The Art of Perpetual Perspective

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Perspective. You walk through life often ignoring it, not being forced to reconsider it, then suddenly you are slapped hard in the face with it. After the suicide of a 12 year old girl within our community and church family, we all got a healthy dose of perspective. The devastation it caused, the fear it invoked in other parents, and the impossible challenge of accepting an event that no one could really wrap their mind around was a wake-up call to how vulnerable we all really are. It’s not comfortable to acknowledge our vulnerability. So we imagine ourselves to be strong, immune to tragedy, and generally in control of our life. Then when reminders come to challenge those beliefs, as an act of self-preservation, we try to come up with reasons why such a thing could never happen to our families, or to our kids.

But for me, this time it was different. The tragic end to this seemingly happy short life shattered that disillusionment. One weekend she and her family were busy and happy, with things penciled in on the calendar for the following weekend that would never fulfilled. They never would have imagined that instead of whatever was on their calendar, they would be at their daughter’s funeral. This event has snapped our whole community out of the trap of feeling anxious and stressed over things that before seemed so big, but now suddenly seem like nothing.

But, for how long? How long before we begin to feel angry again about a 2 hour commute, the denial of an insurance claim, or the injustice we faced at work? Slowly but surely we’re back to disillusioning ourself into thinking all our small stuff is much bigger than it really is.

We all occasionally get little glimpses of perspective. For instance, this morning I passed 3 firetrucks, 2 police cars, and 2 ambulances rushing towards my kids’ school. A little glimpse. Last week I woke up from a bad dream that I couldn’t bear to speak aloud because it was that bad. A glimpse. Last December I let my 5 year old ride his bike one time around my parents’ block and he never came back. 25 minutes of driving around, yelling for him in the now darkened sky, looking with no trace of him anywhere before we finally found him in a different neighborhood across a very busy major road…. Glimpses. Tiny little heart dropping moments when we dare to entertain the horrible what-if’s. What are your glimpses? When your loved one is well past their normal arrival time home and isn’t answering the phone? When the phone rings in the middle of the night? When you knock on your elderly parent’s door and they don’t answer and you are afraid what you’ll find?

Little glimpses are painful to endure, so we quickly brush them aside. But they serve as good reminders of what really matters. The problem with little glimpses is that they don’t last. They are quickly forgotten once it all turns out to be fine. And every time one of those glimpses turn out to be nothing, it’s as if it is an affirmation to us that, of course, everything is fine – just as it always is. Just as it always will be. We laugh as if it was foolish to consider it any other way. Of course everything is fine, nothing like that could ever happen to MY family.

But then it happens to someone we know. Something big. Something unfathomable. Something tragic. And we can’t escape the darkness that settles over us. Because this time it wasn’t just a little glimpse. It was a life altering tragedy that really hit home. And we are put to shame by the things we – just a moment prior – had thought were so important.

But such is our human condition. Because what else are we to do? We can’t perpetually live our life in fear, imagining the worst possibilities, just so we can be thankful when they don’t occur. We can’t constantly expect the worse. We aren’t wired that way. For better or for worse, we are wired to expect the best. We expect our car to start in the morning, and we expect to get safely to our destination. We expect to still be employed when we get to work, we expect our house will still be there when we get home, and we expect all our family members to be there, having arrived safely home. We have to. It’s our means of self-preservation. To live in fear is not how God intends for us to live. So we expect good things. And we are not immune to the stresses of life. No matter how well-intentioned, we cannot shut off our emotional responses when something frustrating or unfair or unjust happens to us.

So what’s the answer? For me lately, after the death of Gracey Gobble, I realize that if I want to master the practice of a better, longer lasting perspective on life, I have to do just that – practice. I have to be intentional. Because while I cannot choose my emotions when something frustrating happens, I CAN choose the thoughts that follow. I can remember Gracey’s family when I miss a doctor’s appointment because of 1 hour & 40 minutes of traffic, or when dealing with red tape, or when my head is throbbing for the 5th day in a row. And when they come, I can look at those “little glimpses” as a gift. A reminder to be intentional about holding tight to a better perspective. A reminder to practice gratefulness. Because Gracey’s family, like so many others who have experienced tragedy, would give ANYTHING if their biggest problem that day was traffic. Gratefulness. I have so much.

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Zones of Regulation Calm Down Jars

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Many kids with ADHD, SPD, Anxiety, and Spectrum Disorders feel things more deeply and more intensely than their peers. Things that other kids may not even notice, these kids not only pick up on, (and frequently misinterpret negatively), but also feel more hurt by. So what other kids can brush off without a second thought, or any intentional effort whatsoever, these kids have to work and work to process, understand, and cope with. So not only do they feel more deeply hurt by “triggers”, they stay upset longer because their brain chemistry makes them less equipped to handle their emotions.

Hence the need in our family for a lot of intentionality when it comes to teaching our kids how to have both 1) emotional awareness and 2) self regulating tools for coping with those emotions.

So though I’d seen these jars before, I decided for purposes of meeting both OUR goals, that we should marry the two concepts of Zones of Regulation (for our emotional awareness goal) and the Calm Down Jars (for our self regulation goals). I loved the results. The glitter swirls and sparkles beautifully, (though the picture doesn’t quite capture the contrasting colors of the swirls very well), and it’s quite mesmerizing to look at, even if you’re not “in the red”.

And it works. Granted, there’s never going to be one tool that always works, every time in every situation. But the more I research these jars, the more I realize that focusing on them results in actual physiological changes in the body: it slows heart rate, steadies breathing, forces muscle relaxation in areas where tension is carried , the adrenaline decreases, and that fight or flight response begins to dissipate. Much like focused breathing while in labor, this actually changes the level of emergent pain in the moment by shifting focus and triggering this domino effect of slowing down the brain and helping the body to realize the emergency isn’t as big as it originally thought. Are there times kids just want to be in their funk for a minute before they are ready to pull out the coping tools? Absolutely. But the more tools we can give our kids to help them regulate, the better, and this one has become a fast favorite.

Here’s how we did it.

  1. We bought Skinny Girl sparkling waters (84 cents each) because the label is only attached in one tiny strip rather than adhered to the entire bottle, leaving much less of a gluey mess to scrub. (I’m not into scrubbing). We actually loved the taste of the Skinny Girl sparkling water too, an unexpected plus!
  2. After washing them out, we brought a pot of water to an almost-boil. Once there were just little bubbles on the bottom of the pot, we used a glass Pyrex measuring cup with a lip to scoop water out and carefully pour into the jar until it was about 70% full. (When in doubt. leave a little more room than you think you might need, you can always add more later.) We then added most of a 2.98 oz glitter glue bottle into the water bottle, and a small jar of glitter. We did the zone of regulation colors, Green glitter and glitter glue for calm, Blue for a little frustrated or slightly disappointed, but handling it well and still ok, Yellow for beginning to get upset and starting to lose control, and Red for very angry, mad, and no longer in control of emotions at all and needing to step away / stop.
  3. You should still have some room at the top for adjustments at this point. Then we put the top on, and with an oven mitt, the kids shook them up really well.
  4. By this time, the hot water had had enough time to make the adhesive on the label essentially melt, so we were able to easily take of the entire label. (Removing the label before the hot water left a strip of the label visible.) This method was easier, though it was still a little sticky on that small strip.
  5. We only added food coloring to the yellow. We actually used glow in the dark glitter glue for this one, because I liked the idea of my son being able to seclude himself in a dark quiet place to watch his calm down jar. However, all that was really visible in the dark was a glowy water bottle shape, you couldn’t make out the settling glitter. Still cool, but just not what I expected.
  6. Finally we added shaped sequins. The kids loved this part, and they loved looking for their 4 hearts, 2 butterflies, whatever. I think this will help focus them further when they are using the calm down jar in a real situation. We put the tops on and shook, the removed the tops to allow the heat to escape and the foam to dissolve. This took a while, so we didn’t sit and watch it, we just came back to it later.
  7. Once the foam had dissolved, we lined them up by color and added clear elmers glue in increasing amounts to each jar, so that the red was the slowest to settle. (The more glue, the longer it takes.) The idea here was that they would start by identifying the color they’re in (emotional awareness) and shaking that one jar. The calmer they are to start with, the less time they need for their jar to help them regulate. They can also shake them all at the same time, and line them up and watch the different rate they all settle at. Note how much longer it takes for the red to settle compared to the blue (ie the longer you wait to control your emotion, the longer it takes and the harder it is to settle down.) But you could also have your child pick their color (say red), shake & watch that one bottle settle, then move to shake & watch the yellow, and so on until they’re back (emotionally) into the green. This is the method we chose. But you could also do it the other way, so that the green is the longest to settle, and have them shake all the bottles at the same time, then watch them all settle and notice the differences in time. , and by the time the green is settled, they should be calm. Whatever works for your family.
  8. We glued the tops on, and my kids now keep asking me, “Mommy, make me angry, so I can use the jars.” They love them.

Perception Vs. Reality: A Silent War

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How clearly are we really seeing things for what they are? And how often is our sight obstructed by something and we never even acknowledge that what we see and perceive isn’t all that’s really there? Yet “Perception is reality” is the truth by which we live. Stop and think about the power this “truth” holds. If we all perceive life in different ways, then which one of us is right? And how do we ever determine what is actually real? Yet perceptions – right or wrong – affect the way you feel, which affect the way you act, and consequently the way you treat others. Basically perceptions alter the way you live out your whole life. This may not be a bad thing if your perception is a positive one. Even if it’s incorrect, to perceive events in a positive, grace-filled, and optimistic way rarely does damage. On the contrary, it can bring about healing and the restoration of love and kindness in relationships. More often, however, it’s the negative misperceptions that we buy into. Without argument, we then agree with the lies, and hold onto them, more tightly and determinedly as we pick up speed on that spiral towards brokenness and pain.

You’ve probably seen examples as I have. A brother’s misperception of words or actions can destroy lives and tear families apart. A Christian’s misperception about the word of God can spread intolerance, and hate, and actually turn people from God. The list goes on and on. But that’s not even what I find the most troubling. The worst part is not the harm that misperceptions inflict, it’s that they make people feel completely justified in their unkind, hate-filled, and ungodly actions.

If our negative perception is not actually reality, we may be needlessly harboring anger and pain in our heart. (Not a great way to feel.) By accepting a negative perception as a definitive truth, our actions towards others flow from a place of anger and bitterness, which not only spreads the anger and pain to others, but naturally leads to more and more broken relationships.

What a devastating domino effect. And most the time we don’t really even realize it’s happening. Negative perceptions can not only be deceptive, but sneaky, creeping in unnoticed and taking root. Like a weed, they steal from us things vital our well-being, and they eventually choke out every ounce of peace and our very contentment with life. And that’s why I call it a War. The course of our lives, and the course of the lives around us, are all at stake. So I’ve come to realize it’s time we really make an intentional effort to more closely examine our perceptions, and make a much more thought-out and careful distinction between what’s only perceived, and what’s actually real.

We all have a filter through which every life event is processed, and internalized. Your filter might be “fear of being judged” or “fear of you or your child being rejected”, or “fear of not measuring up”. I am reminded of an app my kids play with on my phone called Voice Changer. It alters their voice into all kinds of different sounding, hard to decipher, voices. So it’s up to the listener’s brain (and filter) to fill in the blanks to determine the real message.

So how do we know if our “filter” has changed the message from what was actually said to what we fear might be said? And by what tool do we measure our perception against reality?

We put our perceptions on trial. Particularly the ones that hurt us. We challenge them, we don’t lie down and accept them. We don’t allow our initial negative emotion be the final verdict. Our initial emotional response to an event is somewhat instinctive. We don’t always consciously chose it. But what we do after that is what’s really important. Gather the evidence. Challenge the accuser in your head. I truly believe in the image of the devil and angel on the shoulder, and know that sometimes I have to be intentional listen to the right one, because the little devil is often so loud in proclaiming his lies that it’s hard to hear the truth above it.

And sadly, tuning out the right voice and hearing only the wrong one gets easier with practice, until we barely recognize there’s even a good voice there at all anymore. So perhaps the scariest thing about adopting an incorrect negative perception is this: The way we perceive reality can become a pattern. Then a habit. And then, part of who we are.

So the next time we feel offended or hurt by someone, we should make an effort to stop the negative spiral before it even starts. We should put our perception on trial. We should be careful not to confuse our initial emotion with the final verdict, skipping the whole trial process. What does that trial process look like? While not a fail-safe formula, it’s at least a start.

Put your Perceptions on Trial:

  1. Identify the filter through which the event or words had to travel. What fears or memories exist that might affect our perceptions?
  2. Consider the evidence about the offender: What is their character? What are their past patterns? Have they routinely been thoughtless and mean spirited in the past? Do they have a pattern of hurtful behavior that is an indication that we should terminate a toxic relationship? Or is just the first, or just occasional, bump in the road that comes with all relationships?
  3. Consider the evidence about ourselves: What is your character, what are your patterns? Have perceptions lead to incorrect conclusions in the past?
  4. Determine if your response, and your subsequent attitude and behavior is in line with the person you claim to be. How has this perception changed your heart and your treatment of others in a way that is not in line with the character you previously strived to maintain? Is there something within your heart that is damaging to you and needs to change?

Sometimes our perceptions really are right. Even the negative ones. But the danger in shaping our life around an incorrect perception, and the ripple effects to our children and those around us, are far to dangerous to not even question any negativity that comes our way. Maybe my “voice changer”, or the devil on my shoulder, or however you want to look at it, is whispering lies it hopes I will believe, so I am trapped in feelings of anger and misery – right where he wants me. We can’t lie down and accept this misery without a fight. As important as our happiness is, it’s about way more than any temporary good feeling. It’s about our habits and patterns of thinking and feeling. It’s about the foundation on which we build the rest of our lives. Is that not worth a fight? Is that not worth some intentionality in the way we perceive the world? Because truly woe is to come to the person who gets to the end of their life and realizes that the way they perceived life events, their subsequent attitude and state of heart, and ultimately the way they lived and interacted with others, was all based on a lie. And how tragic to let a lie define us.

All I Need To Know I Learned From My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher

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As the school bus whisks your child away to kindergarten for the first time, it can be a bit overwhelming to know the lack of control you now have over their interactions with others, their happiness, safety, and success in making it through whatever their day may throw at them. This is infinitely more difficult to do when your child has a developmental delay or disability, particularly one that others can’t physically see.

Long before time for kindergarten, parents of these kids with “invisible disabilities” have never had the luxury of just happily dropping their child off anywhere – preschool, VBS, practices, camps, playdates – with the presumption that it will all go fine. The moment they drive off, a familiar feeling of dread falls over them, because they know how difficult environments like that can be for their child. They walk away not with relief that they have a few moments to themselves, but with a burdened heart for what their less-equipped child is up against. And because it’s not possible for them to preface every interaction their child ever has with every coach, playground friend, or teacher with a full detailed description of the diagnosis and how it impacts the child’s life, parents are left holding their breath every time they trust their child to anyone else’s care.

Invisible disabilities like Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety, ADHD, etc tremendously effect the child’s ability to interact successfully with their environment. Their brain chemistry prevents them from perceiving and responding to social situations the way they should. But often they are judged, yelled at, or negatively labeled when they fail at tasks expected of them, particularly when every other typically developing children achieve these tasks with relative ease. (This is comparable to angrily snapping at a child with a physical disability for not being able to complete a task that comes easily to other kids.) Further complicating this is if the disability is not yet diagnosed, (without an official name, it’s not seen as real or valid), or if a disability is diagnosed but has little to no society awareness. All merge to become a perfect storm.

So for my not-yet diagnosed rising kindergartener, his perfect storm was already brewing. He had been rejected time and time again by peers and adults alike, and sending him to kindergarten felt like throwing him to the wolves, not yet capable of adequately verbalizing his struggle and need for adult help with interactions, or defending himself. As I armed myself for this next battle by attempting to somehow summarize 2 years worth of agonizing difficulties in a quick 10 minute conversation with his teacher, I was admittedly at my breaking point. But after the first few weeks of school, something entirely unexpected began to unfold. My child was completely adored by his teacher.

I first witnessed this amazing teachers’ wisdom in action when a troubled little girl with a terribly messed up home life was being disruptive (again) her in class. The teacher’s response was quite surprising to me, “Poor baby”, she sighed, shaking her head sadly, “She has such a difficult road ahead of her.” She then gently guided the child by the hand to another area of the classroom.  Impressive. Despite how difficult this child continuously made it for her, her response was not blame, exasperation, or frustration. There was not a trace of judgment or condemnation in her voice. Instead, her first thought was that of sympathy, love, and a genuine ache in her heart for the heavy burden this small girl had to carry. Wow. How often do I respond to people who make my life difficult in this loving type of way? How often is someone unkind or hateful to me and my response is to feel genuine sadness for the misery they must be living with? How often do I see past the behavior or attitude on the surface to the pain underneath it? Not often. Mostly when someone is hateful to me, I’m thinking more of the unfairness and hardship it puts on ME, rather than a genuine ache and empathy for the (much heavier) hardship that must be on THEM.

But the thing that most impressed me was that the teacher didn’t yet know what exactly my son was facing. But it didn’t matter. She didn’t understand the brain chemistry behind his struggles, but she didn’t need to – it was irrelevant. She could love him anyway. I began to realize I didn’t have to fight so hard to prove that despite his struggles, he is an amazing kid. She already knew. She already saw his compassion for others, his selflessness, his caring nature, and his kind and generous-to-a-fault heart. As relief washed over me and I slowly began to realize I could put down my armor and my defenses, a new little seedling of hope began to sprout within me. And it hadn’t come the way I expected. It didn’t come in understanding SPD, it came in an ongoing gift of grace.

Isn’t this the way we too would hoped to be treated? Certainly. When we are sick, we expect to be given a little more grace when our attitude or productivity aren’t up to par. And when our non-sick coworker performs a task successfully with ease, we would hope that our illness would be taken into account when we aren’t equally successful at that same task. We would be flustered if those around us expected more than we were able to give. But yet we do this to kids all the time. As adults we have the verbal skills and the knowledge about how illness affects our performance. But kids don’t. They don’t understand what’s happening to them or why. They just have to hope the adults they encounter will treat them with love and fairness. And lucky for us, the teacher my son encountered did just that. 

Yes, everything I need to know I learned from my son’s kindergarten teacher. It shouldn’t be a prerequisite that we be pulled aside and given a full detailed description of a person’s history, symptoms, and diagnosis before we will hand out love. There is enough for all. We don’t have to ration our love or give it based solely on our level of understanding. (Because honestly, if showing love depends entirely on our own capacity for comprehension, there won’t be very many people we show love to at all.) What we are able to comprehend about a situation is completely irrelevant to our show of love, empathy, and support, especially to those who are already clearly struggling. When people are faced with a situation they don’t understand, they tend to default to judgment, But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to understand to be understanding. Lots of quotes come to mind that take on a new meaning for me now; “Seek to understand, not to be understood,” etc. But my favorite:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. Think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

Last Month’s Attempted theft

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While at the store a month or so ago, my then 5 year old clutched his wad of hard earned cash in his hand. He had seen something at Target that he really wanted, and vowed to do the 4-5 chores that would be required to earn the money to pay for it. He worked tirelessly for 2-3 days to not only do each chore, but do it well. I was proud of his dedication, and also a little surprised at his ability to complete tasks I would have thought him incapable of. He unloaded the jam-packed dishwasher by himself, climbing on chairs to reach high cabinets, and even hauling heavy pots, pans, and glass casserole dishes to their proper place.

So once he finally had the $10 he needed, he was VERY excited to stop on the way home from the grocery store to buy his toy. But the young woman who bagged the groceries and pushed the cart to the car noticed his cash and commented, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of money there! I wish I had a lot of money!”

“Here, you can have it,” my son immediately replied. Without thought, he held out his money to her.

To my surprise, the young woman said, “Wow, really?”

“Sure,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as if it was no big deal. He extended his hand full of one dollar bills further out to her. Wait. What is happening here? I couldn’t believe she was actually considering taking money from a 5 year old.

“Are you sure?” She asked, reaching out for it, and grabbing hold. Both her hands and his were now on the money. I was shocked.

So I reached out and pushed the almost lost money into my son’s hand and objected, stating to him what he already knew, for her benefit, “That’s so nice, but honey, you worked really hard for DAYS to earn that so you could buy the toy you really really really have been wanting.”

“It’s ok,” he said simply.

She reached out, “How about I just take 3 of the dollars?” she suggested, as if this compromise was at all reasonable.

He started to agree and I objected again, taking all the money and putting it in my pocket. I felt like this woman was attempting to steal money from a 5 year old, taking advantage of his innocence and deep desire to please others. “That is very generous,” I reiterated, “and I’m so proud of your giving and self-less attitude, but you worked too hard for your toy to make a quick decision like this, so let’s hang on to it and think about this a little longer, ok?”

My son reluctantly agreed, and after loading the car, we went to Target, where he excitedly purchased his toy.

As I reflected on the event, I began to question myself. Did I deny my son an opportunity to give? What lesson did I teach him in this interchange? Do you not give generously, especially when it comes at a cost? That’s the best kind of gift, the kind that involves sacrifice. And my son was trying to do that, but I wouldn’t allow it. Was I basically telling him that his toy was more important than giving?

The question really comes down to this: how much did he really understand? Was he perfectly aware of what he was doing, and making a conscious choice to give sacrificially? Or was it a momentary good-natured gesture that he would later regret? Many times he has proven that he gets great joy from giving to others and making them happy. When I’ve been sad, he will bring me one of his most treasured toys, wrapped in a gift bag. When I’ve been stressed about money, he will run to his money jar and say I can have it all. So obviously making someone else happy brings him his own lasting happiness. But would the happiness of giving exceed the happiness of the toy? In my mind, she wouldn’t fully appreciate the gift, (though one could argue that we didn’t fully appreciate Jesus’ sacrificial gift to us either, but He still did it). I wanted to protect him, but maternal instincts aren’t always right. He was trying to do a good thing. But I was beginning to question the competency of the bagger. And in my mind, my 5 year old was about to be seriously taken advantage of.

But it does call into question the whole concept of accepting a gift. Sometimes rejecting a gift is hurtful to the giver. In fact, in other cultures, it is an insult not to accept a gift offering, whether a material item or a meal. No matter how repulsive the meal might be to you, to turn it down is to insult the hard work, sacrifice, and giving spirit that went in to the preparation of the food. Accepting what has been given to you is, in itself, a gift back to the gift-giver. It is a way of saying you appreciate the gift, but more importantly the way you express your gratitude for the thought behind the gift, the desire to make the recipient happy, and the sacrifice it took to provide this gift. While I do not think the the internal struggle of the store bagger was about being gracious in accepting a gift, there is a time we need to learn the art of politely accepting gifts.

So the question becomes, is there a time when you should refuse a gift? When the acceptance of the gift hurts more than it helps – does more harm than good? This is a hard question to answer on behalf of someone else, like my 5 year old, whose heart I knew, but whose mind I couldn’t gauge in terms of how carefully he’d weighed his options and how much he understood about the long term effect of his generosity.  Would giving his money away make him sad later on? And would his sadness be bigger than the happiness he momentarily got from making the bagger happy?

Whether or not I taught the right lesson by taking the money back, I do have to admit that I am both proud and somewhat envious of my son’s generosity. He responded to what he saw as a need, without even a thought to what it meant to him. Imagine a world where people did this. Put others before themselves. Gave sacrificially, without consideration to whether the recipient “deserved” it. I try to imagine this kind of world, but I can’t. We need to take note of our children’s wisdom and purity and impulsive goodness, before the world ruins them with its selfishness and pride. Because for a small window of time, we’ve been given the gift of perfect little examples of Christ-likeness, right in our homes that we can reach out and touch. I don’t need a WWJD bracelet. I’ve got two sweet children to show me the way. If only I follow.

Parents Journeying TOGETHER

This short statement I posted on Facebook sparked a lot of discussion and private messages from fellow moms about times we’ve been judged. So I thought it worth re-posting here for my non-Facebook friends and family.

“Parenting is hard enough without parents judging one another. Why would you negatively label a child or a parent who are clearly struggling? Is it possible that you’ve never had to face the same challenges, or been in their shoes? Why then look down your nose at someone else’s kid or someone else’s parenting? Just because your kid is easier? Not all kids are born exactly the same. So if you find yourself patting yourself on the back because your kids were born with fewer challenges, remember, pride comes before a fall. Don’t get boastful, get thankful your child’s needs aren’t as intense. Don’t pass judgement, provide support. Parents who are already struggling to keep their head above water to meet their kids needs already feel like failures. Your judgement is more weight they can’t bear, and it is not helpful. Couldn’t you agree that, as parents, most of us are all just doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt?”

After posting this, SO many fellow parents shared with me their bad experiences being judged. Their hurt and pain was evident, and the raw emotion they expressed proves that this is a huge problem plaguing parents everywhere. While it made me sad to hear of others’ pain in also being judged, it also validated my own experiences and made me not feel as alone. For years I allowed people close to me to look down their nose and judge my child because I misplaced my trust in them to share my parenting struggles with them. It’s a terrible thing, then, to feel you have to prove to the world that your kid is NOT awful, especially to those close to you, that he or she has so many incredible qualities that even their kids do not have. We all know what it’s like to be disliked, and for a people pleasing child (which most are) to sense this rejection, despite trying so hard to make others happy, it really hurts and it really sets them up for failure. It becomes to them a self-fulfilling prophesy. If their teacher thinks they’re terrible, for example, then everything that teacher does will come from that negative place, and will therefore scream to the child that they’re not good enough, and hence they become the terrible kid their teacher imagined them to be. I have this visual of a child struggling to walk up a steep hill, bushwhacking all the negativity coming from those who are close to them, who should be building them up, and helping them on their journey.

So my challenge to other parents and non-parents alike is this: build each other up. Compliment every parent you see, especially those who seem to be struggling.

Tell parents:

1) Some positive things about themselves. Tell them, “You’re doing a great job!” If you don’t think they are, then look within your own heart, and search harder. Acknowledge you don’t have the whole picture, and you’ve not been in their shoes. (If you had, your compassion would naturally and easily flow, not your judgement. So allow the times you feel judgmental be a barometer to you of your lack of understanding, not their lack of good parenting.) Because chances are, they are REALLY working hard, and really doing their best.

But MOST importantly, tell a parent

2) Some positive things about their child. Praise the good things about the child. (Again if you can’t think of any, look within your own heart and identify why you can’t find the good – because it’s definitely there, your inability to see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.) Let that parent know their child is valued, and why. We all need to know the world sees good in our child, that the world loves our child, appreciates their good qualities, and values them as people. We need to know it, and our kids need to know it too – they desperately want to be loved and accepted for who they are, and helped in love and support along the way.

So that’s my challenge – see how many parents you can compliment today, how many you can assure that they’re doing a good job, and how many kids and parents alike you can praise and BUILD UP today!!! And hopefully it will return to you in kind.

When Distractions Become the Focus

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When my husband and I were at a concert last month, the couple in front of us could NOT stop kissing and leaning in to whisper to each other. This was unfortunate for me, because my only view of the stage was through the little space that SHOULD have been open between them. Their little black silhouettes would lean in together, whisper, then straighten (but only for a moment!) before leaning in to whisper something else. Then straighten. Then turn to gaze at each other, then lean in to kiss some more. I spent WAY more time than I care to admit having an inner dialogue about how ridiculous they were. How could they POSSIBLY have that much they needed to talk about? And if they really did have that many urgent things they had to discuss, maybe a dinner out rather than a concert – would have been a better choice. I mean, does it not even occur to them that there are people behind them? And that, quite possibly, those people might actually be there to see the concert, not them kissing?

Unfortunately, I find myself in this trap all too frequently. I make a choice (not consciously, but aren’t most choices we make not the conscious intentional kind?) to focus on the distraction, which leads me down a path of negativity that I really didn’t want to be on. Sure, I didn’t consciously decide before the concert, “I am going to search out something really annoying to focus on so that a miss the whole show and leave angry and disappointed.” But regardless, it was still my choice. Because I believe most of our choices are not the conscious, intentional kind. Most of them are the day-to-day, in the moment kind, not the carefully-considered-ahead-of-time kind. So when the concert was almost over and I realized I had chosen to be increasingly annoyed at every whisper, kiss, or loving gaze, I decided that if I wanted to get out of my negative spiral, it would be up to me. I couldn’t wait for the situation to change or improve, because clearly it wasn’t. It would have to be my change of attitude, not their change of behavior.

Over the years I’ve had to work hard to not fall into the trap of finding joy ONLY IF my situation improves. “If my headache gets better, THEN I can enjoy playing with my kids.” “If my coworkers are nice to me, THEN I can have a good day.” “If my fellow drivers are considerate, THEN I can have a peaceful drive.” “If I am treated respectfully and fairly by those around me, THEN I’ll be happy.”

That’s a lot of “ifs”! Do I really want my happiness to depend on outside circumstances over which I have no control? No. It’s not easy. But if it’s important enough to me to find happiness despite those things, I have to change me. I cannot change them.

So when I decided I wanted to enjoy what was left of the concert, I realized I would have to work for it. Yes, I had to strain my neck. Yes, I had to constantly shift my position to the left and the right and back again. But then, I was actually able to see the show! And it was great! And I would have missed it if all I’d chosen to stare begrudgingly at was the back of two inconsiderate people’s heads. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without a lot of effort on my part. But I got to see what really mattered – the show – it was tremendous, and it was worth it.

If we wait for the distractions to disappear before we can see past them, then the distractions end up not just being a deviation from the path, they end up being the destination. And we will realize in the end that the time we were given was spent focusing entirely on things that stole our joy.

We are going to another concert tonight at the Symphony. And if that stupid babblemouth kissing concert-ruining (I mean, loving) couple, is there…. Well… I’ll just kick the backs of their seats in an irritating fashion throughout the entire 2 hour show so that they can get the same inspiring “work-hard-to-fight-for-your-happiness” lesson that they so graciously gave me. 🙂

Bug Zappers

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Have you seen a bug being drawn in to a bug-zapper? I don’t understand exactly how it works, but for some reason, bugs are innately drawn to the glowing light of the zapper, so that they fly, trance-like into their own doom.

While shopping with a friend last week (a rare treat), I realized that this is how I am with a clearance sticker. There is a powerful urge within me to further investigate the glow of these bright red clearance stickers. Even if my mind commanded, “Just walk past it!”, my body could not oblige. Some force within me takes over and makes me physically unable to walk by a clearance sticker. Long after my friend was done shopping, I was still being lured from one clearance sticker to the next as if in a trance.

Stop and consider for a moment: What are the things you’re most drawn to? What screams your name so loudly that you simply cannot ignore it? What things make you put everything else in the world on hold so that you can address them? As I make my own mental list of all the things that lure me in, I’m a little ashamed. A coupon, a dirty counter screaming to be scrubbed, a jacket thoughtlessly dropped on the floor …. there’s a long list of things I seem unable to ignore. Even if my kids are begging me to play with them, I cannot walk past the dirty counter to focus on them for a minute. This then, is how I spend all my time. This, then, unintentionally or not, is the priority I have established for my life.

You might argue that if it’s this hard to ignore the inner urges, is it even possible to “reset them”? I think so. But not without effort. And certainly not without first recognizing that what the urges have led us into is a trap.

What if the important things had an equally strong force on my life? What if taking time to play with my kids was an itch I just literally could not ignore? What if the Bible screamed my name more loudly than the crumbs on the counter? What if I just couldn’t do anything else until I sat down and spent some time in prayer? What if I had an irresistible urge to help my neighbor, so that I put everything else in the world on hold until I did it?

When I make a list of my inner urges, I have to pause and ask myself: do these inner urges lead me to spend my time in ways I would consciously choose? Are they already in line with what I say I’d like my real priorities to be? Or are they taking me away from those priorities? For me, the next step is to pray. I want an “itch” for the urges with lasting value, and a wisdom to put everything else in its proper place – nothing but bug-zappers luring me straight towards a trap.

“People Pleaser” or just Plain Pride?

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What exactly is a “people pleaser” and when does it move from the simple desire to please others to an unhealthy obsession that threatens to rob us of all our happiness in life?

The answer came to me after an incident in the parking lot a few weeks ago. I had spotted a great parking space, but as I got closer, I saw a cart had been left in the front of the space, rendering it unusable. Though slightly irritated, I parked in the spot next to it and went in. After completing my shopping, I returned to my car and began unloading groceries. An older man across from me seemed to be staring me down. I wasn’t sure why, but thought maybe I looked familiar to him and he couldn’t place my name. So I just smiled at him, and put the last bag in my car. But as I pulled away, I noticed him eyeing the cart, looking back at me, and shaking his head in disgust. He grabbed the cart angrily and began rolling it into the cart area.

So I whipped back into my spot, jumped out of my car, and said, “Look, I did NOT leave that cart there, so maybe before you assume my guilt and silently accuse me, you should be looking in the mirror to consider why you feel the need to judge others.”

Yeah, right. I could never do that. I envy people who have this skill, but I don’t have it in me. No, I just drove away and angrily replayed the injustice in my head repeatedly for the next 3 days, thinking of all the things I wish I’d said. Why did a stranger’s displeasure even matter?

Upon reflection of this question, I realized that it wasn’t about whether or not this stranger was pleased. It was really about whether or not he was pleased with me.

It’s an important distinction to make. Because the name “people pleaser” in itself sounds pretty harmless: it implies that other people’s happiness is our ultimate goal. But I think if I’m honest with myself, I have a much more selfish pursuit: my own happiness. And my own happiness depends largely on whether or not others are happy with me. A very dangerous place to be. So I think what we have to ask ourselves to really get to the root of our “people pleasing” efforts is:

1) Do you want to please others, or do you want others to be pleased with you?

2) Does your own happiness depend on whether you succeed in making other people happy (with you)? In other words, can you be happy even if others are not happy with you?

3) Do you need other people to like you in order for you to like yourself? And do you then need to put on an “appearance” so that everyone, even to parking lot strangers likes you?

When something like the need for approval is hiding behind our people pleasing, we put ourselves in a very vulnerable position. And as we start peeling back the layers of people pleasing, we see is about appearance. And worrying about how we appear to others is really just a form of pride.

Last year I shared with my Sunday School class that I hate it when the collection plate comes my way at church. Not because I don’t want to give. But because we do direct deposit. So all our giving goes straight to the church from our bank. In other words, no one SEES us give. So when I see the collection plate coming, I am overwhelmed with this need to whisper urgently to everyone around me, “Pssst! We do direct deposit!” How ridiculous! I tell myself, “Who cares what they think about you? Who cares what conclusions they draw about whether or not you give?” As much as I hate to admit it, I DO care! So I panic and open up my wallet. Even if all that’s in there is a $20, which I’ll need at the grocery store, I put it in. At all costs, I must make my “appearance”. Aha! PRIDE. It hurts to admit it, but there’s no denying it’s there, buried beneath the surface, driving all my “people pleasing” efforts.

So how do I move from a life-time of wanting everyone to look upon me with approval, to being content regardless of others’ approval? It is a human need, to some extent, to be affirmed by others. And it’s a spiritual requirement to set a good example for others. But we can certainly take it too far. Especially when pride is what’s driving us.

So while there’s not an on/off switch I can just flip to shut off my desire for other’s approval, I do have to admit what I’m doing. I’m striving to (and even expecting myself to) please all people all the time. Then I have to recognize that pleasing all people all the time is an unattainable goal. Finally, I have to ask myself – do I really want to be constantly chasing after an unattainable goal? I WILL fail. (So will my kids, who are already following my people-pleasing example.) The answer, of course, is no. People pleasers are continually robbed of happiness because you can never please everyone.

I like to wrap up my blogs in a nice neat answer. But this is a tough one, and I’d love your thoughts / comments below. For me, the answer is to pray that God will give me dissatisfaction and unrest only when HE is displeased with me, and when it’s just man displeased with me, He will send me peace. Because for an incurable people pleaser to be at peace regardless of others’ approval, and to have peace despite conflict, would be an obvious act of God. In other words, “Please God, send me that on/off switch, quick!”

Embracing what isn’t “fair”

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https://newjourneyon.wordpress.com/kids-fairness-test/
Here is the link to a “Test: I created to start the “Life isn’t Fair” discussion with my kids. Use it however you want, but I am turning it into an activity by having them make a flashcard with a thumbs up for fair, and a thumbs down one for unfair. Later they get a card for equal and a card for unequal, which they will hold up to answer each question again.

Here is the link to the full article, or click View Original below.

https://newjourneyon.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/embracing-what-isnt-fair/

newjourneyon

We’ve all repeatedly heard, “Life’s not fair”, and we’ve probably all even said the words ourselves. But if we look past the words to how we really feel deep down, I think we have to confess that somehow we expect fairness in life. We don’t face each day anticipating something unfair to happen, so when it does, it takes us completely off guard, to the point that we cry out like children in complete disbelief, “What?!?” And when the shock at something “not being fair” subsides, anger sets in and we silently protest, “But that’s not FAIR!

I’ve never really been able to deal very well with unfairness or injustice when it happens to me. And I’ve always wondered why. Now I think I know. It’s my fundamental expectation of “fairness.” Simply put, I’ve somehow grown up believing that life is fair. That I not only want fair…

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