Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Just Keep Swimming

“Attention, you have 15 great white sharks near you.  Please calmly exit the water.”   This was the alert from the Officials in Orange County, CA to a group of beachgoers – see full article here.  Thanks for the heads up, but CALMLY exit the water?  But the reality is that when in crisis, in the middle of trauma, in the midst of danger, we are advised to “stay calm.” Why? And what does that even mean?  Our hearts are pounding. We are scared. We are possibly hurting. We feel crazy.  We think we might die.  How are we supposed to stay calm? But somehow we do. 

This specific kind of thing may not have ever happened to you. But we have all been surrounded by “sharks” at some point – in the middle of danger, fear, crisis, hurt, pain, and uncertainty. And we panic – naturally.  How do I get out of this? Where do I go?  How will I survive this?

Last Saturday night my husband and I drove past a truck in a ditch – horn honking and lights flashing.  It was obvious the accident had just happened.  I yelled to Todd to pull over.  And I ran to meet a young boy stumbling out of the truck.  I asked if he was okay, and he was crying and obviously drunk.  He begged me to stay with him until more help came.  I did.  Through his beer breath he told me how mad his mom would be, how much trouble he would be in, how sorry he was. He was surrounded by his “sharks.”  I asked him to take deep breaths, tell the truth, and keep taking the right next step.  I said, “We’ve got to get you to safety first, and the rest will be figured out later.” Police showed up, but I held his hand until his mom came.  When we are in trauma, we need the nearness of others.  And when his mom arrived, after holding her son, she buried her tearful face on my chest.  Her sharks were circling too.  I told her she was a good mom, doing a great job, and she would get through this – that more would be revealed.  And then I cried too. 

Many of my favorite writers and bloggers advise not to write about things you are still processing.  We take huge risks to put our mess out there in public when there’s so much debris still flying around from our shit storm. Until the debris has landed and we sift through what is trash to dispose and what is a treasure to repair, we keep the work of the trauma and its aftermath safely close to us and with the people we love.  We stay “calm.” We calmly exit the water and turn to our safe people and ask "What the F just happened?” And then we get still and rest for a minute…or the next year or 2.    I recently experienced my own shark story.  It feels like they are still circling. But I am calmly getting out of the water. That’s the piece I can write about right now.

I started writing a step by step process for “calmly exiting the water.” I am now laughing my butt off, because that’s impossible.  We are not going through a checklist as we get out of shark-infested waters. We are just getting the heck out of there.  The beauty of our human nature is that we do inherently know what to do in crisis.  Even though we go through fight, flight, or freeze, we instinctively do what feels natural to survive. “Getting calmly and safely to shore” for me has been breathing, asking for help, and to keep swimming. Remember good old Dori from Finding Nemo?  “Just keep swimming” means I breathe, go to bed, breathe, wake up, breathe, drink coffee, breathe, drink water, breathe, eat, breathe, pray, breathe, connect with a safe friend, and breathe.  I keep my vision on the shore as I swim – the place where I feel safe from the sharks – and trust its provision for me there.  Decisions do not have to be made right now.  I’m not swimming to shore thinking about all the next steps once I reach safety. I’m just getting to shore. And after all that swimming, I need rest. 


People who have been through trauma are often asked, “How did you know when you were going to be okay?” The answer to this question is most likely their place of hope and resilience.  It’s their “shore.” They have landed safely away from the sharks. And as they reflect on the pain and fear, they can also remember what it was like to land safely – their bodies and hearts lying tired and broken on comforting ground.  At some of my hardest places during crisis when I was crying and “swimming,” I remember seeing a beautiful Iris that had just bloomed open in the middle of weeds. I saw a female Cardinal gathering twigs.  I opened my puffy eyes to the sunshine outside my window now warming my tears. I got a million messages from people I love offering comfort, love and encouragement.  All these places are my shore. So now I lay here and just rest in their comfort until next steps are clearer.  That is enough right now.  Just keep swimming with your eyes on the shore, and then rest your weary souls there.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Before Easter

I did not know what to expect. I just knew this was something I was supposed to do. There isn’t a manual for parenting, so there certainly isn’t one for taking your adopted child back to his homeland to visit biological family.  It is a mix of exciting and terrifying.  And now that I’m back home, it’s a mix of anger, guilt, sadness, and joy.  I’m taught as a therapist that these polarized feelings are normal.  I “know” it.  And experiencing this paradox is a whole other ballgame.  Sidenote – as a therapist, I’m also a person. I don’t counsel people because I have all the answers or have it all together. I counsel people because I get it.  I have compassion and some useful tools to share. I suffer too.  And I am resilient too.  We’re all doing this hard shit together.

I am still processing this trip.  I am still processing being a parent.  I’ve learned not to write about things (in public) I’m still processing.  And even if I wasn’t still in the beautiful chaos of it all, there are so many moments from this journey that are far too precious to share. Some moments are too holy for the whole world to see – they are meant just for my little tribe. But some moments are meant to be shared. Sometimes there is no other way to be in the suffering but to let it roll off my fingers onto this keyboard and into some form of viewing existence. Because then it’s real and not all funnel clouded up in my heart causing destruction.  And every time I write I desire to connect with myself and others.

So what I know for sure about this trip and am ready to write about is the obvious connection to this part of my life and the season of Easter.  When I was little I always had the cutest new Easter dress, bonnet, and basket.  I hunted eggs, ate Peeps, and took pictures with the Easter bunny.  I heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection and felt all the good feels.  I also heard the story of how Jesus was crucified, but as a child, not much time was spent thinking about that.  Jesus flying up in the air and watching those Cadbury commercials were way more fun.  But as an adult, I contemplate the crucifixion much more.  What was the purpose of that? It came BEFORE the rising, BEFORE the joy, BEFORE all the good feels.  Most importantly, we had to have a Savior that knew what it felt like to suffer, so He could really get that with us.  I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I haven’t seen anywhere in the Bible where we were promised to not suffer. But each time we were promised we would not be alone in the suffering – that Christ would always be near.  He can be near, because He gets it.  When I’m in my parenting shame shack, I immediately text 2-3 safe people who I know have been there and will affirm they get it (I literally just did that seconds before writing this).  I do this because I don’t want to be alone.  None of us want to be alone.  And even if we don’t have a person with skin nearby, Jesus is always available. Sometimes I imagine myself right next to Him in the garden the night before He was crucified. We sit and cry together, asking God why, admitting our fear, and surrendering to the pain.  It doesn’t feel “better,” but I’m not alone, and that does feel better. And I remember His story turned out pretty rad.  So maybe mine could too.

So, back to the Haiti trip, one day we were stuck in a van for 6.5 hours in traffic. This is not Nashville traffic.  Let me paint a picture for you.  No traffic signals or signs.  Cars, motorcylces, trucks, goats, cows, disease infested dogs, pedestrians just moving forward slowly (or not at all) and hoping to be getting somewhere.  Piles of trash line the streets with people and animals digging through it with hopes of sustenance.  Windows down and deep breaths don’t bring relief – they bring toxic polluted air into your lungs and dirt into your nostrils and earlobes (think crusty black boogers and charcoal qtips later).  Men walk by your barely moving vehicle hoping to sell you water or plantains, because you’re so effing hungry and thirsty from being stuck in there.  You contemplate going number one in your water bottle, but you need your water.  You might go number two in your pants from whatever you have eaten there.  You want to scream when you find out you’ve been going one direction for 2 hours only to find out a bridge is out, so you have to turn around and find another way.  No radio warned you of this – just a guy who is now driving the other direction after someone told him.  No system. No structure.  Just chaos, trash, and delirium.

I looked over at Todd, and we shared our WTF glances.  We squeezed each other’s hands and knees.  We couldn’t cuddle because it was too hot.  But we were stuck in that van together – doing what we thought we should be doing as parents.  We started talking about how it felt like a waste of time – that we intended for our son to have this beautiful and meaningful time with this bio family in their village, yet here we are in this stupid van in traffic. Why?? We both hate wasted time.  We were able to talk about that (we had 6.5 hours to talk about a lot of things).  And then I said, “hey, remember that time in NYC when we were so sick and we had to stay in the hotel in bed all day? What a waste! But then we crawled out of bed after our last diarrhea and got on the subway to take a picture of the Christmas tree in Rockafeller Plaza before going back to bed.  Maybe we’ll at least get a Christmas tree moment today.” We hung onto that – and each other’s sweaty hand.

And by 4:30pm that day we made it to our destination. I walked behind and watched my son hike up a mountain to his parents’ hillside tent and be greeted by numerous brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. It was our Christmas tree.  We were welcomed with smiles, hugs, and a feast of goat and plantains they had lovingly prepared for us.  As I said, there were too many precious and painful moments to be shared publicly, but this moment is universal for all of us.  Whatever your suffering is, whatever you are waiting on, whatever you think is a waste of time, whatever is painful, whatever is not making sense on this point of your journey – You are not ever alone, and eventually you get little Christmas tree moments.  Reach for Jesus.  Reach for your safe people.  Trust the process of suffering to grow you, heal you, and bring you ever closer to yourself, others, and Jesus.  Suffering invites connection.  Lean into it.  There is always the hope of a resurrection coming.  



Friday, February 24, 2017

V.I.P.

A few nights ago I went to a concert at 8:30pm.  I suddenly felt like I was in my 20's again.  Normally I am winding down from a long day of clients, ubering my kids, getting groceries, or tending to some need somewhere.  8:30 is when I put on my PJ’s and try to shut my brain down from doing more things on the task list.  But that night I was looking for a parking garage in downtown Nashville so I could get to the Dan+Shay show at The Ryman with my husband.

I picked up my VIP sticker and Todd escorted me backstage.  I walked behind the curtain of the stage and had to catch my breath thinking about all the legends who have taken these same steps.  I’ve made that walk behind the curtain so many times, but I notice these moments and appreciate them more now. My twenty-something self who had been there before had no clue yet.  I stood in the balcony and watched the guys sing their hearts out and tell stories of how they came to Nashville with all their hopes and dreams, and now they’re here performing at the Mother Church to a sold-out crowd.  I heard my husband share his pride and excitement for how far they have come. I saw, felt, and experienced all this at a time when I would have normally been in my pajamas already.  I was thankful to feel all this again with new 38 year old eyes and ears.  I was sad about moments I had missed prior to this night (more on that later).  I appreciate it now more than ever. Fast forward to the next day…

I was sitting in the youth group parking lot.  I just dropped the boys off but was going to have to get Woody again to go to a soccer practice in 30 minutes, and then pick him back up an hour later, along with getting Carl from youth group (Did you follow that? Me neither).  So I had short spurts of time in between to kill – not quite enough for Target or Costco, but just enough to feel irritated there was nothing I could do with that time.  So I ate my dinner out of Tupperware in a parking lot with my window down - alone.  While I felt sorry for myself, I looked down and realized I had a giant hole in the crotch of my jeans (thankfully not my new grown-ass woman jeans – read that blog post here).  Awesome. Most likely I had shown all my clients my leopard print underwear that day.  I like to think I sit professionally, but no, usually cross-legged, prime position for panty peeking.  As I teetered between shame and laughing my butt off, a couple high school kids walked by and said, “woah, hey hot mom.” Cue internal bursts of worthiness sunshine: I’ve made it - I’m a hot mom! I cannot tell you how much the reality of my life became clear in that 5 minute window.  I’m in a parking lot eating my chicken fried rice with a hole in my pants and being hit on by teenagers. Just the night before I was a VIP backstage.  Somehow I still found a way to appreciate this moment too.  It’s because of the “liminal space” I’ve been in. More on this later too.  Now let’s rewind to about 4 years ago…

I was not a mom yet - a mom in my heart but not in my home.  I was grieving.  I had also made it to the point in life where all my over-achieving, urgencies, tasks, relentless exercising, and work had knocked me down. I realized I wasn’t superwoman. I crashed. I had panic attacks. I couldn’t get out of bed. I hurt all over. I cried a lot. I was not who I remembered being. I didn’t necessarily want to go back to all those old things, but I was also not who I wanted to be yet.  I was freaking stuck. I stopped going to concerts. I stopped enjoying life. Not because I didn’t want to, but I was literally frozen in my pain. Stress and grief are bitches, people.  They will try to take your life away from you. Thankfully I am getting mine back with Jesus, yoga, meditations, stillness, new perspectives, and good neurotransmitter boosters. And counseling! (Counselors need counseling too. That’s how we can help you! We are people too.  I can’t wait to write that blog post). I am also a big believer that no time is ever wasted.  I recently read about “liminal space.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr describes this space in his book Everything Belongs.  Liminal comes from the Latin word limina which means threshold.  This place of waiting is a “unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are finally out of the way.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.  If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.” Learning to be uncomfortable and trust there is something new coming is the most tortuous and beautiful thing.  I have hurts and resentments from this gap of time in my life.  But I know for sure it has made me more awake. 


I know I am still in this space unfolding into the woman I want to be.  But at present I have holy jeans, fancy solo parking lot dinners, and an occasional backstage pass.  And that’s enough right now. I can be right here and be thankful for all of it. I notice Todd’s accomplishments and feel so proud of him.  I dance and sing.  I am thankful that my children have a safe and fun place to go on Wednesday nights while I take a deep breath.  I laugh at my imperfections. I am learning to accept all the realities of life – the inconvenience of my schedule being ruled by teenage boys and the opportunity to hold my husband’s hand at a crosswalk in downtown Nashville after a show.  I try to notice each moment now and do not take it for granted. I put my sticker on my steering wheel so I keep Very Important Perspective no matter where I'm going - concerts, soccer practice, work, date, wherever. I am every beautiful woman – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 




Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Baby Got Back

I had an unexpected break from work today.  People were sick and cancelled their appointments, so I looked at my afternoon and wondered what to do with myself.  My husband is out of town for work.  My kids are at school and basketball games.  I spend much of my time tending to others’ needs, so I usually have to get my magnifying glass to find pockets of minutes in my iCal to do something just for me. But St. Valentine just dropped a big block of hours in my day.  I felt pulled to the mall. I never go to the mall.  In fact I don’t like it, but today it felt like where I was supposed to go.  I needed jeans, but I hate shopping for them. I decided to "try on" a new perspective, and it was so healing. I realized today was about loving my body.

The relationship I have with my butt is an ever-growing (no pun intended) connection.  I started “filling out” at the age of 11 – but not where I wanted to. I had to wear these really tight pants as part of my uniform at my first job at McDonald’s, and a trucker said to my 16 yr old self, “You fill out those pants real nice, darlin’.” I felt disgusting.  A family member told me I needed a wide-load sign on my butt.  True story.  It was said as a joke, but a 14 yr old girl does not find this funny.  I began to make my own big butt jokes, because hey, I want to put myself down before you do.  I started diets…or just didn’t eat. My face and waist were bones, but that backside kept her curves.  She wasn’t budging.  When Sir Mix-A-Lot came out with “Baby Got Back” I felt like it was my anthem.  I acted like it didn’t bother me when someone said about me, “Isn’t she a little too thick to be Miss Teen of Oklahoma?” But I died inside. And I quickly responded, “It was a scholarship and recognition pageant – you have to be SMART to win!”  I thought I was somehow putting him in his place, but really I was just agreeing I was thick but had other qualities to cover up for it.  In a singing competition I was told not to wear jeans on stage because, “You’re a little too curvy.” I’ve got more stories like this. And the thing is I WASN’T EVEN OVERWEIGHT! But my butt and people’s opinions of it made me feel like I was as big as Texas.  Even as I write this I am crying a little for that young beautiful girl in me who thought her ass was her identity and that it was too much.

Shopping for jeans was the absolute worst. I suspect it is for many females. But when you are 5’3” with an hourglass figure, there are a variety of problems. The waistline sticks out, you have to hem them for your short legs, if the waist fits then your butt looks giant…er.  As an adolescent I would cry at the Buckle store every mother-loving time.  I just went in and self-proclamied, “I need jeans for a big butt.” Here’s what happened today.  I walked right in and proudly asked for help  and said, “It’s always been so hard for me to find jeans for my body shape. I have a small waist and these really rocking curves. Can you help me?”  She smiled and was so excited.  She brought me 10 pairs to try on. I felt like a queen. She just kept bringing jeans and asking me what I thought about them.  I did not put my body down one time. I said things like, “these don’t accentuate the right spots.” I didn’t blame my body. I blamed the jeans and put those back.  And I found my jeans. I danced in the mirror. I celebrated this booty-ful woman I saw.   

Those stories from men in my past told my little girl self a story about her worth and beauty.  I grieved with her.  I showed compassion to her. And now I am telling her a new story – that I am a grown-ass woman who has her back now.  I won’t let those stories be hers anymore.  We do what highlights our beauty. We ask for help. I don’t hide her or shame her.  I put her in new jeans and remind her that even these clothes and how she looks in them aren’t a measure of her worth. When I changed perspective, I found the jeans.  I rescued her. I found mySELF.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Emergency Landing

The baby is sick.  Your mom is dying.  A child is in the hospital. A relationship has failed. You did not get pregnant. You lost your baby. Your adoption failed. You were abused.  You were bullied.  You don’t know your biological parents. You watched someone take her last breath.  You survived a tornado or earthquake, but your home or friends did not.  You just found out you have cancer. You are changing jobs. Again.  You are moving homes. Again.  The plane is crashing.

These are only a few examples of traumatic experiences.  My father is a pilot, and he has told me stories of landing a plane in an emergency – “If you feel, you die.  You just have to stay calm and do the next right thing.” As a therapist I talk a lot about identifying, honoring, and expressing our feelings.  I believe in this wholeheartedly.  Yet in crisis, most of us are not stopping and saying, “I feel scared right now.” We are stuffing that down so we can get to the work of landing the plane.  And this has its critical place in our lives.  We have to land.  If my father had let his fear take over, he might have lost his ability to rationalize through getting that 78K pound hunk of metal on the ground. But think about if we are in constant crisis – landing the every day planes of our lives – but not ever turning to someone and saying, “I’m scared. This is hard.  Can I tell you my story?” We lose connection – with others, our lives, and most importantly ourselves.  We go numb from all the crises when there isn’t time to share the experience.

AFTER WE LAND, WE MUST SHARE THE STORY.

Another woman has lost her baby and needs to feel your tears with her.  Another man has lost his wife and needs to know you understand the loneliness too.  Another family has experienced so much loss and sickness and needs to feel like someone else gets it. Yes, they need your casseroles and donations, but more importantly they need your eyes to look right into theirs and let them know you feel their pain.  Even if you don’t know what it’s like to go through their exact situation, you know pain. You know need.  You know what it’s like for your heart to be ripping out.  You know what it’s like to feel so much shame you can’t face someone or ask for help.  And if you don’t know these things, then look deep inside your heart for all those stories you have stuffed down while landing your plane. They are in there – gifts waiting for you to unwrap and share with others.

No matter where we live or who we are, it is universal to feel sadness, shame, guilt, fear, anger, hurt, loneliness, and gladness.  We may not feel them for the same reasons, but we feel them.  And when we honor those for ourselves or others, a beautiful connection happens. We connect to the loving spirit inside of us and we connect to other people. My white American woman heart actually looks the same as my brown Haitian boys’ hearts.  When I tell them, “you guys, mom is sad today, and I’m sorry I am not able to decorate for Christmas today like we hoped,” I am met with love, kindness, forgiveness, and a chance to connect deeper.  If I had not told them that and hid my sadness instead, it would have shown up as frustration that the decorations weren’t “perfect” or the stockings were hanging crooked.  We may have all got wound up in the freaking lights yelling at each other.  But instead we all shared our grief, hugged, and actually got those decorations up anyway.

As I look at my nativity scene I’m reminded of Joseph and Mary’s emergency landing in a little stable.  Hope began here.  Hope for you and me.  Hope for the world.  We are not without crisis or pain.  But we can connect our hearts in it.  We can show up like shepherds and wisemen to bring gifts of love and healing.  We witness the story of the crisis and connect in the landing. 



~If you are in an emergency landing, give yourself so much grace for your quick action and courage.

~Remind yourself it’s okay to be a little bit numb emotionally in the beginning as you are searching for the answers and a safe place to land. 

~After you’ve landed, share your story with yourself. Share it with a safe loved one.  Be honest about how you feel and what you’ve experienced. 

~You did a good job – the best you could do.  Honor your feelings.  Tell your story. Rest your weary souls.