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My Journey

I am a mother, wife, grandmother, psychologist, writer, professor, and musician.  I am Christian by faith and a two time late stage cancer survivor.  Read my full story here

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love the crispy change in the weather and wearing cozy sweaters, watching the leaves fall and the smells of yummy holiday foods, cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin lattes. Halloween is fun with kids dressed up in costumes and excited over trick or treating. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday, with its simple focus on family and gratitude paired with amazing culinary aromas. Then, of course, there is Christmas which for me is an incredibly special time of reflection on God’s love for all of us.

As wonderful as they are, the holidays can also be somewhat stressful during the best of times. However, this holiday season promises to be even more challenging due to the pandemic. For one thing, it is stressful to spend the holidays isolated from family. Someone described it well when they said, “It takes a bite out of life to be separated from people we love.” It is admittedly also stressful to be living in constant close quarters with others – even people that you love. Add to that circumstance the stress of working in your living place and living in your working place. Lastly, a special nod goes to all parents everywhere as well as caregivers. For most parents, it is really challenging to have their kids attending school from home during this time. Other parents have lost access to childcare or cannot help but be concerned about whether their kids are able to stay safe and healthy in their present school or daycare environment. Facing the holidays can be particularly hard as a caregiver. Exhaustion and sadness over the upcoming holidays and concern for the health of your loved one adds to the complexity of the season.

So, how can we be our best version of ourselves during the stressful holidays ahead and fully enjoy this season? Here are some ideas that I plan to try and hope you find them helpful also:

1. Make your own rules. This is the year to forget about the “ought’s.” My husband wanted us to make enchiladas for Thanksgiving this year. Why not? Why not take advantage of it and only do the things that you want to do this Christmas? If you want to put up a tree, put up a tree but if it feels like a drag, skip the tree trimming and spend the extra time doing something fun. Which leads me to the next point which is…

2. Simplify. Overscheduling does take a toll on a person’s energy. Most of us are less efficient than we think at multitasking right now because of both our conscious and unconscious adaptations that are happening during the pandemic. Without conscious thought, it is far too easy to spend time taking care of the urgent while neglecting the important (but not urgent) things in our life which often provide meaning, joy, balance and feed the soul. So, consider what you have in your schedule and whether it brings joy and meaning to your life. This year say “No” to anything that doesn’t “float your boat” – a great term my family uses.

3. If you are a caregiver, delegate or resource the necessary but mundane daily tasks that other people can do as easily as you can, such as cleaning, meal prep, errands, and 24 hour caretaking of your loved one. Eat healthy foods, take time for physical exercise, and get as much rest as you can. Make time for prayer, meditation, and quiet solitude.

4. Be patient with others. There is no better time to recognize how most everyone is feeling stretched out and on edge this year. Give yourself some grace as well. If you are in especially challenging circumstances, it is really important to take time at the end of each and every day to recollect something good you have done, or something positive that you have accomplished that day, no matter how small it might be.

5. Stay current with the news, but don't spend too much time reading the news. Or checking social media. It might help to designate certain times of each day for reading the news, checking social media, and reading texts and emails. Compulsively checking these sources will be a hard habit to break, but you will be surprised at the rewards in the long run in terms of peace of mind and reduction in stress.

6. Be compassionate. Especially consider those who have lost a loved one this past year and are facing the holidays for the first time without them. Be intentional and really listen to others. A phone call or text is always appreciated but a hand-written card can be especially meaningful.

7. Be generous. There is no better medicine for the heart than giving to others. Find a person, a cause or a ministry that gives you a sense of higher purpose during this season.

8. Creatively connect with your loved ones. Look for ways to celebrate your treasured family traditions in unconventional ways. Play games together as a family via zoom. Share meals together by delegating traditional family dishes and then designating a time to zoom in and start eating your collective meals at the same time. Ask for ideas and be amazed at your family’s ingenuity!

9. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. This is a season of grieving what you thought it was going to be and instead discovering what you already have that you are grateful for that is in your life. I recent read this quote and loved it, “I thought 2020 was the year I was finally going to achieve everything I wanted. Instead 2020 was the year I became grateful for everything I already had.”

I needed to make this list for me this year! I plan to spend more time reflecting on what I already have, being intentional with my time, keeping my attitude in check and creatively using my time and energy in meaningful, positive ways. Friend, may you find joy and hope this holiday season knowing that God loves you. May the sights, sounds, smells and memories of holidays past nurture your spirit and bring you comfort and His peace. May you find ways to connect meaningfully with your loved ones and may you discover an abundance of things in your life that you are grateful for.

Most of us would not put 2020 down as one of the best. I do not know about you, but I am ready for this year to be over. As if dealing with a global pandemic was not enough stress on its own, it seems like we have experienced one stressful event after another. Add extreme weather conditions, families fleeing for their lives from fires, deep political divisions, civil infighting and mudslinging, ongoing racial injustices and rioting in the streets. In those ways, it has been a terrible year. One thing is certain – our lives will never be exactly the same again.

However, in other ways, I cannot help but think that it has been a valuable and clarifying year. I have learned some important lessons about how I want to spend my time, energy, and money that I probably would not have learned any other way. Our country has an increased and painful awareness of ongoing racial inequity that forced us to reckon with old attitudes and biases that should have disappeared a long time ago. Many disadvantaged cannot afford to go to a doctor. The homeless do not have the ability to socially isolate themselves or go to a doctor. The working poor cannot afford to quit their jobs and are at a higher risk for getting sick. Many working parents cannot find or afford childcare. We are in a position now to start finding better solutions for solving the problems of the disadvantaged in America. I appreciate my family more than ever and appreciate technology that has enabled me to stay connected to them in real time. After being forced to step back from the rat-race of social commitments and must-do’s (early on because of my health and then later due to Covid), I have found a real enjoyment in the quiet and solitude of staying at home, reading more, spending less and generally taking life at a slower pace. It has been hard to say good-bye to roles and identities that I had previously taken for granted, but I appreciate my pre-Covid life more now than I did before and will be less apt to take life for granted when this is all over.

I think I grew up a bit this year. Social distancing and wearing an uncomfortable mask would not have been my choice but I have done so that others would be safer and feel cared for around me. It has reminded me that my life is not about me, but about the collective us. Living with lung cancer this year gave me the opportunity to recognize that life is precious and that one’s health is easily taken for granted. Stepping back this year from my career and its time-consuming responsibilities was a wake-up call to how easy it is to waste life focusing on projects, goals and aspirations that will vanish tomorrow and how much more important it is to instead focus on people and relationships. I think I am finally getting it that investing in work, even meaningful work, is not as important as investing in people. I especially hope I can remember this last lesson because it is a game-changer.

For most of us it is hard to take a step back and take a candid look in the mirror. If you are like me, it only happens when stressful circumstances force you to stop, lean forward and take a good hard look. Take a moment to reflect on what you have learned from this year. What has been the most challenging issue for you? What event was the most clarifying and useful to you? Do you feel that your attitudes have changed toward your friends, your neighbors, and your community? Do you feel more hopeful or less hopeful about the future now?

When this staggering global outbreak finally ends – and it will end – there will be reckoning of sorts, one that will judge how we responded as a nation, as communities, and as friends. When that happens, I hope that we will look back and be able to remember how we grew and what we learned, and how well we took care of each other.

C.S Lewis once said that friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.“

How often have you felt that you were the only one thinking or feeling something? I often do. We all long to belong and to connect. To not feel alone. There is a deep desire in all of us to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to be meaningfully connected to others and to be really seen. Biologically speaking, from birth on, we are hard-wired for meaningful relationships. Perhaps one reason our Creator has wired us for this connection is that we will continually seek Him out for that soul-deep perfect love and intimacy that is ultimately found in Him.

Connecting in a really meaningful way is hard for me and I think it is for most of us. We don’t have the patience to listen, the humility to accept ourselves and others, and the courage to be transparent. To connect meaningfully with each other requires taking time to listen to each other with our full attention and without any preconceived notions or judgment. We also push against this inner need to belong or to be connected because we want so badly to be more than than normal or ordinary - we yearn to be extraordinary. I want others to see my best face. It is hard for me to accept that the simple, mess of me is enough to show and share with others without putting on my best face.

Studies have shown that one of the reasons why social media is so powerful is because social platforms give us that quick, reward-feeling of being connected to each other without too much risk. It is so easy to click "like" or heart and move on without risking anything at all. It can also set up an unrealistic expectation as to how connected we “should” stay in terms of the ins and outs of each others' lives along with an uneasy sense of what psychologists call ”the fear of missing out.”

I personally often struggle to find the courage to take off the mask and to be real. Most days I think it would just be easier to put up a pretense and let my friends and family think that I am totally and completely the best version of me. To do otherwise would mean showing them the real, struggling, messy, me.

Honestly, a few months ago when I thought I only had a few months to live it was easier to be vulnerable and real than it is now. I suppose it was because I had nothing to lose. Now that I am feeling much healthier, I am daring to think about a future again, and suddenly my instinct is to put the mask back on. Self protection, I suppose. Certainly not the direction I want to go. It is so much easier to pretend than to be transparent.

This has been on my heart because I often feel alone but I am not. And neither are you. It can be especially hard to open up and to become vulnerable to others when facing a hardship or failure or when feeling overwhelmed which is actually when we have the greatest need for meaningful connection. Instead it’s so much easier to play the games of denial and blaming others, playing pretend-nice, passive-aggressive humor or manipulating as a means of self protection. According to two decades of research conducted by Dr. Brene Brown, a by-product of social fear is shame. If people know - really know - me then maybe I won't be worthy of love, or connection or inclusion. That fear makes us feel ashamed of who we are and fearful of being real with each other.

Although we have different life experiences, I choose to think that we all share hopes and concerns for our families, fears for the next generation, disappointments and perhaps regrets. To be more specific, I don't know of anyone who does not earnestly desire for people to stop shooting at each other, regardless of their stance on gun control, or earnestly struggle with how to respect both the life of a mother as well as her unborn child or what kind of resources and legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren on planet earth. We have similar fears and disappointments. We all want our families and our nation to be safe, even if we don't agree on the "how." No one wants children to go to bed cold or hungry. Everyone wants to live in a moral society where everyone is on good terms and acts justly toward their neighbor. All of us are connected by our desire to be close to our loved ones, our hurts, our failures, our fears and our disappointments. If we are blessed to live long enough, we are connected by the reality of aging, the gradual failure of our bodies to keep up. So many of us are taking care of others - kids, grandchildren, spouses, parents and we need to recognize and honor that commonality so that we can best support each other. We are so connected by these things that when one of us is struggling or hurting, it tends to radiate out and when we act bravely it tends to strengthen those around us.

Let’s embrace the messiness and complexity of us - me and of you, the mystery and the unknown bits of who we are and what we do not understand or know about yet. We must help each other in this way by being the safest people we know how to be with others - to listen without judgment, to love fully and completely and to be vulnerable and open ourselves so that there aren't any games being played that cause a break in connection. Together, let’s practice gratitude and joy and to love and embrace ourselves and others with grace. We are all beautiful messes - emphasis on the beautiful - and we have that connection in common.

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