Monday, March 12, 2018

When You Can't See The Clearing

Thick trees crowded out my view of beyond. They towered over me.  Unintentionally ominous. The pines blocked my ability to see around them. They surrounded me with their smell of of earth, wood, sap and a hint of cinnamon. I felt so small and vulnerable next to their strength. Almost swallowed up by their ability to take up so much space. Their roots expanded towards me and their branches reached above me leaving little room to ground myself. 

This past Christmas Scott and Leonard and I visited Tahoe (my first time!) It was beautiful! I was drawn in by all the blues of water and sky but the greens kept my interest for much longer.

I kept thinking about how this past fall was like a dark tunnel through a forest of huge looming trees. Recently Scott came home and said, “I can see it, there is actually a clearing in the trees”

I can’t fully articulate what it’s like to have a clearing in the middle of a dense forest after days and days and weeks and weeks and months of stumbling our way forward. The smallest of space, the smallest percentage of openness and good news makes all the difference.

This past fall, Scott and I found out his mom’s cancer was back. And it was back with vengeance, with tumors gaining more and more ground. Chemo was no longer a question, it was a statement and it was happening as soon as possible. My sister had a scary and sudden emergency surgery over Thanksgiving. Scott and I experience tight finances and not-so-flexible bills. I found out my best friend has a heart condition that is irreversible and puts her at risk. I have not figured out how to talk about this. I think I’ve been holding my breath ever since. Oh and did I mention how my mental health was not committing to stability at this time? I cannot tell you how many times I have re-written this paragraph and if comes across unfeeling or reporter(ish) it's because it's still scary to get down on paper. 

I find it’s extremely difficult to talk about the hard stuff, the dense forest when you are walking through it. I mean, it’s great if you get through it. That’s some positive vibes. Does anyone really want to hear about how mirky the in-between is? How anxiety provoking it all is?  It seems writing is much better looking back at a hard time or looking ahead, not in the middle though. Being present to it takes so much emotional energy.

So today I’m writing when I am not entirely through it but I have experienced a little clearing in the woods. I have exhaled a fraction. The clearing is giving me enough courage to actually write about it.

My mother-in-law gave me a book of poetry for Christmas and one poem has stuck with me all through the holidays, into the New Year and now into March as I keep walking among the trees of my life.

“If you stand at the edge of the forest, and stare into it, every tree at the edge will blow a little extra oxygen toward you. It has been proven. Leaves have admitted it. The pines I have known have been especially candid. One said that all breath in this world is roped together, that breathing is the most ancient language.” –Hannah Stephenson

This poem reminds me to breathe even when surrounded. I want to befriend these trees and not close my eyes to the present.

I spend my days encouraging my clients to sit with their feelings, hold their feelings and that there is another side to this pain.

But when I stare at my own scary, I want to do anything and everything but feel and be and hold. I will think and analyze and dissect and investigate but please and thank you don’t make me feel this. I will do and run and perform and think some more but giving these trees some real attention is risky. Will they grow even larger as I make eye contact?

I’m afraid the trees will swallow me up. They’re so tall and large and I’m so small and helpless next to them. I’m afraid I will become unhinged.

It’s so unfortunate that our culture has such an aversion to suffering, grief, anxiety and hard feelings. We all want to fix everything and quickly. None of this wait and see crap. We want results now! We all need lessons in distress tolerance.

For now I’m holding on to the relief of a clearing. I’m praying this crack of light can give me the courage to look at all the trees that surround me. And when courage inevitably decides to have an early retirement I will pray for the most ancient of languages, breathing through the in-betweens of life.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Writing In The Making For 2018

This year after I completed 52 books in 52 weeks I contemplated what my next goal should be. Should it be 100 books? Should it be 52 acts of kindness? Maybe 52 self-care practices? You all had so many ideas! My list lover in me wants to create a whole slew of New Years resolutions and goals but I’ve found over the years that to have one or two main focuses is better and more sustainable.

This past year I experienced what I would call as writers block. It’s ironic because I started out 2017 with a memoir writing class but after that it was like I couldn’t find words to string into sentences. I couldn’t find phrases that meant anything or themes that followed any kind of path. I would think about writing in the car on the way to work or before I fell asleep. But I couldn’t put all my thoughts rolling around in my head onto paper.

So for this year I thought I would make a goal for myself of writing 25 blogs posts or essays. They don’t all have to published online. Some can just sit safely saved in my documents. I like the number 25 because it gets me into the habit of writing almost every other week for a whole year. If I have an “off” week or am out of town or super busy with work I don’t need to feel the pressure to bust out a writing piece.

Last night I did a hot yoga flow class at my local neighborhood studio. Yes, I said hot! It is finally cold enough to actually enjoy hot yoga. Yesterday it rained all day and it was so cozy and warm in the studio (and then less cozy and more sweaty). I then took a meditation class after with my friend. I’m finding that I can meditate or slow down a little bit better after some kind of movement. All the ruminative thoughts and over-analyzing seem to slow after a yoga flow class so I can focus on being more mindful.

Anyway the class discussed new years resolutions and we all visualized our goals and then created practical steps to make them happen. Pretty simple stuff really. I think it’s the actually following through thing that makes it hard.

Here are my writing goals for the year:

  • Write 25 blogs posts/essays by December 31, 2018
  • Must be at least 500 words (about a typed page worth)
  • Can be hand-written or typed on any subject
  • Can be published or unpublished

The hardest thing for me about this goal is letting my writing just be. I want it to be perfect before the practice. And writing is all about practice. I think that’s what stunted my writing growth last year. I started my own business in private practice and feeling more “out there” in the public eye had me feeling very self-conscious. Suddenly things like my reputation and other’s perceptions of me became very large and looming. Every time I sat down to write only a few words would squeak out. If I finally managed to write a paragraph I would edit it over and over, adding here and there, subtracting from this and that and then eventually never finish it or post it online. I leaned on lots of list making last year in my journal (which is one of my favorite things) and I think the structure of that gave me some security in my writing.

You all were so encouraging and kind this past year asking about my book challenge and cheering me on! I certainly didn’t post enough (any) book reviews but I’m happy to see I at least finished a blog post about it! After reading so many books last year and letting them all marinate within me for some time I am hopeful that I have some writing just waiting for me in this new year.

I’m curious to know what your goals, hopes or intentions are for the New Year? What are you holding on to and what are you letting go? And if you don’t have any that’s okay too! Sometimes our very life has enough opportunities for movement and mindfulness that we don’t need yet another resolution. My prayer is that each of us can gently ease our way into 2018. Moving in slowly and watching the year unfold is totally okay too.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

If You Can't Waltz Into the New Year

This picture sums up how I feel about a new year. And it is not what you think. Please. Don’t even imagine that it’s about me conquering some wall or mountain with any kind of grace or skill.

What you don’t know about this picture is the feeling I have in my stomach. The butterflies flutter around my insides and my heart jumps in my throat. I am afraid to keep going. I’m scared to get to the top. And the worst part is I don’t even know what to grab onto next. There are so many colors and shapes to choose from and no clear easy way up. I don’t even know where to place my hand or put my energy next.

And it’s isolating up here. I know there are others climbing and struggling. But I can’t see them and I can’t feel them. Scary things do that. They make us think we are the only ones.

I know others have slumped into the New Year after they have crawled out of Christmas. The new years resolutions and goals and vision making is all very beautiful and inspiring if you are in a good place. If you are in a bad place, well then you and I both know how it feels.

Just reaching forward is overwhelming. One cannot try to come up with a list of new habits and goals when one is only hoping to hold on.

And can we talk about how puny and tiny some of those rocks look? Please. It can’t hold on to me. It certainly can’t hold my entire body weight.

Scott and I have had some hard knocks this fall. We’ve gotten some bad news in a variety of forms. A phone call. A conversation. An email.

You see when I get bad news I freeze. And usually my face shows this. I call it the emotional tundra of the soul. It’s what therapists call a “flat affect”. It’s not a positive thing. But it’s my thing and I’m used to it. It’s how I appear calm under crisis.  But inside as the news makes it’s way from my brain to my heart and burrows into my being, then I begin to feel it because once you start to feel you can’t think your way out of it.

Bad news is always delayed with me. I often feel numb. Or just flat. I hear it and then days and weeks later I feel it. Soon I feel it is so strongly I fear I am going under. It hits me like lead and lodges itself into all the corners and cracks within me. And I wonder to myself how does one jump into the New Year expectant and hope filled with glitter and gold and confetti and noise makers when you fear what looms ahead.

Sometimes life does feel like a very scary climb with lots of choices and bad news and so much uncertainty (and stupid puny rocks to hold onto). I would like to title these rocks, “pray more” or “think positive thoughts” or “God is with you” and truth be told, sometimes I want to kick these well-meaning but quite dudly little rocks to the curb.

But sometimes I need these little rocks and sometimes all I have left is to pray. And sometimes I’m surprised because it does hold my weight and sometimes that seemingly silly little pebble gets me to reach forward again and grasp what is in front of me.

Basically what I want you to know is this: if you aren’t waltzing into the New Year and you are actually limping, crawling, slumping, or just dragging yourself into 2018 then YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I’m sorry life is being a giant shit sandwich for you right now. I know it’s overwhelming and that the “whelm” threatens to flood you. I want you to know it’s okay to be where you are at. Anyone who needs it to be all sparkles and rainbows and confetti for you is just uncomfortable with pain. It’s not your fault they haven't built up those muscles yet. 

I say, forget that noise.

Instead focus on the next rock or pebble or piece of gravel in front of you and hold on. It might be reaching out to a friend, it might be calling your therapist, snuggling your dog, trying out a new recipe, a walk on the beach, practicing a meditation, maybe it is a prayer. I know it will literally feel like you are holding on to a feather and you will feel your heart pound and your hands will sweat. It will feel like it isn’t helping AT ALL. But don’t stop.

 Listen; there’s another side to this climb and this New Year. I promise there isn’t only bad looming ahead of you. There is some good waiting too. (there could be confetti: don’t hate it too much). There is some joy and laughter and lightness and glee too.

But if you are skeptical of some good in the New Year, that’s okay too and I don’t blame you. In many ways we're all still reeling from what 2017 flung at us. 

Still there’s always the chance of being surprised by good news, taken off guard by hope, and marveling at the good still in this world.

Wobbly legs, shaky arms and a sensitive soul has never stopped us before.

And if you get sick of climbing, you can always fall because there are actually very squishy soft mats beneath you. (call it God, or the Universe or more accurately the Grotto Climbing Gym).

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book List For 2017

Well here we are entering 2018. I am so excited to share my 52 book list with you all! It feels like yesterday that Scott and I were sitting in a charming bookshop in St. Andrews, Scotland discussing our 52 books in 52 weeks challenge and all the genres and categories of books we would fulfill. I am happy to say I have read almost all of the book categories we set out to read (with the exception of finances and marriage…HAHA). Don’t get me started on a rant on how much I despise (most) marriage books. I’m thinking I’ll just count the book I read on Internal Family Systems because it does benefits couples after all! As for finances, well there is always next year!

The hardest thing about this challenge was…finishing a book I didn’t like. I didn’t realize how often I start a book and then never finish it because I lose interest or am intimidated by it’s complexity. It was especially hard to finish books that I felt like were written poorly, followed no clear plot line or had sketchy theology.

What surprised me most about this challenge was…how much I enjoyed poetry! I have always gravitated towards the mental health, self-improvement, and memoirs of spirituality so exploring poetry was new and exciting for me. I plan to start Rupi Kaur’s poetry next!

One more surprise…drumroll please… I LOVED THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS. Now I know this isn’t a surprise to you but to me it really was. The genre of fantasy is not my favorite AT ALL. Not in books, movies or TV shows. Every Christmas my sisters would watch Lord of the Rings and I would be bored out of my mind. I never made my way through the Chronicles of Narnia.  I cannot handle Star Trek and Stars Wars (I know it’s sci-fi). It’s not that I think they are bad it’s just snoozeville for me. So for me to read Harry Potter and LOVE it was a huge surprise (and an accomplishment at my ripe ol' age of 32).

The best part of this challenge was…finishing! I love finishing a goal and I adore lists. Having a book list going was so much fun. Every week I was reading a couple books and was always looking forward to the next read. I tried to be conscious about reading more female authors as well as more books by people of color. Our world can become very small when all we read is white male authors. (And I know how easy a trap this is in small evangelical communities here in America).

Please feel free to message me or comment with any questions! I noted the ones I recommended and my favorites but it was so hard to pick.

Now I need to figure out a new 52 something in 52 weeks goal. (how about 52 Netflix shows in 52 weeks?!?! Lol)

1.             Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink*
2.             Out Of Sorts By Sarah Bessey*+
3.             Flourish by Margaret Feinberg
4.             Sandy Toes by Robin Jones Gunn
5.             A Little Princess by Frances Hudgon Burnett*
6.             Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther+
7.             Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by J.K. Rowling
8.             The Secret Garden by Frances Hudgon Burnett
9.             Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling*
10.          Small Victories By Anne Lammott
11.          People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
12.          The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger
13.          The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns+
14.          The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui *+
15.          Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist*+
16.          The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
17.          Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
18.          Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling*
19.          A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou
20.          Salty Kisses by Robin Jones Gunn
21.          In the Clearing by Robert Frost
22.          How to Be a Wildflower by Katie Daisy
23.          Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
24.          Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling*
25.          The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Seiznick
26.          The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
27.          Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott
28.          Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers
29.          No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay*+
30.          The Essential Enneagram by Virginia Price+
31.          The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
32.          Brazen by Leeana Tankersley+
33.          Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
34.          Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
35.          The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
36.          Of Mess and Moxie by Jenn Hatmaker*+
37.          No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer
38.          Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes+
39.          Felicty: Poems by Mary Oliver
40.          I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi+
41.          Engaging Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn
42.          Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
43.          You are Safe here by AVA*+
44.          Paris for One by Jojo Moyes
45.          Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver
46.          You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting for: IFS Theory by Richard Schwartz
47.          Sunset Lullaby by Robin Jones Gunn*
48.          Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown+
49.          Secrets from the Eating Lab by Traci Mann+
50.          Falling Upward by Richard Rhor*+
51.          We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie*+
52.          The 100 Dresses by Eleanor Estes*+

Additional (Children’s) Books:
Eloise’s Guide to Life by Kay Thompson
What Do You Do with an Idea by Kobi Yamada*+
What Do You Do with a Problem by Kobi Yamada*+
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Maybe Days by Jennifer Wilgocki *+ (amazing for kids in foster care)
The Family Book by Todd Parr
Felice the Christmas Ferry by Irene Mathias
Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans *+
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
The Christmas Town by Donna Van Liere

*Favorites (It is so hard to pick favorites)
+ Would recommend