Friday, November 4, 2011

You Are Not the Only One

I originally wrote most of this post on Tuesday.  I know it sounds like a lame excuse, but my two year old deleted it.  He hit the “power off” button on the computer while I was trying to write, and much of it was lost.  I took his not-so-subtle hint that he needed attention, and put the writing aside for a few days.

I have been fairly inconsistent with blogging since returning from maternity leave, and it bugs me.  In my mind, I should be able to get a blog written every week, just like I should be able to successfully do the rest of my job as a psychologist, maintain meaningful relationships with my husband, family, and friends, and keep my house clean and in order.  I should be able to do all of this while doing my very best to lovingly raise two young children.  To be completely honest, every week something slips, and sometimes a lot of things slip.  I am doing my best, but there is a lot going on.

Most of us have a lot going on.  Most of us are juggling multiple roles and competing demands on our lives.  There is work, relationships, household and family tasks.  There are calls to make, bills to pay, and dinners to prepare.  We want to grow spiritually, we want to nourish our relationships, we want to nurture those we love.  Add to that any “big” life stressors, like illness or death in the family, marital problems, mental health issues, or financial problems.  It’s a lot, and sometimes it is overwhelming and hard.

But most people walk through life thinking that it is just them.  We think that everyone else is managing fine, but we are struggling.  We think everyone else is “all set,” but we are barely hanging on.  We think that everyone else has floors that are swept, extra money in the bank, and children sleeping peacefully by 7 p.m.
The truth is that everyone has their struggles.  Everyone has their pain.  It is not always easy for anyone.  We may have different priorities, different things that we let slip.  We may have different ways of managing the struggle, different ways we handle the hard times.  But everyone has their struggle.

And one of the hardest parts of any struggle is feeling alone in it.

So let’s stop.  Let’s stop perpetuating the idea that we have it all together.  Let’s allow safe people into our lives, into the messy and unswept corners.  Let’s confess that our children seem to fight constantly or that we’re barely managing to find time and space to connect with our spouse.  Let’s be honest about struggles with anger, depression, or anxiety.  Remember, it’s not about a competition to be won or lost.  It’s about acknowledging that we’re in it together.  Let’s show up in our relationships and be real with our hearts.

I’ve heard it said that some of the most powerful words in any language are “me too,” and I believe that to be true.  You and I may not be struggling with the same thing, but we both know what it is like to struggle.  By sharing our struggles, we offer a genuine “me too.”  We say, “I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect you to be either.”  We tell each other that we are not alone. And that is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.

So today, the blog is getting written.   I hope that I will be able to write it next week too.  I also hope that when my in-laws come over later they will graciously ignore the dust-bunnies the size of my daughter.   I am doing my best to stop pretending it is easy when it is not, to stop pretending like I can do it all when I know I cannot.  I am working to let people into the good and the hard, the messy and the neat.  Will you try too?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No Quick Fix

I tend to impatient. When I order fast food, I don’t want to wait in a long line to order and then wait a long time for it to be ready. I want my fast food fast. When I go to the grocery store, I look for the quickest line. Sometimes I switch if the line is not moving fast enough. And then I get really irritated if I ended up switching to the slower line. Traffic raises my blood pressure. I love it when I can watch a TV show without having to watch commercials. Sometimes I even wish people would talk a little faster. So it seems incredibly accurate to say that I can be impatient.

But I don’t think it’s just me. I think we live in a society that caters to the impatient. In fact, I think our culture that tells us that we should not be forced to wait. Endless information is instantly at our fingertips and keyboards. When we complain about a webpage loading slowly, our complaints seem totally valid. If we realize we need to make a phone call, we can usually do it instantly, no matter where we are or what we are doing. We often don’t have to wait at all for the things that we want and need. Our attention spans seem to be diminishing in proportion to the increased pace at which our lives move.

In many ways, the instant nature of our culture is a good thing. I mean, how great is it to be able to fast forward through commercials? How many moms out there have thanked God for the speed at which you can make a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese? But in other ways, the instant nature of our culture is dangerous. We have learned to expect things NOW. Our culture and our very nature have taught us to look for the quick fix, the easy solution.

And there is a lot about life that is neither quick nor easy.

There are a lot of pains, a lot of struggles, and a lot of conflicts that are not resolved in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. Some hard times last a long time.

Think about the pain of infertility, about coming face to face with disappointment and sadness every month, or every time you hear a baby cry. Think about the grief of losing a loved one, and daily confronting the pain of life without someone you once couldn’t imagine life without. Think about the time it takes to recreate a sense of home and community after a major move. Think about depression, anxiety, loneliness.

And it’s not just the big things either. Some seasons of life are just hard. A stressful job may stay stressful for a long time; a marriage may remain under pressure season after season. Sometimes there is no quick fix and no instant answer.

And that’s okay. It’s not just you. Everyone wants a quick fix, and everyone faces times and trials where there does not seem to be one. There is not something wrong with you because your problems don’t resolve in an hour, like they do on TV. You are not failing because it’s not easier yet. Just because it’s not better now does not mean that it won’t get better. This too shall pass. This may last, but it will not last forever.

I write these things because they are true, and because I too need the reminder.

So breathe deep. Persevere. Persist. Hope. Acknowledge that there is not an easy answer or instant solution. Be kind to yourself and to those you love who are facing struggles without fast solutions. Tell them that you will not tire of loving them, will not tire of supporting them, will not tire of hearing about their pain. Remind yourself of the Truth you know about trials, suffering, and perseverance. And then cling to that Truth with everything you’ve got.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Two Lists

When I am having a rough day I listen to James Taylor. It started my first year of graduate school, when I realized that James Taylor’s Greatest Hits CDs set the perfect backdrop for studying and paper-writing. The songs were familiar and comfortable, and provided background noise that comforted but did not distract. And now, years later, I still turn to those CDs on rough days, and they almost always help me feel better.

Listening to James Taylor CDs is on my list. As is praying, writing in my journal, lighting candles, drinking a good cup of coffee, calling a friend, going on a walk, reading, and taking a shower. These activities are all on my Take Care List, a list of activities that help me take good care of myself. I am a strong believer in these kinds of lists.

I believe that caring for yourself well can be a loving and socially responsible act. It can connect you to yourself and to God, and give you the energy and endurance that you need to love others well. When we are hungry, tired, cranky, or overwhelmed, we have less to offer those we love. And, when we are out of touch with our own heart, it is very challenging to be connected to someone else’s heart. We have limited resources, and we need to be refueled and recharged in order to most effectively love and serve the world around us.

What will refuel and energize you is unique. You may feel energized by time with people, or you may desperately crave time alone. Some people feel rejuvenated by spending time baking, while others find this a tedious chore. Listening to James Taylor may have the opposite effect on you that it has on me. However, it is extremely important that we learn to identify the things that give us energy and perspective, so that we can learn how to best care for ourselves.

Several weeks ago I was working with a very wise ten-year-old. He is in the midst of a season of change and transition, which is making it even more important that he take good care of him self. We were working on his list, and we had a lot of good ideas written down.

He surprised me by asked when we were going to make a list of things he should avoid. He told me that just like there were things he could do to make his anxiety and “yucky feelings” less intense, there were things he sometimes did that made these feelings more intense. He gave me the example of playing video games. “I love playing video games, but when I’m feeling the yucky feelings, video games make it worse. I need to stay away from them, or I start to feel out of control.” He added several other things to his Stay Away List, including being too busy, being around a big group of people, and watching intense movies or TV shows.

I was amazed by his insight. Just like there are things that we can do to help ourselves feel better, there are things we can avoid that can keep us from feeling worse. Identifying these things requires knowing ourselves and our preferences and understanding the impact that our choices have on our mood.

Sometimes the things on our Stay Away List are the things we find ourselves running to when we feel sad, anxious, irritable, or tired. When we are feeling the “yucky feelings,” the temptation mounts to eat too much junk food or drink too much beer. Suddenly the idea of checking out in front of the TV becomes increasingly appealing. We may find ourselves shopping for things we don’t really need or want or wasting endless hours mindlessly surfing the internet. These things become increasingly tempting, but they may ultimately make us feel worse.

Just like the Take Care list, the Stay Away List is unique and personal. The things I need to avoid may be the very things that help you. For example, an extrovert may find that getting together with a group of friends recharges them in an important way, while an introvert finds the very same gathering incredibly draining. Perhaps two hours of reality TV will refresh me but leave you feeling even more discouraged and discontent.

The key is knowing who you are and knowing how to best care for your body, heart, mind, and soul. How do your choices impact your mood, health, and overall well-being? What makes you feel better? What makes you feel worse? What things can you add to your life to help you be the person you were made to be? What things do you need to carefully avoid in times of stress or emotional intensity?

Know yourself and know what helps you be the most fully-alive, fully-connected version of yourself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


My family and I live in an older home.  It’s nowhere near old enough to be historic or lovely and antiquey, but it’s definitely old enough to be outdated.   It’s not as spacious or well-decorated as I would like and our list of home improvement projects is long.  

That being said, I am generally quite content with our home.  It feels cozy to me.  I love how I can make dinner in the kitchen while watching my children play in the living room.  I love how living in it kind of feels like living in a tree house.

I usually feel quite content with our home, and very grateful for it.  That is, until I visit the much nicer home of a friend.  Until I visit my sister and once again see how new and fresh everything looks.  I begin the comparison game, and my tree house never wins.

It’s like that with so very many things.  We feel happy with our financial situation until we compare ourselves to someone who is doing better, to someone who has more.  Our car is just fine until it is parked next to a nicer one.  We feel like good parents or good partners until we see someone who is doing more and doing it better.

I’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy.  We begin comparing and our joy slips right through our fingers.  The comparison game has two potential outcomes.  We compare ourselves to someone else and feel that we come out ahead.  We have better hair, a better figure, or our children are better behaved.  We win!  And yet, we still lose.  The act of comparison shrinks us, makes us smaller, meaner, and less gracious human beings.  It takes us away from relationships, away from kindness and generosity of spirit.  It steals our joy.

Or, we compare ourselves to others and feel that we come out behind.  The success or good fortune of someone else leaves us feeling like our lives are lacking.  We compare and we lose.  And we are left with dissatisfaction, discontentment, and unhappiness.  Once again, the act of comparison shrinks us and steals our joy.

It is hard to avoid the comparison game.  We all play it, and the more we engage in comparison, the more difficult it becomes to stop comparing.  We compare and lose and desperately seek a comparison where we come out ahead.  Or we compare and win and seek out the same short-lived high again.  And the more comparisons we make, the more dissatisfied we feel with our lives and with ourselves, and the less joy we feel.

If comparison is the thief of joy, than I believe that gratitude is the bearer of joy.  It is impossible to experience true gratitude without experiencing joy.  Gratitude is an exercise that can flood joy into our hearts and into our lives.  Being grateful for what we have, grateful for what we have been given, and grateful for the life we are living helps us to stop comparing.  It redirects our focus from what we do not have and onto what we have.  It opens the doors and windows wide so that joy can rush in.  The more that we say “thank you,” the more that we acknowledge the gifts and blessings present in each day, the more joy we experience.

Comparison steals joy.  Gratitude bears joy.  Choose gratitude.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Praise of Single Tasking

The other day I was making dinner. While talking on the phone. While wearing my daughter in the Baby Bjorn. While supervising my son as he played in the sink. While listening to music. While making a grocery list for our shopping trip the next day. It was a little chaotic.

My little man was getting impatient for some attention. I bent over to pick up a cup he had dropped, and he put his pudgy little hands on my cheeks, “Mama, do this! No more!” He’d had enough of my multitasking, and was asking (demanding) my full attention.

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty darn good at multitasking. Most of us are. We pride ourselves on how much we can do at once. We watch TV while folding laundry, we work out while listening to an online sermon. We check our e-mail on our phone while we wait in line at the dry cleaner. We make our phone calls while we drive to work. We are always busy, always doing at least three things at one time. We are productive, even in our “downtime.”

There is a degree to which this multitasking is necessary and highly beneficial. It allows us to cross multiple items off of our To Do lists at one time. It can make an obligatory task enjoyable. We save a great deal of time by multitasking.

But I have been wondering about the cost of multitasking. I want to live in a way that is wholehearted, fully–present and fully-engaged. Is it possible to be fully present when your attention and resources are divided three ways? Or do you end up being just sort of present for each task and interaction?

We have become so accustomed to being split and divided, to doing several things at one time, that we feel profoundly uncomfortable when all the pulling and splitting stops. We don’t really know how to stop, how to focus on one task or activity. Our natural reaction to this discomfort seems to be either to shut off completely (usually by falling asleep) or to dial it up and add more activity and stimulation.

I believe that the answer may be found in the opposite, completely unnatural, reaction.

Stop. Stay in that uncomfortable place. Do one thing. Just one thing at a time. Just listen to music. Just do the dishes. Just have a focused and undistracted conversation. Just eat dinner. Turn off the radio, the TV, the computer, and the phone. Single task. And single task with all you’ve got. If you are playing with your child, just play. Don’t play while you text, don’t play while you balance your checkbook, just play. If you are reading, just read. If you are watching a movie, just watch. If you are talking on the phone, just talk. If you are going on a walk, just walk.

Be fully present for whatever task or activity that you are engaged in. In our busy and demanding lives, it may feel strange and uncomfortable. But the practice of single tasking can be incredibly rewarding and energizing. It can allow you to be fully present for the activity of the moment, drawing all of the richness of the experience. It can allow you to tune into your thoughts and feelings in a way that is not possible when you are split between tasks and experiences. I believe that single tasking can open us up to peace, calm, and stillness in a way that our busy lives often prevent us from.

For just a little bit, do this. And nothing more.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It’s been over three months since my husband, son, and I welcomed our new little one into our family. As predicted, the last months have flown by, a blur of days, nights, feedings, diapers, snuggles, smiles, and tears. I have done my best to hold tight to this time, to savor and delight in the precious moments that so easily get lost.

And there have been many precious moments. Watching my two-year-old cover his baby sister’s head with tender kisses. Seeing my daughter smile at me and marveling at her amazingly long eyelashes. Learning new places in my son’s heart as his independence and verbal ability expand daily. The incredibly early weekend mornings where we all ended up piled in one bed, snoozing and snuggling.

And there have been many difficult moments too. Hearing my daughter scream and not being able to soothe her. Watching temper tantrums and fits escalate and hearing “I do it SELF!” a million times a day. Nearly sleepless nights and painfully early mornings.

The truth is that it has been wonderful. And it has been incredibly hard. It has been good and it has been challenging. And I’ve realized how difficult it can be to talk about times like this, times that are amazing and beautiful and totally overwhelming and horrid, all at the same time.

It’s not only parenting that is like this. Think about marriage, where there is joy and intimacy and adventure, and all the ugliness that can come with sharing life with someone else. Think about the sadness and tenderness at the funeral of a dearly loved family member, who died after a long life lived well. Think about a move, with all the painful goodbyes and loneliness right next to the hope and excitement of new beginnings. Much of life involves joy and hardship sitting side by side.

There is very, very little in life that is all positive or all negative, all easy or all hard, all happy or all sad. Life is complex, and our emotional reactions to life are incredibly complicated. We experience life in a variety of colors and a multitude of shades.

But for some reason, when we talk about life, we paint in broad strokes. We say that everything is good, happy, and wonderful. Or we say that everything is bad, sad, and terrible. We say that we love a new stage or hate a new job. And there may be moments where we do love that stage and do hate that job. But, most of the time, there are parts of the stage we love and parts that we find challenging. There are things about the job that excite us and things that we are very unhappy with. It’s so rarely simple, but we often communicate as though it is.

I challenge you to recognize the complexities of your feelings. Hold the happiness and the sadness and the tenderness and fear all at once. There is great benefit in recognizing and naming your emotions. When you acknowledge what is there, you can decide what to do with it, and choose how to care for your complex emotions.

I also challenge you to tell the truth about the complexities of your feelings. In many situations, it is appropriate to say, “Things are good,” and leave it at that. Much of the time, it is appropriate to paint your experience with broad strokes. But there need to be some people with whom you share the full story, the various shades and colors of your emotional experience.

There need to be people in the world who tell the truth: that life is wonderful and life is hard, life is beautiful and life can be terrible, and sometimes it is all of these things at once.

I have been so encouraged and blessed by those who have had the courage to share their full story with me. By the friends who talk openly about joy living next to sadness and anger. By the people who acknowledge that even the very best parts of life often involve some pain. By the people who can say that things are both good and hard, and one does not negate the other.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pausing Time

I am expecting the birth of my little girl sometime in the next few days, and am officially beginning maternity leave.  That means that this will be my last blog post for the next few months. I will return to seeing clients and blogging regularly in mid-August. 

I have no idea what the next few days, weeks, and months will look like.  I don’t know precisely when this little girl will choose to make her debut.  I have no idea what it will be like to be the mother of two young children or how our family will make the transition from a family of three to a family of four.  In my hands I currently hold a great deal of excitement and quite a bit of fear as well.  But there are a few things that I do know about the next days, weeks, and months.  I know that there will be some really hard moments.  I know there will be some tears of exhaustion and frustration.  I know that there will be some indescribably beautiful moments.  I know there will be some tears of joy and love and gratitude.  And, I know that these next weeks are going to absolutely fly by.  Before I know it, I will be sitting here again, writing a new blog from a new season of life.

I have no idea what the next weeks and months hold for you, but I can guess that many of the things that are true for the season that lies ahead of me are true for the season that lies ahead of you.  Most likely the next days, weeks, and months will hold hard moments and beautiful moments, feelings of sadness and fear and feelings of joy and gratitude.  And most likely, the next weeks are going to absolutely fly by.

Some good friends of our have observed that this is almost always true of summer.  The days start getting longer, the temperatures start getting warmer, and suddenly time speeds up.  It’s Memorial Day, and then before you know it, it’s the Fourth of July.  Then suddenly the kids are preparing to go back to school, the nights have a chill to them, and fall is on its way.  While I would like to hold my friends personally responsible for this phenomenon, since they first verbalized its existence to me, I have actually noticed that this is largely true for life.  It goes by so fast.  At times there are days that literally seem to last forever, and even weeks that drag by.  But the seasons and the years fly past.

And I don’t want to miss it.  I do not want to look back and ask myself where the time went.  I want to know exactly how I spent my days and weeks and months.  I want to know the story that I lived out.  I want to remember the characters and the plot twists and the details.  I want to remember the events the shaped my life, to hold tight and savor the beautiful moments, to appreciate the growth-producing effects of the hard and painful ones.

I don’t think that happens without effort.  Unless we are intentional, we will miss this life that we are living.  I am certainly still in the process of learning how to do this, and probably will be engaged in this process my whole life.  The first thing I have learned is the importance of intentionally.  We have to keep our eyes open and put effort into remembering.  We cannot allow ourselves the excuses of poor memories or busy days. 

I have found that keeping art around somehow helps me intentionally take note of life.  Reading, listening to music, and enjoying the artistic creations of others in some way opens my eyes to beauty and helps me hold to the moments.  Plus, that art can become a marker for those moments.  There is a pop song that my son is completely infatuated with.  Whenever he hears it he stops what he is doing, smiles, and dances like a crazy man.  I love it.  And whether or not I agree that the song is art, for the rest of my life, that song will conjure up beautiful images of a joyful toddler bouncing, spinning, and dancing around the room with total abandon.

I have noticed that whenever something significant happened in the Old Testament, the people would either give a new name to the place where it occurred or they would build an altar there.  When Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, he named the place Peniel, which means “face of God,” because in that spot he saw God face to face (Gen. 32:30).  We may not rename rooms in our house or literally build stone altars, but we can create special markers.  We can write things down in family histories, baby books, or personal journals.  We can take pictures.   We can take videos.  We can buy gifts or mementos.  A wedding ring is not just a ring.  It is a marker of a wedding, a marriage, and all of the moments tied up into the relationship between husband and wife.  That small circle can point to all of those moments, big and small, that make a marriage.  We can create markers of special moments to help us remember and hold tight.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can live our lives with witnesses.  When we share the details of our lives with other people, we invite them to join us in marking our lives.  Every time we tell a story we strengthen the power of its memory.  This is true for big moments and small ones.  When my son was just a few months old, I had the news on while we were getting ready for the day.  The Vice President was giving a speech, and I told him “That’s the Vice President.  His name is Joe Biden.”  I have no idea why, but he cracked up.  In fact, for several days, every time I said, “Joe Biden,” my very tiny son would laugh and laugh.  He was just beginning to laugh and that was one of the most precious sounds I have ever heard. I don’t ever want to forget the silly, random things that first made him laugh.  So I told my friends and family.  I am writing it here.  And each time I share that moment, there are more witnesses to this small but meaningful moment in my life and my son’s life.

I can only imagine what this next season holds for you.  I hope that it holds much laughter, joy, and beauty.  And, I hope that you are able to briefly pause time and grab hold of some small moments to keep and treasure.  I hope that when you look back at this season of life, you are able to remember the days, remember the story you lived, and remember what mattered.