the ocean: safe or unsafe?

What makes us feel safe? The presence of a compassionate other? Someone’s physical touch? The sense of feeling loved and nurtured? I’m not sure if safety is an emotion or a state of being. Maybe it’s both. In my work with women and children who have experienced trauma, I’ve become very aware of what it looks like when someone does NOT feel safe. Social engagement becomes nearly impossible. Survival is on the brain. Digestion slows down or stops. Pupils dilate. Breathing speeds up. All senses are on high alert, registering every sound, every smell. Creativity and problem solving go out the window. All that matters is finding a way to feel safe. In children, this usually looks like hyperactivity, lack of attention, defiance, withdrawal, or stomachaches. When I ask clients what makes them feel safe, they usually have a hard time answering. It is easier for them to identify times when they’ve felt unsafe. Everything in their life becomes filtered through the question, “Am I safe?” I think safety is more complicated than we realize. We’re not just talking about physical safety. While that is important, there are many facets to our well-being and sense of safety in this world. Emotional safety, spiritual safety, relational safety…most of us have certain situations, places, or people that make us feel unsafe or uneasy, but we may not even realize it because we’re so desensitized.
Research tells us that the number one thing that mitigates the effects of trauma in someone’s life is one positive, healthy relationship. This could be a parent, a teacher, a friend, a counselor. All it takes is one safe person. 
Even when our surroundings don’t feel safe, the presence of a friend somehow makes that uneasiness disappear. I feel much safer walking somewhere late at night when a trusted friend is by my side. There is comfort in walking into a new situation when someone is holding your hand. Going through pain and suffering is somewhat more tolerable when you are supported by the kindness and love of another.
The ocean is not safe. Seemingly less and less safe in recent years. Yet I’m drawn to it like nothing else. For me, being at the beach is the safest place I can be, because my family was always there. It was safe because of laughter, beach snacks, and “elevator” waves. It was safe because I was wholly loved and accepted: sunburn, sand, and salty hair included. It was safe because it was familiar. As one of the oldest cousins, it was my job to help the younger ones learn to feel safe jumping in the waves. Even when my little sister became taller than me, I still felt the need to hold her hand. Safety in this sense is completely subjective. I didn’t have space to feel afraid because the relationships around me promoted safety and security.
While our family has discontinued our yearly beach trip, the weeks we spent there will forever live in my heart. I am more courageous, more willing to face the waves, and understand the deep value of uninterrupted family time.
The world feels pretty unsafe these days, and it’s so important to balance the devastation in the news with things that promote well-being. What makes you feel safe, and at ease? Spend time around those people, doing those things that give you a sense of security. Your nervous system will thank you, and you’ll probably contribute to others around you feeling safe in the process. :)
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throw away the trophies

It’s been a while since I’ve published anything here. Today felt like the right time for these words to be written. It’s funny how life lessons seem to repeat themselves over time! (And no, I haven’t watched Marie Kondo, for those of you wondering ;)

I continue to be amazed at how seemingly small things can teach the biggest lessons. Maybe this is just the way my brain works, or the way God chooses to teach me, but I love it. There is just a subtle whisper in my heart that says, “Hey, pay attention. This is about something much bigger.”

A few years ago, I spent some time cleaning things out of my childhood bedroom. My family has lived in this house since I was 3, so there are a lot of things that have accumulated over time that I don’t use or need anymore. Some things were donated, and a lot thrown away. Books I don’t read anymore, old birthday cards, memories from middle and high school in the form of old CDs, photos, and notes passed in band class. I made it through my whole bookshelf and desk with relative ease, but there was one shelf that I passed over. The top of my bookshelf held all my trophies – from 11 years of swim team, a year of softball, volleyball, and one from a family talent show (yes, we are that family). When my neglect of this shelf was brought to my attention, I felt sad. I had never thought about throwing away trophies…but when I thought about it I realized they are just pieces of plastic…they don’t really mean anything. The thing I was having trouble letting go of was not the trophies themselves, but what they represented to me. The memories and friendships I made during so many summers at the pool, playing cards while we waited for our turn to swim. The skills learned and confidence gained from playing each of those sports and learning to work as a team. Learning volleyball skills from my dad, who coached our team. They represented by ability and my strength – that I know how to play those sports, that I am a good swimmer, and that I am (was… haha) physically fit. Looking at these trophies brought back this flood of memories but I also realized that keeping them wouldn’t prolong the memories – those I can hold on to forever. Proving any accomplishment with a piece of plastic is kind of dumb anyway, even though it looks pretty cool to have them all sitting up there on the shelf. The reality is, only 2 of those trophies were actual awards (I did keep those!). The others were simply a representation of my participation that year.

The more I have thought about what it felt like to throw those trophies away, the more I have realized how easy it is to place such meaning in worthless, temporary objects. We work so hard to improve our physical bodies, to make them look younger, to preserve them as long as we can. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not all bad – it is important to steward well what we have been given on this earth. But our bodies our temporary. They are a vessel for our spirit to live for 80+ years; they are not meant to last. We are spiritual beings with a temporary physical experience. When we live in this mindset, so many things I once felt were important suddenly hold less meaning and value. And other things start to mean a lot more.

The beginning of 2019 has been one of the most intentional seasons of my life so far. I’m finally feeling settled into my job (ahem…career…that still feels strange!), and learning how to balance free time, wellness, ministry, and other responsibilities. This season carries its own challenges like any other, but I can truly say I feel like I am thriving. Living with intention and purpose is not easy, but it’s a practice that feels worthwhile. We only have so many years on this earth, and when I stand before the Lord one day, I want Him to be able to say, “well done, sweet girl” – not because of a shelf full of trophies, but because of lives I have influenced, hearts I have discipled, and relationships I have nurtured. I want to live my life for things that matter eternally, not temporary rewards. I pray I never lose sight of what really matters.

winning at life

It is the beginning of a new year – which means a lot of people are setting goals, committing to resolutions, and thinking about how to make this year better than the last. Some people despise resolutions and refuse to set goals because they know by February they will have given up on most of them. No matter what camp you find yourself in, I think it is important to consider why we set goals in the first place.

When it comes to setting goals and sticking to them, some people are very disciplined and driven, and others might say they “just aren’t the ‘goal-setting’ type.” In the past few years I have become more interested in setting goals for myself and honing my ability to set goals I can actually accomplish.

However, I have recently been feeling frustrated – with my job, with my time, with my low level of energy. All of it just feels frustrating to me. There are things I want to do, but I feel I don’t have the time or energy to do them. I can visualize where I want to be, but I can’t figure out how to get there. This makes goal-setting kind of impossible, and is a great way to set myself up for failure. I have recently realized why I feel so frustrated, and it has to do with the way I was subconsciously defining success.

Most people like to win, right? We like to win when we play a sport or board game. It feels good to be the winner or the champion. Being an A student for most of my life also felt good. I wasn’t really competing against anyone but myself, but I knew that I was good at learning, and it felt good to perform well in school.

Enter problem #1: I’m not in school anymore.

I always loved math because there was usually one right answer. I knew if I was right or wrong. Period, black and white, no grey area. That is very satisfying to me. Unfortunately, most things in life do not work that way. I happened to chose a profession that is extremely grey. If I had a dollar for every time “it depends” was uttered in one of my counseling classes, I would be a millionaire. I could handle the grey areas for the most part, because I got feedback on my papers and projects that let me know if I was getting it “right” or not.

Now that I’m working full time, all I have is grey. I may have a degree and license on the wall, but does that mean I know what I’m doing? Most of the time, it very much does not (or at least it feels that way). It makes so much sense that I would feel frustrated – the only feedback I receive is from my clients, and while that is helpful and beneficial, it is still very subjective and very grey. The goal of my job is to help clients heal and take back control over their own lives. That is not something you can easily measure. So even if my clients are objectively “doing well” it is still hard for me to know – Am I doing enough? Is this the right thing for this person? How do I know if I’m really helping them?

Of course, my job is only part of my life (albeit a pretty large part), and I can find ways to feel “successful” in other things I do, right?

Problem #2: My free time looks a lot different now.

I would love to say that I have many other ways to measure “success” in my life and feel like I’m being productive, but I’m still learning how to balance full-time work with the rest of my life. This is where we revisit setting goals…

I am part of a ministry at my church for single, young professionals called Thrive. Whenever our pastor meets with our leadership team, he always asks us “What is your win as a ministry or as a leader? How do you know if you’re ‘winning?'” I’m finally starting to understand why he constantly asks us this question. It is really important to feel like you are winning. If you have no way to measure success, you won’t have much motivation to stay in the game. Football would get pretty boring if no one ever scored a touchdown. While there’s no way for me to get an “A+” in life, I need to figure out how to know if I am winning or not.

A lot of times I set goals that are somewhat lofty and not very achievable. They are honestly more like dreams for the future, not practical, intentional goals for my present season of life. Now that I work full-time, I am having to learn how to be incredibly intentional with my free time. I can easily just come home from work, eat a quick dinner, and watch Netflix until I go to bed, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. When I was in grad school, doing that was absolutely necessary sometimes. And even now, I truly do need to shut off my brain sometimes and “do nothing,” in order for me to have the capacity to do my job well the next day. However, this is the source of my frustration: I don’t really have ways to measure whether or not I am “winning” at life. 

So what I am going to do about this? First, make a list of things that make me feel alive. These things make me feel like I’ve accomplished something, or I’ve done something “right,” no question about it. It may be simple tasks like reading a book, knocking out a list of errands on a Saturday, budgeting and saving money, or deep cleaning my room. These are all things which allow me to measure my progress and help me to feel successful. Since I am such a list person, even keeping a to-do list of tasks to complete at work helps me to feel like I’m “winning.” (i.e. I vacuumed my office this morning and felt awesome about it. Seriously.)

Here’s the bottom line: I am learning that for me, it’s more important to figure out why I’m setting a goal, rather than what goals I am setting. If my intention is to feel successful, my goals will look a lot different. And in the long run, I’m much more likely to accomplish my goals because my perspective toward them is different. Feeling accomplished gives me energy and makes me feel alive – and I think we all have a need to feel this way, no matter what drives you. If you’re a highly relational person, you will feel successful if you have a lot of friendships and you get to spend quality time with those people. If you are driven by financial success, then maybe working toward promotions at work and saving money will be your priority. If you hate going to the gym, then don’t make that a goal – you won’t feel successful, you’ll feel miserable!

If you’ve never thought about goals this way, here are some steps (from the Lazy Genius) to get starting thinking about how to define your “win:”

  1. Pick your path
    (Who do you want to be? What makes you feel successful?)
  2. Find your edge
    (What needs to happen for you to “win?”)
  3. Plan to stumble
    (What is currently getting in you way? Who or what are you competing against?)
  4. Celebrate the right way
    (Each time you get it “right” – celebrate! Surround yourself with people who will cheer for you too!)

No one else can live your life for you – you are the only one who can run this thing. And I don’t know about you, but I’m running to WIN!

tenor

wholeness

Most who know me are aware that I’ve been doing the Whole30 for the month of August. Today is day 30! I wanted to write about my experience for two reasons: because I learned a lot during the process, and for others who may be interested in giving the Whole30 a try!

First of all, I am very anti-diet. Diets don’t work. Most people know this. The second important thing to know is that I LOVE FOOD. There is pretty much nothing I do not like. As a baby, my mom used to take food away from me to force me to slow down…you get the picture. That being said, I’ve always eaten fairly healthy – my parents did a great job of offering us well-balanced meals and we hardly ever had soda in the house.

I know quite a few people who have done this 30 day challenge and they have experienced a variety of amazing results – clearer skin, more energy, fewer headaches and pains, better sleep, and weight loss. The main reason I chose to do the Whole30 was because I wanted to break my sugar addiction. And that’s not an exaggeration, sugar excites the same parts of the brain that cocaine does – it truly is addictive and naturally makes us want more of it. The problem is, our bodies were never designed to process sugar, and many other “food” substances that we have readily available to us.

One thing I learned recently is that we are biologically wired so that when things taste sweet, salty or fatty, this sends a signal to our brain to say, “This food is good!” This signal protected humans as hunter/gatherers from eating things that were not safe to eat (a bitter taste). However, the fatty, salty, and sweet tastes we have now are quite a ramped-up version of what our bodies were designed to handle. Thus, the addictive nature that leaves us wanting more, and also tricks our brain into thinking we are full, when our cells are actually nutritionally starved. (Read It Starts With Food for more on this subject.)

The same way that social media gives us a false sense of connection that leads us to want more, sugar gives our bodies a false sense of satisfaction yet fuels our brain’s desire for more sugar. The truth is, we don’t need sugar at all to function, and we consume it in such excess (because it is in EVERYTHING) that it turns to fat in our bodies. I wanted to learn enough about this to change my mindset, not just change what I was eating. Because let’s be honest, that’s not gonna last – you can’t change your behavior without first changing your mind.

To me, it’s not about depriving myself or cutting out so called “bad” foods. It’s about making choices to eat things that make me healthier, to allow my body to function in the best ways it can. I’m still learning a lot, and I’ll continue to experiment with what makes me feel the best, but for now, here’s what I learned and experienced the last 30 days:

1. Planning is EVERYTHING.

In order to execute this 30 day challenge, I knew I needed to plan very thoroughly. I could not be tempted with stuff in the cabinet, so I was careful to eat up what I had before I started, and then planned out specific meals with a detailed grocery list week by week. Pinterest is a game-changer for stuff like this, and it really didn’t take long. Putting in the work to plan ahead made everything else incredibly easy. There was no guesswork, I went shopping on Sundays, and had recipes printed a ready to go for the week.

2. I can actually cook…

I know how to cook a handful of things, and I can follow pretty much any recipe if it isn’t too complicated, but I’ve never been super ambitious with cooking. However, I have cooked more in these last 30 days that in my entire life. I cooked things I’ve never made before, invested in a food processor, and learned to appreciate flavors and spices WAY more. And the kicker – I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would! Sure, sometimes I was in the kitchen for what felt like hours doing prep work for later in the week, and there were nights that I was tired from work and didn’t really feel like cooking. But I did it! Not everything turned out great, but a lot of things we had were so delicious!

3. So much energy!!

This was something I wasn’t really anticipating. Around the 7th or 8th day of this endeavor, I realized I wasn’t feeling that late afternoon slump anymore. As a matter of fact, I got home from work several days in a row feeling like I could run a marathon! Normally, around 4 or 5pm I feel like I could fall asleep standing up. I had no idea how much eating sugar (and probably other things) was affecting my energy levels. I should also add that I was getting up at 5am for prayer at church every morning during that whole week – so I should have been tired. It was like all of a sudden I was running on premium fuel and my body was thanking me for it!

4. Eating food or feelings?

My biggest take away from these 30 days is what I’ve learned about my relationship with food. A lot of people joke about “eating their feelings” if they are feeling sad, or stressed out. This is actually quite true – food is highly connected to our emotions. We often eat with other people, and we eat to celebrate – it’s a social activity, and there can be a lot of meaning behind it. Unfortunately, I had gotten into the habit of eating on the go all the time (thanks, grad school…) and it was really affecting my mood. I wasn’t ever able to enjoy eating because I was barely paying attention to it. That, plus feeling sluggish but also craving sugar was a bad combination. Because any time I felt stressed or lonely or worn out – I turned to “comfort food.” Now I don’t think that is always bad…eat what you want to eat. I have just realized for me, that doesn’t actually make me feel any better. I may still make the choice to order pizza or eat some ice cream, but I also know I could find many other things to meet that emotional need in a better way (like call a friend and eat ice cream WITH them ;)

Doing the Whole30 taught me that I am capable. I often doubt my ability to be self-controlled or disciplined, so completing 30 days with no mistakes or “cheats” makes me feel incredibly proud. That may not seem like a big accomplishment, but I worked really hard, and I feel really good. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I noticed a decrease in allergy symptoms and fewer headaches. It’s amazing that simply changing the food I eat can have such a big impact! Now if I could just work on compensating for sitting at a desk all day…

Choosing to do something like this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not suggesting that everyone should. If you’re interested in trying it, or want to know how what you eat impacts your body – my advice is to do some research! Find books to read, and do some experimenting yourself. Everyone’s body chemistry is different – there are some things that are fairly universal, but some people are just more sensitive to certain things than others. As for me, I’m now a fan of the Whole30 and I’ll probably do it again in the future! Knowing how it affects my body and what it can do as far as reducing allergies and headaches – periodically taking 30 days to “reset” is probably going to become a regular thing for me. And I plan to continue some of these habits for good, such as eating way more vegetables and way less sugar. But you better believe I’m getting a peach milkshake from Chick-fil-a this weekend :)

the redwoods

It’s been a minute since I’ve written anything here. I could come up with many reasons why, but in summary: grad school.

I am now nearing the end of what has been the most challenging, most growing, most fulfilling season, and I have a lot of emotions about it. And the way I process these things is through words. So here we go.

A couple years ago I learned some things about redwood trees that really blew my mind. They often grow in family groups called “Cathedral groups,” sometimes morphing into one much stronger tree. One particular group I read about was a group of nine trees growing together as one tree – making one of the world’s largest trees. About 1000 years ago, one tree stood in the middle of this formation. When it fell, it didn’t die. The roots and burls of the stump sprouted, and the 9 trees grew together in a circle around the tree stump and brought it back to life. 

redwood

Redwoods at Muir Woods

These trees resurrected a dead tree! I mean…that’s so cool. 

So here it is: I don’t do very well in isolation. No one does; we need each other. You won’t fall if you have people standing around you. I am a better person because of many of the people who stand in support of me. There are quite a few people in my life that represent my community – the people that give me strength, and catch me when I fall. But I’m going to focus on one group of people in particular for now. One of the greatest parts of graduate school for me has been my cohort. I love these people. We have worked our tails off for 2 years, done some serious self-exploration – sitting in discomfort and vulnerability together – and we have grown from students into counselors. And I would absolutely do it all over again if I could do it with them.

To my cohort, you wonderful, beautiful people: you are my redwoods. I would not be the counselor I am without each one of you. The relationships we share, both personal and professional, have forever shaped me. I am so thankful that we learned from day one to consult with one another and learn from one another, because I now know that I can only be my best when I surround myself with people like you. Through practice counseling sessions, group projects, peer supervision, and many, many conversations outside of classes, I have learned so much about the importance of community within a profession. I have shared so much of myself, both strengths and weakness, and by doing so, received so much love and support in return. You all mean the world to me, and I hope many of us will stay connected as we enter the professional world. This thing that we’ve experienced together – no one else gets it but us. And while I am sure many of us had vastly different experiences in our program – one thing that is true for me, I’m really going to miss this. Not the school work, not the studying, but the community. The shared sense of both suffering and accomplishment. I am immensely proud of each one of you, and the amazing things you will go on to do. I hope we can continue to help each other grow and flourish in our own practices, schools, agencies, and universities. We all came from different places, and to different places we shall go – but we will always be a part of this cohort. And I want you to know, should you ever fall, it would be my honor to be one of the ones standing there to catch you.

redwood2