I am reading "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin. You may have heard of, or read, her other book, "The Happiness Project". I enjoyed her first happiness project, and I am enjoying this second one as well. She prescribes to a Benjamin Franklin Virtues chart method of daily accountability to goals. Her goals center around ways of being happier, specifically as the name implies, at home, in this newest project. I'm not that far into the book, but she starts by taking inventory of her possessions and determining how to bring more honor to them and insure that they are contributing to her happiness vs draining her of it. It is always such a delight to have a thought take over my mind and then find I am reading about, hearing about, speaking about, that very thought more often. I don't know why this happens for certain, but I believe it is the Spirit within me, subtly leading me down the paths that are of benefit. Possessions have taken on added weight in my life. As anyone who has dealt with a parent's death can attest, their possessions become such potent things. Gretchen writes in her book, "(After someone's death, how strange to see the value drain away from his or her possessions;...)" I believe that this is true in one way and then the alternate is also true, a monumental value is also suddenly ascribed. While the value to the deceased has obviously been completely removed, those items that once held little worth to you, somehow are instilled with worth you were previously unaware of. Due to unavoidable circumstances, we were forced to deal with my father's possessions within the first two weeks of his passing. In retrospect I hope to find that this rush will be beneficial - but in the here and now it has just made this valuation confused. I believe that, for some, it takes time for this value exchange to take full effect. Perhaps something that seems trivial will one day be significant. Perhaps something that seems significant, will prove unable to maintain it's significance over time. There is a part of me which does not need, nor desire, to hold on to many things. It is either because of this characteristic, or in defense from it, that the things I do hold on to become quite dear to me. My home is decorated with photographs and things from the people that I love. My kitchen is stocked with the well worn bowls and utensils of my grandmother's, and now my father's, lives. It is comforting to me, to let my eyes pass over these reminders of those that I love. I do not hoard. If something cannot be displayed (and therefore merit the annual dusting), and it cannot be used, then it must pass the last, totally subjective, opportunity to remain - it must simply be infused with a value that cannot be reasoned against. So I've found, that in this rush to deal with my father's possessions that this last hurdle of value infusion has become blurred. I cannot tell if I truly have a connection that has instilled value - meaning that I should in all cases work to honor and keep this thing, or if I still am seeing in it the value it held for my father - but unable to acknowledge that he no longer values any of his things. Then there is the worse case scenario - I see that it has value for someone else and then I place a guilt value on it. Yes, I will admit - there are things that others want that I find I want, simply because they want it. I think perhaps I fear that I have not had time to remember why that thing has value....what if one day I do? (I will note here that I'm blessed with a loving relationship with my family and this is not something that I need to worry about, none the less I involuntarily have these frantic feelings - and those frantic feelings do need to be worried out and put away from me...) Up until this week, I had stored the boxes that still need to be gone through in my office. I work from home - so the sheer visual and psychological weight of all these THINGS simply became to much. We moved them downstairs. I had put them in my office, because, as I said, I have no intention of hoarding away boxes upon boxes of things simply because. I will go through them in time and sort out what should be honored and what should be let go. At first I thought I would simply bully myself into getting it done by setting them all in front of me. You see, I had forgotten that I was supposed to be kind to myself during this process, not bully myself. Thank heavens I remembered that I like me this week, and moved those boxes downstairs where their weight is a niggle in my deep brain that stores the things that 'must be dealt with, but not today'. This is much better than the in my face, front and center, part of my brain that works in my office each and every day of the work week. I will find the balance of these things, one day. The balance, for me, is in finding that I enjoy the things that I have around me. Right now there is too much and it is a burden instead of a joy. I mean, even downstairs, the weight of the things, seems too much. But one day I will find the right balance and keep the right things. Those things that have value to me, and they will carry me, they will not weigh me down. And if all this talk of things having value makes you uncomfortable, please know that I ascribe to Gretchen's research findings. What makes something special - or valuable - is the memories and associations invoked by the thing. The value I talk of - is that intangible sense that your life and your mind is made better in the presence of some things (and people for that matter) and is lessened by others. I am working to identify those things that make me better in their presence. For any of you out there dealing with someone's 'things' - I pray that you too will find the balance. That you will not be overcome or stalled by the sheer 'weight' of things. I pray that you can find a way to identify those things bring honor to your memories and let the rest go. Their value is now yours to define, and it is a responsibility. I pray this for me, too.

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20130128-204404.jpg Yep.  Last Friday was the BIG day - and we didn’t back out. I was pretty sure Grace would go through with it - but not nearly so confident in my fortitude. Grace is four years old - just months away from five. She decided several months ago that she was ready to cut her hair. The sheer weight of it when wet, the tangles, it all just became too much. She wanted her hair cut. So I sat her down and told her about Locks of Love. We went and looked at the web site and she decided that she definitely wanted to do that when she cut her hair. I boldly proclaimed her intentions on Facebook. And I promptly chickened out. We needed to wait until after the holidays. I had JUST learned how to french braid....and on and on it went. Finally she started stating, every time I touched her hair, “Let’s get my hair cut, mommy.” So, on a whim, I made the appointment for this past Friday. The question was - would I be able to do it? You see we had NEVER cut her hair - I did finally take her in at about 18 months to get a token ‘first haircut’ but I wouldn’t really let our hairdresser cut anything off! (The first picture in the bottom four block is that first 'haircut') This was more than a haircut, though. This was a declaration, for me and for Grace. It is so hard for women and girls in today’s market saturated world. If you pay attention to the ads and the messages all around us, our value is in our looks. For little girls, the message is to look older. For the 40+ crowd, the message flip-flops to look younger. Grace had part of her identity wrapped up in her hair - not just for her...but for me. I loved her hair. It made me happy. And the day that I realized how much it meant to me was the day I knew we would cut it. God made us for so much more than pretty hair and trendy clothes. I want to make sure Grace knows that. After hearing from complete strangers how pretty her hair was - her whole life - I knew that cutting it would be a good thing. It’s another way of showing her that her value is internal and intrinsic. She is a child of God. She is heir to the kingdom of God - and her rights as an heir require her to develop a beautiful interior, not a beautiful exterior. I urge you to click here. It's an amazing story about a local teen who wanted to understand what it felt like to lose your hair to increase her empathy for childhood cancer victims - and in doing so, gave recognition to the Locks of Love program. Gracie and I watched her story and talked about how important it is to help people who need us. (I also had to assure her that we weren't going to go quite so short ;)) This story was another tipping point - what an awesome opportunity to help Gracie help another little girl, with an amazing local role model. It’s hard to find ways for a four-year old to make a difference, but she did! Friday arrived, and we were all just excited! I was excited for her and she was so ready. We went in and Elijah kicked it off with his 23rd haircut (approximate) and then Gracie got up in the chair - all smiles. When they finished the braid and we picked where to cut, we had 16 inches of beautiful baby blond hair to donate. Erin, our amazing and sweet hairdresser, started cutting and when the braid was off the entire salon applauded! Gracie learned another great lesson from everyone there - doing good feels good! You know, I thought I would be sad but I wasn’t - I was just excited. It’s exciting to raise humans. It’s such a privilege and a joy. And I thought Gracie would be hesitant - but she wasn’t. I don’t know if she really understood the good she was doing - but I will remind her and one day, she will. Life just keeps moving forward and it just keeps getting bigger and better and more. This life we share with one another - it is amazing. Leave Grace your comments and I'll make sure she hears them all! 20130128-204425.jpg 20130128-204415.jpg
"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word "happy" would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness." -Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist, 1875-1961 I'm going to go talk to a therapist on Friday. To help me with my grief. I am really relieved now that I have the appointment. Sometimes I feel like I'm swimming in someone else's swimming pool and I don't know how I got there or how to get out....and I suspect there are sharks nearby. The appointment is like spotting the ladder. I have been to see a therapist a few different times throughout my life. When I was contemplating a divorce in my 20's, therapy helped me define the problems and make some important life decisions. After my divorce and a few other missteps, therapy allowed me to drill into what was driving my poor choices and begin making better ones. Greg and I went to pre-marital counseling the few weeks we had between when we met and when we married, and then we kept going for a couple months afterwards. We went back to counseling about a year and a half ago when the reality of parenting littles, parenting not-so-littles, and dealing with aging parents became a bit more than we were comfortable dealing with on our own. To put it mildly - I believe in therapy. I do not believe it is for weak minded people. I do not believe therapists trick you into doing what they think is the right thing to do. I believe that it is a sound and reasonable step to take when life gets to be overwhelming. I believe that talking through your problems with a person who is not in the middle of them is the best way to see the forest AND the trees. Even with all of that being 100% true, I find myself wanting to defend myself ("Tell them you don't go ALL the time," I keep suggesting to me.) But to be honest - given unlimited time and budgets - I probably would go every other week or so for, you know, forever. We are fairly predictable people - really predictable. It's sad, I know. We so love to think of ourselves as totally unique individuals. We are that, too, but more so in the fingerprint category than in the 'how we react to big life change' category. Going to a therapist allows us to tap into a vast body of research dating back centuries. It allows us to find out that we are not alone and gives us quick access to ideas and suggestions that have worked for a lot of people. Now, maybe some of them will work for you and some of them will not - but better to walk up to a salad bar of choices, than forage in the forest for the occasional pine nut (no pun intended:). When it comes to therapy I usually choose to see female, Christian therapists. I like to go to someone who has a slight possibility of having been in my shoes. I like someone who immediately has a broad idea of my foundation - it kick starts the process. (As an exception, Greg and I went to a couple that did pre-marital counseling and we went to a male therapist this last time. I think for men, it is harder to go to therapy and be comfortable, so you have to really talk through and decide what works best for you and your spouse if you plan on going together.) But normally - I prefer female therapists, just a personal choice. You may feel differently. I think it varies too, based on your history and what you want to talk about. Another thing to keep in mind - you won't click with every therapist. The first therapist I ever went to was a horrible match, and she may not have been very good at her job...everyone isn't a valedictorian. I have went to a couple others since then that are surely fantastic therapists for other people, but we just didn't click. The good thing about 'playing the field' when it comes to therapy is that you don't have to break up with them directly - you just don't schedule another appointment. Easy peasy - on to the next option. So, I say this to encourage you - if ever you decide to go talk with someone, don't feel like you have to stick with someone if it doesn't feel right, but don't quit after the first mis-fire either, try someone else. Once you do find someone, I won't lie, it is kind of odd at first. You are walking into a stranger's office and sharing things that you are hardly comfortable thinking about, much less talking about. But they have been in that position thousands of times - they are good at helping make you feel at ease and walking you through the process. It isn't like TV - they don't just sit there and wait for you to decide to talk. They have questions and draw you out. Only the first visit is a little awkward and then you have established a base to work from. It gets easier. So, I'm writing about this tonight because as I made my appointment I was struck by the feelings I had going in to fill out the pre-admission paperwork yesterday - insurance and things like that. Parking in their parking lot and walking in felt different then if I had been across the street going to my regular doctor. I felt a little self conscious - and I LIKE therapy. I can imagine that for anyone who had never been it must be so difficult to walk through those doors. Then I started thinking of people who could really benefit from it, that don't because of what people may think. So I wanted to write and say - I go to therapy and I'm not ashamed. Now, in writing this I fully acknowledge that I may not be the poster child of 'normal' that one wants to relate too. Maybe some of you are thinking, "News Flash: We could TELL. If you aren't in therapy - who is?!?" And to you I say, "That isn't very nice. You should go talk to someone about your judgy-ness issues." But to the rest of you I just wanted to say - If you feel like you need to go talk to someone - go do it! There is nothing wrong or weird about finding life too heavy to lift by yourself sometimes. Life is too heavy to lift sometimes. That is normal. We have erroneously made faking it normal. Faking that we can shoulder the weight of the world? No one can do that. And the final thing I will say is, I believe in my deepest being that God has been with me every time I have gone to talk with someone. Not only was going for help not a weakness of faith, it was a statement of faith. I believed that God would be in the room and would lead me to people that would heal me and draw me closer to Him. It is the same way I will feel if ever I need to seek medical care for some life altering condition - going to a medical doctor is not believing that God can't heal - it's believing that He will use the doctors to do so. This concludes our January 2013 PSA.

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My friend posted this quote to my wall on facebook this week: "Take your disbelief and toss it out the window. You don't need it." - Kay Foley Oh how that stuck with me and resonated throughout the week. There is something about defining moments in life that just make my doubt-y senses tingle uncontrollably. The idea that I could just toss them out the window was liberating. I can look back throughout my life and see example after example of when I let doubt cloud what I knew in my heart. Doubt does that, it takes what we know to be true and starts twisting it so that we begin to question. It tears us down and whispers - you may be wrong... Greg and I were married within 11 weeks of meeting. Now, some may say that is too fast, and by some I would mean all. Even Greg and I can acknowledge now that it was entirely insane. In retrospect, of course, we know we were actually crazy like a fox, but at the time - it just felt kind of crazy like crazy. I definitely wouldn't recommend anyone get married that quickly, even though I wouldn't change one bit of our history. It's just fraught with peril but there are some advantages as well. The first year of our marriage was when we worked through what most work through in their first year of dating - because we were married we couldn't let the little things drive us apart. When you are dating you can let your doubt end a relationship. When you are married you have to take that doubt and throw it out the window. You don't need it. It took me a while to realize that. I was on hyper alert that first year, taking the smallest thing and turning it into some huge thing. I was so worried we actually were crazy, that I spent a lot of time building up defenses and protecting my turf. Finally - after what I'm sure felt like an eternity to Greg, I figured out that I could trust him. I could just toss those doubts out the window because the only problems we had were those doubts. If we would just learn to trust one another then we would be ok. In fact, we would be pretty darn incredible. My relationship with God was a lot like that, too. I rushed into it too quickly - I was only seven after all. Then as I grew older, I worried I couldn't trust him so I looked to poke holes in the relationship whenever I could. I doubted - a lot. I actually armed myself with doubt. Built a nice big wall of doubt around my heart and pouted that no one came in. As you know if you have read this blog from the start - I can still wrestle with doubt when it comes to my faith, but it lessens, each day, it lessens. I mentioned reading "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown, last week. I am now reading her first book, "I thought it was just me (but it isn't)." She is a researcher on shame - a subject I find fascinating. The more I read the more I think I don't actually suffer from doubt, I suffer from shame. The fear of being perceived as naive, or stupid. I've spent my life trying really hard to look like I have it all together. I've always been told I was smart and that is an important part of my identity. I respect smart people and I want to be thought of as intelligent. The fact that a large part of the scientific community thinks religion is for fools - well, that pokes me right where I'm most tender. I may be the only nut who would be thrilled to find out she suffers from shame - but as an alternative to doubt, I love it. Shame can be overcome - especially once you label it and acknowledge its presence. As a matter of fact, just acknowledging it, diminishes its power. So I can just throw my doubt out the window - it was mislabeled and untrue. I have no need of it. As for any feelings of shame that creep up - I can deal with those. There are many incredibly intelligent people who share my faith. I am not ashamed to believe in a powerful Creator. I am not ashamed to believe in God. My life cries out that it is true. The Spirit within me sings out that He is real. I think I just threw shame out the window, too. (I highly recommend all of Brene's writing and Ted talks - she is a game changer)
Over the holiday break I had a chance to read two amazing books. The first is, "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown. Amazing work. She is a funny and personable writer who conveys hard ideas in a very accessible way. The crux of the book is a study of people who live 'whole hearted' lives. She became interested when she began to meet and interview these 'whole hearted' people, while researching shame, and more particularly, shame-resilience. Shame resilience is the idea that we all experience shame, but some learn to work through it with more adeptness than others and grow from it rather than letting it lessen them. I love that. The second is "Proof of Heaven" by Eban Alexander, M.D. Amazing story. He is a neurosurgeon who developed a very rare form of e.coli bacterial meningitis in his brain and was in a coma for 7 days. During his coma he firmly believes he went to heaven. One of the reasons this fascinated him is that, as a neurosurgeon, he had often heard of near death experiences, but had written them off as the last throes of the brain creating fantastical dreams and images. He most likely would have thought the same of his experience, except the part of the brain that would be responsible for that was completely non-functioning during his coma. I love that. Both books came at a good time for me. "Daring Greatly" really encourages you to be vulnerable and to live life fully. I had started it about a week before I got the call in Georgia that dad was going to the hospital. Dealing with his passing has left me extremely vulnerable and sensitive. Instead of running from that, I've tried really hard to live with little defenses. To just experience what I felt and deal with it. I've had to work to let go of worrying about what anyone else thought of me. It's been tough. It's been really tough, but this journey belongs to me and I can walk through it. I have an amazing God who has given me a incredible support system. My husband is just my lifeline in all things, but he has really been everything I've needed during this time. I am so so thankful to have him in my life. I have lots of family who love and care for me. We all have our own journey and none of us truly knows what path the others are taking, but we love each other and we have shown great respect, I believe. That's all you can ask for, isn't it? Love and great respect for each other's path? "Proof of Heaven" was just a great read after losing my dad. I don't know about you, but it is sometimes when I need my faith to be it's very strongest that all my weak places show up. It is in the dark of night when I cry out for God to take all of my doubt and I am met by the darkness of night. It's so crushing. But it is in those times, when my heart finally does land in the right place and I can see God, it is those times he shows up in such brilliant color. This book gave me a glimpse of heaven that I can really connect with. It made me feel so joyful for my dad. So hopeful. I feel like I live in two worlds - there is the one world, this world that I love so much it hurts. This world that is filled with my children and my husband. This world that has each of you in it - I just love people. I love the possibility and potential we all hold. I know that there is indescribable evil among us. I know there are problems that we must fix, but truly the world is beautiful. Our potential to love one another and the millions of kindnesses that are done every day - it's beautiful. Even just sitting here writing - the people all around me, connecting with one another, living, striving - beautiful. And then there is the spiritual reality that I claim, the fact that this world with all it's beauty is over in the blink of an eye and then we are a part of the perfected reality of God. Something so incredibly amazing that I don't believe we are even closely capable of comprehending. I am a dual citizen - residing currently on earth. But I have many people who have gone before me. I both envy them and I am thankful to be here. While I am here, I vow to dare greatly, as often as I am able. Brene starts her book with this quote: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly...." Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910
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