Owning Our Stories

Owning Our Story Final

For years, I’ve run from my story. A story filled with rejection and shame. A story fraught with self-inflicted wounds.

For years, I’ve hidden from people, afraid that if people discovered who I really was that they would reject me.

Scared if they found out about the things I’ve done throughout my lifetime, they would deem me “damaged goods.”

Fearful to connect, because connection implies openness and vulnerability, honesty and authenticity.

I was afraid of myself.

I hated myself.

Even writing this makes me cringe.

I’ve discovered, though, that unless I come to terms with me, I will never experience God’s best for my life. I will remain angry, anxious, bitter, resentful, selfish, fearful, and all the other cousins that come with these emotions and tendencies.

So I’ve been coming to terms with my story. My narrative includes a bunch of mess. It hasn’t been pretty. I became “the bag lady” Erykah Badu sings about in her song “Bag Lady”:

“Bag lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold on to
Is you, is you, is you…”

For a long time I thought that I was the only person I knew who went through the crap I went through. I didn’t think anyone I knew could relate to the baggage I carried. That perspective led me to shrink back, to retreat, to hide. I deceived people (or not). I didn’t reveal the true me.

I realized over the years that I’m not alone.

But I have received much help from my wonderful husband of 14 years in my efforts to achieve wholeness, to discover “the me” underneath those heavy bags. As I have slowly embraced my husband’s  encouragement and love, I know that I’m okay, that there is nothing wrong with me, that in my mess, I am worthy.

I am worthy. I am good enough. This is now my truth.

So I’ve made the conscious decision today to own my story. That story includes a main character who’s made many choices that weren’t good, that were really, sometimes, quite devastating for me. But because I’ve also decided to examine what’s in the dark, I’ve learned a lot. A lot that I’d like to share. Because I have decided that I no longer want to be less than what God has called me to be. And I hope that if you’ve experienced feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and rejection, you’ll tune in to my story.

I have exerted a lot of negative energy trying to hide myself, scared of what people will think. I no longer care. I am free to express who I really am. I am on a new journey of authentic self-exploration that I hope will help others, as well as myself, be better tomorrow than they are today.

Because as research professor Brené Brown states in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (this is an Amazon affiliate link; if you click on the link and purchase this item, I will receive a small compensation):

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

I’m ready to discover that light. Are you ready to explore with me? Share with me your thoughts.


Teaching Our Children to be Resilient

As a teacher at an independent school, I see so often how kids will do almost anything for great grades. They sometimes make great sacrifices, sometimes even sacrificing their health, to ensure they can earn that grade that they perceive will be the difference in getting into the college or university of their choice.

So what happens when the student misses the mark? A range of responses ensue, but what I sometimes see is a tremendous disappointment that can result in depression and despair, especially when it comes to getting denied admission to the top school of their choice.

In these cases, it appears that students may not have been taught how to bounce back from disappointments, to learn how to be resilient.  And I know how that is, because even though I went to the schools of my choice, I’ve experienced tons of disappointments that I let linger in my soul, to the point where I became angry and bitter. And it’s taken a long time to rid myself of that anger and bitterness (ridding myself of the anger and bitterness has been hard; I’m not yet done with that).

What if we were taught how to deal with life’s disappointments before we were adults? What if we learned that there are ups and downs in life, that they are to be expected, and that those downs don’t have to define you, that they don’t have to negatively impact how you interact with others in the world?  What if we learned that, as the late Nelson Mandela mused,

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”

~Nelson Mandela

I recently saw a fabulous TED Talk by Educator and Spoken Word Poet Sarah Kay entitled, “If I Should Have a Daughter.” In the poem, she essentially speaks of teaching her daughter (if she had one) how to bounce back from adversity, since it’s a guaranteed part of life. It’s a beautiful piece and performance, one that I will show my daughter, to show her that, as Sarah says,

“You will put the wind in win some, lose some,
You will put the star in starting over, and over,
And no matter how many landmines erupt in a minute,
Be sure your mind lands
On the beauty of the funny place called life…”

~ Sarah Kay

Here’s the video.  Let me know what you think.

How to Take Control of Your Fears

Fear and Imagination Quote

What is fear?

An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat

Often, fear tells us there is something wrong that needs to be addressed or corrected.  For example, I feared if I didn’t change my eating habits, my cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels would continue to increase and I’d develop diabetes.  Then I’d end up like my dad, who had a stroke and ultimately passed away.  The message?  Cut down on the processed foods and sugar, and exercise regularly. I did exactly that, and the fear I had that my poor health habits would threaten my health led to me making better choices and becoming healthier and stronger.

But often, we look at Fear as something to be conquered, something to be overcome.  We look at Fear as something that can paralyze us.  We fear not being good enough.  We fear the past.  We fear the future.  We fear failure.  And these fears can seem to be very real, especially if we play around with them in our minds.

I’ve done this.  I’ve feared the past.  I feared that my husband would be just like the men I allowed hurt me in my past, because, of course, all men are the same.  And because of this fear, I treated him like he would hurt me as others did in my past by being defensive toward him.

I wanted to rid myself of Fear.  After all, the most frequently stated admonition in the Bible is, “Do not fear.”

I found this to be a monumental task, and that if I spent time thinking about it, even imagining how I could rid myself of it, Fear became bigger.

But what if we looked at Fear as “an amazing act of the imagination,” instead of something that we conquer, says fiction writer Karen Thompson Walker in a TED Talk entitled “What Fear Can Teach Us”.  What if we looked at our fears as stories?

Yes, stories.  Stories with character, setting, and plot, with a beginning, middle, and ending.

According to Walker,

“…fears are…a kind of unintentional storytelling we’re all born knowing how to do.”

And don’t we tell the stories?  In my own story, I’m the main character, of course.  I see how stories have run their course in the past, and I’ve told my stories in ways consistent with how they’ve progressed in the past.  In doing so, I’ve used my imagination as a breeding ground for my fears.  I’ve wasted a lot of time doing that.  And I can’t get the time back.

So why don’t I use my fears to tell different stories?  I can come up with a different plot, definitely a different ending.  My story doesn’t have to end up the way it’s always ended up.  I can make different choices in my story.  I can actually choose my actions and plot based on how I want my story to end.

So if I have a fear of not being good enough that, in the past, caused me to behave in ways that sabotaged my relationship, why not tell my story differently than in the past so that it ends well?  In my narrative, I can imagine that I am worthy of having a great relationship.  In the process of me using my imagination to tell a different story of my worth, I believe it.  And then I make choices that contribute to that better relationship.  I don’t sabotage my relationship the way I’ve done in the past because of the false story I’ve told about my worth in the past.  I’ve now used my imagination in a positive way.  According to Ed Finn in his article “The Spark of Imagination,

“Imagination is a powerful tool for changing the world because it can simply rewrite reality as we perceive it.”

I can simply rewrite what I want my reality to be and change my own internal world, leading to a change in my external world, my relationship (or any other aspect of my life).

But essential to being able to tell better stories is to be able to read our fears.  Is the fear real?  Is the fear justified?  If the fear is real, if it is justified, then I must take steps to address it.

But if, after reading or examining the fear, we determine that the “narrative” is “false evidence appearing real,” then we can rewrite our plot.

Prior to seeing Karen Thompson Walker’s TED talk, through much prayer and reflection, I’ve been able to change what I’ve imagined concerning my husband.  I see my husband as the gift God gave me, instead of seeing him in the context of past relationships.  As a result, our relationship has improved greatly.

But since I’ve begun writing this post, I’ve had the opportunity to address certain fears, and it really has been helpful to view them as narratives.  Instead of reacting and operating on auto-pilot, I was intentional to think about how I wanted my story to end.  I behaved differently, and situations didn’t escalate.  It works!

What do you think about viewing your fears as stories?  How would your situations resulting from fear turn out if you used your imagination to generate narratives that turned out well?

How Can Being More Selfish be the Key to a Successful Relationship?

“‘Making small sacrifices for your partner when you don’t feel like it could be damaging to your relationship,’ according to social scientists from the University of Arizona.”

via Being MORE selfish is the key to a successful relationship claims research | Mail Online.

I have generally been a selfish person.  Giving of myself has not been a trait I’ve taken to well in my life, at least not in intimate relationships.  Sharing of myself, my true self, was not something I did because it exposed me in ways I didn’t want people to see.

So before Solomon became my husband, he met and courted that selfish woman.  That selfish woman was okay with him if her needs and wants were being met.  But here was the problem:  I did not reciprocate meeting my husband’s needs, particularly his emotional needs.

Now you might say, “You surely didn’t love that man.”

To which I’d say, “Not true.”  However, throughout my lifetime, I didn’t learn how to love in intimate relationships.  Because I had been hurt so many times.

Let me rephrase that.  I allowed myself to be hurt, many times because of my own foolishness.

No matter the source, whether through my own choices or someone’s choice to hurt me, I built a wall that became almost impenetrable.  I felt I had to defend myself.  Do things for myself.  Protect myself.  Be selfish.  Who’s going to take care of me but me?

Needless to say, my marriage was full of clash.  For many years.  Because my husband would sacrifice for me, yet I would feel put out if I had to do the same for him.  (This does not imply that my husband is a pushover by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, my husband is the strongest, wisest, most profound man I’ve ever known in my entire life.)

So it would appear that my selfishness should’ve helped my relationship, because after all, if I didn’t feel like helping and I did anyway, I wouldn’t be true to myself.

But it didn’t.

One of my husband’s greatest strengths is his ability to put the needs of others above his own, especially mine.  Whenever I’ve needed something, he’s always been there for me, even when he has to sacrifice something important to him to make sure I have what I need.  I’ve felt safe in those moments.  And there have been many moments.  However, I would often fall back in defense mode without thinking, allowing my autopilot responses to take over when I became angry or irritated.

I recently read something though, that I’ve started to adopt, and have reaped the benefits of doing so.  Instead of thinking, “making small sacrifices for your partner when you don’t feel like it could be damaging your relationship,” I began thinking that if I do what my husband needs me to do, we’ll be better off.  We’ll have more harmony.  We’ll have more joy.  We’ll enjoy each other much more.  The love between us will grow.  So I began to pay attention to little things he needed.  Even when I didn’t want to do them.

And then I read a chapter in Og Mandino’s University of Success entitled, “How to Get People to Help You Succeed,” by Robert Conklin.  Just so you know, it’s not about manipulating people into doing what you want.  Robert’s premise behind the chapter is:

“To the degree you give others what they need, they will give you what you need.”

Needs are, as Robert Conklin says, different than wants, because wants can be fleeting.  They are sometimes never satisfied.  However,

“…needs are the deeper currents of one’s existence.  They are meaningful, worthy, and not as capricious as wants.”

So what are some of the things people need in relationships?  They need (this is not an all-inclusive list at all):

  • Recognition
  • Support
  • Cooperation
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Love
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So meeting someone’s needs in a relationship goes beyond doing chores.  If you look at it as merely doing a chore, and you don’t feel like doing it, sure, you’re going to feel like you’re imposed upon (at least I would, and have).  But if you look at it as your spouse needs your support and cooperation in order to accomplish a goal, or to meet a deadline, or just to make life a little easier for him, then you go beyond the superficial, “This is my husband’s job.  I shouldn’t have to do this.”  You get to, “I’m helping him get to where he wants to go.  I’m helping meet a need so he can do what God has called him to do.”  And that, I believe, can help us get out of our selfish individualism.  And that, in essence, can help us to get our own needs met as well.  I know that when I am conscious of this principle, my relationship works better.  I enjoy my husband much more.  And he enjoys me more as well.  I’m not saying I’ve got it all together, though.  In fact, I still make missteps, and I feel guilty every time.  But I pick myself back up, ready to discover how I can help meet my husband’s needs so he can grow and become more than he could become if I withhold my support, my cooperation, my recognition of him, my respect for him.

The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4,

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

I think this is great advice for our relationships.

So can being more selfish be the key to a successful relationship?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Do You Have a “Microwave Mentality” Toward Change?


Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a craving for some popcorn today.  So I popped some.

If we’re popcorn eaters, it is probably fair to say that many of us would purchase microwave instead of regular popcorn.  Why?  The microwave variety is more convenient and takes less time to prepare.  Just throw it in the microwave for approximately 2-4 minutes (or hit the popcorn button on your wave machine) and be done with it.

One day, I decided to buy a bag of regular kernel popcorn – the store brand, no less – to prepare for an at-home movie outing.  It cost me less than two dollars.  I prepared to pop the corn, placing a thin layer of vegetable oil in the bottom of a medium sized pot, pouring the popcorn in the pot to cover the bottom, putting some chunks of Country Crock on top of the kernels, and sprinkling some Old Bay seasoning on the whole thing.  Once I prepared the popcorn, I put a top on the pot, turned the flame on sort of high, and waited.  It took awhile for the oil to get hot enough to pop the corn, probably the same amount of time it takes for the popcorn to pop in the microwave.  In fact, my daughter asked, “When is it going to start to pop?” because she wanted the popcorn right then.  Finally, the popcorn started popping.  That took a little while too.  But when the kernels stop popping and I took off the top of the pot, I had beautifully popped, buttery popcorn with no burning!  It took a little more time to prepare it this way, but it sure was worth the wait.  I achieved a much better result.  That popcorn was delicious!

So who the heck cares about popcorn and how it’s cooked?  What does this have to do with anything?

Just like the popcorn, or anything else we microwave, we sometimes seek changes in our lives to happen quickly.  Let’s take weight loss, for example.  I gained 37 pounds during my pregnancy – nine years ago.  Up until last year, I carried 20 pounds of that baby weight.  But last year, I decided I wanted to become healthy for me and my family.  Of course, I wanted to lose the weight quickly, but I knew if I lost it too rapidly, there’d be a good chance I’d gain the weight back.  We know that sometimes significant changes need to be made in order to achieve weight loss (I had 30 pounds to lose), but usually gimmicks and quick fixes cannot be maintained.  In fact, the American Heart Association stated, “Because most quick-weight-loss diets require drastic changes in eating patterns, you can’t stay on them for long.”  So if we lose the weight quickly, we often gain the weight back, sometimes more than what we gained in the first place.  Quick fixes usually don’t work, at least not permanently.  But I made changes gradually, changes that I could maintain.  I learned what I could and could not eat and when I could eat it.  I didn’t starve myself.  I ate plenty of food (sometimes still too much).  I began to work out regularly.  So I am now 20 pounds lighter than I was this time last year.  It’s taken a year.  And I feel good that as long as maintain my new habits and let go of the bad, I will keep the weight off permanently (I actually have 10 more pounds to go).

Angry Woman

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s take another example.  For years, I didn’t control my emotions.  In fact, I carried suppressed anger that I allowed rear its ugly head in my marriage often.  It goes without saying that if I wanted to my marriage to succeed, I had to make some changes.  And I wanted the changes to happen quickly.  So over the years, I prayed, praised God, worshipped God, read my Bible regularly.  And when I engaged in these activities, I thought I was emotionally healed.  I thought that God was going to instantly heal me of my emotional baggage.  After all, when Jesus healed people, it was usually an immediate healing.  And surely, after most church services, I left feeling good, believing in my heart God had touched me in some way.  And He did.

Deep down, my soul was still sick.

Yet, I continued to pray, I continued to read and reflect, I continued to seek God for my change.  And as I persevered, things began to change.  I began to look at my husband through different lenses.  I began to see the glass as half full.  God revealed to me how to make the changes.  It wasn’t pretty, but after some years, I’ve learned how not to becoming offended so easily, how to communicate better, and how to see my husband as the gift God graciously gave me.  We’ve now been married 12 years.  And our relationship is better than it has ever been, and getting better!

I have come to a different understanding of emotional and spiritual healing these days.  God is the source of healing for me.  But I don’t think God does takes a “microwave popcorn” approach to it (at least He hasn’t for me).  As the Greek slave and fable author Aesop said in The Tortoise and the Hare, ”Slow and steady wins the race.”  And for me and my emotional health comes in the form of being more attuned to my immediate circumstances and how I react to them.  But it’s taken time for me to figure out how to become more sensitive to how I react to things.

My emotional healing hasn’t been a quick fix, as much as I’ve wanted it to be.  It has been a slow process.  Yet it sure feels good to have a different response and reap the benefits of that response today.

So for those of you who are seeking a change (or changes), it may not be helpful to seek the quick fix.  Because while temporary relief may come and go, transformation achieved through effort and struggle is lasting.

“Time is a dressmaker, specializing in alterations.”  ~Faith Baldwin