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Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Ask most any step-parent and they’ll tell you, “parenting my step-kids is harder than parenting my own kids.” What’s the reason for that? Well, in my opinion there are several variations of that answer but it all seems to come back to one thing: Fear.

Fear about judgement or criticism from the other birth parent. Fear about damaging the relationship with your step-child or with your significant other. Basically, fear about doing something wrong or rocking the boat in some way. (This idea of fear comes up a LOT with coparenting as well, which we will eventually get to in this series.)

Combining our awareness of how being a step-parent challenges us emotionally with the idea that households operate the best when they look as much like gracious families as possible, we will be able to unpack some concepts of how to handle step-parenting in a way that promotes a culture of grace and love in the house.

Last time, we examined the role of step-parent and why it’s such an awesome and unique role. This week, we’ll look at how to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent. How do you not just survive the job but knock it out of the park? We’ll look at hot to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent and I’ll share some easy tips you can start today.

Considerations of Age

If you are a step-parent to older kids (I’ll call this 9th grade and above), your lane is to basically be the auxiliary adult. You just need to back up your spouse, and basically add peace, joy and stability to the household. You need to be WD-40! The fun uncle. If you have a different perspective on rules, routines, structure, you should absolutely express that…in private with your significant other. Your biggest opportunity for blessing is to encourage, support, champion, and provide positive stability. This is not the opportunity to strut your stuff and completely re-invent the rules.

If you’re a step-parent to younger kids, you will be a more integral part of developing the child’s story arc. Step-parents of younger kids intrinsically feel this weight. It shouldn’t be surprising if the child takes their (pre-verbal) angst out on the step-parent, as the symbol of all that is new and different in the family unit. A wise step-parent will understand that this is not personal, and use this as an opportunity to connect rather than recoil.

Considerations in Training

As a birth parent, it may be difficult to not get territorial, possessive or defensive about your kids and your parenting decisions. Feelings can easily get hurt in this context. Counseling support can absolutely be helpful if you’re in this predicament. The solution to this is often structural, and a trained eye can reshape and rebalance the household dynamic like only a non-emotionally invested outsider can.

As a step-parent, it may be confusing as to what your defined role is in terms of promoting a healthy family life and encouraging the kids to be his/her best “self” possible. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be the type of partner who would never make your significant other feel like they have to make a lose/lose choice of partner vs. kids.
    • Cut down on the fear of there not being “enough” to go around.
    • There is plenty of room for both/and solutions in step-parenting. There is enough time in the day. There is enough love to go around. Open wide your heart and engage in your creative problem solving skills. Setting up the family for success in this way is a MAJOR win, and you can excel in this area by going out of your way to be the furthest thing from petty, needy and territorial. Be generous. Be patient. Just be cool! If you’re open handed, it’ll come back to you ten-fold.
  • Stay in your lane.
    • Clarity in the bounds of your role reduces fear of overstepping.
    • Don’t over-estimate your skill set in bringing peace and civility to a situation. Whatever the current dynamic of the family is when you arrive on scene, there are a lot of factors and causes for it. You’re not the chaos whisperer. You’re not Mary Poppins. You are not bringing healing to decades-long conflicts with your banana nut muffins!
    • Know your role. Observe. Keep your thoughts to yourself unless you’re asked. You’re here to make things easier in real, tangible ways.
  • You didn’t start the fire, but you can pick up a fire extinguisher.
    • You didn’t create these kids. You can’t re-create these kids. Put simply: Your step-kids are not your kinfolk. They have different aptitudes and attributes than your kinfolk have. You don’t need to walk around with the pressure that you have something to prove to the world through them.
    • Get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and what really motivates them.
    • Work within the framework that has already been established before you arrived on scene.
    • Surely, you can teach helpful lessons and model positive character attributes. But you’re not going to remake your step-kids in your own image just because they’re at your house 50% of the time. Accept this and have reasonable expectations that everyone can agree to.
    • They are who they are. They will be who they will be. You can expect things from them like a respectful attitude, chores, honesty, etc. But you can’t expect straight A’s in math just because you were on math team.

Well…there you go! Step-parenting is the easiest job on the planet, eh? 😉 I sincerely hope you have found a tool or two to add to your toolbox of step-parenting skills! It’s a tricky role but you’ve got what it takes. I believe in you!

If you’d like to set up a time and work together to come up with a more specific plan for your household, just let me know! I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

Next we’ll look at achieving equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

Wrestling with our Christian faith in the midst of chronic pain.

Most of my clients wouldn’t know this but I struggle with chronic pain several days of the month. I won’t get into the cause on this post but it’s been going on for about two years now. I wouldn’t classify it as “continuous” pain but it is regular and fairly predictable.

Perhaps you know this struggle as well.

I do everything I can to keep it from putting a damper on my personal life as well as my professional life but I am not always victorious. At its worst, I have to miss things: cancel sessions, get someone to watch our son if my husband is at work, miss church or social events, etc. Don’t worry… if you see me, I’m feeling fine enough. When it’s at its worst, I’m in bed.

We have tried several things to help reduce the pain level, most of which have not helped much. If this is beginning to sound depressing, it definitely is sometimes! But it is really important to me that I fight a good fight and not let my pain be the dominant characteristic in my life. My husband Chad and I have both had to do our own work of trying to reconcile my chronic pain with our faith in a healing God. And, just as importantly, our goal is not to just survive with pain, but to wrangle up some joy on the daily!

Maybe you know the struggle of chronic pain as well. But maybe you are more familiar with emotional pain of chronic anxiety, depression or loneliness? Maybe you (like Chad) have to watch someone you love struggle and there’s not much you can do about it? For someone with a Christian faith, this struggle can be made all the more complicated when you factor in knowledge of God’s ability to heal. Those waters can tend to get very murky, very quickly. And I think that’s ok. It’s just about what we do with that tension.

Whatever “brand” of struggle yours may be, here are some places I’ve landed in trying to grapple with my pain and my faith.

  1. Chronic pain is a fact about me (currently). It does not get to define my life. I have chronic pain. I also am married. I am a female. I am caucasian. I think I’m pretty funny. I like to cook. I don’t like cleaning my floors. Each of those facts mean something about me and set some perimeters in my life but they don’t give a full snap-shot of who I am. Losing sight of this central truth makes me chronic-pain “centric.” And there are so many better things to be at the center of my life than chronic-pain.
  2. My pain level is not the measure of my day. Have you ever thought, “I felt good today so it was a good day”? We have to fight against this because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. But the truth is that there are so many other choices to be the gauge of how each day is measured: obedience, provision, laughter, faithfulness, puppy snuggles, a very funny tv show that distracts you for a while. We have to be diligent to not be so reductionistic to say, “my pain was really low so it was a good day.” If we let it be as simple as “low pain = good day; high pain = bad day” then our eyes are fixed on ourselves alone. As Christians, we know there’s a better choice for us to fix our eyes on.
  3. How God answers your prayers for healing does not say anything about you. Or at least it doesn’t say what you think it says. I firmly believe that chronic pain is more of a result of the Fall than it is a result human choices. Sure…maybe your hard labor caused some degenerative disc issues. But still..that is rooted in the fall because hard work is not sinful, but deterioration of our bodies is the result of the Fall. Your issue may actually be the result of your choices (lifestyle issues, positive or negative…doesn’t matter really), but the toll it has taken on your body is largely a result of the Fall. What I mean by that is that when sin entered the world through Adam, destruction of our bodies came, too (and this has physical, emotional, mental implications). Before then, there was no deterioration. This is a MUCH bigger issue than your sin or your choices and this issue manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. I throw disease and illness in this same category (and flooding and hurricanes, if anybody is wondering). The world is broken by sin, so bad things happen. And they don’t really mean anything about us. So the same is true for our rescue from the physical manifestations of the Fall. If it didn’t mean anything about us that we received this illness, then it doesn’t mean anything about us if the healing comes. It would be awesome if healing comes. But it isn’t personal if it doesn’t. And it’s not personal if it does. It wouldn’t be about your good deeds or track record if you get healed; how much potential you have or how much God likes you.
    It just means something about God. It’s God’s choice how he wants your healing story to go. And he alone gets to make that call of when your healing is manifested. It’s not personal. It’s just the Fall.

I don’t know the rules about who gets ailments or who gets healed. Honestly, it looks pretty haphazard to me. There is no magic formula that I’ve ever been able to pick out. But I’ll tell you this: at our house, we ask for healing anyway.

What’s true is that our struggles aren’t meant to define us or take the central seat in our life. And God’s (apparent) response to our struggles isn’t a good indicator of his awareness of our pain.

I love this poem by Walt Whitman which ends with this thoughtful line:

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I, for one, don’t want my “verse” to be, “Pain overtook my life.” But rather, “I found joy and meaning and purpose in the midst of the lot that I was given.”

If you or someone you love struggles with a chronic issue, you can contact me here to set up a time to come in and talk about it.

Counseling offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo credit goes to Brigitte Tohm.

Low Sex Drive and How to Fix It

A Sexy Series: Part Three
When You Don’t Desire Sex.

So far we took a quick look at the types of sexual issues people want to work through in counseling as well as tips to set your relationship up for a win/win sexually.

Today I want to look at what some might call low libido, lack of sexual desire or low sex drive. When you’re not wanting to have sex, here are some of the usual suspects…

Reasons why we SAY we say “no” to sex.

  1. We are tired.
  2. We are stressed.
  3. We have a headache.
  4. We ate too much Chinese food. 🙂

It’s absolutely ok to say “no” from time to time for whatever reason you so choose. The problem comes when you turn down perfectly good sex almost as a default, without considering your motivation for doing so or the impact of the choice on your relationship.

Reasons why we REALLY say “no” to sex.

  1. Emotional hang-ups.
    • Depression.
      • One of the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression is loss of interest or pleasure. Maybe your disinterest in sex has more to do with your mental health than anything else? Depression is a road that doesn’t have to be walked alone, and dealing with this issue may truly open you up to a wealth of possibilities that will positively effect both you and your partner.
    • Unprocessed negative experiences in your past might still be present.
      • This may be a sexual trauma or just feelings of guilt for one reason or another. Either way, it is something that can be addressed in counseling and there’s just no reason why your past needs to cast a dark shadow on what could be a dynamic and healthy physical relationship with your spouse.
  2. Relational hang-ups.
    • Power struggle. “That’s all he wants me for.” “He isn’t doing what I need so why should I do what he needs?” If you’re in at standoff in terms of desiring to meet each other’s needs, one things for sure: everybody loses. Change the tone of your relationship and focus on meeting the other’s needs. Something magical happens. Everyone’s needs are met with enthusiasm…without anyone having to demand.
    • Not really “feeling it” towards your spouse. Maybe your love has gone a little cold and you don’t thrill at your spouse’s touch like you used to. This solution can typically be found in one of two places: your prayer life or your self-talk. Both of those generally require some specific coaching and I’d love to talk with you more about this in person.
  3. Physical hang-ups.
    • Technique issues.
      • If you didn’t know by now…sex is not like you see on TV. Sorry. Whether it’s a communication issue or a mechanics/technique issue, there are a lot of really great resources available to help you get past what is holding you back.
    • You’re not happy with your body.
      • Body image issues can definitely do a number on libido. Ultimately, it all boils down to two choices: come up with a plan to get happy about what you’re working with or come up with a plan to do something about it. I can definitely help you out with one of these and have some great resources to help you figure out the other. For starters, these friends of mine.
    • Hormonal issues.
      • Pregnancy, postpartum, pre-menopausal, post-menopausal…all these reasons and more can cause a big shift in libido. Talk to your doctor. There may be an easier solution than you think.
    • Medication side-effect.
      • Everyone is different and it’s hard to trace back which medication might be effecting your sex drive. Your doctor will be very helpful towards this end. For most issues, there are so many options of medications available, it may be as simple as just taking a different birth control pill. For real, ask your doctor. Could be a super easy fix.
    • Pain/Discomfort during sex.
      • There are a few physical conditions (both male and female) which can result in painful intercourse. Each situation is so vastly different, I’m not able to expound upon this point here. But, many can find relief through a team approach between a physician and a therapist.
  4. Spiritual hang ups.
    • Trouble associating sexuality as a pure gift from heaven.
      • For the purposes of this blog, I won’t unpack this much. But suffice it to say: God is pro-sex and if that weirds you out, let’s talk.
  5. Kid sleep habits.
    • Whether you have to fall asleep with your kids to get them to stay in bed, or they start off or end up sleeping in your bed, this can really mess with your sex life. The resolution of this issue isn’t a quick fix, but we can figure out the steps it would take to alleviate this problem. Whether it’s an attachment issue or just a bad habit, we can find solutions that result in happier and healthier bedtime dynamics.
    • Also, and this is not a joke but is a little funny to me…you’d be surprised at how many clients I’ve had that cite “dogs in the bed” as a mood killer! Seriously, Rufus doesn’t need to know everything that goes on in the house. 😉
  6. Boundary Issues.
    • Pornography/masturbation.
      • You and your partner both deserve to be clear on what the boundaries are in your sex life. “Solutions” you’ve come up with over the years may be causing more problems than you’re aware of. I have some pretty clear and easy boundaries that I suggest for most couples, and they leave room for a lot of awesomeness to be had, while elevating the union to its proper, amazingly sacred place.
    • Not being totally closed off to other suitors.
      • What you may see as an innocent flirtation or even being open to the approach of other people is a vote for “the grass is greener” mentality. If you didn’t know already, the grass is greener where you water it. When you water it, the more you’ll love the luscious lawn you have.

The big picture: sex was designed to be awesome. If it’s anything less for you and your partner, don’t take it lying down. Let’s talk.

A Sexy Series

Let’s Talk About Sex
Here’s what you need to know: I talk about sex quite a lot.
In counseling, sex is something clients want to address more often than not. Why? Because people have so many quirks and questions about physical intimacy that need to be addressed, and counseling is a great place to process and find solutions!
I really value sex and its role in relationships. In fact, I can give you quite a good case on how highly God values sex. He created it, after all, and it’s not exclusively for procreation either. (Example: the clitoris. Praise God for his creative care of us. Go ahead and give God a high five and a wink.)
If you’ve got a sex question or issue, we can trouble shoot it together.
Here are some aspects of sex that I regularly discuss with clients:
  • Negotiating sex (the what, when, where, why & how).
  • Making sex a priority in your marriage.
  • What to do with mis-matched sexual interests or levels of desire.
  • Establishing a healthy and biblical theology of sex.
  • Getting the “shame” and “should” out of your sex life.
  • How you can desire sex more.
  • Why it’s always a good time to have sex.
  • Jump starting a flat-lined libido.
  • Processing through negative associations you’ve made regarding sex.
  • Sexual trauma.
  • Sex after menopause.
  • Sex after pregnancy.
  • Body image issues reducing sexual interest.
  • Male and female sexual dysfunction.
  • Reasons you should say “no” to sex (short list).
  • Reasons you should say “yes” to sex (looooooong list).
  • Establishing healthy sexual boundaries.
Over the next few weeks, we will unpack a few of these topics. If you’d like to request a certain topic be covered, feel free to email me here!
If any of this sounds like something you are working through, I’d be glad to set up a time to figure out some solutions. After all, if the sexual component of your relationship is going strong, it brings a lot of positivity to the rest of your relationship.
Daytime and evening counseling sessions are available in Walker, Louisiana and 2 locations in Baton Rouge.

Four Ways to Detox After the Holidays

Photo by Ashleigh Amoroso Photography

Well we made it! Whew. That was a close one! But in fact, we are on the other side of holiday season (except Mardi Gras, of course) and we are also on the other side of the-year-we-do-not-speak-of. Let’s pause and give ourselves a pat on the back!! Yay Us!

The end of the year often feels like a mad dash between holiday parties and buying presents and road trips to Grandma’s house and making sure it’s the hap-hap-happiest season of all. Lot’s of people set aside January to focus on healthy physical changes, which I am ALL ABOUT! And on another day I will write a blog about the connection between physical health and mental health! But today I want to look at things we can do to detox from the “stuff” that effected our emotional well-being through the holiday season.

Detox from hurry. If 2017 is truly going to be any different than 2016, now is the time to create some intentional space and consider what you’d like to see change over the course of the next year. Let’s let January be a time where we say “no” to some stuff so that we can day dream a bit, make a few goal lists, and really consider how we’d like to see growth unfold in ourselves over the next 365. My husband and I have an ongoing discussion to this end and two things that have surfaced strongly for us both is that we intentionally disconnect from our phones when we are together and that we spend a full day on the weekend not working but focusing on quality time and special activities as a family. When I look back on the movie of my life, I don’t want to see myself running around town all the time in my car to unnecessary stuff or staring at the rectangle in my hand like it is giving me life.

Detox from the myth that “more is more.” If you’re like most people, you spent extra money on purchases throughout the holiday season and you received some new possessions. I hope that you spent and received things mindfully and it wasn’t done out of compulsion or obligation. But whatever the case, the focus almost always is on “more.” Unless we’re talking about coffee or dark chocolate, I’m actually a believer that LESS is more. To that end, I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism that was another step on the journey for me towards simplifying my life. I actually wrote a blog about this topic this time last year, but little did I know how good August would be at clearing out my material possessions. (Thanks for that hard-fought lesson, Amite River.) After a season of “more” I just think it’s a great palate cleanser to pair down, clean out, and make more space for what really matters in life.

Detox from unhealthy people. Did your family treat you like your 16 year old self this Christmas? Did you find yourself acting like a person you barely recognized when you got around your siblings or in-laws? Did Aunt Linda shame you for not being married yet or the extra weight or your unruly kids? Was it all you could do to not tell Aunt Linda where she can shove it?! Whether it’s people wanting to put their expectations on your life, or political discussion that made you forget to chew your spiral cut ham, we have all had the experience where being around certain people just brought out the worst in us. To some people, the best thing about the holidays is that it only comes once a year!

Use January to remember who you really are. How you’ve changed. What you’ve overcome. Why you’ve left some people behind and embraced others. Don’t let being around old “triggers” cause you to slip into old patterns of behavior or thinking. If you need some extra help in this area, I can’t recommend this book enough. And of course, lots of people reach out for counseling at this time of year to discuss family issues that have come to light or brought back into sight. If you want to make an appointment to get help with this type of thing or something else, contact me here.

Detox from unhealthy food. Now I said at the beginning of this post that I’d save this topic for another day. But because I just can’t help myself, here is a plan that I really believe in. While I’m a mental health professional and not at all a dietician, this is what my husband and I like to do a few times a year (with vary degrees of “success”…sometimes it send up being a “Whole 14,” in all honesty). What I believe is that the simple acts of eating mindfully, having to think ahead, get creative and, yes, deny yourself things that aren’t helpful for your health, are exponentially good for your health in surprising ways. Discipline begets discipline. And when you add more discipline to your life, the ripple effects are many and varied.

So there you have it. What is January good for if not a fresh start? Take a minute. Press pause. Don’t let this month pass by without considering and planning towards how you want your life to look this time next year.

 

What Mariah Carey, Superheroes and Robots Didn’t Teach Us About Emotions

One of my favorite artists growing up was Mariah Carey (obviously). I thought I could sing just like her. (I couldn’t.) I wore her tapes out! Her second album…I would wail along to the title track in my bedroom, assured that I was matching her note for note. (I wasn’t.) Emotions: they sounded so awesome, to hear Mariah tell it. Energizing, empowering and eclipsing.

In reality, I’ve found emotions pretty daunting most of my life and am still in process of becoming a more integrated person as far as they are concerned.

Here are a few lessons on emotions that I’ve been reflecting on lately:

All of our emotions are created by God. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have them…they wouldn’t exist.
Therefore, there must be a way that each emotion can be experienced in a healthy and full way. The problem isn’t the existence of emotions. Problems arise when emotions are made too big or too little in our lives.

We don’t get to pick which emotions are felt when. If you’ve been taught how (and this is something we could discuss in counseling) you can “name it and claim it” and experience some diffusion of the emotion, but that’s about it in terms of emotional control. Unfortunately, we are not super humans, able to call each emotion into reality that we desire to experience…leaping over dark and ominous emotions in a single bound. We are just regular humans…a condition more frail than most of us had hoped for.

Our emotions arise within us as we go through life. (And aren’t we glad they do?! Because this process can be very helpful to guide and inform us if we let it. And it means we aren’t robots.) If you believe that you have the ability to control your emotions, this means you’re especially skilled at utilizing minimization, suppression, or intellectualism in an attempt to dress the emotion up or cram it into a closet in the back of your heart/mind. Rest assured…it will find its way out. I can be pretty awesome at those things and I’m trying to grow in this area, too. I’ve written more on this topic here.

Some people are scared by big positive emotions. These folks typically been overwhelmed by negative emotions in the past, and wish to avoid that happening again, so they squash the good stuff, like excitement, joy, love and hope.
Other people go the more classic route of attempting to squash negative emotions like disappointment, hurt, rejection or vulnerability. The motivation is the same: self-protection. To this end, we attempt to insulate ourselves. We try to convince ourselves that we don’t really want something, we try to cut disappointment off at the pass by disengaging from hope first, we try to see negative emotions coming from miles off and create a path around them. We think this is doing ourselves a favor and we high-five ourselves for being so wise. But the problem with self-protection is that in order to diminish your capacity to hurt, you also diminish your capacity to experience the best that life has to offer.

It’s honestly so hard being a human. It’s such a vulnerable condition. So much risk. So much potential hurt. And as it turns out, we are just regular humans. Not super humans, as we had hoped.

Here’s a teeny bit of good news. No healthy way exists to protect ourselves form negative emotions. But there are some perks to being “just a human.”

There’s a verse in the Old Testament of the Bible that states, “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are from dust” (Psalm 103:14). This statement harkens back to the creation story when God created Adam out of the clay of the earth and breathed life into him. How beautiful it is to remember that God knows how frail and basic it is to be a human. We weren’t created to be gods, angles, superheroes or robots. We were created to be humans…from dust. And God knows that means we will need a lot of help.

So even in the midst of wanting to self-protect and shove our emotions down so we aren’t so vulnerable and at risk, there comes some assurance in the knowledge that part of being a human is to live with the full scope of human emotion: positive and negative. As we learn to navigate our way through this reality, we have the help of the creator of humans and the creator of emotions, So we don’t need to learn to control our emotions so much as experience them fully and to remember, like God does, that we are all from dust anyway. We can take it easy on ourselves and have proper expectations. Not superhero expectations.

You can borrow this line from my self-talk, “It’s ok…I’m just a regular human…not a super human. My emotions don’t always fall in line the way that I want. But it’s ok. I can stay engaged and not self-protect even without knowing the outcome because I’ve faced big emotions in the past and survived. It’s all just part of being a human.”

I’m not Mariah Carey. I’m not a robot. I’m just a human.

We are all “from dust,” but that reality points us back to the Creator, who is not from dust, and he can be trusted with our frail and vulnerable lives.

A Christian Response to The Tragedies of Summer 2016

After a summer of senseless shootings, gorillas and gators killing kids in safe spaces, and discovering all around depressing and horrific news every time I open my Facebook app, I feel like I can’t post another blog until I tackle this question: how should we respond when awful stuff happens to someone else?

In the Christian community, we occassionally get things really right in the face of tragedy. We shine especially well in the face of natural disasters. But when things get a little more politically or emotionally charged, we have a tendency to get…a little weird, at best or damaging, at worst. Whether the tragedy or loss is large scale (like the Pulse Night Club shootings in Orlando) or small scale (like your neighbor’s mom being diagnoses with a disease), we can often respond in a way that does more harm than good, despite our intentions.

Well meaning people use platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or even “I’ll pray for you,” as a defense mechanism, so they don’t have to wrestle with the wretchedness of a given circumstance. The goal here is to lessen the blow, and I understand the desire to want to do that, but I submit that feeling the weight of the tragedy is exactly what we all need to do. There is purpose to the weight, and healing comes through letting the weight rest on us and not discarding or minimizing it in any way, or through any shallow platitude.

If there is a reason to be had as to why awful things happen, it is this: the world in its current state is not as God originally intended. The reason that bad things happen is that the world is broken, and has been broken since Adam exercised his free will and out of his fear and mistrust, acted outside of God’s plan for the world.
Sin and death entered the world and brought with them things like hurricanes, cancer, hate crimes and apathy.
This is not what was intended, and as a Christian, I believe this is not what WILL be. But it’s where we’re at today.

Christians that respond to these tragedies with platitudes of “God has a plan” or “I’ll pray for you” miss the point entirely. Statements like that come across as aloof, disconnected, irrelevant and uncaring…the opposite of God’s response to pain and suffering. God has never been anything but with us and present in times of tragedy. He rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and what is more, knows when to engage in each option perfectly as each person and circumstance merits.

When Christ returns…whenever that may be, He will make things right once again and for good. He will restore beauty from ashes and undo the consequences of the wrong that we have done and what has been done to us. He will bring justice and healing and true and lasting peace. Both externally (nature) and internally (even emotions and strife, I believe). That is the ultimate hope of Christianity.

But let’s be real…who knows when that will be?

The hope of Christianity NOW is for all people, but especially Christians, to lead the charge of this redemptive work of “making the fullness of God be reflected on earth as it is in heaven.” Hate crimes are not God’s fullness. People feeling afraid to live their lives is not God’s fullness. Tornadoes are not God’s fullness. The part of us that rises up and says, “This is not how things should be, I want to help,” is a reflection of the image of God inside of ALL of us.

Treating everyone with the respect and compassion that is due each human being is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When we do this, we are engaged in the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Not judging moms for accidents is a foreshadowing. Fighting for everyone to feel safe is a foreshadowing. Making sure every child has a loving home is a foreshadowing. I could go on and on and on. Here’s an outside of the box example of Christians being compassionate and protective. Most of us have opportunity to do something much simpler than this, but just wanted to give it as an example of something kind!

The bottom line for me is this: most of the things that are a foreshadowing of Jesus returning and everything being made right involve action and using your voice, and not prayer alone. The point of truly joining in the loss as best we can and feeling all that is shaken within us when tragedy strikes is that once we can identify with the loss, the “wrongness” of it points us back to the need for Jesus, and Jesus points us on to joining him in restoration work.

Those who are directly involved in these tragedies may be thankful for your prayers, but would also appreciate your voice and action to fight injustice. This could look a thousand different ways, but it’s each person’s responsibility to figure out what that looks like for them and then to do it. Christian’s have done so much to damage our own reputation by how we deal with wrong doing in the world. Let’s refuse to meet tragedy and injustice with empty statements that reveal our own discomfort and diminish the weight of the grief of loss. Rather, let’s be brave and use our words and deeds to work towards the restorative process in making all things new, as it once was and it will be again one day.

If these tragedies, or any element of loss, grief, injustice or the like is something you’d like to process in therapy, please contact me. We are all in this together.

 

When God Gives You Crumbs

A belief that is inextricably part of who I am is how, with God, nothing is wasted. This doesn’t mean that everything is intentional or planned, but that nothing will be without purpose to one degree or another.

I think we can go a little overboard on the meanings we ascribe to things, but just hang with me here: God is not random. Nothing is wasted.Sometimes in my life, and I bet I’m not the only one, God will plant a seed of an idea…it will have the hallmarks of the Father…but it goes untouched for years, often forgotten, until the moment that God resurrects it.

I had one such experience when my husband proposed marriage to me. Something quietly spoken over my heart when I was 13 and had just started getting to know God on my own, that I never told to anyone, was lived out right before me in the certain way he asked me to marry him. To me, it was this message of, “it’s always been me and you, and it’ll always be me and you, but I’m bringing you two together to follow me side by side.”

Another instance that’s happened to me lately was when I was asked to teach a class at a women’s prison. As random as this is, the little seed for this idea was planted in me nearly 20 years ago. I was in high school and we spent a whole semester writing an in-depth research paper. The topic was of our choosing. I couldn’t really decide on a topic but kept coming back to the issue of the importance of providing educational opportunities to people in the penal system to reduce recidivism rates. No one…and I mean No. One. saw this idea as a natural fit for me. My friends questioned me about it. My teacher questioned me about it. Even I questioned myself about it. Was there Any other topic I wanted to write on? Was this something I was passionate about and just hadn’t mentioned to anyone yet? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what possessed me to pick the topic other than to say that it was very clear to me that that’s what I was to write on. So I spent a whole semester researching the role education plays in keeping people from returning to crime and ending up back in prison. Random.

Flash forward all these years later and a friend asked me to teach a psychology and counseling college level class at a women’s prison. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the time to give to it. I went back and forth about what my answer should be. But ultimately I just felt the sense from the Lord that it was something to say “yes” to.

I agreed to do it and taught the class this summer. I poured out my best for the women and enjoyed my time doing so. I can’t say it changed my life or opened up this new calling of my life…nor was I expecting it to do so. It was obedience. I felt like God was glorified in my obedience, that I was used by God to facilitate growth and healing, and I happened to enjoy it, which is always a bonus.

It wasn’t until after I said “yes” to that opportunity did I remember that random paper from years ago.

I felt like the whole point of this little exercise in obedience was this sweet message of the Lord again to my soul:

“You’ve always heard me and followed me for a long time until now. This is another breadcrumb. Keep walking with me.”

What about you? Has God spoken something to you that you’re still waiting to see why or how it will come to fulfillment? Pray today for God to give you eyes to see His activity in your life. I challenge you to write down the things you feel like God has spoken so that you won’t miss the blessing of noticing God’s subtle leading over time.

As always…for further discussion on this or any counseling topic, I’m reachable here!

Should I Go To Counseling?

Whether or not to go to counseling is often a really hard decision to make. Even as a mental health therapist who has been in the field for a while, it’s not lost on me that some social stigma remains about the idea of seeking therapeutic help. Additionally, at the heart of most of us (Americans) is typically this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that seems counter to the therapy process. The people I meet with have already dealt with the internal struggle of whether or not to reach out for counseling support. But I still hear a lot of objections on a regular basis. Here are a few reasons why people wrestle with starting the therapy journey:

“Are you sure you reeeeeeally need it?”

Ok. Maybe. Maybe you don’t reeeeeeally need it. Maybe it would just be Helpful to you. Is that enough? Also, who reeeeeeally needs it? How bad off does a person have to get before they meet that criteria? Isn’t prevention the best cure?

“I can just deal with it on my own.”

Here’s the deal: you don’t get a medal for not asking for help. What you get is a longer, slower journey that could’ve been dealt with months or even years ago, but you decided that you weren’t going to ask anyone else to help you process through this. Can you deal with it on your own? Maybe. But why should you have to?

“I am not really the therapy type.”

You… Oh you! And your specialness! See above. 🙂
But also, since this is my own blog, I feel free to toot my own horn here. I’m the QUEEN of clients who “aren’t really the therapy type.” I’m honestly one of the least “shrinky” shrinks out there! I’d let my former clients attest to this, but it’s unethical to ask for therapy reviews. You’ll just have to take my word for it. If there’s anyone who you would possibly not hate having to go talk to in therapy, it’s probably me. 🙂

“It’s in the past. What’s the point of dragging it back up?”

This one is slightly tricky because it sounds rational. It actually falls into the category of minimization of your pain, and the expectation that you’re a super human who shouldn’t have ongoing effects of difficult life events. I always say, negative emotions will find their way to the surface one way or another. If you let them choose how they come out, it will be in the least convenient way possible. You’re better off bringing your stuff to the light and dealing with it head-on, processing and healing as the need dictates, rather than attempting to stuff it down deep.

“I don’t need counseling…I have God/Prayer/The Bible/My Church/Etc.”

You do have those things. You totally do. And where would we be without them? Counseling doesn’t diminish your ability to utilize those gifts in any way. Think about it like this: we’ve all sat through sermons that were less than awesome simply because someone was “pinch hitting” for your regular pastor. And then the next Sunday, you think, “Wow, I’m so glad Pastor So-and-So is back!” because your pastor is gifted at what he does and specially equipped by God for that task. The same is true for counselors. As a Christian, I believed I am called and equipped for this role, and it is my gift from God to give back to the body (and to people who do not practice their faith as well, as God’s gifts are for everyone to benefit from). You’re gifted, too. But this is my gift to the community and there’s something to be said about going to the right person for the job and not expecting all your needs to be met through your normal outlets.

“I went to therapy before and it just wasn’t that helpful.”

This may legitimately be the case. I’m sorry you had a less than stellar experience. There’s somebody for everyone, but apparently you didn’t find your right therapeutic “somebody” yet. I can’t guarantee that it’s me, but if you come and don’t think I’m the right fit for you, I’ll gladly make some referrals based on your preferences and goals. Also, I am working on a blog that I’ll post soon on how to pick the right therapist for you, so check back soon for more on this topic.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to find out./My family is really against counseling.” 

Comments like this really tug at my heart because they’re laced inextricably with shame. Come, my sweet friend, and let’s sift this out together. It’s ok to be human. Be the first one in your family to take this healing step and watch as health unfolds around you.

“Things aren’t THAT bad, are they?”

This is usually spoken by a spouse who is less than thrilled at the prospect of attending marriage therapy. Sometimes this person doesn’t want to be “found out” for his/her behavior. Other times it’s more about not wanting to hear how he/she is “failing” the marriage. But all of the time, statements like this are based in fear. Don’t let fear of being seen hold you back. Call fear a chump and remember that there are better days ahead than any you’ve left behind. Often, the only path forward is taking what’s been hidden and bringing it to the light. Healing takes place in the light, and it’s never too late (or too early) to start on the road to a healthier, brighter tomorrow. Everyone deserves a marriage that is full of connection and fulfillment.

“I would go to counseling, but it’s my wife/husband/son/boss/mom who really needs it.”

That *might* be true. If that’s the case, then you at least need help figuring out your boundaries and roles in your most difficult and important relationships in life. We all have people we wish we could hog tie, throw in the back of our truck and leave them on the therapist’s doorstep like a big, dysfunctional present. Short of that, we have to figure out a way to be in relationship with them and not lose our minds, our identities or our resolve. It’s ok to come in and seek help as a “therapeutic bridge” even if the other party is unwilling to join you at this time.

If you have any reason for not coming to therapy that isn’t listed above, I’d love for you to email it to me! If you know you’d like to attend therapy but there’s some other reason holding you back, we can discuss it here or you may find additional therapeutic help through my resource page until such a time that therapy is a more viable option for you.

And as always, if you’d like to discuss this topic (or any other), I’d love to meet with you in one of my offices: Denham Springs, Walker or Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

How to Grieve When Someone You Love Dies

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“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” –Megan Devine

Someone I love died this week. My sweet friend, Julie McGill Bauman. 

Because helping other people deal with grief helps me deal with my own, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings as I wade through this process, and while it is fresh on my heart and mind.

I’ve written on grief in a broader sense a few times, but because I believe it’s something we all should do regularly and a thing no one does very well, I feel like it’s a topic I’ll come back to again and again. I generally use “grief” in a pretty broad sense (meaning anything from grieving a job loss, to a break up, to a dream…etc.) but today we will exclusively be using the word as it pertains to death. Wretched, awful, impossible to resolve…death.

Sometimes grieving someone’s death starts before they die. This was true for me in regards to Julie, if only briefly. A few weeks ago, I spoke on the phone with her, when she found out that her first round of surgery and chemo had been effective in dealing with the cancer they knew about, but not in preventing new cancer from growing. At this point, she said, “they’re calling it ‘terminal’ but still acting like it could be treated for several years. I’ll just always be fighting it to some degree or another.” I took that to mean that there would be a difficult road ahead, but a road ahead nonetheless. I told her, “Well…no matter what happens, I want you to know that I won’t be afraid and pull away. So call me any time for whatever.” <Silence.> “Ok.”

This brings me to my first point of what to do when you’re grieving: Be brave. Even when you’re scared. Look your fear in the eye. You won’t regret showing up and being present.

I fully believe that the above comments between Julie and I was the reason she called me last Sunday night late. She could hardly speak but we connected one last time. At that point, I still didn’t understand how dyer the situation was. But she did, and I’m so thankful she knew I’d answer, even though I was afraid when my phone rang.

The second thing to do when you’re grieving a death: Don’t disengage to self protect. Of course you’ll want to disengage and at times you’ll need to. (I had to see some clients a few hours after learning of Julie’s death.) But return to your grief frequently and fully until the intensity subsides, and then regularly, to see it through. Your alternative here is to numb your pain. And truly, no goodness comes from that. You don’t do yourself or the one you love any favors by attempting to minimize your loss in any way. If you avoid it and stuff it down, it’ll crop back up in some way, and it won’t be positive. Weep and eat. This is the essence of grieving.

Mourning death happens in the midst of regular life. You’re processing in between loads of laundry and making lunch. Some moments are filled with grief and others look surprising like your every day life, in the midst of your heartache. This is normal. Processing death is incredibly non-linear. Do what you need to do, but return to the loss, rather than just daily tasks to disengage and distract yourself.

Some of you reading this may be closer to the epicenter of the loss, and therefore you find the idea of “mourning in the midst of regular life” impossible right now. I understand. Take your time. Be kind to yourself. Stay in the darkness as long as it takes until you feel like you can come up for air. There is no fixing this…only managing the loss. Each day that you’re able, do the next logical thing. Once the initial shock begins to wear off, the path forward will eventually emerge. I wish there were better news to tell you. I’m sorry.

The third thing to do when you’re grieving a death: Mourn your own way. Nobody had the relationship that you had with the person you lost. Whether you’re her mom, her sister-in-law, her niece, her coworker, her favorite checker at the grocery store, her friend who lived 10 hours away: you had a specific relationship with the one who died. So mourn in a way that fits your relationship with your loved one, and mourn in a way that fits your personality. Some people are “together” mourners. Other are “alone” mourners. Some need to “do stuff” and others need to sit shiva. Whatever is an authentic expression of your grief…do it. And don’t judge others for doing what they need to do. There is no prize for being the best mourner. There is no exclusion for being the worst. Just stay in your lane, honor your relationship and mourn your own way. Fully. And to the best of your ability.

Lastly, don’t minimize your pain or that of another’s with cheap platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason.” “Heaven needed another angel.” “She’s better off.” “God’s got a bigger plan.”

What a complete load of crap.

These statements are either meant to minimize the loss so that the speaker can feel more comfortable, and/or they imply intent, which is very shaky ground theologically. God sometimes brings beauty from ashes. However, this was not the intent of the fire, but rather in spite of the fire.

Death is awful. God knows this full well. Don’t try to fix it. Just learn to carry it.

This list is not exhaustive. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. We all just need to give it our best shot. May we all honor our loved ones as we learn to carry on with our lives.

Counseling with a person removed from your grief can be a helpful option. If ever I can be of assistance, please contact me here.