Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Slog



Hi oh faithful reader! So much for that nutrition series I promised, eh? What? You have no recollection of said series? Forget I said anything then. For the two of you that might still be waiting for the series to materialize, I must be honest and say that it ain’t happening. At least not right now. I was on a roll for a hot second (three posts – ha!) and then I fell off the wagon. In the most positive of ways one can fall off a wagon, I would argue. Technically, I guess you could say I jumped.

The old me would have powered through my verbal commitment to the internet, made the arrangements, written half-heartedly and pushed myself to the point of resentment (of whom, I’m not entirely sure) to pull off the promised series. But then I would have felt annoyed and unfulfilled because my energies were needed elsewhere, and I found myself experiencing a heavy sense of obligation, even if entirely self-induced.

I teetered on the edge of the wagon for a good long while, fighting the inner voices that screamed that not following through on a writing series that NO ONE HAD ASKED ME TO DO somehow made me a failure. Totally crazy, I realize (spoiler alert: I’m in therapy – but we’ll get there….)

Anyhow, I battled those self-inflicted negative thoughts of failure and eventually stocked up enough grace for myself to don my knee pads and jump off the wagon ON PURPOSE, intentionally trading my laptop and my promised writing series for a bedside table towering high with novels that I have been reading as if my life depended on it.

So that’s where I’ve been. Reading my novels and entertaining my 4-year-old whose preschool began their “summer” break WAY earlier than his mother feels was necessary. But I digress… It still bothers me that I didn’t finish the writing series but I’m sitting with it (which I’m told is all a part of the process). I say all this not to justify my absence but rather to give permission. For some of us, the harder choice is to say no to productivity and yes to this life-giving thing called rest. (You all know who you are).

Back in December, I began a new kind of therapy which I’ve eluded to in some of my recent posts. Graham and I did some significant work together with a couple’s therapist but then determined there were some issues that needed to be addressed individually before we could continue to move forward. There are many, many layers to the struggles I (we) have experienced, but one significant contributor that I bring to the table is my anxiety. I don’t suffer from the panic-attack-fearful-of-flying kind of anxiety, but rather, a form that presents itself as intrusive thoughts that can literally consume me if not held in check. Our couple’s therapist provided me the verbiage that these thoughts “torment” me and I can think of no better way to describe it. So, I’ve been engaging in some pretty hard work the past 7 months to kick decades of anxiety struggles to the curb. Or at least out of the driver’s seat. At this point, I would consider even that a win.

My individual therapist (who specializes in anxiety and trauma) uses a method called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and, to be totally frank, it sucks. Which is one of the reasons establishing times to REST and creating MARGIN in my life has become of utmost importance. There is just no way around it: the process is dang tiring. Part of the reason for this is because it pushes you out of your comfort zone in about every way possible. It is no secret that I like a plan. Give me a verbal prescription of what you want done, exacting in detail, and I will not disappoint. When I began CBT, I came in with a list, an agenda of all that I wanted to accomplish. I was ready to get down to business and “get it done.” I would leave my appointments asking, “What is my homework for this week? What should I be working on? What do I need to be doing to achieve my goals?

My therapist saw right through this piece of me and seized the perfect opportunity to make me sit in the gray. Some weeks, she INTENTIONALLY didn’t give me homework. She let me carry the sessions all over the place ON PURPOSE. There was so much less structure in our times together than I’d envisioned. I found it super annoying and remedied these feelings of discomfort by labeling her as incompetent. Certainly, she was unskilled, and the problem was her inability to “keep us on task.”

As it turns out, she knew what she was doing. And I hate being wrong.

I don’t have a check-box therapy plan (so frustrating). There isn’t a map showing how she plans to get me from Point A to Point B (infuriating). The process has been very organic in nature (drives me literally bonkers). But now I’m started to see it. She’s pushing me. Testing me. Stretching me. Forcing me to be okay when things aren’t black and white.  

It’s awful.

And at the same time, it’s good.

Because the process has been so ALL OVER THE MAP, I often feel like I have no barometer on which to measure myself to determine if I’ve made any progress. It’s been hard to know if I’m “getting anywhere.”

This past week, we paid our couple’s therapist a visit for the first time in 8 months to “check in.” She's been in our lives for awhile now. She knows where we started, knows what I looked like before I began this most recent journey into therapy. I went into our time together wondering, Had I made any progress with my beasts? The appointment itself didn’t provide this feedback, which I found hugely disappointing. But a follow up session with my individual therapist, who collaborates with our couple’s therapist, provided the affirmation I needed. She shared the following observation that had been passed on to her: “Kelsie appears visibly stronger.”

VISIBLY STRONGER! I can think of no better praise right now.

What do these words do for me? They help me see that all this yucky-feeling unknown I’ve pushed through, all these sessions that have felt all-over-the-place have actually been doing something. I’m not following a check box, step-by-step plan (at least not that my therapist has shared with me) but it is working. My intrusive thoughts have diminished by at least a fraction of a hair. If not twice that! Or more! I now have an answer for all those times where I’ve left a session wondering “Did that really accomplish anything?” Maybe not in that immediate moment. But in the long term? Absolutely.

And my sitting on the couch reading novels instead of “doing something more productive”? This practice has held an important therapeutic role too. I’m learning to chill. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to NOT function out of anxiety and spend my hours writing the thing for the people who didn’t even ask for it and DON’T EVEN CARE. I’m no longer operating solely under the dictatorship of those intrusive thoughts. Has it been easy? Heck no. Does it seem counterintuitive that my BEST THERAPY right now might actually be to quit doing and simply put my feet up and indulge myself in a novel. Yep. But it’s working! And that gives me such hope.

So, what does reading all this offer you, the reader, beyond just a bird’s eye view into some of the juicy details of my life? (We all love a good juicy detail - send me yours when you have a sec – j/k!) I know that some of you are in a process that isn’t fun. You might be working toward something, working on something, stuck in the middle of something, enduring something. You might be in a place where it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. The process might be feeling hard and ugly. And you might be wondering whether it’s still worth it to continue.

I have a friend who often reminds me it’s the middle that’s the hardest. The middle is the place where you could just as easily fall back from whence you came as exert the hard push needed to make it to the finish. The middle is the point where it’s most tempting to give up on progress and abort the mission.

I know the feeling. I’ve been there countless times. My word for the year is HOPE and I hadn’t had much of it until this past week. But God is meeting me here in the middle and, through the affirmations of others, reminding me He never left my side. 

I pray for the same for you. I pray that wherever it is that you are working or waiting or longing or hurting, that you would see glimmers of hope shining through the trees as you try to get a visual on your own personal forest. That you would see God showing up along the way. Stay strong and stick with your slog through the middle. Don't be afraid to do the work, no matter how much ugly it brings up or how awful it feels. You are in process and there is light at the end of this mess.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"But what if you can't hear God's answer?"



Last night, I was putting my 8-year-old to bed when she stopped me in my tracks with her questions. She was nearly naked, wearing only her underwear, her typical bedtime attire, that and an oversized square of stretchy cotton fabric that she sometimes wraps around herself. I was on night one of three of single parenting, my husband deep in the bowels of Canada, attending a men’s retreat with our church.

We’d swapped the dinner hour that evening for T-ball practice (a concept I have yet to wrap my mind around now that I am parenting olders) which is why we found ourselves “eating out” at the Costco Food Court at 7:45 PM. We had come just to buy fruit but somehow, I’d succumbed to $170 of other “essentials” that my assistants had deposited in our cart, as is prone to happen every time we visit the place. These essentials included swimwear (for the girls), dresses for a wedding we are attending TOMORROW (also for the girls - nothing like 11th hour shopping) and wine (for mama). Of course, we couldn’t try on any of the clothing there, so I was 97% positive the items would be deemed unacceptable for my eldest, who struggles with sensory challenges, upon our arrival home. Even when able to try things on before buying, 80% of them end up returned or unworn so I’ve gotten used to this routine. I was confident the dress she’d selected would be rejected as soon as it touched her body, but I bought it anyway and prayed this would be the time I would be proven wrong.

Not so.

She’d slipped into the dress a mere seconds after we walked through our door; I knew it was a no-go when I heard the sobs coming down the stairs before I’d even finished putting away our purchases. It looked adorable on her, a soft cotton number with narrow black and white stripes, cut shorter in the front with a small train in the back. She had wanted so badly for it to work but the little triangle of lace detail in the bodice was more than she could handle.

I went upstairs and assessed the situation, offered comfort and helped her transition to bed. It was getting late and we’d agreed that she had some other dress options she could wear to the wedding. I was about to leave her room after tucking her into bed when she let her frustration show. “Mom, why do I have to have sensory issues? I just want to be normal! Why does it have to be so hard to wear clothes?”

Her discouragement was palpable, and I didn’t have a great answer for her. I began rambling on about how there is really no such thing as “normal,” how we all have our quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us unique. But she wasn’t buying it. So, I stopped for a minute to gather my thoughts before I went on.

“Well,” I told her. “Those seem like good questions to ask God. He wants to know how we are feeling and it’s okay to ask him why.”

I was feeling proud of my diplomatic and spiritual answer when she fired back at me, her frustrated tone now rising, But what if you can’t hear God’s answer?”

Gulp.

Her words hung in the air, poignant and personal, the very question with which I had been wrestling. Dang.

She stared out her bedroom window while my mind raced, searching for an answer that would satisfy her and I alike. I started talking, hoping something good would come out if I just began moving my lips. I shared with her that I often wonder the same thing – how do we really hear God? I told her that, though I’d often wished I could, I had never heard his voice audibly. Then I told her about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers, how he moves within us and can bring thoughts and words to our mind. I told her that it’s sometimes through these thoughts and words that we “hear” from God, provided we can be quiet and still long enough to listen. Then I reminded her how we have the Bible, God’s written words to us, His promises.

Her lips cracked into a tiny smile. I could tell she’d never really thought of the Bible as God’s way of speaking to us in the present before. I saw her frustration dissipate as I told her that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God “knit her together” in my womb. We talked about how much work knitting is and how it takes great intentionality. I reminded her that God doesn’t make mistakes and I think what I saw was a flicker of hope flashing across her face.

“What would happen if everything about us was perfect?” I asked.

She looked at me, puzzled, so I went on.

“If we didn’t face struggles and challenges, do you think we would remember to turn to God and ask for help?”

I could tell she was starting to follow my line of thought.

“As painful as it can be,” I told her, “sometimes it’s these very struggles that remind us of how much we need God.”

She had settled into her pillow and I could see her body visibly relaxing as she pondered what I had said. I prayed over her and kissed her goodnight and left her room. 

With each tidbit I had shared, I felt a small internal sting. I was saying all the "right" things but each one I uttered left me twinging with a tiny string of doubt. I gave her my head knowledge, but what is it that I actually believed in my heart? 

As I reflect on all the words that came out of my mouth last night, I realize how easy it was to tell my daughter that we don’t often receive the direct answers we long for. It was simple and straight forward to tell her to read the Bible and pray and listen. That her struggles were intended to work as a means of drawing her back to God. The words rolled off my tongue, but now I am pressed with the challenge: can I let them be true for me as well? Can I sit in my own current season where my list of questions for God feels endless, and claim His goodness? Can I be okay with persisting alongside my struggles as a means of keeping me mindful of my need for Him? I may have sounded confident and convincing last night, but the reality is that I was preaching to the choir. I, too, wonder what happens if I can't hear God's answer. What do I do when I ask and all I hear is silence?

We may not always get to “hear” an answer from God in the way we hope. In the seasons where God feels distant and silent, I pray we continue to ask and seek. I believe we are to continually bring everything before Him and wrestle in His presence. Because it’s in this simple act of coming before Him that we are reminded of our greatest need - our need for a Savior.

I still struggle immensely in the "silence." How can a God who loves me not answer immediately in a way that is audible and clear? But what He is teaching me is that if we never ask, how can we expect an answer? I have seen Him more clearly in my wrestling of late than in all the times where I presented myself as buttoned up and A-okay from the outside. 

So, don't be afraid to ask. He can handle the doubt. And don't let the fear of silence stop you. He will meet you where you are, in the most unexpected and gracious of ways. 

Our God is good this is the truth I'm choosing to cling to today.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Bravery like birds


I hug her one last time, kiss her cheek, and whisper in her ear that she’s brave. In her eyes, old tears dried at the corners, I see fear, and it pains me. I bite my lip, send up yet another silent prayer, and turn my back and walk away. I feel like a mother bird, pushing her young offspring out of the nest, wishing, hoping and praying that she will open her wings and realize she can fly.

They, the ubiquitous “they,” always say that having kids is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body and I had never understood exactly what they meant until recently. In so many ways, she’s my mini-me. We think alike, we view the world the same way, we share similar struggles. I know the feelings of fear and dread that knot in her stomach this morning, all the emotions raging within, her mind that spins with tormenting thoughts, distracting, wholly consuming.

Her goal today is to get in trouble at school. There are many things we say and do in parenting that we never anticipated. Please take that rock out of your nose. Stop licking your brother’s toes. But asking my child to break a rule? This is unchartered territory, not the advice I’m accustomed to reading in the pages of parenting books. Specifically, we’ve instructed her to disregard her classroom rules and get up, walk over to the pencil sharpener and begin sharpening her pencils during a time when her classmates are seated on the floor and listening to a lesson. She is to stand there, toying with the pencil sharpener and creating a ruckus until her teacher calls her back. This is our baby step toward facing her fear of “getting in trouble.”

It’s counterintuitive and baffling, especially for me, a fellow rule-follower to the Nth degree. She and I, we care so much about what other people think. We’ve lived our lives boxed in on all sides by the opinions of others, desiring perfection, wanting to be found satisfactory. Because alas, on most days, we catch ourselves assessing our worth as based upon what we do, what we have, and what other people think of us.

It is these chains that we are trying to break today, in days past, and in the many days to come. We are undertaking what those in the psychotherapy world would term “exposures,” instances where we intentionally face situations that make us feel most anxious. And then, equipped with “coping thoughts” and strategies, we ride the waves of emotion with the goal of coming out okay on the other side, braver, stronger, relieved and very much still alive. These exercises are a part of a new approach we are taking, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a practice that is believed to help individuals overcome anxiety, which is our obvious long-term goal.

All morning, I’ve watched her. I know exactly how she is feeling. It’s written all over her face. I know she will think of nothing else until the triggering deed is complete. I know how it will consume her, how she will think, rethink, overthink and then begin the cycle again. She will obsess over how and when she should approach the pencil sharpener. Should she jump up and run to it right away after her classmates are settled on the carpet? Should she wait until five minutes into the lesson? What if her teacher asks them to bring pencils to the carpet? What if it makes sense to go and sharpen her pencil during that time frame? Will the exposure be void? What if her teacher never asks them to go to the carpet? What if she can’t get the pencil sharpener to work? What if her teacher never calls her back from the sharpener and she stands there sharpening for 15 minutes? What will others think of her?

We rehearse and discuss all morning long. She is plagued. She cannot fathom how this pencil sharpening ordeal will go down without an eternal stamp of embarrassment tattooed across her forehead. She can’t get outside of the situation and see it for what it is. It feels so life-altering.

Experience tells me this is how the morning will go down: she will walk over to the pencil sharpener and her teacher will say a simple “Hey, can you please join us at the carpet?” And then it will be over. All this anxiety over a situation that lasted a grand total of three seconds. No “behavior slip” with her name on it. No trips to the principal’s office. Her permanent record with remain unmarred. Her teacher will still like her. She will not lose any friendships over this. Her friends probably won’t even notice that she was missing at the carpet and they most certainly won’t remember the situation in two minute’s time.

It’s easy being the outsider looking in, but to be the one experiencing it? I’ve been there countless times before and I know it’s the pits. I can hardly stand it, knowing I am pushing my child to do this. Yet I know it is for her best. How often have I obsessed over similar circumstances?

We have been attending an anxiety group “for our daughter” and meanwhile, I catch myself frantically taking notes for me. Everything they present applies to my struggles. They are highlighting all MY behaviors. They are giving voice to the way I view so many situations.
I’m like a schoolgirl on her first day of class, absorbing, inhaling information. I’ve been doing my own therapy too and it’s like all my worlds are colliding in perfect synchrony, pieces coming together and building upon each other. We learn about our inner critics, these voices that tell us we are failures, not good enough, voices that convince us everyone is paying attention and judging. We learn about positive self-talk, our own inner voice that is to replace all the negative ones. We need to create new pathways in our brains. We need to reroute our thoughts onto detours, with the goal of those detours one day becoming the new main thoroughfare. All this is taught at a child’s level, which is apparently just the level I need.

I feel EVERYTHING. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see it more clearly before. I’m mortified that it took hearing the information presented at a class intended for my child to obtain a full grasp on it. I feel entirely overwhelmed. There is so much work to do. She’s been on this earth for less than a decade and I’ve been here for over three and here we find ourselves, on the same page. I mourn the fact that I didn’t have the tools I needed earlier to combat my anxiety, that for so long I have allowed what other people think of me to govern my life. I feel responsible. It stings knowing my daughter shares my DNA, that she struggles because I struggle. I know genetics are not my fault, but it doesn’t erase how this knowledge pains me.

At the same time, I celebrate our progress. I celebrate the ways God is working in our home and family. The Holy Spirit is moving and empowering and filling our minds and teaching us the way HE views us. More than ever before, we are learning to view ourselves as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are countering our negative thoughts about ourselves. We are replacing them with words of worth. We are learning to let go of the opinions of those around us. We are breaking the rules. We are living on the edge a little. Well. The “edge” for us anyways.

And, by the grace of God, we are being pushed from the nest and realizing, Hey. We might just have wings to fly.

This, my friends, is bravery.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Too Spicy!"


It’s safe to say I might have left a few of you hanging, promising to do a blog series on feeding kids, pumping out one post and then falling radio silent on the topic. For anyone who has been waiting, thank you for hanging in there.

I set up the framework for my approach to feeding kids by outlining the Division of Responsibility in a recent post here. If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will go back and read it.

Before we get any further, I want to level the playing field. I want to assure you that I struggle with feeding my kids too. I don’t have perfect little eaters. For a brief, conceited blip in time, I thought I did (ha! keep reading), but the reality is, none of us do. Please be assured that I don’t come at this from a place of having it all together. But I certainly hope you will find my tricks and tips and insight helpful as we journey this together.

I remember my first year as a mom. I couldn’t wait for the six-month milestone to arrive so that we could dust off the high chair I’d been storing in the closet of our condo, the very first baby item I’d purchased, mere months into our pregnancy. Of course that would the first baby-related “necessity” I would come home with, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be needed for an entire year. That high chair joined our clan on one of those hormonally-charged-we-must-get-everything-ready-RIGHT-NOW days that every woman who has ever been pregnant knows well. Somehow buying a high chair, the bump around my middle barely visible, satisfied my nesting urges that day.

We welcomed our daughter, survived the sleepless nights that made up that first half-year and then it was finally time. I was eager to venture into the world of solid foods, bound and determined to raise a super eater. I was sure she was going to like everything, never complain and jump at the opportunity to try new things.

Puffy with pride and confident in my background as a dietitian, I forged ahead in feeding her. I made baby food from scratch. I seasoned her purees with cumin, chili powder, even cayenne pepper, hoping “make” my daughter like spice and heat. Regarding all those parents I heard complaining about their picky kids, well, they were obviously just doing it wrong, I thought to myself.

I must confess that in those early months, I honestly believed I was on to something. My daughter did in fact consume her spicy purees without issue. She tried everything I gave her. People complimented me on having “such a good little eater” and I took full credit for all our successes.

That is, until we hit 18 months, and everything changed.

“Too spicy!” my verbal child would suddenly wail. She began refusing foods, and not just the spicy ones. The girl who, just days prior, was eating me out of house and home, was now turning things down right and left. I immediately grew concerned. What happened? What went wrong? I felt embarrassed and ashamed that my child, the daughter of a dietitian, was showing signs of pickiness, while an audience looked on.

As it turns out, nothing went wrong with her eating. Simply put, toddlerhood happened. My daughter was merely transitioning into a new developmental phase that was completely normal, yet it caught me totally by surprise because I was unprepared.

Alas, my pride bubble burst and I was quick to learn that in fact it wasn’t my “stellar feeding skills” that landed me with such a compliant eater during that glorious first year. It was the developmental phase she was in and her personality to which I owed the credit. This second year of life brought with it new surprises and my daughter became just like all the other “picky eaters” I’d been hearing about. The only difference being that she had a cuckoo mother who was spiking her food with chiles.

Most of our “parental feeding worries” stem from incomplete or inaccurate information regarding the normal nutritional stages that our kids go through as they develop. It’s easy to get our panties in a wad, stress out, and take it as a personal failure when our kids aren’t eating the way WE think they should.
  
Have you had a similar experience with a child who suddenly grows skeptical over a previously-accepted food? Would you call your child a “picky eater?” Does your child ever get stuck on one particular food item and ask for that same one, over and over again? Does your child’s appetite seem erratic? Is he or she easily influenced by what those around him or him are eating? Does your child have a strong affinity for sweets?

Well, guess what. I have great news for you:

YOUR CHILD IS NORMAL!!!

You can breathe a sigh of relief now. Though learning that your child’s eating behaviors are normal doesn’t make them any less frustrating, I hope it will allow you to let your stress level drop a couple notches. Your child is not “too far gone” in their eating patterns. In fact, they may just be passing through a normal nutritional phase, some taking their sweet time on a more scenic route.
Be encouraged, the feeding challenges of today won’t last forever. You are just passing through.
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Stay tuned for my next post where I will dive into some normal nutritional phases in greater detail...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eleven years



Eleven years ago, I married the man for me. Looking back now, I remember very little about our first few years together, aside from a handful of struggles that no newlywed would ever forget. There are times where I wonder, what was it that we wrestled with in the day-to-day, during that season when life seemed simpler?

It appears the size of our challenges grow as each year passes, doesn’t it? We have more responsibility now, more influence, more resources, more offspring who have joined the party. Suddenly more humans are impacted by each choice we make. For us, it’s these three adorable people that he and I created.

But it isn’t just the struggles that have increased in size. Our hearts have grown too. Hindsight reveals just how little we knew each other when we were first wed. We were just babies in love, with hardly a care in the world when we said, “I do.” Now we’ve covered more ground. We’ve seen more sides to each other. We’ve peaked at the dark nooks and the crannies and have tasted the things we’d once kept hidden. Years together will do that to you, revealing the inevitable that can only be kept concealed in the short term. The more surface area exposed, the more space there is to love and embrace one another for all that each of us are. As our struggles grow and change, so does our love for each other.

I’ve spoken into his life and helped certain areas thrive and he’s done the same for me. Pieces of us have shrunk and others have expanded. We’ve changed shape as a unit. It’s this dance that we do, an extra give here and then some take there. Sometimes we are coordinated and sway in rhythm, but oft times, even with years of experience under our belts, we are clumsy and step on each other’s toes.  

When I first envisioned marriage, I thought there would be a lot more uninterrupted, leisurely conversations and a lot less bickering over half-finished projects, who cleaned the toilets last, and whether it makes logical sense to put an area rug under our dining room table. (What, to sop up the milk spills? I’ll let you take a wild guess who stands where on that one). I pictured a lot more walks on the beach together, more romance, and that we would have the energy to pursue each other well without planning three weeks in advance. I assumed our relationship would deepen without effort, that we would grow closer naturally and not further away. I anticipated weekly date nights over weekly evenings spent in therapy. 

No, this place we find ourselves, it doesn’t look the way we imagined. It never does. But do you know what else I never foresaw? The beauty and affirmation that arrives wrapped within the embrace that follows a moment of raw vulnerability. Or the joy the stems from having a built-in best friend. Or the privilege of being my person’s number one cheerleader. The pride that comes along with having an automatic front row seat as I applaud him in his accomplishments. The immeasurable connection experienced when there is physical intimacy. Or the glow I feel, knowing I am absolutely adored. And finally, the security of commitment, of choosing to love one another, faults, shortcomings, failures and all, every single day.

These are the rich, rich gifts I never knew I would receive in marriage. 

Happy 11 years, Graham. To God be the glory! 

May our love grow evermore.