Happiness Hack: Breaking Up with the “Moment Fairy”

A few months ago, I pulled my children out of school early for a surprise visit to see their cousins. Like other families, the pandemic has limited our traveling, so I was super excited about this opportunity. I spent all morning envisioning the super-awesome-amazing joy and gratitude I was certain my offspring would show.

Alas, sigh, you probably know what’s coming.

Off I went, basically skipping to pick up child number one. “Hey! Surprise! We are going to visit your cousins!” Strangely, child one did not jump for joy. Instead, child one widened her eyes, looked worried, and then asked a million questions.

No matter. Maybe she wasn’t into it, but my hope would not be crushed. Pick up child two. “Hey buddy! Are you so excited to go see your cousins?!” “Yeah Mom…but, I’m gonna’ miss football at second recess.” Gracious. Why weren’t these children getting on my joy train?! Come on! It’s fun on the joy train!

We had almost reached the highway (a full five-minute drive away) when they collectively dealt the final blow. Despite having eaten lunch at school, they both sensed the impending road trip, “Moooommmmm! We’re huuuuunnnnngggggry!”

So there I sat, completely deflated and honestly a little ticked, waiting in the fast-food line when the husband texts, “How’d it go?” My response: “The moment fairy did NOT deliver.” Response: “Lol. She never does.”

You see, what my husband knows is that I have a long, complicated relationship with the moment fairy. Of course the moment fairy isn’t real, but long ago we had to name her. We needed a way to call out my tendency to have unrealistic expectations around “special” moments. Moments with my children, moments with my husband, especially moments around holidays. Yes, the moment fairy is quite the temptress, and she has let me down time and again.

So, as Christmas approaches, I wanted to give us all the opportunity to break up with the moment fairy. To stop trying to control everything. To stop worshiping the ideal. To finally help us love through and to whatever does come rather than what we think “should” be.

Tips for Breaking Up with the Moment Fairy

Ask Yourself, “What’s the Goal Here?”: I know this may sound overly simple, but it’s effective. The moment fairy gains leverage when we’re so excited about or consumed by our experience of an anticipated moment that we don’t stop to really think about some of the realistic details or needs. If we can pause, even briefly, and ask ourselves what the goal of the experience is, we are more likely to remember that love comes first, and moments are a by-product. We can then take ourselves and our satisfaction out of the driver’s seat, allowing us to better love and serve others.

Attend to Basic Needs: This one is especially true with children. My oldest is nine. I’ve been a parent long enough to know better than to go anywhere other than down the street without snacks. I also know that while children can get excited, they can also get super overwhelmed or worried by anything that is out of routine. Because they’re kids. That day, I failed to remember that because I was so focused on creating a magical moment. It probably would have been just as great to give them a heads up the night before and pack some sandwiches the next day. If we keep basic needs for food, safety, and sleep in mind, the beautiful moments are more likely to arrive with our littles.

Identify Your Weak Spots: The moment fairy targets all of us in different ways. She especially tends to go after us in areas of tradition, sentiment, and/or insecurity. For me, she usually shows up on Christmas morning, the first and last day of school, and when I’m waking my kids up in the morning. If we can see her coming and say, “Not today moment fairy, I’m going to be loving and open to whatever God brings” she usually backs off. When we intentionally fight off worshiping the ideal, we are much more available to recognize the beauty that remains.

Expose the Lie: This is the heart of it. The moment fairy gets her power from tricking you into thinking that whatever you can contrive is better than what may come. On this same day I tried to make sure my kids had a perfect magical moment, I later listened to them giggle in the car with one another and greet their cousins with hugs, laughs, and more “moments” than I could count. These things would have come whether I tried so hard or not. We must remind ourselves that if we take care of the little things and lead with love, the moments will often come to our open, welcoming hearts.

So, there you go folks. Finally, a name to give to that over-controlling, emotional-event-leading, ever-disappointing influence. The moment fairy has tempted me far too many times, and I am determined to stop her in her tracks this year. The most beautiful moments I have ever experienced with my children, my husband, or even in my own solitude, are ones I did not plan and certainly did not see coming. I’m going to give that a try.

Adios moment fairy, and good riddance.

Photo by Bethany Beck on Unsplash, used with permission

Embracing a Healthy Relationship with Sadness

“What’s wrong?”

That was the voice of my husband this week, asking me to identify something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“I don’t know. I just feel…worn? Tired? Burdened? I’m not sure. I think I’m fine, but you’re right, something is off.”

Later that night, the feeling became clearer (because that’s what feelings do by the way, they sometimes take a while to come into focus) and I realized what I was actually feeling was sadness. Sad after so many efforts to uplift myself and others. Sad from all the pivoting and positive reframing. Sad from the constant effort it takes to see the silver lining in the poo storm of 2020. Sad because there are — just so many sad things. And, it was finally seeping through.

You see, this way of managing sadness is what a lot of us do. Particularly, what a lot of women do. We feel responsible for the feelings and experiences of people, especially our people. We want them to be comfortable. We want them to be happy. We want the pain in the world to somehow be mitigated by the cushion of our counsel, caring, or casseroles. We want to be their buoy in the storm, remaining afloat with gratitude and positivity. But, we can only be that buoy for so long before we start sinking under the weight of our own need. The need for sadness.

I know that may sound strange, to have a need for sadness, but that’s exactly what it is. There is no way to exist in this life without encountering sadness, and after enough of it, our mind demands that we deal with it. It doesn’t like having stuff in there it has to keep hiding. And so, for the health of our minds, our emotions, our whole person, we have to be willing to open up the door for sadness when it knocks, and let it sit down a while.

So, how do we do this? How do we welcome sadness in a healthy way, believing that it will be helpful rather than fear its takeover? Here’s some ideas that can help…

5 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Sadness

Confront Stereotypes About Weakness: I know, I know, “crying isn’t weakness.” But, do we really believe this? It’s a fair question to ask. Many of us are entirely comfortable with other people being weepy, but us? We try to hold it together until we simply can’t any longer. It’s worth asking ourselves if we have a little bit of that old stigma still holding us back from experiencing relief from sadness sooner rather than later.

Allow Sadness to Set the Limits: This one may be new. In some instances, it may do the trick to just shed a tear or two. But, in others, those few tears may need to be many but we shut them down. As strange as it sounds, there is something to allowing a moment of grief to be what it needs to be rather than us putting a cap on how long or intense is “acceptable.”

Embrace Sadness as a Rhythm, not a Cure: For people who really try to avoid feeling sad or crying, you are not going to like this one. Life is just sad sometimes. Opening yourself up to sadness once does not cure it once and for all. Sadness is more of a rhythm, part of the natural ebb and flow of life. On any given day, a little (or a lot) of sadness may fall. Allow it to flow in, and then out, just like any other temporary emotion.*

(*Sadness that remains consistent for more than two weeks may be a sign of a more serious concern. Contact your healthcare provider for a consultation if this is the case.)

Let Safe Others Join You: Ah, this is my favorite. As we’ve discussed before, it’s not always safe, practical, or appropriate to just fall apart anywhere sadness may hit you. However, when you are in a safe space, with safe people, sharing sadness can be a true gift. As an example, my kids get to see Mom and Dad shed tears now and again. It’s as simple as tearing up over a movie or as raw as losing a loved one. Showing kids that sadness is normal, and that you do recover, is important. Sadness can feel very vulnerable. So, if you have safe people to share that space with you, it can be very powerful. For a genius description on how to effectively be with people in sadness, see Brene Brown’s clip on empathy here.

Well, there you have it folks. The lady who is usually trying to bring you up is telling you to go ahead and be down. Sadness set aside will always find it’s way to us, so we might as well find a way to coexist. Hello sadness, you are welcome here too.

Extra Resource: Pixar’s “Inside Out” is one of the most important films on emotional health ever made. And, it’s smart, and beautiful, and funny. May this scene where Sadness, not Joy, saves the day be a blessing. (Link below, all rights and credits belong to Pixar.)

Inside Out: The Scene Where Sadness Comforts Bing Bong (click here)

Photo by Rich Soul on Unsplash, used with permission

The Science of Practicing Gratitude

Writing over at The Glorious Table today on the intersection of gratitude, science, and Jesus. Read on below for a preview or go to the full post at The Glorious Table here.

During college, I changed my major seven times. I floated all over the place, from health sciences to education to human development. I didn’t recognize the trend then, but I never strayed from beneath the “helping humans” umbrella. Somewhere, deep in my design, I guess I’m wired to help people.

As you might imagine, every one of these programs required psychology classes. Then, when I landed in a graduate program for counseling, I took a lot more. The history, the theories, the practice. I learned all about the folks who pioneered unique (and sometimes odd) ways of understanding human behavior. Eventually, I came to model my practice after a few of those pioneers who made sense of people in a way that made sense to me. And while I won’t list them all, near the top of those scholars is Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology.

Dr. Seligman, bless his science-and-people-loving heart, is a man who changed the landscape of psychology in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Previously, almost the entire focus of psychology had been on the unwell. Diagnostic tests focused on what was wrong. Theories and treatments were created by studying those who were suffering, rather than those who were thriving. It was a disease model rather than a wellness model, and Seligman saw this is a problem. That’s when he started asking a different question: What is going right with people?

His theory was that while a portion of the population suffers from mental illness, there is another (larger) portion of the population who does not. Seligman was curious about them. He wondered what made them tick. He wanted to know what positive practices and attributes helped them flourish. He figured that understanding people who were well and who stayed well could help those who were suffering.

Fast-forward to the current day, and Dr. Seligman’s work has caused significant changes in how we approach mental health. He identified a number of practices and qualities of mentally well people and how those can be used to help the unwell. For example, he discovered that people who flourish tend to have more positive emotions and more optimism. Feels like a “Duh,” right? It turns out there is science behind this: brain science. Positive emotions and optimism are not simply a matter of “looking at the bright side.” Rather, they are a result of the pathways our brains take as we interpret the world around us.

To read full post go to The Glorious Table here.

A Tribute to Lucille Bridges, aka “Ruby Bridges’ Mom”

Two nights ago, I opened my eyes to the peaceful face of my nine-year-old son. It was the early hours of his birthday and, being the old-soul that he is, he asked to sleep in my bed so we could “be together when he was born.” He’s a special kid that way. Tender. Bright. Easily moved to tears by big problems and others’ pain. I just watched him for a while and thought about his future and how it excites me. But also, how it terrifies me. It was a little much to consider so I rolled away and picked up my phone.

Squinting against the glow of the screen, I saw “Lucille Bridges” trending on Twitter. Lucille Bridges? Huh. I know the name Ruby Bridges. She’s the little girl who broke the segregation barrier in New Orleans. Lucille Bridges. Lucille Bridges. I clicked on the screen. Ah, yes. Lucille Bridges. She was “Ruby Bridges’ Mom”, and she had passed away at the age of 86.

Ruby Bridges, six-years-old, escorted from William Frantz Elementary School by U.S. Deputy Marshals, New Orleans, November 1960 (AP Photo/File)

There in the dark on my son’s birthday, I read Lucille’s story for the first time. Of course, the picture of her daughter on the schoolhouse steps is iconic. And, the Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With” has recently flooded media feeds with Kamala Harris added walking beside her. But, in spite of all these images, I had never considered Lucille. The Mom who, on the night before her daughter would break school segregation in front of the whole nation, may have also watched her child sleep and considered her future. It broke me.

Tears at the ready, it was one of those moments where my own privilege and perspective hit like a one-two punch. At six-years-old, Ruby likely did not fully understand the gravity of what she was walking into, but Lucille did. That morning as her child ate breakfast, as she put a bow in her hair, and as they climbed in the car with armed federal marshals, Lucille knew the painful truth Ruby was about to face. When they arrived, the crowd hurled eggs, tomatoes, and verbal racial filth. And then, in the middle of that vicious environment, Lucille had to let Ruby go.

It was at this point that I soberly set my phone aside and reflected on something I know, but have to learn over and over again through precious souls like Lucille and Ruby. Our children are not our own. They never were. They are on loan. As influential as our role is in their lives, in the end, they each have their own purpose. At some point, they will all encounter the jagged edges of this world. And, for some, it will be sooner rather than later because of the broken, systemically unjust, messed-up-ness of it all. To that end we cannot, maybe even should not, attempt to protect them forever.

As we were to our parents, so our children are to us. Part of the ongoing story. Part of the unfurling of God’s bigger plan. Part of the work that has to get done. Some of our children will live quiet lives, simple stories, hopefully serving and loving the small circle of people around them. But others? Others are Rubys. Rubys who will need Lucilles. No matter the child or the story, all motherhood requires great bravery. May God grant each of us what we need for the children we’ve been given — and the paths they will follow.

Thank you, Lucille Bridges.

Thank you, “Ruby Bridges’ Mom.”

May we all live as bravely in the title of our children’s names as you did.

How to Reclaim the 2020 Holidays If Things are Different

I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears over this post. At some point in March, I remember making an off-handed joke about what we should do if COVID was still around during Christmas. That feels so short-sighted now, but we didn’t know. We didn’t know how long this would last. We didn’t know how deeply it would impact the world. We didn’t know how hard this was going to land at our front door.

Just this week, our immediate family made a decision. No Thanksgiving. And, delay Christmas a week to try to create some quarantine space from the school days. To say this is a departure from normal is a drastic understatement. We are an all-up-in-it kind of family. As many days together as possible, as much time together as possible, get sick of one another kind of family. Except, not this year. This year I will make the turkey dance in the sink for only my children. I will not wake up on Christmas Eve in my Mother’s home. I will not repeat “get down from there” incessantly to my nephew. The good, the hard, the predictable — it will all be different. I am about to know a holiday season that looks different from any I’ve ever known

…and that’s okay.

In the coming weeks, families all over the world will seek to make the decisions that are right for their situations. For some, these decisions will be easy or remain unchanged. But for others, putting tradition and family in a bowl with health and life will be very difficult to stir. No matter what circumstances you are facing, here are some thoughts that may help that mix a little easier.

Tips for Reclaiming the 2020 Holidays If Things are Different

  • Stay Present. Making a decision about the 2020 holidays does not mean you are making a decision about all holidays forever. It can feel very threatening to do something different this time around, as though that will change things in the future. If this is plaguing you, remember, you are just making changes for now. Don’t let future worries trip up your present enjoyment.
  • Keep Perspective. This is not the first time people have switched up their holiday celebrations. As we consider both World Wars, the Great Depression, or that one Christmas I had the flu, we all have to be flexible sometimes. Situational circumstances, both big and small, sometimes change our plans. People throughout history have managed to have meaningful holidays under less than ideal conditions. We can too.
  • Look for Opportunities. That turkey dance I mentioned earlier? It goes back at least four generations. I remember my Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, and Mother doing it. Someday, it will be my tradition to continue so why not embrace a practice round now? If you want to continue a family tradition on your own, do it! And, if you want to start something new, now may be the time for that too. When things change we can either focus on what’s missing or we can look for what can be. Operating from scarcity rarely brings joy. Operating from abundance does.
  • Grieve. As upbeat as these tips may sound, I do want to acknowledge the losses of this year. For some, we have quite literally lost people to COVID or other illnesses. This may be our first holiday without a certain grandparent, parent or friend. For others, the choices we make this holiday means we will miss out on moments and traditions we love. The people we love. The hugs we wanted. It’s okay to have tears of sadness and joy in the same day. I plan to have both. We can grieve and celebrate at the same time.
  • Keep the End Goal in Mind. I saved this one for last because I think it matters the most. I don’t care what you do for the holidays. Truly. See each other, or don’t. But, keep the big picture in mind. No matter what you decide to do, try your best to preserve your relationships. There is almost a guarantee that people will have different opinions on what “should” be done. Whether your family gets together for 2020 is secondary to whether you make it through 2020 still wanting to see each other in 2021. Be kind, be understanding. Try your level best to make it through with your relationships intact. This year has had enough loss already.

Okay folks, here’s to the 2020 holiday season, whatever in the world that means. I pray that it is full of beautiful memories, even if they are different than what you’ve seen before. I pray that you are overwhelmed by the beauty that can come from the unexpected. And, I pray that your hearts, eyes, and hands are open to possibility. May the end of 2020 somehow be the gift we never saw coming.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash, used with permission

Are You Okay with Getting Messy?

Writing over at The Glorious Table today! Click here to link to the full article or begin the preview below…

I’m working on reading through the Bible. Front to back, slowly but surely. To be certain, going through it this way has been different, but, this approach also means I am getting to experience God’s Word in ways I never have before.

One of my favorite parts of reading the books “in order” is that I get to see certain things develop chronologically. As an example, I spent the last couple of months getting through Exodus, where we witness the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a physical space God had his people build so they could worship Him in the desert after they escaped Egypt. They called all the people to gather supplies.  Gifted artisans were asked to create the space where the people would commune with God, offer sacrifices, practice atonement, and keep the Ark of the Covenant. I have to confess, reading through the details of its construction was fascinating, if a little exhausting! The descriptions are so elaborate.

Are You Okay with Getting Messy?

Here’s a list of some of the materials needed: gold (so much gold), silver, bronze, blue, purple and scarlet thread, fine linen, goats hair, red ram skins, badger skins, acacia wood (lots of acacia wood), and onyx. And that was just the exterior. For the inside of the tabernacle they also made the ark, a table, lampstand, a couple altars, washing basin, and some seriously elaborate “priestly garments.”  These items now added precious stones like emerald, amethyst ,and topaz, and again, so much gold. It sounds gorgeous, both physically and spiritually. I cannot imagine what that gleaming space full of precious metals, incredible woodwork, and people covered in jewels must have looked like. Apparently, it fit the bill, because the final chapter of Exodus ends with the heading, “The Glory of the Lord”. God’s presence took his place. They had accomplished what he had asked of them.

So, there I was, finished with Exodus, enjoying the pretty scene and God’s presence ― and then Leviticus started. Leviticus 1, the header reads, “The Burnt Offering”. This is where we start to see Moses, Aaron, and the priests start using the tabernacle by offering sacrifices for the sins of the people on the altar. The pace I was reading was about a chapter a day. Around day four, I paused and wrote a little something in my journal. Why? Because what I was reading was just so blatantly in contrast to what I had witnessed in Exodus previously. In spite of all the finery, it quickly got messy. Bloody. Animal pieces and parts, and fire everywhere. This is what I wrote:

“All this work that went into the tabernacle, and now we are watching it be used to do ministry, absolve sin, and worship. I love this picture of the church! Get dirty; use it!”

For the very first time, I felt like I got a modern word for the modern church from the old pattern of sacrifice, slaughter, and restitution. Typically, I tend to focus on the messiness of  sacrifices and think about my gratitude for being on “this side” of the Old Testament, grateful for Jesus’ stand-in as the eternal and forever sacrifice over my life. But this? It felt like it wasn’t about that this time. This was a message for us. The body. The people who build the buildings, decorate the entryways, paint the children’s wings and shiplap the sanctuaries. Are we just making the church pretty, or are we using it? We gotta ask if we are okay with getting messy, because that is the model we’ve been given.

To read full post follow link to The Glorious Table here.

Parenting Hack: Creating Better After-School Connection with Your Child

“Hi honey! How was your day?!” This is how I start each day after school if I’m not careful. Of course, it’s a perfectly fine way to greet someone. The sentiment is healthy. We want to know how they are and what they’ve experienced in our absence. We are being loving. We are being invested. And, we are possibly being totally overwhelming without intending to. So, what are we to do when we’ve been missing our kid and they are finally in our care again? Here’s some ideas that are helpful and match up with the science of your kid’s after-school body and brain.

Tips for Better After-School Connection with Your Child

Anne Rulo Parenting Hack: How to Have Better After-School Connection with Your Child

Offer Statements, Not Questions: Questions require a response. Statements do not. The adrenal letdown that happens once a child is out of school and back in your care can leave your kid unable to engage in the way they normally would. So, it can benefit them when we only offer input, rather than asking for something back. Welcoming statements like, “I love you buddy.” “I missed you today.” “I’m so glad to be together again” can be helpful in the transition. These types of statements offer affection and comfort without requiring a response from your depleted kiddo.

Let Them Lead: After a greeting, giving the lead over to your child is critical. When I discipline myself enough to remain quiet until they speak, we typically connect better. Sometimes they fall asleep, which is a huge indicator that talking was not in their ability. Sometimes they remain silent for most of the ride and then start talking near the end. And, sometimes they launch right in with information. It’s different each day because they’ve had different experiences each day. Letting them take the lead with their own self-care and disclosure is both loving and encourages personal leadership.

Provide Creature Comforts: Whether your kid is five or fifteen, after a long day creature comforts are super helpful. Think all the senses. Snack on hand, lovey in their seat, comfy temperature in the car, soothing music on the radio. It is hard for our bodies to relax enough to communicate when we are butting up against physical discomfort. This is not about being overly accomodating. Rather, this is about teaching them how to self-soothe even as they grow up. As adults, we know how to make ourselves a cup of tea or choose the right tunes. We have to teach them what it looks like to create comfortable experiences so they can recover and then reengage.

Empathize: Sometimes we connect more effectively with our children when we simply stop and say, “What would I need in this situation?” When adults have been in a high energy, performance situation for many hours, we often need a moment to collect ourselves before we can engage in a discussion about the day. It doesn’t matter if we hear about our child’s day at 3:15, 5:15, or 8:15, but that time might make all the difference in how much/how well our kids can communicate. Sometimes they just need lower energy/lower stakes situations (i.e. not face-to-face, before bed with the energy/lights are lower) to be able to engage.

The reality is, sometimes our kids are going to willingly share with us, and sometimes they aren’t. If we are focused on our own need to connect we are more likely to operate from our own agenda, possibly bypassing important signals from them. But, if we consider what both parties need, we will be more likely to find solutions that satisfy everyone…eventually. Remember, the measure of connection is not volume or frequency, but rather, quality. Giving our children some control over what and when they share encourages independence, self-agency, and self-care — essential skills they will need as adults. It can be hard to let them lead. But, hopefully if we do it well, when they choose to share it will be richer and more satisfying for all.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Healing Testimonies: A Word on Balance & Love

The other day I was driving along, listening to a local radio station. A woman’s voice came on, shaky but clearly elated. She was sharing a healing testimony with the radio host.

Although I don’t remember the exact words, it went something like this. “I have struggled with anxiety all my life. I never thought I could be without it. And then, I experienced a moment where I gave it all over to God. A peace came over me that I cannot explain and, since that time, I have not struggled with anxiety any longer. He healed me. I am so grateful.”

Reaction 1: I believe her. God is a God of miracles and, for some, full healing this side of heaven does occur.

Reaction 2: Lord, please don’t let anyone listening be hurt, confused, or misled when they hear this. You don’t heal everyone this side of heaven — and not because You don’t love them, or not because their faith is not strong enough. Only You know why.

This second reaction is why the therapist in me went on full alert. I believe God heals people. He heals them physically, mentally, and emotionally. He redeems and restores things that seem so far gone they could never return. He remains, and will always be, the Great Physician. I will never, ever doubt that He does miracles. And, I love that this woman experienced that.

But, I’ve seen the other people. The people who have sat before me in pain, questioning if they weren’t faithful enough for God to heal them. The people who have wondered if God’s love had eclipsed them. The people who equated healing with their goodness or God’s favor, when neither operates as exact math.

It’s simply this. We must take Scripture in its entirety. If we don’t, when things don’t “go our way” we can get duped into believing things that make us feel unloved, forgotten, or faithless. That’s the worst.

As examples, these words are in the Bible: “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 30:17, NIV

And, these are too: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4, NIV

But, so are these: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” John 9:1-3, NIV

And, even Paul shared this: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NIV

It is so important to be loving and balanced when we offer, or hear, a testimony of someone’s healing. If we experience healing, we must keep in mind not to align God’s kindness with our efforts. And, if we find ourselves continuing to seek healing, we must protect ourselves from the false idea that God’s love has abandoned us.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways  and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV

Sometimes, God heals people from their earthly pain. And, sometimes He doesn’t. I cannot answer why. But, what I do know is that we can love better by giving as much value to the healing story as we do to the other. Both have purpose. Both involve love. And, most certainly, both include God’s face so close to His child’s suffering that His breath is upon us. No matter what you may have experienced with healing, I hope you have known His love. And, may we honor how that love plays out in each one of our lives.

“Fill in the Gaps, Lord” – The Tiny Prayer that Freed My Parenting

In season nine of the hit show Friends, perfectly mismatched couple Monica and Chandler find themselves at a crossroads. They’ve not been able to conceive a child on their own, so they decide to pursue adoption. At this point, Chandler delivers the following punchline that is irreverent, amusing, and wholly and beautifully true.

“I want to find a baby that needs a home and I want to raise it with you. And I want to mess it up in our own specific way.”

I love that line. In its Hollywood-ness, it echoes a prayer I started praying over our children from their earliest days. They are words I’ve said countless times. “Fill in the gaps, Lord. Fill in the gaps.” Simple and powerful, I pray it because I know we are “messing it up in our own specific way.” Leaving gaps only God can see. Leaving gaps only He can fill.

Of course, we don’t aim to leave gaps in our children’s upbringing. But, as parents, we are going to make mistakes. We lose our tempers and respond occasionally in ways we know are less than stellar. These mistakes are an obvious place to beg God’s mercy. But, I want to take the awareness of our limitations one step further today. Dear readers, it is not only our mistakes. Even the good we give our children will leave behind gaps in what they need. Yes. Even the good we give our kids is insufficient. How about that for raising your parenting anxiety?! Hang in there, it’s gonna’ be okay. Here we go.

You see, unlike God, we are limited to the pace and development of time. We are not able to provide everything our children need because we cannot see their futures. We do not know what they will face or what skills they may need. We are unable to foresee the “good works which God prepared in advance” for them to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). We are raising these children not knowing what God has for them as adults. This leaves us able to only do the best we can, and then ask Him to fill in the gaps of anything else they may need for His plan.

As an example, I came from a very kind, low-confrontation home. I knew happiness and little arguing. It was wonderful and gave me a safe, solid foundation…except. In all the kindness, I was left ill-equipped for handling or resolving confrontation. Enter my husband, whose parents encouraged debate, discourse and disagreement in love. He has taught me what it means to stay present in the tension and work toward resolution. My loving, low-conflict parents didn’t know I would need that one day. They did what they thought was best and God filled in the gap later to help me in my work as a therapist, marriage speaker and coach’s wife. He provided what I needed when I needed it.

No matter how we are raising our children, we simply cannot be “Renaissance parents.” Instead, we can only prioritize what we think is best for them. Those choices may, or may not be, exactly what they need for their future selves, future relationships, or future professions. And, that’s okay! In our limitations, we must trust God will send people, experiences, His own teaching and grace to supplement what our children need. It is not a burden to be unable to do and be everything they need. It is a gift. Even more importantly, we must not wish to be all things to our children, for then they will not see or understand a need for reliance on God. For this, we are devastatingly poor substitutes.

So, embrace your insufficiencies my friends. Whether it be from the mistakes or from the good, go right ahead and set yourself from free from trying to get it all exactly right because you never fully can. It wasn’t designed that way. Just do your best and if you feel there is a way you may have left your child wanting, it is a beautiful act of faith to simply pray that God would fill that space. In His time, in His way, and in His love. Remember, in our weakness “His grace is sufficient” and “His power is made perfect” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). May we all love and parent as best we can…

and “Lord, fill in the gaps.”

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

When People Around You are Hurting – Coping with Others Pain in 2020

Last week we talked about tips for managing our own ongoing mental load from COVID-19. This week we are going to address a different part of the experience — ways we can cope with continually witnessing the pain, loss or challenge of others.

To frame this, I will share that I recently had an odd experience. On Monday, just before bed, I received several messages in a row about the impact of COVID on people and a community I love. It was hard, and sad, to hear about even closer impact from this virus. Several hours later I woke up, teetering on the edge of a panic attack. I recognized it because I have felt that way exactly one other time in my life, when my infant daughter was gravely ill. That comparison alone was enough to encourage me share this information with you.

For reference, I am not typically an anxious person. I offer that for two reasons: 1) Don’t discount the impact of repeated exposure to loss, trauma and/or pain just because you happen to be a chill person. Everyone has a limit. And, 2) if you are someone who does struggle with anxiety, please know that this year you are dealing with more than usual. Please don’t be hard on yourself if you are having more difficulty. You’re not living in the same world you were.

There is a lot of pain around us, both on a global scale and in our own back yards. Even if everything in your immediate experience is going fairly well, many of us who are empaths can feel overwhelmed by the pain of others. Feeling overwhelmed, or even secondary trauma (typically associated with healthcare professionals) is not out of the realm of possibility in the weirdness that is 2020. If you are having difficulty staying centered in this particularly painful year, here are some tips for managing the pain of others’ experiences.

Ground Yourself: Part of why we have difficulty witnessing other people’s pain is, at our core, it feels threatening to us. Even if we don’t recognize it explicitly, our brains are considering, “What if this happens to me?” If you begin to feel overwhelmed by another’s story or pain, sensory and situational grounding can be really helpful. Saying things like, “I am in a safe place” “I know how to get help if I need it” and keying into your five senses can reorient you to your current, safe experience.

Recognize & Set Your Limits: If you are someone who is particularly sensitive to others’ pain, you will need to limit what you take in. I cannot safely read, watch or witness what lots of other people can. I evaluate carefully what I have coming up or what time of day it is (i.e. not before bedtime) if I am going to do or see something that is harsh. Obviously, we cannot avoid knowing or hearing about other’s pain (nor should we, see below) but there’s no medal for taking on every article, news report, or friend’s need. You are not a limitless vessel of giving, so don’t try to be.

Reframe Your Response/Responsibility: I actually wrote about this one in last week’s Instagram post. As people of faith, we must remember that we do not bear witness to pain alone. Rather than shouldering the experience on our own, we share it with Jesus. It is our chance to share in His heart for His people — and remember that we are not in charge of fixing it alone. It’s way less intense when we encounter pain with support, rather than on our own. “A burden shared is a burden halved.” ~ T.A. Webb

Ride the Fear Wave: In last week’s post, I offered “ride the grief wave” as a way to manage your own losses. This concept is similar, but associated with the fear that can come from the many threats and destruction we are watching others encounter time and again. Whether it’s just a little wave of anxiety or a full-fledged panic attack, it’s going to feel awful. And, that recognition is probably the most important place to start. “This feels awful — and, I won’t always feel this way.” Fear and panic attacks typically resolve faster when you don’t fight them. Rather, tune into your breath, close your eyes, and ride the thing out. Exactly as I had to do in the middle of the night this week.

My dear readers, this time we are living through is so unique. Unlike the usual pattern of life where individuals have hard seasons, we are encountering one collectively. That requires us to not only manage our own pain, but also possibly cope with our ongoing witness to one another’s difficulties. Be kind to yourselves, and forthright about how hard this is. God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), so I imagine He is hugging every one of us now. Thank goodness. We are able to love each other better when we aren’t trying to do it alone.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash, used with permission