Friday, January 24, 2014

Blind Spots

You ever look at someone and wonder what it’s like to be them? I definitely have. I wouldn’t say I’m a super insecure person either. I believe I have a blessed life. I have a fair dose of self-esteem and I’m generally grateful for what I have. But every now and then, I wonder what it would be like to be in someone else’s skin and to walk in their shoes.

Social media doesn’t help with that tendency to compare either. As I mentioned early on, I’m fairly new to an online presence and I long avoided social media for this very reason. People only put forth their most polished image, broadcast their most exciting adventures, and highlight their greatest successes. And even though we all know everyone does that, it still doesn’t prevent us from thinking other people’s lives are somehow more awesome than our own. They’re happier, more beautiful, more talented…just better human beings. Again, our rational side doesn’t necessarily believe this but our emotional side might, depending on our state of mind.

At any rate, this thought got me thinking about a clip a co-worker shared with me a few weeks back that really stuck with me:

It highlights how we all have tendency to view others much more positively than we view ourselves. When we look at others, we see their strengths and their beauty. When we evaluate ourselves we tend to see our flaws and shortcomings. What is that about?

It reminds me of the concept that a heart knows its own suffering and no one can share in its joy (Proverbs 14:10). What this means is that we know our history. We know our failures and rejections. We know the negative words spoken over us. We know our struggles, our emotions, and our thoughts. We know things about ourselves that we desperately hope no one else ever learns about us. I believe that knowledge blinds us to our potential. It creates blind spots that keep us bound and prevent us from embracing our true self.

 So, here’s the gift of life we’ve been given- relationships. We’re here to love each other and heal each other. Rather than feel ashamed or jealous because you think someone has something you don’t, take a moment to consider that maybe they don’t know it. Just like you, they struggle and second guess. They might put themselves down in certain areas. They have blind spots to who they are just like you. And what if you were put in their life to give them the gift of a glimpse into who they really are? Rather than compare, affirm. Give the gift of seeing someone the way you see them.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Do what moves you

I have three great friends name Jennifer, all of whom I see and talk to regularly. They're all completely different from each other and yet very similar in the essential ways. They're each absolutely hilarious and down to earth. They each love Jesus, people, and food and that order (my criteria for lifelong friendship). And interestingly enough, they each share a love for running. Since that's an activity completely foreign to me, I wanted to interview them to learn more. What about running moves them?

Between the three of them, these rock star Jennifers have run 15 half marathons, 8 full marathons, and over 10 shorter races over the last few years. One particularly hardcore Jen ran the Mega which is pretty much a marathon/hike through the woods of Pennsylvania. I mean, seriously. Who does that? They all seemed to get serious about this “hobby” after age 30. If it were solely about physical fitness, I'm sure they would've eventually let it go, just like any other fad workout. The fact that they continue with this discipline after several years tells me that there's more to it. Something about running moves them figuratively and literally. When I explored it with them, this is what I Iearned. Running appeals to them on four key domains of wellness: social, physical, emotional, and spiritual.

1)      Social wellness- Each of them started because of a friend’s encouragement. One said, “After some conversation with friends where I said I could NEVER run a half marathon, they signed me up for it anyway…I got bit by the running “bug” and have been running ever since.” Someone in their life made them feel like they could, so they did. Then once they started, they became part of a community. Not only do their loved ones cheer them on at races, but so do complete strangers. There’s nothing like a crowd of people you don’t even know cheering you on and telling you that you can do it.

2)      Physical wellness- There’s lots of benefits to aerobic activity. It helps with weight management, prevents a sedentary lifestyle, and keeps the body regulated. One shared proudly, “My doctor has told me that since running my cholesterol looks good. My blood pressure is, and I quote her, “beautiful.” These Jennifers seem to eat better, sleep better, and feel better when they run. Sounds like good reasons to me.

3)      Emotional wellness- Each one mentioned running as a form of stress relief. It offers a solace to process the issues of life. One shared how healing it is for her. “When I was going through a painful time in my life, the marathon training helped me process my emotions and feelings by replaying what had happened until it stopped hurting so badly.” Running is her therapy.

4)      Spiritual wellness- Lastly, running is about nurturing their spirit. “It gets me outdoors enjoying God’s creation, and gives me time and space to clear my head and just get with God.” Through that consecrated time of prayer and meditation they learned these key life lessons: a) Keep moving, b) Be patient with yourself, c) Do it for you, d) Embrace all seasons, and e) You can do anything you set your mind to     

I have tremendous respect for the Jennifers in my life. I've heard their stories. I've witnessed their setbacks and triumphs. I'm blessed to be running life's marathon with them. They are truly overcomers and they inspire me. You might read this and not be any closer to running around the block, much less a marathon. But that's not the point. It's about taking this New Year and finding whatever your thing is. Discover what gives you life and teaches you about yourself. In this next year, I challenge you all to be like my Jens and do what moves you. I know that's my plan.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Assessment

This morning I went to my very first fitness assessment. In typical Crista fashion, I way over thought it and worked myself up ahead of time. And in typical life fashion, the experience wasn’t nearly as scary as I concocted in my head. Every once in a while it is, but not usually.

I’d imagine depending on your relationship to your body and movement some parts of the assessment will be more anxiety provoking than others. There is a scale involved, not a sensitive area for me, but definitely many other people. There’s a vitals check to measure blood pressure and heart rate. [Note: These will be elevated if you’re anything like me and your physiology interprets every new situation as the equivalent threat as being attacked by a wild animal.] There’s a body composition component that involves a bit of prodding and pinching with a body fat measuring apparatus. Again, I’m generally comfortable with the aesthetics of my body, but that’s enough to make anyone a little insecure.

The point of it all is not to judge or shine a light on imperfection. Like any assessment, it captures where you are right now to help you plan for where you’re going. I think it’s human nature to be harm avoidant. It’s much easier to avoid facing things that scare us. But you can’t progress without confronting yourself truthfully, accepting reality for what it is right now, and being strategic and intentional about how to improve. I can already tell this training experience is going to be about a lot more than just fitness. I can’t wait to report back on all the life lessons I’m learning through movement.

Physical training is of some value (useful for a little), but godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also the life which is to come. -1 Timothy 4:8, Amplified

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The counselor becomes the client

Apparently this is the year of throwing myself in the deep end. I have no idea why, but there have been several recent decisions where I felt compelled to try something way out of my comfort zone. See, I’ve always been a play it safe kind of girl. I play to my strengths and I generally prefer to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Well, I don’t know if it’s temporary dissociation or invasion of the body snatchers, but I seem to keep signing up for brand new, super scary, way out of my comfort zone activities- one of them being personal training.

You might hear that and wonder what the big deal is. But, you have to understand I do not see myself as athletic at all. I was SO not that kid that got picked for kickball. I always opted to walk the mile in P.E. class instead of run it. And field day? The absolute bane of my existence. I just didn’t have the speed, endurance, or coordination to excel athletically…not in competitive sports at least. So, the thought of meeting with a trainer one on one, a person who lives and breathes fitness, is really anxiety provoking…so much so that it makes me wonder if that’s how clients feel when coming to therapy.

As I said in my introduction, I’m a counselor. I live in the realm of emotional expression. I’m very comfortable with intimate sharing. Emotional intensity doesn’t scare me. I move towards it. But for the vast majority of people, feelings are scary as all get out and they’re avoided like the plague. I think that’s why those who come to counseling and ask for help are so highly defended. They’re terrified of being negatively evaluated. They’re scared to death I might discern something about them that they’re not telling me or perhaps they don’t even know themselves.

So, here I am about to enter a client role and I’m experiencing all the anxiety and second guessing that I imagine my clients feel. Should I cancel the appointment? Maybe I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing and I don’t need anyone’s help. Is she going to be nice to my face and then laugh and talk about me behind my back? What if I get started with all this and then I find that it hurts more or it’s too hard? What if I just can’t do it?

Framing my fear in terms of counseling work just confirms why I need to do it. Courage is feeling scared and doing it anyway. All of us are asked at different points in the journey to step outside ourselves and face our fears. That’s part of the human experience. I think it’s even more important for counselors and leaders to do so. You can’t take someone somewhere you aren’t willing to go yourself.

For any past, present, or future clients that might stumble upon this, please know I’m committed to doing the work I invite you to do. I know how vulnerable it feels to open up to a stranger and ask for help. I’m not sure it ever gets easier. But just know, I get that, and I’m honored you took the step to see me. And if do my job well, I’ll make you feel safe enough to come back.


Monday, January 6, 2014

My boo in my head: How we lead ourselves on

Not too long ago, I read a thought-provoking tweet by Frank Brown, Jr. Originally posted on December 19th, he said, "Sometimes we get so caught up in our feelings that we create the evidence we need to lead ourselves on. Hope is one hell of a drug..." I was immediately convicted because I've totally been guilty of creating evidence for something I wanted. I was also inspired because I knew I'd write on this idea, this concept of leading ourselves on.

It's kind of like that funny segment from MTV's "Girl Code," where they talk about someone famous and why he or she is "my best friend in my head." I honestly thought I was alone in the silly tendency to form an attachment to someone who has no idea. While it might be harmless enough, though no less stalker-ish, to form a friendship crush, it can be emotionally dangerous to create a "boo in my head." Especially, if it's someone who hasn't recently or possibly ever expressed similar feelings.
Now, I'm not talking about celebrity crushes. I'm sure nearly every warm blooded woman grieved a little to learn that the fine Idris Elba was taken. That's perfectly normal. But no, I'm talking about the person who's in your life on a regular basis. Someone who otherwise could be a romantic prospect: Your best friend. Your friend with benefits. Your ex. Perhaps, it's someone with whom you have an undefined, on again/off again, will they/won't they kind of connection. Whoever your person is, they are not responsible for your feelings. I'll post at a later time about the cruelty of intentionally leading someone on, but not today. This is about taking ownership of your heart and guarding it with all diligence.

First off, let me just say that I get it. The prospect of a love connection is unlike any other high. Seriously. Neurobiology shows that the infatuation phase or honeymoon period of love is as intense and as addictive as crack. Couple that with prevalent teachings in many spiritual circles about God revealing who someone's mate is and you have a perfect storm for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It gets really muddy if that person's already involved with someone else. Trust me on that one. I'm not knocking God's ability or willingness to reveal His will concerning a relationship in your life. I just think we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the possibility of self-deception when it comes to matters of the heart.

So, here are my thoughts. If you like someone, don't spiritualize it. Just admit you like them. If you want to know if they like you, just ask. That's right. Be bold and see if anything can develop. If not, let it go. Don't delude yourself by saying he or she needs time. Maybe it's a timing thing or maybe they're letting you down easily. If he or she is sending mixed signals, either call them on it or walk away. Who wants to have to decode every little thing a person does? They either like you or they don't. They want to be with you or they don't. If they aren't sure, that's revealing as well. Ambivalence is a rocky foundation for any relationship. You want someone to be excited they found you, not feel like they're doing you a favor. I once heard someone say, "I deserve to be someone's first choice." That's absolutely true. We all deserve that. It's a crappy feeling to be second pick. And if you truly knew your worth, you wouldn't stand for it.

I leave you with this. 1) Discipline your thought life. You might not be able to control how you feel but you can control what you think. Don't come down too hard on yourself for daydreaming. Just catch yourself early before a repeated thought pattern creates false expectations that will ultimately leave you disappointed. 2) Guard your heart. No one has access to that precious space inside of you unless you grant access. Access like that should be earned over time. Lastly, 3) love yourself enough to know that when the right person comes along you won't have to guess if he or she is into you. As my BFF says, passion is proven in the pursuit. You deserve more than a boo in your head. You deserve a boo who can offer mutual affection and public validation. Why stand for anything less?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

We're all waiting for something

Several years ago I went to a conference and heard motivational speaker, Lynette Lewis. At the time, she was Lynette Troyer. That was part of her story. She shared very openly about being 40 and never married. She had a successful career in New York City. She was active in ministry. She was and still is a very attractive and gifted woman and yet for a good part of her adult life her biggest desire for marriage and family went unfulfilled. But even in sharing her story through tears, she wasn’t at all bitter or desperate and she possessed no ounce of self-pity. In fact, I remember her very intentionally universalizing her experience to all of us. She said that we’re all waiting for something. Whether it’s a life mate, a family, a home, a new job opportunity, a shot at making it big, we’re all waiting for something.

A decade later that truth still resonates with me. I think we all idealize what we don’t have. And in most cases, once we possess what we desire, we find it doesn’t fill us in the way we hoped. That’s probably because it was never meant to.
As cliché as it sounds, I believe there truly is a God-sized hole in all of us. God is loving and gracious and He makes all things good for us to enjoy. But apart from Him, we don’t even have the grace to find satisfaction in the things we want. Furthermore, I believe what messes us up internally more than our hope being deferred, is the belief that somehow God is withholding from us. If we begin to accept that He sees our suffering and somehow doesn’t care, then we also accept that He’s mean. And in a world where people are fickle and bad things happen, it’s a lonely, unbearable feeling to believe that the one person in the entire universe that created you and is supposed to have your back, doesn’t.

Fortunately, that’s not true. It can feel that way at really low points in your life AND our feelings are rarely the entire truth. I won’t pretend to act like I know why desires go unfulfilled and why promises are delayed. I have no clue why some people get what they pray for and others die still hoping and believing for their miracle. That’s beyond my pay grade, as they say. I will say that desire is part of the human experience. We all ache and long for something. We’re deep wells of need. The greatest human love, the world’s best kids, the most satisfying career, all leaves us wanting more. And that’s okay. It’s by design. We’re all waiting for something and what if that ultimate something is eternity?