Grief Like Fire Ants

A couple of years after moving to Austin, I bumped into an unfortunate discovery…SOME ANTS BITE. When I lived in Southern California, the fire ants had not yet arrived, but in Austin, they were thriving. A good rain will definitely draw thousands, if not millions, of them to the surface. Even more unfortunate to my discovery of the fire ants, was the discovery of my allergic response to them. One bite would cause a huge welt and swelling for days. It has been years since I have been bitten, but during the summer months in those early years in Austin- with young kids- going to the swimming pool was necessary for survival…and I was bit by quite a few fire ants. My allergic response was alarming in that each new bite would not only cause a new welt where I was freshly bit, but it would also cause all the other previously bitten sites to flare up with a welt. Needless to say, I dared not travel far without an epipen, topical antihistamine, and oral antihistamine.

Grief like fire ants employs a similar attack. Most people don’t recognize all the times they are grieving. We grieve when someone we love dies or moves away, but we also grieve the loss of jobs, opportunities, hope, dreams, freedom, moving, health, independence… Empty nest syndrome is grief. Retirement can cause grief. Our older population is struggling with high levels of depression…that can be best explained by grief. 

Like my fire ant experience, when someone is grieving a loss, often all the grief rises to the surface and complicates the grief. Grief resurfaces on anniversaries or during certain events that remind us of the loss. Grief is not weakness. On the contrary, it is the sign of powerful love, and strong hope, ending in surrender and despair. Sometimes grief happens at an early age.. a traumatic experience or parental divorce or the death of a loved one. People learn to handle it at 5, but now they're 10 or now they are a parent to a 5 year old and what was handled at 5 needs to address the grief event from a new perspective. Grief pops back up and threatens mental homeostasis, causing a grief reaction. If ignored and untreated, it can turn to depression or other physical illness. Grief requires its own version of antihistamine. Therapy, counseling, meditation, prayer are all powerful antihistamines for resolving grief. 

Grief can present itself as pride or wrath. People might withdraw or appear sad, hopeless, unable to function like they once did. If your friends or family are going through hard times, be gentle and understanding, listen, and be willing to encourage them to seek help. It is amazing how much healing a little kindness, patience, and thoughtfulness can bring to someone struggling with grief and loss.

The Devil Made Me Do It...

As long as I can remember, I have struggled with temptation.  I remember when I was not yet in Kindergarten, and my mother sent me next door to open a can of tomatoes with our neighbors' fancy can opener. The neighbor told me as I left, "Make sure you don't stick your finger in the can." If she had only told me why, I might have listened. Some 45 years later, the memory of that incident remains as a centimeter long faded gash on the inside of my left index finger. Truth...if you tell me "Don't" and it is not followed with a reasonable explanation of why not to, I will do it, immediately! As a kid there was not a tree or rock in a four-block radius of our neighborhood that I had not scaled to the top of before I had completed 9 years. I am pretty sure, that a couple broken branches and a couple of falls knocked me unconscious or dazed me, more than once...and I am sure my parents never found out about those misadventures. 

It is so easy to blame the devil for our disobedience, but truly temptation starts within us, and we are the only one that can tame it. The devil is so busy creating his own havoc, he doesn't need to jump in and join us in our shenanigans...although I am sure he finds us amusing.

The more I have contemplated on the power of temptation, the more aware I am of its prevalence and it's dominion over my life. I start a diet, temptation enters and the diet is over. I start a project, temptation distracts and the project sits there waiting. I plan to be patient, temptation permits me to irritable. I plan to save money, temptation encourages me it is OK to take a trip. I plan to be disciplined and focused on a task, and temptation sends me anywhere but towards completing that goal. Have  you ever struggled to keep a secret? Temptation is your undoing. Have you ever opened a Christmas or birthday present before you were supposed to? I am pretty sure I am not the only one.  Have you ever failed to finish a project for work or school on time? Not being disciplined starts with a temptation.

Temptation is as guilty of causing us to do the things we don't want to do as it is at keeping us from doing the things we do want to do. Any and every behavior that we do, that we didn’t want to do, starts as a temptation. Any and every behavior that we don't do, that we did want to do,  starts as a temptation.    

So how do we overcome our issues with temptation. The answer is quite simple-submit to discipline, however this is no easy feat to accomplish. Temptations start as thoughts which become feelings. Feelings create a desired action within us. Morals will evaluate those desired actions and will let us know this is not in line with who we are. However the seed of desire has been planted. According to Rick Warren, desires, turn into rational doubting, and we start arguing with our conscious about why in this particular case we can overlook our morals. He calls this step deception. We deceive ourselves, we convince ourselves what we want is OK, even though we know it is not...we lie to ourselves.  Once we lie to ourselves disobedience is permitted. To overcome this we must not plant the seed of desire, or we must desire what is in line with our moral conscience and objectives. We must stop the temptation before it has any power.  Self-control is accomplished when the ability to overcome temptation is mastered.

Every temptation starts as a selfish thought. We need to start paying attention to our thoughts, both our conscious thoughts and our subconscious thoughts. For example, if a pretty woman walks in the room and appears confident, we might say, "I don't like her." It is important to pay attention to that thought...because it will guide our behavior. However, we must be aware that there is something even deeper in our subconscious that creates that thought. It may be that we feel inadequate around her because she is beautiful and confident. It may be that at some point in time someone, who was beautiful and confident, harmed us and we have assigned mistrust to beautiful and confident people. There are several other possible reasons why you may have a reaction to that person. What is most important is that you examine what is your why, and then you address it. Do you need to work on self-esteem? Do you need to work on trust? Do you need to forgive?

Action Step: All of us struggle with pains and wounds from the past...some that others have inflicted on us, some that we have inflicted on others, and some that we have inflicted on ourselves. We must address them or they don't go away and they show up in awkward, unkind behavior that is not in line with who we want to be or who we say we are. We must examine not only our conscious mind, but more important our subconscious mind to understand the messages that are governing our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. The most important  message that we need to tell ourselves is, "I AM strong enough, worthy enough, and wonderful enough to have good thoughts in my head and overcome the lies that disappoint and discourage me."  We must also tell ourselves, "I am strong enough and wise enough and disciplined enough to overcome the temptations of my life."  YES, YOU ARE!!!

What If They Are Doing Their Very Best?

How would that little phrase change your life? The question above is something I stole from Brené Brown. 

Behavior starts as a thought and becomes a feeling that ends in an action. If we want to change behavior, we have to change our thoughts. We organize, analyze, evaluate, and create our thoughts based on assumptions, observations, and experiences. Our thoughts are based on our own knowledge. That means they are not based on truth, they are based on our perspective of the truth. Conclusion:  Our thoughts are often shortsighted and wrong, and our thoughts can be changed by changing our perspective.

In one of my work situations, I have the opportunity to interact with many different personalities. Sometimes that can be challenging. I am informed of what needs to be addressed through work consults that are sent to my pager.  One particular provider often sends random requests that have nothing to do with my professional skill set. For quite a while it left me thinking, “This person doesn’t value what I have to offer. This person hasn’t even learned what I can bring to the table.” I felt disrespected. I felt overlooked. I felt frustrated.

One day however, I chose to look at this situation with a different thought.  What if I made the assumption that this provider wants with all his heart to take care of those he serves? Problems come up that he does not know how to solve. He is looking to me to be the problem solver. My thought changed. My feelings changed. I no longer felt disrespected. I no longer felt overlooked. I was no longer frustrated. I was more available to be helpful.

Then I remembered a little phrase that I had learned from Brené Brown. What if I looked at every interaction with each person with a more open mind, and I asked this question each time? “What if this person is doing the absolute best they can?”  How does this change my perspective? When we assume the best of others, we open the doors to improve community, facilitate communication and  problem solving, and encourage cooperation. We create an emotionally safe environment where people can be happy, vulnerable, and more effective. 

Action step:  By changing how we think, we change how we feel,  we change how we act, and we change how we impact an entire community. Look at the community where you have an impact. Who, In that community deserves a fresh chance at the benefit of a new perspective? What if you assumed they were doing the best they could? How would that make you feel?  How would you feel if someone gave you that same respect?

Making 2019 a Phenomenal Year! Happy New Years!

It’s January 6th! Already one week into the New Year. For those of you who make New Years Resolutions…how’s it going?

I tend to avoid them…mostly because they are much easier to make than to keep. Some of us look at the New Year as a time to make fresh commitments to improve our life style and health. The New Year is great time to take on that fresh perspective. I think, however, that  New Years Resolutions are often made to be broken. I’m a bit of a gym rat and have been for the past 11 years. Every January I struggle to find a corner of the gym floor to get my workout done…but I KNOW that within three weeks that problem will go away…Sadly!

So what is it about New Years Resolutions that make them hard to fulfill? There are as many answers to that problem as there are people who drop off the resolution wagon. 

Here are a few reasons I think people struggle:

First, we go too big. We choose this one moment or day or month to assess all that needs to be fixed in ourselves and decide to make a proclamation to change it..ALL of it. We set up unrealistic goals for ourselves and we fail. One failure leads to a domino effect and then we quit. Making small, consistent changes with opportunities to have a moments of weakness, where we are more forgiving and less critical of ourselves , and adopting "a little change over time vs an immediate change overnight” -attitude will help with the process.  Believe me I did not become a gym rat overnight. I had many unsuccessful attempts and  forages into the gym world before the habit stuck. 

Second be gentle and kind with yourself. Once when I was at the gym, one of my gym friends asked me if I felt guilty if I missed a class. The truth, i used to feel guilty if I missed one pushup during a class. I mean I just did a 55 minute workout, with approximately 1000 repetitions of lifting, squatting, and pushups…and I would feel guilty if I missed one pushup??? Start looking at what you accomplish and not what you fail to accomplish. You are amazing and strong and out there working it…own that and celebrate all you are doing!

Third, stay focused and don’t fall into your temptation.   Rick Warren warns us that temptation is a four step process (desire, doubting, deception, and disobedience). We all have a natural desires in life: eating, relaxing, procrastinating, and sinning are all part of these natural drives. Temptation takes a healthy desire, or even an unhealthy desire and abuses it or misuses it. For example, Let’s say you had decided to eat healthy. Here is an example how we sabotage our plan to eat health. It starts with a thought. The thought gains our attention and becomes a desire. You drive past a MacDonalds and you think about their french fries. You pass a bakery and you smell the sugar frosting,. You think to yourself - “I haven’t had that in a little while”, or “I miss that in my life.” You are not hungry or thinking about food, and someone calls you up and asks if you if you want to go for a pizza. All of a sudden you think of the pizza and suddenly you're hungry. Our thoughts become feelings, “I’m hungry!”  which grows into actions or behaviors. “I want to eat pizza!”  Once the seed is planted, the desire grows and takes you in pursuit of the wrong passion. The desire grows and becomes a hyper -focused obsession. You know that eating this is not on your healthy diet plan. You know this is not the right path…. but then you start doubting. You talk yourself into the lie that this is right for you right now. You start to doubt that you can accomplish or complete your task or you tell yourself it is only one slice of pizza…”It’s not really cheating". Or maybe you tell yourself “I gave my self permission for a cheat day." You know these are lies, but you are focused on what you want, so you make the lies up to validate what it is you want to achieve in that moment. This leads you into deception. You replace your plan with a secondary plan that permits you to eat pizza.  And then you move forward into disobedience and you eat the pizza. But there is always this nagging voice in the back of your head that does not allow for you to fully enjoy that pizza ...because…you can NOT choose the behavior and expect to be able to AVOID the consequences that come with that decision. Too often this self sabotage-this falling victim to your temptations- destroys your resolution…and even all your resolve. Remember this…Rome was not built in a day…when you fail to temptation, get back on course. Recommit to your plan. Stay focused and grateful for what you can have and don’t get lost thinking about what you can’t have. When you focus on what you can’t have, it will take over your focus and it you will be fighting a losing battle. If you fail, go up to the first reason we fail and  be gentle and kind to yourself. ”A little change over time vs an immediate change overnight” -attitude. Forgive yourself and move forward.

Fourth, it takes much thought preparation, planning, and consistency. Do you know what is the best exercise? It is the exercise you will actually do. What is the best diet for you? It is the one that is conscientiously acceptable to you and it is something you can stick to because you believe that it is the one you should be keeping. What is the best change you can make in yourself this year? Sometimes is has not about physical/mental health, but it is about emotional or spiritual health. This year I have decided that I need an attitude of gratitude. When things are not going my way, I am going to be grateful for the lessons of adversity and the growth I will experience through the challenges. When things are going my way, I will be grateful and recognize how blessed I am. Grateful! Grateful! Grateful! In everything I will be grateful!

Finally, New Years Resolutions cannot be just about you. We are not made to be so self-focused. Being overly self-focused can cause exhaustion, that will lead to failure. It is so easy to focus on yourself, but what will stick is focusing on how the changes in you will improve the world around you. All of sudden there is a whole new level of accountability. It needs to be about something bigger than your vanity and looks. Why do you want to get fit?- To impress and attract others???…or to feel strong and healthy so you can encourage, mentor, and serve others? It needs to be about your impact, your voice, your power in this world. You need to consider your entire value as a person, and what you have to bring to this world. How can you enhance yourself in such a way that you lift up yourself…so that you are able to inspire and lift up others? Those, are New Years Resolutions worth making. When you fully  commit to making yourself grow into a person that will benefit not only yourself but also others, whatever resolution you chose (eating better, going to the gym, volunteering, mentoring, being grateful, or kind, or less angry, or more productive) will be possible.   If your New Years Resolution is about your health, then find the workout that will make you healthier, and stronger and  more confident-it has to be have an altruistic angle. Encourage others that they can too!…iIt cannot be just to look good, or to be thin. It must incorporate an understanding that exercise improves mental health by reducing stress, and improves physical health as well. Your body is your responsibility to take care of in order to stay strong and healthy, so you have the energy to do great things in this world!

Action Step: Stop making giant New Years Resolutions and start making small, sustainable changes in your life that will stick. Make changes that will make you a better version of yourself, not for the sake of impressing others, but for the sake of serving others and growing yourself. If you are struggling with these changes, consider seeking out the assistance of a Therapist,  Life Coach, Physical Trainer, Nutrionalist, or Mentor to help guide you and lift you up when and where you are struggling. You are beautiful, and strong, and powerful, and capable! Happy New Year!

Do You Know Your Why?

No matter what age I am working with in the office, at one point or another the question of “What is my purpose?” comes into play. I find it with millennials, more often than not, lately as the financial investment in college is so encumbering, and they want to make sure that it is something that they can not only afford to do, but at the end of it they may end up with a degree that will give them purpose and satisfaction. I was speaking to one of my colleagues who attended a prominent local university and she shared the concerns were with great reason. Her university came with a $52,000/year price tag, and at the end of it, 1 out of every 2 graduates succeed in finding employment suitably matched to their degree. Apparently 50% is actually a better rate than most other universities are achieving. There is a new trend lately where students are starting to sue their programs for leaving them with a degree that does not lead to any prospective job opportunity. Some millennials are wisely approaching this dilemma with caution, and I have noticed that several are putting their education plans on pause while they take some time to figure out who they are, and what on earth is their purpose.

On another stopping point in the spectrum, I work with the 40 something group, who have had careers, done what they were “supposed” to do to bring income into the home, followed all the rules and expectations of their family and our society, but they feel empty. What they are doing does not fulfill them or give them a sense of meaning and they are looking for what’s next. 

This question is a hard, yet very important, one to solve because each person is made with a unique personality, a unique set of learning styles, a unique energy level, a unique set of knowledge acquired over time, a unique set of passions, a unique set of talents, a unique set of rules about how they circumvent life, a unique set of rules about what they are willing to do, and a unique set of challenges they have overcome in their personal life to get them to where they are today. Finding meaning comes so easy to some, but for others it requires a deep set of introspection, taking inventory of all one’s "uniquenesses”. 

What are the problems you have experienced in this world? Which of them have you found answers to that you might use to benefit others? What problems in this world can you not walk away from? They drive you…they call your name…they beg for your attention. What difference MUST you make in this world? Sometimes a career is more of a job...just money… or benefits (like insurance, and retirement) so that you can have the freedom to pursue your purpose outside of the workplace. 

Once the “uniquenesses" are uncovered, how can one take them and shape them into a career that will give meaning to their own life, but also impact positively the life of another? Not only must your purpose link up with your passions, BUT purpose by its very definition must positively impact the lives of another person in order to be meaningful. People are created to be in community with one another, and although at times this may be one of the most challenging things we must accomplish on this earth, we do not accomplish the meaningful task of finding our purpose without it. However, by finding our purpose, we can accomplish the task of being in enjoyable community with others. They are linked…fortunately. The success of one yields the success of the other.

So how do you go about finding your purpose? Be patient with yourself. Pay attention to yourself. It has already been whispered to you, but sometimes you have to retrace your steps and really listen. Sometimes you soul knew its' calling, but others told you that it was not your talent, either because they did not recognize your talent or because of envy, jealousy, selfishness, or fear.  Maybe you knew your calling, but you forgot it, or you feared it would not be enough, or you had some struggles or failings that caused you to give up on it.  Maybe you experienced a life changing moment or challenge. Why you? Why the challenge? 

Action Steps: Be patient with yourself. Make a list of your “uniquenesses”. Which of them bring you the most joy or the most excitement? Which ones call you into action? Pay attention to positive results and the lessons you have learned from the challenges you have overcome. Erase the words of others…. Erase your fears…Remember your dreams…Realize that failures are not reasons to quit-they are reasons to try again. Breathe. Pray. Be patient. "

The Holiday Season: When you open your gift and the only words that come to mind are "You shouldn't have...I mean you really shouldn't have!"

We give gifts for a multitude of reasons. Some good and some not.We give gifts to show love and affection. We give gifts to show gratitude and appreciation. We give gifts to honor people....And then we give gifts out of habit, custom and tradition...due to the holidays, or out of a need to be accepted, or because we feel we  have to.

Sometimes the gift is about the giver and their desire to share a part of themselves with you. Sometimes the gift is about the receiver and just finding that magical gift that says I know you...I truly understand what it is that you like, and it gives me great joy to make you happy. I remember when my daughter was two and she fell in love with a pair of pink, sparkly shoes. My mother could not resist going back to buy her those shoes, and I truly don't know who was experiencing the excitement of the moment more when my mother gave my daughter those shoes...she KNEW exactly what would make my daughter shrill with joy, and she was the one providing that joy! That was truly a love-exchange moment. Have you had a moment where you extended yourself to know somebody...really know somebody and you bought them something they just loved? What joy did that bring you? Have you had a moment where   somebody extended their self to know...really know you and they bought you something you just loved? What joy did that bring you? Gift giving is a love language!

Sometime the gift is about meeting a physical need, like feeding a hungry family. Those moments can be priceless and again it is hard to tell who is receiving the larger chunk of joy.

Many people do not realize that gift giving is one of the love languages. They never looked at giving a gift as a way to connect with another human being. Gary Chapman, author of the Five Love Languages, shares insight on ways we can fill the love-wells of other people by taking the time to really understand and know who they are, through speaking their love language. People have a deep need to feel loved and feel like they belong and this is a method by which people can learn to speak love into other people. The premise of this tool/theory is that as people are in relationship with one another, their relationship will grow stronger and healthier if they learn to speak their loved one’s love language. When a person is experiencing the feeling of being loved, they will respond by giving out love and the relationship will not only be strengthened, but will be happy and more able to endure the stresses that life throws at them. When a person is experiencing the feeling of giving love, they too fill with a joy and a presence that enhances the relationship as well.

Gift giving traditions are often handed down by families and their language changes as families marry, have children, grow older, experience divorce, suffer or overcome economic challenges, and survive deaths. Each change can alter a family tradition and these changes can impact how people speak the gift giving love language. It is important to exercise caution and use extra communication when making these changes…because this is an area that can lead to family friction and cause hurt. Add in friends to the mixture and one will learn that there is a wide diversity in the dialects of love languages spoken and even more rules about what the right way to give a gift is. This is no easy tool to learn!

Nothing brings the understanding and confusion of gift giving as a love language more to light than the Holidays... and the week after. Therapists often hear about many of the successes and failures. Clients seem to have many more stories of disappointment than contentment, and the hurts run pretty deep.  Gift giving  can be used to show love, however it also can fail to communicate love. For many people gift giving is not a love language. When people don't realize the importance of this being a love language, they fail to honor it or use it in a way that builds love. 

At Christmas, gift giving can become a list of TO-DOs and it can become exhausting, overwhelming, and expensive. My advise: if you feel compelled to give a gift for any other reason than love- DON'T DO IT. Never let gift giving become a list of TO DOs. When you make a person feel like they are on your "Have to Do" list versus your "Want to Do" list, you make them feel unimportant and unloved. Instead of bringing light to their life, you wasted your money to make them feel insignificant.  I remember being in a work related Santa Exchange more than once, where the exchange was disappointing and disheartening. One time I was a given a name of my secret person and a list of things they liked, and I went out of my way to sneak happiness and joy into their holiday season. At the same time, I was receiving sugar candies from my person on a daily basis, when I had specifically written on my list, please don't give me candy or food.  I felt so disregarded. I felt like the giver had not taken the time to know what would make me smile and they had not even read or respected my request not to give me sweets.

Not only are there people who fail to pay attention or understand or know their recipient,  there are begrudged givers, who have no desire to engage in the forced participation of a gift exchange...and they make it well known. One example is the brother-in-law physician who drew a name out of a hat on a family gift exchange, and then grabbed an old subscription of magazines from his practice and wrapped that as a gift. Way to say, "I care!"

Even for those who really want to give an amazing gift, it is so easy to miss on knowing your loved one's dialect. A techy husband might think giving his wife a laptop on her 40th birthday is the most wonderful and practical gift he could imagine, while his wife might see that as anything but romantic, especially if computers cause her anxiety and frustration. This couple lacked a shared dialect of gift giving, and/or they lacked a shared understanding of the purpose of giving/receiving gifts. It is so important to have conversations not only on what makes you feel loved, but what the purpose of gift giving is for each individual in the relationship.

Most important one must remind themselves that not everyone knows about the love language of gift giving. Not everyone cares that gift giving is a love language. EVERYONE has different rules and expectations when it comes to gift giving. Expectations lead to disappointment, hurt, and anger. Not everyone is willing to engage in the process of discussion and growth. To spare feelings of hurt, one must first take on the perspective that people live by different rules and second, they must not have expectation of others to know that gift giving could be a way to enhance a relationship. Instead, when the disappointment happens, the receiver must practice grace towards those who do not understand that gift giving can be a love language and the failure to use it as such.

Then there is the question of etiquette after the failed gift. What should the expected response of one be when they get that gift that disappoints? Our morals teach us to tell the truth, but our culture tells us that to be politically correct one must be polite. The more distant the receiver is from the giver, the easier it is to be polite. However, the closer the relationship and emotional connection is, the harder it is to be polite because feelings get hurt when gift giving does not match the expectation of the receiver. When someone close to you gives you used shoes for Christmas, not in your size, and not to your liking, after you have asked her to please not give you recycled gifts, feelings can be really hurt. The initial message received may be, “Wow this person did not even care to send me something I would want,” or “This person does not really know me,” or “She really didn't want to spend any money on me,” or “This person doesn't even care about me,” or “Christmas for this person is just about getting it done- being able to put anything under the tree to have something to open. An empty box wrapped in paper might have gone over better.” Those are honest feelings from a person who looks at gift giving as an extension of a love language. When you receive silver earrings from someone who knows you are allergic to silver, it really does convey that they did not put much thought into the gift they were sending, especially if you clearly stated in the past,  "please don't give me jewelry".  This really can make one think, “Do you not listen to me or respect me when I tell you what I don't like?"

Communication and learning a shared dialect around the art of speaking the gift giving love dialect of your loved ones is essential for filling love-wells and for the growth of a relationship, but both individuals must buy in to agreeing that this is something important to be honest about, and both individuals must agree they are willing and want to grow through the process. The hardest part is making a decision- do you take the time, and the energy to convey how hurt you are by the gift?...risking the guilt you might feel in sharing the lack of gratitude you have for the gift. Or do you not say anything and keep the relationship where it is at?...hopeless that it will ever grow into something healthy, honest, and respectful. To be polite and to keep them at a distance? be honest, with hope for growth, but also risking that correcting a person's behavior might not be received favorably and there response to that correction may be defensiveness or hurt feelings? 

Action Step: What is your love language dialect? Have you ever been thoughtless in giving a gift? Have you ever received a gift that was impersonal and really didn’t make you feel loved? What gifts have you received that made you know that you are loved? What gifts have you given that made you know that you loved someone? How did you feel when you got it right? What rules do you have about gift giving? Who do you need to have a conversation with about your shared gift giving dialect? Remember each relationship is unique and you will need to negotiate rules with everyone you love so that you both know this is how I show love and this is what makes me know I am loved!

Preparing for the Holiday Season: Parenting-Growing Servant Leaders

Parenting is such a powerful opportunity and ominous responsibility. No two people parent the same. No two people agree 100%  on how to be good parents. Nobody is a perfect parent. Most would agree, however, it is the most important challenge we will take on in this life, and we would like to get it right.  How do we go about doing this? We read books, we observe, we reflect, and we wing it. Winging it is probably the most commonly used method, and this method is most influenced by how our parents winged it, or how others in our community wing it. 

Sometimes we reflect on the things we didn't like about ourselves or didn't like about our childhood, and we invent  counter measures to  combat our children from suffering the same indignations and mistakes we suffered. That often fails. Parents in my generation have struggled with allowing their children not to suffer from the natural consequences of their poor choices and mistakes. Many of us hover like helicopters, ready to swoop in and protect or save our children from some indignation, shame, or humiliation. Why?  Most likely because we were the first generation of latchkey kids...both parents working outside the home. Many of us felt unprotected and disconnected from our generation of parents who were focused on work and finances and often missed in the relationship/protection department. We longed to be connected to our parents and so we have done a great job connecting to our children, but a less great job instilling discipline and allowing for consequences to shape our children. We have protected our children from failing, and in the process we now have a generation of millennials who fear failure and have very high rates of anxiety.  

For some parents, having their children feel empowered to express themselves is important, because they struggled to feel they had a voice. This is one of the huge consequences for those who grew up in a generation of white male privilege, but were not white and were not male.  Because of this, we have given children many opportunities to express themselves and have a voice, but unfortunately we failed to recognize that having a voice is something that needs to be taught and earned. For every privilege we bestow upon our children, we must also give a responsibility. For every responsibility, we must bestow a privilege.  Power bestowed without responsibility creates an egocentric narcissist who does not think of others or calculate the responsibility of his actions. It creates a person who goes and gets what he wants for himself. For those Game of Throne watchers...we have created little Joffreys. We have a generation of angry kids irresponsibly acting out on social media or even worse with violence. We must teach our children "What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”   ― Brené Brown

For some parents, growing up there were not enough boundaries in the home or in the school setting, and they found themselves in off-balanced relationships where people just took from them or took advantage of them. Takers on the other hand were those who did not have their needs met so they learned to just go get what they needed without regard for their friends and family.  It is true that it is more rewarding to give than to receive, to be the provider of joy or opportunity for others, but it is never a good feeling if you are being taken for granted or taken advantage of. Some givers learned to be givers but not because they wanted to give, but because they did not know how to say no, or they did not want to be rejected, or disliked, or left out. At some point, givers learn that takers and receivers are not the same. Takers are those who are concerned about their own self promotion and selfish needs or wants. Receivers are gracious accepters of the beneficence of others, and shift into givers when it is their time and opportunity to provide. Teaching children a healthy balance of giving and receiving and teaching children to monitor the reasons why they feel a certain way or behave a certain way will allow them to set boundaries on themselves and on others in order to create healthier relationships. “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”   ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

For some parents, growing up their parents struggled with poverty or with lack of position in employment.  The focus on success, both financially as well as in their education and professions becomes so important, that they can lose sight of relationship, lose sight of love, lose sight of spirituality and they can gain a false sense of control. The focus is on creating human doings versus human beings and the focus on building character becomes less important. In the process important attributes and perspectives can be lost, such as compassion, humility, empathy, understanding, and gratitude. It is so important to not lose sight of your whole child. When we focus on raising children with good mental health, and high emotional IQ, they will become successful, they will be employed, and even more they will become leaders with the skills to positively impact others who need more help, guidance, and direction. "Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are    

For some parents, growing up they learned to be people pleasers dying to be accepted, acknowledged, and loved. They had to earn love, or at least that is how they perceived the situation. They learned to accommodate and appease and lay down like rugs and servant-hood was a sign of weakness and duty instead of strength, opportunity, and choice. Others grew up with the understanding that servant-hood is beautiful and powerful and making a positive impact in someone's life creates confident, thoughtful, and strong offspring. It is the same action but the purpose behind the action is what is so different. One comes from a position of deficit where we feel defeated and believe there is not sufficient resources to go around. The other comes from a stance of abundance and gratitude where to be a servant is from a privileged position where love flows over, above and beyond and to give love only makes room for more love to grow, to serve  is to have the power and privilege to give love and impact change.“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are    

Action Step: This holiday season Pay attention to those messages in your head about what you are wanting to teach your kids and explore why you are wanting to teach them what you are wanting to teach them, and how you are teaching them. Your parenting voice has so much power and if you aren't paying attention you may be teaching unintended lessons or blocking important lessons.

One idea may be to introduce the idea of a sparkle box. Place a beautiful sparkling box under the tree or by the Menorah. During the holiday season take your children into the world and allow the opportunity to serve others. Take food to those who don't have food, take toys, presents, clothes, and blankets  to those in need, visit a retirement home to bring light to the lonely. As your family does these beautiful deeds, record them and then place the notes in the sparkle box. On Christmas Day or during the Chanukah or Kwanzaa celebrations have your children open the box and present them as a gift to Jesus, or God, or to the world. Build an understanding that being a servant is rewarding, and essential in being a well balanced human.

#parenting #purposefulparenting #growingleaders #BreneBrown #servanthood #responsibleparenting #leadership #sparklebox

Preparing for the Holiday Season: God says...Love!

There’s a first time for everything…. Usually the ideas for my blogs each day come as a result of listening to conversations in the air…and responding. This one however was a direct request…please tell me how to love somebody…not forgive them…but love them when they have hurt me and the wound is still fresh. How do I choose to love somebody, whom I’ve loved in the past, but the pain is so egregious even if I want to love them, I don’t feel I am able? God says to love them…so how do I do this?

I have often felt that this particular command is so hard, even when the person has not hurt me.  There is a rule of thirds out there that suggests that when a person walks in the room, 1/3 of the people will like the person, 1/3 of the people will not be aware that the person walked in the room, and 1/3 of the people will dislike the person before they have even spoken with the  person. A twist on this is, you could be the person walking in the room, so 1/3 of the people will like you, 1/3 of the people will not be aware that you walked in the room, and 1/3 of the people will dislike you before they have even spoken with you. Statistically speaking if these numbers are accurate, you only have 1/9 chance of being in the room with someone you are naturally drawn to, who is also naturally drawn to you. Just knowing this information could help change how you think of each person walking through the door. Today you can choose to think positively of every new person you meet. They are an opportunity to reach out to and to love. They are a new gift, offering you the present of their presence. Use these gifts wisely. In a world full of lonely people you have a chance to bring joy and light to someone new. This not only steals their loneliness, it can safeguard you from loneliness as well.

But back to the heart of the question…What if they have hurt you, how do you love them through that? The first step you must take is recognizing the sin is separate from the sinner. Start with focusing on the sin and not the sinner. It is the behavior or the action of the person that you disdain, and not the person themselves. The person is someone you have chosen to love in the past. This person is equally loved and cherished by the same God who loves and cherishes you. He forgives you because your sin does not define who you are, but rather a poor choice you made. Likewise, He expects you to offer that same grace to another. The person is broken and messy, like all people, including you. We all have work to do on ourselves. Focus on the work you have to do, which is to love and forgive.

Second, you must recognize that love is an action not a reaction or an emotion. It is a choice, not a response. Love comes first! God so loved the world (that world that broke all the ten commandments, that stole, lied, cheated, and worshipped other Gods..that one) that He gave His only begotten Son that we may be saved.  He chose to love regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of our sinful behavior. He modeled love. I choose to love you whether or not you deserve it. I choose to love you whether or not you recognize that I exist and that I am who I say I am. I choose to love even though and despite all the disappointments, poor decisions, unloving, judgmental, less than grace-filled, hypocritical attempts you have made to be called my disciple and my saint.

Third, you must recognize the opportunity to love someone is not a task to do, but a gift to receive. God says I give you this commandment as a gift. You see people are going to hurt you and treat you wrong on a daily basis, if not multiple times a day. You, yourself, are going to harm and disrespect others, as well as yourself, multiple times a day. This commandment to love is a gift. It is permission to have the power and strength to choose love and give it freely. If we are not choosing to give love and instead are choosing to harbor bitterness, hurt, and anger, we are choosing to feel miserable and hatred, which is only going to eat up our soul, and cause ourselves pain, distress, depression, anger, isolation, unhappiness, loneliness, physical illness…etc. By choosing to love we are connecting to a wi-fi system that generates energy and joy and freedom and happiness and power. We can choose how we want to feel. By choosing love and happiness, we are choosing to experience a good life. We are choosing to receive the present of God’s presence and power and grace and mercy and joy and contentment.

Nothing is more relevant than this time of year to remember that a little baby was born to this world for this very reason and this very lesson. Love! God LOVED! He loved so that we would love. He came so we could see love modeled. Love they neighbor as you love thyself. First you must love yourself. To love yourself you must love others. To be worthy of love, we must be loving. When we fail to love, it is hard to love ourselves or feel good about ourselves. We feel anger, shame, and disappointment. It is impossible to love ourselves without loving others. If we struggle with loving others it is because we are failing to love ourselves or we will fail to love ourselves because we fail to love others.

The hard thing about all of this is sometimes it is not as quick or automatic as we would like it to be. The reason is because we are experiencing, above all, a sense of grief. We experience grief and loss not only over the death of loved ones, but over the death of relationships, trust, security, job loss, being treated unrighteously, empty nest…etc. The first stage of anything we grieve is shock. We experience this so much more often than we recognize. When we fail to recognize that we are grieving, we fail to understand how to maneuver through it. There is a loss. Label what it is that you are grieving.  Once that grief is recognized for what it is, then we need to go through the process of letting go. We have to recognize all the good we lost, AND all the bad we lost. Nothing is ever 100% good or 100% bad. The grief process takes time. We don’t like letting go of what is familiar. We often don’t adjust well to change. Change is happening and we have no control over the way it is changing our life. Grief is the process we move through to not only let go of control of the change but to accept the change, as it is.  This process is not always immediate. In addition, when we are grieving the loss of something, it is natural for all our past unresolved griefs to throw themselves in our space. We grieve the death of a loved one and the ghosts of other deaths start ruminating in our souls. We lose a boyfriend, and the grief from our parents divorce bleeds into the picture. Grief compounds itself when it is not properly laid to rest. Grief requires that we recognize it, that we process the shock or denial of the event, and then go through the stages of anger, bargaining, and depression before arriving at acceptance. This takes time and energy and patience and commitment, Sometimes  the prayer of serenity can assist as we transgress these challenging changes. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

How can we go about flipping the switch from negative to positive when the pain is so fresh? It is easier than one thinks. We make a decision and then we stick to it. The hardest thing about making a decision is to make the decision. Once we decide to do something and commit to something we are an unstoppable force. Sometimes we have to recommit to the decision minute by minute, day be day, but once we make a decision all we have to do is stick to it. The hard part has been done..the decision has been made. I choose love. I choose forgiveness. I choose freedom. I choose power. I choose sobriety. I choose kindness. I choose gentleness.

Next, we must focus on things about the situation that make us grateful. Sometimes we focus on the lessons learned and the wisdom gained. Sometimes we focus on being compassionate about the situation of the other person that caused them to be careless in the way they treated us. Sometimes we focus on being grateful that because this challenge happened, we are being put on the path that we are supposed to be on, that we would not be on had this disheartening event not happened. Sometimes we focus on forgiveness, because forgiveness is freedom- I choose to no longer allow the pain to have power over my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I let it go so it can let me go!

Finally choosing to love a person doesn’t always look the same. Sometimes choosing to love is something that must be done from a distance. I love you… I wish you well…Take care! It is impossible to keep all the people you love on your radar…you still love them! The human condition is always limited by time, location, and available resources. People move in and out of your space, and in some instances that is healthy and natural and good. If you have an abusive person in your life, forgiving them and loving them does not mean they should be permitted to continue to abuse you or stay in your space. Relationships end due to proximity, time, space, and death! Love does not end. If you chose to love, it remains forever!

Action Step: Who are you struggling to love because they have harmed you? Make a decision today that you are strong enough and God is big enough and together you are choosing love!
Choose love… When you’re sitting with difficult family members at Christmas dinner. Choose love … When your in-laws make a criticism about your parenting decisions. Choose love… When your adult siblings bring up some painful memories of your childhood past. Choose love… When a conversation about politics starts and you know that there’s going to be tension in the air. Choose love… When your mother pushes that red button on Christmas morning that makes you want to just grind your teeth. Choose love… On Christmas morning when your children have an argument or cry or act ungrateful. Choose love...choose love...choose love!

Well done good and faithful servant! Well done!

Preparing for the Holiday Season: Creating Traditions

Everyone has their own favorite holiday memories and traditions. No two two people... have exactly the same view on what the ideal Holiday season looks like. For some families it is time together. For some, it is about the magic. For some, it is about the miracle. For some, it is about the memories. Some people celebrate all month long, with their lights up and music blaring  the week before Thanksgiving and some people can't wait until it comes and goes and the responsibility and work of the event is over. Some people even celebrate it in July.

Sometimes as parents we don't reflect on the decisions we're making... and we don't notice that a little habit or behavior can have huge consequences. We just do traditions because they are traditions and that's what we do. Just like much of parenting is winged based on what our parents did and didn't too are holiday traditions. We get caught up in the season without thinking about why we do what we do and what are the consequences of what we decide to do  when we add traditions to our households. We do our holidays on auto pilot and excite mode. We often spend more than we planned to, and over-exhaust ourselves, adding a lot of additional and unnecessary stress to the holiday memory book.  What if we did our holiday planning on WOKE mode?

Think of the Holiday traditions you currently have in place. Hopefully many will make you smile. What is the history behind these traditions and how they got started? How are they serving you and your family now? What lessons do these traditions teach your children? What emotions do they produce? What behaviors and beliefs are taught from these traditions?

Are your traditions maintainable over time...meaning is it something you are able to keep up over time? When the kids were little I wanted Christmas to be something magical because my parents had made Christmas magical for me. When children are 5 years old, it is easy to buy several little gifts and make a huge pile under the tree...but $5 slippers turn into $105 shoes by middle school, and over time there are much fewer presents under the tree.  Opening the presents that used to take a couple of hours to accomplish, could be finished within 10 minutes. Fortunately early on I had realized, my goals for the holiday was less about the magic and more about the miracle. I did not want the focus to be about how many presents are under the tree. I did not want to teach my children that they are the center of the holiday season and that the season is about how much they can rack up for themselves. In failing to think through holiday consequences or better worded in failing to plan, parents can plan to fail.  We can teach our children to love getting gifts...lots of gifts... lots of cool, expensive, nice gifts. That tradition might not be maintainable over time...especially when the college years hit. Traditions that are not maintainable lead to disappointment when they can't be maintained. Holiday standards are set early on in a child’s mind, and when the bar raises over time and is no longer achievable, the Christmas memories created in  early childhood can make all Christmases that follow disappointing by comparison.

Are your traditions something that can be maintained from one generation to the next? We have several traditions that started with my parents and were kept in my home as well. My dad sitting and reading the Bible...him passing the responsibility to us kids and then the grandkids are some we all cherish. He is not here with us anymore, and not all of my children have the same belief system, but on Christmas morning, taking turns reading the Bible always bring my dad right back into the room and makes Christmas, Christmas for me. My children will always remember how I read the Bible with them, and hopefully that memory will bring them much happiness when I am no longer here to spend Christmas with them. My mum's coffee cake being baked first thing in the morning...sharing my mum's shortbread with friends...adding a couple new ornaments to the Christmas tree each year...the smell of the Christmas tree and the wreath...the music...the time together...the card games...the movies...the countless other rituals are how we define the Holidays in our household. These traditions are rich and priceless. These are the way we show one another how we love each other.

What traditions do you have in place to extend that love outside the home, past the circle of friends? Teaching our children how to be generous and thoughtful of others is an important part of raising the next generation of leaders. It teaches our children that they have power and kindness. It teaches our children they  are privileged and that they have a responsibility that comes with that privilege. It teaches our children that they are necessary and that they have a purpose.

Are your holiday traditions in line with the lessons you want your children to learn as they grow up? Do we teach our children to give away their old toys to the poor so they can have new toys? If so, are we teaching them the poor get used, but the privileged get new? Or do we teach them that only rich kids can get good presents from Santa?

We are teaching our children even when we don't realize we are teaching them. The nostalgia of the holiday season has your little ones hardwired to paying attention and learning from everything you do. Just like Santa knows when they've been bad or good...your little ones pick  up if your are stressed, tired, angry, arguing with family members...and those become a part of the Holiday tradition as well.

Action Step: Think about what you really want your kids to remember about the holiday season. Think about what you want your kids to learn about the holiday season. Make sure your holiday traditions reflect what it is that you want your kids to remember, learn, and experience.

Preparing for the Holiday Season: Ho! Ho! Ho? Merry or Not So Merry Christmas

It is no myth that the Holiday Season is not a season of joy for many people. For many it is time of struggle and disappointment, only magnified by the fact that not only do a huge percentage of our population enjoy the magical season- so it is seen all around, but that there is also an expectation that everyone is partaking in the joy and happiness-which only adds to the disconnect and sadness. This year, if you are one of the joyous ones, please look around and notice those who are struggling. Here is a list of reasons why people may not feel the Spirit of the Holiday Season.

  1. This may be the first year that they are missing a loved one, who is no longer present to celebrate.

  2. Finances may be so tight that travelling to be with family is not possible.

  3. Finances may be so tight that gift giving, shopping, or decorating are not possible.

  4. Finances or job responsibilities that force one to work the holiday and not be with family celebrating.

  5. This time of year may be a reminder that the family is estranged.

  6. This can be a lonely time of year, if there is nobody to celebrate with.

  7. The holidays bring people together but the get together is often dysfunctional and unpleasant for some families.

  8. The struggle of the first years of marriage and learning how to create new traditions that both people can agree to.

  9. Gift giving...traditions...beliefs differ from one person to another and from one family to another and can cause friction.

  10. New marriages create new traditions for people, but they also interrupt old traditions. Family of origin can feel a sense of loss and grief as their children move on to do their own thing.

  11. The holidays can be so exhausting and take so much energy that the work overtakes the enjoyment and it feels like the holiday was missed.

  12. The let down... the Holidays were once magical and now they don't measure up.

  13. Being pulled between families, either due to a divorce and having to choose which parent...or due to being married and having to choose between yours and theirs.

  14. The weather...sometimes it just doesn't cooperate.

  15. Health...age...sometimes it is hard to enjoy the season when you just don't feel good.

  16. Homelessness and addictions can keep  you isolated from the experience or can push them to focus on their struggles and mistakes.

  17. They may not have reason to celebrate a Holiday at this time of year! Not everyone celebrates Channukah and Christmas and Kwanzaa.

Action Step: Pay attention to those around you. Ask and don't assume. Be willing to listen and be present to those who are struggling. That might be the best present you could give...the present of your presence, your time, your kindness, your thoughtfulness, your genuineness...because those are truly honorable attributes that give reason  for the season.