Monday, November 17, 2014

Learning to feel...Again

November has been a crazy, busy month. Again. In looking back, I discovered that I only posted once in November last year and the year before. Apparently, my life in November tends to distract me from writing. Anyways...

I'm back and reflecting on what has been happening since I last blogged, in October. Some of the noteworthy events:

  • I attended a seminar on Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and The Allender Center's Intimate Mystery marriage conference. 
  • I baked three batches of delicious pumpkin bars using real pumpkin from Ben's farm
  • Ben and I bought my granddad's 2005 Toyota Prius after he passed away (Bittersweet because of his passing and the fact that I will stop driving the Saturn wagon that I bought from him and my grandmems after she stopped driving in 2003. I have driven that beloved car for 11 1/2 years and 160,000 miles.)
  • Ben and I discovered the perfect cigar chair for my office while wandering the stores of Lake Geneva, WI after our marriage conference.
  • We hosted an amazing group of people connected with the Rock River House of Prayer at our house for a fun Sunday afternoon.

The seminar and marriage conference have probably affected me most. The seminar focused on attachment, which I love and find so powerful in our human relational experience, and how couples in conflict struggle in their feelings of secure attachment to each other. My goal and challenge as a therapist is to help couples and families to move through their anger to more primary feelings of hurt, fear and loss, and to be able to communicate those feelings in a clear and calm way, rather than in their usual negative cycle, so that they can connect more securely and begin to handle conflict differently.

Dan Allender's marriage conference was intense and amazing. His challenge to commit to a no-contempt marriage and to being your authentic self with your spouse resonated deeply within me. He also talked about attachment and connecting in marriage in the way that God wants to connect with us, His people. Dan presents marriage as a noble quest that gives you tastes of Heaven and Hell along the way to growing in intimacy with God and your spouse.

Professionally, I feel awed and inspired once more to engage with my clients in a way that helps them to let God heal their attachment problems and to find enjoyment in their relationships and lives. I'm asking God questions again about who He has made me to be and what He has gifted me to do.

Personally, I am discovering that I have lots of deep and strong feelings that I usually avoid when I am emotionally connected with Ben. I feel a mixture of shame and fear towards these feelings within me. I am afraid that my feelings are excessive and that Ben or others will judge me for having them. I then shame myself for having these "wrong" feelings and try to stop them so that I can be OK again. When God, Ben and other loving people extend me grace and love instead of rejection and disapproval, I have a hard time receiving it because I am so sure that I don't deserve it.

God is teaching me how to feel again and how to stay connected with my feelings in the context of relationship. He is helping me to respond well when I am gripped by disappointment, hurt or anger. God is showing me that I can express these feelings without being ruled by them and that allowing love to come into my heart is soothing in these moments. He is giving me courage to break down and cry with Ben, instead of by myself in the car. I feel a bit wild with emotions in this season, but I am excited to be fully alive and capable of experiencing the entire range of human emotions.

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #1041: A fun afternoon with my nephew Kingston on Saturday
  • #1042: Peet's coffee
  • #1043: A weekend away in Lake Geneva, WI and sleeping in a king-size bed
  • #1044: Dinner with friends and real-heart conversations
  • #1045: Having a hopeful heart and experiencing God's comfort in disappointment
  • #1046: Getting to drive my mom to the airport when she was flying to say good-bye to her dad
  • #1047: Being back at Trinity for the first time since I graduated in 2006
  • #1048: Our Prius :)
  • #1049: How God loved and connected with me when I was struggling
  • #1050: How Ben loves me extravagantly (On Friday, he dropped off the Prius for me to drive home once it was insured and the plates were on. He then drove to Lake Geneva to purchase the chair for my office and moved it in once I finished work. Finally, he went home and cooked a delicious dinner. My husband is incredible!)
  • #1051: We are flying to North Dakota this weekend to visit Ben's sweet family and celebrate Thanksgiving!
  • #1052: Getting my sister to pick out outfits for me so that packing is easier
  • #1053: Homemade pizza

Monday, October 27, 2014

An antidote to envy

I was running on Saturday and it was insanely beautiful all around me. The leaves were exploding with color and the sun was streaming through all the branches without leaves. It was unseasonably warm and the river was sparkling. There was a costume party at the pavilion where we had our rehearsal dinner and there were several people fishing. Even the animals were out and crowding the path to sun themselves. I saw three small snakes, several crickets and a few fuzzy caterpillars.

I wasn't having the best run, but my heart was filling up with all of the beauty. I finally slowed to a walk and found myself tearing up as I started repeating to God, "You are good. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places."

I experienced in that moment what I struggle to experience in my daily life. I felt enough before God and my life felt full despite my unanswered prayers and challenging circumstances. I felt completely free from envy and frustration and full of hope, peace, joy and satisfaction with God, myself and my life.

I have been having other conversations with God about hope and desire. I am still hesitant to open myself up to these things because I have known the bitterness of disappointment and unfulfilled desire in the past. I find it easier to function when I cut myself off from desire in areas where I know, or at least I think I know, that the answer is "No". But, I really dislike the cold, numb feeling of my heart when I take that posture.

I am in a season where I am asking God to help me be open to my desires and hopeful as I remind Him of my unanswered prayers. I find it difficult to manage these desires well and I fight off envy as my hungry heart sees other people enjoying what I am longing for. And, I am finding enjoyable connection with God as I depend on Him to help me steward my heart well. As I present Him with each dream and desire and listen for His response, I am finding companionship and wisdom. He also comforts me when I am sad or angry because His answer is "No" or "Not yet".

I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 this morning. I confess that I have always strongly identified with the older son. I resent God's extravagant love towards other people because I do not understand what is already mine with my Father in Heaven.

"And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.'" Luke 15:31

Our greatest gift and our greatest need are intimacy with God. He is the only source of life and joy. Beyond that, He is incredibly generous and shares everything that He has with us. If I could understand this better, then I think that I could feel satisfied with God more often. I think that real satisfaction is found in the relationship we have with God while we are asking and waiting, not in the answer to the prayer. I want less envy and more fulfillment with God.
Still Counting Gifts:

  • #1032: Indian Summer Weather!!!!
  • #1033: My plan to make pumpkin bars starting with a real pumpkin
  • #1034: A full weekend with friends and family
  • #1035: Finding new wisdom in a familiar book: Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
  • #1036: Our forest preserve in Fall
  • #1037: My mom's chili
  • #1038: Fish tacos with friends at Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL
  • #1039: How red wine pairs with cheese
  • #1040: Campfires in the backyard

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy Fall

My heart is full today.

I got up early and did my hair. After months of wearing it crazy and curly, it feels nice to wear it straight. It's getting really long now. I find myself getting stuck when I lean against furniture and my hair held in place by my back prevents my head from moving.

I drove Ben to work. It was so nice. I love starting my day with him as I sip coffee. We drove to the farm together so he could get in the fields and I could have my piano lesson.

I am having so much fun playing piano. It's like a delicious secret to me on most days. I am starting to be able to play by ear and I'm just graduating into playing beyond the basic pattern of blocked chords, hands together, then the right and then the left. I've had moments where I'm playing, and singing!, without almost no conscious thought. I led, by myself, for an hour at last month's 12-hour burn with R2HOP and I have been playing on Wednesday nights, when Ben leads, three times now. I can still remember the dread I used to feel when I had to practice as a child and I am celebrating the excitement that I feel when I practice now.

Work continues to be slower than usual. I continue to experience it as a love gift from my thoughtful God, on most days. I have treasured this time off and spent it as wisely and creatively as I can. I feel His loving investment in my development as a person and I know that it is wisdom that causes Him to give me pause in my labor.

The leaves outside my windows are stunning. Yellow, gold that hides still green patches. Sunlight streams through more and more places, falling on my face and in pretty splotches across my office. I know that the days of having to lower the blinds so that my clients can see are coming. I'm enjoying the transition to that point.

Driving, just about anywhere, is beautiful right now. I watched puffy white clouds drifting through brilliant blue skies this morning. There were fall colors everywhere below and I loved the contrast between earth and sky. I'm excited for another drive this afternoon and dinner with friends tonight.

I am so thankful that God gives me eyes to see all of the beauty around me and His many gifts toward me. I am so grateful that He helps me to enjoy the life that I have and protects me from the envy that I could so easily entertain. I pray that God blesses you with joy in your life too.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Self-Esteem

Almost everyone I see in my practice is experiencing insecurity and frail self-esteem, in at least one area of their lives. Even those of us who like to think of ourselves as basically emotionally healthy can find weaknesses in our worth and qualities possessed by others that we find superior to our own. Without an unshakable foundation to hold us up through comparison, the risk of rejection and unmet expectations, we will crumple under feelings of failure, disappointment and shame.

Only God, who is perfect in love and knowledge, can give us a self-esteem that will last. Only He, who knows us completely, and so intimately, can say that we are delightful and be believed. We need His love and truth to persuade us that we are beloved in order to feel that loved with ourselves and everyone else.

God says that we are dark, but lovely. He uniquely sees our struggle with sin, doubt and fear. He knows who He has made each of us to be and how far each of us actually is from that person. But still, He loves us and gives us worth. God defines us as lovely even in our brokenness and the places where we are stretching and growing into our true selves.

Our only hope for healthy self-esteem is found in relationship with God. We cannot depend on the people around us, even those closest to us, to build up our sense of worth because other people can only confirm what we already believe. We need Gods love to come into our hearts and to convince us to love ourselves. We need Scriptures to show us how God sees us and to tell us how He values us. We need dynamic relationship with Him, so that when we have a bad day or believe that we are anything less than God's beloved one, then we can return to the safety and comfort of intimacy with Him to be reassured of what is really true about us.

Verses:
  • The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • I am very dark, but lovely... (Song of Solomon 1:5)
  • You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you. (Song of Solomon 4:7)
  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love (John 15:9)
Action:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to let you see what He sees and to feel what He feels when He looks at you
  • Pray-read Bible verses about God's love for you and ask Him to help you believe them
  • Remind yourself of the truth by saying phrases like this to yourself:
    • I am beloved by God”
    • God calls me lovely”
    • God wants me to be able to abide in His love”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Looking back and then ahead

I'm trying to get back into writing a blog post once a week.

I think that Fall prompts me to write because I first started posting to a blog in the fall of 2011. I was an intern with the Fire in the Night program at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. Several people were supporting me financially and many more were praying for me to encounter God in that season. I kept an almost daily record of what I was learning and shared it through my blog.

Here is a quote from my post three years ago:

In the notes today, Mike Bickle suggests the following identity and my heart really resonated:
Our primary identity (value/success) is found in who we are in our intimacy with God which consists of being loved by God and in being a lover of God. I confess, "I am loved (by God) and I am a lover (to God/others) therefore, I am successful." We find our identity or success in being desired by God and in loving Him instead of seeking our primary value in how much we accomplish or the impact we make. Our primary identity is not what we do with our hands but what we pursue with our hearts. (http://jody-fitn.blogspot.com/2011/10/day-9.html)

I was startled and encouraged to read this again today because it is three years later and I am still thinking a lot about the issue of how I define my identity and how I struggle with my insecurities.

I have realized, in celebrating my first anniversary, that I thought that being married would help me to feel more secure in my worth and desirability. Ben is very affectionate and affirming. I believe that he is sincere when he compliments me and tells me that he loves me. I also struggle with doubt about whether or not he is really happy that he chose me. I sometimes wonder if he enjoys me as much as I enjoy him, or if he is just a really faithful, loving guy who is committed to his wedding vows.

It has been scary for me to realize that Ben is doing everything that a supportive and loving husband can do and it is not enough for me to feel secure in my self. It has been intimidating to understand that the only solution is for me to continue to grow in my ability to receive and contain love from God so that I can believe it when other people treat me the same way. It has been humbling to discover that I, an experienced counselor, struggle just as much, if not more, than some of my clients do with insecurities.

In the almost three years that I have had a private practice in counseling, I have worked with a lot of different people. A lot of these people struggle with the same things that I do related to identity, self-esteem and insecurity. I think that God has given me some wonderful insight into how He wants to develop our identity and build up our healthy self-esteem. So much of it goes back to what I was learning during my internship three years ago. I am hoping to start sharing some of it here as I recommit myself to cultivating healthy identity and self-esteem in God.

I'm not going to link these posts to my Facebook page, like I usually do. I'm also not going to count gifts at the end. I am going to copy journal entries and try to provide information in meaningful chunks. I am going to be flexible in what I cover. I will also try to stick to the topics of self-esteem, insecurities and handling related thoughts and feelings. So, if you're interested, then please check back in the next few weeks and look for these new and different posts.

I didn't post anything on this date last year, but I did post on October 6, 2012. Here is the link to that post: http://jody-pursuinglove.blogspot.com/2012/10/31days-to-keep-tender-heart-october-6.html

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #1024: New clients and opportunities to partner with God in encouragement
  • #1025: The grand opening of Rockford Roasting Company 
  • #1026: The most delicious vanilla latte that I have ever consumed (found above)
  • #1027: A day trip with Ben to Port Washington
  • #1028: Enjoying his delight over Duluth Trading Company
  • #1029: A fresh baked cake to celebrate our first anniversary 
  • #1030: A 2 and half hour nap, even though it kept me from falling asleep later
  • #1031: Reading aloud to Ben and discovering books together

Monday, September 22, 2014

A trip to France and approaching a year of marriage

When we got engaged, my wonderful French friend invited us to spend our honeymoon in France. She owns a small cottage by the sea and a home in the mountains there, as well as a wonderful little condo in Chicago.


I've been to France several times, even living there for a semester during college, and I really wanted to bring Ben to visit this country that I love. But, I knew that we would be far too exhausted to enjoy a trip to France just after the feat of planning a wedding. So, I asked my friend if we could use her Chicago condo for our first few days of marriage and save our trip to France for this summer. She graciously accepted.

We spent a little over two weeks in France at the beginning of August. It was absolutely delightful and oh so romantic. It was truly a second honeymoon and we felt extremely blessed that the Lord had given us a double portion because our first honeymoon was also so lovely.

I found myself comparing this trip to my trip to France for my 30th birthday. It was easy to do because I was staying in all of the places that I had stayed in before and I was able to visit my friend again. It was also very different because I was with Ben and no longer single.

Reflecting on this trip and making comparisons led to revelation about things that have been changing in me during this year of marriage. My experience with the sea offers a wonderful example.



When I came to France 3 years ago, I took my towel to the beach and found a place in the midst of everyone else. I swam in the roped off section because that is the place designated for swimming. It is supervised by a life guard and felt safest.

When I came to France with Ben, he climbed over all the rocks, explored the length of the beach and found hidden spots with room for two towels. We changed spots almost every day and swam in the sea just in front of us. I don't think that I swam in the roped off section once. I did hike further than I had before. I did take risks as I climbed up and over rocks after my husband. I did delight as I sat on a huge boulder, with the waves crashing below us, and watched the beautiful horizon, snuggled up against my love.

Ben is wild and adventurous and I am too, when I am beside him. He inspires me to take more risks and to push the limits of my creativity. Ben sees the beauty in me, even when I am ugly towards him. He reminds me to say, "Yes" to God and he helps me to believe that this is something that I usually do even though I actively struggle with sin and imperfection. Ben enjoys me when I'm silly and releases me to be myself fully, even when that includes stormy feelings and passionate reactions.


As we approach our one year anniversary of marriage this weekend, I am so thankful for my husband, Ben. This has been the best year of my life. I have cooked more, made more music, been more goofy, thrown more tantrums, enjoyed more adventures, loved more deeply and been more authentically myself than ever before. God has given me such a wonderful friend and husband and I cannot wait to spend more of my life with him.

Happy Anniversary My Love!




Still Counting Gifts:

  • #1015: Another cool morning run 
  • #1016: Time and energy to work on our home (organizing, moving, changing things!)
  • #1017: my good friend Jessi Fisher is coming to visit this weekend
  • #1018: I get to make cupcakes for my niece's birthday party
  • #1019: Sunshine on my face
  • #1020: Baked oatmeal
  • #1021: A whole day at home to rest and recreate
  • #1022: Our house of prayer community
  • #1023: God is pursuing all of me, every single part, with love

Monday, September 15, 2014

Beautiful Tension

In my life and my work, I experience a lot of tension. I usually find it where things are not as I would like them to be.

September has seen lots of extra space in my work week. My beautiful tension is found in receiving these gifts of time in the midst of my desire to have a busy practice. I spend some of the time catching up on tasks that need done, while other moments are spent more leisurely.

So many of the people that I see are suffering from painful experiences, past and present, and my challenge is to help them find joy through relationship with God even as they wait for Him to shift their difficult circumstances. There is sadness and anger toward God for allowing them to experience such distress. There is also real comfort as He connects with them in their aching.

I want to use my gifts to produce and create even as I experience fatigue and desire rest. I love the work that God has given me to do and still prefer to be on vacation. I want more and I want less.

I have been taking piano lessons for almost a full year and am excited by how God has been developing my abilities even as I lament the dramatic decrease in my writing. The beautiful tension is accepting that every time I say yes to one thing, I am saying no to others.

Being married has meant weighing more than I ever have before. My beautiful tension is in learning to receive God's declaration that I am beautiful at this weight even as I recommit myself to pursuing healthy eating and exercise so that I can live at a healthy weight. I can believe my husband when he tells me that I am beautiful and really feel beautiful even as I make plans for healthy changes.

I take great delight in consuming delicious foods and recognize that my body does not respond well to some of them. I experience tremendous tension between the desires of my mouth and the healthy operation of my body.

I love the feeling of my body working as a strong machine when I run and I would rather stay snuggled in my bed than head outside. I love to experience God's nearness in worship and prayer and I still regularly choose other forms of entertainment and relaxation outside of connecting with him.
My goal is not to rid myself of all this beautiful tension. I desire to appreciate it for the richness that it adds to my life. I want to recognize that my ambivalence and strong feelings are all a part of my unique experience in this world. I want to learn to move graciously between different opposing positions and to find my home more in the balance of the middle.

Still Counting Gifts: (Today's gifts are inspired by Ann Voskamp's Joy Dare: Gifts Paired)

  • #1008: Coffee and cream
  • #1009: Cool weather and running
  • #1010: Fall and apple cider donuts
  • #1011: Sunday night and Foyle's War
  • #1012: Darker mornings and stronger desire to sleep in
  • #1013: Mondays and new beginnings
  • #1014: Free time and opportunity

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Perception

I had a dream the other night that I was teaching a class on perception. I was using a children's curriculum and I was adapting it for adults. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to teach and the class start time kept getting delayed for various reasons. But, I remember how excited I felt about the material. I felt the thrill of discovery over something profound and I was full of anticipation about sharing my findings with other people.
One thing that I have been thinking a lot about this month is the presence of both great evil and great love in my heart. This month has been busy for me with activities. As many of you already know, I struggle emotionally when I live at a certain level of activity. It's like the door to ugliness in my heart is thrown wide open. I know that it is not my circumstances that are creating the terrible thoughts and feelings that I discover. They live within me all the time, just waiting for the right person or situation to reveal them. Even worse than this thought is the realization that I guard their presence within me. I know that they are there and I contain and hide them so that I can continue to appear nice and good.
Whenever great ugliness gets exposed in me, I want to avoid, deny and escape. I feel loathing toward those despicable parts of me and I want to divorce them from myself. Often, I use articulate words to describe my sin and appear righteous in the way that I am handling it. But, internally, I am seething with self-hatred. I shame myself for my behavior and punish myself with critical thoughts and judgments.
God has started challenging this cycle of despair by bringing His love right into my ugliness. Psalm 139 reminds me that God knows my every thought and all the motives of my heart. He understands the sin that still lives in me. He has seen and known the full extent of my depravity since he paid for it at the cross. And yet, He chose to set His love upon me. His love is toward me even while the process of sanctification, complete deliverance from sin and death through the transformation of my thinking, feeling and behaving, remains unfinished. He hates my sin, but he does not hate me and he does not want me to hate myself. Jesus Christ assigned me His dignity when I asked Him for forgiveness of sins and it speaks a better word than my failures. I am depraved and I have the dignity of Christ. It is a strange tension to live in and something that I want to keep pondering.

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #1002: Extra time at home this morning
  • #1003: Wedding season is beginning 
  • #1004: 8 months of marriage with Ben and how we still end up liking each other in the end
  • #1005: A fun evening with friends and family at Anderson Garden's
  • #1006: Wonderful time with Ben's family last week
  • #1007: Our basement home is quite cool and comfortable

Monday, April 14, 2014

1001 gifts

I'm going to count gifts today.
  • #981: Waking up early without wanting to cry
  • #982: I have met all of my exercise goals for this month
  • #983: AND I still feel excited about my exercise goals for this month
  • #984: Ben fixed my tail-light and I can drive my car without fear of being pulled over
  • #985: 
    My cute and comfortable red skirt
  • #986: We tried a new soup recipe last week and it turned out really delicious
  • #987: Reading for pleasure
  • #988: The sobering realization, yet again, that I cannot do my job, at all, without deep partnership with God
  • #989: New clients AND familiar clients
  • #990:
    Baby plants are growing at the farm!
  • #991: I have serious silly-ness hidden within me and Ben knows right where to find it
  • #992: Surprising my parents by installing the new microwave while they were gone
  • #993: Recognizing that knowing how to handle "not getting what you want when you want it" well is one of the most valuable life skills and being able to cultivate it despite discomfort
  • #994: Thin mint coffee creamer sweetening my afternoon
  • #995:
    Time in my day to relax and create
  • #996: Practicing the piano twice before I even get to my last-chance practice at 9 PM on Monday night
  • #997: Chapstick and hand creme
  • #998: Reading about King Saul in 1 Samuel and understanding how the fear of man can really mess you up
  • #999: Grace to care more about loving God than impressing the people around me
  • #1000: Fullness of joy found in relationship with God
  • #1001: How making space in my schedule for rest and being has made life feel so much more possible

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Growing Pains...

You may be wondering what happened to me during February and March and I have been asking myself that same question recently. There was a lot going on and no time for writing.


I had two wonderful opportunities open up. My mom started teaching a Bible study on Heaven on Monday nights and Ben and I were invited to join a group of young couples who were going through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace curriculum on Thursday nights. My mom is a talented teacher of God's word and I have gotten so excited about spending eternity with God in a real place that I can't wait to experience. Financial Peace University (FPU) has been great too and Ben and I are learning some valuable principles and strategies about money, budgeting and savings. But the downside to all of this is that I filled up my only two open nights during the week.

Now, I did pause and consider the consequences of my actions before I committed to these two opportunities. I remembered the brutal exhaustion that I lived with in Chicago when it was my custom to keep a packed schedule. I wondered if packing my schedule would tempt me to stuff my feelings down again and stop taking good care of myself physically because there just aren't enough resources to do everything. But, both opportunities felt significant and everything would be said and done in just 11 weeks. I literally thought, "I can handle that schedule for 3 months."

Unfortunately, I was wrong. Full weeks bled into full weekends and my anxious symptoms of headaches, stomach aches and trouble sleeping started to appear. It became really difficult to find time to play the piano and writing stopped completely. Even my work, which I love, started to feel heavier and more wearisome. My feelings finally caught up with me a few weeks ago when I started crying one Tuesday morning and couldn't stop. Fortunately, Ben was home and he comforted me. But, this really got my attention and confirmed to me that I cannot and do not want to live in this frantic way.

Since then, I have tried to slow way down. I'm still committed every night of the week and I want to honor those commitments through the end of this month. But, we aren't scheduling as much for our days off. We are trying to consecrate one full day each week to rest. We are asking God to teach us how to live well and to show us the rhythm that He has designed for our life. I'm making self-care more of a priority, especially getting active and eating better. I'm still having tearful conversations with Ben more often than I would like, but it is such a relief to take care of my feelings well again. I'm making time to write, play the piano, think, breathe and create. I'm excited to look back in another month or so and celebrate how much I've grown.

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #968: This is my 100th blog post. I almost counted them myself because I could not believe that blogger stats was telling me the truth and I have written that many blog posts.
  • #969: Dinner with a friend and being able to be my self
  • #970: The freedom to set my schedule and rest
  • #971: Drinking cold water after a run
  • #972: 
    This piece of art that was given to me for my office and is absolutely lovely!
  • #973: When the temperature starts with a 6
  • #974: The Wounded Heart by Dan B. Allender
  • #975: God providing our first-quarter tax payment!
  • #976: Making summer plans and feeling excitement grow
  • #977: Ben working on his bike
  • #978: Having a whole house to ourselves when my parents are gone on vacation
  • #979: An unexpected visit with my sister in the middle of the day
  • #980: How strong God's grace really is in my weakness

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Learning how to learn

I have always been a good student. I think it's partly because I happen to learn the way that most education is offered. The other part is that I work hard to do everything perfectly and please the person that I am working for. What has been less obvious is the incredible pressure that I have struggled with internally as I strive to perform externally.

My first instrument was the French Horn. I played the French Horn in 4th and 5th grade. I loved playing as part of a band or an orchestra. But, I strongly disliked carrying my French Horn on the bus to school. It was somewhat heavy and definitely awkward. I had to find an empty seat so that it could sit next to me or risk blocking the aisle because it certainly didn't fit under the seat. Then there was the fear of people judging me for being weird and playing the French Horn that further complicated things.

I switched to piano in 6th grade. In my imagination, I played amazingly, with ease and skill. In reality, I stretched my small hands as far as they would go and tried to make them play the keys perfectly. I knew that I was supposed to practice, but I disliked it. It was so overwhelming because I wanted to play everything perfectly on the first try. As I made mistakes, I felt wrong and bad because my work was not perfect. I would put even more pressure on myself to try and get it "right", which only made playing more challenging. I would do the bare minimum in order to get close to my goal without having to endure any more inner turmoil and self-condemnation than necessary.

I played piano through middle school, high school and all the way into my first year of college. Practicing was even more necessary at that level and I had to record my dates and lengths of practicing in a notebook to show to my instructor. My college courses were more difficult than my high school classes had been and I found that the internal pressure of performing perfectly in all of those classes AND piano was too much. I didn't register for second semester piano.

We still had a piano at home and I can remember sitting down to play for fun after that. It was much more enjoyable than practicing for lessons had ever been, but it didn't happen very often. Years later, when I first got involved in the Rockton House of Prayer and musicians were as rare as gold, I tried to learn how to play music by chords so that I could help out. But, it was a very challenging process for me and around the time that I was moving to start a life in Chicago. I gave up trying after only a few months.

This idea of learning to play chord charts has resurfaced many times since then. Each time, I feel a mixture of hopeful possibility and terrifying pressure. But, in November, I finally started taking piano lessons again with the express purpose of learning how to play by chords. And it has been a wonderful and stressful experience. I have discovered that my way of learning has not been the healthiest. I am giving up old ways of learning in exchange for new.

On one end of the emotional spectrum, I am so excited to be playing again and encouraged as I discover that I can play the piano in this creative and different way. On the other end, I am frustrated and exhausted because all of my perfectionism and performance issues are resurfacing in the learning process. I want to learn quickly and play everything correctly the first time. I want Kelli, my instructor, to be pleased with my progress. I want my incredibly creative and musical husband who plays almost every instrument by ear to be impressed by my skill level. I want to be able to hear these "stories" that both of them seem able to hear when they play music. I want to be able to translate ideas into sounds and become an artist by piano. It's exhilarating and devastating. Sometimes I feel proud and other times I'm in tears because I am so frustrated.

Even when I want to quit, I keep saying yes to this process. It's been hard and rewarding. I feel an invitation from God to be creative in a way that I have never been before and a divine enthusiasm for this experience. I feel thankful for all of the work that God has already done in me that makes it possible for me to even have this learning experience. (I realize now that I couldn't have started this process any sooner than I did because I was too stuck in my perfectionism and people-pleasing.) I feel apprehensive because I know that all of my buttons will keep getting pushed and there will be ugly feelings. But, I have decided that it's worth it. I would rather be uncomfortable along the way and develop this gift than leave it untouched just so I can feel safe and comfortable. I want to develop healthier ways of learning that I can use for the rest of my life.

What about you? Where is God inviting you into a learning process? Will you trust Him and say yes?

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #955: Ben and I bought an old piano and we love it
  • #956: Time and space to create
  • #957: Our wood-burning stove
  • #958: AAA roadside assistance 
  • #959: Sharing my morning with God and Ben
  • #960: Continued opportunities to trust God with my business
  • #961: And my finances
  • #962: And my fears
  • #963: Sharing God's lavish love with other people
  • #964: I'm so proud of my mom for going back to work
  • #965: I can't wait to visit her at Chick-Fil-A tomorrow
  • #966: Wednesday night worship and prayer at R2HOP
  • #967: God offers His wisdom when I have no idea what to say to the person in my office

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Don't forget to sing in the lifeboats

Ben got a book of quotes for his birthday. It is entitled: "Don't Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats." It has some fun and interesting quotes and the title always catches my attention. To me, this is a great metaphor for choosing joy despite difficult circumstances.

This morning, I found the same quote, in full, at the bottom of my notepad. "Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats." - Voltaire

I was nestled into the couch, with my Bible in my lap and my coffee in my hand. I was trying to finish yesterday's reading in Job so that I could get caught up and start on today's reading. But, in the back of my mind, I was actually anxiously contemplating my schedule for today, which is full of appointments and a Rotary lunch meeting.

This quote stopped me short. "Life is a shipwreck." As I thought about this statement, I affirmed that this is true, in general. It reminds me of Jesus' words: "In the world you have tribulation..." (John 16:33)

But the conclusion to this fact is so surprising and encouraging. Sing in the lifeboats. Take courage, Jesus has overcome the world. Stand up and rejoice right in the middle of watching your ship sink or your world be troubled. I truly believe that joy in God is possible, regardless of our circumstances, and that this is the way to endure difficulty well.

And then, there is the little matter of perspective. I am not actually facing shipwreck today. I am blessed, but choosing a fearful perspective on my day. In order to shift my feelings and my perspective, I am going to end by counting my gifts this morning.

I pray that God helps you choose joy today, whether you are standing in a lifeboat or just feeling fearful.

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #948: Ben is baking fresh bread right now
  • #949: My dad made the coffee so that all I had to do was stumble upstairs and find a cup
  • #950: My schedule is full of clients
  • #951: Our rotary presentation in on nuns who have dedicated their lives to God
  • #952: I woke up early enough to enjoy the Lord, consider all of these things and write about them
  • #953: Oatmeal with pomegranate seeds
  • #954: God's grace and freedom from legalism (I chose to write instead of doing today's Bible reading and felt good about that decision)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Writing, blogging, update


Blogging is hard right now, but I have been writing. I have been scribbling notes here and there; in notebooks with a pen.

I wrote pages and pages on the way back from the OneThing conference in Kansas City. I was thinking about what Mike Bickle said about self-hatred and how abiding in the love of God can drive it away. I was remembering some of the things that God has told me to tell clients struggling with self-hatred. I was reflecting on things that God has told me in my own struggle with self-hatred. I was writing down everything that I could remember that I have ever learned about self-esteem and how we can change the way we view ourselves and our bodies.

I have been penciling notes into the margins of my Bible again. I was wonderfully challenged by a message that Francis Chan gave during the conference. (Revelation 3:1-2: "you have a reputation for being alive, but in fact you are dead! Wake up, and strengthen what remains, before it dies too!) I have become so very lazy about reading my Bible on a daily basis and starting my day in quality conversation with God. So, I started following a one-year Bible reading plan and I'm seeking to savor the words that I'm reading. I go slow, think long and make notes of what I'm hearing.

I made a list of dreams earlier this week. I was at home in front of a dancing fire and I just let my imagination go wild. I recorded everything that I could think of in the little Eiffel Tower notebook that my mom got me when I got engaged. She bought it for me jot down notes in the midst of wedding planning. It seemed like the perfect place to record my current hopes and dreams and I filled several of the small pages before I slowed. I don't know which of these dreams will come to pass, but it was exhilarating to make a written record of them.

I think that I have struggled to write my first post of 2014 because there are so many different things that I want to write about and I am not sure which one to pick. Some of them seem professional and more geared toward teaching or creating hand-outs. Others are more personal and connected to things that I'm learning and experiencing.

To be honest, I have been struggling with this tension for a few months now and am wondering if I need two blogs: one personal and one professional. Or, if I am courageous enough to do just one blog and share personal things professionally.

One of my professional goals for 2014 is to create a website. I want my clients to be able to find me online. I want to make certain resources available to them there. (My 6 pages of intake materials are top priority so that I can kill fewer trees each year.) More than that, I want to offer information and encouragement about things that many of us wrestle with like overcoming stormy feelings, changing the way I talk to myself, defeating self-hatred, how to find joy that transcends difficult life circumstances and encountering the love of God. A professional blog would fit right in to this site. But, these are things that I think about writing here too. I have personal experiences with these challenges and I want to share what I'm learning from God in life.

In counseling programs, they teach you about ethics and protecting your clients. For counseling to create enough space for someone to grow, change and heal, it needs to be exclusively focused on them. There is not enough room for both the counselor and the client to share all of their thoughts and feelings, as in a typical human relationship. The counselor insists that the focus of conversation and care stay focused on the client and they get their needs for support and relationship met elsewhere.

However, authenticity is still required for meaningful counseling to occur. This requires select and intentional disclosure on the part of the counselor. They share parts of themselves with the client in order to remain human and to build trust and confidence within their clients.

I think that God is challenging me to become more of my authentic self in this season. I am a counselor, a writer, a woman, an intercessor and a human being. One integrated blog would challenge me, personally and professionally, to be who God has made me uniquely to be.

I won't have to make this decision for a few more weeks. If you think about it, then please pray for me to have wisdom in making this decision.

Still Counting Gifts:
You have to go back two years to figure out why I do this, if you don't already know. Ann Voskamp and her inspiring book One Thousand Gifts helped get me going in my pursuit of joy. I'm so, so close to reaching 1000 gifts that I have to keep going until I get there.

  • #939: Today marks my two-year anniversary in private practice counseling
  • #940: I am having so much fun playing the piano again
  • #941: Sudafed is great for congestion
  • #942: The reminder to savor each day and the moments that it contains
  • #943: Soup and half a sandwich is one of my favorite meals
  • #944: Word-burning stoves
  • #945: My 17 year-old car has started every day this week
  • #946: The fear of finances help me trust God, over and over
  • #947: Grace to learn new things