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