Saturday, May 3, 2014

Does this question make my brain look small?

You've had a moment like this one, I bet.

You're sitting in a meeting, a class, a conference.  And you're lost.  You have no idea what the speaker's talking about.  Scanning the room, you're just certain everyone else is following along.  A few hot shots are eagerly nodding, scribbling notes, banging on tablets.

But not you.

Your mind's spinning.  You desperately want to ask for clarification, but you just can't. Because you're sure they'll discover you.  You don't belong here.  You're not who you say you are. You're a fake.

I had a moment like this recently, when I attended a chic after-hours networking event.  The speakers worked for cutting edge companies, and during one of the presentations, I got lost.  Really lost.  And I desperately wanted to understand, but I couldn't bring myself to raise my hand.  I was so afraid everyone would wonder, what's this girl doing here?  Clearly, she's in over her head.

And maybe I was.  I'm a freelancer after all, haven't had the benefit of brainiac colleagues or a big corporate name behind me since I hung up my corporate card and carved a new professional life from a messy desk in my home office.  I was there that night to learn.  Problem was, I was drowning, and I never worked up the nerve to ask for a life preserver.

I didn't know a soul at this event, because I'd just recently relocated and hadn't made contacts around town just yet. Honestly, I was just glad I'd worked up the nerve to walk in, knowing I couldn't catch one familiar eye in this new region full of uber smart people.  I'd left my home office and my kids and my comfort zone.   I tried to convince myself that in itself was enough, but it wasn't.

So I turned sheepishly and asked the savvy looking gal sitting next to me - hey, were you tracking with that second part?  Nope, she said - she was lost, too.  Ah, sweet vindication!!! Maybe I wasn't as clueless as I thought, after all.

Still, I wish I could go back.  Get over my ego, my fear, my embarrassment and just ask.  Um, I'm sorry.  I don't get it.  Can you just clarify a bit?  Why was it so hard??  Why couldn't I summon some Wonder Woman courage for just 20 seconds?

I came home and hugged my kids hard.  How many times had I told them, there are no dumb questions?  How many times had I encouraged them that surely someone else in the classroom would be so glad someone else asked?  I admitted to them that mama hadn't taken her own darned advice.  My bad.  It was humbling, and felt for them.  How much harder would it be to ask at their age?

At the heart of it, I think, we all have these moments.  We feel small, lost, overwhelmed, insecure.  We believe we'll be seen as impostures, like someone's going to discover our hidden secret.  That keeps us from raising our hands.  From taking a chance.  From actually learning something new and getting better.

For me, it's times like these I remind myself who I really am.  I'm a daughter of God and a sister of Christ.  I'm far from perfect, but I'm loved anyway.  I'm the apple of my Father's eye - and so are you. Through His loving lens, we really have nothing to prove.  We can reside squarely in the messiness we are, while always seeking to improve.  What do we really have to lose by raising our hands to ask?  By exposing the secret that we really don't have all the answers?  I believe our redeemer loves us so perfectly that the more we seek Him, the less we seek the approval of others.  And if we had all the answers, how could we rely on Him so fully?

Next time, I vow to let go of my need to measure up.  And just maybe, at least one other person will be relieved I did.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Man who truly delivers Doesn’t always Send Flowers

“I got flowers at the office, and everyone else was so jealous!” 

It was a commercial that made me cringe.  My husband scoffed, and while normally we might disagree on such matters, for once we were on the same page.  Someone alert our marriage counselor!

It’s this sort of “He went to Jared!” mentality that makes guys want to skip out on this whole Valentine’s Day deal in the first place.  And of course, there’s the shady subliminal message that sending flowers or giant teddy bears to the office will inspire your lady's, shall we say, amorous side. 

Shaming may be one way to motivate, but it never feels good.  Methinks there would be rioting in the streets if an ad featured a husband smugly pronouncing, “She went to Victoria’s Secret!!”

Truth - whether your man sends flowers to the office isn’t necessarily a true barometer of his love or commitment.  It doesn’t mean the woman who received them landed a better man, or that he’s more devoted.  Because most of us who’ve been married a long time realize somewhere along that line that real love, real commitment, isn’t nearly as glitzy as a batch of red roses.  (Even though they’re very nice, and I would never discourage anyone from sending them.  Don’t hate me, FTD!)

I'm happy for the gal who gets flowers delivered.  But I also want to say to the gal who doesn't - it doesn't mean he's thoughtless or unromantic, or that he doesn't adore you.

A man who quietly stands by a woman day in and out, or brings her soup when she’s sick, or accepts her child as his own, or affirms her work, or appreciates her quirky traits and forgives her downsides, or who works tirelessly each day so so can work tirelessly raising the kids at home, or goes church with her even if he’s a bit undecided - now that’s a man who truly delivers.

Some say Valentine’s Day is a ruse - that you shouldn’t need a national holiday to commemorate what you ought to do every day.  Personally I’m still in favor of setting aside a day to make a little time for kindness and affection that gets lost in the daily grind.  

Some of us need a little encouragement – and not just the guys.  Which makes me think - maybe I should run to Victoria's Secret!

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  Corinthians 13:4-7

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Peepless in Seattle

“But I don’t want to move away from my friends!”

Me neither.  It’s my standard response now, as everyone in my household navigates the news that rocked our world, again.  After 16 years of waking up to sunshine, we’re moving to Seattle.  

Yes – I’m picturing the rain, just like you.  But also – the GREEN!  I remember green!! And Starbucks.  LOTS of Starbucks in my future.  Guiltless, because enduring all that rain deserves a few pleasures, don't you think?  

But the list of people - and things I’m going to miss about Phoenix is long.   Waaah!! 

So we're dusting ourselves off and shopping for umbrellas with (mostly) smiles because after all, cliché as it sounds, there is nothing more inevitable than change.  I don’t know anyone my age (a very young-at-heart 45) who hasn’t coped with life-altering change – the loss of a home, job or parent; or a re-location, a health scare, or a divorce.  

Life’s moving at breakneck speed, and the pace of change seems to be accelerating.  Better hang on and enjoy the ride.  

It's not all bad.  As my husband (who will still be recovering from cancer surgery and radiation when we move) changes to a new job, my kids to new schools, and me to a new market from which to write, we’re gonna have to band together.  It’s scary – adapting to a new life.  We’ll have to depend on each other.   In the end though, I believe my babies will become stronger, more resilient and more independent.  At least, that's what I'm telling myself!!

As for me and hubby, well, a move is bound to draw us closer.  Right?

So, my advice to myself, and to anyone else coping with change, is this:

Don’t just Survive Change – THRIVE!
It’s not easy to adapt to something new, but the process helps you grow, like the rain on Seattle’s gardens.

1.  Accept that change is inevitable, and it never happens at the right time.  Walking through life knowing that anything is possible - that your life could change in ways both big and small without notice, helps us roll with the punches. 

2.   Practice Small Changes Proactively.  Life altering changes might not seem like such a big deal when you make small changes on your own.  Take new routes to the office; add a new recipe to your round; ask for a new project at work, strike up a new friendship out of your comfort zone.  Challenge your brain to respond positively to small changes so larger ones seem less intimidating!

Stay tuned for reports on how things are going.  I'm off to buy a raincoat ... and some stationary! Enough about me - how do you cope with change?

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 
― Laozi

This piece originally appeared in East Valley magazine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In the Eye of Cancer’s Storm

It was a moment that made me stop and suck in a long, deep breath.  Cancer.  After an endless month waiting, we’d finally learned my husband’s diagnosis.  Squamous Cell Carcinoma, HPV-positive, to be exacting – or Cancer on the back of his tongue near his tonsils, spread to a lymph node in his neck.  Um, no, not possible.   I lost my mom to this insidious disease (gastric cancer) just 9 months ago; so sorry, Cancer, I thought, you’re not allowed to rock our world again just yet.  

But of course, Cancer can’t be counted on for timing.  My husband and I walked through a haze and shared the news with thick throats.  Then, we linked arms, dusted off and readied for another fight.

Despite medical advances, Cancer conjures our worst fears, whether your prognosis is curable or life threatening.  Still, many patients, survivors and family members are molded by the experience, even despite a crushing loss.   Walking alongside my mother’s battle left me stronger in some areas, vulnerable in others, but mostly more resilient and more appreciative of life. 

So while it was crushing to receive this news so soon after losing her, my husband’s Cancer appears to be one highly responsive to treatment; my faith is strong; and we enjoy a supportive community, great doctors and health insurance.   So it’s easier for us to remain hopeful and positive.  The real heroes survive, thrive, and/or heal when they don’t have those in spades.

Recently I contributed to a book by Kathe Wunnenberg titled, Hopelifter: Creative Ways to Spread Hope when Life Hurts.  The book describes ways to comfort those enduring crisis, like Cancer, divorce, unemployment, and more.  My own loved one’s journeys with Cancer make me a giver, and receiver of hope.  Because the greatest gifts cancer delivers are the sweet expressions of love and compassion. And for that we say, Thank you, Cancer.  But don’t think we aren’t going to kick your tushie!! 

(You can follow our story at Caring )

How to Cope with Cancer:

  1. Rely on family, friends, and faith.  Tap into your support system, or create one online.  You may choose to tell just a few close friends; or you may connect with the masses via social media.  Either way, don’t do it alone.  
  2. Accept offers for Help.  Most people want to do something to ease your load.  Let them!  Graciously accept offers to drop off meals, clean your house and babysit the kids.  In time, pay it forward.
How to Help a Friend or Loved one Cope with Cancer:

  1. Listen.  So many have been been touched by Cancer, so resist the urge to immediately share your own story. Listen, first and fully.  Ask questions.   There will be time to empathize with your own experience.
Don’t worry about the words; speak from the heart.  It’s hard to know what to say to a Cancer patient, so just be real.  One of the best emails we received came from our niece, Julie, who said simply, “this really sucks."

This content originally appeared in East Valley Magazine.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's Never about the Yogurt: Peeling back the layers during a fight

What do you and your sweetie fight about?

Money, sex, parenting - the division of labor?  Living together means there’s a lot to knock heads over.  Big, little; it all counts.  But I’ve discovered my husband and I rarely have a fight that’s actually about the topic we’re squabbling over.

Case in point: the yogurt.

This is an old example, but the lesson we learned endures - if we can remember it in the moment, which is always the tricky part.  Many moons ago, my husband was bugged with me because for the trillionth time I bought the wrong flavor of yogurt.  He preferred red - raspberry, and I couldn’t see to remember it that with the other flotsam and jetsam running through my head. 

And it really, really bothered me that he criticized me when I’d been the one to go to the store and drudge through the aisles each week to buy the groceries.  Hubby and I are serial marriage counseling addicts, so during one of our many, many counseling sessions, the therapist looked me square in the eye and said, “It’s never about the yogurt.”

It was the first time I’d learned to really peel back the layers.  And she was right.  We discovered that my love’s real objection was that I hadn’t considered him enough.  I hadn’t bothered to remember his preference.  He felt neglected.  He felt like I didn’t care about him.  (Although in my defense, I find red-raspberry sells out quickly.  I wonder what other relationships are straining under the demand of red-raspberry yogurt?)

So I try to remember that in the midst of a fight.  It’s a lifelong process – learning to mine down to the “root cause” of the issue.  It’s almost always how someone feels – and for some, it just isn’t safe to say out loud how they’re really feeling, and what they need.  So anger becomes the mask of choice.  And in the midst of raised voices and hurt feelings and wounded pride, it's a herculean effort to stop, take a moment, and ask your love what's underneath.  What's this really, really about?

So if it’s not about the “yogurt,” what is it about for you?  Think about that next time - and fight the good fight with grace, compassion grit.

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 
 George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mission Accomplished: Building Hope, Finding Joy at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation

What if I told you my latest excursion involved hanging out with the coolest people on earth, enjoying a glorious massage under a twinkling skyline, showering with my feet planted on warm, glistening rocks, and meditating to live music every evening?

You’d probably think I’d scored a weekend at some decadent spa or resort.  On the contrary – my son and I went on a mission trip near Globe, Arizona. (A place you wouldn’t exactly call posh!)  We spent a week camping there with our church family during our annual mission trip to the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  (The massages?  Given by a generous camper.  The showers?  Solar!  Translation – from a plastic bag filled with water warmed by the sun.)

I knew it was going to be hard work.  What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun we’d have.   And despite standing witness to crushing poverty, we not only built hope – we found it.

Building more than just homes

In partnership with Amor Ministries, my home church, Mountain View Lutheran, just logged its 20th consecutive mission trip to build homes in impoverished communities.  We do this because Lutherans embrace a roll-up-your-sleeves brand of faith.  Our ministry doesn’t just take place within our 4 walls.  We’re called to serve the least, the lost, and the lonely – to love our neighbor across the street, and across the globe.  (And in Globe!)

San Carlos is home to the third largest reservation in the state of Arizona, where unemployment tips 75%.  We spent the week hand mixing and smoothing stubborn stucco, finishing walls, painting rooftops and toiling under the hot sun.  At the end of each day, we were baking hot, sore, tired, and grimy.

And I can’t wait to go back. 

The kids are all right

Technically this trip is designed for middle and high school aged kids. Spending time with my son minus the distractions of home was pure joy.  We joked that after a week of mixing and scooping thick, heavy stucco, chores at home wouldn’t seem so bad.

Kids and adults worked together in harmony for a higher purpose, each person in the hive falling into a busy formation.  I never once heard a grumbling complaint.  The promise of S’mores by the campfire each night probably didn’t hurt either; but we should give teens more credit. They sang while they worked; they showed respect to the adults.  They were awesome!!

After this, her third trip to Mission San Carlos, Bonnie Conrad (Ahwatukee) put it this way, “For the kids, it’s a trip that really affects them for the rest of their lives.  They find out they can build a house!  And they learn to give to others.”

It was Bonnie’s daughter, Kelly, who just graduated from Desert Vista that convinced her mom to go in the first place after she and her dad had enjoyed two trips together.  “You leave the comfort of Ahwatukee and learn how much bigger the world is, and how much need is out there.”  Kelly says the trips helped her see how much she enjoyed helping people, and inspired her to pursue a career in nursing.

Sore Muscles, Soaring Souls

We all agreed connecting with the recipients of the homes was a highlight.  Around the campfire, Karen France (Ahwatukee) shared that her “high” of the day was meeting Shirley, the Apache woman who cried when she saw her new house.  “It’s so big,” she’d marveled.  Mind you, it was 675 square feet.  Shirley’s the very reason Brett Sauer’s (Chandler) returned for all 20 trips. “I go to make people cry,” he said.

I’m so glad I listened when God called me to serve His people in San Carlos.  But as usual - it was me who received.  The experience left me moved, healed, touched.  Changed.  Who knew a week of hard labor and sleeping in a hot tent could leave you feeling so utterly restored, connected and inspired? Who knew I’d make so many friendships with people with whom I’d only passed the peace from the next pew over?

“That’s the secret of mission trips,” our pastor quipped, when I shared it with him.  Now that the secret is out – will you listen when you hear the call to serve across the street, across the globe, or near Globe, Arizona??

Enough about me - what about you?  I'd love to hear your story - so chime in!

(This piece was originally published in

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Taming the Tongue Invites both Peace & Persecution

I want to change the old adage we grew up with and revise it to read instead,  “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can really hurt me.”

Words are powerful.  As a certified word-nerd, I’m enamored with them.  I absorb words incessantly - from books and cereal boxes to advertisements and greeting cards.  I appreciate this art form that has the power to inspire, heal and educate.  Carefully chosen words can soothe a wounded heart, stir a nation and empower the oppressed.  And of course, words said with venom will wage war, sear the soul, and leave carnage in their wake. 

I’m thinking all of this because try as I might to speak the language of peace, my tongue very often gives in to temptation.  My propensity to use it without enough forethought has landed me in trouble more than once.  This week my tongue got me in some trouble, and I got back what I gave in spades.  Here’s what happened.  (Why do I always seem to be confessing here?  Please write and tell me I’m not the only one!)

Let’s just say I had a brush with the dark side of social media.  I made a comment that, well, let’s just say, wasn’t well received.  It wasn’t my intention, but I clearly struck a nerve by protesting what I perceived as a derogatory, divisive post. Can you see where this is going?  Yep, my words added some fuel to the flame.

Big mistake on my part.  What ensued was the most vicious verbal attack I’d ever endured.  I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say – I had never encountered such maliciousness before.  I was shaken to my core.

Recently I’ve fallen in love with the book of Proverbs.  Verse after verse speaks to the issue of choosing words carefully - that the taming of the tongue is the triumph of the wise. (My paraphrase!)   One of my favorites from chapter 12 advises, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Now, why couldn’t I have remembered that before I made my comment?!

I summoned all of my humility and reached out to apologize to this man for posting on his page, as we weren’t friends either online or in real time.  Such is the alternative universe of social media.  He didn’t exactly appreciate my attempt at humility.  And I learned two very important lessons.  First, I should always take a breath to calmly consider the right words.  Are they helpful or hurtful?  Do I want to inflict pain or healing?  Is it better left unsaid, even if I have to bite my tongue?

Notice I’m not saying that holding the tongue is always the best route.  How often have you bitten your tongue, congratulated yourself on your peaceful response, only to seethe and explode later?  What I’m talking about is measuring my words, and perhaps now and again swallowing them until I can string the right ones together when I’ve worked through my immediate response.

Second, even when I do speak the language of peace, or offer apology or concession, there is very often no immediate reward.  My words could succeed in diffusing or soothing – or, they may be scrutinized, labeled as weakness, even persecuted.  But it’s what I signed up for in following Christ – to do my best to emulate his example.  So here’s another adage I’d like to wordsmith a bit.  Next time my blood pressure rises, I need to ask myself, “What would Jesus say?”

Enough about me - what about you? Tell me the last time you tripped over your tongue ... or when someone else burned a bridge with theirs.

(This piece originally appeared in the Ahwatukee Foothills News.)