Relocation

I have recently moved into a different house. It isn’t far from my old one, but it has still felt like a massive and consuming project. We complicated the transition by doing some renovation on the house that continued after we moved in, so my life has been overwhelmed with dust, decisions, and displacement.

Now that we are mostly finished, I feel like the real work of relocating can begin. Leaving my home and neighborhood of 13 years has been deeply rattling. I’ve been amazed by how many things feel different and uncomfortable. We used to be at the bottom of a hill and now we are at the top of one, so my whole perspective of the street in front of the house has shifted. Having a home with more space means the walls are further from me and that makes me feel smaller than before. Everyone is finding their favorite spots and so I don’t always know where everyone is. It is easy to feel a little lost. Never mind missing the comfort of my beloved neighbors close by!

I’ve moved across the country twice, not to mention relocating from Alabama to suburban DC when I was a teenager. This recent move was only a mile away but relocation has never felt stranger to me. I think it’s because I didn’t expect it to feel so viscerally unsettling. I had no idea how much I thought of myself as a duplex/row house person, and now I live in a detached house. This change to a bigger space actually shifts a part of my identity I only unconsciously held! I’m adjusting to the space between the walls and me, but I’m also adjusting to this small shift in my idea of myself.

Relocation can mean finding yourself in a new place AND in a new idea of who you are. This process of finding yourself anew can be precipitated by a move, a break up, a job change, health crisis, or becoming a parent. Sometimes we have to get messy in grappling with parts of our identity that we had no idea gave us pride or security.

As I find myself in the process of relocating here, I need to find the rhythms, both old and new, that help me find the deeper places of security and home. So far, I’ve taken some wonderful walks, hosted some good friends for meals, played board games with the kids, gotten my morning routine sufficiently tweaked, and found my spot to pray. I’m getting there.

Are you facing some kind of relocation in your life? Either literal or metaphorical? What new patterns do you need for the shifts in your life right now?

Listen!

I was challenged recently to do this: when someone tells you their story, listen and believe them. It sounds really simple, but it’s hard.

It’s hard when the story involves you, either directly or indirectly.

It’s hard when it threatens your own worldview.

It’s hard when the story challenges your ideas about the way things work.

After Urbana, a 16,000-student missions conference I staffed last week, it was hard for many to stomach an evangelical ministry embracing Black Lives Matter. In my counseling office, I see people every day who will not believe the story their spouse, child, parent, or friend tells them. Yesterday I heard yet another story of a sexual assault victim who was scolded by the first two people she told for “letting this happen”. Many trauma victims are more traumatized by the reactions of others to hearing of their trauma than by the trauma itself. How can we all help change this narrative?

It is scary and threatening, but it may be our only hope towards healing. How can it look? I lean on the wisdom of Erna Stubblefield:

We say, “tell me more” rather than disputing someone else’s story.

We lean in, rather than pushing back and away.

And I’d add the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, in his famous prayer, who prayed, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much . . . to be understood as to understand.”

To believe another’s story requires us to let go of our own, at least a little. If someone tells us we hurt them, can we let go of our need to be right and listen? If someone tells us they were hurt by our society/institutions can we let go of our need to believe those things serve everyone equally and believe?  Can we do it?

Unexpected Inspiration

OK, this is embarrassing. I miss Amy Poehler. For the last week, I’ve been listening to her book, Yes, Please via audio book while I’ve been running/walking each morning. It’s been utterly unfair to be listening rather than just reading. I’ve been duped into thinking that she’s been my running partner who just talks a lot more than me. She is irreverent, vulnerable, and alternately serious and wickedly funny. If you are now imagining me jogging around my neighborhood laughing out loud (and even crying once) with nothing but my earphones for company, then you are picturing this friendship accurately. Amy’s great. She’s warm and believeable, companionable and entertaining. But there was something more about “getting to know” Amy that tapped into things I want to be about.

Amy talks about how important her friends are all the time. At every rough patch, in every job and through all the muck of life, Amy made reference to the people around her who were holding her up. I’ve tried to make friendships a greater priority in the last months and I’m starting to see exciting changes. I want to keep pressing on!

Amy went for it. She discovered that she loved making people laugh and she shaped and bent her life around this passion when there was no money or glory in it at all. It was all about creativity and risk and living on the edge and doing it all with people you love and respect. I want to stay hungry like that for the stuff I want to be about!

Amy cries a lot. In so many of her stories, Amy will say something like. And then ____________ happened, and I cried. Right there in front of ____________. I love that she has so many experiences of just letting it go and letting people see that vulnerable part of her. I want to keep being willing to show that part of myself too.

            Amy is courageous. Her chapter on apologizing showed me an example of taking responsibility and owning her actions that moved me to review my own responses to people who bring up their hurts with me.

            Amy is willing to be the one. Amy orchestrated a lot of gags for events like the Golden Globes and she was always willing to be the one taking the greatest risk on a prank! By doing this she bravely led the way and helped others shine. She was gutsy and generous.

            I didn’t expect to be inspired when I started to listen to this book. I expected to laugh. I have laughed at Amy Poehler for years—Parks and Rec is pure genius! But I want to grab every opportunity to stretch into the person God created me to be, and surprisingly, Amy Poehler is helping me do that. And hey, maybe she’ll read this blog, we’ll have lunch, and we’ll get to pick up on our friendship and make it a bit less lop-sided. You never know!

 

Where have you been inspired in an unexpected place?

Too Careful For Our Own Good

Apparently the message, “our lives are messy” is too critical for today’s college student to hear. I consulted recently with a campus minister who had been challenged by a counselor at the small liberal arts college where they both work. The counselor said that telling students their lives were messy was just too hard for them to hear…..that they should not be given such a critical message.

This is really disturbing to me.

Who decided college students are so fragile?

Why is the University taking on the role of protector in this way?

This month’s Atlantic has a thought-provoking story on this idea called “The Coddling of the American Mind”. The author goes into great detail about current practices at Universities that perpetuate the fragility of the American college student. A couple of primary examples are punishments for microaggressions (“small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless”( p.44) and insistence on the use of trigger warnings when professors assign readings that may evoke strong emotional reactions.

As an anxiety therapist, I appreciated the writer’s investigation of how the presiding attitudes on campus foster an avoidance of emotional reactions that reinforces over and over again for students that it is dangerous and harmful to feel offended, provoked, angry, or anxious. While I affirm being sensitive and am grateful for movements in the past that sought to move towards more inclusive language as a reflection of our world, I see the difference that writers Lukianoff and Haidt explain in this way: “The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.” (p.44 )

The writers rightly point out that avoidance of feared things is actually counterproductive to psychological well-being and certain does not prepare students for life after college on many levels. I worry that these practices actually serve to convince students that they truly cannot handle feeling bad, which is an attitude I am constantly fighting against with my clients. Even for students with a true trauma background, the answer for their growth and healing is not creating a fantasy world where problems don’t exist. And certainly I wish the message was being injected into these students that they can handle evocative content….that their stress and anxiety responses can be functional and helpful, not dangerous!

I want to be a part of helping people see that their God-given emotional capacities are there for good reason and are a part of what make us human. There is no emotional state that needs to be summarily avoided! Our resiliency and maturity are both stretched by being squarely in reality, noticing our triggers and emotional reactions, and learning to soothe ourselves and stay grounded. These skills are things that can be developed and should be a goal for any college age person. Let’s allow life to teach college students what they need to learn about their tremendous capacity to experience emotions and be ok!

 

The article cited is from the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic.

Pilgrimage

This week was the anniversary of my father’s death 38 years ago. I recently traveled to Alabama to attend the 50year celebration of the church my father was pastoring when he died. My expectations were low. I knew that there would be people I recognized, I thought perhaps only a handful…..but I realized that it was probably a chance I wouldn’t have again to connect with this part of my past. What I found when I got there was an entire community of people that I remembered. I was embraced by spiritual mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, who had known me as my community through my childhood. Names, faces, and feelings flooded me. Several people hugged me, looked at me, and simply wept. It was a pilgrimage I will treasure forever.

The church had prepared several photo montages of the past and collected memorabilia from every decade of the church’s life, so I had the delight of seeing some photos of my father I’ve never seen and reading a piece I’d never read that he wrote for the church’s newsletter. The experience overall reminded me of how meaningful it is to remember where we come from; who raised us, who nurtured us, and who loved us.

I wanted to share some of my father’s words as a tribute to his memory and a celebration of the richness and depth of faith that is my heritage.

Words from Cooper French

“When I look at the needs of people, a superficial concept of God just won’t do. We need God at the point of that deep festering hurt, at the point of our fragility, at the walls of our breaking hearts, at the edge of our frustration, at the mouth of our anger, at the source of our sadness, and at the wellspring of our joy. We need a God who interferes with us, who “messes” around in our lives, and who loves us enough not to leave us alone”

“He has this strange habit of resurrecting himself in the most interesting places. He will continue to seek ways to invade our cold and hardened hearts. And once he gets in he will never let you go, no matter how small the hold you have given him in your life. He is going to be there and there isn’t much you can do to deny that. God is an interfering God. He is neither shocked nor embarrassed by your behavior or thoughts”

“Where are you hurting and struggling most? That is the very point God is going to slip into your life. ….Now isn’t that what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about? God is real here and now FOR YOU!”

AMEN

Know What You Know

If you are in therapy with me very long, you will probably hear one of my mantras: KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW. We humans are often very uncomfortable with the truths we perceive and we would rather deny them than live with the implications of knowing them. What do I mean? How many times have you allowed yourself to be annoyed and surprised that your spouse isn’t ready when he said he’d be even though this happens every time you try to go somewhere? If you really allowed yourself to know and accept that your spouse runs late, you would plan accordingly or work out a system to accommodate that truth. Or, have you ever insisted that you are confused about your mother-in-law saying she doesn’t get to see your kids enough while simultaneously declining all of your requests for help with them? If you allowed yourself to know what you already know on some level—that your mother in law is either unwilling or intimidated by the idea of watching your kids—that would hurt and you’d have to deal with that pain.

Punting to bewilderment and bafflement are tempting because they keep you in a victim state. If you don’t understand something, you can stay in the posture of powerlessness and zero responsibility. And honestly, sometimes that victim stance feels pretty nice. 1–Other people are to blame or are messing up, 2—you can’t understand it or weren’t expecting it, 3—you are blameless and victimized. What’s not to like?

Frankly, it’s easier to seethe with resentment than to know what you know. It’s easier to blame than to know what you know. Knowing what you know requires emotional courage and excruciating honesty. Knowing what you know moves you from being a victim to being responsible. When you put yourself in that responsible place, you have a much harder time letting yourself get away with blame and resentment.

How can you get started?

  1. Notice an area where you feel helpless or baffled or confused (preferably a repeating experience).
  2. Ask yourself, “What do I think I don’t know?”
  3. Then ask yourself, “If I’m really honest, what do I know?”
    • Example: “Wow, my mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch my kids” or “I shouldn’t expect my husband to be ready to leave on time if he hasn’t ever done it in the past.”
  4. Then do the emotional work of radical acceptance. It might be grief or disappointment or hurt and it may be a relatively straightforward shift or it could be a more complicated process. Whatever it is, invite God into it and allow the work to go as deep as it needs to go.
  5. Incorporate what you know into your future plans and interactions.

 

Take responsibility for what you know. That’s when you can do some real work in your relationships and face your world with eyes wide open.

Moral License to Fail

Ever wonder why real change is so, so hard? A friend sent me an article that sums up the ways that we tend to stay entrenched in bad habits and fail to grow. Bottom line, it’s moral licensing (Moore, see link below). We are giving ourselves moral license when we justify doing things that go against our values or goals. We unconsciously cite loopholes that justify our behavior.—I had steel cut oatmeal this morning, so I can eat 25 Hershey’s nuggets this afternoon!—but the pull of the loophole thwarts our attempts to change, so they are worth examining.

Author Gretchen Rubin offers this list of loopholes people give themselves so that “they don’t have to change or grow or do a single thing differently than the day before”. I

  • False choice loophole: “I can’t do this because I’m so busy doing that.”
  • Moral licensing loophole: “I’ve been so good, it’s OK for me to do this.”
  • Tomorrow loophole: “It’s OK to skip today because I’m going to do this tomorrow.”
  • Lack-of-control loophole: “I can’t help myself.”
  • Planning-to-fail loophole: “I’ll just check my email quickly before I go to the gym … oops, I don’t have time to go to the gym, after all.” Or, “I’m not going to eat anything more tonight, but I’ll go into the kitchen and look in the freezer. Just curious.”
  • This-doesn’t-count loophole: “I’m on vacation.” “I’m sick.” “It’s the weekend.”
  • Questionable-assumption loophole: “It’s not a proper dinner without wine.”
  • Concern-for-others loophole: “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable.”
  • Fake self-actualization loophole: “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”
  • One-time loophole: “What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

What commitment or goal has been undermined by a loophole in your life?

 

Tracy Moore’s article is here:  CLICK

How to Depress Yourself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you read my blog much, you know how I feel about rumination. Well, as a part of my commitment to actually do the various treatments I propose, I’ve been doing some of the dysfunctional behaviors as well. For the last two weeks I have spent time intentionally ruminating every day.

It has been awful.

No one should do this.

I am insane to do it on purpose. No one should see an insane therapist. I wonder if people think my ideas are bad. I’ve had more than a few bad ideas. I wonder how my life would be better if I hadn’t had those bad ideas. I probably would be further ahead professionally. What was I thinking with my first degree? ARG, STOP!!!!!

This is how rumination works. It pulls us into a thought spiral that is seldom constructive. In this example, I was running away with something I have already processed. In the past, I have done good work evaluating the choices I made around my professional degrees. I know where I made some mistakes and I know that largely, it was the path that made sense at the time. This rumination isn’t bringing me new insight or taking me into an important thought process. It’s just making me feel bad. I had a different topic each day, but at the end I felt a distinct heaviness of heart every time. Ruminating would lead me to new possibilities of negative implications of things that I hadn’t considered. Here are the starting and ending points of just a couple of my rumination sessions:

  • That was a rough fight with my kid >>> I should quit working
  • I’m worried about my colleague >>> I’m always on the outside
  • I can’t find a dress I like >>> I have no identity

Telling what happened in the middle would just be too embarrassing! But this is how rumination works! What intentionally practicing rumination did for me was to examine more carefully what most of us do unconsciously. I see more clearly now that rumination is a petri dish for bleakness and regret. No wonder it is a huge contributing factor for depression! I’ll leave you with this reminder from Jay Uhdinger, who wrote a handout on rumination that I give to clients, “don’t forget, you are not your thoughts! Your thoughts are just part of you and they will fade if you do not hold on to them.” In other words, you are a person who has thoughts. And if rumination teaches us anything, it is that we should be hesitant to believe everything we think.

Making Changes: And Limiting Your Sedentary Lifestyle

My brother-in-law, Robert, recently started walking for 30 minutes every day. Put into context, this is really amazing. Robert is in his 50’s and the only exercise I have known him to do is to press the accelerator of his Mini during an autocross race. He has cool interests along with autocross—beer making, movie viewing, computer games– but none of them involves moving under his own power. His vocation is computer programming, a job that keeps him glued to a chair more than almost any profession. But he said, “I decided to limit my sedentary lifestyle to 23 ½ hours per day” and then, quite simply, he did it. He walks 30 minutes every day with a buddy at work; no small feat in the Charleston, South Carolina heat in the summertime!

I asked Robert if he notices any difference now that he does this walking. He responded, “yeah, now I have this tan on my arms!” Sure enough, his once white-flour arms are now closer to the color of wheat flour. He also says that he just feels good about doing it. He’s sold on the health benefits without a need to lose weight or any health crisis driving him. Pretty impressive, yes? How in the world did he do it? Just decide and then make this change?

Some things I observe about Robert’s change that could help us all:

  • He has made the change with a friend. Huge. Doing it with someone else helps us all on our worst days stick with a commitment that feels awful to keep.
  • He saw a video that was compelling to him. For Robert, it was a very compelling one well worth viewing. CLICK HERE to see it on YouTube. But for any of us, there needs to be a message or an invitation that compels us.
  • It seems that Robert was open and ready. We all hear messages, but are we open to really listening? Are we open to getting tense about the lack of congruence in our lives between our values and our actions? Are we open to doing something inconvenient or uncomfortable?

Perhaps some of you reading this are aware of a tug towards a life change that you haven’t yet made. What is the tension for you? Where is there incongruence that, in some way, you want to make congruent? Robert’s change surprised me because it was just so straightforward and simple. He just did it. Granted, the video is very compelling that precipitated the change, but so are the invitations to change that the rest of us have heard, considered, and dismissed lately. Is there something that you really could just change like Robert? What makes change so hard for you?

 

Young Adulthood in 2013

Today’s twentysomethings are confronted with challenges that are very different than those many of us in previous generations faced. Researcher and therapist Meg Jay puts it like this:

“The Great Recession and its continuing aftermath have left many twentysomethings feeling naïve, even devastated. Twentysomethings are more educated than ever before, but a smaller percentage find work after college…..An unpaid internship is the new started job. About a quarter of twentysomethings are out of work and another quarter work only part-time. Twentysomethings who do have paying jobs earn less than their 1970s counterparts when adjusted for inflation…About one in eight go back home to live with Mom or Dad, at least in part because salaries are down and college debt is up, with the number of students owing more than $40,000 having increased tenfold in the past ten years.” (p. xiv-xx).

In my work I see twentysomethings weep over the burden of their student loans and agonize about their lingering financial dependence on their parents. And Meg Jay, in her book, The Defining Decade, suggests that many twentysomethings are uniquely ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. The people who are young adults today grew up in the self-esteem movement. They were kids during a time when every kid got a trophy whether they won or lost and when kids were told that they could succeed at anything if they put their minds to it. Our twentysomethings are pulling up short, seeing that they actually can’t do what they put their minds to doing, and many of them don’t know how to cope.

You twenty something readers, do you see some of these trends and difficulties in your life or the lives of your peers? The work, both emotionally and professionally, to establish a meaningful life is intense. Finding the inner resources to face the challenge can be daunting and I see the wrestling week after week with my clients. I’m hoping that many, many people will listen to Meg Jay’s Ted Talk and read her book.

For my review of Meg Jay’s book, click here

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