Encountering Opposition to Transformation in Christ

This month’s article from The Glorious Table starts with me wearing a Rainbow Brite Costume. Preview below or link here for the full post.

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Encountering Opposition to Transformation in Christ

When I was a child, my mom created the most wonderful Rainbow Brite costume for me. I don’t remember much about that Halloween, but I do remember how I felt. That costume was incredible. I remember feeling special, well-dressed, and proud of what I had transformed into as I wandered up and down the street, gathering candy with my friends. I am quite certain I got lots of compliments, and I would love it if that costume was still around for my own kids to use.

Fast forward to Halloween when I was a preteen. I chose to be a Kansas University Jayhawk. Having been born in Kansas, I loved the Jayhawks. We worked hard on that costume, covering my uncle’s old football helmet in red fabric and using parts of an old Pizza Hut box to transform the facemask into a yellow beak. I loved it, but I knew it wasn’t going to be well-received by everyone.

You see, by that time, I lived in Missouri. The Missouri Tigers reigned supreme for most of my friends and their families, and I stood alone in my decision to support the Jayhawks. In contrast to the love I received with the Rainbow Brite costume, as a Jayhawk, I got razzed. Mostly good-natured razzing, of course, but it was obvious that this transformation was not as acceptable as the cute one when I was a child.

Since it’s October, I figured these stories about my two costumes might translate well into an analogy about transformations in Christ.. Whether sudden or slowly over time, a life lived in Christ is going to change us. It’s supposed to change us. But the way those changes are received can vary. Like we just did with Rainbow Brite and the Jayhawk, let’s take a look at how transformations in Christ are sometimes received well but sometimes receive pushback.

To read the full post link here.

Giving Our Kids the Gift of a Neutral Response

We had been out of school for hours when a little voice piped up from the back seat.

6y/o: “Hey Mom, you know what a boy said to me today at recess?”
Me: (bristling because I can hear she’s upset) “What’s that, honey?”
6y/o: “He said,” (voice growing louder and shakier) “Boys go to college to get more knowledge, and girls go to Jupiter to get more STUPIDER!”

I tell you what, it was a good thing I was sitting in front of her because at that exact moment I found myself caught between a couple of competing responses. And, I wasn’t sure which one was best.

On the one hand, I wanted to laugh because a) I was a little relieved and b) that ridiculous saying has been around for-ev-er and it sounded impossibly cute coming out of her mouth. On the other hand, I could definitely feel my internal feminist uprising, ready to launch into the history of patriarchy and steal the entire moment.

I settled on this: “Huh. What did you do?”
6y/o: “I frowned at him and walked away.”
Me: “What do you think he thought?”
6y/o: (confidently) “I think he knew that wasn’t okay.”

Phew. She handled it. And, more importantly, she felt good about how she handled it. And, I would never have known that if I hadn’t offered her a neutral response. I’m so grateful for this option to offer as a gift to our kids in conversation.

Anne Rulo Giving Our Kids the Gift of a Neutral Response

How & Why to Offer a Neutral Response

Neutral responses sound like they should be easy, but they often aren’t. We live in a culture where opinions dominate headlines and commentary, and neutrality and listening are sometimes labeled as weakness. And, when it comes to our kids, of course we don’t feel neutral. We have opinions on most of what they share with us. But, we have to figure out when it is helpful to share it.

Neutral responses work like this. When our kids offer us information, our job is to simply offer a neutral word (huh, yeah, really) followed by a “prompt” to keep them talking (what did you do, what do you think, what do you feel, how did that work out, etc.) Here are some reasons why the “neutral response” approach can be helpful:

  • It allows us time to gather more information.
  • It shows our child we are interested in hearing how they handled the situation.
  • It gives us time to gather/evaluate our emotions. Believe it or not, our responses are often driven by managing our own emotions rather than what’s in the best interest of the other person.
  • It lets our kids tell us what happened without being shut down or swayed by our opinion.
  • It conveys trust and confidence in their ability to think through and manage their own lives (which is a major goal of growing up).
  • It establishes a norm that helps our kids feel safe coming to us when the problems get much, much bigger than what happens on the playground.

“My teacher is mean to us.”
“Really? Tell me more about that.”

“My friends leave me out at recess. I don’t have anyone to play with.”
“Yeah? What do you doing during that time?”

“Lots of kids say cuss words at school.”
“Huh. What do you do when they do that?”

(And, for those future moments when we really hope that they come to us…)
“Hey Mom, some kid offered me drugs at a party.”
“Yeah, buddy? How did you handle that?”

Offering a neutral response doesn’t mean you don’t have an opinion. And, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to offer one at some point in an effort to help, guide, protect, or teach them. But, leading with a neutral response is often a great first step to let everyone get their bearings so you can move forward with information, compassion, a clear head, and a child who gets the regular opportunity to grow in their confidence and practice independence.

Here’s to holding our tongue long enough to let them lead.

Photo by Benjamin Manley on Unsplash

5 Strategies for Connecting with Low-Bandwidth Communicators

Last week I passed my six-year-old’s bedroom and started laughing. She had attached this message to her door.

Anne Rulo Low Bandwidth Communicators

Bless her introverted, empathic little heart. The poor thing is trying to figure out what it looks like to communicate she needs some space without offending the busy, often extroverted world around her. It’s hard to balance loving people while also needing breaks to refuel. This is the daily challenge for a low-bandwidth communicator.

There are a lot of reasons why someone may feel limited in their ability to communicate with energy and frequency. Introversion, a personality trait that craves quiet space and inner reflection, is certainly one. However, even the most extroverted person can be limited in their ability to communicate in times of stress, grief, or tragedy. And, of course, some people were simply not raised with strong, empathic communication skills. But, no matter the reason, all of us will sometimes find ourselves trying to communicate with someone who does not have a lot of words or energy to offer back. And, in those situations, here are my favorite tips for getting the most out of those precious few words or moments we get in return.

Give More Often Than Receive: This is a pretty good practice in almost any area of life but, with a low-bandwidth communicator, this can be especially helpful. It is important to remember that when people are introverted or under great strain, they are not retreating from you, they are retreating to gather their energy. Knowing this can help us not feel rejected. When you offer kindness and space you are helping them to recharge and be able to reconnect sooner.

Plan for Interaction: Can we always know when we need to talk with someone? No. But, low-bandwidth communicators are hyper-aware that their communication energy can drain quickly. Asking if they can chat in 20 minutes or “when would be a good time” can help them gather themselves for a more effective conversation than just popping in.

Send “No-Reply” Communication: This is one of my two favorites, especially for people who are under stress or grief. When we are under great strain, especially if many people are reaching out, it’s hard to get back to everyone. We can reduce the burden for folks in these circumstances by sending “no-reply” texts, e-mails, cards, etc. “I’m praying for you.” “No need to reply just wanted to say I love you.” and “Thinking of you today” is still offering support without also asking for a reply.

Ask for Specific Communication: My other favorite for low-bandwidth communicators is to ask for specifics. “Tell me two ways I can pray for you” is clearer than “How are you?” “Do you need your lawn mowed?” is more direct than “How can I help?” And, “Can you pick up the kids on Thursday?” is easier to focus on than, “Tell me your schedule for the week.” Of course, all of these options are valuable questions. But, when someone is trying hard to think through the fog of grief or a pile of details, these specifics can be helpful to get you back the information you desire.

Share Boundaries Around Your Needs: Ah, this is the one that will hopefully comfort all those saying, “But I have needs too! I want to talk with them. Be with them. Process my day!” Yep. The need to communicate matters just as much as the need to retreat and recharge. This is where we make a very clear distinction that the strategies offered here are for healthy situations where both people want to meet the other’s needs, even if they are different. The introverted man who loves his wife needs to know her needs so he can figure out how to meet her in her extroversion. The stressed-out Mom who loves her kids wants to make a plan to connect with them in a way that is satisfying to them. People may be different, but one of the best places to start helping a low-bandwidth communicator connect better with a high-bandwidth one is learning what they both need so they can each move toward the middle sometimes and serve each other in their extremes sometimes too.

May we all find ways to appreciate and meet one another in the diversity of our communication needs, skills, and ability.

How to Build an Altar

Today’s post is published over at The Glorious Table. It is the story of how I said goodbye to one stage of life by building a “mental and emotional altar.” This is a wonderful practice that can help us grieve, honor, and say goodbye when God moves us to a new stage of life. See below for a preview or link to the full post here.

Six years ago, I made a mistake. I was most of the way through my second pregnancy when things went a little haywire with my blood pressure. The doctor gave me a day or two to see if we could get things under control, but when I went back for a check-up, he walked into my room with the numbers in hand and said, “You are going to have a baby today.”

At that point, I was at a hospital almost an hour away from home. Apparently hoping for the best, I had brought nothing, packed nothing. When I said, “OK, I’ll just run home and get my things” the answer was a firm no. This sweet babe was going to arrive in the next couple of hours, and there was no time for dilly-dallying to get my cute post-labor robe.

Sensing the intensity of the situation, I called my husband, my mother, and drove as quickly as I could from the clinic to the adjoining hospital parking lot. I heaved my very pregnant self out of the car, hustled to labor and delivery, and was settled in my room lickety-split. As directed, my beautiful daughter arrived later that same day. Perfect. Healthy.

But a sadness I wasn’t expecting hit me in the coming days.

How to Build an Altar

This wasn’t postpartum sadness (although I’ve done that dance, too). This was something altogether different. This was regret. Regret that I hadn’t paused. Regret that I hadn’t taken a moment with her when it was “just us” to say, “Here we go, baby girl, I’ve loved our time together.” Regret that I had hustled through that time that needed to be honored. It took me a long, long time to get over that hustle.

Fast forward to this summer, and I had a chance to learn from that mistake. Because this summer was the summer when we finally sold our crib in the middle of a hectic move. We had used that crib for both of our babies. It had seen countless firsts and sleepless nights. We had experienced so many beautiful moments, and, as mentioned, difficult postpartum days. I had an attachment to that crib, as so many parents do to their babies’ belongings, and it was about to leave my presence forever.

So, unlike six years before, this time I sensed that I should stop. In a sacred moment, with my family members packing boxes inside the house, I stood in the hot garage, put my hand on that crib, and created a mental and emotional “altar.” And—I kid you not—it made all the difference in the world.

To finish the full post link here.

Suicide Prevention Week – A Closer Look

Thank you to Missouri Partners in Prevention for the privilege of writing for you. Please see below for a preview of this blog or link to the full post here.

The beginning of September marks Suicide Prevention Week, giving us a focused opportunity to learn and think compassionately about suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), suicide attempts, and those we have lost. In the spirit of compassion, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some numbers and then, move in for a close-up view of “humanity behind suicide” to hopefully help us engage a little more personally, bravely, and effectively in prevention efforts.

In the way of numbers, suicide is one of the most common forms of death in the US, marking it as a major public health crisis. While it is the 10th leading cause of death overall, it is the 2nd leading cause in the 10-34 age range, and 4th in the 35-44 age range (CDC, 2019). These numbers translate to nearly 47,500 lives lost each year, making it extremely likely that you or someone you know has been impacted by suicide.

When we encounter someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can be very difficult or even intimidating to talk about. And yet, it is getting closer to the “humanity behind suicide” that can help us be a more comfortable and willing participants in prevention efforts. In my years as a therapist on a college campus, I went through suicide prevention training countless times. However, it was the students I had the privilege of helping who made the training more “human.” I’m hoping some of what I learned may help you also as we work to keep our students safe. (Details generalized or altered to protect student privacy.)

  1. The majority of students I worked with did not necessarily want to die, but they couldn’t see how to keep living. This wording may sound like semantics, but it’s not. One of the primary influences behind suicide is a sense of hopelessness that one’s situation cannot or will not change. Understanding that some people are thinking about dying because they are struggling to keep on living can help us focus our efforts on hope, seeking solutions, and encouraging the person to pause their planning. Any space we can put between the crisis they are experiencing, and the act of suicide is a space where a life can be saved.

To read about two additional insights to help us save lives, link to the full post here.

Suicide Prevention Programs, Resources, & Links

Partners in Prevention Campus Programs:

ALR (Ask, Listen, Refer)

QPR (Question, Persuade, Response)

National Resources:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Why Coach & I Cry Every Time the Season Starts

One of the very first places I ever published written work was Friday Night Wives. I am grateful to continue to write with them today. I don’t include every article I write for them here, but this one I wanted to share. See below for a preview or link here for the full article.

Anne Rulo Friday Night Wives Why Coach and I Cry Every Time the Season Starts

We’ve been living the coach’s wife life a while, twenty years in fact if you count dating and marriage. So, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when we were lying in bed a few weeks ago and I heard those familiar, quiet sniffles.

It’s always him who starts first and, it’s always over something small. The kids have come in for another hug. We’re talking about a memory from the summer. Or, there’s a silence when we would be talking. It’s at this point that I know what I’m going to find when I look over.

His eyes filled with tears—and then, of course, mine do too.

Him: “It’s going to be hard.”

Me: “I know.”

Him: “Tell me it’s going to be okay.”

Me: “It always is.”

Him: “I’m going to miss you guys.”

Me: “I know. I hope we always miss each other.”

Shoot. It’s hard to even type that, such an intimate moment that marks each football season in our marriage. But, even though there are so many coaching families who are pumped and ready for the season when it starts, there are also marriages like ours. Coaching marriages who know-that-they-know-that-they-know that this is their calling. And yet, it hurts every time you make the transition.

To finish the full post, link here.

How Fear-Based Decision Making Can Hurt Us & Our Relationships

Three years ago, we moved into a new-to-us home. It was an idyllic spot, pond in the back, on a couple of acres. In those early days, I didn’t think much about the tractors mowing the fields. For this city kid, I just figured the haybales were cute and it made our new country setting more authentic.

Do you know what was also authentic? The mice that fled that field and came to live with us. In the weeks it took us to get rid of them I almost had several panic attacks and slept on the top of my son’s bunk bed. It. Was. Awful.

Recently, we moved again. And, not onto just a couple of acres. Lots of acres. Acres, I was sure, full of mice wanting an upgrade and eyeing us up like the Taj Mahal. My fear from before was driving my thinking and it only grew as the move got closer.

So, when my friend said, “Hey! I’ve got some kittens. Their Mom is a great mouser. They’ll be ready to go about the time you move…” I said yes before she could finish her sentence.

Also:

  • I’m allergic to cats.
  • I discussed this with no one (read: my husband)
  • I have never owned a cat in my life.
  • I definitely told my (6 and 9-year-old) kids (again, leaving out my husband)

That’s why, on a warm August night with two young kittens mewing in a carrier, I realized I needed to apologize.

Me: “I didn’t even ask you if we could get cats did I?”
Hubs: “Nope.”
Me: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even realize I left you out.”

Now, in this specific instance, my husband would have said yes to the cats. He loves animals and he knew my health wasn’t in jeopardy because they would be living outside. What we’re zeroing in on is that I made an uncharacteristically big, didn’t-just-affect-me, not-particularly-well-thought-out decision impulsively because I was driven by fear. And, that type of scared, impulsive decision-making works against us and our relationships.

Anne Rulo How Fear-Based Decision Making Can Hurt Us & Our Relationships

How Fear-Based Decision Making Works Against Us

The word “fear” covers anything from worry to terror. No matter what the level of intensity, fear is often at the root of some of our poorest decision-making because our brains don’t do the best job discerning between fighting for our lives, fighting over vacation plans, or fighting over who gets to pick the show that night. It moves us from rational to irrational, thoughtful to impulsive, collaborative to self-focused. Here’s some specific ways our brain does that:

Scarcity: When we are experiencing fear, it moves us into the perception of scarcity. We get tunnel vision about the circumstances, believing we have to fight for what we need because there’s not enough of something or, a healthy way to get what we need.

Inward Focus: When we are in fear mode, we get very self-focused. I didn’t intentionally leave my husband out of the cat decision but, I’d put good money on subconsciously not asking him in case he said no. Fear has a way of making us look past the people we normally take into consideration.

Wants Become Needs: Think back to when you were young, or when your children were young. Children have little ability to tell the difference between wants and needs because they don’t have the front, rational, part of their brain developed yet. When we are afraid, it activates the part of our brain that dominated our childhood and makes it harder to think calmly through a situation.

After being married for 15 years, and seeing more than a few couples in couples counseling, I can attest that a great many communication or conflict issues arise from the fear of not getting our needs met. Whether it be in the living room, breakroom, boardroom, or bedroom, simply asking “what am I afraid of?” can help us recognize when we have slipped into fear-based thinking. This simple recognition helps us think and communicate more clearly so we can make healthier, more collaborative decisions with the important people in our lives.

Bonus content! If you want a live look at me and the hubs processing through a fear-based decision obstacle mid-pandemic click this link.

Photo by Charlie Foster on Unsplash

Life Transitions: How It Benefits Us to Look Forward AND Backward

Anne Rulo Life Transitions Looking Forward Backward

This week, we had our very last day of summer. We packed backpacks, picked the outfits, talked about the “butterflies” in my daughter’s tummy, and tucked everyone in bed. As I walked through the quiet house and sat down in our living room I had exactly one thought. “We made it. Thank you, Lord, we made it.”

While that may seem like an unusual amount of relief, it’s exactly how I felt after months of life transition. Our particular transition was a move, and it was a hard one for several reasons. First, my kids are older now. They knew what it meant to leave friends and “start over.” Also, we were apart, a lot. Packing and not being with your person during hard times just makes things, well, harder. And, there was the special adventure of looking for a home in the most brutal housing market since 1982.

As so many of us do, we buoyed the hard moments and emotions by looking forward. As scary as the unknown felt, we hitched our minds to hope and considered all the ways God would meet us there. We talked about new friends, a new school, and I mentally decorated our new home with its Christmas tree. We talked a lot about how we are together no matter where we go, and God goes with us. Looking forward gave us a lot of energy, unity, and hope. This looking forward was helpful because that’s what we are called to do sometimes.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14, NIV

Yes, we did a lot of looking forward, and I am so grateful for the way that practice supported us. But, as I sat on the chair that night, my mind did not go forward this time. It went backward.

I thought about the pain of emptying our old home. But, that produced gratitude for the incredible friends and family who moved our furniture, filled our boxes, and filled our hearts as tears spilled over in goodbyes. I thought about laying on the carpet that last night thinking, “I’ll never sleep” and miraculously waking the next day rested. I thought about the incredible people in our new community who reached out in those early days, helping us to feel welcome and loved. So many things, all the ways God sustained us. And, as hard as it was to look back on some of those moments, it was also so very helpful. Turns out, looking back was helpful because that’s also what we are called to do sometimes.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” Psalm 143:5, ESV

And, this beautiful translation:

“Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts.” Psalm 77:11-12, MSG (emphasis added)

Looking forward AND looking back. Just one example of how important it is to look at the whole counsel of God’s Word to make sure we access all of the incredible resources He offers for our wellbeing. As so many of us make the transition from summer to fall, season to season, or loss into something new, may we remember these encouragements. Life transitions are best made by looking forward AND backward. A windshield and a rearview mirror are helpful on any journey.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash, used with permission

How to Be Real with God

This week’s post about some college silliness is published on The Glorious Table. Click here for the full post or begin a preview below.

When I was in college, I had the privilege of living with a bunch of gals who are now my lifelong friends. Back then, we were just trying to figure out life in our early twenties, who we wanted to be when we grew up, and of course, occasionally dating boys. As you might imagine, in a house of five women, this last part meant we were often talking about who we were seeing and who might be “the one.”

These women loved the Lord. We were in campus ministries, attended a local church plant, and went to Bible studies together. For this reason, Scripture verses were not uncommon in our duplex, written on sticky notes and stuck in strategic places. But, for the life of me, I cannot remember any of them specifically — except one. It was the one on the back of the front door and stayed there for a really long time, “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me…” (Psalm 56:1, ?)

This is where, as an adult, I now roll my eyes and place my palm on my forehead. Good grief. Of course, we were not using this verse in its correct context. It was just a silly tongue-in-cheek reference that a bunch of college girls were using because, apparently, we thought we were pretty cute. It made me laugh then, and it still does. Those days with those girls were special. They were innocent days with so much hope for our careers, those boys (many of whom we married), and the beautiful families that have come along. I am so grateful for these relationships and the support they have been to me over the years.

Praying Under Pressure

I find it striking that the verse we used in such a silly, innocent way as college gals is actually the cry of David in an exceptionally dire situation. Supportive friendships could not be further from what David was facing as people were not only opposing him, but literally trying to kill him. While I can’t imagine that extreme, we all can learn something from how David prayed during that time. After all, despite all of David’s shortcomings, he was still referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22, NIV) Let’s see how David approached God when people had turned on him and his very life was in danger.

To finish the full post link here to The Glorious Table.

How Using Time-Labeled Coping Strategies Can Help Us Manage Daily Stressors

Two nights ago, our children came with us to my husband’s school for a meeting. Afterward, they escaped to his classroom per usual to draw on the dry erase board and occupy themselves while we wrapped up with parents, cleaned up, etc.

They had been gone less than ten minutes when the door to the hallway flung open and they all ran out, yelling over one another and pointing, “EYES! WATER! THE SCHOOL IS FLOODING!” I had no idea what they were talking about, but every one of us could hear the dull roar of rushing water that was clearly not coming from your average faucet.

Turns out, these kiddos had experienced a “moment of curiosity” and wandered into the science classroom next door with one of those pull-the-lever “eye wash” stations. Apparently, it was too tempting. And, apparently it worked.

As I stood looking at the new, indoor lake, it was one of those moments as a parent where I could feel the thin line between keeping my cool and losing it because all of the threatening emotions were looming. Things like embarrassment in front of the other parents, annoyance at the huge mess, frustration at our kiddos, inadequacy because we weren’t sure how to clean it up, and tiredness because well, it was 9:00pm.

This situation, while both minor and fixable, is a good reflection of the “mini-crises” that accompany our everyday lives. All of us have mornings that start with spills, unexpected traffic or delays that make us late, and moments with our children or spouse where the event is fairly minor but the emotional reaction threatens to run high.

For these moments, we need a stop-gap. An emotion-pausing buffer that can help us think through the actual severity of the situation and respond appropriately. Enter time-labeled coping strategies.

I’ve seen versions of this strategy called a lot of things over the years, most commonly the 5×5 rule. People use it in a few different ways and I’m not sure the number really matters. Just choose one you are likely to remember. Then, when you are in a stressful situation that is threatening to overwhelm your emotions ask, “Will this matter in five minutes? Will this matter in five months? Will this matter in five years?”

The way you answer these questions then leads you to the other important number, how long it’s worth thinking/worrying about. If it’s not going to matter in five minutes, then it’s easier to let it go in no time at all. But, if its going to matter in five months or five years, then you have thoughtfully validated it’s importance and can intentionally think about it more.

In this ridiculous, wet, late-night “mini-crisis” we could have easily moved into shame or criticism of our kiddos or short tempers with one another. Sadly, we’ve taken that road many times. But, thankfully, this time around we remembered the 5-5-5 rule and it helped us create a memory rather than a wound. Here’s to utilizing time-labeled coping strategies to pause on the thin line between peace and panic. May it help us love one another better as we navigate the many “mini-crises” of life.

Photo by Eternal Seconds on Unsplash, used with permission