on the roller coaster

Photo credit: n-heath-_px33d4yu1y-unsplash

I have always loved roller coasters – the wind-in-your-hair speed, the crazy-high ascents that plummet headlong into out-of-your-seat descents, the crushing-your-neighbor curves, the hands raised high, and the laughter screams – oh, the screams. I have loved them backward, upside down, twisting, and splash-landing into water. I have especially loved riding the roller coasters with a beloved family member at my side.

But things have changed.

We are on a roller coaster of
circumstances, life habits and emotions.

And I do not like it. I have worked hard to adjust and adapt. I have helped my family create new places to study and work and purchase what is needed. I have controlled my anxiety and fear and helped others work through theirs. We have figured out how to stay away from people physically and still stay connected virtually. We keep our personal space, wear our masks and wash our hands.

Every day the ride changes.

The statistics of cases and deaths keep rising and invading one location after another. The estimates for business and school re-openings are months away with nothing certain yet. Hope and discouragement regularly alternate their visits; sometimes they show up simultaneously and sometimes they hide in a crowd of unnamed emotions. As soon as we get one challenge figured out and come up with a satisfactory alternative, something else changes or gets taken away. The economic impact is adding a spinning-saucer sensation to this roller coaster and that stomach-churning effect is one I have never enjoyed.

I am remembering today that roller coaster rides are usually very short-lived, a few breathtaking minutes at the most. This crazy ride we are on is going to last much longer. The highs and lows and the twists and turns go on and on and on. I have had enough already. I want to get off, but I can’t. 

I will need resilience.

An extended journey requires a different mindset and different preparation than a ride that lasts only a few minutes. This crisis demands long-term physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual care. I cannot simply hold my breath for the few brief moments of a short thrill ride. I will need deep, long, oxygen-filling breaths to give me endurance for the distance. Attitudes and actions must be adjusted, and then re-adjusted again, for a long haul. It helps to remember Who travels with me.

Thankfully, although I cannot control my situation, I can control much of my reaction to the circumstances. In this case, simply recognizing the kind of ride I am on, gives me new perspective and helps me choose a better response.

How are you getting through this crazy crisis ride?

when anger and grief decide to visit

 

Photo licensed: shutterstock_419668975

Anger and grief showed up this week. I didn’t invite them. I hope they won’t stay long.

We’ve been through a lot these past few weeks-going-on-months. Through the crazy, uncertainties, changes, and inconveniences, I have maintained a fairly good attitude and my faith has withstood the storm.

This week, however, my heart was sucker-punched with some bad news and, as is often the case, my pain quickly turned to anger. I was angry at God. I was angry at myself and I was angry at my inability to fix things that are out of my control and that I don’t like.

As I sat with (or, more honestly, embraced) my anger for the better part of the day, the hard self-protective shell around my heart finally started to give way to the legitimate pain underneath. I recognized that I am very tired. Tired from some long-standing sadness that I’ve been carrying around for a while and tired from the emotional weight of our new reality. Tired of simple decisions now requiring an analysis of so many possible ramifications. I am grieving the suffering and the deaths, the struggles of those who are losing their jobs and those who are still working their jobs at great risk. I am grieving the loss of connection, independence, and freedom for us all.

In the midst of that unwelcome intrusion, I needed to remember (maybe you do too?) that anger and grief emotions are valid and real, and they do not need to be brushed aside immediately with positive thoughts or spiritual truths, hidden away under guilt and shame, or diminished by comparisons with something worse that someone else is experiencing. 

I have felt like an empathy failure at times because brushing aside, hiding, or comparing have been my responses all too often. That has made it more difficult for me – and for others – to process emotions and begin to heal.

I want to be more hospitable to anger and grief.

I am learning that it helps to share my emotions with a safe person, someone who can handle the authentic honesty of my heart. Many times God is my safe person through journaling or praying. I am intentionally working to be that kind of safe person for others, biting my tongue when it would be easier for me to offer ideas and try to “fix-it”, and instead simply be there for others in their pain until they are ready for something else from me. 

I recognize that anger and sorrow and healing will often share the same table with my joys and gratefulness and productivity. They are not one-time guests. Their presence makes for a messier living space than I prefer, but I am learning to be ok with that.

How do you handle anger and grief?

_______________

**As I was writing this, I listened to Brene Brown’s recent podcast and she shared helpful tips for living with our emotions. It’s really good and covers more than I can in a few words.

it’s a little tricky

Credit: helena-lopes-PGnqT0rXWLs-unsplash

In 2014, we downsized to a townhome as new “empty nesters”. All of our children lived in other states and we wanted an easy-care, safe-to-leave-for-travel, smaller place for our new stage of life. We had an office, a guest room, and an open-concept kitchen/livingroom combo – plenty for the two of us.

Fast forward to 2020… the coronavirus has four of us living in and working from our little townhouse, often with one additional and her sweet beagle sleeping on the couch. Office desks are in the hall. The guest bedroom has converted to a recording studio. The open-concept downstairs plays tug-of-war between sleeping quarters and morning coffee-making and evening all-family TV watching interruptions. Online schooling and conference calling are desperately searching for quiet spaces and fighting battles for bandwidth.

Life has changed dramatically.

We are a family that loves each other deeply and we are known to be fairly low-maintenance when temporarily residing in locations away from home.

But this is different.

This is not a vacation or a voluntary friendly visit. Although some of us had chosen to live together before the virus crisis, now this arrangement carries the descriptor of “have to”. We have to stay inside away from others, we have to go to school and work from home, we have to do this for… no one knows how long. 

And we are all together in this place with the additional pressures of fears of the unknowns, health concerns, food and supplies challenges, separations from friends, and restrictions from the routines that give us life.

We are all adjusting in our own ways. Our personalities and preferences bump up next to each other occasionally. Ok, often. Some feel lonely. Others, claustrophobic. Some fear they will be the cause of family illness.

Plenty of feelings exist
that cannot even be identified yet.

One thing is common between us all – we are committed to get through this together -and get through it having learned and grown and hopefully come out the other end as better people for each other and our world.

Some of the things that have been helpful so far:

  • Communication – Have a “house discussion” – How are we all doing emotionally, logistically? We talked about our feelings and also how much outside interaction and inside invitations make us uncomfortable. We plan to meet like this regularly to check up on each other.
  • Conflict resolution – Name the issues. We are each very different and we respond differently to stress. We want to give grace to each other and not expect that we will all react in the same ways. We are attempting to resolve irritations and miscommunications quickly.
  • Consistency – I’ve read that regular awake and devotion/reflection times, exercise and eating routines, as much as possible, are helpful when homebound.
  • Creativity – Digital ways of working and schooling, new on-line shopping methods, new furniture arrangements, experimenting with new recipes to use what is on hand have surfaced as we considered new options.
  • Connections – Using face-visual technology to connect with friends and family doesn’t fill our social-distancing vacuum, but it helps to actually see the smiles… and the tears. We are praying for those who are serving us in health care, working essential jobs, and getting sick or desperately trying to avoid that risk.
  • Creation and Sunshine – We are getting outside as much as possible. For some of you, a short-duration open window may be all you can handle. A few deep breaths while I am there slow my heart rate and calm my soul.

I’m certain your life has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks. What is helping you manage your new reality?

what makes you happy?

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

I find joy most days and in most situations. I am generally optimistic and look for the best in people. My faith tells me God is good and so are His plans. Even so, sometimes sadness or stress lands heavy on my shoulders.

The other day an article captured my attention. It offered four practical activities, supported by neurology, that will help make us happy. The four actions are not difficult to apply, even if we are not brain researchers, and they are simple yet powerful. I want to share them with you:

1. Ask, “What am I grateful for?

“Gratitude makes us feel better” + “A grateful attitude improves our mood and increases our energy” = TRUTH. Gratitude activates our brain to produce dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that enable us to see rewards and take action to move toward them. As an additional benefit, when we are grateful for something or someone, those chemicals give us a natural “high” which motivates us to feel it again and so repeat the process.

The article also taught me something new:

Even when life is hard and we can’t find anything for our gratitude list…
it doesn’t matter! The simple act of searching has the same effect!

2. Name your negative feelings.

Pretending not to feel bad or suppressing negative emotions does not work to make us feel better, and sometimes has the opposite effect. Even if we can fake it on the outside, our internal limbic system is reacting.

On the other hand, if we voice our feelings, it reduces the amygdala reaction in our brain. Describing our emotions with a word or two helps diffuse the intensity.

We will increase our happiness
when we state how we feel when we are not happy.

**An interesting side note: Labeling is a primary tool used in hostage situations to diffuse negative emotions.

3. Make a decision.

Making decisions also calms the limbic system, reducing stress and worry. We do not have to make a perfect decision – a good enough decision will help. Deciding gives us a sense of control, and feeling in control reduces the stress hormone cortisol… and increases dopamine activity. In addition, if we do something because we “should” or because we “have to”, we do not get the same benefit.

We feel better when we choose to do something that produces a good result
than when something good happens by chance.

4. Touch people.

When we feel rejection in relationships, our brain circuitry reacts the same way it does for physical pain (activating the anterior cingulate and insula). We all need to feel love and acceptance.

Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back release oxytocin which activates pain-killing endorphins. Holding someone’s hand during a medical procedure lowers the discomfort level. Massage also increases dopamine and serotonin activtity. And the more we care for the person, the more their touch helps.

Hugs are powerful.

So there you have it. Four “easy” activities that can make you more happy. 🙂

Which of these activities can you practice today? What else makes you happy?


You might also want to read: got the gratitude attitude? or learning to be thankful

grief comparisons

sadness

Photo credit: Wendy Longo photography / Foter / CC BY-ND

It has been three months since my mom died. Sometimes it feels like years ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

I have not been able to write a blog post since that day. My mind has been foggy, scrambled, gray, and unclear. Some days my heart felt heavy, sad, and lifeless. Other days, I have sensed the warmth of her memory in the flowers and sunshine that she loved so dearly.

During the past months, some friends have asked how I am doing and others have kept an awkward distance, unsure of what to say.

Family members have all processed their grief uniquely, sometimes drawing close to each other, sometimes pulling apart because of tensions, anger, or a desire to process pain alone. Some have cried; others held their emotions in check; still others could not find tears even when they tried. Some went right to work arranging details; others were paralyzed by their loss.

In these three months, numerous other friends have also lost loved ones – children, siblings, parents, friends. Sometimes the deaths arrived as expected, peaceful, a long-awaited transition to a better place. Other deaths came suddenly, violently, shaking family foundations of faith and security.

Some of my friends experienced death much like I did… at the bedside, providing care and comfort, counting the minutes as they turned into hours. Other friends had no opportunity to sit nearby at the end or intentionally chose not to go there. Some appear unaffected by their grief; others are clearly rattled, and others experience a bit of both depending on the day.

I have found myself occasionally comparing my particular experience and my emotional response with others. However, I am learning that we cannot compare our different experiences with death any more than we can compare our different experiences with life. 

There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no standardized approved amount of time, feelings, involvement, or impact that death brings to a person. Each birth, each person, each death is unique.

And so, for me and for you…

Take all the time you need.

Feel whatever it is you feel.

Do what you can and leave the rest.

Give grace, especially to yourself.

Chose safe people and safe places.

Sleep. Cry. Dance. Work. Laugh. Yell. Remember.

Don’t judge.

Don’t compare.

It is grief and so it will be.

∼∗∼

emotional roller coaster

roller coaster
I have always loved roller coasters – the bigger and the scarier the better! I love the sense of risk and adventure and speed… all while feeling safe and secure by the buckles or bars that hold me safely inside the car. I enjoy the views and sites from above the highest peaks… and I never mind the flying-stomach sensation as the car dives down to the lowest levels or squeals around the curves. Wind in my hair, screams in my throat, hands lifted high… I intentionally look for that kind of fun at the amusement parks.

…but I do not want that same experience when I get back home.

Somehow when life’s happenings have the same character of risk and speed and change, it does not feel like fun anymore.

The last few days have felt like an emotional roller coaster to me. I have been on the high peaks of new friends, stimulating and encouraging work, and progress towards settling in a new home. Within hours, I have also traveled to the low valleys of family struggling with death-at-the-door illness, fear and exhaustion, carrying the guilt that I can not do more, and grieving the loss of my once-vibrant father who now hardly recognizes my voice when I call.

These ups and downs also affect my stomach, but now it is groaning and aching rather than flying, and I do mind it, and I wish it would go away.

I spoke at a retreat this weekend about how much we need to invite others into our life adventures and look for something to appreciate even in the hard times. The heart attitude and the help of others make a big difference for me when my life is twisting and spinning in all directions on short notice. I feel more secure on the wild journey when my faith holds me tightly and my friends sit in the car beside me.

I recognize that the peaks and valleys will be part of my experience until the ride ends. Sometimes I will slowly chug along on a mellow straight path, but adrenalin-pumping crazy tracks are often just ahead. I am learning that if I consider life’s challenges as an adventure, as an inevitable opportunity to grow and trust, and if I do not attempt the ride alone, it is not as scary for me. It is even fun at times.

Do you like roller coasters? How do you ride the emotional roller coasters of life?

rainy day – muddy heart

photo

This rainy morning is my heart today – gray, foggy, cold, muddy, and deplete of any desire to do productive work. I want to return to bed, wrap myself in the comfort of soft blankets, drink coffee… and forget about the real world.

Do you ever have days like this?

Intellectually I battle my mood… We need the rain. It is good for the plants. We’ve had such a drought – I should feel grateful. The rain will end soon, and sunshine will cheer me up again. I can DO this. Just get up and get moving.

My reasoning doesn’t really help much. I am simply out of sorts today.

There are legitimate reasons for my mood. The rain really is p.o.u.r.i.n.g. down, the mountain dirt road is truly very m.u.d.d.y. and not conducive to driving.

My husband’s father is dying in another city, and our conversations center around hospice decisions, flight options, keeping family informed, and the schedule implications for my “other” life and future international trips. The emotions in my heart and the thoughts in mind are as gray, and foggy and muddy as the world outside my window.

Understandably so.

Some days are not full of sunshine. Some days are gray and sad and not my favorites. Some days are not productive… or are they? Sometimes doing less means time for quiet reflection, soul-level conversations, nourishing prayer, healing grief, needed rest… 

I am normally an active, optimistic, sunshine-loving, type-A person, but I am learning to accept my rainy days and foggy thoughts too. They are a part of my life, inevitable and unavoidable… even purposeful. Cleansing and new growth come from the rain… for the earth and for me.

How do you handle the gray days in your life?

____

*Update: My father-in-law died on Saturday, Sept. 14. My husband flew to be with him in his last hours. We appreciate your prayers for the family.

authentic – my word for 2012

Lots of people are picking a defining word for this next year… so I decided to ask God to give me one too.  This is what I heard – AUTHENTIC – my word for 2012.

                                     Authentic means: not false or copied; genuine; real.                               Also entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy and true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

authentic emotions – We are going through a lot of change this year – moving from our 17+ year international home in Mexico back to the States. This huge change creates anticipation and loss. In the next months, I want to be authentic about what I feel – not pretend to feel more than I do…not pretend to feel less… It is not easy for me to say good-bye’s; sometimes I want to stuff the pain. This year I want to genuinely grieve and let people know how much I have appreciated their impact in my life and how much I will miss them.

authentic fears – Change is hard. I am often afraid that I will not measure up to new expectations; I won’t have something worthwhile to contribute to new situations; I won’t know enough for the task. I wonder if I will “fit” in the new place; will I like it? Usually I control and conquer those fears and take on the challenge anyway, but this year I would like to be more real about the process and the struggle I go through.

authentic needs – I don’t like to feel stupid, uninformed or un-involved in important causes (a bit of a pride issue here?). I like to do things well, and I don’t like having to ask for help. The truth is, however, that I have a lot to learn, and there are many who can help teach me. I want to read more this year and ask more questions. I want to discuss what I am reading with others and learn from them. I want to make difference with my life, and I want to do it together with others. I will need to honestly admit my needs to do that.

authentic me – I want people to like me and enjoy time with me. I want people to ask my opinion and read what I write.  Sometimes I pretend to be more like others – and less like the real me – so that they will like me. Sometimes I want to believe that I have it all together instead of considering what others actually see in me. Sometimes I want to be like someone else, but in 2012 I am going to work on being “ok” with being me – true to my personality, spirit and character.

authentic relationship with God – This will be the most important area and the basis for all the issues above. It should be easier, since He already knows what I am really like. I wonder if God shakes His head and rolls His eyes when He sees me faking it? Or does He cry… wanting me to just contentedly accept how He made me? I plan to have some very authentic talks with Him this next year about that.

How about you?  Want to be more AUTHENTIC with me this year?  Or what is your word(s) for 2012?

I’d love to learn from you!