What are You Letting Determine Your Worth?

Back in the day I loved to walk around bookstores. A bookstore was my happy place. I loved flipping through books, feeling the pages in between my fingers, discovering new authors and paperbacks filled with wisdom. Oh it was like a little slice of heaven here on earth! But those days are gone, so now I scroll through Amazon. I scroll and scroll and excitedly click on the books that say “Look Inside.”

Several months ago, I was on a tangent of scrolling because I kept clicking on the books in the “Customers who bought this book also bought…” section, and I came upon a book by Geneen Roth. Geneen Roth is a psychologist and author who specializes in writing on women, food, and body image issues. (Her books are excellent if you are interested in those topics.) Anyway, I stumbled upon a book of hers I’d never heard of called When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair. I thought that was a funny little title so, of course, I clicked on it, and lucky for me, it had a “Look Inside” button- score!

I scrolled through the book and began reading the introduction where Roth relayed a story from one of her workshops. She wrote that a woman at a recent workshop gave this honest admission:

“If I woke up tomorrow and this whole issue with food was gone, I wouldn’t know how to measure myself. Right now, being thin is how I know I’m good. Feeling fat is how I know I’m bad. If I didn’t have this system of fat and thin, I would feel terribly lost.”

I wouldn’t know how to measure myself.

Right now, being thin is how I know I’m good.

If I didn’t have this system…I would feel lost.

How do you measure yourself? What is your system? What is the thing you hang your worth on that determines if you are good, good enough each day, each hour? What is your prerequisite for feeling worthy?

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Maybe it is food and weight- I’m good when I’m thin, when I don’t eat that but do eat this. Maybe it is how much you do- I’m good when I get a lot done. Maybe it is exercise- I’m good when I workout X number of minutes each day. Maybe it is when your house is clean and all the laundry is put away and everything is in order for the next day- I’m good when I’ve got it all together. Maybe it’s when you’re doing well at your job- I’m good when my numbers are the highest in the office. Maybe it’s when your children are doing well- I’m good when Johnny is doing well in school and Sally makes the cheerleading squad and Sarah is the first to learn to read of her friends.

So many of us hang our worth on something. We let our to do lists or our relationships or our successes and mistakes determine our worth and how we feel about ourselves. It is so natural that we don’t even realize we are doing it half the time.

And maybe you’re wondering, what’s the danger in feeling better about yourself when you’re eating right or doing well at work or hitting homeruns in the parenting department?

Those things by themselves are great; they’re fabulous. Thumbs up to you if you’re doing those things. But when we allow the externals in our lives to determine how we feel about ourselves, then we are allowing those things to determine how we FEEL in general, how we interact with people, and what we do. It’s not a coincidence that you find everything annoying after you put on a pair of jeans that fit perfectly two weeks ago but now feel too tight.

When we hang our worth on external things, we easily fall into a spiral of feeling less than and not good enough. We allow these things- the scale, the bank account, the invitation to the party, your child’s performance- to put a stamp of “Enough” “Never Enough” on our lives, and we are left feeling anxious, frustrated, and defeated. We end up on an emotional roller coaster because how we feel about ourselves and our lives changes with every number on the scale, interaction with a colleague, and check on our to do list.

If we want off this roller coaster, WE MUST STOP OUTSOURCING OUR WORTH. Meaning, our worth is not determined by what we do, what we’ve done, what we look like, what type of house we live, where we went to school, how much money is in the bank, or how much debt is on the credit card.

Our worth is separate from all of that. Our worth does not hang on anything. It stands alone. It is internal, not external

The thought isn’t Being thin is how I know I’m good. The thought isn’t I’m good when _____.

The thought is… I’m good. I’m enough. I’m loved.

There are no disclaimers or qualifiers to our worth. Our worth is unshakable, unchangeable. It is the same today as it was the day we were born before life had a chance to tell us otherwise. It is the same at the end of a chaotic day where we binged on chocolate, got nothing done, and snapped at a loved as it is at the end of the day where we crossed every T and dotted every i.

The truth is our worth is unaffected by our actions, our failures because our worth is a grace-infused worth breathed into us in the beginning.   We must protect and shelter our worth from those external factors the world likes to tell us will make us better, more likable, more lovable.

What are you hanging your worth on? What is the thing, or things, in your life that you give the power to determine how you feel about yourself? There is true freedom that comes with separating our worth and how we feel about ourselves from what we do and what others think. Give yourself permission today to let go and let your worth stand in the undeniable, irrefutable, beautiful truth that you are enough, you are lovable, and you are loved.

The Wisdom of Harold and His Purple Crayon

Ahh the wisdom of children’s books… One of the gifts of motherhood has been rediscovering children’s books. Reading them as an adult, I have discovered a treasure trove of poignant wisdom. My son, like most children, enjoys reading the same story over and over and over and over and… well, you get the picture. The latest book du jour is Harold and the Purple Crayon. Somehow I missed this book growing up but am thoroughly enjoying it as an adult. Oh what a lovely story! If you’ve never read it, you really should go to the bookstore or library and read through it.

As I have been reading this story for several nights now, I’ve had some time to reflect, shall we say, on Harold’s adventure. Harold and the Purple Crayon is about a little boy named Harold who creates an entire world with his purple crayon. Harold goes on a mighty adventure filled with apple trees, dragons, oceans, ships, picnics with pies as far as the eye can see, mountains, and tall buildings until finally he decides it time to find home and go to sleep. I know, I know, it sounds too simple to be profound, but it is such a beautiful commentary on the power that lies within us to bring our dreams to life.

This evening, the beginning of the book really struck me…

One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. There wasn’t any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight. haroldmoonresized_9737

And he needed something to walk on. He made a long straight path so he wouldn’t get lost.

haroldpageAnd he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him. But he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So he left the path…

But he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So he left the path…

Sometimes we need the long straight path to guide us so we don’t get lost, to give us security and direction when we are just starting out. The long straight path is indeed helpful. Necessary.

But sometimes we discover that we don’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So we leave the path. We have to leave the path for the unknown adventure.

We need the long straight path and we need to leave the long straight path. If we stay on the straight path forever, we lose the opportunity to stretch ourselves and experience the glorious uncertainty of adventure. However, if we are always leaving the straight path for the unknown, then we never establish roots or plant seeds that will one day bear fruit. Our lives need to be a mixture of both… following the straight path when we need security and creating a new one when we realize we are not going anywhere.

What is your heart longing to do? What does your journey look like right now? Do you need the long straight path to keep you from getting lost or do you need to leave the path and set off on a new adventure? Wherever you are on your journey, remember you can choose the path… and don’t forget your purple crayon. ;)

Bittersweet Manna

I think throughout our lives we wrestle with two overarching spiritual questions: Is there a God? Where is God in times of difficulty?

Our faith starts by first questioning if there is a God at all. Is there a power greater? Is there a bigger plan? Is there order in the chaos? For some, these questions need concrete irrefutable answers. For others, they look around their world and they feel there is substantial evidence there is a God.

Then I think we move into the stage of wondering if God cares and where He is in the midst of our struggle. Does He see me? Can He hear the cries?

After surviving a hardship, we resolve those questions. Yes, there is a God, and yes, He does see and care.

Inevitably heartache strikes again. But this time it’s different. This time we know God exists, we know there is a plan. This time we lean into the knowledge that we have not been abandoned in our pain. We learned all of that the last time.

This time is different because we see the goodness, the provision in the midst of the struggle. As difficult as things are, we see… We see the manna.

Manna. Translated literally it means “what is it.” The what is it nourished the nation of Israel for 40 years as they wondered in the wilderness after being set free from 400 years of slavery. They were instructed to gather what they needed each morning but not to gather more than that for it would rot.   Manna nourished body and soul. It fed belly and faith.

But it was 40 long years of manna.

Like the Israelites in the desert, we see and are being nourished by the manna that is coming down from heaven. We know and see all of this but… but our hearts are still breaking. Our stomachs are still sick. We are still aching with sadness and worry. The goodness and provision may be helping our external world, but our internal worlds are still in upheaval.

What do we do when we can see the provision, but we are weary with the journey?

Have you had this experience before? You can see the manna on the ground and have even started to really believe it will be there each morning so you’ve stopped gathering more than you need. You see the manna and it is truly amazing and you’re grateful.

But I think we can reach the point, like the Israelites in the desert, where we are tired of the manna and we just want to get to the end of the journey. We like to judge the Israelites for their lack of faith and ingratitude. I mean, God was providing a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, and manna to eat and fill them each day. How could they have been so weak of faith and ungrateful? It is easy to point the finger from the cheap seats.

It is so easy.

It is so easy until you have been journeying for 40 years. It is so easy until you realize the bittersweetness of manna. I don’t know if everyone gets to this point in their journey, but for those of us that do, we know the beauty of grace. We know the breathtaking, awe-inspiring experience of seeing the grace in the wilderness… of seeing how we are being taken care of in ways that far surpass what we expect.

But we also know that there are some days when the manna tastes bitter. And we find ourselves in the confusion of painful gratitude… desperately trying to remind ourselves there will be an end. Desperately trying to fix our eyes on the grace around us.

But I don’t know that grace is always meant to be a painkiller. Grace is what helps us keep getting up every morning. It is the oxygen we receive when we think we can’t take another breath. Sometimes, though, we have to sit in that confusing space where we feel every ounce of discomfort despite the presence of amazing grace. It is such a truly difficult place.

I think that is the tough part about faith and hope. We can’t keep going without faith and hope, but they aren’t exit ramps from the journey.

It’s like if I break my arm. I know that it will heal, that the doctor will put a cast on it, and eventually it will be good as new. However, that knowledge does not stop the throbbing pain of a bone split in two. My arm still hurts.

Our hearts are the same. We get to the point in our faith journey where we have traveled long enough in the wilderness that we know we’re not alone, but we’re tired and our feet hurt and our hearts hurt. That is the place of hard faith. That isn’t the Sunday School felt board faith. It is the tears streaming down your face, falling to your knees type of faith. You can’t get through the trial without faith, but faith doesn’t anesthetize our pain.

Still feeling angry, sad, hurt, wanting it to be over doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t grateful or you don’t have faith. It means you are human. It means the Israelites were human. It means we understand that God and Life coexist. God is God and Life is unfair.

What do you do when you’re not questioning if God exists or if He is there? What do you do if you are struggling to find comfort in the provision around you? How do you learn to rest in the green pastures of goodness while still honestly addressing the struggles in your life?

We can be grateful and wonder when this season is going to be over all at the same time. We can be grateful and have a broken heart all at the same time. If we are going to make it through the wilderness, we have to learn to hold those two opposing realities in the palm of our hand. We have to allow our souls to grieve and wail and our hearts to hope and heal.

What is the manna in your wilderness currently? How are you holding the two opposing realities of being grateful for the manna but tired of the journey?

Five Thoughts to Ponder in 2016

Happy New Year! Can you believe it is 2016?? 2015 was quite a year!  Over the past twelve months, I've enjoyed good times with family and friends, I got see Disney World (my favorite place!) through the wonder-filled eyes of my four year old son, there were some beautiful moments at work that made me so grateful for the privilege to do what I do, and I survived an incredibly hot and steamy Atlanta summer being nine months pregnant.  But by far, the highlight of the year was welcoming our second son, Sam, into the world. He is such a little bright light for us. And that smile! I know I am biased, but I’m tellin’ ya… it is pretty cute. The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the upcoming year. I knew that 2015 was going to be a crossroads year for me. Twelve months ago there were a handful of unknowns and wait-and-sees. But now that the year has concluded, I am ready to dive into 2016 and soak up all I can from the next 366 days (it being a leap year and all… which btw means Summer Olympics!!! My favorite!).

What a gift each new year is! A new year means new possibilities to live out your purpose, fresh opportunities to heal the past while you embrace hope for the future, and additional chances to have the relationships and be the person you were created to be. Yes, each new year is a true gift.

If you’re like me, making resolutions can feel like an intimidating and overwhelming process. It is so wide open- where do I start?? And then there is the perfectionist inside of me that fears writing down a goal, not reaching it, and then feeling all guilty about it. Ugh that is just the worst, but that is baggage for another discussion. I have found, though, that if I have some sort of guideline for planning my upcoming year it feels more doable and motivating. Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts so that I can enter this next chapter with some focus and direction.   I’ve been thinking about what I want more and less of in 2016, what I want to do differently, what I want from this year, etc.  Here are the five thoughts I’ve been mulling over as I plan for 2016.

  1. I WANT TO WORK ON HAVING MORE_____________________________ IN 2016. (This could be anything you want it to be. More patience, more friends, more books read, more quality time with your spouse, etc.)
  1. I WANT TO WORK ON HAVING LESS _______________________________ IN 2016. (Again, anything you want… e.g. stress, worry, conflict with a certain person in your life, etc.)
  1. I WANT TO LET GO OF _______________________________ IN 2016. (This could be a negative habit, a resentment, a nagging concern that is out of your control, etc.)
  1. ONE WAY I WANT TO STEP OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE THIS YEAR IS _______________. (What is something new or different you can do, learn, or try in 2016?)
  1. I WANT MY THEME FOR 2016 TO BE _____________________________. (What do you want your life to be about in 2016? What do you want to focus on personally? Professionally?)

I hope these sentences help you create a vision for your 2016. I know I’ve enjoyed thinking about them and they have already made me conscious of some of my decisions and choices. Feel free to print this out, fill in your blanks, and check in with yourself throughout the year.   But remember, your check ins are not meant to be evaluations on what you are accomplishing, but more like touching base with a friend to see how she’s doing.

I hope your 2016 is filled with love, hope, and joy. If you are entering this year with a heavy heart, may you find peace and comfort for your soul. If you’re struggling with a decision, may you find clarity for your mind. If you’re looking for a fresh start, may you find rebirth and redemption in your next chapter. I look forward to hearing from you and connecting with you over the next 366!

Do You Want To Be Well?

Do you ever fall into this trap? You start your week and you think This is going to be the week that I start exercising, that I start eating healthy. This is going to be the week I finally muster the courage to call the doctor, the counselor, the friend I’ve been avoiding. This week I will finally start having a quiet time, meditating in the morning, spending less time on Facebook. Do you ever fall into the trap of planning for and then delaying change in your life? What keeps us from changing? What keeps us from following through with the things we want to do or we know we need to do for our own health and wellbeing? Why is change SO difficult and staying stuck so easy?

Here is the dilemma that I think a lot of us live in- we want change, we want health, but we aren’t always sure if we want to do what it takes to get to that end. Or rather we don’t believe we can do what it takes to move us to that end. So we stay stuck.

I’ve found that the key to change is not necessarily doing something, but often it is not doing something. Change often involves giving something up, and I think that is why change is so difficult. Letting go of the ragged security blanket, stopping a habit, surrendering… that is tough business.

We have to ask ourselves- do I want to be well? Do I really want to be well? Because to be well- to be emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically well- we have to pay the cost of being well. We have to give up what we know for wellness.

To change the marriage, we have to give up always trying to keep the peace or always simmering in anger. To change our discontent with the direction of our lives, we have to give up the need for certainty and we finally have to make a decision and take a leap. To change the loneliness we feel, we have to give up some of the heart clutter that keeps us from being truly known and seen in our relationships.

Being well is hard work. It is hard work because it requires faith, trust, surrender, and a long, hard look in the mirror. Being well means we have to get honest with ourselves. How do you answer when life presents you with the question Do you want to be well?

Honestly, how do you answer?

Most of us don’t give a yes or no answer. Most of us give the reason we are not well already. We live in the yes, but…

Yes, of course, I want to be well, but this is such a stressful season that I can’t deal with making those changes right now. Yes, I want to be healthier emotionally and physically but I don’t have time to do the work right now. Yes, I want to go to counseling and start healing from this old baggage, but I can’t find a counselor. Yes, I want to make some changes, but I don’t have anyone to help me. Yes, but I don’t know where to start. Yes, but I have tried everything and nothing has worked Yes, but you don’t understand how bad my pain is… nothing can help me.

The yes… but is a powerful tool. It creates a weird safety net that keeps us imprisons us from positive change. And I think if we are really, really honest with ourselves, for a lot of us it’s not so much that we want to get well; I think it’s more we want to stop being in pain. We want the pain to stop. That’s what we want to change. We want the pain to go away.

We want the insomnia to go away. We want the stomach aches to go away. We want the headaches to go away, the racing thoughts, the sadness, the depression. We want the symptoms of our mental and heart stress to go away, but we’re not entirely sure we want to be well.

Wanting the pain to stop and wanting to be well are two different things. To be well means we have to get to the root of what keeps us up at night at, what makes our stomach hurt, and our heart race. To be well means we have to dig, and most of us prefer to stay above ground.

We will never be well if we’re just treating symptoms and not actually addressing the root issues. To get at those roots, it means we’re going to have to do things that are uncomfortable and that we really do not want to do. We are going to have to talk about things we don’t want to talk about, to be honest and assertive rather than silent and passive. It means we’re going to have to surrender how we’re living, the schedule we’re keeping, the people we’re trying to please, the shame based beliefs we’re bowing down to.

No wonder we stay stuck. It is a lot easier.

One of my mentors used to say you have two choices: Pain and Pain. You can choose the pain you know or you can choose the pain you don’t know. The pain you know will get you what you’ve always gotten, but the pain you don’t know just might get you freedom. There is going to be pain, but you can choose productive pain that moves you toward wellness or you can choose unproductive pain that keeps you exactly where you are.

So it’s a really legitimate question- Do you want to be well?   If your answer is yes, go one step further- what are you doing to move yourself toward wellness? If you hear yourself giving a yes… but answer or if the way you are living indicates a yes… but answer, then start from there. Be honest with yourself about what is keeping you stuck when you say you want one thing but your actions and choices are pursuing a different direction.

Be well, friends! It’s hard work, but it’s a whole lot better than staying stuck!

You Have a Seat at the Table

Ten years ago this week I left my job teaching high school history and went back to grad school. One week later, I started a Masters of Professional Counseling program feeling equal parts excited and anxious. It felt like such a leap to leave the security of the classroom for the unknown of a new profession. I wasn’t entirely sure what life would look like upon graduation, but I knew that whatever form my life as a counselor took, I wanted to walk alongside women in their journey from brokenness and to wholeness, from heartache to redemption. I wanted to help women discover, or rediscover, their voice. I felt that desire deep in my bones. Over this past decade, I have been privileged to hear so many beautiful and powerful stories. There is truly no greater privilege than holding someone’s story as they wrestle and search and mourn and surrender. I’ve had the honor to witness women come to life, take giant leaps of faith, give hard no’s and hesitant yes’s.  Often, I sit in awe of the courage and strength I see demonstrated in my office.

But what I have consistently noticed over these years is our continued struggle with question Am I enough? This question can take so many twists and turns, but I feel like for so many of us the question of being enough is closely tied to how we see and feel about ourselves as women. What does it mean to be a woman? What does that really mean??  And… am I enough as a woman??

Our minds have been flooded with messages and images as to what it means to be a woman. A short surf on the internet can tell you how you can and should have a curvy figure like Kim Kardashian, how you can and should have it all, how you can’t and shouldn’t try to have it all, how to get a date, how to keep a man happy, how to be high school skinny, how to climb the professional ladder. We’re given all of these messages, and they create a very black and white view of life and womanhood- you either are or you aren’t. You either are these things that make you a woman- scratch that… make you a “better” woman- or you aren’t.

In wrestling with this question in my own life, I’ve always felt like I was vying for a seat at the table... as if life was nothing more than a giant middle school cafeteria and the table where you sit determines everything about you. If I could just figure out the right steps of what it means to be a woman then I could sit at the table… then I’d be accepted, I’d be okay, I’d be enough.

I have tried on many hats trying to earn my seat at that table.

I have tried to become some sort of distorted version of a Steel Magnolia where I stuffed all my feelings. I have tried letting all my feelings hang out and saying whatever came to my mind.

I have tried being hip and trendy attempting to emulate the pages of fashion magazines thinking that would answer my question. I have wanted to be the granola girl with a free spirit hoping that was the key.

I have lost my voice for the sake of a relationship because I believed the lie that there is nothing worse than not being in a relationship. (Sidenote- there is something worse than not having a boyfriend, partner, spouse; it’s not having a voice.)

I have ridiculed myself for not being sweet enough, thin enough, pretty enough, thoughtful enough, quiet enough, content to let others lead enough, cooking enough, not having enough children.

I have downplayed my intellect, my curiosity, and my ambition because I didn’t think they were feminine.   I have shouted that I’m right, I have railed against stereotype, and I have tried to act like one of the guys thinking that would make me strong and finally heard.

I have tried on many hats in this department of what does it mean to be a woman and I have come to one conclusion- trying to be the woman other people want me to be and I think I should be in order to gain approval and acceptance is exhausting.

Trying to become the woman God created me to be is freeing.

How do I learn to become the woman I was created to be? Maybe a more accurate way to look at that question is how do I learn to give myself permission to be the woman I was created to be?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my faith plays a giant role in my life. As much as I rely and lean on my faith, if I am honest, what I have heard growing up in the four walls of the church has sometimes only frustrated my efforts to discover these answers. Growing up Southern and Christian, it has sometimes been challenging for me to identify what descriptions and expectations for women are cultural and which ones are scriptural. In the South, it is easy to confuse and combine the two.

When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think of words like strong, multitasker, highly capable, intelligent, caring, leader, loving, hard working, outgoing, creative, and introspective.

But if I am vulnerably honest with you there is a whole other list I think of that often has hung over my head like a guillotine blade. Sweet, quiet, soft, unassuming, pretty, thin, married, mother of multiple children, peaceful, self sacrificing, a great cook, always happy/pleasant, never angry, never sad, not too opinionated, not too ambitious, not taking up too much space, secondary.

Now, is there anything wrong with some of the descriptors on the second list? No. Absolutely not.

Are some of the descriptors on the first list “better” than some of the words on the second list? No.   Absolutely not.

There’s nothing wrong with being sweet, with being attractive, with being a great cook. We cannot stigmatize qualities just because we fear we don’t have them or they intimidate us. That is bullying.

It is not better to be an outgoing leader than to be a quiet mother. One is not better, more worthy, more valuable than the other. The problem is we fall into the trap of thinking one list is better than the other and some of the words on both lists become sources of identity and worth- there is no flexibility, there is only have to be, must be, if you’re not then you’re less than.

But here’s the thing… giving yourself permission to be the woman you were created to be does not involve checking items off a list. It does not require you to perform for your seat at the table or play a part like an actor on a stage.

Your place at the table is not determined by whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs., whether you have 0 children or 10, whether your resume has thirty years of corporate experience or no college degree, whether you are Betty Crocker or Sheryl Sandberg.

You have a seat at the table. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to act for it.

You have a seat at the table because you are you and that is enough. You have a seat at the table because you are a daughter of Creation. You were knit together and set apart well before the world could tell you otherwise.

The roles in your life will eventually shift. The job that gives you worth will eventually go away. The relationships that give you identity may change. But WHO YOU ARE- who God created you to be with that grace-infused worth- that is unshakable.

Just because your reality may not fit a certain picture, that does not mean that you are less than. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose.

So pull your chair up and claim your space. Use the sense of humor God gave you, the intellect He gave you, the sensitive and nurturing spirit, the quick thinking, the opinions, the skills, the talents. Use all the gifts and life experiences and be you.

My friends, that is what it means to believe and live as you are enough- to live as you were created. Created with purpose and for a purpose.  Go ahead… take your seat. It’s been prepared especially for you.

How have you struggled and made peace with the question Am I enough? How have other’s expectations negatively impacted your view of yourself as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you?

Five Questions For Discovering Your Purpose

There are certain questions I’ve discovered that make people feeling really uncomfortable: What are your strengths? What do you need? Tell me about yourself.

That last one technically isn’t a question but the question is implied. Who are you? I bet you groaned a little bit just reading it.

I don’t know… I’m a wife, a mother… I’m an accountant... I’m the oldest of four… I’m single… I grew up in Cleveland.

Whenever we have to answer this question it is usually initiated with a sigh and then a listing of the roles and tasks in our lives. And while our roles and the things we do within any given day do make up a large part of who we are, do they really satisfy the deeper meaning of this question?

Who am I? What is my purpose? What do I want my life to be about?

Sometimes this question can be so daunting that we don’t even bother to wrestle with it, and instead we make our roles and our tasks our identities. That works for a while, but eventually all relationships shift and all jobs end. Then you are left back where you started contemplating the ten million dollar question: Who am I?

Whether we are in our 20’s or our 70’s, we all have to tackle this issue of identity and purpose. Here are some questions to guide you in your wrestling.

 

What is your story?

Do you know your story? Do you know the positive and negative turns? Do you understand how those negative turns have been redeemed? Do you know the greater theme of your story? Do you understand the reoccurring patterns that have led to good and those that have led to heartache?

You have been given a story and your story matters. The events of your life have greater significance because it is out of those events that you will find direction and purpose. If you never take the time to learn your story you will miss out on those direction signs.

 

What did you enjoy doing when you were younger?

Think back to your younger self… think back to your playing-on-the-floor-at-the-foot-of-your-bed-self? What did that little girl like to do? What brought her joy? What activity completely captured her time and imagination?

So much of who we really are is represented in that little girl who is somewhere still inside of us. In some ways, our little girl selves are the purest versions of ourselves because they are who we were before our hearts were broken, our self-confidence was dashed, and our thoughts were overridden with doubt.

A couple of years, I was asking myself this very question and I remembered two things about myself that had gotten stuffed way into the back of my mental closet.

One, when I was a little girl I loved playing with my baby dolls. Those dolls were my full time job. I loved feeding them, changing their clothes, pushing them around in their strollers. I loved those dolls.   I had forgotten how much I loved those dolls until I had my son. I think out of self-protection I had stuffed those particular memories deep down because for several years I did not know if motherhood would be part of my story. But then I had my son, and one day while changing his clothes, it struck me that in an odd way this felt so familiar. That little seed of happiness felt almost nostalgic, and I remembered how much joy I had as a little girl taking care of my beloved dolls.

Second, when I was in the second or third grade I wanted to hold a bible study for my friends. I planned the lesson (it was going to be on Zaccheus), I got out my felt board with the accompanying felt figures, and I made refreshments. Now the sad part of this story, that we won’t dwell on here, is that no one came. Yeah that was unfortunate. But when this little memory came back to me some time ago I was fascinated by it because I could remember planning it and getting everything so clearly. And in so many ways that little girl was a mini-me of today.

It is not lost on me that the two things that bring me the greatest sense of joy and spiritual, emotional, and mental connectedness in my adult life are my son and speaking/teaching and both were present to some degree in my childhood.

What did you love to do as a little girl? Before the world got to you, before disappointment clouded your vision, what did you love?

 

What are you good at? What are your strengths?

Yep, this is the question we really hate, but if you want to discover your purpose and true voice you do have to go through the vulnerable exercise of naming and claiming your strengths.

I discussed in an earlier post why we as women struggle to name our strengths. I think so many things keep us from embracing this truth about ourselves. We’re afraid we’re not good at anything. We mistakenly convince ourselves that to be good at something means we need to be the best at it. We don’t want people to think we are arrogant because we believe we are good at something. Or maybe we truly do not believe we are good at anything.

When we ignore or minimize our strengths, we let our roles and jobs define us rather than letting who we were created to be shine for all to see.

 

What is important to you?

What is important to you? What are the values that create the foundation of your life? What are the values that you want your life to be about?

Values serve as flashlights in the dark when we start to feel lost and uncertain in our journey.  They let us know when we’re straying from the path or encourage us when things get difficult. When you are doing something unknown or scary, when you are having a tough conversation, when you are making the hard choice, knowing your values gives you that extra ounce of support and direction to keep moving forward.

The decision may feel uncomfortable and may be unpopular, but if you know you are choosing it because you want the foundation of your life to be rooted in courage or faith, for example, then it will make it more possible to stand by your decision. It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but you will be able to do it.

 

What are you passionate about?

What do you always want to read about? What topic(s) stirs you? What do you have a curiosity or thirst of knowledge for? What topic brings tears to your eyes because you are so moved by it?

Years ago when people actually went to bookstores (oh I miss those days… sigh), my husband and I loved to go to Borders. He always looked at magazines and searched through the music department, and I headed directly to the relationships/psychology/religion department. Inevitably, I always left with a stack of books on topics such as abusive relationships, healing your emotional wounds, finding your purpose. My husband frequently had to responses to our bookstore field trips: I bet that check out person things you are a really troubled person and Do you really enjoy reading all that stuff?

Yes, I do. I really do. I love learning about what I do for a living. I could read about relationships and healing our shame and living brave and overcoming disappointment ‘til the cows come home. It excites me, interests me, holds my attention for hours. I feel completely alive when I am learning and then communicating to other women how to heal and discover our true voice and be our best selves.

Most likely the things that way heaviest on our hearts or intrigue our minds the most are somehow connected with who we were created to be and what we were created to do. Usually we care about something because it speaks to us or we identify with it in some way. We can’t discount these facts about ourselves. It isn’t a coincidence. Things excite and move you for a reason. Listen to that voice. Listen to that yearning.

 

Who am I? What is my purpose? What do I want to do with my life? Oh these are such big and important questions. The answer to these questions is found at the intersection of our story, our joy, our ability, our values, and our passions. What does your intersection look like? What direction does it leave you facing? What would you like to explore based on your answers?

Decluttering Your Soul

I cannot stand clutter. It literally stresses me out. When my kitchen counter gets too overrun with unopened mail and my son’s artwork and stacks of other papers that I don’t know what to do with, my heart starts racing and I can feel my body temperature start to rise. That being said, I am not one of these super organized people. As much as clutter stresses me out, so do those pictures on Pinterest of organizing solutions and color coded, labeled bins. I look at those pictures I simultaneously feel jealous, annoyed, and overwhelmed. That level of organization just seems like so much to get organized

So as much as I dislike clutter, the truth is I’m no stranger to jam packed shelves, overstuffed drawers, and stacks… oh I love my stacks.

Whenever I think of clutter and things that I need to let go of, two items in my house always come to mind: the double Slanket and the ice cream maker

Let me start with the ice cream maker. I don’t know what my husband and I thought our lives as a married couple were going to be like when we were registering for gifts twelve years ago, but apparently we thought we were going to be entertainers extraordinaire. We registered for an assortment of entertaining items and household goods that in a million years I don’t know how or when we could have used all that stuff.   Over the years, I have managed to part with some of those things, but there is one item I simply cannot let go of- the ice cream maker

This ice cream takes up a rather large amount of real estate in our pantry/laundry room, and truth be told, I have never even gotten the thing out of the box. Never. Yet, I will not give it away. I feel bad that someone spent all that money on a gift and feel like I should hold onto it. I tell myself that someday I’ll make ice cream for my son… and there will be memories… and laughter. There will ice cream, laughter filled memories. And so there the ice cream maker still sits

Then there is the Slanket. About six years ago you may remember that the Snuggie appeared on the market. You could by a Snuggie at Walgreens for $14. But a Slanket, the original blanket with sleeves, was sold on television for $40. I have no idea what prompted my husband to do this, but one night he saw a commercial for a double Slanket, a Slanket with four armholes so you and your loved one can sit cuddled under this contraption, and he spent $40+ on this double Slanket. He was beyond proud of himself and so excited to have solved all of my nightly temperature challenges.

Well, the $40+ Slanket arrived, and I have no idea what this thing was made of but you couldn’t sit under it for more than five minutes for fear that your body would burst into flames. It didn’t just keep you warm. It set your body on fire… a sweaty, fiery mess.

So use of the Slanket was very short lived yet it lingers in one of our few cabinets we have for storage because my husband refuses to let me give it away. Clutter. It is the worst.

We all have things we hang onto and things that are easier for us to let go of, and we have all sorts of reasons we let things linger in our lives:

So and so gave me this so I feel guilty if I give it away. I might need it in the future. It might come back in style. I’ll reread it someday. I will read it someday. We got these on that trip years ago. I’ll hold onto these in case I lose the weight… in case I gain the weight back. I spent a lot of money on this- I can’t just give it away. This might be worth something someday. We have to keep it for nostalgic sake.

After we stare at the cluttered cabinet and closet for far too long and muse over this laundry list of reasons, we most likely end up feeling overwhelmed and we shut the door and think, “Ugh I’ll just deal with that later.” And the clutter stays… stays taking up space… taking up room… taking up opportunity that something more beneficial, more productive, more necessary could inhabit.

Isn’t that the problem with clutter? It takes up valuable space. Even if we don’t want to make room for something else, it is still taking up space. Clutter makes things harder to find. It clouds our vision and all we can see is the mess, the clutter. We can’t see the thing we’re looking for, the thing we need in the moment.

The cost of clutter in our homes is similar to the cost of clutter in souls. Like old sweaters we can’t let go of or kitchen appliances we’re convinced we will use someday, there are some things that we hold onto in our lives sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. Habits, quirks, worries, fears, decisions, regrets, hurts, relationships, images of who we think a loved one should be, images of who we think we should be, criticisms, dreams, nightmares. All of this stuff clutters our lives. It may not clutter our physical lives- on the outside those may look pristinely organized with color-coded, labeled bins- but it clutters our inner lives.

Just like the stuff in our closets and cabinets, this clutter keeps us from seeing what we need to see. It keeps us from finding answers, from using the resources available to us. It keeps us from trying new habits. It keeps us from going after new, healthy relationships because we’ve learned to live around all the clutter.   We’ve learned to accommodate the clutter.

What are the worries, concerns, and insecurities that are cluttering your mind? What are the feelings of anger, disappointment, and shame that are cluttering your heart?   A cluttered mind races at night and spaces out during the day. A cluttered heart is overly guarded, a little raw, and sometimes lonely. Mental clutter keeps us from doing the things we were meant to do while heart clutter keeps us from being the people we were meant to be.

What do you want to let go of in your life? What are you ready to let go of in your life? It’s the same question with one very important word change. We have to be ready to let go. We have to be willing to do the hard work to let go of the clutter that has become so much a part of our lives that we may not even notice it any more.  It can be a scary endeavor to think about letting go of the clutter that has become your constant companion, your excuse, your rationalization, maybe even your identity. But when you let go of your mental and heart clutter, you make room for the answers, wisdom, love, freedom, and joy that your mind and heart truly need.

What do you want to let go of in your life? What are you ready to let go of in your life?

I'm a Quitter

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I love those pictures with quotes on them. Recently, I was scrolling through my News Feed and saw one that said quitting is never an option. Immediately I heard Eye of the Tiger in my mind and images of Rocky and football teams practicing in the rain and the U.S. Hockey team doing that skating drill over and over in Miracle flashed through my mind. (I LOVE sports movies. I am in no way an athlete, but sports movies and documentaries move me to chills and tears.)

After I came to from my movie montage daydream, I thought about how often we hear statements like that. Never quit. Never Give Up. Those statements are indeed inspiring and encouraging. We do have to learn to keep going. We have to push through, hang in there. A life of always giving up ends up not being much of a life.

But this time when I read this quote, I didn’t think Yeah charge the mountain, fight the good fight. Instead, I thought…

I’m a quitter.

I thought for a few more moments and decided yep I’m a quitter and I am totally okay with it.

We think of the word quit as one of the worst four letter words out there. It’s right up there with lose and lazy. You never want to be a loser. Heaven forbid someone call you lazy, and you never, EVER want to be seen as a quitter. We run from these labels as if they were ghosts chasing us in a dark forest.

But you know, as I think about all the things I have quit in my life, I have to say I’m pretty thankful that sometimes I’m a quitter.

I’m thankful I quit certain toxic relationships. I’m thankful I quit blaming myself for things that weren’t my responsibility. I’m thankful I quit music so I could pursue teaching. I’m thankful I quit teaching so I could pursue a career in counseling. I’m thankful I quit being afraid to leave my comfort zone and started taking leaps of faith. I’m thankful I quit wrestling with certain decisions and took action. I’m thankful I quit being angry with certain people. I’m thankful I am working on quitting worrying about what people think of me. I’m thankful I have been a quitter.

I think most people fall into one of two camps- There are those that quit everything and never push through the difficulty of hard work, uncertainty, and disappointment. And then there are the people who never quit and stay long past the point of healthy dedication and perseverance. They never quit because they don’t want to be perceived as a quitter, and they’ve developed a distorted sense of loyalty and commitment. They never quit because they are afraid. They never quit because they have lost all sense of self and what is right and wrong and how they deserve to be treated. They never quit, and instead their spirit slowly dies.

Yes, sometimes it is okay to quit. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is quit. Sometimes we have to become broken enough to discover we are strong enough to quit. Sometimes quitting is the thing that will save your soul.

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One of our most difficult tasks in life is learning to discern the difference between when we should keep moving forward and when we should lift our hands in the air and say I’m done. How do we know when to quit, move on, try a new direction, and how do we know when to stick it out, pursue, and persevere? There is not a formula for deciphering this equation. Every situation breeds a different answer.   Every story requires a different ending. Finding a balance between quitting and persevering in your life is the mark of health and maturity.

If you quit everything, then you will never learn the beauty of hard work nor will you learn the depth of your own strength and faith.   Conversely, if you hold onto everything, you may never know the power of healing and the exhilaration of letting go and trying something new.  It is emotionally dangerous to live under the notion that quitting is always wrong. Quitting can be the doorway to freedom and wholeness.

Yeah I’ve been a quitter in my life, and I’ve also been a keeper on-er. Knowing when to hang in there and knowing when to surrender have been some of the hardest decisions I have ever made.   I’m thankful for those times when I haven’t given up and hung in there, and I’m also thankful for the times I reached the end of myself and quit.

The new year is just days away, and as you are contemplating resolutions and major and minor life changes, think about where in your life you need to persevere and where you need to quit. Ask yourself if you need to quit something but are afraid to do so. Challenge yourself to wisely discern the difference between when you need to dig deep and find extra faith and strength and when you need to quit. My friends, here’s to knowing when to hang on and knowing when to quit in 2015!

What do you need to quit as you wrap up 2014 and prepare for the new year? What have you quit in your past that opened the door to healing and new opportunities? How do you discern when to quit and when to persevere?

The Truth about Anger (Part 2): Getting to the Root of Our Anger

Has this ever happened to you: you are going about your day and something happens that totally ticks you off. You become completely frustrated and irritated as if from out of nowhere. The dust settles, some time passes, and then you wonder Why in the world did I just get so angry? Why do we get angry?? What is our anger really about?

Last week we started a discussion on anger. We defined anger and discussed that anger does not have to be destructive. Stuffed anger is just has harmful to our spirits and relationships as out of control anger. We keep anger from being destructive when we learn to identify what anger feels like in our bodies and how we act in anger.   It’s normal to feel angry; it’s what you do with and in it that really matters.

We left off last week by saying that anger is a secondary emotion. Of all the things I’ve learned about anger, this little fact has been the most helpful. What does it mean that anger is a secondary emotion? Like an iceberg with it's tip rising above the ocean, there is much more going on than initially meets the eye.  It means that there is always another emotion behind anger, and that emotion goes much deeper than the anger that is exploding above the surface. Yes, you may feel angry… really, truly angry. But there is another emotion that is fueling that anger.

Learning to manage your anger means digging past your anger and identifying that root emotion. It is that root emotion that needs to be recognized and shared. Staying in your anger rather than taking the time to understand the true emotion that is fueling that anger will block anyone, including yourself, from really knowing and understanding you. Your anger then becomes a mask that keeps your authentic, vulnerable self from being seen. If we want to develop closer, more intimate relationships, we must learn to lower that mask.

The three emotions that I find are often at the root of our anger are fear/anxiety, shame (feeling insecure or not good enough), and hurt (specifically disappointment). Let’s take a closer look at how each of these feelings can pave the way to anger.

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FEAR/ANXIETY

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or dread of something unknown that may or may not be real. Anxiety and fear are parts of life. Yet, so often when we are angry, if we dig real deep we may realize we are actually feeling anxious or scared. We can feel anxious over everything from running late to church (confession: I snap at my husband more on the way to church than any other time we’re in the car. Lovely I know) to worrying if our children are going to grow up to be serial killers because they won’t eat to green vegetables to wondering if our job is in jeopardy. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we are much more likely to respond to someone in anger.

Let’s look at how this might play out… Work has been particularly stressful lately and there has been talk of layoffs. The environment is tense, and you are taking on extra projects trying to prove your worth and value to the company despite the air of uncertainty. You also notice that everyone in your life just happens to be especially irritating lately, and you have been arguing more with your spouse and family members. Simply put, you just feel crabby, irritated, and all around angry.

What is going on here is not that you are now an angry person or that everyone you know is all the sudden irritating, but really you are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of your job. Anxiety and fear leave us feeling weak and exposed. We counter that powerless feeling with an emotion that makes us feel “powerful”. All that adrenaline pumping through our veins certainly does make us feel powerful. In truth, though, it is a false sense of power… a false sense of power that is very seductive. That seduction is why we keep returning to the trough of anger again and again when we feel weak and powerless.

If you can slow yourself down and identify the anxiety, then you will be able to handle your anger in a more productive way. You will be able to communicate that you are feeling nervous about your work situation, and you will connect with your loved ones at a deeper level. Understanding that we are angry but then understanding what is actually behind that anger is what allows us to build emotionally honest and vulnerable relationships. Recognizing this connection between anger and anxiety/fear can be a real a-ha moment and learning to honestly and vulnerably communicate your fears can prevent all sorts of unnecessary conflict.

SHAME/INSECURITY

There is nothing that sends us into anger quicker than feeling insecure, unworthy, or not good enough. Feeling inadequate quickly triggers both our anger and anxiety, and in these situations we are inclined to either withdraw or lash out. Take a second and think of a time when you felt insecure or unsure of yourself? In that moment, how did you react to those around you? Did someone else bear the brunt of your feelings of inadequacy?

When we are feeling insecure or wondering if people are judging us, it is so easy for us in turn to become disgruntled and critical of others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves we are much more likely to use criticism and shame as our weapon of choice. We spew our shame onto someone else as a way of disconnecting from the pain of that shame. Looking at this root of our anger takes a lot of courage because we do not like to admit we feel insecure, and we really do not like to pinpoint the things that make us feel insecure. We feel insecure about our insecurities.

Slowing yourself down and learning to identify that your anger is masking deeper feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, allows you to begin to address and heal those painful feelings. You can then share what is truly bothering you rather than picking a fight with someone and covering them in your shame-induced-anger.

HURT/DISAPPOINTMENT

Feeling hurt is a raw and tender root of anger, and hurt is often linked to disappointment. Whether we mean to or not, we have expectations. We have expectations for everything from a trip to Target to what our future is going to look like to how a dinner or a conversation or a vacation is going to go. When things do not go as planned or hoped, we feel disappointed and that disappointment may manifest as anger.

This happens all the time, and it is a great example of how we try to bury sharing our true feeling and deflect that disappointment by getting angry. Disappointment-induced-anger can be especially dangerous when we are unaware we had any expectations to begin with. It is in those scenarios when, if we are unaware of our own expectations, we are more likely to react defensively and blame another person. We do this because we are in a fight/flight response and our mind’s automatic response/goal is survival. We try to “survive” this disappointment by shutting down the emotion and turning it into anger. We have to teach our mind’s automatic response that there is another way. In sharing our true emotion, in this case disappointment, we are actually practicing vulnerability and openness, which will create more intimacy in the relationship.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We use anger to shut down and mask the emotions that leave us feeling weak or exposed or uncomfortable. But ultimately, this mask does no one any good. We have to slow ourselves down from reacting impulsively in our anger. Anger that is impulsively fired off injures individuals and relationships. But when we slow ourselves down, peel back the layers, and look at the true emotions behind our anger, we build awareness in ourselves and intimacy in our relationships.

So here’s our challenge. Everyone is going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a day where they have a little less patience. Everyone is going to feel frustrated, anxious, insecure, disappointed at times. It is normal. It is okay. The challenge is what are you going to do with those feelings. Are you going to let them turn into anger or are you going to spend some time understanding and sharing them?

Yes, we get angry, but anger is not always our true emotion, so to speak. Often, anger is a mask hiding our genuine heart. If you want to live authentically, if you want to be known and understood, if you want to practice vulnerability, you have to name and share the true emotion behind your anger. That is being emotionally honest. That is letting people really see you. That is how you find your voice.

Think about the last time you got angry. What was the true emotion you were experiencing? What would it be like to share that truth with the person who received your anger?

How would your life change if you made it a practice to ask yourself when you get angry, “Am I feeling anxious/fearful, insecure/not good enough, or disappointed/hurt?” and then shared those feelings with someone you trusted.

The Truth About Anger (Part 1)

When was the last time you were annoyed? Frustrated? Irritated? Down right angry?   Was it sitting in traffic with no end in sight when you were already late for an appointment? Was it taking your brood grocery shopping only to spend most of the time picking items up off the floor rather than putting them in your basket?   Or was it when you even shocked yourself at how animated (yeah we’ll go with that word) you became watching the latest sporting event?  

Anger is such an interesting emotion.  Sometimes our anger is totally warranted and sometimes it stems more from an overreaction. Anger is an emotion that a lot of people dislike to the point of fearing it. They dislike feeling it themselves and seeing it in others. This is probably because they have seen too many displays of destructive anger.  Over the years, we’ve heard all sorts of myths and mistruths about anger, which feeds our reluctance to acknowledge and understand our anger.   So anger remains this mysterious and scary emotion that most of us try to avoid at all costs.

But when we ignore or avoid our anger, we run the risk of either becoming very quiet or adopting a false voice- a harsh voice, an invulnerable voice, a voice that does not let anyone know us or get close.  Understanding the truth about anger helps you live a more authentic, vulnerable, and emotionally honest life.  Your self-awareness increases and your relationships benefit.   This is the first of a two-part blog post on understanding the truth about anger.  Why do we get angry? What is the purpose of anger and what can we learn from our anger?

All of our emotions serve as a signaling system of sorts for our mind.  Our feelings let us know how we are experiencing a situation. When we are feeling angry that tells us something has gone wrong, some sort of boundary has been crossed.  Often, it means something has happened that goes against how we think the world should work, we should be treated, or we should act.

Anger is an emotion and like any emotion it is natural for us to feel it.  It is not wrong to feel angry.  Anger is not innately destructive, but it becomes destructive when we don’t understand what triggers it or is at the root of it.  In those circumstances, we let our anger get out of control.  Anger is not a bad thing, but what we do with anger can be destructive because most of the time when we are angry we are reacting, rather than choosing to act.  When we are reactive, we are usually (okay… always) out of control.

It is neither realistic nor human to try and go through life never getting angry. Everyone gets angry.  Yes, even the sweetest, most patient peacemakers amongst us get angry.  However, it IS realistic to learn what is behind your anger so you can choose your actions and they are under control and non-harmful.

So what does it feel like to be angry?  That’s an interesting question.  We may not always realize we are angry.  What?  Yep, you read that correctly.  Many of us are so uncomfortable with anger that we stuff away any inkling of anger and redirect that energy to other activities and/or people.  But just because we stuff our feelings does not mean that our body is not still experiencing that emotion. If we know and understand how we physically experience anger, we can pay attention to our body’s cues and use that as a signal to say, “Whoa what’s going on here? Let me step away from this situation before I do or say something I’m going to regret.”

For example, if one of your physical symptoms for anger is a racing heart then when you notice your heart is racing let that be a signal that you need to stop the conversation, leave the room, etc. until you are in a more settled state physically and mentally.  Let’s be honest, this is hard to do sometimes because when that adrenaline starts pumping you just want to hang in there for the long haul. But to continue in the situation leads to destructive anger, which is never what we want.

As we become more frustrated, we become more stressed and our bodies start experiencing a physical stress response- the whole fight or flight response that has been programmed in us since cave man days when you either had to fight the tiger or run like hell.  Except now there is no tiger, but your brain doesn’t know that.  There is only your spouse or your child or your boss. (Maybe a tiger would be better!)  Your adrenaline is pumping and your brain and body are thinking, “This is it. We’ve got to either run or fight the tiger.”

In an instant, the following things start happening in your body so you can either get ready to fight or get ready to run:

  • Increased adrenaline
  • Muscles tighten
  • Increased alertness
  • Digestion stops in order to save energy  (you don’t really need to keep digesting that hamburger if you’re about to be “eaten by a tiger”)
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased heartbeat and blood pressure
  • Increased breathing
  • Pupils dilate and peripheral vision increases
  • Increased perspiration

All of this happens in less than two heartbeats! (Side note- isn’t the human body AMAZING?!?)  Perhaps some of you can even feel it happening.  You can feel your temperature rise and your heart race. You can feel yourself digging your heels in and getting ready to fight.  But when we get in this adrenaline pumping fight or flight mode, we don’t think clearly. When your mind is in this mode it has one objective: survival (aka win).  Your mind is not in a state where it can reason or think through things.  That is why when we are angry or frustrated we say things that we don’t mean, give consequences we have no intention of carrying out, or do things we would never do in a calm state. We are in survival mode and we will do or say anything to survive (a.k.a. win).

OR maybe your experience with anger and the proverbial tiger is different.  Maybe you are thinking I really just don’t get angry. I don’t dig in my heels. I actually am fairly calm.  Maybe you are not a fighter; maybe you are a withdrawer.  Instead of feeling a hot flash on your cheeks, you feel as if a shield is descending, and you can feel yourself pulling inward and tuning everything out.

One thing to note, whether you fight or withdraw when you are angry, you are still angry.  Some people do tend to withdraw or freeze when they are angry, and it is easy for those people to think they never get angry or don’t have a problem with anger.  This is false. Remember, we said everyone gets angry. Regardless of how you respond externally, you are still angry internally.  Stuffed anger always comes out.  It may come out a week a later, a month later, or twenty years later. It may come out in the form of depression and anxiety.  It may come out on someone or some thing not even related to the original feeling, but it always comes out.

If we want to be the healthiest versions of ourselves and if we want to have productive conflict (this can happen) in our relationships, we have to understand what happens when we’re angry, why we get angry, and how to communicate what is really going on with us.  In Part II of this blog post, we’re going to look at what is really behind our anger.  Anger is what we call a secondary emotion, which means there are always other emotions that are at the root of our anger.  Yes, it’s honest to admit you’re angry, but it is a brave act of emotional honesty and vulnerability to say, “Yes, I’m angry but really I’m scared, I’m anxious.”  If we can learn to identify and express those root emotions, then we will have those open, healthy, authentic relationships we long for.  Our hearts will thank us, our bodies will thank us, and our loved ones will thank us.  Check back in a few days for Part II: The Roots of Our Anger.  See you then!

Finding Beauty... Fighting Comparison

The more beauty we find I came across this quote by Bob Goff last week and it really has had me thinking. Aren’t those words so true? We hear and read so much these days about comparing ourselves to others and how things like social media only seem to exacerbate that habit. I think we all pretty much agree that comparing ourselves to others is destructive. Comparison is corrosive. It kills joy, courage, and spirit. We know this yet so many of us struggle to stop doing it, and we are at a seeming loss as to how to stop doing it. It seems, though, that Bob Goff has beautifully stated how we can stop comparing ourselves to others.

We look for beauty. We find joy. We celebrate instead of resent and envy.

It makes perfect sense if you think about it. It’s next to impossible to fall into the slimy pit of comparison when we find beauty in someone’s work or when we find joy in a friend’s accomplishment or celebrate a loved one’s good fortune.   We rarely compare ourselves to the friends that we are genuinely happy for. But we tend to compare ourselves to those friends or co-workers that we secretly envy, or even resent. It’s real hard to find beauty when we are pea green with envy regarding someone’s promotion, relationship, or windfall.

Our habit of comparing is not just rooted in envy and jealousy but it is also rooted in fear and scarcity. We compare because we are afraid that we are not enough, that there isn’t enough “room for us”, that somehow we aren’t going to get our piece of the pie. It is amazing how strong the fear is in our lives that there “won’t be enough room”. All these people are getting engaged; there’s going to be no one left for me. All these people are moving up in their careers; there’s not going to be any space left on the ladder for me.   We simultaneously feel compelled to mark our territory and fear that our territory is not big enough/good enough. These mind games are exhausting!

A wise friend shared with me today that rather than fighting for a piece of the pie we should create a new pie. Rather than fearing you aren’t going to get a piece of the pie and comparing your slice to someone else’s, what if you believed in yourself and your calling enough to create your own pie?

Let that sink in.

That right there is freedom, folks. Freedom from comparison. Freedom from envy. Freedom from fear and scarcity. What you have been called and ordained to do, you will do. We have to dig deep into our faith and rest in that truth.

So the big question these days is how do we break free from the comparison quicksand. How do we do it? We find beauty and we find joy. We find beauty and joy in other people’s journeys and gifts and ideas, and we boldly embrace our own journey, gifts, and ideas.

What would it look like for you to find joy and beauty in other’s lives rather than comparing them to your own? How would that change your sense of peace and contentment for your life? Are you ready to take on that challenge? I am.

What Are You Good At?

I have found the quickest way to bring deafening silence to a therapy session is to ask this question: What are you good at?

Let’s be honest, this question brings any conversation to a grinding halt. My guess is that even the thought of having to list your strengths elicits an internal groan. I’ll tell you anything about myself, but don’t make me say out loud for the world to hear what I’m good at!

Why is it so hard for us to verbalize this very basic and important fact about ourselves?   Why is it so hard for us to say, “I’m good at ________ ”?   It’s like we have convinced ourselves that we aren’t supposed to think we are good at anything and somehow that is the marking of humility. We seem to be caught in this trap of either not believing we are good at anything OR fearing that other people are going to think that we think we are good at something. Heaven forbid! (Insert sarcastic tone) As a result, we walk around thinking things like…

I don’t want people to think I’m a know-it all so I’m just going to keep my thoughts to myself during the meeting.

I don’t want people to think that I’m bragging so I’m not going to tell anyone about my promotion.

I am scared to try this new venture because I don’t want people to think that I think I’m all that.

I don’t want people to think that I think I’m good at that so let me add in how I mess all these other things up and how I can’t do this or that.

I think we all fall victims to this twisted logic at some point. I know I certainly have! When I was creating the copy for my website I basically had to rock and hum I felt so uncomfortable writing about myself. It just feels so vulnerable and exposing, doesn’t it?  What will people think? What will people say? So and so is much better at that so I shouldn’t put that I do that.  All those lovely thoughts raced through my head as Adam Sandler’s voice echoed in the background saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Ugh! The ways we mentally torture ourselves!

And yes, sometimes we really don’t think we are good at things, but sometimes we do not let ourselves think we are good at things, or even try new things, because we are worried how it will come across to others. Sometimes we even struggle to say thank you after a compliment because we are afraid that by saying thank you, the person may think we are agreeing with them! Again, heaven forbid!

And we wonder why we don’t feel good about ourselves and why we are swimming in a sea of low self worth?? Are we even giving ourselves a chance? Are we even leaving a crack in the door that we could… wait for it, wait for it… be good at something?!

Where in the world does this come from? Where did we get the idea that by naming and claiming our strengths we are crossing into this horror of horrors zone of egotistical boasting?

I think women, in particular, have a fear of being perceived as arrogant. As much as we fear being not enough, I think we have an equally intense fear of being too much.   We don’t want to be too loud, too opinionated, too needy, too confident. We find ourselves dancing this delicate cha-cha in which we try to assert ourselves while at the same time downplaying every strength and gift. We live shamed into silence by the question who do you think you are-   Who do you think you are to try that? Who do you think you are to offer that opinion?

Additionally, I think we struggle to name our strengths because sometimes we mistakenly associate having a strength with being the best, and if we find someone who does something better, then we automatically discount that characteristic or ability in ourselves. Well, that isn’t necessarily a strength because Sally Sue is much better at it than I am. What a disservice we are doing to ourselves by minimizing, discounting, or even down right rejecting our strengths!

But again, where does this come from?

Like most of our baggage in life, I think this lovely little suitcase originated in middle school.

In Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons discusses how bullying and silent treatments function in female adolescent relationships. She says the worst thing a peer can say about an adolescent girl is

She thinks that she’s all that.

The phrase alone sends shivers up my spine because I know Simmons is right. Simmons says that once a girl is given this label she is deemed as arrogant and cocky and is shunned from the group. It is the social deathblow to a woman of any age and has been repeated in school hallways, dorm rooms, conference rooms, and neighborhood streets across the land as a way of demarcating us vs. her. Every woman, if she is honest with herself, knows the power of this statement because she has either used it to negatively describe another woman or she has feared it being said about her.

We are socialized to fear that if we come across as too confident then we will be ostracized, we will lose the very connection we desire. We end up caught in death grip of feeling not enough and fearing we are too much all at the same time. And so… we start to cha-cha. We try to be confident, but not too confident. We name our gifts, but we give nineteen disclaimers. We accept the positive feedback, but we follow it up with a rundown of how the presentation could have been better and what we left out.  How destructive this thinking is to our hearts and minds!

What if we started thinking differently? What if you gave yourself permission to say, “I’m a good _________”? What if you sat down and named your strengths without disclaimers and explanations? And then- this is the biggie- what if you believed them to be true? What if you believed you really had innate, God-given gifts that have been refined and enhanced by your life experiences? How would your life be different? How would that slice of truth change your interactions, the things you try, how you feel about yourself?

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Discovering your voice, clarifying your purpose, and breaking free of the chains that hold you back, starts with allowing yourself to recognize your gifts and talents. For some of us, that is a scary and uncomfortable task because we live our days downplaying and doubting our abilities. But your life does not have to be defined by the fears of not being enough or being too much. Your plans do not have to be shot down by the shaming question of who do you think you are. You can start living and seeing your self differently. Identifying your strengths and talents is not being arrogant; it is showing acceptance and gratitude for your unique abilities and gifts. Buried talents end up being just that- buried. They do not grow. They do not blossom. They just stay buried in darkness.

What do you need to do to start owning the truth that you are good at, not just one thing, but many things? Do you need to give yourself permission to claim that truth? Do you need to let go of some the old messages that planted negative seeds in your soul? Do you need to take time to discover your strengths and talents? Your strengths need light shining down on them. They need you to boldly name and claim them rather than burying them out of fear, insecurity, or misguided attempts at humility. Steward your strengths, cultivate your strengths; don’t bury them.

So… what are you good at? Come on, you can do it.   I know you can. Take a deep breath and let me hear you say it.

Here’s your challenge: List 10 strengths. Write them down and share them with someone. (In fact, share them below- I’d love to read them!)   It will be the most empowering, exhilarating, and scariest thing you do all week! You’re gonna love it!

5 in 365: The Five Lessons I Learned One Year After My Leap of Faith

This month I am celebrating an exciting milestone in my life. A year ago, I took my biggest leap of faith yet and launched my own private practice. In some ways, I cannot believe it has been a year, and in other ways it seems like forever ago that Mazi Robinson, LLC opened its doors. As I shared in a post a year ago, I entered into this venture not knowing what the future held but feeling simultaneously excited and anxious. Now, a year later, I am in literal awe at what has unfolded, the women that I have had the honor to work with, the groups I’ve been privileged to speak to, and the doors that have opened.   This past year has been filled with abundant, over the top Grace, and I am deeply grateful.

Sitting on this side of the past 365 days and looking ahead to the next 365, I have been pondering what I have learned so far on this journey. Here are the five most important lessons I have learned since my leap of faith.

If you’re afraid to do it, you have to do it. If you’re afraid to do it, then you’re probably doing something right.

As I shared a year ago, it was when I voiced my real fears about going out on my own that I knew I had to do it. I was afraid of not being able to make it on my own, of failing, of losing connections, of being judged. Those fears were very real, but what I knew then, and what has become even more of a truth for me since, is that if you give into fear, then fear wins. Fear calls the shots. Fear dictates the path. Fear keeps you small. If you’re afraid, it is a sign that you are pushing the boundaries of your beloved comfort zone. It’s a sign that you’re growing. Growth is often painful and uncertain. Fear is not necessarily a sign that you should not do something. Fear is often a sign that you are on the cusp breaking free from the thoughts that you think are protecting you but are actually imprisoning you. Fear is often a sign that you are doing something right. I now take those butterflies in my stomach and what if thoughts not as indicators to turn back but as green lights to take a deep breath and move forward.

It’s not the critic who counts… it’s the man in the arena who counts.

I’ve shared numerous times what a fan I am of Brené Brown’s research and writing. When I read the Teddy Roosevelt quote she uses as the backdrop for her bestselling book, Daring Greatly, I was immediately taken by this idea that it is better to be marred by dust and sweat then to stay pristine and safe on the outside of the arena. For the past year, whenever I have tried something new or stepped into a new arena I have repeated this mantra over and over in my mind. Success is immaterial. Critics only have power if I give them power. At the end of my life, I think I will care much more that at least I tried- tried to tried to hold Daring Way™ retreats, tried to market myself (email marketing literally makes me hum and shiver with discomfort… more on that gem later), tried to blog, etc.- then if I “successfully” avoided the criticism and judgment of the mysterious “they.” Yes, I’ve decided I would rather be filthy, exhausted, and totally poured out in the center of the arena then standing all put together on the outside.

I am my worst self when I’m on the outside of the arena.

I am my better self when I am facing my fears, standing up to my insecurities, and doing the things that make me feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I am jealous, envious, resentful, critical of others, gossipy, and “territorial” when I am standing on the outside of the arena watching others do the things that I am too afraid to do. I am my worst self when I stand on the outside looking in. Isn’t that interesting how that is the case?   Standing on the outside of the arena brings out all of the unattractive qualities we like least about ourselves. We become the critic when we give fear the power to close the door to the arena we feel called to enter. Want to be free of the jealousy that morphs into insecurity that leads to saying critical things about others? I’ve learned you have to step out of that beautifully decorated prison cell you call home and walk into the arena you keep staring at.

There is never the perfect time, but there is the right time.

When we are contemplating making a change, how often do we say the timing is just not right? How often do we think when I get to… or when I have this amount in savings… or when we get past this hurdle…? This past year has taught me that there is never a perfect time- you can’t wait for the perfect time- but there is the right time. What I didn’t share in my blog announcement last year is that when I decided to start this venture in private practice, my husband was unemployed. In March of last year the company my husband worked for was sold and closed their Atlanta office. As I was putting everything in place for the opening of my practice, my husband was at the beginning of a job search process that had no known end date. On paper, this was not the time to start a new business. We had bills to pay, a little one to take care of, and the uncertainty of unemployment to navigate. This was definitelynot the perfect time. But after much discussion, we felt it was time for this change, and as I quickly discovered it was the right time. It was the right time for me to clarify my purpose and calling. It was the right time for me to be my own boss. It was the right time for a new challenge. The lesson? If you wait for the perfect time, you just might miss out on what is right for you.

I thought I knew what I could lose in my leap of faith, but I never dreamed what I would receive.

I had a long list of things I thought I might lose, fears of what might happen, things I thought I wasn’t capable of doing. (Thinking about things like bookkeeping, web management, and marketing made me want to sit in a corner and rock.) I think anyone has such a list when they are contemplating walking away from the known into the unknown. Over this past year, I have had to let go of some things, and, yes, that was as painful and agonizing as I predicted it would be. But we have to let go so that our hands are open to receive other things. We let go of Egypt so we can enter into our Canaan. We let go of the beautifully decorated prison so we can step into our arena. What have I received?  Opportunities I never dreamed of. Occasions to hear others’ stories that I will treasure in my heart. Knowledge that I am more capable than I realized. But more importantly, I’ve received grace, a bigger and bolder faith, healing, direction, and a new understanding of what it means to live free.   It is for freedom that we have been set free- oh yes, indeed.  I have felt both carried and covered like never before, and I understand on a whole new level that our imaginations and worst-case scenarios aren’t nearly as big as God’s vision for us- Amen to that. This year has been one of the most influential and shaping of my life.    To say I am grateful is an understatement.

Those are the lessons I have learned over this past year, and I'm sure there is more learning to come in the year ahead. I look ahead at the next year and I'm so excited about what I know is to come and what I cannot imagine is around the bend. Happy Anniversary, Mazi Robinson, LLC!

What are the lessons you have learned from your leaps of faith? Are you contemplating a leap right now? What are your worries and concerns? What is the arena you want to enter? I would love to hear about your journey and what you are learning!

Summer Lovin' (and an Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!)

Well, Hello Summer!  It is so good to see you!  So many images and thoughts come to mind when you think of summer.  Whether it’s Ella smoothly crooning about livin’ easy or Will Smith reminding us it’s time to sit back and unwind, for most of us summer is our time to slow down, relax, and reset ourselves. There are so many sights, sounds, and even smells that go along with summer.  Waves rolling into the beach.  Orange and pink sunsets.  Lightening bugs.  Crickets chirping.  The crack of the bat and the cheer of the crowd.  Citronella wafting through the night air. Yes, summer has a way of tickling all our senses.

This is the season of the year where it is okay to stay up a little later, have one more cookie because hey it’s summer, or linger a little longer over your al fresco dinner.  It is almost as if Summer means doing the things you don’t have time to do or don’t give yourself permission to do the rest of the year.   Here is what summer means to me and why I am looking forward to this summer in particular!

 

  1. My Nike shortsNike-Womens-Race-Shorts You know the game stranded island where you list the things you would want to have with you if you were stranded on an island?  If I were stranded on an island, I would want to have my Nike shorts.  I love them.  No, I mean I LOVE them.  They are literally the most comfortable item of clothing I have ever put on my body.  No, I'm not a runner, and yes, I am that person who wears athletic gear without being the least bit athletic.  But whatever because summer means I get to wear my Nike shorts as often as possible!
  2. My Happy Placelake This is my happy place.  This view.  Now picture this view with the breeze slightly blowing, the soft hum of boats in the distance, and wind chimes creating the perfect background music. Perfection.  Summer means I get to enjoy my happy place.
  1. Read, Read, Readphoto I love to read, and I love to read in the summer.  In the winter and spring, I even start thinking about all the books I want to read in the summer.  And yes, the picture is my stack for this summer.   I can’t wait.  There are a couple of others I would like to get but I'm trying to have self control.  What can I say?  I’m a therapy nerd.  I love to read about what I do. :)  (BTW, I started Jesus Feminist last weekend... very good!)
  1. Slowing Downslow sign with turtle silhouette I try to limit commitments in the summer so this time can be an intentionally slower season.   I’ll admit I’m not the best at staying balanced 24/7, but summer is my finish line, so to speak.  It is my time to slow down.  Summer means resetting so that I am ready to dive into fall.
  1. My Loved Oneswomen-laughing For me, summer is about seeing my loved ones.  Whether that is dinner with friends, going to visit family, or family coming in town, this season just always seems to be synonymous with connection.  Let the laughter and storytelling commence!

 

So here’s to summer!  In honor of this season, I thought I would do another giveaway (plus it has been forever since my last giveaway!).   Comment below with what summer means to you or why you are looking forward to this summer in particular, and I will do a drawing at the end of this week for two $15 Amazon gift cards!  I would love to hear from you!  Have a fabulous and fantastic summer!

But There Was Meat in Egypt!! (Lessons on Letting Go)

Are you good at letting go of things? I’ll be honest; I’m not. A few weeks ago I shared that I have been trying to make a conscious effort to let go of fear and control.  But letting go of fear and control are really just two smaller parts of the greater challenge of letting go.  I’m not good at letting go of anything really.  This is a constant area of growth for me.

Instead of letting go, here’s what I do.  I ruminate.  I obsess.  I glorify things from the past that do not necessarily need to be glorified.  I replay conversations.  Not only do I replay conversations, but also I rehearse conversations I would like to have where I tell that person exactly what I think.  I’ve got several scripts all written and ready to go in my head.

Like I said, this is a part of my personality I really don’t care for because nothing good grows out of it.  This struggle to let go only brings forth more angst and anxiety into my life.  I would love to be that super peaceful-at-one-with-the-earth-wearing-long-skirts type of person who is all, “Go. Fly away worries, hurts, and resentments. I am releasing you.”  But instead, I’m more of the going-to-sit-and-spin-like-a-tornado-on-a-scratched-record type of person who is all, “Why? Why?  How could this happen? It’s not fair! What if, what if???”

Last week, I had a five-hour car ride to get in some good ruminating, and as I was moving into hour three it hit me- you’re glorifying Egypt.

Egypt?  Let me explain…

One of my favorite Biblical figures/stories is that of Moses and the Israelites.   The entire account of Moses and the Israelites starting with Moses being called to go to Egypt and set the Israelites free to the great exodus to the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years really resonates with me.  No, I’ve neither been enslaved nor led a nation of people to freedom. And no, I’ve never wandered in the desert for 40 years, but I love the accounts of Moses and the Israelites because I am an Israelite.

I think we like to judge the Israelites. We like use the Israelites wandering in the wilderness as poster children for complaint-filled doubt.  We like to wag our finger in disapproval at their repeated lack of faith and frequent grumblings about their circumstances.   But come on, if we’re honest, haven’t we all been like the Israelites at some time or another?

Oh sure, I would love to think that after I had seen the ten plagues I would have walked up to the Red Sea and instantly thought God’s got this.  I would love to think I would have been in grateful awe of the daily provision of manna and water in the desert.  But the truth is I’m sure at some point I would have resented the manna and found it to be bitter.  I’m sure I would have complained that the pillar of fire guiding me by night was keeping me up because it was too bright and that the cloud by day was blocking my view of the sun.  I am sure I would have joined in dancing around the golden calf because my memory is short and my fears are mighty.   And I am absolutely positive I would have joined in the mass moaning about how life was better in Egypt and how at least in Egypt there was meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

Forget freedom.  Forget reaching the Promised Land.  Forget seeing the impossible become possible.  In Egypt, there were cucumbers and onions and fish!

At some point along our journey, aren’t we all guilty of glorifying the Egypt of our past?

I’ve found that sometimes when we have a hard time letting go of the past it is because we are glorifying the past.  We remember the cucumbers and forget the slavery, so to speak.

Yes, I know the relationship was bad and it kept my heart broken and anxious, but we had a connection and what if I never find a connection like that again. 

Yes, the job was soul crushing and mind numbing, but I had all those vacation days and now pursuing what I really want to do means starting at the bottom of the ladder again.

Somehow in the midst of the pain of change (and change is painful… that’s why so many people choose not to change), we forget how unhappy, unfulfilled, unhealthy we were in our “Egypt”.  Instead, we remember some distorted version of the past where our “slavery” wasn’t that bad.  We convince ourselves there were some good moments and maybe if we could just go back it would be different this time.  Or we think that it will not be that good in the future.  Oh the lies we are susceptible to when we are in the midst of change.

Discomfort clouds our vision.  It is hard to leave our past behind, especially when we are struggling in the present.  Occasionally when we are confused and feel like we are wandering it is because we are truly lost, but sometimes when we feel like we are wandering it is really because we are being prepared for our future.  When we revere our Egypt, we don’t see the healing and freedom that is happening all around us.  But mind you, there is always a price for freedom and health.  And sometimes the cost of health is the pain of letting go of those unhealthy habits, relationships, and parts of yourself that are keeping you enslaved in the past.

Do you have an “Egypt” in your life that you sometimes glorify because the present is challenging?  What do you need to remember about your “Egypt” that will help you let go?

It's Easier Not To

Several months ago I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by some work related responsibilities and deadlines.  The to-do list kept growing and growing and my energy reserves kept shrinking and shrinking.  One day I thought, “It would just be easier not to.” Isn’t that so true?

It’s easier not to.

It’s easier not to try.  It’s easier not to change.  It’s easier not to put yourself out there, not to speak up.  It’s easier not to be vulnerable, not to take the risk of uncertainty and exposure.  It’s easier not to unpack the baggage that keeps tripping you up.  It’s easier to quit when it gets hard.  It's easier to believe you can't.  It’s easier to keep doing the things you’ve always done even though you know they are bad for you.  It’s easier not to choose health.

Or is it?

I’ve thought about this phrase a lot since that day.  I’ve thought about how true it feels, yet how dangerous this belief is.  Yes, it is easier… in the short term.

In the short term.

That’s the key.

It’s easier not to in the short term.  But in the long term, that easy path turns into a pothole filled road.  Choosing not to rarely leads us to where we want to be or who we were created to be.  Choosing not to leaves us outside the arena looking in.  And when we are on the outside looking in that is when we are most likely to be judgmental and critical of those who are on the inside.

Isn’t that the kicker?  We choose not to, but then we resent those who choose YES over NO.  When we choose not to, we end up staring through the window and watching as people pursue new adventures and opportunities, as they unload their cumbersome past, as they make healthy changes that bear sweet fruit.  We end up staring through that window as we wrestle with the most uncomfortable of emotions- resentment, regret, fear, and frustration.

No, it’s not easier not to.  It feels like it in the short term.  It feels like it, but although our feelings are valid, they are not always true.

Everybody has those days when it feels easier not to.  That’s normal.  The challenge is how do you keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off.  How do you keep going?

We keep going by learning when we need to sit and be still and when we need to move.  Sometimes the very thing we need is rest.  Stepping away from the problem and doing something totally unrelated might be the very thing that gives you the perspective you need.  Giving yourself compassion and validation that this is a tough mountain to climb is often just what the doctor ordered.  More often than not, sharing your frustration, concern, and anxiety with a trusted loved one gives you the ounce of energy you need to keep moving forward.  We keep going by refocusing on why is this so important to us anyway.  Why does this matter to us?  What do we feel called to do?  When you push through the temptation to choose not to over I’m going to, you move closer to your unique purpose and farther away from your fears.  Yeah it may feel easier not to.  But when you choose not to, you miss the blessing.

I hope this week you give yourself the rest or compassion or time with loved ones you need to continue in your journey.  Choose long term over short term.  Choose purpose over fear.  Choose the blessing.

Do you ever have those days when you think, “It would just be easier not to”?  How are you learning to choose “I’m going to” over “not to”?  Which path are you choosing today?

Spring Always Comes

I turned the page of my calendar earlier this week and noticed that Spring officially starts on Thursday.  The back and forth of our weather lately certainly has most of us anxious for consistently warmer temps and sunnier days.  I love Spring, and I love Spring in Atlanta.  It is really quite breathtaking.  One of the reasons I love Spring is because  with this changing of the seasonal guard, we literally witness in nature one of life's most important lessons. Just when we think there is no way life and beauty could emerge out of the cold, dreariness of our lives, Spring always comes.  

 

After witnessing the magnificent reds, yellows, and oranges of Fall, Winter begins to set in. The lingering signs of Fall's grandeur appear on trees here and there, and sometimes those leaves trick you into believing that maybe winter will not come this year.   Like those leaves hanging despite being whipped around by wind and rain, you hang onto the remnants of your Summer dreams and Fall glory days.  You hang onto the relationship hoping the other person will change.  You hang onto the hope that your job won't be cut.  You hang onto the hope that this time, this time, things will be different.

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But Winter does come.   One day you get the call or the text or the email, and you realize it's done.  You've been given your answer, and it is not the one you wanted.  There's nothing left to hang onto.  The relationship, the dream, the plan is gone... dead.   You're not sure what to do next or where to turn .

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And you start to wonder where is this road going and when will it end.   All you know is that your winter of discontent feels extremely isolating.  The loneliness of this journey simultaneously fills you and drains you.

Road to Wegrow

 

 

But one day, you lift your head and you see it... you see signs of life.

spring shots 002

You sees signs of life, signs of hope.  You discover buds of new found hope, of new found energy.  You start thinking of a new plan.  You start putting yourself out there again.  You come out of hibernation and you start slowly living again.

 

With each step forward, that cold, dark endless road turns into a beautiful, lush path.

beautiful spring path

 

With each step forward, you feel more alive and more like yourself... except not your old self, but a new, reborn self.  Your reborn self is stronger, livelier, and bolder.  You learn your Winter was not the end; it was just the end of that season.  Your Spring means another chance to fulfill that dream and a new opportunity to reach that goal.

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No matter how cold or dark or lonely your winter was, Spring always comes.  Light always follows darkness.  Each year, Spring teaches us that gardens do emerge out of deserts, life does emerge out of loss, and sometimes letting something die is the only way that it can be reborn into a beautiful, vibrant, life-giving  creation.

Are you ready for Spring?  What is being reborn in your life right now?

What Do You Need To Give Up?

I was raised Southern Baptist.  This means a few things:  I grew up going to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, I have been to a tent revival (white tent, funeral home fan, folding chairs… the whole nine yards), and I really only celebrated two religious holidays, Christmas and Easter. It was only when I started teaching at a Catholic high school and attending a Presbyterian church that I discovered anything about an Ash Wednesday service or the season of Lent.  My first Ash Wednesday teaching school I walked in and saw one of my co-workers with ash on his forehead.  I leaned in, so as not to embarrass him, to tell him that he had something on his forehead.  He smiled and said, “Dear, it’s Ash Wednesday.”  I nodded like I knew what he was talking about and went about my merry way.

I quickly learned about the traditions of an Ash Wednesday service, and it is now my favorite church service of the year.   There is something so moving about the service- the idea of preparing your spirit for the gift of Easter, the hope in surrendering your “ashes” for healing, and the beauty in the gentle touch of someone drawing the cross on your forehead.

Ash Wednesday marks the 40 days prior to Easter and is the official start of the season of Lent.  As tradition goes, individuals either give up something that is deemed bad or a hindrance in their life or they start doing something that is beneficial.  I always find it interesting to hear what people give up or what they add.  You often hear of people giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that.  The latest trend seems to be giving up Facebook.   (I thought about giving up Facebook, but who am I kidding?  I’m an avid Facebooker- they’ll have to pry Facebook out of my cold, dead hands.  J)  The idea behind giving up something is meant to be an act of purging and cleansing so as to refocus your spirit.   Letting go helps us open our hearts and minds.  Surrendering something, even if it is only for 40 days, helps clarify what has power in our lives.

I like the idea of Lent.  I think it is good for us to practice intentional surrender.  Surrendering and letting go are really quite the opposite of what we naturally want to do as humans.  We naturally want to control.  We naturally want to be in charge of our own fate.  So often, we want to hold on rather than let go.  We want to hold on even if we know the holding on is killing us.

What do you need to surrender?  Whether you observe Lent or not, where in your life do you need to let go?  What are you holding onto that is holding you back?  What do you need to give up?

What if you gave up shame?  What if you gave up fear or anger or caring about the number on the scale?  What if you let go of second-guessing your decisions?   What if you let go of the grudge and the resentment?

This Lenten season I want to give up fear and control.  There are some things in my life that I want to control because I am afraid.  I am afraid of losing them, of these things being taken from me.  I realized recently that when we start holding on so tightly because we are afraid of something being taken from us, then we are in danger of that thing, even if it is a good thing, becoming an idol in our lives.  We’re in danger of sacrificing our peace of mind and values on the altar of that idol.

When we start making those sacrifices, what we don’t realize is that we’re really not in control because that thing or that person is now controlling us.  We like to think we are in control and that this decision or that decision will bring the outcome we want, but that isn’t the case at all.  The relationship we love, yet we fear losing, ends up controlling the peace in our hearts.  The dream job we worked so hard to achieve, yet feel there’s no rest in because we’re compelled to continue climbing the ladder, ends up controlling our schedule.  The lifestyle choices we put into place to make us feel better, yet we still don’t think we’re pretty or thin enough, end up controlling our confidence and sense of worth.  We end up controlled by the thing we are trying to control.

I want to give up fear, and I want to give up control.  I want to hold loosely the things that could so easily become idols in my life.  I want my hands to be open to receive, rather than closed in white-knuckled fear.  I want to really embrace the posture of surrender because this is what I know about surrender…

Surrender is not weakness.  Surrender is not defeat; it’s not quitting.  Surrender is acknowledging where you end and the Power greater than you begins.  It is letting go of the idol.  Surrender is freedom.

What do you need to give up?  Where do you need to let go in your life?  Where would you like to experience the freedom of surrender?

Your One Thing in 2014

We are a week in… a week into 2014.  How’s it going so far? The holidays are over.  Christmas decorations have been taken down (or at least there are plans to take them down).   New calendars have been purchased and filled with upcoming events.  Children have returned to school, and adults have returned to the daily grind of emails, meetings, and carpool while visions of the next vacation dance in their heads.

Last week we discussed how to wrap up one year before leaping into another.    We looked at ten questions designed to help us reflect on 2013.  In keeping with that theme, here are a few questions to ponder as you start 2014.

What are some things you would like to do differently this year? What are some things you would like to repeat from last year? What relationships would you like to cultivate or invest more heavily in? What would you like to learn in 2014? But here’s the big question…

What do you want your 2014 to be about? 

This is your 2014.  You only get one.  You only get one 2014.  What do you want to do with your 2014?

As we all know, the start of a new year often means all sorts of plans for turning over new leaves.  I’m going to go the gym ___ days a week.  I’m going to stop ________.  I’m going to start ________.  I’m finally going to take up that hobby.  Resolutions, goals, plans.  Our minds and journals are filled with them.

But what do you really want your year to be about?  If you set a goal because you think you should do it, chances are pretty slim that you are going to actually accomplish the goal.  If you are really going to “cut back” or “ramp up” or “start anew”, then you have to have something much deeper motivating you than the self-imposed yoke of should thinking.

Not sure how to discern what you want to make of your 2014?  Try this… Fast-forward eleven months and a few weeks.  It’s the end of December 2014.  You are trying to figure your New Year’s Eve plans and your cursing the person who decided New Year’s Eve should be a big social occasion.  You realize, once again, you are only days away from the turning of yet another year, and you start looking back on what you have done in 2014.

When you put yourself in that picture, what is the one thing you want to be able to say you did?  What is the one thing you will regret not doing or working on in 2014?

I think there are a lot of things we can say we want to work on or try or accomplish this year.  But, in truth, there are only one or two things that are so significant to us that we will feel regret or disappointment if they go untouched.  Regret leaves a terrible aftertaste and can be an interesting motivator.  So what are your one or two things that you want to be able to say you did, or at least worked on, in 2014?  What are the steps you need to take to insure against regret?

Is it surrendering a self-destructive habit or letting go of an unhealthy relationship?  Is it repairing a broken relationship?  Is it repairing your broken spirit?  Is it facing old fears and insecurities and finally going after that dream or goal?

My hunch is that we all know the one thing we need to work on that will have positive ripple effects in other areas of our lives.  It is hard to ignore unhappiness, conflict, and dissatisfaction- the telltale signs that always point us to the one thing starving for our love, time, energy, or courage.

So how do you start this journey once you’ve identified your one thing?  You know what needs to change so that you will stop kicking yourself at the end of each year.  You know what you want your year to be about.  You start on your journey by answering these two questions:

What has kept you from this goal in the past?

What is presently keeping your from this goal?

We have to know two things to move forward-  we have to know where we want to end up and we have to know where we were.  The first step is identifying what you want to be different in your life.  The second step is figuring out why you are there in the first place and what is keeping you stuck. 

Last week on Facebook I kept seeing this quote: 

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book.  Write a good one.

So true.

You get one 2014, and you play a significant role in making it a good one.  What do you want your 2014 to be about?  What is your one thing?

Here’s to 2014, friends!  May you have joy in your heart, peace in your mind, and courage in all your endeavors!