Sweet Moment: My In-Laws

Sweet Moment: My In-Laws

When I share with friends that my husband’s parents are coming to visit and that said parents are going to be staying with us, I usually see a look on their face that resembles something like pity mixed with a little horror.

My in-laws (isn’t there another word for that?) just left this morning after spending 10 days in our home, and it was a really fun and lovely time. I’m aware of how lucky I am that I get along with my husband’s parents and that they like me too!

When they visit, my father-in-law fixes whatever needs fixing and my mother-in-law does things like this around the house:

I’ll share an experience that’s really the essence of my relationship with those lovely people referred to as my in-laws. They live on the east coast, and we fly out to visit them every year and stay in their home. A couple of years ago, they pulled out all of their family-inherited china and dishes and heirlooms and arranged these pieces on their large dining room table. The spread was just beautiful.

Diana (my mother in-law) told me and Tracy (her daughter) that they were starting to downsize and clean out their home. She shared that we could pick out whatever pieces we wanted to keep. There was a Danish tea set from the 1800s, several delicate tea cups, beautiful plates, items they received from their parents, items received as gifts from their wedding…

I took a moment and just stood in front of this table taking it all in – taking in the significance of what was happening. Diana and her husband were including me in this amazing act of passing on their treasured family items. My perception of what was happening was that they saw me as part of their family – of course I married their son and am family but this was in a way that I hadn’t realized before. And I was able to participate in this sacred family moment.

This really meant a lot to me. My own family doesn’t have family items or heirlooms to pass along. I assume that my relatives in my parents’ home countries probably inherited anything that was meant to be passed down.

So being part of this experience with my husband’s family was deeply moving for me. There’s something powerful about receiving an item that has been passed down. And not because I received some beautiful antique pieces, but because I am loved that much.

Honesty & Vulnerability

Honesty & Vulnerability

One of the issues I see frequently in therapy with my clients is an overwhelming fear of being vulnerable – with me and with others. This can make moving forward in therapy tricky.

I’ve struggled with being vulnerable as well. In the past, it’s felt unsafe.

We live in a culture where we are afraid of our fear and our feelings, and vulnerability is mistakenly associated with weakness. It can feel uncomfortable, because we are afraid of what others will think of us or afraid of being hurt.

One of the best ways to connect with those we love and the only way that true healing can happen is if we are brave enough to be honest with ourselves and vulnerable with others.

This requires not hiding behind anger (which can feel powerful) or not hiding behind a wall of perceived strength built by the ego.

Bren√© Brown says is best in Daring Greatly: vulnerability is life’s greatest dare.

 

A Dose of Hope & Inspiration

A Dose of Hope & Inspiration

I’ve seen the video below three times, and each time it brings tears to my eyes.

It’s one of the best examples of human creativity and the power of internet to bring together people from different countries and cultures in what I would call an expression of love. Breaking down boundaries across the globe and generations. Just so damn beautiful.

So here you go. A small dose of feel-good inspiration to get you off your butt and out doing something good in the world:

 

 

Being Good Enough

Being Good Enough

Several years ago my daughter played the cello when she was in elementary school and it thrilled me to no end. The sound of the cello resonates deep in my body. It’s melancholy, and I hear it sing a sad song of yearning and longing for the beloved.

It is truly my favorite instrument – and she was damn good.

So when the kiddo switched to the clarinet, well . . . that was a sad day for me. And when I was required to complete a heartfelt project in the second year of my Master’s Program, I decided that it was time for me to give it shot and learn to play.

I was pretty nervous about this undertaking. I’d not played any instrument since I took piano lessons as a child and over the years had developed a misbelief that I was not creative enough to play anything.

And not only would I be learning to play the cello in a few short months, but there were rumors that I just might possibly perform in front of my 200-person class at the end of the year . . .

So off I went. I hired an amazing cello instructor named Emily at Baxter Northrup, rented a beautiful cello that I named Neda, and met with my Project Team mates (Alycia Schlesinger and Jenny Caruso) twice a month for mutual support.

I practiced in hiding at first because I was embarrassed about my playing but with my husband’s encouragement, I quickly learned to ignore the negative self-talk and moved from the bedroom to the living room for my evening routine.

During our Project Team meetings, I shared with Alycia and Jenny all of the fears and judgments that surfaced about myself while pushing my edge this way. They all boiled down to “I wasn’t good enough.”

The final criteria to fulfill my project was to perform in front of my Project Team – easy – they loved me and cheered me on the entire time. As we neared the end of the year though, I started to wonder what it might be like to actually perform in front of my large class.

When the time came, I signed up to perform for the class on the final day (with everyone else who opted to present their completed project). I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep well the night before. I asked myself, “Who are you and why in the world are you doing this??”

I somehow managed to make it to class, walk up on stage with my heart pounding, coherently say some kind of introduction to the class, and play.

And here’s the thing: I was pretty bad. I didn’t practice enough as I probably should have and I sat up there squeaking away. I knew when I decided to perform that my playing wasn’t going to sound that great and some of my notes were going to be off. But I wanted to challenge myself anyway. Could I get up there and let others see me unpolished and imperfect?

As I played the last note, I looked up and saw my fellow classmates erupt into a standing ovation. It went on for a long while as I bowed in gratitude. I remember looking over at my husband, Alycia, and Jenny and seeing all three of them crying. I could see on their faces how proud they were of me. It was a pretty special moment.

I left the stage thinking, “Wow! I just did that!” and I was high the rest of the day. This was a significant stretch for the introvert who prefers to be in the background. Students congratulated me all weekend and several thanked me. One person said, “I realized when I saw you up there that I didn’t have to be perfect and that was freeing.”

I’ve become a fan of being good enough, of ignoring the whispers of ego-perfection, of letting whoever I am in the moment be just fine.

Go Change Lives, Mom

Go Change Lives, Mom

“Go change lives, mom.”

That’s what my kiddo said to me the other day as my husband and I left for Madera, CA, to spend three days in a women’s prison.

This was a service project with 80+ other volunteers for the Freedom to Choose Foundation led by Drs. David and Bonnie Paul. For three days we teach and practice communication skills with the women and these skills are life-changing for them. They share with us how much they learn and how they use the skills with their fellow inmates and their families. (You can learn more about this on the FTC website freedomtochosefoundation.org. And watch these videos!)

But I’ll tell you what the secret ingredient is for these experiential workshops. It’s not just communication skills the women are getting from us. They are also getting our open hearts and our care and our loving attention.

When I first volunteered for FTC several years ago, I was afraid of going into a prison, of being around people who had committed murder, of the correctional officers, the watch towers and metal fences everywhere. The no bargaining for hostages policy was sobering. My fear lasted for all of three minutes as the inmates greeted me with gratitude, smiles, and hugs. What really struck me was how much the women in prison were yearning for connection, for someone to care. And not just the women – we completed our first workshop in a men’s prison last year, which was amazingly successful, and I experienced the same thing: people wanting someone to care.

This recent workshop was my fifth time volunteering for FTC and as I share about this with other people, I’m often asked the question, “Why do you go and spend your time doing this?”

How do I put into words what it feels like watching someone who has felt worthless their whole life and has made decisions based on that finally start to see that there actually is good inside of them, of watching their heart open to loving and care for the first time in years? Or perhaps the first time ever? To watch someone realize that they can make different choices and that they are worthy of love and kindness and can give that back to others. To hear a lifer say that even though she’s in prison she can start to be a better person to herself and those around her. In the men’s prison, one man said to me, “I come from the projects and I always thought that’s where I belonged. I’m realizing that I have other choices and that this is my designed community of caring people.” There are no words for how deeply moved I am to be part of this.

Sometimes people ask me if the inmates deserve it – the bigger question they are asking is do people in prison deserve us to treat them with loving, respect, and kindness and deserve to have a free self-improvement workshop given to them. That question is short-sighted.¬† And my short answer is yes. They’re doing their time, and, as one inmate put it, prison is hell. Some are paying reparations for their convictions. I met one woman who had been in prison for more years than I’ve been alive. And if they want to learn a new way to be and learn how to be better people and better citizens of our society, let’s help them do that.

The bottom line is that if people feel loved, if they feel good about themselves they will make different choices with their lives. It’s likely that a lot of these women will be paroled sometime in the future. Doesn’t it just make sense to give them tools that they can actually use to make their lives better when they’re out?

I hear their stories of repeated physical and sexual abuse, forced prostitution, neglect, betrayal and I understand why they wound up in prison. I’m not making excuses for them, and I’m not advocating emptying the prison system. My message here is one of understanding and empathy. The Freedom to Choose Foundation is proving that people in prison can make positive lasting changes in their lives.

This has easily been one of the most profound experiences of my life. If you’d like to help with real and lasting rehabilitation, check out the Freedom to Choose Foundation and donate or spread the word.

What’s On Your Not To Do List?

What’s On Your Not To Do List?

Some of us have To Do lists that we love and live by. I happen to be one of those people. There’s a lot that I want to accomplish during my day and a list supports me in keeping focused – usually. (I do allow myself some flexibility.)

But I recently considered what might be on my Not To Do List.

Here’s what I came up with for today:

Not To Do:
1. Judge myself for making mistakes.
2. Replay conversations in my head thinking I should’ve said something different.
3. Speak harshly to myself and others.
4. Believe negative thoughts about myself or others.
5. Let fear hold me back.

NOTE: This is NOT an opportunity to add more self-judgment and shame onto the day. This is an opportunity to identify what energy-draining patterns I can shift in my consciousness. I won’t add things onto this list that I can’t possibly live up to and then feel even worse about later. Get the idea?

I made a downloadable version that can be printed to keep handy. You can get it by clicking here: Not To Do List.

I wonder, what will you not do today?

 

The JOY!

The JOY!

I was talking to one of my friends recently and she asked me how I was doing. I shared with her that I was feeling extraordinarily well and have been for weeks. I also shared that I was starting to feel guilty about telling people how great I was doing.

This is what’s been fun and sometimes challenging to share with people: Since the end of December, I’ve been feeling amazingly great – and I mean super-duper fantastic. I’m experiencing deep peace inside. More internal and external freedom, copious amounts of joy, contentment that I’ve not felt before, courage to dream and try new things.

(There are several reasons for what I’m feeling and they can basically be summed up by saying that I’ve started doing things I enjoy rather than things that I feel obligated to do.)

This feeling was further deepened when I was driving home from an appointment a few weeks ago and remembered a Byron Katie quote and had a powerful awareness that struck me in every cell in my body. The thought was, “I have everything I need. I have every single, little thing that I need – and I always have.

“When you realize that whatever you need is what you get, life becomes paradise.” -Byron Katie

Writing about it now, I’m not sure that I can truly convey the profoundness of this experience for me. Not only do I have everything I need financially, but emotionally and spiritually. And I always have.

Driving on the freeway that morning, I laughed for a long time in my car and experienced such a deep sense of gratitude.

And the only time I step out of that peace is when I think I don’t have enough or I need more than I have.

So when people ask me how I’m doing, I want to say that I’m feeling so freaking fantastic that sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs!

Not to say that I don’t have challenges – I do, because I’m human. I sometimes feel hurt and sad and angry. But I feel different when those challenges come up. I’m different, and I approach those situations differently.

And I’ve felt guilty saying that up until now. I’ve been feeling guilty sharing with people how amazing my life is – how amazing life is.

My silly irrational thoughts? They were:

  • Maybe the person I’m talking to will feel bad because they’re not feeling as good as I am.
  • Maybe the person I’m talking to is going through a hard time and doesn’t really want to hear some loony talking about inner peace.
  • Maybe someone will think I’m full of shit.

Ha! What BS!

So here I am sharing my JOY!

I won’t hide my light because of or for others because of some false sense of loyalty or protection. In fact, Joy is contagious, so spread it around!

In what subtle ways are you dimming your light? Be still and let this question sit for awhile. What comes forward?

 

You Have No Reason To Be Depressed

Have you ever heard anyone say, “You have no reason to be depressed”? Unbelievably, some people do.

You have no reason to be depressed because you have:

family
friends
good looks
money
a job
a place to live
food/shelter
[fill in the blank and I’ve heard it]

The thing is, depression doesn’t have anything to with the items listed above. And saying this to someone who is experiencing true pain in the form of depression is shaming and can make things worse.

I wonder if people who say, “You have nothing to be depressed about,” are people who cannot tolerate their own painful emotions and therefore try to push away someone else’s painful emotions because they are intolerable.

My husband and I have been crisis counseling in one form or another for many years and have seen a lot of pain.

If you’ve never experienced the deep pain of mental, emotional, spiritual suffering know that it does exist and is very real to those whom it exists for.

Believe others when they say they are hurting. Believe them and support them as best you can when they reach out for help.

We recently lost a beloved friend and our love goes out to his family.

In Honor of Marcie

In Honor of Marcie

Marcie is my daughter’s step-mom, or as we say in our family, her second mom. We’ve never really referred to her as step-mother unless we were trying to describe the nature of her relationship in our family.

When my ex shared that he was going to get married, I knew that I’d need to meet his soon-to-be wife. My ex and I were actively co-parenting our daughter and his wife would be an important part of that.

I had met one of his girlfriends before, and I could always tell that she was uncomfortable around me and didn’t want to speak to me no matter how nice I was trying to be to her. Seemed very strange!

I was determined to welcome Marcie into my life with open arms. She had just moved to LA from another state and didn’t really know anyone. The kiddo was about eight years old then, and I just could not stand the thought of having a high-drama, contentious relationship with my ex and his new wife.

I can’t remember what I said exactly when we met but it was along the lines of: Marcie, I want you to know that I’m so grateful you and my daughter get along, and I’d like us be friends so that we can support each other as she grows up.

I remember telling her that the more people in my daughter’s life that love her, the better. And that I’d be here for her if she needed me. She had similar nice things to say and we were both relieved.

So that began our relationship. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other and have been able to talk about a lot of issues that have come up. She’s been there to help me out several times. At birthday parties, some of the other parents often asked if she was my sister because we got along so well. They were shocked (I mean jaw-dropping shocked) when I told them that she was “the step-mom.” They couldn’t understand how I would be ok with “the step-mom” in the picture. I wanted to yell at them that were just people being nice to one another and it’s not THAT big of a deal!

Many years ago, I had a home assignment to complete for my Master’s Degree. For part of it I asked my family to write a letter to me about what it’s been like having me in their life. Here is some of what Marcie wrote (shared with Marcie’s permission and we’d only known each for about three years then):

“I have always wanted children and you have this wonderful and beautiful little girl. Knowing you has shown me a different way of thinking. You’ve shown me that step-moms don’t have to be ‘evil.’ That mother and step-mother can share responsibilities and understand our child’s needs and she’s a lucky girl by having two moms that are different…You could’ve made my relationship with your daughter difficult, but you didn’t. I also have a friend in you. You’ve touched my life in a way that’s special.”

Marcie divorced last year and is moving back to her home state in a couple of weeks. When it was clear that divorce was going to happen, I sat on my daughter’s bed and we both cried. Having Marcie as a regular part of our lives has been a blessing.

So this is my love letter to you, Marcie. I know you’re going to read this because I’m going to send it to you!

I am so grateful for the years that you and I have been partners in raising our amazing young woman. I think we’ve done pretty well. I’m so grateful that we have created a friendship that is meaningful. You have been someone that I have been able to rely on – a rock. I’ve always felt reassured that our daughter was leaving my house and going to yours because I knew you would take good care of her like she was your own. I couldn’t have asked for a better second mom for my sweet girl. I’m sad that you’re moving. We will miss you terribly. I know that we’ll see each other and talk, but LA is losing an angel.

Thank you for all the ways that you’ve touched my life. I love you.

A Sweet Moment: Superman

A Sweet Moment: Superman

On the plane home after New Year’s, I sat next to a young man with his son sitting on his lap. The boy couldn’t have been more than two or three years old, and he was just adorable with his big cheeks.

They were looking through the airline Skymall magazine together to pass the time while we were delayed on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Dad pointed to the pictures in the magazine asking, “What’s that?” and his son called out what the pictures were with such enthusiasm in his barely understandable toddler speak. It was so darn cute that I chuckled each time.

Dad pointed to dogs, cats, cars, and many other items and the boy named each one with gusto.

They eventually came to the last page of the magazine, and I felt a twinge of disappointment that this exercise was coming to an end. I was really enjoying observing this gentle and caring exchange between father and son.

On the last page there was a picture of Superman. Dad asked his son, “Who’s that?” while pointing to the red-caped super hero.

The boy said, “Dad!”

Me and Dad laughed and he said, “No, that’s not me. Who is that?”

The boy insisted in his best English, “Dat’s you, Dad!”

Dad said, “OK” with a smile and moved on.

I was deeply moved. Hearing this comment from the young boy brought tears to my eyes. The way this child held such a strong and safe image of his father. I found myself thinking obviously his dad was Superman, because aren’t all dads Superman to us when we’re young?