart to give. I can dig deep and fill in in the nursery if there is an emergency and I’m really, really needed because there will be 20 kids unattended if I don’t. But I really just want to be home. Maybe that’s bad. But it’s me. It’s honest. 2) My kids feel the exact same way. They are tired and just want to go home after going to school and being babysat by Grandma until I finally get off work at 5:30. Yes, I could rush them through Taco Bell drive-thru and tell them to cram it down their throats because we HAVE to go to Wednesday church and then listen to them be grumpy and irritated because they really just want to go home and rest. But, instead, I would rather just go home and take my time making healthy food while they play outside or just sit down and play in a relaxed state because they are home where they want to be.

Since my kids and I are on the same wavelength, we are just going to do what is right for us and hope no one judges.  Busy mamas, if even God Himself rested on the 7th day, shouldn’t we get some rest as well? Is all this stuff we do really necessary? Thank you Lysa TerKeurst for this wisdom (read “The Best Yes” if you want to go deeper on this issue). My heart soars when it doesn’t feel constricted with external demands and pressures.

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Maybe you are a “go, go, go” family. That’s ok. I don’t judge. Maybe that works for you and your kids. All I ask is that you understand and don’t judge my decision to underwhelm my schedule so that our family of introverts who need peace and quiet can enjoy our lives. It is not due to laziness or lack of ____________. It is what we truly need in this season.

Maybe you are where I once was and feel like your schedule is so overwhelming you can’t breathe. I assure you, saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a devoted mama, it doesn’t mean you are selfish. It just means you are human, you can’t do it all, this isn’t the right season for tons of service (other than to your young kids and family) and maybe you want some time to spend with your kids that doesn’t involve the words “Hurry up! We are gonna be late!” Remember, saying “no” makes way for you to say “yes” to the good things, the things God whispers in your heart for you to do. Things like walking leisurely to the lake talking about Jesus with my kids.

We all just have to pray and listen and intentionally underwhelm our schedules in ways that work for us so that God can overwhelm our hearts with His loving presence and we can feel Him nudging us towards our “best yes” assignments, the things that we are passionate about and do bring us joy.

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We mamas (and daddys) are all just winging it through parenthood, juggling so many balls. Sometimes its ok to just intentionally drop the ones that don’t bring us joy, that don’t bring our kids joy so that we can juggle the ones that really matter with a confident smile on our face knowing “we got this” rather than a look of terror that all of the balls may drop at any moment. Can I get an amen? 🙂

Spring Magic…Coming Back to Life

As the brisk, fresh air swept over my bare shoulders and arms I closed my eyes and sighed “Spring, oh thank you for inviting me to come back to life every year.” Lush greenery, pink and white blossoms, and tiny purple flowers spring up seemingly overnight. I walked outside my front door yesterday and there was my invitation. If these leafless trees with limbs missing from the ice storm and bare dirt under my feet can spring back to life overnight, so could I.

Winter is not just a season for me, it is a state of being. I try my best to appreciate all seasons, but Winter is difficult. When my loved ones have passed on, it has always been in Winter. I do not prefer cold weather or cold people. I do not prefer having to wear clothes, much less lots of layers just to survive. During Winter, the somber landscape induces a melancholy of my spirit.

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So when Spring comes bursting forth, my heart, my mind, my spirit, my body feel enlivened with a magic that reminds me “Winter is just a season to endure, it always ends.” While Winter is all about endurance in my experience, Spring is about awakening with joy. How it delights me that my children and I can spend not a cent and have a magical day just running gleefully around our property, my oldest son picking plants he finds interesting and pretending he is making some sort of magical soup, my youngest finding sticks he makes into spears and running into the woods as if he is going hunting. My shaman and my warrior. I have known this from their births. I am in awe that my body produced these beings. They both came in the Spring. Life comes in Spring. Perhaps that is why I savor Spring fever so deeply.

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I remember spending so much time in the Spring forest as a child. I first felt God there and I marvel at the divinity God has instilled in all of creation. My heart aches for the children who grow up in concrete jungles. When I was a girl and I was sad or uncertain, I would go into the woods and sit next to the largest, oldest tree I could find and pray. I still do this. To all of the people who feel alone or hopeless, I say “go, let an old tree hold you and listen with your heart, think of all this tree has endured over the past hundreds of years, can you not stand and endure until this Winter of the soul until it passes?”

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The deadness and harshness of Winter is giving way to the magical life of Spring. Whatever has been dead or dormant in you, Spring is your invitation to let the ice melt off and the little purple flowers grow again. All it takes is getting outside, taking off your shoes, feeling the Earth beneath your feet, the flowers ticking your toes, and feeling the delicious air wrap around your shoulders like a long-lost lover. Listen…the birds are chirping. Their wings have brought them back home. Let’s wing it together as we welcome this new season and awaken. How do you celebrate Spring? What does Spring mean to you?