Fear: Face it or forget it

Photo of Ferris Wheel with Neon Lights at NightMy husband would love to take me in a teeny-tiny plane or helicopter for a flight-seeing tour.

Ain’t gonna happen. You see, I don’t do heights. My fear of falling has only swelled to a crescendo over the years.

Picture it. I was a little girl in blue over-alls in the upstairs bedroom of my two-story suburbanville home. The window was large and the sill, low. My face was pressed against the screen of the open window. I was teasing and making faces at my brothers, who were on the trampoline, in the yard below.

Then the unthinkable happened. The screen popped out, I lost my balance, fell forward and plummeted two stories to the ground, while my older brothers and a neighbor lady looked on in horror.

Miraculously, I narrowly missed being impaled by the spikes for the tomato plants, located ever-so-close to my grassy landing pad, and equally as miraculously landed on my rump roast.

The most painful part of it was the embarrassment I felt as the concerned neighbor checked me over to be sure I hadn’t broken anything.

So THAT happened. Not one broken bone. Kids are made of rubber.

Though my mind knows it was an accident, I haven’t been fond of falling ever since.

Sometime later, I began having this recurring dream. In the dream, I was on the second floor of that same house. There was an open floor plan where the upstairs hallway was also a balcony to the lower level. I fell, but woke up before landing in every single dream.

I’ve never been able to get a real handle on the fear of falling –even over time. So I began avoiding it.

I avoided taking my small children down escalators. I hated the feeling of being high up in a stadium, with the short barrier railings that wouldn’t keep you from falling if you lost your balance. I didn’t do the high dive at the swimming pool. I started refusing to go on certain amusement park rides. Just say no to ferris wheels, I say!

The inconveniences and brief moments of discomfort have been few and of low impact.

The following life moment however, struck an embarrassing chord.

In my thirties, I went rafting during a family reunion. Our guide helped us pull over to a popular spot for cliff-jumping.

We all got off the boat. I climbed to the top. Several people jumped with no problem. I stood there and tried to talk myself into jumping.

Several countdowns later, I did the climb of shame back down to the boat, to the loud BOOING of a boatful of passing strangers! Needless to say, it was absolutely humiliating.

On that same trip, I watched my father climb a pole I thought would reach heaven, and stand on an itty-bitty square before bursting out across a zip line several stories high. All of his children and grandchildren looked on with total admiration. How could anyone be that brave? I did not get the bravery genes.

I’ve considered the possibility of facing these fears, but have realized over time, that some fears aren’t worth trying to overcome. I mean, what (other than risking my life) am I going to get out of facing my fears through unnecessary thrill-seeking adventures? My nerves don’t need the excitement.

Some fears DO need to be faced. So for now, I’ll stay grounded and start working on my fear of getting head lice. I’m a teacher.  Now that is a fear worth facing!

What are your fears? Which are not worth facing? Which should you try to tackle?

Are We Wearing our Honesty Hats?

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You know how most people have the ability to “read a room?” There was a time my son had no such ability, especially when it mattered — like at church.

Church is one of those places where there are many unspoken rules. Enter the building and greet others politely. Sit down. Listen. Don’t talk, call out, or make vocal or bodily noises of any sort during the sermon.

One day, my son, bless his heart, was challenging me, and was for whatever reason, unable to follow the unspoken, but well-known rules.

“I’d smack his ass!” an elderly lady loudly whisper-yelled to her seat mate in the pew directly in front of us, and loud enough for those in nearby pews to hear.

Needless to say, I was taken a-back and swiftly exited the building with my little darling in tow.

Those who heard and saw what happened could assume several things.

1. My son was being a little jerk that needed to be escorted off the premises quickly, and perhaps should have been extracted sooner.

2. I was embarrassed by, or had my feelings hurt by a thoughtless comment from a stranger and was incensed and left.

3. My son was old enough to know better than to be behaving so poorly in church.

4.  The elderly lady was old enough to know better than to shame a young mother.

All of the above could very well have been true.  But, here’s the truth.

This sweet little elderly lady was actually visiting our church.  She was a dear friend’s mother who was suffering with a severe memory loss disease. I had never met her.  She obviously didn’t know me. She was simply a stranger wearing her honesty hat, and found herself, through no fault of her own, without a filter that day.

Later that night in a phone call, my friend apologized profusely for her mother’s rudeness. She was understandably mortified!

I told her I thought the incident was entirely amusing — even hilarious.  I insisted, “She only said what we were all thinking!” Truly, the kid was driving me (and clearly others) nuts. Her mother’s timing was spot on. I mean, preach sister!

This brief moment provided me a mini-vacation from my stress.  I always enjoy it when this particular memory floats through my mind’s parade. This one stressful moment turned into many laugh-out-loud moments. So bless her. Bless her for giving me many giggle fits over the years. Bless her for wearing her honesty hat and forgetting her filter that day. After all, we’re only human.

What funny memories help get you through the tough days?

Signs of Hope

 

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I believe in signs — I’m not talking about Zodiac signs here — I mean actual signs from heaven. Signs that prove we are not left alone here on earth, that there is, in fact, someone in the great beyond, that is at least aware of our deepest struggles and has compassion for us.

I’ve hit rock bottom more than once. That’s the beauty of being middle-aged. You’ve had the pleasure of smacking your head on that rock a time or twelve.

In 2006, I gave birth to my sweet baby girl. I was so relieved and happy for her safe arrival. The birth was perfect. We were surrounded with love.

In a parallel universe, I was dealing with the unmitigated disaster of my divorce. I was now a single mother with three children under the age of five. I had no paying job, because I had been a stay-at-home mom up until that point. My stress was high and unchecked.

The dam broke loose the third day after my little girl’s birth. We got in the car and my sister drove us home from the hospital. My tears fell as freely as the rain — a liquid mixture of post-birth hormones, grief, exhaustion, and fear.

At some point it stopped raining. We rounded the lake near our home and then we saw it. A rainbow.

I feel you cringing. Maybe you’re thinking, “Rainbows follow rain in nature, you idiot. End. Of. Story.”

Think what you will, but in my heart, in that moment, I knew it was a sign of hope that better days were ahead. I desperately held onto that miracle.

Fast-forward to 2014. My current husband and I were pregnant with what would have been my fourth baby. We were also briefly separated at the time.

Unfortunately, we miscarried very early in the first trimester. It was brutal at first — physically and emotionally.

Compounding matters even more, we were a literal ocean apart. The one person I needed next to me in that hospital room could not be there, and I could not be there for him. We were grieving separately, with the exception of supportive, loving phone calls to one another.

Even though it felt like my world stopped, my children’s all-important worlds kept turning. My daughter had a choir concert to attend and needed a dress, so, even though it was only about three days after the miscarriage, and the last thing I wanted to do, we popped over to Kohl’s. The pressing needs of a pre-pubescent middle-schooler know no bounds. The things we do for our kids…

I still remember hearing the rainstorm on the roof as we shopped. When we left and opened the steel front doors to exit the store, there it was. Another rainbow. Right in front of us.

I knew, with no doubt, that this was not a coincidence. I had received a visible sign from above, not once, but twice. Heaven opened up three days after the birth of one baby, and three days after the loss of another — acknowledging my anguish and suffering, and offering a glimmer of hope that better days were coming.

Those heavenly signs are written on my heart as a reminder that we are never left alone.  By the way, I’ve since been blessed with many better days (and a few real stinkers).

Do you believe in signs? Share your story with us.

Unplugging Anxiety

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I am a bona fide bundle of nerves some days, consumed with excessive anxiety. Sometimes I just wake up with it.  It feels like I have been plugged into an electric socket and all of my nerve endings are “live-wires” without their sheathing.  Other days it just creeps in when I least expect it.

The causes of my anxiety are endless. Here is just a snack-size sampling. If you struggle with anxiety, your list may look very different.

  • Unnecessary worry about what other’s think of me or my choices.
  • Over-thinking prior interactions.
  • Anticipated, potentially uncomfortable future conversations.
  • Old, unresolved hurts.
  • Embarrassment about procrastination of important tasks.
  • Feelings of perceived inadequacy.

There are SO many ways to address anxiety — diet, medication, meditation, therapy, exercise, etc.  The list goes on and on.   I have tried all sorts of things, but here are a few tricks that really help me to keep my anxiety in check, and slow down the anxiety hamster wheel that causes my productivity and peace of mind to plummet.

1.  Get to work.   I sit down and write out my to-do list.  The anxiety is then transferred out of my head and onto the paper.  That helps.  If I then complete an anxiety-producing task on the list, that helps even more.

2.  Put it on the shelve and find a distraction.  For example, I tell myself, “I will deal with this on Friday.”  My emotional space is now free, at least for a time and I focus on something else.  Often when “Friday” arrives, the problem seems smaller.

3.  Focus on daily self-care.  I wear my favorite comfy clothes, go for a long walk, call a friend, or read a book.

4.  Avoid caffeine.  For me, this is a BIG one and by far the hardest to do.

5.  Get some sleep.  My brain needs time to recover and reset.

6.  Talk about it.  Sharing ideas is powerful and keeps me from feeling isolated.  Anxiety should not be a taboo topic.

What types of things do you worry about?  How do you help calm your brain when you are feeling out of control?  Message me your stories and suggestions and I’ll share them.  Let’s help each other!

 

 

 

 

Your Inner Compass — A Six Step Guide to Making GREAT Big Decisions

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Some decisions don’t matter.  Tacos or tuna for lunch?  Tacos.  Bam! Didn’t even have to think about it, right?   There’s no reason to spend a hot minute on these types of light-weight decisions.  There are few if any consequences.   Live your life. Eat a taco!

Other decisions, require a bit of research and some awareness of your personal preferences, but also, do not have lasting consequences.  Let’s take for example my recent experience purchasing a couch.  I went to a few stores, sat on a few and ultimately went with a comfortable, navy-blue number that fit within my budget and style criteria.   It matters little, and I’m happy with it, so yay me. If it doesn’t work out, it’ll be annoying, inconvenient, and yet another unexpected expense. Still, I’ll get over it. I’m a big girl.

A few decisions DO have lasting, heavy consequences and can get the nerves firing off at the mere mention of the need to make the decision in the first place — marriage, divorce, starting a family, starting or quitting a job, and moving are only a few of the biggies that require more work from and collaboration between your heart, nerves, and noggin.

Big foolish idiot alert.

Nearly two decades ago I was considering marriage.  It all seemed wonderful on paper.  He was fun to be around.  I liked his family.  He was in a great field of study and poised to make a good living.  We shared the same religious beliefs. Yada yada yada… We were set to have a good life.

The thing is, I had this nagging, heavy feeling that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I had a major case of cognitive dissonance. It just would not settle in my soul.

I prayed and prayed about it, hoping that some peace would follow.  I tried to will the peace to come through prayer and wasted wishing. The peace never did arrive.

How was it possible that what seemed so right could be so wrong? It made no sense. My brain could not understand what my heart knew.  God was trying to tell me something really REALLY important, but I didn’t want to HEAR it.

I chose to ignore that pressing, gripping, unsettled feeling and got married anyway.

I have absolute and lasting regret about that choice.  It resulted in much unrelenting heartache for myself and many others. Some of those consequences linger today.

Why in a day and age when so many people get divorced, do I think this disaster could have been averted?

If I had listened to my gut instinct, instead of only focusing on what I wanted in the moment, I wouldn’t have married a man whose dishonesty knew no bounds, who hurt innocent people and eventually ended up in prison.  I couldn’t have known what he would be capable of doing.  But God knew. HE wanted to tell me.

I left my husband at a time when I was a stay-at-home mom and seven months pregnant with our third child.   That was a terrible time and getting divorced was, at that point, the only possible choice given the glaring circumstances. Sometimes decisions are like that too.

I paid dearly for not heeding my body’s natural warning system. This leads me to another, and hopefully a more uplifting example.

It took me many years to rebuild my life after the complicated and life-sucking divorce.   In that time, I went back to school to get my master’s degree and teaching certificate so I could support myself and my children.

I did my student teaching and the whole time hoped a job would open up at the school. This was my ideal school, but there were no open positions, and I began earnestly looking for a teaching job elsewhere. In those days, the teaching profession was saturated and I applied at dozens of schools with no success.

At the same time, I was considering a big move.  I needed a change and a new setting for a new chapter in my life, one that wasn’t a constant reminder of the past.  My sister lived in Alaska, and I had visited a couple of times and fell in love with her quaint little town.

I decided to move.  It felt right.  I was at peace. I was also scared even though my heart felt light at the thought of moving.

I went to Alaska to find a place to live. My brother-in-law agreed to employ me short-term until a teaching position could be secured. I went back home and we packed our boxes.

In an unexpected plot twist, the week before we were set to move, I received a call from the school where I’d done my student teaching. I was offered an interview.

My heart should have been rejoicing. This should have been a no-brainer. After all, that was what I had wanted all along. This was THE perfect teaching job — my dream job!

Why then did my heart sink to my stomach? Why couldn’t the call have come before I packed all of my things?  Why did I feel sick about the choice before me?

After a few agonizing hours of wrestling with the decision, I realized that I could not stay.  I knew I was to move to Alaska.  I made the call to decline the interview. The peace returned.

It was a huge leap of faith to pack up my family and go as a single mother of three children to a place so completely different than anywhere I’d ever lived.

It may even have seemed irresponsible to move without long-term employment secured, but I did it because I was motivated by the reassurance that it was the right path.

Without the tiniest sliver of doubt, I can say it was the best decision I have ever made. Blessings and opportunities fell in my lap.   I landed the best job of my life.  I found my husband and gained a son. My children have had opportunites and experiences that couldn’t have been found in any other place.

Has it been hard?  Boy howdy, has it ever been hard at times! So, so hard. After all, life doesn’t stop. But the peace of mind, knowing that I am where I am supposed to be during this season of my life, can’t be measured.

You may already be a decision-making pro, but if not, here’s the recipe for making solid BIG decisions. It works for me, maybe you’ll find something to help you on your way.

  1. Determine and weigh the pros and cons.  
  2. Make the decision.  I used to be a big-decision vacillator. One day when I was feeling stuck about a big choice before me, a caring loved one told me that I needed to decide to decide. In other words he urged me to stop procrastinating making the decision!
  3. Move forward with the decision unless you know or feel like it might be wrong (like in my first story). Sometimes you feel nothing. In that case, make the best choice you can with the information you have and enjoy the adventure.
  4.  Listen to your heart.  That does not mean just do whatever the heck you want, consequences be damned. It means to pay attention to what you are feeling about the decision as you think and pray about it. Prayer always helps me because I know I’m not alone in the decision.
  5. Evaluate your feelings.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this step. Remember that anxiety and fear are not the same as an unsettling feeling. Was I afraid to move to Alaska?  Yes.  Did I feel a bit of anxiety about moving to a place so different from where I’d been living?  Uh…yah! Those feelings can be a part of a “productive struggle” toward growth. Think about the season between high school and college. There’s anxiety a brewin’ and nearly boiling over, yet one is on the precipice of quantum levels of personal growth on the way toward full adulthood. However, if you have a foreboding, unsettling or sick feeling every time you think about the decision, you are getting a clear message that this is a NO-GO.
  6. Trust your inner compass and accept it.   If the answer is yes, proceed with confidence, even if you are scared. If the answer is no, take a hard pass, no matter how hard it is to walk away from that particular path. This is SO much easier said than done, but is most certainly a game-changing moment. It may not feel like it at the time, but trust that a better opportunity is on its way.

Do you have an experience to share about a time you listened or didn’t listen to your inner compass? I’d love to hear and share your stories.

 

 

The Nincompooper Strikes Again

Several years ago, my life was in the pooper — figuratively and literally.  It became necessary to “get my poop in a group” in every sense of the phrase. Yes, you read that right.

At the time, I was going through an excrutiating divorce. My children and I were living with my parents, ruining what was supposed to be their peaceful retirement.

Now, I’m no Debbie Downer, and can usually find the humor in things. But, at the time (and for many years thereafter), nothing about the following story seemed funny — AT ALL.

What, pray-tell, does all this have to do with poop?

One fateful evening, I glanced over and saw what no parent wants to see — a big bushy tail under the couch.  We did not own a single four-legged furry friend.

I didn’t know what it was, but there was a wild animal IN THE HOUSE.  I freaked out.

I got my children secured in a bedroom and put a towel at the bottom of the door.  I left the sliding glass door open and hoped this little critter would scoot.

It did not.  That little bundle of joy unloaded solid nuggets of sunshine everywhere it could locate a blank square of space — countertops, couches, flooring…EVERYWHERE.   I can still see it.

Nevertheless, I put on my big girl panties, cleaned up,  and we went to bed.  I thought it had left.

The next morning, my dear father, stopped into my room on his way to work. I was still asleep.

I will never forget how he ever so slowly leaned over the bed, and hovered over my face.  In a calm voice, he whispered, “Our little friend is back.”   Then he skeedadled off to work before I could talk him into staying.

Shell shocked, I began to panic.   That $%#&*% had done it AGAIN!  This thing had no soul.

I frantically called my brothers at work.   This was a Defcon 5 situation.  To them, this was apparently NOT an emergency.  I begged to differ. Nevertheless, no one could help me.

After all, how could they feasibly tell their bosses that they needed to leave work to locate and clean up after an unknown wild animal? Fine. It sounded a little crazy.

Oh, but my friends, this was no innocent little critter. This little jerk was a machine-gun powered pooping machine on a mission to terrorize my already frazzled state of mind.  It was out to get me.

My sanity and morning troll hair (I can only imagine) did not a happy marriage make.  In that moment, I was so overcome with stress, I was one step on the path to the nut house at the carnival for coocoos.

I was hysterical — a full-fledged sobbing basket case. I had ALREADY cleaned up once.  Was I seriously about to clean up after this little nincompooper twice? What did I do to deserve this hellish ordeal?  What — I ask you?

I called my sister-in-law.  She couldn’t come over either.  However, that didn’t stop her from laughing so hard I thought she might pee herself.

I finally came to the unpleasant realization that I was flying solo on this one.  I reluctantly began to clean up…AGAIN.

Animal control was called, came out, told us it was a squirrell, and assisted us in escorting the little party pooper out of the house.

That incident happened nearly thirteen years ago. At the time, I remember wondering why.  Why, in the midst of my darkest time, was it necessary to throw a squirrel with a case of the explosive poops in the mix?

I still don’t have the full answer.  Here is my current working theory.

Sometimes the unexpected and undeserved hoopla that happens becomes a gift — something to laugh about, at a bare minimum, or and dare I say, at the risk of sounding cliché,  — learn from.

Sometimes, like in this case, the lesson isn’t immediately apparent.  At first, it simply becomes one of our personal narratives.  The repetative telling of the story assists us in putting other things in our lives in perspective, creating a metaphor for us to use to help us make sense of things at a later date.

In my case, I needed to get my poop in a group.  I cleaned up the literal squirrel mess.   More importantly, I somehow managed, with a lot of help, and over a very long period of time, to clean up the seemingly insurmountable mess of my divorce.

If you have a story that you have yet to laugh about or learn from, take comfort, and know that it is very unlikely that a squirrel is going to poop all over your house today.   Celebrate that!

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New Year’s Goal: Improve without excuses, AND appreciate what you are getting right. AKA– I’m no Betty Crocker, but I still got game.

Here is ONE of the many things I need to work on in 2019. I am at a loss in the kitchen.  I have basic skills.  I can cut, chop, stir, assemble, microwave, make a bowl of cereal, and scramble eggs.  You get the picture.

It’s the day-to-day cooking that gets me.  Some people can just magically budget, plan ahead for shopping, prepare ahead and create a healthy and tasty dinner each night, all with the confidence of Julia Child.  I’m not that person.  By the time I get home from work, I am usually so dog-tired, the last thing I want to do is cook.  So I don’t.

We end up eating something easy.  Something cheap — nutrition-wise and cost-wise.  Everyone eats at different times to fit our crazy schedule.  I then feel horrible — both physically and emotionally.    I continue to have little energy, because I have put ineffective and often artificial fuel into my body.  Making matters worse, I beat myself up for being a poor excuse for a mother who should be providing homemade healthy meals that occasionally involve spinach.

When we do sit down together for something respectable, it’s because my husband is a great chef.  He is the main reason most cooking gets done at our house.

I’m good at a few really important things.  I show up for my kids.  They talk to me and I show them that I trust them to make good decisions.  I’m teaching them to use their own moral compass and to trust themselves.  I support them in their life’s goals.  I’m teaching them to respect themselves and others. In short, I have worked hard to build relationships with my children.

I wouldn’t trade all the cookery skills in the world for the things that I am doing right.   That said, I can improve my cooking AND appreciate all that is going right.  Here’s to more healthy family dinners in 2019 and continuing the conversations.  What are you getting right?  What are your goals for 2019?

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