Excellence in the Clutch Shot

Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and UCLA may go down in history as one of the best basketball games of all time. Well-matched teams, both playing excellently and a magical shot in the final second of overtime by Jalen Suggs, a freshman.

            There is a camera angle where you get to watch Jalen’s face as he prepares for, executes, and then reacts to his shot.  He is full focus, eyes on all that matters, the basket. He seems oblivious to all the movement around him and I’m guessing that all the many years of practicing such shots comes together in this concentrated moment. A perfect jump, perfect release as the buzzer sounds, a perfect bounce off the backboard and in. He was in a state of flow, in the zone, everything coming together at the right time.

            It inspires me to see human excellence like that. The talents of a person honing in when it matters. To hear the commentary, you hear the respect the experts have for both teams, how much of the outcome was tied up in who won the final possession. But Suggs was able to capitalize on it and take our breath away.

            Joyous excellence. I can only hope for moments like that to touch all of us as we take a risk, make a crazy shot and see that all of our hard work, learning, and giftedness come together to make something happen. What can we learn from Jalen Suggs to help our moments of excellence come to life?

  1. You have to be willing to miss. Jalen took a shot that easily could have missed the basket. It was shot from very far back and no one would have faulted him if the shot had landed a hair in either direction and bounced off the rim. But he tried it, knowing it could go either way. He put his everything into the attempt.
  2. Excellence comes from practice. Jalen and all of his teammates practice every conceivable scenario for the endings of games. It reminds me of the best moment of a therapy training program I’m in where we role play our most difficult clients and consider the most effective way to interface with them.
  3. Find your talent. Jalen Suggs is doing something he is really, really good at. He’s found a talent in himself and developed it. Don’t stop growing and nurturing and developing your own talent! We can all have moments, for most of us it won’t be about basketball though. It will be about OUR thing. The thing God put in each of us that we do especially well.

We have always loved the Zags in this house. My father-in-law and nephew both went there and my husband, from Spokane, always had affection for his local team. We’ll see if Gonzaga’s perfect season ends perfectly with the NCAA Championship. If it’s up to Jalen Suggs it certainly will be.

Vaccination Superhero

It felt very strange to be in group 1a, lumped with medical workers when I compared myself to those I deem to be essentially essential. I hadn’t seen a client face-to-face since the initial lockdown, and yet the strong encouragement to therapists in January was “Shots in arms! Shots in arms! Get an appointment because shots may go to waste!” And so, I made my way to the fairgrounds, a mix of gratitude and guilt, wishing it were my parents going first, or my teacher friends, or my daughter who has disabilities. It was yet another experience of walking in my privilege, hoping for overall freedom to unfold.

Being vaccinated now feels a little like being a secret superhero, prohibited from using her powers until everyone is a superhero. That seems fitting, really. We cannot live into our superpowers alone this time. We privileged ones who got vaccinated in the early groups must wait and realize that we do not move forward until we ALL move forward. Freedom will come when the vaccine is administered to all who will receive it, and we pray it will be enough of the population to bring us to safety. So much about this pandemic has been a group effort.

The place I got my shot was massive and unbelievably well organized. They were set up for hundreds more to be in line than were there when I came for my appointment, but the seamless process awed me. The number of workers there made me wonder at the cost and organization of this effort. So many people spending entire workdays making this machine work. How many?

I remember going to BWI, our local airport, last July as we made our annual trek to vacation in my husband’s part of the world, braving the risk for the sake of some sense of respite and normalcy. All the parking lots but one were closed. Entire sections of the airport were partitioned off, empty with chained gates over the storefronts. So many employees not working! An airport so busy every parking lot occasionally completely fills around the holidays, now functioning at what? 10% capacity? So many people displaced as I went on working, my life relatively unchanged. Guilt and gratitude, side by side.

I wept that day in the airport as I wept in the fairgrounds, waiting for my shot. I was having an experience I knew I would remember forever, yet would wind up being a story like nearly everyone will have and that will go into our collective memory of this time. Now I wait, like so many of us, for everyone to become a superhero. Together is the only way forward.

The Humans are Suffering

February Blues + Pandemic = SUFFERING

Some of my clients report sliding into low moods these days. It is a helpless feeling to witness it at times as it just feels like so many people are struggling to make it through a pandemic winter. It’s as if they are trying to walk up a hill that is coated in cooking oil. Everything feels hard and bleak. Even hopeful signs are mired in confusion; “great, we’re getting vaccinated!…when??”, “kids are going back to school…to what kinds of situations??”

The humans are suffering. Winter can be hard for those who are seasonally affected by the cold and shorter days, but add to that the difficulty with safe outdoor social contact and outdoor exercise? The moods are slipping and sliding down the hill!

I’ve felt grateful to have planned a vacation next week for my own sake! I’ve compared notes with other mental health workers too who are growing fatigued as the swollen caseloads and pandemic fatigue are hitting hard now in the weeks before spring emerges. We all need to be very serious about self-care.

What can we do about it? I have some ideas for how we can come together, hold each other up, and just hang on for a bit longer.

  • Make time to call a friend this week. Perhaps don’t use zoom—zoom doom is big right now too—just call someone that you love to encourage them. I’ve done this twice in the last week and my mood lifted right away!
  • Be kind to yourself about how much you might be struggling. We are in unprecedented times with this many months of global difficulty paired with winter. It makes sense that you are suffering and it would be a bit strange if you weren’t impacted!
  • Vitamin D—figure out some way to get some sun on your skin most days. Consider getting your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor. Low Vitamin D can contribute to low mood.
  • Plan something you can look forward to enjoying at some future date. I’m currently planning my husband’s zoom birthday party and it is making me happy to have it out there. Some big percentage of the benefit of a vacation is looking forward to it.
  • If you have a mental health or healthcare worker in your life, do something nice for them. Chances are they are feeling the weight of their clients’ and patients’ struggles as they attempt to care for them.

Vaccines are happening

Spring is coming

We can help each other get to the other side

Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers

This book may upend what many folks think are the elements for great sex. The researchers who wrote this book went after true experts; people over 60 who had been in relationship for 25 years or more and report having magnificent sex. How refreshing! Of course we should be learning from these wise and successful individuals. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?

Here are some quotes that caught my attention:

“We have found optimal sexual experiences occur among the young and old, among the healthy as well as disabled or chronically ill.” (p.7)

“We are inclined to suggest that their low desire (people diagnosed with sexual desire disorders) may be evidence of good judgment. We would not expect ‘normal’ people to have strong desires for low quality sex. This book is for them.” (p.7)

According to their research, “being sexually functional is not necessary for optimal sexual experiences; the “bad news is that being sexually functional is not sufficient for optimal sexual experiences.” (p.185)

There are several myths about sex challenged in this book, here is a sampling:

  1. “The notion that sex should be ‘natural and spontaneous’ ranks among the most difficult assumptions to dislodge and among the most deleterious and dangerous to couples…it is a contender for most damaging myth, encouraging individuals to devalue any sexual relations that took effort.” (p 45)
  2. “Magnificent sex in long-term relationships requires not lowering expectations over time…..(many) were less willing to settle for anything less that what they really wanted….they spoke about prioritizing sex in their lives and making time for it.” (p. 50-51)
  3. “May older individuals said that as they mature, magnificent sexual experiences become less about performance, technique and orgasms, and more focused on the relational and spiritual components of the experience.” (p. 52)

I appreciate this book because the authors dive deep into both the individual development and the relationship aspects of growing a wonderful sexual relationship over the long-haul. The authors don’t take a cookie-cutter approach, but sensitively listen to the complex and layered stories that their research participants offered them. Some couples find their way through starting with a relational contect that facilitates an individual’s way of being leading to Optimal sexual experience. Other couples flip the first two. The individual way of being facilitates a relational quality leading to optimal sexual experience. (p.146) That should give us hope! There is not one pathway that works for every couple.   

This book is for people ready to be challenged out of their stuck assumptions, low expectations, and dashed hopes for a fulfilling sexual relationship for the long haul. It will make you blush at times and scratch your head at others. I hope that for some of you who want something more, that this resource might be of help.

Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers Written by Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Ph.D. and A. Dana Menard, Ph.D.,  Published in New York and London by Routledge Publishing

Date Night, COVID-style

I know we are all so sick and tired of hanging out together in our houses we could scream. We longingly remember the fun and fresh diversion of dinners out in restaurants and game nights with the neighbors. The prospect of another evening spent with our spouses has become downright depressing.

Sadly, many couples are coming to counseling more disconnected than ever in spite of living countless hours together! How can we change the momentum? For many couples, doing this is mission critical.

So, how can you and your spouse have a COVID date night that helps you build connection and do something new? I have three recommendations:

  • The Gottman Love Decks app is a wonderful resource for a COVID Date night. It has “card decks” with open-ended questions that lead to fresh conversations. My husband, Dan, and I have spent really nice evenings over a glass of wine having conversations we would never think to have without the prompts. Try the “Date Night” deck!
  • Turn off the TV and have a game night with your spouse. Wait, don’t discount this idea! While it is so hard to choose a game over the magnetic pull of your couch, please TRY IT!  Dust off old faithfuls that work well one on one: Scrabble, Yatzee, Bananagrams, Gin, Backgammon, Chess……I’ve never regretted choosing to spend and evening like this with Dan.
  • Do some of the exercises in my Marriage Check-Up course! It walks you through evaluating your marriage through the lens of the “Foundation of Goodwill” and then offers scalable activities to strengthen your chosen area. You can approach it playfully or more seriously, depending on your motivation and energy. 

I hope that some of you will post additional ideas in the comments below!

Whatever you choose, I hope that the concept of Date Night doesn’t remain dead until the pandemic ends. You have far too much to lose.