An Invitation to be Beautiful

As I have traveled, I cannot help but compare all that I see to all that I know. Learning theory does state that we acquire new knowledge by tagging it to what is already familiar. One thing I have loved about Europe is its fashion formality. The driver holding my name on a sign in the Prague airport was dressed impeccably in a well-cut suit. When I stepped up to identity myself, he shook my hand and introduced himself before taking my bag. I’ve watched the women on every bus, tram and metro. I play a game of identifying who is the tourist by looking for trainers, backpacks and shorts. The women of this continent prefer skirts, dresses and heels though beautiful ballet flats are acceptable too. It must be a mark of city life to carry a large leather tote because I’ve seen little else on Parisian women. I love the effort people here put into how they present themselves to the world. It doesn’t feel a vain sort of primping but more an appreciation for beauty and fashion as art. I suppose it makes sense for a culture surrounded by architecture created with an emphasis on aesthetics. Art and beauty are absolutely infused into the culture and perhaps that is why I feel so at home here because those concepts mean so much to me.

Life is full of suffering so every chance I get, I am drawn to beauty. I desperately wish to return to my artistic roots and hope to make some progress on that when I return home. It is important to acknowledge and process pain but I do believe it is equally important to seek out and absorb the beauty, happiness and fun of life. I was just discussing this with a friend the other day who I think has put a bit too much attention on the acceptance of pain. A healthy thing in general but I am all about balance. So, the question is – how can I help my clients focus on beauty in the midst of their suffering? I first have to focus on that in my own life. This trip has been an exercise in that process: being fully present in the wonder and beauty of my surroundings while tending to the growing ache of wishing to share it all with my baby.

I connected with this song as my life mantra when it came out years ago and I find I should return to it again. I must ask God to show me how He wants me to fulfill it at this stage of my life and then, I must ask this question about each student and client – how will I help them tell a better story?

Judgment

The airport tram was packed and still she insisted on keeping her bag on the seat next to her. As more and more people squeezed in, I averted my eyes so she wouldn’t see the incredulity in my face. I silently pleaded in my head, “please don’t be American”, but I was afraid she was. Later on, I tried to convince myself that perhaps she had some kind of anxiety about people sitting next to her. What kind of counselor are you that you wouldn’t think of that? However, as she ended up on my plane sandwiched next to someone and seemingly cool as a cucumber, I had to release my mental health speculations. I also discovered, as she was close enough for me to overhear, that she was American.

Then there was the young woman, (American I discovered) who thought it was a fab idea to turn up in the Frankfurt airport with capri pants and marijuana leaf print socks – like huge leaves…there was no mistaking them. I wondered what sort of statement she was trying to make. Surely, it had to be something deeper than just, “I smoke weed”.

In Czech Republic, on my first tram ride, the driver laid on his horn every single time he was ready to move forward from a stop. Most of the time, there was another tram in front of him and so I thought perhaps he was in the habit of “encouraging” other drivers to get moving. After the fourth or fifth time he enthusiastically used the horn, I was pretty amused, and remarked on it to my travel mate. A few minutes later, she commented that perhaps it was a required action for safety reasons – notifying everyone that he was about to move. I had to give her that point and once again, my assumptions were challenged. As I rode subsequent trams however, there was only a civilized beep before every launch. I never heard the horn again, so who knows?

In line for St Vitus’ Cathedral, I was subjected to the f-bomb loaded whining of a young American girl behind me planning her drinking outings while the two young french girls in front of me, glanced back in disdain.

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As I have analyzed my surroundings, I am also keeping close watch on my reactions to said surroundings. One of the things we spoke of often in the multicultural issues class was the need to constantly attend to our own reactions. To ask ourselves what those reactions mean and where there is room for growth. This trip has confirmed that I am full of judgments. They feel less dangerous because they usually fall in favor of the culture I am visiting, rather than my own. I have had multiple moments of shame over how Americans act abroad and just how we view things in general so it is easy to excuse what is happening in my head as “progressive”. However, pitting one culture against another; choosing winners and losers is always a dangerous game – even if self-deprecating. Thus, I am pursuing a deeper conversation in my head. I make no effort to stop the flow of judgmental reactions…all must emerge if it is to be addressed. Instead, I refuse to end the discussion there. I sit with it and ask myself questions. I play devil’s advocate in my head and seek to see things from all angles, considering alternative explanations versus the one I immediately assumed. Don’t get me wrong, I still land on opinions about some approaches being healthier than others. After all, one of the things I love about travel is its ability to expose us to better ways of living that we may never have thought of otherwise. In all that however, I must avoid valuing opinions over people. I must remember that folks do that which makes sense to them at the time. These are important strategies for improving my ability to sit with others in unconditional positive regard. If I cannot go through my daily life with this skill, it will not magically appear in the counseling room. Travel has been an amazing opportunity to focus on this practice since I have little to distract me. It is my prayer that this intense season results in a kinder clinician – better able to offer a presence ever more reflective of God’s grace.

Proximity

It started in the Frankfurt airport. He was no more than 3, maybe a little less and as he excitedly stared out the airport window at the tarmac, I wondered where his parent could be. No one near him was paying him any attention. He looked back and I followed his gaze – across the expanse of chairs to the aisle-way where his mom calmly stood next to a double stroller which contained one toddler. He turned back to his study with nary a concern and I continued to watch the family until it was time for boarding. In the days since, I’ve made a point to observe European children and I have confirmed what I originally noticed: the acceptable square footage of parental proximity here is far larger than it is in the US. Children wander so much further than we would ever be comfortable with but the funny thing is, I have also observed a far better quality attachment between kids and their caregivers here (in general) than in the US. Most of the time when I see kids break away from a parent in the US, they run like fugitives on the lam. As I watched a toddler here walk ahead of her mom across the street, she walked calmly and with confidence. When mom requested her hand at the curb, she willingly gave it. I have watched a similar dynamic replayed too many times to count. Meanwhile, parenting in the US has squeezed the circle of safety to a smaller and smaller size. At the same time, the level of anxiety in our kids is heading off the charts. Kids, teens and college kids are petrified to make mistakes and to take risks. They are most often either completely detached or enmeshed. As I discussed this with my US friend who joined me in Prague, she commented that the teens she just observed in her London circle of friends and family are far more confident and independent than many she knows at home. Correlation does not equal causation so I don’t make any claim to answers. I only know that as a counselor, I am challenged to question what we are doing in my home culture that would be contributing to this alarming trend and to ask what I can learn from other cultures. Often, creative solutions are as close as opening global eyes.

Travel and Transformation

More

2014 Wrap Up

It’s time to bring this pondering process to a close.  I had two more items to address: things I focused on and things I forgot but I believe I covered those in my other posts so no point being redundant.  Now for what I always call the “so what”.  How does all this reflection inform my plans for 2015?

I generally don’t make new year resolutions but I do create plans in my head of what I would like to focus on for the year.  I have lots of ideas floating around but the top priority continues to be my health.  I am vastly improved from where I was in January of 2014.  That progress is precious to me and I need to hold on to it.  I have to vigilantly watch for the danger of falling into the same merry-go-round lifestyle that got me into trouble.  My energy level is not as great as I expected it to be after all the changes I made, so I will continue to work on that.  I am in the middle of a neuro-stimulation research study right now so I cannot make any major lifestyle changes until that is over.  The treatments have made a significant difference in my sleep and I hope that the improvement is permanent.  Once I am free to move forward, I plan to start chiropractic treatment and yoga classes.  I will wade into the essential oils craze and will meet with a personal trainer to figure out what I can safely do to build strength.

I don’t know what the future holds for me professionally.  Under normal circumstances, I would have a plan for advancement in full force by now but I currently do not have one and am only mildly concerned with that fact.  I know that God has gifted me with leadership skills but I am determined to be much more discerning about what opportunities I take.  I have been thoroughly enjoying using my gifts behind the scenes.  It’s a lot of fun :)  I believe I have grown into my own when it comes to this issue.  In the past, I waited for leadership to be foisted upon me.  I finally accept that I truly do have strength in this area and am confident I can rise to the occasion should I need to.  It’s a gift from God, honed over the years by a long line of amazing mentors.  I am blessed.  I feel secure enough to actually pursue something if I really wanted it, rather that waiting for it to come to me.  However, I am in no hurry.  I believe with every ounce of my being that leadership = sacrifice.  Leadership, as I believe God designed it, is about sacrificing oneself for the good of the cause and one’s followers.  I’m not sure if the timing is right for that just yet.  Whatever the case, I don’t feel pressured to chase anything but have an open heart to consider what may come my way, especially if I get to stay with my beloveds.  It’s not very professionally savvy but right now, staying with the ones I love matters more to me than position.

I want to take full advantage of what may be my last time teaching in Greece.  I am currently racking my brain trying to figure out how to stay longer in Europe.  I have family in England that I might go and stay with.  Whatever I do, I want to be present in every moment over there, to truly enjoy the experience to its fullest.

I will likely return to counseling near the end of this year.  By then, the relational situation I’m facing should have settled into something or another that I will need to process.  I know I will need all the help I can get to move forward with openness and faith.

Facing the IRS and Sallie Mae remain on the dreaded list.  I feel disingenuous claiming any commitment to tackling them but at the same time, I don’t have a choice.  We shall see.  I have a few projects to complete at work and then I will turn my attention to writing.  Seriously.  I’m talking, go-into-hiding-if-I-have-to, serious.

I have decisions to make about how involved I want to get with the CF community.  I believe I have something to say but I just don’t know if emotionally, I have it to give.  I am presenting at the CAPS conference in April on helping families with adolescents who have a chronic illness.  I will see how that experience goes for me.  Overall, I want to continue paying close attention to who God created me to be, learning about my history and letting all of that inform an authentic life.  When all is said and done, I want to be true to myself because in so doing, I am most effectively living out my purpose.  There are moments I miss her so deeply and simply want to discard this world but most days, I am willing to be used by Him.  Willing to look forward to what He has in store.  I have less patience for a whole lot of things which makes me surprisingly ornery sometimes and there are elements of my life filled with excruciatingly chronic longing but I am the most content on many levels I’ve ever been.  I’ll take it.

My favorite - spending time in nature.  Looking for more of this in 2015!

My favorite – spending time in nature. Looking for more of this in 2015!

What are your hopes and dreams for this year?  Share in the comment section!

2014 Game Changers

I should probably get going on this 2014 recap series so I’m done by January, right?  I find it so very interesting that my last post had one of the highest views of all the posts I’ve done since I started this blog almost three years ago.  Hmmm…guess that just goes to show that folks are craving perhaps a tad more realism?

Now on to the unexpected events that shifted my priorities:

My body launching a mutiny against me.  I was forced to bring many things to a screeching halt.  I had to intentionally let go of perfectionism at work.  This radically changed the way I viewed my colleagues and thus, how I related to them.  I experienced a richness in my work relationships when I began to define myself by intimacy versus productivity.  A whole new world opened up for me that has changed me forever.  Never have I been so profoundly impacted by people I work with and while it was incredibly difficult to leave my last beloved crew, I cannot fathom living my life without the current ones!  While recovering from surgery, I had luxurious stretches of time to reflect and examine my inner world.  I discovered so much about who I am, who I am not, what has shaped me and some of the effects of the bizarre family story I have lived.  In many ways, I found grace to accept parts of myself that I had always marginalized but I also found areas of my life which needed confronting.  I now approach life from a completely different paradigm and I’m much more satisfied with it.  I love being so very comfortable in my own skin, even as I have become more aware of my frailties.

A new Provost.  I met this man when I shadowed one of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever met.  He was working for her at the time and I spent time with him discussing his views on leadership.  He has brought a fresh perspective to our university, an understanding of our uniqueness as a satellite campus and a tremendous excitement and hope for the future.  In studying higher ed, I’ve learned that it takes, on the average, about three years to change a campus’ culture so nothing happens overnight.  His enthusiastic and optimistic presence belie the complexity of issues he faces.  As he wades through the process of building his legacy, I must honestly admit I haven’t cheered every move but I trust him and greatly respect the challenges with which he must wrestle.

Accepting leadership of women’s ministry and committing to a new church home.  I’ve been in ministry for a “million” years but I’ve never facilitated women’s ministry before.  This is stretching me but at the same time, it feels so natural.  Committing to a new fellowship has been comforting and terrifying at the same time.  I’m used to well-established and well-resourced.  This fellowship is brand new and thus, barely getting by.  I’ve hitched my heart to a wagon pulled by an untamed colt.  I’m pretty far out of my comfort zone but somehow, it’s working.  It is one more beloved group that ties me to this city I have not yet grown to love.  God specifically surrounded me with people I can’t do without in order to keep me here because He knows how much I miss my hometown.  Every time I go back, I feel like I am visiting a piece of my soul but then I return to Orlando and I settle back into this rhythm that inexplicably matches my heartbeat.  Before this year, I readily said I was not staying long.  That game has changed.

2014 Disappointments

Disappointments?!! Who writes publicly about those?  Well…if you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you know its purpose is to document life in all its glory – the good, bad and the ugly.  In revealing the scars, I offer proof that God heals.

In facing my limitations and learning to do less, I succumbed to total paralysis in a couple areas of my life that I found simply too stressful to face: our IRS fiasco and my student loans.  I made a couple of vain attempts here and there but quickly lost steam, effectively leaving them unaddressed.  Instead, I prayed regularly for God to have mercy on me because I simply could not bring myself to face them.  As we move into 2015, I have this looming sense of doom hanging over my head…

For the first time in my professional career, I completely gave up on email.  I’ve never been great with phone contact (oh, won’t my friends go on and on about that!) but I’ve always been an email ninja.  That inbox was down to “zero” on a regular basis and emails were filed in appropriate archive folders too.  Somewhere around February, I stopped trying to maintain this perfection and mentally lowered my standards to simply catching up on reading them all.  By November, I was scanning my inbox only for student names and red exclamation points.  While I still marvel at how far I have fallen, I find I am desensitized to the horror of it all.  In fact, I now take great pleasure in creating screen-shots of my phone notification numbers and sending them to my perfectionist friends. I actually made plans to attack the problem over Christmas break but that didn’t happen and I’m OK with it.

I published absolutely nothing academic.  Not even a newsletter article.  I love to write.  I have no idea what my block is.

At the same time – a few weeks ago, I was proudly reporting how well I had done this year taking things off my plate when my friend gently listed the four or five major projects that I had agreed to take on that I didn’t necessarily need to.  Wow, so my penchant for doing is not as conquered as I had thought.  Sigh.

I did not exercise my creative gifts  as I had planned.  I had hoped that by removing things from my life, I would have more time to draw, write, craft and create.  That did not happen.  I borrowed a drawing DVD from the library last fall and it is still sitting in my art room unopened and racking up fines.  I did do an impressive job of adding to my “Creative Inspiration” Pinterest board though – ha!  This is a key part of who I am and I am not sure why I am being so lazy about engaging it.  Part of the problem is that the room was not organized.  I finally got that done in December so perhaps there is hope…

Some of my growth took me in directions I did not anticipate and created dilemmas I was not prepared for.  I always say ignorance (aka denial) is bliss because it is so much easier to coast along blissfully blocking out mis-alignments in our relationships.  As my eyes were opened, I was disturbed.  That disturbance required action and I stewed for months over how I would move forward.  When I finally did, the reaction was not what I had braced myself for and now I find myself in this awkward, messy unfolding clearly orchestrated by God, but in which my heart is apathetic.  Thankfully, I have prayer warriors with whom I am honest and a grudging willingness to see what God can do but it is humbling to recognize how stubborn and cynical I can be :(

So there you have it – the bad and the ugly.  Care to share any of your disappointments?  I promise we won’t stay here long…

2014 Highlights

Wow – what a year it has been!  I’ve been pretty quiet here on the blog so I decided to do a series while I’m home this week that recaps the year and looks forward.  I’ll start with the highlights:

Moving into a rental home with plenty of space for guests and a garage for Mark.  What a difference this has made in my life!  It has done my heart good to be able to invite people over and to have folks be able to stay in our home.  Sometimes, I lament that we did not have this for much of Christina’s adolescence but I try not to allow that to steal the joy of now and I determine afresh to appreciate and utilize what God has blessed us with at this point in time.

Making the decision to cut back my doing and focus more on being so that my body could recover.  It has been a difficult adjustment and I cannot say I’ve done it as well as I would have liked but it has made a difference in my health.  I have made progress and that is what matters.

Seeing a therapist for much of the year.  She helped me process the above decision as well as the various issues that cropped up once I wasn’t too busy to notice them.  I am stronger and wiser for it.

The CAPS conference.  My boss introduced me to this and it was a great experience.  I enjoyed Atlanta and the conference workshops were so informative.  The theme was Trauma so we were completely wiped on the plane home but my understanding and skill in dealing with trauma were greatly enhanced.

Great Strides.  It means so much to me – the people who walk with us and who financially support finding a cure for CF.  Words cannot describe how healing the experience is.

Teaching in Greece.  What’s not to love?  I get to teach a class in a format unlike any of my others – more intimacy and way more experiential material to draw from.  I get to be in a gorgeous country rich with biblical history.  I get to travel with a boss I actually enjoy, who works his butt off to make sure the trip is everything it should be.  And guess what?  I get to teach it one more time next year!

The Global Leadership Summit.  This conference refills my leadership tank every year and makes me want to go out and conquer things :).  Watch this short video for a small taste of what I experienced and consider registering for it next year.

 

 

Starting a women’s ministry at my church.  We’ve completed one study together now – a study of the Psalms and how it informs our emotional health.  It was great!  It’s been such a pleasure to get to know these women and to serve them.  While I wasn’t supposed to take anything on this year, I have no regrets.  God is using me and I am humbled by that.

The SACES conference.  I am a better counselor educator for having gone.  I had the opportunity to mentor a couple of doc students and pass on the social media presence I had built for the organization to the next crew.

The relationships I’ve built here in Orlando.  I am continually amazed at how God has blessed me with great people to connect with.  I try not to take that for granted, remembering how many folks in our world today are incredibly lonely.  I am surrounded by special ones who care for me, challenge me, pray for me and are fun to be with too.  I could not ask for more!

Three Years

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Christina description

 

Home

Hard to believe that it has been two years since I moved to Orlando! One of the things I dreaded most about the move was finding a church home. It was 1993, shortly after my mother’s death – when my friend asked me to visit a new church with her. She was recovering from a divorce, pursuing a closer relationship with the Lord…searching for a church home in which to start over. Mark and I were perfectly happy at a church close to home but I agreed to visit with her for support – it’s not easy walking into a new church alone. As I looked around in this new place, I was struck by the number of men actively serving. I began to understand this rare phenomenon when the pastor spoke. He was a former football coach – his manner and message were so relatable to the average male. I thought Mark might find this more enjoyable and I invited him to return with me. Also in that first service, I learned about counseling services the church was offering. ‘Counseling’ was not present within the culture I grew up. Despite the nebulousness of the concept, something stirred inside of me and I determined to check it out. I was not handling my mother’s death well and I knew I had no one in my life who could help me in the way I needed. Perhaps this “counseling” business might be a good thing? Pastor Brian Benjamin became God’s shepherd in my life: teaching me about grief and exposing me to a new career path. Mark did end up loving the church and we made the move to settle in. He joined me in counseling and he served in the children’s ministry in which Christina blossomed and thrived.

Christina appeared in the church's first picture directory

Christina appeared in the church’s first picture directory

Pastor Brian led me as I joined the lay counseling ministry. Ten years after hearing God’s call, he validated God’s work in my life as I finally collected the degree that would allow me to enter into that call. For nineteen years, this church was the central stability of our many moves, our multiple relationship dramas, and Christina’s volatile journey through adolescence. Not a year went by that I wasn’t serving with folks who became my spiritual family – whether singing in the choir or facilitating a Grief Share group (oh the irony). When the worst happened, the Senior Pastor of this now mega-church (son of the football coach) ran the service himself. He had watched Christina grow up along with him. His wife had directed the children’s choir where Christina tried to grab the microphone during the Christmas concert :)  The pastor of the 20’s and 30’s ministry – J1TEN – came to tell stories of the lives she had brought into his fellowship. Words cannot describe how much this spiritual family was completely entangled in every aspect of my heart and soul. How on earth could I ever start over? The task seemed impossible and so for months after the move, I attended my church through its online campus. I knew I needed to be in a live fellowship but justified my decision by saying that until Mark joined me, I had no idea where we would settle and so there was no sense in getting attached to a place that might not end up being convenient to involvement.

Around the same time I took this job, my boss, David started a new church.  It all sounded nice but I had no desire to check it out for a variety of reasons.  As the months marched on, I listened with distant interest to the details of his new venture.

Mark joined me a year ago and four months later, we settled into our rental home.  I identified several churches we could check out (all similar in style to the one we left) and made plans as to how we would narrow our choices.  However, it seemed every time I had plans for us to attend, something would deter us: Mark would have to work or one of us would not be feeling well.  I honestly wasn’t all that motivated so it wasn’t too difficult for me to say each week, “forget it”.  In the meantime, my interest in David’s endeavors had grown and I decided to visit his church.  I didn’t think it sounded like my kind of place but I wanted to show my support for something he clearly cared deeply for.  I remember talking with him about our ‘church shopping’ process (or lack thereof) and realizing that I could not fathom being in a church fellowship of which Christina had not been a part.  It had already been difficult enough to move to a workplace where she was unknown.  I was no longer surrounded by folks who had known and loved her.  Every time I imagined having to do that at a church, it depressed me.  I began to understand my lack of motivation.  Visiting David’s church was awkward for me because it was so very different from what I left behind, but I enjoyed aspects of it.  I left with mixed feelings and determined that I would return occasionally ‘as an encouragement to him’ I told myself.  I certainly could not consider committing to it since it met on Saturday nights and Mark always worked then.  (Mind you, Mark had given me no such restrictions).  Well, things continued to fall apart in terms of attending somewhere with Mark and I found myself returning to Renew more often than I had intended.  By the end of Spring, as Renew became more and more comfortable, I realized I might as well settle in until Mark voiced otherwise and there was always the chance his schedule would change.

Over the summer, I began to hear God’s urging to return to ministry.  I had not served in any ongoing capacity for five years.  Though I had committed not to take on anything new for the entire year, there was a need and I felt permission to meet it.  Thus, I agreed to start a women’s ministry which kicked off a week ago.  My “welcome home” totally snuck up on me!  If you had told me this outcome two years ago, I would have called you crazy.

As David preached on Leaders this weekend, it fully dawned on me that I was home.  Part of me trembles because I don’t know for how long.  I would like it to be for another 19 years at least as I despise the leavings, but I cannot predict and I cannot live in fear.  I must jump in with both feet and see where God takes me.  He is sending me confirmation from multiple sources which has been this incredibly tender comfort.  My heart is so grateful for this place.  I think about Christina a lot when I am there.  I know she would have jumped right in to working with the children.  The core vision of the place aligns with her favorite verse:   Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8  Tears overflow when I sit in the deep longing I have for her to be with me in this new season.  I so wish she could meet these ones I am coming to love but I will have to wait for that meeting.  In the meantime, I collect the stories I will tell when I make the introductions.

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