a chat with confrontation, fear, and courage

"You can't change what you refuse to confront."

Hmm. Yes, this. Came across my facebook wall today. Pretty much the premise of a lot of the therapeutic experience, right? Confrontation isn't all it takes to make a change -- it takes a plan, commitment, forgiveness of yourself, realistic expectations and probably even a little bit of luck --but confrontation IS a large part of it.

This winter has been an intense one by Maryland standards. In no way do I even suggest it's the extreme my midwest friends and family are dealing with, but I'll admit, I'm getting antsy with some cabin fever. We've dealt with unpredictable snow days and cancellations, sickness, busyness, and the generally just the seasonal blahs. My trip into Urgent Care a few nights ago (to learn that I had a nasty case of Strep throat going) confirmed that the winter hibernation weight has settled on nicely and I'm up quite a few pounds from earlier this fall. Well, in all practical terms, it's probably 10 more lbs (on already being a little heavier than I like), but on my petite frame, it's pretty noticeable. Scale confirmed this, blood pressure (slightly elevated once again) confirmed this. Not good.

So I'm confronting what I've long been thinking about: "I should do something. I need a routine. I need changes." Because in all honesty, that's all I've done - thought. I talk about it occasionally. But it has never translated to action. And I know, in my smart little counselor brain, that the practical thing to do is make baby steps and changes so I can begin achieving what I want to achieve, and see successes. But I feel this urgency -- like just about everything needs to be turned on it's head.  Squeezing something in here and there doesn't seem to work for me - it's too easy to put off and ignore. The only equivalent I can make is the lifestyle shift a person who is trying to avoid a drug is trying to make; I need structure, I need new habits, I new surroundings (and often new people), I need support. This may be a drastic analogy - and I hope it's not insensitive - but with these things in place, there's a fighting chance of moving in the right direction.

I need to acknowledge the fear piece. Part of me sees the need for this lifestyle change because I *am* afraid - that my unhealthy, I'll-get-around-to-it later lifestyle will catch up with me,  that I'll end up getting sick, that I'll be no good (or worse yet, not around) for my dear family. This may be a stretch, but I have to acknowledge it's a fear nonetheless. (As someone who hasn't had her mom in her life for the past 10 years, grant me that.) And I know, in the grand scheme of things, I don't really have control over a single one of those possibilities. They could happen whether or not I change my lifestyle. (That could be frightening too, but it's actually kind of a comfort. But I'll save that for a different post.) I don't like operating from fear. It's stressful, it messes with my head, and turns me into a perfectionist. Nonetheless, I want to live a good life and be an example to my kids if I can. I want to operate from a place of courage, a place of hope. I want to remember I have power, perspective, and for now, my health. These are all gifts from God that I want to enjoy.

I once read wise words from a friend, who on his birthday noted he was another year older, but he intended this year, to get another year better. That stuck with me and it inspired my wheels to start turning. Of course, life went and got busy, so I ignored myself. I'm really good at that. But this notion stuck with me, nonetheless. He probably has no idea that it inspired, but it did. Thank you.

So I could keep this to myself because it's very me-focused and it could totally come off like I'm a vain girl planning her next diet. But I think it's more than that. I'm posting this because I'm looking for accountability, support, and motivation for myself. Are you confronting anything in your life right now? Struggling to make something happen in your life? If you are, leave a comment or send me a facebook message. I'd like to support you, encourage you, and journey with you as you move in the direction you want to. I'd also ask you to check in with me to do the same.


this is a test ... this is only a test ...

At the end of spring semester, I was looking at the landscape of our impending wide open summer calendar with the best of intentions. With sincerity. With focus and drive. And with a realistic point of view. (Or so I thought.)

It was my intention to begin studying for the NCE (National Counseling Exam) throughout the summer, systematically working my way through material new and old and gradually building on what I knew and into what I didn't as I made my way through all topics on which I'd be tested. My classmates (who has previously expressed interest in joining me in this endeavor) would bring their knowledge and areas of interest, as I would bring mine. Our minds would all meet, knowledge would flow, accountability would keep us focused ... and together we would become NCE-studying champs that would kick this big bad licensing test in it's proverbial boo-tay come the morning of Saturday, October 19.

So October 19 is a little more than a month away.

And you may have guessed (from the flowery language? or from just, um, knowing me?) ... that this studying did not happen.

Some initial emails flew around, but no one ever confirmed with me for this study group that I so desired to form, and before you knew it, my motivation was definitely lagging. Oh, and summer ... (that was the main thing!) ... summer just kept happening and ... and ...

Now October 19 is about a month away.

So yesterday (Thursday), I began studying. One of the first things I did after my initial self-guided study session was to go to my google calendar (which is now delightfully merged with my honey's) and I just started blocking out two- to four-hour chunks of time anytime I could. Tim's not in a meeting on Friday night? Good, I'm jammin' outta here and heading off to a rager the library! Tim doesn't have a Saturday afternoon engagement with the synod? Sweet, I am off to hang out at Starbucks, gettin' hyped on salted caramel mochas and human development theory, dude! Sunday afternoon is looking free and Sabbathy for Tim and the kids? Well, nice. But guess what fool? I'm about to break some commandments and brush up on ethics and multiculturalism!

Just blocking out the time ... in a very definite kind of way ... was sort of a huge deal for me! I mean, I know it does not equal studying (...wouldn't it be nice if it did?!...) but by now I should really understand that unless I purposefully and intentionally set the time apart, things like "studying" just don't happen in my few and fleeting free moments. Nope, they just don't. Left to my own devices, I will rabidly play Words with Friends. Or read "OK!" magazine. Or take a nap. I am not always the most self-directed person... well, I'm self-directed, but not necessarily things that will grow my brain or aid me in my scholarly pursuits.

But now, it's on my schedule. And the pressure is ON. (The study guide espoused the virtues of beginning the study regimen 6-8 months in advance. Ummm. Yeah. No.) This test will cover SO much material. Even if I learned it at some point, I have been working on my master's for three years and I certainly haven't retained every nugget that I've learned.

I've just got a month ... but I'm thankful I have a month! It will be a highly regulated month (dude, I just came back from 3 hours of diet coke and Family Therapy review at the Double T Diner), but it gives me a fighting chance to do the review and the work and pass this thing.

That said, there's this: I plan to be on facebook, pinterest, and blogging decidedly less. I may not be super social or signing up for too many extra life responsibilities. Time not studying shall be devoted to family, internship, academics. (Maybe one date night thrown in there? Probably, or my husband may hate me by mid-October.) Good times, good times.

Wish me luck ... and that my neural pathways will deepen and that what I actually do learn will end up being on the exam! Let's do this!


bring me to life...

As I still continue to muse on the stretching I wrote about last week, I am thinking about the work I'll be delving into at my internship site. I'll be working with people who are grieving. My site is affiliated and operated under an amazing hospice program and my program - the Life Center - works with people of all ages when life is effected by loss. Having been run over by the grief truck in my own life, I remember how heavy, isolating, and out-of-body it was for me to process a major loss. At the Life Center we work with people who are struggling to make sense of their loss and find meaning as they adapt to a new life without the person they lost.

A quick google search instantly turns up about a million-and-a-1/2 reflections on life...

"It's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years."

"Life is too short to worry ... Life is too long to wait."

"Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back and realize they were the big things."

"Life is either a daring adventure ... or it's nothing."

"Life is the art of drawing...without an eraser."

... And so on. (And on!) Some wordy, some thoughtful, some simple, some sarcastic. Some views are optimistic and hopeful. Some are darker, but wise. Some are a little cheesy, but were probably spot on for the person who originally penned the words. Some are full of pain, brokenness, and betray someone longing to protect themselves at all costs. Whatever makes up your own experience of living, I think we can for the most part agree life is all about the perspective one chooses to take, at any given moment. The way we perceive things - and interpret them - leads to whether or not we consider life good or bad.

My perspective about life is stretching beyond philosophy, at this point... and into the realm of practice. Ya know, where the rubber actually meets the road. There are little bits of this all through out my day ... as a parent, working with a stubborn and angry child to understand what's going on... as a spouse, being aware of how I react and catching myself before I dive into my habitual ways of over-reacting.  Practice .... where the work gets done. And done again, and again as needed, when I muck it up in my imperfect attempts.

I am considering what abundant, joyful, fulfilling life looks like as I think about my future clients who may lose all focus of those things in their time of grief and pain. I am thinking about what will be important for me to incorporate into my own life, my own practices as I work to not be crushed under the burden of another person's story of loss.

Back in February of this year, when I initially interviewed at the Life Center, I was curious about the self-care philosophies and practices of the therapists who I met with. I'd read about how grief work can be just killer on a person working in the helping profession (...groooooooan, I just saw what I did there!) and I wondered how these folks managed to stay afloat in such turbulent waters.

I was enrolled in an amazing class taught by Dr. Bob Wicks called "Pastoral Integration" at that point. We were spending a lot of time in discussion about the kind of life a professional counselor needs to cultivate in order to be able to give energy, presence, and unique perspectives to their clients.  The discussions were great, but I was getting to that point in the semester where ... well, I wanted to know the nitty gritty, make a to-do list and change my life so I could become such a person. And because I can be a lazy bum, I still kind of do want someone to hand me that definitive list, but I've also learned that no one - but me - is going to know exactly what I need to live the full authentic life that bears fruit. Developing that self-care protocol, specific to me - that's the work that I have to do ... and will probably continue to figure out over the course of the rest of my life.

So here I am. Ready to jump into something big and awesome. Trying to figure out what will personally support me - and give me life - so I can do the best I can for the clients I meet.  I have some ideas - they are kind of diverse and strange and I'm wondering what it will look like to put them into action. But I'm also curious, too, about what gives others life. What helps you bounce back? Feel connected? Feel alive and satisfied with life? Philosophy probably fuels you, but practice is where it all comes together ... Please feel free to share your thoughts with me!



The past three days have shifted me into my burgeoning identity as a counseling intern at my amazing placement for the 2013-14 school year. I have just gone through three days of training ... learning about the mission and identity of my placement, their people, their goals, their methods, their procedures. I have been awash in "new" ... and am beginning to grasp what my role will look like within the walls of this great agency. It's an amazing feeling. I feel blessed to be welcomed into this work!

I was thinking about the word "training" ... and furthermore the kind of stretching it demands if we are wanting to move into a new role, a new lifestyle. "Training" reminds me of times in life where I was working toward a physical goal (like managing to run 3 miles ... it happened once)! I am reminded of sweat (ugh, I *don't* like sweat), the repetition of making a new habit, of being accountable to someone other than myself, and just moving forward -- even when I would have much rather stayed in my comfortable old routines.

(Was I ever THIS ripped? No.)

I did not find myself sweating or huffing and puffing too much as I sat around the training room conference table, nor did I find it too physically laborious to watch all those training videos and take those tests to prove that I generally know how to avoid setting the break room on fire. I did, though, find myself ready to be up and moving after those long "sits." Though it uses an entirely different part of my brain and intellect, I found myself not used to being seated in a chair for such long spells. It was physically difficult to be seated for that long. Life with my kidlings involves a lot more moving, crawling, twisting, lifting and being climbed on than the average three-day non-profit orientation.  While I was taking in all of this new vision and information about the kind of work I'll be doing, though, something else was definitely stirring and stretching ... my passion for counseling, my nerves for wanting to do a good job, my heart for the people I will be serving.

Some of these stretches are exciting because you feel ALIVE. You feel oxygen reaching those muscles and it moves through your body and you can feel your heart pumping and you feel somehow ... completely connected. All systems are moving toward something ... something good.

Some of those stretches are kind of terrifying because they have the potential to HURT. Am I going to be able to *do* this? Am I in over my head? Can I do this kind of work and not bring up all my personal junk and baggage? There's the "good hurt" the next day from a job well done, sometimes, but what if this is not the good kind of hurt? What if it's the kind where I make sizable mistakes, unintentionally hurt others or completely embarrass myself... I don't even want to consider some of those possibilities!

Well, simple answer: There are no guarantees all the stretching will feel good. 

But I have to stretch anyway.

(You *know* I never look this at ease doing yoga in the church basement.)

If I stay in my comfort zone, in my areas where things are easy and routine and relaxed, there's still some potential for good things to happen, sure. But there's not a lot of trust in the process. There's not a lot of trust in myself. Then there's becoming overly careful ... quickly followed by my ugly tendency to want to do things perfectly, and then berate myself when they don't play out that way. There's my tendency to want things planned out enough that I don't have to be spontaneous or follow the flow of what's playing out in front of me. Leading to ... pat answers, a lack of inspiration and openness ... and disconnection.

Sure ... it might be safer that way. But it will also be it's own kind of stress, and it's own kind of soul-suck.

I am reminded of the scars my body holds from having two children. Those stretch marks ... the ones that all mothers are supposed to slather with shea butter and weird lotions because we're supposed to be ashamed that we (no longer? ha!) look like airbrushed, flat-tummied super models? Yeah, those ones. I sometimes miss my pre-baby tum, but as time goes by, I'm increasingly proud of the way my body stretched and changed to adjust to the amazing task of growing those babies. Those stretch marks tell a story. One layer on top of another. One baby who sat high, and one who sat low. One who made her marks as she exited, and one who made his marks while in utero. One imperfect little 5'2 mama body that stretched and grew to accommodate those little ones ... and then, though it didn't magically snap back into place, it went on to do more great things. It fed those babes for many a month. It learned to wrestle, carry, lift, crawl and play on the floor all day. By the world's standards, it may not look *hot* in a bikini ... but it's still pretty damn miraculous what all that stretching accomplished.

(Life leaves a mark!)

So I am consciously asserting that I am making the choice to stretch with this internship. I am quite darn certain that it will not all feel good. (Supervision, anyone?) I know I will question myself, my abilities, and my own junk. But that is not all bad. In fact, I am pretty sure each stretch will have something to teach me. I am learning to not just trust the journey with my head, but with my heart, and to live with quickened breath and a momentary lack of clarity so I can discover what the moment might have to teach me. I am hopeful, I am scared. I am inspired, I am worried. But I will put it out there: I'm in. I'm in for stretching outside of my comfort zone.

And, as I've learned to do with stretching, I will breathe through it.

Come what may.

(And I suspect some of it ... will really be good!)


An imperfect 10.

As our 10th anniversary of marriage looms, I have found myself taking pause to reflect on our evolution as a couple (and now as a family complete with kiddos). I have found myself reflecting on the wide eyes and idealism that we began our marriage with and how it has shifted into a grittier, busier, less than perfect version of us. I have caught myself considering whether one way to approach our life together is superior, or if we need both a dose of the newlywed idealism and the 10 years married grit to make us strong. (I suspect it's the latter!)

Over ten years, I have realized that there are such gifts in the messiness (and in the interruptions) of life. It is not what I always imagined our life would be, but it is our life. And "messy" does not inherently equal "bad"! Maybe that's not news to you, but as someone who grew up in a spotless house with pretty darn high expectations for behavior, it was kind of a surprise for me to learn this. Though ours was pretty simple and I'll say "rustic" (we started the shabby-chic trend, yo!), weddings are so detail-oriented, so pristine, so white, and strive to be so perfect. Daily life is not that. It's arguments that take over before you realize why you're arguing, it's a lack of sleep (because, hey, you're children are just incapable of sleeping), it's having to give way too much attention to something that seems like you should be able to breeze through it, it's changing a gnarly poopy diaper in the middle of dinner and then having to sit back down to dinner (which in itself is always kind of like a hockey game).

Over ten years, I have learned that marriage requires work. Again, this may not strike you as a surprise. That newlywed idealism I mentioned earlier kind of made me think we had something magic that wouldn't require all this hardcore work people kept mentioning to me. I thought, "Well, we have something special." And that was true. But it also is not true. Daily life exists, personal baggage exists, and outside stresses sometimes feel like they are attacking. It's easy for us to love each other, but it still takes work to be intentional about giving our relationship what it needs. This kind of work can be difficult, but it can also be a joy. And I venture to say that it's completely worth it.

Over ten years I've learned that you have to be willing to disagree and speak up about it or you just get angry and resentful, finding yourself slamming cupboards and exploding over things that were simple misunderstandings. I act from my gut, and it takes a lot of consideration for me not to let that take over and run the show. It also includes advocating for myself and knowing my limit. I means I must continue to un-learn "keeping score." I'm really good at that, unfortunately, and I am still learning to look past that as a viable way to argue. Still, stuffing the anger for the sake of momentarily "keeping the peace" only makes it more toxic.

Over ten years, on the other hand, I have learned that we have to pick our battles or everything becomes a battle. Living in the chaos of a home with a 5yo and a 2yo is wild, but we have chosen not to live in a war zone. There are moments of tempers erupting and less-than-ideal responses to behaviors (dinner time anyone?!), but there is also forgiveness. There is time for silliness, affection, grace, and second (and third, fourth, fifth...) tries.

Over ten years, I have realized the rule of the house must be this: love. In fact, it's what I tell our kids the "house rule" is. If a behavior or a choice or an attitude doesn't go back to being rooted in love (because God first loved us), it's a violation of the rules. And then we try to make things right through love. Tim and I have realized, at various points, that we're the role models for that. Gulp. An amazing responsibility, but at the end of the day, it's just one rule: love.

Connected to this, over ten years, I have realized that living by the aforementioned rule means I have to listen, apologize, and be vulnerable. Such uncomfortable stuff sometimes, yes, but if I'm trying to truly live in love, this will be required.

Over the ten years, and especially since the kids came into our lives 5 years ago, we have formed our identity as a Team. It gives us perspective in our arguments. We play on the same team, we have the same goals, and our identity as such strengthens us for the challenges we face. We do this together. When one of us is weak, the other can step up. When one of is overwhelmed, the other can try to lessen the burden. We can celebrate successes together, and bolster each other as we deal with opposition. I've come to recognize strength in us as a unit, and I think in large part, it will make our life together in the future viable. And though it can be easy to forget in the midst of the chaos, God is on our team, playing strong defense, and giving us a time out when we need it most. That time out may come in the form of perspective, an insight, renewed energy, or even as the blessing of someone who would like to babysit the kids and give us a night off! What a gift!

So with all that in mind, it doesn't look perfect. But I'm thankful for the lessons our marriage has taught me thus far. I love you, my sweet Tim ... let's keep doing this hard work ... of course, through the idealism and hope that initially brought our spirits together!


a reflection from this past lenten season

Last spring, my pastor hubby tapped me to share a message in our church Lenten series about turning toward God. I just came across the reflection I shared, and somehow, it spoke to me again today. I will share it with you in hopes that it may also speak to you -- and that this will only encourage me to share a little more regularly.

Turning toward Peace

Some of you may be wondering what exactly the woman who is always surrounded by two busy, imaginative, loud children could possibly have to say to you about “peace”? Doesn't it seem I'm always yelling after one of them, or chasing one of them, or putting one of them in time out? Sometimes I do feel like it's all I do. It's not that they're bad kids, not in the least … but they also probably don't embody what one thinks of when they think of peace.

What do you think of? An early morning on the quiet dock of a lake? A walk in the woods with your dog? A mountaintop somewhere, where all you can hear is your own breath and heartbeat? All of these sound pretty awesome to me … they sound like an escape.

I know I certainly desire to escape sometimes. Especially on a day where there is not enough sleep, too much fighting, too many things demanding immediate attention, appointments that I'm running late for and car keys that are somehow missing... again. Sometimes I get into the mindset that escaping my home, my school, and my busy life is the only way to run away from chaos and into peace. Go on a silent retreat. Escape in a kayak on a placid lake. But how likely is that to happen??

Some of you may know that I am in school, working slowly but steadily on my Masters in Pastoral Counseling. I have learned so much about working with others – and about my own needs, hang-ups, and growing edges – while I have been in the program. But one of the things I heard my first semester has stuck with me and helped me really understand what it means to be a counselor: That I am to sit with someone and their pain, and to hold that person's pain for them until they are strong enough to take it back and hold it themselves.

Wow. What an honor... what a burden!

I am reminded of the Prayer of St. Francis, a song version which Tim & I actually used in our wedding service. “Make me a channel of your peace” the song begins, “where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, hope.”

Clients come to counseling because they are seeking clarity, solutions … peace. Listening to my clients speak, I have had first hand experience with how overwhelming disclosures of abuse, betrayal, and loss can be. How can I possibly hold onto this pain for someone when it is so engulfing and heartbreaking? I don't even want to touch it sometimes, or believe that people can be so taken advantage of or traumatized.

“Make me a channel of your peace...”

I hear this prayer, this song again, but I don't see an escape – an idyllic mountain, sandy beach, or a cabin. I see the chaos swirling around: busy, full of life, full of joy and pain. I hear voices, music, noise. I experience demands, questions, a busy mind that won't let me fall asleep. And yet, I see a clear and strong channel moving through the middle of this chaos. Where the water still moves - but smoothly. With strength. Direction. Purpose. This image is a god space where the sense of peace is stronger than the chaos.

“Make me a channel of your peace...”

I sometimes find myself whispering the first line of this prayer. It becomes my prayer when the chaos is surrounding me. It becomes my prayer in my heart when I feel like I could drown right there in the counseling room – in another person's painful life. It becomes my prayer when my own life feels too wild, too full, too much. It is a prayer I pray when life feels like it has no peace. It is a prayer I can even manage when I don't feel like I have the words to pray. The chaos may still churn, the demands may still exist, the children may still be tantruming and trying to kill each other … but in this channel, God is there. Sure and strong. Gentle and guiding. Whispering peace when the storms of life are raging.

“Make me a channel of your peace...”


My main consideration is the resurrection of this blog space. I didn't walk away on purpose ... at that point, life was busy, wild, and in flux (as life has a way of being). We had a brand new babe, had just made a major move, and Tim took a new call. Fast forward two years later...

Life, now, with a 2yo and a 5yo is certainly not a calm and quiet space, but looking back, I miss having a space to reflect on this life with my husband and these amazing little beings ... and a place where I can muse about what I believe, wonder, and hope for.  This blog provided such a space for me; a little room carved out to reflect and remember.

So, yes, a resurrection may be in the works. I am hesitant to make promises, because life does have a lot of demands and I'm not great at keeping promises ... but I will put forth an intention. (How very new-agey of me, yes? Glad to be of service.) ;)