A military couple sat on opposite ends of my couch.  I asked what was going on and how I could help.  The wife said she felt weary from the responsibilities at home and felt taken for granted.  He snapped back at her about how hard he had been working, providing for her, and that she was ungrateful.  I asked (for her benefit) if he loved her.  “Of course I do!” he said, “I just feel she has to have me roll it in sugar for her to hear it.”  I asked her if she was grateful for what he had provided (for his benefit), “Of course I am!” she said, “but it doesn’t make me feel loved.”  Deep down, he loved her but was too angry to try harder.  Deep down, she was grateful, but was too hurt to show it. Both had a valid need for their spouse to make changes.

Often I see a relationship where there is love, but the unmet needs are so great they only experience tension. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this couple parallels with our relationship as spouses with the Military.  “Needing” often gets a bad reputation in our culture, leaving families feeling angry with unmet needs on the inside when told they should be grateful for benefits.  Military leadership acknowledges the need for strong families to build a strong military force, but struggles when families don’t trust them.  I’ve heard spouses say that “needing” their service member too much is seen as weakness.  The biggest one is that if I don’t “need him” then I will survive if something ever happened to him. In reality, the Military and families need each other just as much as a couple does, and there is nothing wrong with that need.

A thriving relationship must involve some level of need, just as fire needs oxygen to create warmth. Each of us needs something on the outside to be fulfilled- water, food, shelter, sex, human connection, etc. Neediness, on the other hand, is when we begin to feel entitled to having our needs met and in turn begin to need more to remain “happy”.  Abandoning their expressed need was not the answer for the couple in my office, it was seeing the need of the other first.  It was just as important for him to “roll his words in sugar” as it was for her to express her gratitude.  It is just as important for Military leadership to find new ways to support families as it is for us to remain trusting and positive of their efforts. We can do all of this while still asking for change.

My husband and I often say in conflict, “I am for us, not against us.”  How would the tone of your marriage change if you began to meet the needs of your spouse first?  How could our relationship with leaders change if we say, “We are for us, not against us?”

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Sometimes it feels like fear and anxiety go hand in hand with the life of a military spouse.  No matter what branch your family serves in, it seems that worry sails the ship when we are faced with so many unknowns. “How will my kids handle the transition?” “Where will we live next?” “When will he get called away?” “Will I be able to handle it?” “How can my marriages stay strong through this?”

Fear and I have a love-hate relationship.  On one hand, it has a fascinating way of motivating me when there is a real cause for concern.  Like the time I knew my son was about to fall down the stairs and I was there just in time (I love having a mom’s sixth sense!). Other times it serves as a real and present driving force of conviction that must be there to promote change in our life.  As much as I hate being wrong, when my husband points out something that must change in me, fear of real and possible consequences motivates me to do something new. My deep appreciation for him and desire to have a stronger marriage steers me towards the humility I need to begin the hard work.

Other times, fear can get out of control.  Left to feed on our insecurities and old wounds, fear can grow dangerously like a cancer- spreading throughout our relationships and robbing us of joy and intimacy.  Without exercising self-control of our thoughts and feelings, fear can cripple our ability to stay connected and intimate with our spouse.  When he communicates hurt, it is my fear of being wrong or misunderstood that temps me to selfishly choose protecting myself over addressing the hurt he needs me to heal.  I fool myself into thinking that control over my surroundings (and my marriage) will somehow manage my fear of so many unknowns (I can’t control the military, but I can control everything else). In reality, it can become a destructive force that only causes more problems for me to address.

Courage appears to be the antidote for fear.  When there is something to protect- it is my courage that says what I desire to protect is more important than my fear.  But to have the courage to choose my spouse over my own selfishness is the ministry of marriage.  By choosing selflessness when I have the opportunity to choose me, I in essence choose us.

What about you?  How do you handle fear and anxiety in your life?  How have you seen selflessness and self-control of your thoughts and feelings make a difference in your connection with your spouse?  What can you do today to find freedom from misdirected fear in your life?

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It was two days before our first deployment and the anticipation was nauseating.  It was our last chance for a date before he headed off to Afghanistan.  There were so many unknowns, so many emotions and not enough words to convey them all.  We had no idea what that deployment was going to do to us, but we made a promise that has shifted our marriage ever since-  “Thrive, don’t survive.”  In that little booth, we verbalized individual and couple goals we would work on while we were apart.  “By the end of this year, we will be better than we started,” we promised.  We could not have known the stress we were going to face in the years to come, but that promise continues to shape how we do life together.

Military life can often put you in survival mode before you know it.  As I sit in a hotel room waiting for housing, it has taken everything in me to not just survive the last two weeks and it will be months before we are fully settled.  Constant change, or the anticipation of it, has a way of making a person feel crazy.  All the personalities in your family can leave you wondering if the moments of joy will ever catch up to the stress.  Add deployment, reintegration, relocation, drills, and other stressors to the mix and it is a recipe for marital destruction.

Choosing to be proactive instead of reactive is one of the most powerful tools you have in your pocket.  It can change your marriage, parenting, determine your path to reach goals, and prevent apologies later.  It is simply taking a breath, a pause, to remember that while there are many things over which you do not have control, you do have control of yourself.  7 Habits of Highly Effective People has one of my favorites metaphors to explain what it means to be proactive. In one hand, shake a water bottle and in the other shake an unopened Coke bottle. During stress, if we react without pausing, we will explode (or implode) like opening the shaken Coke bottle. Imploding is equally destructive.  It is a quiet internal explosion in the form of depression and/or anxiety.  Personally, I would rather “be” the water bottle.  Choose to be someone who not only remains calm during an escalating argument with your spouse, but models mature, adult self-control.  When you feel your patience wearing thin with your child be proactive…take a breath, stop, and think about who has ability to handle the moment.

Thriving in the chaos of constant change demands that we not wait until we are in the midst of stress to become proactive.  We must proactively set goals and put self-care options in place before the day starts.  For me, getting up early and having a moment of quiet makes a huge difference.  This can also involve seasonal goals where you read and discuss a book with your spouse, start a fitness goal, or begin counseling before life feels unmanageable.  This simple concept, can result in a better you when the chaos subsides.

Thrive, don’t just survive- it’s your choice.

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While the world is waiting to hear how much of the Ashley Madison leak is real, there are thousands of couples that are squirming in their seats.  Some are tempted to sift through the email addresses just in case there is something they didn’t know about their spouse.  Some have felt the pain of betrayal before and are looking for one more piece of evidence to push them into action.  Some have done the hard work to heal and can’t decide if they should keep looking forward or risk looking a fool.  Some… are wondering if they are finally caught.  Whether they ever got on Ashley’s website or not, they are wondering if their name somehow appeared in the digital “book” of adultery.

It’s amazing to think that people would want to get caught but when that much energy goes into keeping secrets and covering evidence, a person can get sloppy.  I see it all the time.  People don’t usually start off wanting to see their marriage fall apart.  The beginning somehow traces back to one tiny, subtle voice that says something like “I deserve this.”

It doesn’t take much.  Feeling unseen, under-appreciated, taken for granted- it all builds to a point where a person feels entitled to that one look, that private log-in, that lingering conversation.  We should all have a booming alarm in our mind as soon as those thoughts show up.  The Ashley Madison event doesn’t so much concern me that people will be caught, that will eventually happen no matter what.  People may not get caught this time, but they always do.  My thoughts are on those that are wondering if there is hope from the pain of betrayal and the pain of being the betrayer.

I have seen healing come from a broken marriage.  I have seen couples go on to rebuild a marriage that is vulnerable, intimate, and in some cases better than before.  Although they would never recommend it and wish it were never part of their story, couples can and do heal.  Often, though, I am asked by those betrayed, how do I know if it’s worth the energy to rebuild the relationship.  Here are a few variables that must be present.

  1. Both individuals must be open, honest, and ready to do the hard work.  There is no room for second guesses here.  The betrayer must be all in, or they will continue inflict wounding on their spouse.  The betrayed spouse must also be willing to show up.  Most of the time, they are the one that carries the most risk in the beginning.
  2. There can be no time limit put on recovery work.  On average, it takes 3-4 years of weekly or bi-weekly counseling to find a couple back in a better place.  There is no rush to rebuilding the heart.  There will be ups, downs, and re-opening wounds.  Like any other death, grief never goes away, it just changes over time.
  3. Each person will sacrifice much. Just to name a couple, the betrayer must be willing to follow strict rules set up and agreed upon by their spouse.  As much as this feels like a parent-child relationship, it is crucial to rebuilding trust again.  Every marriage needs rules, and when a big one like loyalty has been broken, you must be willing to go back to the beginning and show you can go to the grocery store by yourself without going somewhere else.  The betrayed spouse sacrifices the right to need extra details about the affair that they think would make them feel better.  These details are not productive and lead to obsession and paranoia.

Finally, much like the world of addiction, there is hope found in the broken pieces from hitting bottom.  It is there that we all see ourselves for who we are.  Hope can be found in opening your eyes to see your life unmanageable and you powerless to fix it on your own.  There is maturity is recognizing a need for someone bigger than yourself.  We will all mess up, every time, on our own.  Reach out to someone else for help, or take the bigger step to reach out to a God that loves you despite the number of people you have hurt or failed, including yourself.

Don’t wait to have someone else make your sin public.  Far more couples make it when a dishonest person begins to choose honesty before it is too late. For more, see 12 Steps that lead to an Affair/Protecting Your Marriage From an Affair that also include ways you can begin to protect your marriage today.

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I can admit that fear holds a special place in my life, but not because I want it there.  In a moment’s notice, fear can take over an innocent conversation with my husband and turn it into a battleground. We have a strange relationship, fear and I.  And my guess is that you do too. Fear is one of the biggest threats to intimacy in marriage.  I have seen fear convince men and women that vulnerability is weakness and weakness equals failure.  Finding its beginning in our childhood, imagination, or experiences we have witnessed, fear brings with it the intense desire to protect self.  With real danger, this is incredibly helpful.  To choose “me” by running away or fighting off the threat in front of me, I survive and go on to live another day. The physical pain heals and scars become a sign of courage and strength.  Emotional pain is an altogether different experience.  The pain of rejection, hurt, and betrayal does not heal as quickly.  In fact, as soon as we think it is resolved, it resurfaces to tell us the risk is not worth the pain. Yet it is rarely the event that we fear after we have been emotionally wounded, it is the intensity of emotional pain. Paulo Coelho said, “the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself.”

Marriage is hard because it requires a daily commitment towards selflessness rather than selfishness.  Love by its very definition involves sacrificing our own wants and desires for someone else’s needs, and marriage is exactly that.  When you talk with service members who courageously risked their life for their fellow soldier, you often hear “because I know he would have done the same for me.”  Was fear there?  Of course.  To love someone does not mean that there is no fear. In fact, Ambrose Redmoon said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

 

Fear is a self-protective choice just as trust (it’s opposite) is also a choice.  Fear tempts us away from intimacy with our spouse whispering “He’s only going to reject you”, “She will think you are weak” or “he won’t understand.” It will tempt you to choose you every time- protect yourself, the pain of getting hurt will be too unbearable.   Fear weakens bonds, introduces doubt, and plants seeds of discontentment.

I heard once that marriage is not meant to make you happy, it is meant to make you better and I believe that is true.  It is the daily choice to courageously serve your spouse with trust, forgiveness and grace while learning how to be vulnerable.  When fear threatens the security of marital intimacy, choosing your spouse by maturely meeting their needs is communicating that they are more important than whatever it is that you are afraid of.  It is saying, instead of protecting me right now by fighting, withdrawing, or doing nothing, I choose you.  I choose to believe that you are not out to hurt me, destroy me, or even make my life difficult.  And by choosing you, I in essence, choose us.

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I read the results of a poll of 100,000 parents featured on the Today Show. Parents were polled on what they felt were the appropriate ages to let their children, “tweens” and teens, do things like get a Facebook page, go to concerts, stay home alone, etc.  Overall, the majority of parents answered conservatively on most questions. For example, almost all parents said a tattoo was out of the question (a few said 16/17yrs) and with the changing times, most said they would give a cell phone to a child as young as 8 years. (The article written by buzzfeed.com can be seen here)

While I believe the majority of parents in the poll reflected morals and values of the “Old America” that protected these values, it was the other entries that concern me. America is getting it wrong. There is a very good chance that while adults are gradually being desensitized to the role of digital media in daily life they are becoming more open to offering it to their kids who are not ready for it. My concern in this poll is that some parents are forgetting that the young minds they are responsible for function differently than adult minds that have already accepted the norm of immorality.

Social Media: While most parents would not allow their children to open social media accounts, one third said that middle school was a good time to allow it. As a clinician who has worked with teen girls I can tell you that the middle school girls I saw not only were unable to self-regulate the amount of time they spent on their device, they also dealt with more issues of cyber-bullying and struggled with the skills on handling online misconduct.  Many of them disclosed to me in confidence their online mishaps, conversations, and bullying…all of which  parents are completely unaware. Middle schoolers are just beginning to be aware of other people around them and cannot conceive the cruelty that humans are capable of, much less handle it on their own. For some of them, thoughts of ending their life held the answer when they could not figure out another way.

I recommend teens in high school utilizing beginning accounts like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, while being consistently monitored (not dissected) by parents. Not for the sake of voyeurism, but to look for talking points on handling online misconduct and affirming self-regulation (the self control needed to movein and out of the digital world into reality). If you allow your middle schooler social media, make sure you are aware of who they are talking to and friending at all times.

Adult Content: This one really surprised me.  On one hand,  parents were almost unanimous on the idea of their child/teen getting a permanent tattoo.  In fact, the number one answer was “LOL” or Laugh Out Loud.  It was a humorous idea to parents that they would consider allowing their teens to make such a life changing decision.  Yet, when it came to exposing their children to adult content and violence often found in rated “R” movies, 38% were fine to allow their 15 year old, 16% a 13 year old, and 4% actually would allow a 10 year  old.  Considering the film industry is allowing more graphic scenes in movies than ever, I’m not sure these parents are tracking the effects of images, violence, and almost pornographic material being introduced so young.  I was shocked at the previews before the recent Avengers movie I took my boys to (ages 8 and 11yrs).  It was rated PG-13 and I had researched it beforehand only finding a few cuss words to give it such  rating.  An “R” movie is even worse.  It has long been known that these images produce not only a curiosity for more but introduce them to concepts about sex, relationships, and violence before the parent’s (hopefully heathy) teaching has had a chance to take root.

Compare this to the poll that address when to have the “sex talk”.  With 58% willing to let children under 15 years watch an R movie, 29% are waiting till the “teen years” (implying 9th grade and up) to talk about sex, and 7 % aren’t even willing to talk about it.  So let me get this right, more than half of parents don’t mind letting Hollywood educate their children for them,  one third will wait until too late to talk about it, and some consider it not their responsibility at all.  Follow this with when they think a child should be able to date- a time when they should definitely know what sex is, what it is for, and how they should be treated in a relationship.

Again, I was pleased with the majority vote of 57% waiting until a teen is 16yrs which I will address in a moment.  But again, 33% said 14yrs old and 4% actually said 12yrs.  From my time with tween and teen girls. I can say that this almost 40% is in for a painful familial breakdown once they open pandora’s box of dating younger than 16yrs.  I heard a speaker once state that a freshman teen girl will date anything that walks.  The teens and I laughed when we heard it, but honestly, I saw it to be incredibly true and most of the teens agreed with it in their therapy sessions alone with me.  I dealt with more issues of mistreatment, cyber-bullying, sexting, inability to be alone, and negative affects on self-esteem with girls under the age of 16yrs who had been allowed to date.  Freshmen in high school or middle school were often targeted by older boys who could not find someone to date their own age, and of course what girl wouldn’t want an older boy wanting to date them? Thus dating anything that walked.  They seemed to have an inability to screen for the “good” boys and more quickly attached their self worth to whether they were “datable”.

In summary, America- you are doing it wrong.  Most of you are headed in a good direction, but the rest of you are playing with fire.  Do not overestimate your child’s ability to handle adult situations or know what to do with them when they are exposed to it.  Consider waiting until your child proves their ability to balance the digital world with the real world- but that means you must model it first.  Liking the opposite sex and wanting to date them will be inevitable, they will even try to sneak it online, but your involvement and teaching will be what they look back on and appreciate.   While I am not advocating a suffocating approach that over-restricts the growing independence of a teen, I do recommend a gradual “letting go”, a gentle hand off that guarantees a teens ability to handle the world.

Talk with your children about sex.  In a poll I did with teens (which is consistent with other larger polls), children are exposed to their first form of pornography (online or in print) between the ages of 8-11yrs. It is your responsibility to educate your children, not the world.  Even worse is expecting them to educate you.  If you wait for the culture to do it, you will find yourself and your family out of control before you know it.

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It is our turn to move again.  If you haven’t heard me talk about it, #TeamWeathers is on the road again to our next location. This one will only be for a year, our shortest yet, while Matt is in school and takes a much needed break to replenish.  We are making our rounds visiting and living with family as we wait for housing on post to open up.  I am extremely grateful for their support for us as we have moved in only to leave stuff behind for us to get later.  Although it is wonderful to see familiar faces, it doesn’t quite fill the hole of having a home or the anticipation of where we will be.  Thankfully, we visited post to see the housing, so I have been envisioning where I will put furniture and settling in my mind.  Of course, I have seen this not go well before because the mind has a way of distorting the actual size of what I remember.

P1110488 590x332The boys are handling it very well.  The newness of an adventure has a way of easing the transition and we have made sure to create opportunities to “circle the wagons” between the four of us by planning fun events, checking in at night with how we are doing, and protecting our time as needed.

As we drove through the suburbs on our way back to our temporary housing last night, I watched so many big houses pass by my window.  I wondered what it must be like for a family to choose a house and stay there for 20 years.  I wondered what their life is like, the friends they see all the time, and the church they invest in that becomes a second home.  Then I wonder if they know I exist.  If they ever think about the families that give so much to give them the freedom to make the decisions they do.  I don’t want pity at all, some have even said to me how they long for the adventures I get to have- starting over in a new place.  The grass is always greener until you have to maintain it, I’m reminded.  But what I believe is really going on inside me is a moment of loneliness that exists in the adventure more than I need their attention.  It’s a need to feel understood in the midst of the chaos of change.

As we all climbed into bed together last night for an end of day snuggle, Matt prayed over all of us.  With the boys in the middle, Matt and I reached our arms across them and held hands, closing them into the circle that was once just the two of us.  “This is home”, he prayed- thanking God for giving us each other as a home.  Until these little men leave to make their own family, we will always find home base between us.  I find so much comfort in that this morning.

I think about the many different groups of spouses I have talked to since winning the MSOY15 award.  National Guard Spouses who are tucked into the suburbs trying to fit in who don’t have other military families around them.  Special operation spouses who never get to have a “normal” routine with their service member as they are whisked away for missions they can’t talk about.  They are all asking the same question I am.  I don’t think it comes from a place of entitlement.  There are many jobs out there that involve a spouse traveling, being gone, being in harms way, and relocating.  Some of them are taken by service members when they retire because it is familiar.

Like others including emergency responders, the nature of what military families do rest on a purpose to serve their country, to make sure we have the freedoms we were given- and spouses and military kids join in to serve the country too- and I believe we love it.

That is why military families huddle up.  Our desire is not to push everyone else out or act entitled, we just need to rest in the familiar.  We need to mention in passing the stress of the lifestyle and hear someone say, “I know”.  It often doesn’t take more than that. That is why I am excited about the upcoming launch of the Lifegiver Podcast.  Hearing other people’s stories can be a powerful antidote to our weariness.  It can be a reminder that we are not alone and I promise you- hearing a shout out from someone else saying “thank you” can mean the world.  I understand that this is one niche of so many.  There are plenty of amazing people to thank in this world and I hope we are finding them and thanking them on a daily basis.  Gratitude can change everyone involved.

I hope you will join me.  I hope, whether you are military or not, that you will consider recording a thank you or an encouraging message to a military spouse. You can quickly record it on your device and email it to corie@corieweathers.com to be included on the Lifegiver Podcast.   it can make a huge difference to someone who is feeling alone in their new location, fighting to keep their marriage strong, or trying to find purpose in a new city.  I am here to share the megaphone I have been given, and I hope you will join me.

Listen now to the first Episode of Lifegiver Military Spouse Podcast, available on iTunes.

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Matt and I see it all the time, a couple comes in for help after an emotional or physical affair and he/she says “I never thought it would go that far.”  Protecting your marriage from an affair is crucial to having a long lasting relationship.  I pulled from”Twelve Steps Towards having an Affair” by Brady Boyd because it is so well written and to the point.  It is an excellent model showing just how slippery a slope it can be.

Protecting your marriage takes intentionality, work, and incredible boundaries. Affairs can happen to anyone, and don’t often start with the affair in mind. They begin with believing small lies about you, your spouse, or your marriage. If you have trouble finding them, they usually revolve around you and a disconnection within your marriage. They may sound like, “Another man will make me happy” or “I deserve to be happy.” In fact, our generation is divorcing more out of the idea that they can “be happier” than ever.  Chances are, if you are human, you have been tempted by one of these thoughts. The first three steps leading to an affair are experienced by most people so if you want to affair-proof your marriage, you must be aware from step one.

Here are the steps:

  1. Something difficult happens that causes tension within you– an argument with your spouse, deployment, loss, or worse.
  2. You find yourself aware of another person and think he is attractive. This is normal! Yet, you are tempted to wonder what married life would be like with him, tempted to be closer friends, or jealous of his/her marriage.
  3. Innocent meetings (perhaps unplanned) happen and flirting occurs. Perhaps a joke is told and he laughs when no one has laughed at that joke in years! It feels good, and you notice.
  4. Meetings become intentional. Perhaps you know he is in Starbucks every morning at 8:30 or he’s in the office at a specific time- so you make effort to be there.
  5. While in a group setting, the two linger together in conversation. You find yourself wanting to have purposeful conversation with him more than anyone else.
  6. Conversation begins to shift to feelings. This is where things really start to slip. Discussions begin about how you feel including personal details, struggles you have, stress, etc. Sharing feelings leads to the building of intimacy. Women must be especially careful because sharing feelings comes so naturally.
  7. Intentional meetings occur under the disguise of a legitimate purpose because you really want to talk about more feelings.
  8. An isolated meeting happens for pleasure. This is where you can’t account for your time or what you were doing without lying. You are making excuses out of fear that you will be found out for what may be an emotional affair.
  9. Embraces become affectionate and playful touching begins. You are sold out and it is a matter of days or hours before the physical affair happens. You have turned away from your spouse and now you have in your mind said, “I deserve this, need this, and want this.”
  10. Embraces become passionate.
  11. Adultery happens.
  12. Affair becomes public.

The truth is, an affair will cost more than you think! You will eventually have to face the public and your friends. It will destroy you, your spouse, and your family. Each step, you choose to believe the lie that someone else can make you happier or the truth that you could lose everything. If you find yourself moving towards someone else… walk away. Most who are already at or past step 3 will struggle to find the strength to walk away. Remember, fulfillment and the “lover of your youth” is at home- nowhere else. What captivates you? “Captivate” is an emotional word, a romantic word. Do you notice your spouse when they walk in the room? Allow him to captivate you again.

So how can you affair-proof your home?

  1. Pray together. Talk openly about your beliefs in life, God, and growing with each other. This is the most intimate thing you can do!
  2. Date each other. Be date-able and you will be dated!
  3. Talk openly about sexual temptations. As hard as that sounds, he wants to know about it. There are NO SECRETS in marriage.
  4. Stay accountable by someone other than your spouse who is the same sex. Give them permission to ask you anything they may need to. It needs to be someone that knows you well enough to know if you are lying.
  5. Praise and compliment each other. Women and men need to hear it and thrive off it. When you praise your spouse, compliments from others won’t mean as much because they are getting it from you.

Note: If you are already on your way towards an emotional/physical affair, confess to someone more mature than you. This should be someone who loves you enough to say, “If you can’t tell your spouse, I will.” Next, tell your spouse and finally, tell someone who can actually help you. There are plenty of pastors and counselors that have the authority and ability to help you. Building trust back will take time, but if both of you are in to fight for your marriage, with the help of God and others, you can win it back.*

*Portions taken from “How Do Affairs Happen” by Brady Boyd, New Life Church

There is no doubt that serving as a military spouse is honorable and meaningful.  While our soldiers train and perform brilliant and complex missions, the military is clear that it is the families at home that provide the stability for them to do their job.  Specifically, it is the spouses that hold down the fort at home that the military works hard to support.  Unlike the civilian sector, the military offers spouses programming, childcare services, and benefits galore to improve their quality of life while at home without their soldier.  Yet the latest budget cut threats cause extreme anxiety and causes great stress upon the soldiers and their spouses.

More than ever I am seeing acute depression and anxiety in especially our spouses and the straw that caused me to break my own silence was hearing the numbers of military spouse suicides.  Perhaps some of these underlying issues that are leaking out have always been inside the military culture, or perhaps the system is beginning to backfire on the very population it was so eager to support.

In the psychotherapy world, we say “Secrets make you sick.” It is the idea that when you hold something in long enough, it will begin to show physical and emotional symptoms.  Military families are increasingly struggling with higher divorce rates, separations, rage-filled family episodes, substance abuse and the before-mentioned suicide and it’s not just the soldier anymore.  One of the biggest problems is that spouses are not talking about it.  They are remaining silent.  Being a spouse, myself, I can understand why. Yet, what happens when you shove feelings, hurt, mistreatment, and lack of self-care down for months and years?  Like a two year-old shaking a Pepsi, something is going to explode and someone is going to get hurt.

There are many reasons why spouses don’t speak up.  The current military cultural climate is like a giant vacuum where they feel both privileged and silenced at our own hands.  Any temptation to speak out is followed by a reminding thought of how honorable it is to serve our soldiers and country with gratitude (I have spouses constantly apologizing for what they are saying in a confidential therapy session).  We might share with another close military spouse, but we generally fear that if we share with civilians they will give us a look of “didn’t you choose this lifestyle?”  So spouses are staying in the inner circle of those who understand.  The problem is, there are things they feel they can’t say out loud in the military bubble either and I am watching a generation of spouses struggle more than they should.

“If I say it out loud, it will affect my soldier’s career.”

In the military culture, the spouse can influence a soldier’s career. I read a study once that correlated a soldier’s success to his wife’s involvement in the Family Readiness Groups and mentoring other spouses. While there is no doubt that the family support programs are crucial to the family’s survival by providing a fulfilling opportunity to serve each other, spouses easily get confused about whether or not the military genuinely cares. Why?  On the one hand, spouses have been invited into meetings, have playgrounds on every corner, offered resiliency programs, and are even asked “Do you have any questions prior to the deployment.” The culture embraces spouses and tells them they are the backbone by providing amazing benefits that civilians would beg for (and who frequently remind them).  This creates a sense of entitlement, and they get caught in the trap of believing that the military owes them something for sending their husband into war when the truth is, the soldier is an employee and the military honestly owes them nothing.

So spouses volunteer to stay connected and serve the others in the belief that a soldier whose family is happy and supportive to the needs of the military will most likely get promoted.  And that sounds rewarding…up until the nostalgia wears off, fatigue and marriage problems set in, and suddenly you see the other side of the coin.  People often  remark that our culture feels like the 1950’s, where women feel that speaking out of their pain can directly effect the soldiers career.  If you don’t participate, they know. If you attract negative attention, they ask what’s wrong with your wife and marriage.  If you have to miss work to take care of your crumbling family, they may be “supportive” but now there is a negative perception of you and your family.  And so you don’t say anything. Command sees the negativity as a problem to be addressed.  Acting out, making a mistake, falling apart “too much” when you kiss him goodbye only causes embarrassment on the soldier when asked about it later. On the most basic level we see that the military needs its employee and it doesn’t have to care about the family.  The voice spouses thought they had, feels one-sided, and real motivations for the care received for years is beginning to show. Spouses have more-so been “managed” to decrease the consequences of multiple train-ups, deployments and emotional/moral injuries on our families for over a decade, because it affects the “readiness” of their unit.

Spouses feel their only option to break the silence is to remain anonymous, and yet, to them, there is no way to remain anonymous.  We have military chaplains and counselors who are confidential, but most fear it can still get back to command.  Off-post therapists are an option, but some expressed that no family is stable enough to see real change happen. How can a soldier and his wife work on their marriage with consistent counseling when the soldier is consistently unavailable?  I believe this repression leaves a desperate desire for a loud un-confidential voice.  But the moment she thinks to let out the internal screams, she quiets herself with “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and express your pain because it will eventually come back on your soldier. It’s just plain unpatriotic.  After all, my soldier had it far worse than me while deployed so I have no room to complain.” There is no adequate comparison between the military spouse and the soldier.  They are both hard lives, for different reasons.  The moment we begin comparing is the moment we trample the sacred moments of pain and accomplishment for both individuals.  But using the soldier’s deployment to repress personal difficulties only builds up more resentment for later.

“I can’t speak because of the judgment of other spouses”

What once was a beautiful culture of women mentoring other women through the pain of separation and war, has recently changed into a generation of isolation and judgment.  I believe the Old Military has gone or is going away.  Senior spouses are rightfully tired having been through more deployments than any marriage should handle.  Mentoring is fizzling as Facebook becomes our new coffee-group and spouses stay inside their homes rather than outside greeting each other.  Research shows the higher ranking the soldier, the more isolated and alone the senior spouse, even correlating them to the same isolation felt by a pastor’s wife. The pressure of not being authentic out of fear that it can affect your soldier’s career is compounded by the pressure and perceived judgement from other spouses.  Even though we aren’t employed and given a rank, the volunteer system has us working along side the spouses of those ranked above our soldier.  There is no way to be authentic when a higher ranking spouse that is supposed to be mentoring you is married to your soldier’s boss.  Introductions are often made by asking “Where were you stationed before?” and “How many deployments have you been through”- sorting out those who will mentor and those who will need mentoring.  And so they mask feelings, stay strong, and push it all down.

I recently had a new military wife tell me that she screamed and latched on to her husband as his bus was getting ready to pull away.  Part of me wanted to tell her “Good for you! I wanted to do the same thing.” Yet, I am now ashamed to say that I would have been lumped into the group of women who pulled her off her soldier and told her it was “Time to pull her big girl panties up.  This is not how a military spouse behaves.” Meanwhile, I’m sure the soldiers were ragging her husband on the bus.

Judgement comes from both directions as younger spouses judge tearful, exhausted senior spouses as weak leaders.  If other spouses are supposed to be our life-line and we can’t be authentic, then we have a serious problem.  There is only so much the human psyche can push down and contain.  After years of perfection and forced adaptability to change, spouses will eventually react and be judged for it.  I have seen them both implode by losing their identity or explode by divorcing and losing their self-control in reckless abandon- and who wouldn’t?

“I can’t let go of control when control is all I have.”

There is a bumper sticker that says “Army Wife: Don’t confuse your RANK with my AUTHORITY” and it gets mixed reviews.  When I do play-therapy with children, parents often ask why the child is refusing to eat or obey.  My response is typically to ask them if the child feels they have any sense of control at home. When you have no control of the environment around you, you control whatever you can.  Military spouses are the most adaptable creatures you will ever meet. We are conditioned to not want anything or need anything.  The “needs of the military come first.”, we say with pride. My husband and I have an inside joke saying, “it can all change in a lunch hour”  because in the military- it can.  I think he is surprised sometimes by my “whatever” mentality to our life, but you have no other choice.  One of my own spouse-mentors says sarcastically “Apparently I missed Option Day”,  meaning we may have chosen this lifestyle but that often feels like the last time there was a choice.

This can lead an extremely go-with-the-flow persona while controlling everything else possible.  After years of vacillating between being a geographical single parent to a unified parenting team trying to share responsibilities, eventually she will become the all encompassing home manager.  While the lack of stability can create wonderful opportunities for personal growth (if desired), it can also lead to controlling everything that is non-military.  For soldiers, it doesn’t seem to work to share control with your spouse when things are always changing, so many resign to let their spouse maintain control.  What will military marriages do when the war draws to a close?  We will have marriages in turmoil, and no one in whom the spouses can confide?

“I can’t talk to my soldier…”

Add to that the military contradicting its message of care for the families with the “don’t upset your soldier” message.  After a long deployment, spouses are told to push down their needs further by not asking too much from their soldier.  “Give him time, let him adjust, don’t rock the boat.” And so spouses push down every desire to flee and care for herself, again, possibly for another three to six months until their soldier comes home to say they are training up for another deployment.  

Is there a solution?

Of course, as a clinician, I would say to anyone repressing feelings that the first step is beginning to have safe appropriate conversations with the right people.  Only then can you distinguish between internal lies that keep you quiet, and the truth.  This however, must involve other people to make that possible.

If you are a civilian, be willing to listen to military spouses.  One of the best things you can say is “I may not fully understand, but [that] must be difficult for you.” We need someone to say that the hardship is not worth the benefits.  Tell her that she has a voice with you and that it is not unpatriotic to hate the military sometimes.

Soldiers, do not give in to the cultural lie that your spouse can break your career.  While it is not wise for a spouse to voice her opinions to your command unsolicited, her voice in more appropriate places will bring her life!  Listen to her, serve her when you can and encourage her to care for herself. Protect your family by setting boundaries at work when possible and learn to differentiate when you can’t.  Remind others and lead those below you that work ethic promotes a career, not family.  While it may be the norm to stay after five o’clock to put in extra work, it is not always necessary and by staying you may be adding to the peer pressure. If they come down on you for your spouse being appropriately real with other spouses, stand up for her as a leader and mentor and ask them to leave her out of your job.   The military wants to protect you, but often results in enabling some soldiers to remain boys by not letting them handle personal consequences.  Take ownership for your own stress level and maturely state if she is handing you too much too fast.  It is often when we mess up that we have the opportunity to grow, and reintegration is that for both parties.  Removing the employer as the middleman in the marriage can make a lot more room in the marriage bed.

Spouses, what saddens me is that the fear I am seeing mimics what I often see in a controlling relationship. When you are told to push feelings down for the sake of your soldier, to not disclose to those who could make his job more difficult, and stay strong for the other spouses, you will eventually implode/explode.  Sacrificing self-care to the god of rank and patriotism only results in brokenness. If being a soldier is a job, then it is not completely true to believe that we as a spouse can destroy our soldier’s career.  Our soldiers are responsible for doing their job while we are responsible for being a mature, confident woman who can practice self-care.  We are believing a lie if we fear others have that much power over our life.  While it is never professional to storm our husband’s boss’s office (or his wife) with our opinions, that doesn’t mean we do not have a voice.  Only a victim believes she has no voice, and one thing a military spouses is not- is a victim.  She is courageous, flexible, and willing to do what is right for the sake of her family.  She believes in etiquette and the love behind a thank you note and she understands that a good neighbor becomes a life long friend.  It’s time to be authentic, confident, and led by wisdom.  We have to be the change in our own culture and bring back the Old Army that supported one another and mix in the creativity of the upcoming generation of spouses.  We have to have the courage to maturely speak vulnerably for the sake of our sanity and the sanity of other spouses. It may start off in the counseling office, but must eventually end with honest talks over real (not digital) coffee.  Ask your soldier to set boundaries by taking accumulated leave to spend quality time with the family.

When they ask for questions, ask.  If you feel betrayed by our government, tell them you are tired of feeling like you have no voice and remind them that they are hurting those whom they promised to serve and cultivating a climate of fear and silencing with benefits and programming.  Utilize the programming that is offered by using the counseling services for issues your neighbor cannot handle and being a real human example in any one of the resiliency classes on-post, maybe even invite a younger spouse.

Few are beginning to speak out by testing the waters, but many are afraid.  I am not advocating mass hysteria, I am advocating reducing the stigma of fear and hiding and the re-installment of mentoring by experienced spouses.


Senior wives– be authentic by telling us when you are weary and need to sit back.  Choose where you put your energy wisely, but do not disappear from the culture you once inspired.

Experienced spouses– be authentic and serve the senior spouses by picking up the mentoring that is so desperately needed and thank them for the wisdom they have committed their life to give.  Teach the new spouses who are isolated and hurting how to also be authentic with maturity and without fear.

Perhaps it isn’t the spouse that is screaming in the parking lot that needs to be helped, it’s those of us who are quieting her.

New spouses, come out of your homes and join the groups.  Ask real, honest questions of those who have wisdom to give.  If you have had a negative experience with the FRG and coffee groups, the only way to make it better is to be part of changing it.

There is sickness in remaining silent.  What would happen if we were authentic with each other?  What would happen if spouses voiced their concern for each other to a government who feel forced to financially abandon the “backbone” (family) of their army.   What would happen if we changed our perception of our benefits and programming to seeing it as a service, but not designed to appease the pain inside?  Regardless of rank, we are a group made up mostly by women, human, and needing each other to be real.  We are tired and weary.  We are scared and lonely.  We may be hurting and feel betrayed by those who invited us in.  We may feel misunderstood and some even trapped. As the pendulum swings, we must learn how to use our voice responsibly by confidently beginning the change, and sometimes calling the bluff of the apparent consequences to being human.  We too can be Army Strong, united in the cause of protecting each other, but it begins with being vulnerable, sincere and transparent. “The strength of our nation is the Army, the strength of our Army is our soldiers, the strength of our soldiers is our families.” (Chief of Staff, Raymond Odierno) Unfortunately our families are not as strong as they appear from the outside, and the cracks are beginning to show.  When we stand together, we are not alone and there is nothing to fear.

It was the last week of school, my last week of work, and we were getting ready to move (again) in a month.  Everything seemed to be peaking into this nice opportunity for a meltdown.  I was late getting teacher’s gifts, and the double birthday party I had been planning for my two boys’ classrooms (out of sheer guilt that our military calling would be pulling them away from their friends again) had been canceled due to the amount of chaos swirling around me.  I felt I had already disappointed them once by postponing, and my youngest’s teacher had emailed me (again) about his behavior at school.  I was drowning in the quicksand of mommy-shame.  But, this particular morning, I had a winning thought, I can get cupcakes for their classrooms! In one act of service on my way to work, I can help my youngest make amends and give them a chance to have a birthday send off all at once!  Several boxes checked.  I suddenly felt the pride of a Supermom moment.  You know, like when you get the kids off to school, have had breakfast, and you still had time to clean up the kitchen? That feeling only lasted a moment until I stood in the bakery section of Walmart, paralyzed, staring at cupcakes.

I have 50 children, should I get the mini-cupcakes or the full-size?  I have no idea.  50 is a lot and will be expensive to get the full-sized.  I’ll get the mini ones… but what will my children feel when walk in with mini-cupcakes?  Have their friends brought in full-sized for their birthdays?  Will they feel cheated, less loved?  What about the full-sized- that’s a lot of sugar… they have water day today. 

I am now envisioning 50 kids throwing up beside the inflatable water slides on water day because Jack’s mom brought full sized cupcakes with massive amounts of frosting.  The teachers are looking at me and I now feel responsible to sanitize the giant slides from this disaster.

Do I chance the mini-cupcakes?  Will my kids look back and remember the time their mom brought in tiny cupcakes?  I’ll call a friend, I can’t make this decision alone… someone understands this situation as the real, serious, life-altering moment that it is.  The first friend I think of doesn’t feed her children sugar.  Great, I can’t call her!  What is that now saying about me that I am loving my child with food, much less an overly sugary treat.  I think, Who else has a fifth grader?  Ah, yes!  Another friend… but she is homeschooling.  Great, she hasn’t been buying cupcakes for 50 children lately and now I’m feeling like crap for sending my children to public school and not teaching them myself.  Here I am, a competent woman who is frozen in the bakery section with the Walmart staff staring at me.  I can’t do this…

I leave for the clothing section since I need to process this situation.  As I step outside of myself like an out of body experience, I’m getting pretty mad.  I am a mental health clinician that helps women, mothers and their children on a daily basis with their self-esteem and confidence.  I have just been named Military Spouse of the Year and somehow represent 1.1 million military spouses in the world and I can’t pick out cupcakes.  As I’m pacing down the aisles, I began to wonder how I got here.

At what point did I give my self-esteem to a classroom of fifth graders? When did birthdays become an extravaganza of exhaustion?  When did buying cupcakes become an identity crisis?  When did Pinterest become the new measuring stick?  Why does motherhood have to have so many extremes of perfection?  I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. 

In that moment, I take a huge step.  I am choosing the middle ground.  These cupcakes can’t define me, I feel ashamed that for a moment they did.

I march back over to the bakery section on a mission to reclaim my personhood.

If these two awesome boys don’t know that they are loved by this point, something else is wrong.  My children are going to have to rough through another military move and are going to be better for it.  I am a working mom with my own goals that won’t be prioritized above my family.  I will leave the world a better place starting with the fact that I am feeding 50 children cupcakes because they are loved. Some don’t even get cupcakes, right? RIGHT? DON’T THEY KNOW HOW MUCH THEY ARE LOVED!? 

(Obviously a breakdown is happening during my attempts to control the situation.) The phone rings.  Its Jack’s teacher again describing his meltdown yesterday and we agree I will help Jack apologize to another teacher for saying he hated her during his own emotional flooding and I wonder which parent he got that from.   I stood there, staring down those cupcakes as if I was battling a giant- a giant being the “me” I keep thinking I need to be and I bought mini cupcakes.

You know what?  My kids never said a thing about those cupcakes after school.  By four o’clock they had forgotten about cupcakes.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  It is impossible to get it all right every time. What’s more is that it will be forever impossible to crawl into our children’s minds and know their exact need in the perfect moment.  By the way, that part of their mind isn’t even for us, it’s for their future spouse.  There will only be one person who will be responsible to tend to those needs in their soul and it’s not me.  Can we just let go of the perfect-mom measuring stick for once? What we really need is a reminder that the things we think will be most important in our child’s memories will not be what they choose.  Do you know what mine is?  A plant my Dad got me for my birthday one year.  If we parent as if the world revolves around them, they will walk into the world believing it. I hear from so many other women that have put the burden of perfection on themselves only to crumble.  I say do you your best, do what’s smart, and embrace the imperfection of it all.  I gave 50 children mini-cupcakes, and found myself again in the process.

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6 months.

  It is a significant mark in time and am realizing that it means even more to a military spouse.  Here are just a few:
During a pregnancy it is the time when the energetic second trimester is over, and a tiring, grump third begins.
During a deployment (a 9 month or one year), it marks an achievement of everything you have gotten through on your own, but now your ready for your family to be back together.  It is a heavy feeling that you have so much further to go but you fear your motivation may run out.
During reintegration it is the point where things can both return to normal or issues really come out.

But there is a new one that I have learned about personally… it is the 6 month mark after your PCS.  Funny, it can look and feel like the other ones.  I realize that a lot of you have this moving thing down, and if you do- please comment because you have so much to teach the rest of us.  As a natural introvert (one who gains energy from doing activities alone such as reading a book or going for a run), starting over in a new location can be difficult. I love people, don’t get me wrong- I am a counselor and it is my great joy to see people find joy in their life.  But building relationships is something different.  I’m the type of person that makes friends and then wants to build a neighborhood full of them and stay there for the rest of my life.  That’s not exactly a good thing if you are going to thrive as a military spouse.  After struggling at the 6 month mark in the last assignment, I told myself this time, that I would “jump into community” at the new location.  I committed to finding a church, a small group, that I would build relationships quicker in the neighborhood, etc.  And now I find myself at the 6 month mark again.

Part of it is me.  I have worked hard to establish myself in my job here, something I wanted to take advantage of while I could, but Matt held me accountable and pointed out that I keep finding things to do to stay busy.  I love him.  Sometimes I hate hearing what he has to say, but he was right.  That’s when I realized that I fill the void of real relationships with projects.  I could find one to get lost in every day.  I wonder if others of you do that as well.  My projects tend to revolve around helping people but rarely involve real, meaningful relationships.  The only thing that leaves me at the 6 month mark is alone and burned out.  Perhaps there are extroverts that find ways to stay busy with events without building community as well?  Do you over-volunteer for the sake of being around people?

I never want to present something difficult without also providing a solution.  The truth is, PCSing will always be difficult, filled with ups and downs.  There will always be projects, events, and opportunities to volunteer that will be waiting in the wings for us to squeeze it in while sacrificing what was most important to us. A good friend of mine once described building relationships after a PCS like speed-dating.  That is so true.  I after feel like I am trying to show that I am a real, normal person (I like to think so) and not the annoying, needy, neighbor that is in all actuality very much needing connection.  The 6 month mark may always show up, reminding me of what I need most- solid connection with my sweet family and friends to thrive with where we are planted.  So today, I’m going to listen to it’s nagging voice that is telling me I’m missing something important and go read my Mission Statement.  If you don’t have one, write one today. I desperately need to read mine every morning.  It keeps me focused on my priorities and values of what I need most to be happy.  I have one major mission statement and then a list of priorities under it that align with it.  As I re-read it this morning there are several projects I have said “yes” to that don’t align with what I originally said would bring me joy.  So… I’m going to go play Monopoly with my kids, find a place to hang my Mission Statement, say “no” to a few opportunities (and to myself), and then go talk to my neighbor.

It’s conscious uncoupling that prevents families from being broken by divorce and creates expanded families that continue to function in a healthy way outside of traditional marriage.

Before we unpack Conscious Uncoupling and how it effects our view of marriage and divorce, we have to look at our perspective.  You are likely in one of more of these scenarios, (but not limited to):
1. You are a child of divorce in some stage of healing and processing.
2.  You are considering marriage and asking yourself What is marriage?
3.  You are married and both of your are working damn hard to keep divorce out of the equation.
4.  You are married and considering divorce yourself.
5.  You are married and your spouse is considering divorce.
6.  You are divorced and your spouse quit on you and know that wounds never heal fully.
7.  You are divorced because you quit and you may or may not see it that way.
8.  You are in an emotional, physical, and/or sexually abusive relationship and divorce is a necessary topic.

Depending on which perspective you have when reading about Conscious Uncoupling, you will have a different response.  Let’s be clear from the beginning.  If you are are #8, Insightc2 (Matt and I) will always encourage safety for you and any children involved first, and divorce may be part of that process.  If you are considering divorce, we also encourage separation before an individual follows through a divorce to gain wise counsel and support before a divorce is finalized.  Matt and I together stand for marriage, the covenant, lifelong relationship with one person.  It is not easy.  In fact, it is the hardest damn thing we will ever do.  But it is intended to be the most rewarding, more than any career or amount of success we will ever accumulate.

If you are not #3, it is hard to understand the visceral reaction this group of couples felt when Conscious Uncoupling came out.  As a couple who is #3 and mental health professionals that work with all of the above perspectives on a daily basis, it is important for me (Corie) to make a statement about this theory/movement and the harm it can do to every one of those perspectives (1-8).

This is not about the details in a celebrity’s life and why they are choosing to divorce, but it is about the platform they have to influence others.

What is “Conscious Uncoupling”?

Here is a link to read the full article:
http://www.goop.com/journal/be/conscious-uncoupling

Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami are the ones who have coined term “Conscious Uncoupling” and are trying to suggest that we need to redefine divorce.  They claim that divorce is not the problem, it is more likely the fact that we are living longer lives and being with one person is just not realistic.  They are encouraging three things.
1.  Lifelong marriage is no longer something that is realistic since we are living longer than our ancestors and we are biologically/psychologically more likely to spend our lives in several long term relationships, therefore the belief structure/expectation/measuring stick of marriage should be lowered to what is easier or what commonly seen in America.
2.  In order to make divorce less painful, we must shift our beliefs about divorce as well.  Divorce brings with it shame, feelings of failure, and deep hurt, causing us to lashing out in resentment and anger.  Feeling like a personal failure can be prevented if we resolve that the pressure of “till death do us part” in our vows was too high of a standard to commit to.
3.  By setting boundaries with people and taking ownership for our own internal reactions, we can be vulnerable and yet unaffected by other people’s behavior.  By realizing our conflict with the other person is triggering our own issues, we can resist the urge to add fuel to the fire and instead regulate our own behavior.

I don’t completely disagree with Sami and Sadeghi.  The one thing I appreciate is their attempt to encourage healthy boundaries.  Nearly every session I have with clients involve boundaries and toxic people.  On some level we must learn to take care of our own internal response to people (i.e. you can’t make me angry, I choose to be angry).  I agree that there are times that we must find the strength within ourselves to see our own worth and respond with firm boundaries when someone else is destroying our relationship with selfishness.  In fact, if you are #1 and a child of divorce, you likely loved this theory because it tends to your pain of having parents who made a decision that changed your life and you either are thankful that they successfully co-parented, or read this and wish this theory could have helped. You (and I) are hearing it from a child’s perspective in light of our own pain of people that chose to hurt each other without regard to others around them.  Yet, redefining marriage doesn’t quite sit right either because you will always, deep down inside as a child, wish that your parent(s) would have chosen selflessness and achieved the “crown” of lifelong partnership that is now the “exception to the rule.”

If you are #8, in an abusive relationship, then this doesn’t work either.  Although setting boundaries is necessary (and extremely difficult) and finding the inner strength is necessary to set them, uncoupling is not an option.  There are and should be deep consequences to the offending spouse, possibly including having little to no choice on your role in parenting and access to the spouse you hurt.  In these scenarios, taking internal ownership of what is happening in conflict is the opposite direction we would want.  The other person is selfishly destroying you, and that is not your fault, nor does it have to do entirely with your past.  It has everything to do with your spouse selfishly harming those around him/her.  Marriage is not the problem, divorce is not the problem- you made a bad choice in who you chose to marry and they are just a bad person.  Period.

If you are married (#3, 4, or 5), you know that marriage is the hardest thing ever.  There are ups and downs and during your worst moments, it takes maturity and selflessness to not throw the “d” word out. Conscious Uncoupling is offensive because you participated in your vows on your wedding day, and they meant something to you.  Even more, you hope they meant something to your spouse.  You have likely learned that original vows are a one time commitment in front of others who witness them but they are a daily choice as well.  Spouses who are both fighting for their marriage (or those who are trying but their spouses aren’t) see Uncoupling as a cop out for something they fight for daily.  The standard of “till death do us part” is sometimes the only thing that gets them through the worst moments where they can say on the other side, I’m so glad I held on to that commitment.  Uncoupling only gives a spouse the “permission” to change their mind and give up, saying Oh well, it was never meant to be (especially when your spouse is not doing the work already).  It is weak, selfish, and destructive to whose heart you promised to standby “in sickness and in health, for rich or poor”.  I say, if you said “I do” you are accountable to that and there are consequences when you don’t.  Some of those include the generation beneath you that you committed to providing stability for at conception whether or not you feel like it.

Speaking of the next generation, if you are #2 and considering marriage, this definitely affects you.  Hitching to this bandwagon, especially because some celebrity endorsed it, is ignorant, naive, and headed towards a disaster fueled by entitlement.  Do your future spouse a favor and change your vows to “I might”, then they have the opportunity to rethink whether you are seriously into this and they can back out before having their heart broken by someone who is only half in, half meaning only considering his/herself.

Marriage is designed to have friction.  Under the covenant relationship of “lifelong commitment” there will be intense differences.  It is the friction that causes movement towards betterment.  Two people should not even enter into it unless they have proven as much as possible their ability to receive accountability and actually make changes, rather then just think on potential. They also need to show they have the guts to hold you accountable when there is something your need to change.  In other words, marriage takes confidence, humility, and a willingness to improve- even when you can’t see it as clearly as your spouse can.    That’s why having a God in the mix of all of this is crucial.  We are all human and flawed and it takes a God who is not, paired with the wisdom of community around you who also believe in this God to help you see when to be confident, when to humble yourself, and when to do the hard work.

Finally, lets talk about #6 and 7. If you are divorced and someone left you (#6), there is no amount of your ex finally deciding to be an adult that will make the pain of that marriage failing go away.  Although self regulating and boundaries can lead to healthier communication post divorce, reframing marriage and divorce is not going to take the sting away.  It is jsut as difficult to see a family split up because one or both were acting like children only to act like adults once the family is torn.  For some people, suddenly choosing to Consciously Uncouple is a slap in the face of those who were hurt.  It is saying, I will now get along with you for the sake of others by managing my own feelings, now that less is required of you.  I’m not saying you still shouldn’t try, maturity is always best, but you will still not be able to escape accountability.

If you are #7 and you initiated the divorce, you may have ended it because you tried and the other didn’t and you had to set a boundary. In that case, you are really #6 and have every right to still be processing your feelings for having to make that decision.  I’m more so talking to the ones who emotionally left their spouse even before the marriage.  The ones who just gave up, had affairs and left, and are still experiencing the consequences of their actions.  For you, Conscious Uncoupling validates what you’ve been needing to hear the whole time.  That marriage is too hard and it is completely acceptable to end things early.  That divorce shouldn’t have feelings of guilt attached to it if we just say that this is the norm in America.  To you (although you won’t hear it) I will say that you are fooling yourself, and so are Sami and Sadeghi.
There is no escaping guilt, unless you are a sociopath and maybe that is who Conscious Uncoupling is for.  Guilt is the productive feeling in our gut that says we are or have done something wrong.  It is what moves us to change our selves and be better.  Without it, a marriage would never survive.  Get rid of that, and there will be no marriage at all.  If someone hurt you by leaving when you were still trying, then guilt is not the usual feeling- it is the pain of rejection mixed with relief- neither of which I would minimize by saying marriage was just too hard.  For them, it was torture.

So I contend, marriage is not the problem, divorce is not the problem, selfishness is always the problem. It is the root of sin and is what makes us human, which is why we need a God.

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I have a great friend who every year thinks and prays about a word that she will focus on for the new year.  It seems to have brought her great focus on the past years and I have been thinking a lot about doing it myself.  For last two weeks I have thought about my last year.  We moved to Augusta, Ga in December and I started working in January.  I have been thinking about the ups and downs of being am military spouse and how the first year is often a time of excitement, adventure of a new place, and a rush to settle in.  Our mission becomes settling the hearts of our children in new schools and friends, supporting our soldier as he finds his own connections at work, and deciding what we will do with ourselves.  At home, it involves making it feel as such and finding our own circles.  If you work, it is the anxiety of wondering if anyone wants to hire a military spouse, and then investing into your career- once again proving your worth to the local world who knows nothing of your past accomplishments.  If you move as frequently as we do, year two is a bit tricky.

Year two is a time where we are settled in, making gains, and are… in between.  There is no talk of where we are going, although we know it is inevitable.  We have no choice but to continue to invest in the world around us, as if we are going no where.  We naturally long to settle and have stability and so we tell ourselves that we are going no where. That’s always an option, right?  Other military families get stuck, we could too, right?  I don’t know about you, but my heart longs to do that, but my mind seems to anticipate change.  So as I have thought about what word God would want me to focus on, He seemed to replay moments of the last year where I have used the word JOY. I have mentioned it in sessions with individuals and families, taught on it in marriage retreats, I even made a canvas to hang in my home during the holidays that shouted “JOY” in big bold sparkly letters.  My soapbox on it has been that it means something other than happiness.  People come into my office asking to be happy.  I think happiness is fleeting.  It is like opening presents on Christmas morning and is over in a moment.  JOY is the lasting contentedness that follows that I think all of us are wanting.  It comes from a place of connection and safety with others and the world around you, a sense of gratefulness for your Maker, and what follows is peace.

As I look into year two for me, I realize I have a lot more to learn about JOY.  I desperately need it’s warm blanket to calm anxiety, settle vision, and keep me from over reaching.  I have a tendency to do that.  I claw at the future to grasp certainty when often times there is nothing there.  But my present is, and that is where I need to be.

And so, JOY will be my word.  In the midst of busy schedules, Cub Scout meetings, my own career including a teen outpatient program, and investing in my marriage, I will be learning about JOY.  Here are a few things that I know bring me JOY:

  1. Thoughtful prayer with Jesus, not just a passing conversation.  There are things I long to pray for that I keep putting aside for that quiet moment that I never find.  I am convinced that my lack of focus stems from my inability to make this happen.
  2. Music- I put my guitar away when my step-father passed away.  I believe I am ready to take it out again.  I have a piano that was gifted to me, and my husband has begged me to sing around the boys again, so I believe I will.  Worship frees my heart and unloads the weight of the world that I experience each day.
  3. Being content in myself.  Actually working on the physical goals I have for myself and enjoying wherever I am in the process.
  4. Allowing myself to have more moments of happiness.  They may be fleeting, but the JOY that comes from it flows into a grateful heart.  Whether its playing a game with the family or basketball outside with the kids- it is far better than whatever is on the digital device in front of me.  Having fun with my husband as well- we have worked so hard and this definitely doesn’t need to be forgotten.
  5. Creativity.  For me, I have to contain this one.  This year, I will be a good steward of what God provided and work on one project that will give me a sense of giving life to something.  I am a lifegiver, and I know this is what God has gifted me to do.  If I don’t hedge myself in, though, it can tend to get out of hand.

So, in the “in between”, my hope is that I will learn to be content there.  “In between” can be a great place to be- not working towards anything, just being a good steward of what I have.  Enjoying those I am blessed to be with and smiling more. JOY- in between.  What word is on your heart?

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When Matt and I talk about some of the differences between men and women, we often refer to the computer screen as a perfect metaphor.  Of course, we are not trying to label people or say that everyone is the same, but it does seem pretty consistent that men and women have different ways of thinking.

Matt and I work from two separate computers.  I think he is extremely thankful that, other than the satisfaction that I have finally joined the Apple community.  When I go to his computer and log in, I see his nicely organized desktop, with perhaps one window open that he failed to closeout before he hurriedly ran out the door. But when he opens mine, I generally hear something like “Have mercy, what in the world could you possibly be working on with all of this happening!”  I usually have about four internet windows running, three projects minimized, and several things saved to my desktop waiting in line.  It usually looks something like this- this is my current screen shot:

 My current window is this article I am writing, while another internet window is searching for business plan templates and Facebook is available for quick reference. Nevermind focusing on one thing, I have my Wunderlist behind my internet window waiting for more tasks to add to my to-do list and another article off to the right.  Don’t forget the budget at the bottom of the screen that may need updating at any moment.   I can see why this drives Matt literally mad…

Thus, our saying that men and women think like two different computer screens.  Women have this amazing ability to multitask.  We can be working on one project, only to have it remind us of something else we wanted to do, which reminds us of the room we meant to decorate (open Pinterest) which reminds us of the budget that we open up, reminding us to book the event that is coming up in the Calendar, and then the coupons that need to be saved and printed out.  I mean, why close anything when I can load something else while I wait? Matt often jokes with me that I probably contribute to the internet slowing down at night more than the online gamers do. Very funny… all those open windows are serious Mister….

Women can have multiple “windows” going on and still function in the here and now.  Of course our super power diminishes the more windows we have open.  We become more and more consumed by what is happening in our brain.  For example, I can be thinking of the kids playing outside while I am following directions on a recipe for dinner thinking that I will check on them in 2 minutes.  In the meantime, I may minimize that “screen” while I remember to water the plants on the patio, then remind myself about the kids in 1.5 minutes, then turn to think about what we will have for dessert while I am writing down what we need from the store, which reminds me to call my mom, leaving me 1 minute to say hello before I go outside to check on the kids, right when it is time for me to add the next ingredient.

Of course, that also leaves plenty of room for us to forget something important, like the kids, an ingredient, or worse- dinner burning.  We may think everyone can think that way- but I assure you, men do not.  Most men’s minds compartmentalize topics, similar to a command prompt screen or train car.  One thought may lead to another and then to another- drawing a final conclusion.  It also gives them the ability to “put a thought away” (especially if it is a troubling thought they don’t want to affect them now) and come back to it later… or not.  How this plays out in the man’s mind is another topic, but for today we need to focus on what this “multi-tasking superpower” can mean in our relationships.  Although it is incredibly useful- it can also damage our relationships if we are not careful to manage it.

One is that we become forgetful and consumed.  Men often say they feel like their wife can think of everyone else, but they feel forgotten by the end of the night.  Ladies, it is important to have a “window” open for our marriage.  We need to be thinking about how they fit into our crazy thought life.  What happens when it is not the dinner that is burning, but we have set aside improving our relationship. Marriages often suffer when the tasks of life and children take our energy and we save the marriage for later.  The 30’s are a prime time for this (believe me I know!)

Another is the annoying pop up.  I hate the ones that you have to chase around to close out.  We get those too.  You know those feelings that we thought we resolved 5 yrs ago?  Our husband may do the smallest thing that causes that feeling to re-surface.  Sometimes it is another layer to look at and process, but a lot of times its an annoying feeling that we closed out long ago.  Hear me on this one, friends.  It is our responsbiity to close out those windows.  Just because old feelings that have been resolved “pop up” does not mean we have to “click” on them and open the “window”.  Old wounds that have scarred over through forgiveness are often resolved, but we must have the self-control to “close it out” before it becomes destructive- or worse- is used as a weapon when we said we forgave.

Lastly, if you feel overwhelmed by too many responsibilities and “windows”- communicate to your husband about ways he can help close out some of those windows- doing the grocery shopping, the laundry, or the dishes, etc.  Let go of the control that only you can do it and let him help you.  Let him know that by doing this, you are able to make more room for him in your thought life.   *Hint* Tell him it’s a turn on, leaving you more time during your day to think about him coming home.  Most men want to be thought of and needed more, they just need to know what they can do to make it possible.  Believe me, you both will thank me for it later!

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I love being a military spouse.  It provides an opportunity to travel, be part of something bigger than myself, and serve along side my soldier.  Balancing out the bright moments are the darker difficult days of relocating, adjusting, and times of separation.  It is a bitter sweet relationship that promises to stretch me out of my comfort zone and make me better, even if I go kicking and fighting.  I find that I can count on that now.  Like clockwork, although I promised myself that I would not “settle in”, I find that I accidentally did and PCS orders remind me once again that I was never supposed to stay.

I realize I can’t help myself from nesting- buying those curtains that may only work in this home or constructing a garden that clearly cannot be uprooted.  It is in my nature as a “lifegiver” to create life wherever I am.  I’ve accepted that about myself.  I love to plant myself, root where I am, and allow the season to hopefully create a harvest with me or out of me because I need it like a I need air.  I need community, others to rely on and them to rely on me.  I need my children to experience that home is wherever we are and if that means I buy new curtains that fit in every new home, then so be it.  I need an opportunity to grow and be challenged with a project that forces me to “find a solution to the problem/need” like a life sized Calculus problem waiting for the student to raise their hands with a triumphant sigh.

And yet here I am again, realizing that I planted myself in Augusta, Ga- loving my current set of curtains and sitting on my new-er sofa looking at orders to leave.  Augusta provided a chance for me to use my counseling license and practice.  I welcomed new clients with open arms and shared the vulnerable journey of life along side so many.  Augusta needed a Christian Counselor for teen girls, and I became it.  Like a flock of birds migrating, they all came to me, brought by frazzled parents who were looking for hope and answers. This became my life-sized Calculus problem- how to help a large group of teen girls feel less alone- and so I sweated through the problem and found the solution by starting an outpatient program.  I decided to introduce my teen clients to each other through a therapy group and it became theirs.  Theirs to own, create, protect, and use to find acceptance, test new social skills, and say the things to each other that they also needed to hear.

I have seen girls overcome social anxiety through talking in group, find courage to do the right thing, find normalcy in the pressures of school and culture, and discover that being “good” still means something in this world.  Creating a safe and inviting space was no easy task.  My soldier championed me by making book shelves, hanging things on the walls, even delivering our own TV from our home to make group happen.  It has been a joy to sacrifice for this project.  I have learned so much from these girls, girls that still struggle to find how they can make a difference in the world around them.

And as I look at our orders in front of me to leave, I realize that none of this was ever mine to keep.  It was never mine to begin with, it was something I was asked to make and take care of for a season.  And after I go, it will evolve into whatever it needs to become for those after me.  There will me more girls, more issues, and more needs to fill.  It will become someone else’s life-size Calculus problem and they will see something that I couldn’t see.  I realize now that we aren’t supposed to do any of it on our own or we will find ourselves tempted to be the god of our surroundings.

And so I am grateful.  Grateful that I planted here and gave it my all.  I know now that I wither without it and I don’t regret any of it.  I am grateful that I got to be part of something that made a difference, even if for one family.  Grateful that I get to hand all of this off to someone else- whether it means it thrives or finds the end of its life cycle. Grateful that I spent this season embracing the stretch of trying something new and saw it succeed, grateful that I can raise my hands in the air in triumph and sigh- it was worth it.  I hate saying goodbye- to my clients who have opened up their hearts and trusted me, to my employers who gave a military spouse a chance knowing she would leave, and to friends that I would have invited into my imaginary neighborhood of collected life-friends we call family.  But its time, and we are called to go.

I have grown to appreciate the warm wash of future uncertainty even though it still makes me nervous.  This will be my fourth location and although I know how to direct the packers, can expect the dreaded 6 month mark of melancholy that I will feel, and can embrace the opportunity to reinvent myself, the anxiety of change still looms.  What will my kitchen look like?  Will we find a church home? Will the spouses like me?  Will people want to invest in us when we won’t be around for long? What in the world will I find to do there?  I don’t think that ever goes away, but at least I know this- I will plant myself.  I will enjoy the warmth of the sun shining there and hold its memory for the days when the clouds seem to linger too long.  I will take on a new season of growth and let it stretch me in a new way because its harvest reveals character.  In the meantime, I will balance this decisive courage with a little bit of retail therapy shopping for curtains and possibly consider dying my hair some shade of purple.

 

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There is nothing like our kids to bring out, well, the kid in us.  And I’m not talking about being playful.  What I’m referring to is arguing like a child.  Children, tweens, and teens will always frustrate us and bring us to our wits end- they are supposed to.  They are one more reminder (consistently) that we are out of control of those around us.  We can’t force them to listen, obey, love us, or heaven forbid eat.  A lot of parents come to me as their tweens turn to teens when they feel the most out of control.  “The won’t listen” “I think they are lying” “What’s wrong with them?” “I’ve done everything I can think of and their still not happy!” and “Why are they choosing to be bad?”  But what is it about our children that causes us to lose control emotionally and lower to their level.  Sooner or later, parents can find themselves arguing like a teenage peer rather than being the adult in the room.

The first thing we need to remember is that these teens may look like adults, bathe and be responsible (maybe) with their homework like adults, but their brains are not.  All too often, parents stop parenting when a child seems self-sufficient from the outside.  Arguing and fighting, assuming they think like adults is only going to go from bad to worse.  Parents need to understand that the part of the brain that is still developing in the teen is the frontal cortex, where impulse control and future thinking is housed.  This doesn’t mean they are unable to think into the future, it just mean it takes 10 times the effort it takes an adult (I’m making that number up, but you get the point).  If that is true, then when things get heated, the first thing your teen is feeling is all of their emotions in the moment and no way out.  They feel overwhelmed, mad, sad, and probably like they want to escape- all at once.  They don’t have the wisdom we adults have that if they just push through the conflict and connect, then the relationship goes deeper and becomes more safe.  But of course, that’s assuming that we are indeed having a mature, grown up argument and have learned that ourselves.

When you have parents that have also not learned how to engage in healthy conflict and are still emotionally stuck as teens themselves, you end up with a big fat mess.  You end up with a teen that is depending on their parents to teach them how to communicate now completely overwhelmed and beyond frustrated.  The only answer for them is to somehow be the adult in the relationship, if they can figure that out.  Otherwise, you have a teen that either mimics the immaturity in the home or shuts down completely, often going inward and hating or hurting themselves because they assume they are the problem.  When they see their parents scream, stomp their feet, slam doors, call names, shut down, interrupt, drink, and go on the defensive- they might as well just go to their room and stop communicating all together.  They can get plenty of that drama at school.

Come on parents, why are we expecting more from our kids than we ask of ourselves?  Part of teaching your child how to communicate like an adult means that we have two brains full of feelings and thoughts that both matter.  We have to be willing to listen to the tough stuff, the behavior they see in us that is hurtful, doesn’t make sense, and that they need to change.  Just because we have “rules” in the home, doesn’t mean that the same rules we had for them at 12 will look the same at 17.  They are going to have their own thoughts and feelings about those things and we have to be willing to listen.  Adult to adult conversations “should” start to sound like this:

“When you ask me a question and don’t let me answer it, I feel like you don’t care”

“I’m so sorry you feel that I don’t care.  I’d like to try again and I’d like to listen to what you have to say.”

We would hope our conversations with our spouse looks like that, why is the same conversation with our teen considered disrespectful?  Is it because they are calling attention to something in us we don’t want to see or admit to?  Isn’t that the way you would want them to communicate in their future relationships?  We, and our home, is supposed to model that.  If we don’t provide the place, atmosphere, and courage to practice this, we are setting them up to view themselves as unworthy to be heard, an inconvenience, and that they don’t matter.  They need someone to teach them that they have the right to ask someone to change their behavior if it feels wrong or disrespectful, but it starts with the safest relationships around them, which includes us as parents.

So, first that begins with us learning how to communicate more like adults ourselves.  Whatever you feel like you need to do to learn how to communicate more effectively, more maturely… start today.  This is likely not a new issue, it may be already showing up in your marriage or work setting.  Buy a book, join a small group, find a therapist, whatever you need to do to learn new strategies for handling your frustration and triggers.  Sometimes previous relationships or conversations are triggered in our mind during conflict, but it often has nothing to do with your child- in that specific moment.  It is your responsibility to manage yourself and that is what we want to also teach them.

Second, slow down.  When things get heated between you and your child, take a deep breath and realize this is an OPPORTUNITY to teach and coach your tween/teen through how to talk like an adult.  Your connection is always more important than the problem at hand. Breathe, remind yourself you are talking to the child and that you are the adult.  Remind yourself that you need to be the adult that models healthy communication.

Third, model rather than lecture.  Listen to what is going on in them.  Ask or help them identify their feelings.  Don’t talk them out of it, that is aggressive or passive aggressive (sometimes worse).  Listen assertively, which means “Your feelings and thoughts matter just as much as mine do.”  Listen for how they may have perceived something, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.  To them, it is real- children and teens think in concrete ways and they often accidentally make concrete assumptions.  You’ve been in their shoes I’m sure in other adult conversations.

Fourth, own your stuff!!  If you took something too personally, got triggered by something else, or hurt them in some way- there is nothing more important here than owning it!  Forgiveness modeled in the home is absolutely crucial to a teen’s ability to forgive themselves and keep connections with others.  Keep your side of the “street” clean and teach them to do the same by taking responsibility for their part.  Don’t expect them to do this if you are not modeling it yourself.

Finally, remember that it is often what we have said in anger that our child will remember the most.  It’s not what we “meant to say”, it’s what we said, or worse- how we said it.  Saying “I’ve had it” really sounds like “I give up on you.”  “This is too difficult, I don’t know what else to do” actually sounds like “You are too much for me.”

Being a parent is possibly the most difficult thing in life, second probably to marriage.  Do the hard work, be willing to grow yourself.  Family is a crucible for chaos that eventually leads to a more healthy, balanced, and mature existence, hopefully for everyone.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about wishing I could find the woman who can do it all.  It seems like it’s a daily fight to balance everything as a mom, wife, and professional.  I really want to find the woman who loves her body as it ages, who works out almost daily with muscles to show for it.  I want to hear about how she fills her body with nutritious food without obsessing about it or when she will get to the gym that day.  Surely there is someone who reads her bible daily, spends time in prayer for her children, husband, family, and friends.  Who volunteers in the community and travels abroad on mission trips occassionally without her focus being completely shifted into how to change the world.  I want to find a woman who is there for her children before school, after school, and reads with them at bedtime without feeling like she is giving something else up right then to do it.  I want to hear how her incrediblely perfect quailty time with her children raised well behaved teenagers who make all the best decisions.  Would she have the discrenment to know exactly what’s going on thier soul and speak to that without missing the opportunity?  I want to ask her how she gets herself ready for work without forgetting the nutritious lunch and healthy snacks she packed and still had time to load the dishwasher and wipe down the counter tops before she left the house.  I want to know how she presents herself at work as refreshed, ready, and in control of her day without needing two or three cups of coffee to keep herself from looking tired.  I want to know how she keeps it all in her digital calendar with reminders that work right when she needs them- when she actually has the time to do the task that she is being reminded of.  I wonder how she plans all of the family’s meals out in advance and still lines up her grocery list so she doesn’t forget key ingredients that she needs to make it happen.  I want to meet this amazing person who invests in her marriage throughout the day, prays for her husband and after the kids go to bed has the amazing energy to invest in their time together as if it were 10am that morning.  Her house must be clean and organized, and not with the help of a professional cleaning service.  The laundry is done, the dishes are never dirty, and she times them just right so that there is always room in the dishwasher and none leftover in the sink for the next load.  Is there anyone out there who has this figured out?  Someone who can accomplish all of this without being labeled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anal or “A” type, Controlling, Self-focused, Frigid, or too rigid in her routine or structure? Is there anyone out there that achieves physical, social, psychological, and spiritual balance on a weekly basis?  Where are you?  I would love to interview you… or would you even come forward because of the kind of confidence it takes to say you have done it without struggle, and yet… would that be your issue?  Is it possible to be all of these things wihout having it cause some other breakdown in some part of your life?

On second thought.  I don’t want to meet you.  I would only feel worse, or would worse than that… strive to be you. Something that I don’t think I want to be now.  There is something about the struggle of balancing it all that makes me choose each day what and for whom my day is for and I don’t think I am ready to let that go yet.  I hate that I can’t balance it all.  I hate that some days I choose to be on my treadmill rather than lift in the gym, or some days I choose to forego it all to do something way more important.  Why do I feel like you are out there and that I may have a shot at being you?  Maybe I’m okay with the fact that the last few years of life have given me lines on my face and the well earned gray stripe in my hair. My husband actually says he likes it.  The reward that comes from the choices I make thoughout the day feel good when I hear “I love you Mommy” and feel the satisfaction of succeeding that day to the best of my ability.  Being tired means I did something, invested in something or someone I believed in.  Getting up to do it all over again is the opportunity to put forth my best no matter how it compares to someone else.  I think you would be an extremely annoying positive person, with a skewed sense of reality and your relationships.  There is always something to work on.  I need my husband to call me to the carpet and remind me of how I can be better.  And I need the reminder that I’m not perfect, from him and my children so I can be an example of humility and showing growth.  My children need to see that sometimes taking care of me is more important than obsessing about housework or my career. And that sometimes they are more important than whether I got a run in that day.  My husband needs to see that sometimes taking a few hours of silence are what refresh me and then other times ask me to choose time with him when we can be quiet together. The struggle to figure it all out feels a whole lot better when I have others to struggle through it with me.  I like our conversations that are filled with moments of failure, weakness, and exhaustion.  We laugh and cry and beat the table and then share strategic, creative ideas that worked in that area of our life that maybe encourages one another.  Those relationships will be with me on this journey and must include struggle in order to achieve what is most important: Knowing that I was never intended to do it all alone and that there is One God and I am not Him, but need His perfection desperately.

So nevermind, if you are out there.  I don’t think I want to meet you.  I think I’m okay with me for right now.  I like who I am.  I work hard, love my family, love my husband, and love God.  I’m not perfect, and rarely will I ever have a day when I felt I ‘did it all”, but that’s okay.  Maybe on that day, I’ll have an extra piece of chocolate to celebrate considering you won’t be enjoying it.

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Have you ever met a woman who was gentle, warm, inviting, and peaceful.  One whom you walked into her presence and melted?  I read a book a while back called “Lifegiving” by Tammy Maltby.  It’s hard to find now, only on Amazon, but if you are looking for a book to read, this one is it!  Striving for balance as a wife, mother, professional, and follower of God is something I think we will all struggle with until Jesus takes us home.  Tammy Maltby describes this kind of woman a “lifegiver.”  I wanted to share with you an excerpt that I often read at our marriage retreats because it perfectly describes the kind of woman I want to be.  I have renamed this blog “Lifegiver” because I desperately want to invite other women to be real, while helping inspire life in each other.  Enjoy…

“What does a lifegiving woman look like?”

Several weeks ago I entered a place and was immediately met with the warmth of a lifegiving woman.  There was ease about her, a quiet confidence and an undeniable inner strength.  Many others were there when I arrived, greeting and sharing with one another.  Some even extended a thoughtful welcome.  But when this lifegiving woman reached out, I was deeply touched.  She embraced my heart; she lifted my spirit and refreshed me.  There was tangible love, enthusiastic energy, passion, and grace in her presence.  As I moved past her, I realized I felt nurtured, cared for, and valued.  It was as if I had strolled past a lovely garden.  I longed to linger in the presence of this woman who knew the secret of lifegiving, to breathe in the sweet fragrance of such simple yet transforming beauty.  In a brief encounter, she gave me life.

How will you know when you’ve met a lifegiving woman?

Well, it goes something like this.

When she speaks, you do not go away licking your wounds from a hurtful word.  Instead, even her everyday words seem to be infused with lifegiving power and encouragement.

When she does a good deed, you do not feel the heavy weight of obligation to return the favor.  Instead, you are inspired to do something lovely in return.

When she is with you, you never feel a cold shoulder, because she brings warmth and acceptance into your life.

When you go to her home for a meal, you don’t feel impressed by the expensive decor (even if she does have a big budget!).  Instead, you feel the warmth of her home and the comfort of the beauty you find there.

When you are around her, you don’t feel overwhelmed by who she is.  Instead, you feel inspired to be who you were meant to be.

When you walk away from her, you don’t feel discouraged by her accomplishments compared to yours.  Instead, you walk away motivated to do what you never thought possible.

Do you know a lifegiving woman?

If you do, then you understand that she has brought love and warmth into your life.  She has inspired you to do what you never thought possible.  She has encouraged you to reach out and take risks.  She has refreshed you with the living water when the well of your life has run dry.  I know when I have been with a lifegiving woman, because whether she has shared a word or a deed, I am helped, encouraged, and deeply inspired.”

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You know… there are few things that invoke awe in me. I post tons of pictures hoping that it can communicate our life here or stir emotion in someone the way it may for me in real life. Usually, I know that its impossible unless someone is right here experiencing it with me in real time. However, after downloading the pictures this week of the sunrises here, I must say they took my breath away in the same way as the day I captured them. I love that the sky changes daily here, if not hourly. I love that the world seems different, new, and full of art on a consistant basis. I didn’t expect that of the mountains. I didn’t expect to be so close to the clouds that I could live in them.

Take note heart. It is your God that directs the clouds, moves the air, breathes into the wind. It is your King who lights the sky, who fills it with glory and calls you to take notice. It is your Counselor who gives you comfort, who inspires awe, and rests your soul.

Take note weary soul. It is your Creator who commands the sun, who shakes the mountain, and demands praise from the rocks. Take note, for He calls you to notice. He calls you to rise, lift your voice, to lift your eyes, your chin, and your chest to exhale your praise to Him. . . for no other reason than because He is the I AM and has spoken the day into being.

Take note. Remember. Capture His presence. All of this is ours for use in getting who He is, how He moves around us, in us, for us.

I see it.
Remarkable.

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Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way
Wait because in His time, so shall this night
Soon end in joy, soon end in joy
Soon end in joy, soon end in joy.
~ Jars of Clay, God Will Lift Up Your Head

Storms don’t have to be external circumstances that make you feel out of control and feel distant from God. In fact, mine tend to all be in my head. My surrounding life and family can be running smoothly, seem just fine, but my mind is full of clouds, storms of fear, anxiety, and noise that drowns out God’s voice. I am self-aware enough to know that at times this calls for a physical relase of energy, one of the reasons I run about twice a week. I usually feel compelled to do it, to clear my mind, soak in Vitamin D from the sun, and fill my ears with the methodical beats of worship aligned with my shoes pounding the trail. Other times, though, running isn’t enough, it is something in my gut that can only be processed through prayer, writing and reflection. It is God’s way of pounding on my heart that He misses our time and I have let life take hold of my heart instead of Him.

This week I have witnessed the effect these storms can have on my attitude, my peace, and serenity. I can’t pinpoint a trigger, everything on the outside seems fine, but inside my heart has been robbed of joy. The storms on the inside are far worse than those on the outside- and I have seen the result of external damage outwardly that began from one degree off in the mind. In fact, Matt and I had a conversation this week about how the enemy doesn’t tempt us (me) with immediate, extreme sinful behavior, he tempts us by distracting us from our source of peace, direction, and joy- often causing me to focus on myself, my feelings, and entitlement. I then allow it to transition to a selfish attitude resulting in grey clouds of unhappiness. Where is my joy? I left it behind.

I see more clearly now the sinful nature that so easily entangles. “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind” (Rom 7:22). I am left feeling like the dry bones scattered on the floor of the valley needing only the breath of the living YAHWEH to bring flesh and life to what is dry and lifeless. I realize now more than ever that amidst the clouds and storms of my mind, there is only one thing I can be sure of, certain of, and that “Christ [can] make his home in my heart as I trust him. My roots will grow down into God’s love and keep me strong. And may I have the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” That with my effort to seek him, know him, that I will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Eph 3:18-19

Once you experience the love of God, embrace His son as the source of joy, and listen to the Spirit’s voice, it is evident that there is no other truth. There is no job, no book, no talk, no pill, no running trail, no end to the chaos around you that can bring back your joy but Him who created it. If I never had storms, if I was never tempted away from God, I would never have reason to choose him, I would never run to him, and never have need to thank him from delivering me from myself- for that is who I have to blame in the end. And that is my sin- I allow the storms and confusion room in my heart to rob me of joy. And I am grateful to know that- because I want joy not of my own making- because I can’t make it.

After Ezekiel delivers prophesy as he is told, the bones took back the form of life, but only Yahweh could breath life back into them. This was his message to his people- “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.”

Yahweh- I beg you to breath you life into me, restore my joy, forgive me for my sinful heart- for I make myself an idol when I shift focus from you to me. Clear the way, and in your time, end this period of night with joy. Settle me in the land you have already given me, and mark my character so that I will remember that it is you who did it all, for there is no greater truth than what you have already spoken in your Word and through the power of your son.

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So Happy Father’s Day to all of you who have created little ones, want to, or have chosen to father the fatherless. Much has been written about the importance of fatherhood. As crucial as it is to have a mother, a nurturer, a caregiver, there is something about the follow through of a father that God put great expectation on. It is a fascinating role designed to influence our perspective on the heavenly father. They say that little girls strive to captivate the attention of their fathers. Although I was not one to twirl in my pretty dress in front of my father, I in a tomboy sort of way did everything I could to chase after him. Of course, I really didn’t have to work that hard because I believe he chased me too. What a great picture of who God is- one who pursues us without ceasing. I remember chasing after my Dad while he jogged on my bicycle until I was old enough to run myself. And then I remember him at every track and cross country meet he could get to. Holding a stop watch, helping me with time, encouraging me to attack the hills. He was present and wanted me to work hard to be my best.

I have a great earthly father. He continues to teach me and inspire me and points me to God even when he doesn’t realize it. Above all, he is a good man. He fights for what he believes in, stands up for those who can’t stand themselves, and works hard. He knows what his passions are and enjoys life. Even in my adulthood, he supports me, helps me when we need it by bridging the gaps between what we know and what we have yet to learn and yet with such respect.
I have an amazing husband as well. There is truth in finding a spouse that is like your father. It was not luck or by accident that I chose to say yes to Matthew. The example of integrity my Dad walked with set an example I wasn’t even completely aware of at the time when I came across my husband. God knew exactly what I needed in a man and walked with me through my childhood opening my eyes to the things he wanted me to see and remember. As I am sitting here on vacation at the beach, I have a vivid picture in my mind of my father playing in the sand with me. It is a precious picture in my mind of a present, playful, and creative man. And yet, over the past month- our family has been in transition, moving across the country for our next assignment. Matt has been so amazingly present, playful, and patient with all of us during what could have been a stressful experience. It leaves me so complete to watch him build in the sand with the boys, play with them in the water and work with them to raise them to be solid, good, men. Men with integrity, men who raise up those in need, and patient with each other.
So, Happy father’s day to my Dad- you do such a great job, in a role that is quite difficult at times. Thank you for all you have done and keep doing. Thank you for teaching me so much about life and myself. I take pride in seeing each day that I am more like you than I ever thought. Thank you for pursuing me and being so patient with me.
Happy Father’s Day to my husband. Thank you for being so involved in parenting our boys. You bring thoughtfulness and strategy that when paired with my discernment results in making decisions that I believe are from the Lord. A perfect example of unity and a whole picture of God’s justice, grace, and goodness. I love you both!

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When I first started Seminary, I started out as a Masters of Divinity student. After one semester, and an almost nervous breakdown, I realized I was not supposed to go for that degree. One of the classes that led up to this moment was a study on Jurgen Moltmann, a popular German theologian. An entire semester was devoted to this guy and we were asked to laboriously suffer through reading his German-to-English books on his view of God. His thoughts were thick, philosophical, and so deep my brain couldn’t hold even the cliff notes version. I struggled to understand why it had to be so complicated. I cried in the bathroom while my husband assured me that I would get it. Sure, for him, it was like candy- Matt devoured this kind of mumbo-jumbo jargon. When it came exam time, even the three hour exam-prep class wouldn’t help me. I was lost in the sauce, and all I had was one sentence of what Moltmann was trying to say, and I knew a whole exam of questions and essays could not be answered with that one sentence:We can only hope for that which God has already promised us, and that was Jesus.

That sentence cost me about $1500 to learn. At the time, I thought it was the biggest joke and disappointment I had to that point. I was disappointed in Moltmann, my professor for putting me through that mess, but mostly in myself for “not getting it.” Now, some 11 years later, I find myself still struggling with disappointment. It rocks my world every time. I get disappointed in people, the church, life’s uncontrollable events, and mostly me. I am way low in adaptability in my strengths. I freeze when something surprises me, I have no wit or quick come backs for a joke, and most frustrating is when something unjust happens in front of me and I go blank as I wait to figure out what my response will be. As I am learning to embrace my inner workings, I am still met with why disappointment rocks my soul. And that haunting Moltmann sentence comes back to me: We can only hope for that which God has already promised us, and that was Jesus.
I am disappointed because I hoped in something. I hoped in everything that is flawed, that could and will let me down. Of course, I know I am not center of the universe, but somehow I seem to easily put myself there. I hoped that a friend wouldn’t hurt me or let me down, I hoped that I could find consistency this week as I tried to feed my body the nutrition it so deserves, I hoped and trusted that the church people would act like lovers of Jesus, I hoped for stability in the midst of a calling in the military, and even what I thought was most important- that God had my back. We will be disappointed every time. We will be discouraged every time. As much as it pains me to say it, Moltmann was right. The only thing we can put our hope in is what God has already done. There are no new promises from God because His Word introduced his desire for us, revealed a promise of reconciling all things to him, and delivered. And the delivery of His son Jesus answered every disappointment, every fear, every bit of suffering we would ever feel in that Jesus brings us back to God. He has made it so that I cannot even trust my own ability to be consistent, because only He is. He is stable, loving, all knowing, and full of grace for when we slip away to think of ourselves more than Him. Romans 5:2, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. … And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love in to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
I love that the Holy Spirit is mentioned here. The disappointment that I struggle with is when things don’t go the way I wanted them to go and I fail to give timely grace. Life, though, is full of all kinds of hurt and disappointments. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift of counsel and wisdom. Without a humble, dependent reliance on God, we will not hear the Spirit clearly. It is the Spirit that convicts my pride for thinking that I could do it on my own strength, that reminds me in the middle of my prayerful complaining that my disappointment was because I trusted too much in the imperfection of the world. Yet, it is also the Spirit who counsels in wisdom that humility does not equal living with a victim mentality. On the contrary, it means trusting in the fulfilled promise of Jesus that we are free from strongholds that keep us from intimacy with our Creator. We are freed to mov actively in obedience as we love others, stand up for truth, and sometimes have to walk away from people or things that seek to teach otherwise.
“Forgive me Jesus, for trusting in my own strength instead of relying on yours. Forgive me for pridefully thinking that life was about how happy I am, or what I get to do. Forgive me for being self centered as I beat myself up for thinking I disappoint you instead of fully embracing your grace and mercy and rejoicing in your love and acceptance pouring over my soul, stilling my heart. Forgive me for not accepting how you created me and living it out fully for your glory. Forgive my unforgiving heart as I have held on to past disappointments from others when I should have seen it was my own sin of putting hope and trust into people instead of you and your plan. Thank you for using my disappointments to develop character in me that learns to look to you and develop patience in life. Thank you for “having my back”, but not in the way it will serve me- but glorify you. With authority, given to me by you, Jesus, I rebuke any stronghold that distracts my view of you. I will uphold your truth, seek to humbly rest in your gift of closeness and refuge, and ask for your strength and consistency, so that I can speak of your unfailing love and forgiveness in the midst of my imperfection and sin. Help me to actively walk in your love, and hope in Jesus.”

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Finding and Keeping our Calling…

I had someone ask me the other day, “How am I supposed to know what God wants me to do when I have so many ideas in my head?”  Wow, have I ever been there!  I remember a number of times that I thought I heard the Lord speak to me directly and tell me a direction to go, a boy to date, or a career path to begin. Had it not been for the beginning wisdom of a dear professor that taught me how to discern the will of God, there is no telling where I would be today.  But if you will allow me, today I am going to zoom in on one aspect that seems to particularly trip us up.

Martin Luther’s Reformation unchained the Word of God from the pulpit and reminded believers that they had a relationship with God personally.  Although we Protestants (hopefully) still value confession, Luther showed us that we could go to the Father directly to confess and have conversation with Him.  Hearing Him, however, has many believers jumping at the first “whisper” and leaving many confused when something doesn’t feel right, or go right.  How are we to tell the difference between our own thoughts, the Holy Spirit, and the enemy?

Let’s start with this.  Nothing that God says to us will ever go against scripture.  Scripture is the living, breathing, Word of God that is alive- meaning that we are moved and changed by it daily and it’s words give us direction today even though it was written forever ago.  Along with that, it is clear that God created a special need for community that we will never be able to escape.

We are flawed.  Each one of us.  Me, you, your parents, your children … and our spouse (just in case you were expecting them to be more than what you are capable of being).  We were designed to be flawed- if we weren’t, we would be God- and there is only one God that can be all things, to all people, watching our beautiful planet at the same time as He is whispering your name.  The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will learn to forgive those who accidentally (or purposefully) harm us and learn to accept the love that they try to give that may be different from ours.  Being flawed means that we desperately need a God in our life that is trustworthy, there, perfect, all knowing, and peace-giving.  And having God in our life keeps us humble by not carrying the burden of imperfection and brokenness and instead leaning on Him to sustain us to do what He gives us the desire to do.  Yet He knew, that if we only heard it straight from scripture, or His Spirit in prayer, that we would close ourselves off and dangerously mix our flawed thinking with His truth- thus cults and cult leaders.  Being flawed means that we can conjure up the wrong things, believe lies, and then think it’s God’s voice.  So, he brilliantly designed the body of believers, the Church (not to be confused with the institution or building), to be an extension of Him.  A bunch of other flawed individuals that are also trying to study and hear Him.  These believers, those who have confessed and chosen to follow Him (including you), are called to prayer and service to each other.  Why?  Because we are a physical extension of this God that we cannot see with our eyes, but feel within our spirit.

“But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lack it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1 Corinthians 12:24-25

We desperately need each other. He created it that way.  And so anything that we “hear” from Him, must be taken to the body- to at least one believer who is actively following Him (spouse, small group, accountability partner) for confirmation.  It is when we receive confirmation from the body (within whom He is also actively involved and moving) that we move forward on that internal whisper.  Brilliant, isn’t it?  Thank God- for He is good.  This is what keeps us from going “crazy”, and leading other people into “crazy”.  This is why when I had a boyfriend that told me that we were hearing different things about God on what was clearly unhealthy behavior- that I knew something was wrong- especially when I had friends who loved me confirming it.

When we serve one another, we are “doing” for another what Jesus would still do today if he were physically still on Earth- how else are people today going to experience Him?  When we say we are going to pray for someone, people are actually asking us to pray (not just think about) so that we may be the person from the body that gets clarification and confirmation for what they are struggling with. So, when you hear that whisper in your mind, it is not time to move- it is often time to dive into scripture, pray, and share it with someone you trust who is actively in scripture, and wait for God to confirm it within the body.  This is also true vice versa- if someone in the body tells you a “word from the Lord”, align it with scripture, pray about it, and seek confirmation from someone else in the body.  If you are married to a believer, this is most often your spouse, but for marriage decisions- someone who mentors you.

If all gifts are given to edify, or encourage, the body of believers- then all that we experience with God is ultimately, in a timely manner, meant to be shared and used to encourage each other- thus the power of testimony.  We tend to find ourselves “in the weeds”, struggling over whether it is God’s will for us to take the tiniest step- and while God is present in the decision making of your tiniest step- He is simultaneously zoomed out to His timeline of eternity.  God cares about that tiny step that is causing you stress.  He may even choose to whisper truth and direction to you about whether or not you should take that tiny step- but make no mistake that He has authority over everything that happens in your life.  Nothing passes by Him without Him answering on whether He will allow it to happen.  No evil, suffering, or obstacle is a surprise to Him (read Job).  And while we often confuse this with thinking He “inflicts us” with our circumstances, He knows that life and sin “happen” and are followed by consequences that will hopefully give us the opportunity to glorify Him.  The ultimate purpose in everything He allows, is that we glorify Him- that we give credit to Him for the gifting, the blessing, the sustaining, the direction, the rescuing, or the comfort through the worst of it.

“teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;  give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.  I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;  I will glorify your name forever.”  Psalm 86:11-13

Finally, the enemy is talented at knowing exactly what to whisper to you.  Our childhood Sunday school classes taught us that he is evil, dark, and scary and while that is true- he is also deceptively attractive.  That is what deception is, trickery at it’s best that lures someone away form the truth.  Lures and baits only work if they mimic something true.  And so the enemy often will whisper and tempt us with something that sounds like what God has called us to, but is only slightly off to a degree.  If we follow that lie, it will send us in a direction that is completely off track from God’s desire for us.  Yet, if we believe that all authority is given to God, and nothing slips by Him- then we must also believe that He allows this temptation to happen in the hopes that we will change course after searching the Word, prayer, and confirmation within the body.  It is something to confess, as we chose something other than Him, but He allowed it so that we would be changed by it, remember it the next time that lure shows up and know how to respond.  Then, we will sing His praises, glorify Him in His wisdom and grace in our life and testify it to all who have ears to hear.

So, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6

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A simple approach to discerning God’s will for your life.  Inspired from the work of Alice Cullinan, PhD.

“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

In the military, discerning the will of God can feel a bit backwards. For instance, where we move is often completely out of our control, yet whether we should volunteer (and where) can completely rob us of peace. No matter the size of your decision, you can discern God’s will by lining up your outer circumstances, inward impressions, and comparing it to the truth of God’s Word. To break it down further, ask yourself four questions. Think of it as a chair with four legs requiring all four, grounded, and firm before acting on it.

1. What does Scripture say about it? If Scripture is a lamp to my feet, lighting my path (Ps. 119:105)- should it not illuminate at least the next step? Scripture is full of wisdom, direction, and examples of how to walk closely with God. Knowing how to “correctly handle the truth” (2 Tim 2:15) by reading it in the context in which it was written helps us apply it to “train and equip us toward righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). For example, randomly opening the scripture and doing whatever the verse our finger lands on is not the wisest way to use scripture to discern God’s will for our situation.

2. What does godly counsel say? Scripture is clear that we are not alone, but have the body of Christ, working in unity for the encouragement of each other. Seek godly counsel, mentoring, and close relationships (preferably not extended family members) like your spouse and accountability partners for wisdom. Some of my best moments of conviction, change, and revelation from God involved key people that spoke truth into my situation. Something I could not have done on my own.

3. What about common sense? Does what I want to do make sense? Some decisions are easily right or wrong on our moral compass- others are more difficult to discern. I remember being in an unhealthy relationship in college and asked for my grandfather’s wisdom, he simply said, “God gave you a brain and he expects you to use it. He won’t always hand you the answer on a silver platter if you have the ability to make sense of it.” Still, our Creator may choose to speak into our inward thoughts when we need help. Although it may not be loud, we can hear a voice behind us saying “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

If you can’t answer that it is clearly right or wrong, then ask is if it is wise or foolish. For example, setting boundaries in a difficult relationship can be both wise and right in that God desires you to feel safe, valued, and loved. However, whether or not you work in the home may be wise or foolish based on your circumstances, but not wrong. Remember, trust that every decision is from the Lord, even though we may cast the lot (Prov. 16:33). Do your best to make the right decision, He is there.

4. Are the doors around you open or closed? Paul refers to looking for open opportunities several times throughout 1st and 2nd Corinthians. We may not know until we are about to walk through the door if it will shut, and sometimes we walk through only to find ourselves thrown out. Paul described in Acts 16 that the spirit of Jesus would not allow him and his companions to enter into a region to preach. God has an amazing way of refining and focusing our passion towards where it can best be used and received. Our obedience requires effort, self discipline, humility, and obedience to Him, but it should never feel forced or worse- leaving casualties or destruction behind us.

Now of course, a few comments must be made about the foundation on which we process all of this beginning with sound theological and doctrinal beliefs. Truths related to the Trinity and its relationship with humanity, salvation, and sin, for example, set the foundation. Our time with the Lord in worship and in prayer is not replaceable when it comes to hearing from God. God desires an amazing relationship with us that can only happen when we draw near to Him. There, we discover our strengths, shortcomings, confession, forgiveness, and restoration that lead to our obedience to Him.

Finally, remember that God never tempts us to sin but will lovingly test us. A time of testing, may feel like chaos, God may seem silent, and the enemy may attempt to confuse us. His wisdom, though, is that when that season passes, you will discover confidence in Him, yourself, and new purpose. Therefore, “commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Prov 16:3).

To see this article as seen in Wives in Bloom On-line Magazine, click here

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We are all searching for a sense of purpose. We want our efforts to be worth something.  Unfortunately, that can often leave women exhausted and over-committed.  Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

“You are overwhelmed,” my husband said to me.  “You can do a lot of things, but you can’t do everything!”  I had over-committed myself once again. He was right. I had let my interest sway towards so many things and lost my sense of purpose.  Opportunity had become more important than following God.   I prayerfully committed my day to sorting out my purpose and what I found was peace, fulfillment, and the time to do it all.

When I think of “purpose”,my first thought is my boys arguing.  I eventually will ask the question,“Was it on accident or on purpose?”  If it was on purpose,it was intentional,however,on accident implied that it was a haphazard reaction and perhaps by chance.  I don’t know about you,but the thought of living “accidentally” sounds like chaos! I want to live with purpose,engaging life thoughtfully of why I am living it.  But how do you find purpose?  Contrary to the thought that God has hidden it, He has revealed it to each of us already and specifically to you.

The entirety of scripture is about our purpose.  From beginning to end it describes the journey of God’s people knowing Him,leaving in search of something “better”,and then returning once experiencing His immeasurable love.  The life of Jesus is the first step in understanding our purpose.  It involves embracing “God with Us” as he experienced humanity in a way we cannot overlook.  Jesus lived,breathed,and felt everything we could ever feel convincing us of His ability to “know us”.  He loved in a way that changed our perception of serving.  And let us not forget that his death enables us to approach the Father,as we are,and have grace and forgiveness instead of shame.  Our purpose is simple,my friends,we are asked to be as much like Christ as humanly possible;to love,serve,and follow God.  Jesus,in his resurrection,made it possible to strengthen us to do it all.  We were not created to succeed on our own,thus,my over-committed chaotic life to this point. We needed a savior.  Unfortunately,the enemy would like nothing more than to convince us we don’t have a purpose to live for.  He is an expert at confusing scripture and getting you to question if God might be holding back something from you. Satan used this exact technique to tempt Jesus of his own purpose in the wilderness and even while vulnerable,Jesus quoted scripture back.

My purpose was simple:  To become like Christ,to focus my efforts on bringing the truth of God into darkness,and serve with a community who longs to do the same.  Once I understood the frame around which all my decisions would be made,I was able to write out my mission statements for each area of my life.

Your mission is the way in which you will live out your purpose.  For example,I divided my life into priorities:Devotion for God,taking care of myself,my family,my work and my community.  I then defined my mission for each of those areas (i.e. for family:  To offer my best to my family before giving to others by serving my husband,investing in my children,and guarding my family’s time and resources.)

Do not be confused,sisters;your purpose has already been revealed to you!  God desires to love you and give you the strength to live your life with passion.Wait upon the Lord,ask that he refine you and instill a strong sense of your purpose as clearly stated in His Word.  Write it out,and the issue will not be “why haven’t I found my purpose” but will be to live confidently on purpose,with a mission,and know exactly why.

Click here to see this article as seen in Wings for Women

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We are often reminded to “remain” in the presence of God- that we will find peace and comfort there.  How would we approach that concept if we knew it was command?

“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col 2:7

I recently pondered on the well-known Scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I have thought on it many times, reminding myself to slow down and listen for God’s voice.  This particular day I sat down with the Word and read the verses before it to understand it in context.  To my surprise, these words were not written in the friendly tone I had long assumed.  In fact, it was a command!

“Come see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.  Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps 46:8-10)

I suddenly felt put in my place.  How long had it been since I had been quiet before Him? God is basically saying, “I AM the Almighty! If I am in you, you will not fall.  But if you do not exalt me, the rest of my creation will.”  As hard as it is to hear, God can hand us over to our desires if we are not listening to Him.  In other words, He will let us live out the consequences of our choices if we refuse to hear.  Hear my heart, sisters! He loves us each deeply but if we know Him, quieting our souls before Him is not a request, it’s a command.

It is so easy to evaluate the “fruit” in our lives by whether or not our day has had an inkling of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And to be honest, that list sounds exhausting!  If your days are like mine, you quickly realize that by dinner time, a few of those have flown out the window and perhaps taken a bit of your attitude with it.  And yet we try to muster up that joy, don’t we? Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit- fruit that will last…” (John 15:16)  But Wait! Before you walk out the door to spread the joy, listen to what he said before that verse,

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.… Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:5,9-11 (Emphasis mine).

We are walking around incomplete each day if we forget to spend time with the Trinity.  We forget that the very presence of God is what makes us whole, complete- how he designed us. It is there, that we confess our need for Him, see our shortcomings, allow forgiveness to change us, hear His fatherly wisdom, and give Him the permission to go before us in our day.  We are changed there and the result is His illumination that others can see.  Approaching our family and the world after that seems effortless because authenticity is by God’s effort, not ours.   Fruit “happens” when our humanity is exposed and God’s grace illuminates us. Glory is then His because of the change seen in us. You may not even realize you have more patience until you begin to see God’s work around you.

After reading the context of the Psalms verse, my forehead immediately hit the floor in humility as I quickly knew my place before the throne of the Almighty.  I tearfully asked for forgiveness as I realized that any fruit of my life to that point was God’s, not mine.  If I don’t exalt Him, and give credit to Him for blessings in my life the pouring out of His love will never end, but His blessings may.  Blessings are an outpouring of God’s favor, again, for His glory.  You may feel you are in a drought and that His blessing has passed over you.  My dear friend, merely a moment with the God of Lights will illuminate your spirit and bless you beyond anything the world could offer. Test Him, He will not let you down.

As I thanked Him for changing me, I heard him sweetly finish the Psalms verse “Now Go! The Lord Almighty is with you; the God of Jacob is your fortress.”

Click here to see the article as seen in Wives in Bloom On-line Magazine

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A surprising lesson about minding my own business, I mean “story”, after reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” with my boys.

It’s not everyday that we get a word from the Lord regarding our future. Most of us live in a constant state of uncertainty as our soldier is just as likely to get orders to deploy as it is he will tell us moving orders have been canceled.  If we are on top of our game, we move throughout the day having surrendered our control to a loving God who waits to surprise us with his thoughtfulness.  Yet, soon after hearing from Him, we all too easily take our eyes off of the risen Savior.

In the last chapter of John, Peter and the newly resurrected Jesus are walking when Jesus speaks prophetically about Peter’s future:

“…but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go… Follow me!”

Now Peter seemed to have a love-hate relationship with following Jesus.  When he asked to follow Jesus in death, Jesus told him no, that he would actually deny following him three times.  We also see Peter following Jesus out on the water and later verbally running in front of the Savior and called Satan for it.  Here, he is given three chances to recommit his love, follow, and given a glimpse into his future death. Strangely, Peter looks behind him to ask about John, “What about him?”  Why would he be so interested in John’s story?

Jesus answered Peter’s question by saying “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me.”  He rebuked Peter saying it was none of his business and to simply follow, a familiar challenge for Peter.  The result remained captured by the sinfulness of humanity when the disciples spread ridiculous rumors that John would never die.  Its painful how we can twist the direct words of our Savior and miss the point.

C.S. Lewis wrote beautifully about this in “A Boy and His Horse”, as the lion Aslan, and symbolic figure of Jesus, recounts to Shasta his unknown and quiet presence throughout Shasta’s life.  Shasta, (astonished that Aslan had been so good to him during his seemingly “unlucky” life) questions Aslan’s involvement with his friend Aravis during the journey together.  Aslan’s response was “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers.  I tell no one any story but his own.”

It is hard to assume the motives of Peter.  At this point in his story, it was a question of could he keep His eyes on the Savior and follow Him into and through the suffering. Yet something kept him from hearing the message.  Was he worried he would be alone in death?  Did he worry if John would find the same fate?  Did he think Jesus loved John more?  Or was he just curious like Shasta was at John’s experience compared to his?  Regardless of his motive, or ours, Jesus’s answer is the same, “What is that to you, Follow me.”

Intimacy is found in the presence of Jesus.  There we find answers to our deepest questions about God, suffering, humanity, and grace.  In his words, we find that we are deeply loved, valued, and in-comparable to any other creature he has made to date.  Only in following Him to the cross, do we find rest in uncertainty, fellowship in our despair, and the courage to forgive those who have harmed us.

All Jesus ever asks is that we follow Him. When we are consumed with another story, we take our eyes off Him and begin to sink.  If we are not following then we may be at risk of going no where, going the wrong way, or trying to take the lead.  Either way, the rebuke is still the same.  The Savior reminds us to not be so concerned about the story He is writing for someone else and to simply follow.  The timing and storyline He writes for each of us is unique and if we lose focus, we will be tempted to write it ourselves. Keep in mind even a marriage contains three stories; yours, your spouse’s, and the marriage itself.

Shasta and Aravis later share their story with each other and have a greater understanding of Aslan together than if Aslan had just told them separately.  Fellowship is designed to provide the bigger picture of God, and connect us to each other in our experiences of Him.  Peter himself wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8). Thank goodness He is patient with my progress and doesn’t gossip my story to others.  Instead He lets us share our story when the time is ripe for harvest.  Let’s follow His lead in patience with ourselves and others and maybe we will hear what He has for us more clearly.

To see this article on FaithDeployed.com, Click Here

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What is going on while God is silent?  Is it me?  Is it Him?  Why can’t I hear Him? We have a human tendency to automatically assume that silence means we have wronged God or that he has abandoned us. Scripture, however paints a diffent picture.

Waiting on the Lord is not an easy thing to do. You wait for an answer, for community, to feel His presence move in a way you haven’t felt in a long time. Some are waiting for healing, some are waiting to find fulfillment and purpose. Why is He so quiet? Does He enjoy toying with our emotions as we flail about in our circumstances like a fish out of water? Every situation is unique and we may never fully understand, but make no mistake, when He chooses to move we will be transformed.

We have a human tendency to automatically assume that silence means we have wronged God or that he has abandoned us. Scripture, however paints a different view showing that although He promises to not abandon us, His “presence” is unpredictable. The Word of God, though is constant, it provides a familiar voice in the silence. Leaning on what He has said before during the historical times when He has chosen quiet can give insight to what He is doing. Scripture is a timeless game plan, an instrument of His making that guides us in our darkest moments. It is a place to turn when we feel alone, confused, and desperately scrambling for a lantern to light our way. It is there that our heart is first checked for any way we may have grieved the Holy Spirit. Confession, then, cleanses our heart where any cobwebs of wrong-doing have grown. It is often there that we find His mercy and grace waiting to speak to our heart, breaking the silence.

When it remains quiet though, He is doing more. He is moving elsewhere. When I think of scriptural references that mention God’s silence, the biggest most obvious one is the 400 years before Christ was born. Can you imagine? 400 years! Not just a lifetime, but four or five generations of no new word from the heavens. What did they do? Waiting on “that feeling” of God’s presence to give them the warm fuzzies for the day was worked out through generations until the presence of God must have seemed like a folks tale. Life did not let up for God’s people during this time, it included years of oppression and internal strife. But His people were busy in that Jewish legend states they translated the Torah into Greek (known as the Septuagint) and due to exile, learned to focus on what they still had rather than what they had lost. There were many groups that rose up in that time with differing opinions on “righteous living”, however they held to what they had already been given. What a reminder to not lose sight of the blessings we have, even when we long for something else!

When God is silent, we must check our heart, right ourselves with Him, and continue to wait. Time was pregnant when heaven opened and shared God with us so long ago. But because the world was ready and hungry for God beyond what they could bare, His movement was perfect in every way. In a different way, perhaps time is pregnant for you. Perhaps God the Father desires to move when you are most hungry for Him. Perhaps Jesus is there to open blessing upon you when your heart is most ready to be changed by it. Maybe when you have released your desire to control, have called out to find Him will you look back to see you were never alone in the chaos but that He sustained you, quietly.

“But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Romans 8:25-26

And so we will ask Him to remind us of His voice, love, presence, as we turn to His historical words. Trusting that we will recognize Him when he speaks again. Take heart! Time may be pregnant for you and His movement is surely coming in a way you may not expect, but He is certainly here.

To see this article on FaithDeployed.com, Click Here.

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I took my dog for a walk.  Going outside into the fresh air seems to always wake me up from racing, disorganized thoughts.  Walking around my new neighborhood here in Augusta, I reflected on my year.  It has been a rough year of loss and service that has called upon every bone in my body and every bit of faith I could muster.  I’ll admit, I have had intense moments of questioning God’s role in my and other’s suffering. I knew better than to believe that He had forsaken me, or worse- inflicted such difficulty in my life.  But, this has been enough to cause me to question His existence.  Where was this “Good God” I had been brought up to know?

This time of year is hard for a lot of people.  Some of you will grieve over an empty seat this year.  Some of you will continue to wade through unanswered prayers.  Some of you will doubt His goodness as you experience the lack of good in the world.  Some of you have struggled though advent season trying to find this thing called “hope”.  We are challenged in church to serve more this time of year, to give, to be the love of God.  But maybe you are the one that is walking into church feeling like you more so meet the description of the downcast than the servant overflowing with God’s goodness and favor.  Maybe you have experienced enough in life already that God never seemed like a possibility anyways.

Amidst all the “joy” and cards and singing and well wishes for the Christmas season, there are a few things I had to unlearn in order to discover the realness of God.

  1. There is a God, but He’s nothing like you would think.  He doesn’t think like you and He doesn’t even exist within the same context of time.  Considering He is the Beginning and the End, His wisdom considers every angle of our past, future, present, and all those we connect with.  His ideas will never make sense to us until they unfold and we are able to see the tip of the iceberg we are standing on. He made us with limited foresight and understanding and is therefore graceful when we need to vent.  He can handle it, and would rather you be vulnerable to Him than hide.  Sometimes, when we don’t understand, it is simply because it is not time for us to.  Just when you think you have Him figured out, something will happen and your pretty box of “God” will be too small.
  2. God is still good, even when my circumstances are bad.  I have nothing against Santa, but he is not God, and God is not Santa.  His grace is free, we don’t earn it by being good.  No amount of being “good” will keep us from difficulty. God’s goodness does not equal favor.  He is Good because He is Good.  I Am.  He just is.  Experiencing that goodness is not about whether He makes my life easier, it is simply that in His presence, I am home, and it is good.  Oh my friend, God is so good.  In a dark and dreary world riddled with sin, He is the one place of goodness that can pierce the darkness of our own heart and create light.  This earthly life has been out of control from the beginning because of sin.  Humanity chose (and will always choose) themselves before God.  Because of that, sin and it’s consequences has affected the earth (land, air, and water), our biology, our relationships- all of creation.  The only answer is to choose God instead of ourselves- that has always been the better choice.  He never said life would be easy, He said we wouldn’t be alone.
  3. God doesn’t inflict us, He allows it.  The beginning of Job shows a discussion between Satan and God where Satan asks permission to afflict, and God says yes or no.  Nothing passes by God unnoticed.  God knows everything that is happening in your life, and for reasons you may not know right now, He is allowing it.  That doesn’t mean He is less good.  It means He is more God than we can understand.  My greatest comfort this year was having a couple of friends tell me that He had decided I could bare this. Job, a faithful servant of God, was brought to a breaking point and God did not let him break.  God does indeed know our limits.  We may not see it now, but there is always a hedge of protection somewhere.  There were always limits put on Satan with Job.  Looking back, it seemed like God was allowing every area of my life to be afflicted, except for my children.  They seemed unscathed by all that was happening around them.  But every other area, even my faith seemed like open game.  I had some very human conditions on my belief in Him, and He knew that I would come out like a piece of coal under enough pressure, with something more pure and a whole lot more real. The answer to “why” will always be so that we will see the glory of God in our life and then tell others.  Not because He is selfish and is playing games with our life, but because He is the answer to sin, and ultimately home.
  4. Community is crucial to experiencing God’s love. Nothing is more tempting than sulking alone.  Isolation is the easiest answer to the pain we feel.  If we do not reach out and are convinced that no one cares, we will entirely miss out on hearing God.  Sometimes we can’t hear God because He wants to tangibly answer you.  That can’t happen without people.  When He calls the church body to be the hands and feet of Christ, He is calling on His people to listen to His promptings to feed the hungry (spiritually and physically).  It’s like the story of the man who asked for God to rescue him in a flood and he turned down the truck, the boat, and the helicopter because it wasn’t God himself.  Or better yet, the moment when my son chose a crippled woman to receive the gift card in his hand.  God didn’t heal her legs, and she may have not even needed that money, but his actions introduced or reminded her of God’s love for her as evidenced in her tears.  Joy was the simultaneous experience for both.  We can hear God’s wisdom, be reminded of His Word, feel cared for and nourished, be challenged when selfish, as well as find perspective and a place to serve ourselves- all within a community of believers.  Never again will I be in a place where I do not participate in a community of believers.
  5. A baby really can change everything.  As we finish out the advent season, we think about expecting Jesus.  That may seem ridiculous when Jesus already happened.  Believe me, what could be more mysterious and confusing about a baby answering the need of humanity?  But God’s people waited 400 years to hear from God.  In His ultimate wisdom, He allowed the people to be brought to a place of groaning in their need for a Savior.  Not because He is not good, but because He knew it would be the only way they would recognize Him is if they realized how much they needed Him.  Time had to be made pregnant for hope to be revealed.  People were broken, their prior understanding and doctrine sifted, until their eyes could see the shift that was about to take place.  I think I get that this year.  Sometimes God is quiet because he knows that there will be a moment, a quite pregnant moment where we will experience our Savior in a new way.  A baby can change everything and it did.  In that moment, God opened up heaven in a new way and chose to relate to us in the most personal way.  By becoming human, God would answer the groanings of a world that needed hope.  I need Jesus, so do you.  He understands everything we feel, and then some- loss, betrayal, physical infliction, loneliness, fear, agony. He ultimately experienced separation from God- something we will never feel.  In our own desperation, we can wait expectantly for a Savior that has already defeated sin and death and wait for Him to illuminate who He can be in our present darkness. He is a healer, more than the physical- He can heal the brokenhearted.  He offers freedom from that which binds you- whether it is yourself, your behavior, or your fear.

I don’t know what that looks like for you, but you won’t experience it apart from others.  It won’t happen without realizing that you are not God.  And it doesn’t happen without it changing something in you.  Real joy is in stepping outside of ourselves and showing someone else what we ourselves need- to know that we are not alone.

Give away a free hug to a widow whose body is aching to be held.  Give away a smile, to someone who has not been “seen” lately.  Give money, if you have been blessed with it, to someone who feels buried in medical bills. Give your grace to your spouse who is not perfect, but attempts it daily.  Give a cup of coffee to the car behind you in the drive through.  Deliver ice cream to a single mom or a spouse of a deployed soldier after their kids go to bed and can’t leave to get it when they are craving it.  Sit and listen to a veteran’s story.

And if you are needing something this year, my prayer is that you will open your heart to worship and invite your Creator in.  Then, connect with others and look for they good around you.  God just may surprise you in a way you weren’t expecting.

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I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Life happens and you have to make room for it.  In the time that has gone by, though I have some new things to address.  I’ve done several basic play therapy ideas for small children and I thought I would address some teenager issues.  I have been working with parents of teenagers a lot lately.  I fully admit that I am not one yet, but I hope that won’t discourage you- in fact I love the feedback from those who are “in the trenches”.  I can give you some ideas and insight from what I like to do in my office with the teenagers I am seeing, though.

Social media is KILLING our youth.  I would have to address this in multiple blogs, but for today I want to address the expression of feelings.  I know that sounds sappy, for those who aren’t in the counseling world, but expressing what’s going on inside is crucial to the art of communicating, your self-esteem, being understood by others, and relating to others.  Social media, texting, technology are deteriorating basic communication abilities.  When you are constantly able to edit your response, you never have to think on your feet.  You can text, erase an email before sending it, or wait to respond.  Teenagers are having an emotional response inside and are limited on their ability to express it out loud.  Some of this is developmental as they still think like a child, yet want to be treated like a grown-up. Expecting them to automatically know what they feel and express it, let alone know what to do with it is too high of an expectation.  What teenagers need is help identifying their feelings, adding more words, and then practice communicating it.

An intern that works with me came up with a fun idea for one of the teenagers we were seeing who had this exact goal.  When she first came in, like many of the teenagers I meet, their blanket feeling words are “happy, frustrated, angry, and upset”.  But most of the time, their answer is “I don’t know”.  So we first introduced the feeling chart.  I found a good one here that’s included in the PDF that has some extra information within.

Because young teenagers enjoy games still, we used skittles and M&M’s as bait 🙂

Actually, we (using the feelings connected to colors that I have mentioned previously), had the teenager assign feelings to each color.  Of course, we expected the feelings she chose to be her usual generic ones mentioned above.  Then we took turns picking up a piece of candy (with our eyes closed to prevent avoidance of certain colors) and told about a time when we felt that emotion.  From a therapist perspective, it is usually ethical to avoid too much disclosure, but when working with teenagers, it helps model the normalcy of experience as well as establish a safe relationship.  I would definitely encourage parents to tell their story, yet try to not date themselves.  Choose stories that they can relate to.

To take it to another level, I asked the teenager to try using three extra “feeling words” to describe her feelings during the story.  “Upset” can be broken down to embarrassed, overwhelmed, and discouraged.  Then, once they are finished with the story, I asked, using those words, how would she communicate her feelings to [that] person.

So, for example… I’m completely making this up…

“Mom, when you yell at me, it makes me feel overwhelmed, scared, and discouraged.”  Which is MUCH better than “My mom makes me upset.”

Of course the next level, which I would recommend you try later once your teenager feels confident in identifying their feelings better, is trying to think out how they would ask their Mom to try something different.  This not only takes great courage, but a humble parent who is willing to see their own opportunities for change.  Many of the serious issues I see with teenagers are not just a problem with the child.  Rarely is it only them, it is usually a family dynamic problem.  I am often forced to carefully address the parents and talk about what changes they need to make in order to see their teenager’s behavior change.

I hope to write much more on this in future blogs, but for now let me encourage you with this.  Your teenager still has a child brain that cannot think through the future.  They cannot see or think out consequences or often solutions for what they feel.  That is hard to keep in mind when they look on the outside like an adult.  The best advice I can give is this…

Your teenager wants you to treat them like an adult for the things they know how to do and have proven/earned it.  They desperately need your help in teaching them on the things they do not know how to do and enjoy being taught when done in fun ways that involve quality time with you.  Deep down inside, they need to be loved like a child, especially in private.  This doesn’t necessarily mean physical affection- but more tending to their heart by acceptance, affirmation, loving them through their mistakes, and caring about what they care about.  Don’t let the “front” on the outside, convince you otherwise.  They just don’t know how to ask for it without negating that they also want to have some adult responsibility.  As confused as you may feel, so are they- so just love them anyways!

Here is another resource that I found that I hope to use in a future session.  This would be great for group settings if you are involved in a youth group.  Speaking of that- I will try to write a future blog on the Power of Peers, too!

As always, comments are great! 

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I have been thinking about this topic for a while.  My counseling practice tends to run in themes.  Sometimes a majority of my clients are dealing with loss, sometimes domestic violence, and lately parents struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It hasn’t helped that our first deployment was in the media recently for some additional awards going to some of our soldiers.  As awesome as it is, and I am so proud of our soldiers and families, it has “uncorked” some feelings across the board.  Traumatic events in our lives never fully go away.  We hopefully learn to deal with the emerging emotions and physical reactions to it better, but life has a way of “uncorking” it at unsuspecting times.

PTSD involves a variety of symptoms that occur in a person’s life when they are exposed one or multiple times to a traumatic event.  Symptoms can range from irritability to rage, anxiety to avoidance/phobias, and trust issues with others, among other symptoms.

For more on what PTSD is and symptoms associated with it, click here.  I’ve covered in a previous post some ideas on how to work with children who have been through significant trauma.  But how do you work with children when they are trying connect with a parent who is struggling?  Parents who are struggling with PTSD from an event or multiple traumas can often struggle with anger, tend to withdraw, and react in ways that make a child feel unsafe.

Most often, this is a time for family therapy- an opportunity to work with the family system, the marriage, the relationships between parent-child, etc.  Working around a military culture, I have a lot of mothers who bring their children for play therapy to sort out the experiences the children have had with a father who have PTSD from combat.  So, in this post, I am going to use “him” for the struggling parent- not to say that a mother couldn’t be the one struggling.

Because there are so many unique family dynamics, it’s hard to be too specific on how to work through play.  But, I think we can all relate to a degree.  Family and relationships are messy.  We all want to have a great connection with our kids, but because we are ALL flawed- we will have experiences with them where our connection will be damaged.  The important thing to remember is that we are not responsible for our spouse’s connection with our children.  They are.  That is super hard to believe.  We somehow take on their decisions as a reflection of us because we love them and have a marriage with them- but you simply cannot take ownership for all of their decisions.  If a spouse does something to hurt their relationship with their child- there is nothing you can say to your child to heal that connection.  Comfort and be present with them? Yes, but true healing happens between those two.  Explaining to a child the basics of what the other parent is struggling with helps, but making excuses, or taking them the park extra doesn’t heal it all.  That bond will not fully heal until the two of them do it themselves.  Military wives understand this to the extreme when they attempt to be both parents while the soldier is away.  She will soon find out in the midst of exhaustion, that there is simply no replacement- you do your best to be your best.  Have patience and trust timing ans wisdom.  It may not happen in the time you want it, but can eventually happen in a moment, over time, or as it is periodically revisited.

That may sound discouraging for you, but when you think about it- it is quite freeing.  When you think about your childhood- don’t you think about how you would have loved for your Dad to swing you off your feet, or taking you for that fishing trip, or your mom to hold you during that difficult time?  Do you remember anyone else standing in that gap that healed that wound?  No.  Community helps, other mother-figures or father-figures impacted your life and helped you develop into a fine person, but when it comes down to it- our parents were flawed because we ALL are flawed.  All of our children, including mine, will benefit seeing a therapist someday because there is something about realizing we are all flawed that is disappointing, gives us permission to forgive ourselves for not being perfect, and then goes on to heal our relationship with God and humanity.  God is the only one that is perfect, the rest of us have to figure out how to reconcile with the rest of the world.

So, the first thing is that if your spouse (who is struggling with trauma) is doing ANYTHING unsafe- you must follow your responsibility to children who count on you to protect and teach them boundaries in life by making sure they have a safe environment to live in- so that the parent dealing with trauma doesn’t create a  new trauma for the child.  God made you- just they way He wanted to- amazing and wonderful.  He made your children that amazing too (why do we see our children made more wonderfully than us?).  He would want you to protect yourself and your children. Period.  You have permission- from God- to protect yourself and your children from abuse and dangerous behavior.

Now that I said that, there are behaviors (like responding in isolation, drinking heavily, rage) a struggling spouse may do that make home environment difficult to live in.  Without going into all the family dynamics and adult dynamics, I will give you things to try with your child to help identify what they might be feeling and then teach them how to communicate it.

With PTSD, there are “triggers”-a normal daily task or experience that brings back up memories and sensations of the trauma.  Because all of the sensory areas of the brain light up during trauma for the sake of survival, memories are captured in those senses.  This is why when the memory comes up, the person feels, hears, sees, smells the memory like it is happening in the present.  Because of this, their body escalates with adrenaline (survival again) and then they react.  As a family, it is important to be compassionate and understanding.  However, when it begins to feel like walking on eggshells, or keeping a bomb form exploding- you are talking about the family suffering too.

Teaching the kids to be respectful and mindful is always great, but children of parents who struggle with PTSD will sometimes take on adult responsibilities by taking care of the parent.  I once had a child who knew to bring his mother water when she would have panic attacks.  Although I see nothing wrong with this kind of compassion, if he began to take on extra adult responsibilities around the house, or tasks the mother should be able to do for herself it can become unhealthy.  One of the things he was struggling with was developing his own anxiety while at school.  Who would take her water if she had a panic attack?  It was then that mom began to see that she needed to both get treatment as well as assure him more that he was being helpful, but that she would learn to cope when he wasn’t there.

Telling details of the trauma to the child can vicariously traumatize the child.  If your spouse wants some time to share the memory, respectfully asking for a time out long enough to find an activity for the child to do is being respectful of both.

I would encourage the children to draw or paint pictures on separate occasions of the family, them with the struggling parent,  as well as how they see the parent.  Talk with them, don’t ask leading question (i.e. That makes you sad, doesn’t it?).  Instead, ask them to describe their picture.  Ask them to tell you about their favorite things about you and your spouse.  If they talk about any feelings they have that would show concern for their connection being broken with the other parent, ask them if they ever feel like they could talk to him about that.  Have a conversation where you don’t do the work that dad needs to do, but that you just listen.  Children often just need to feel heard and understood.  Ask them what they would like to see different between them and their Dad or in the home.

One of the signs of maturity as an adult is the ability to confidently communicate how we feel, especially in a relationship.  In marriage and in work, we need the ability to sometimes ask for change and express concerns.  As parents, we are teaching our children how to eventually do that.  For some reason, we feel the need to protect them from having hard conversations.  Do you ever ask your children what you could do to be a better Mommy?  Try it sometimes, their answers are priceless and often not what you would expect.  Creating these times for open dialogue can make it easier for kids to talk as they get older, and develop confidence to ask for something to change, to express hurt, or have the tough conversations that sometimes don’t happen in life.

If you feel your spouse is open to it, encourage your child over time to “show his pictures to Daddy and talk about them” during an open and safe moment when the spouse has been prepared for it (it is never a good idea to ambush or surprise your spouse).  Of course, I am not advocating your using this in a manipulative way, but encouraging your child to own their relationship with their parent.  It may not always go smoothly, but communication never promises that either.  If they feel uncomfortable, you could offer to be there with them.  Now that might scare some of you, fearing it would create conflict.  As difficult as this is to sit through, it is the weight of seeing our consequences that often causes us to try something different.  If they responded to you question about being a better Mommy, with “I wish you would put your phone down” that would feel awful, wouldn’t it?  But would you feel that the next time you picked up your phone around them?

If you feel that your child talking to him could cause intense destruction, then using counseling as a neutral territory could be beneficial to everyone. Until then, using play therapy as an outlet for your child to express his anxiety and other feelings could be helpful.

The important thing is that the children have an opportunity to process feelings in a safe place, teaching them to somehow communicate it to others, and for the right people to feel the weight of their own relationships with each other.  It is in that space that people begin to make the choice to build (sometimes by getting help) or continue to destroy those around them.

By the way, if your spouse is doing something right… encourage them today by telling them so!  We all need to hear it.  Even if a spouse is struggling- let them know what they are doing well and what you think is going right so they know to keep trying.  Fighting for your marriage and family takes initiative on both parts, patience, community, help, and the right tools to bring purpose out of any situation.  I would love to hear what you have learned!!

Why Are You So Scared?: A Child’s Book About Parents With PTSD By Beth Andrews, LCSW

When a Child’s Parent has PTSD

Secondary PTSD in Children

Understanding PTSD in Children and Teens

New Changes in DSM related to PTSD

 

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I have been thinking a lot about loss this week.  Not only are some of your families dealing with loss in various ways, Fort Stewart lost more soldiers this week in Afghanistan.  I used to refer grief issues to other therapists.  At the time, I had not lost anyone close to me, I didn’t feel like I could relate enough to someone coming to me for help.  But after walking through the swamp of sadness (Neverending Story) with others enough times, you begin to realize that grief is something we all can relate to. All of us have lost something- a loved one, a pet, a dream, a relationship.  The feelings that come with that loss are mostly the same, just heavier the closer the person was to you.  If you are not careful, the overwhelming feelings of grief can cause you to fear death- or rather feeling overwhelmed at the thought of the emotions that follow.  I know I was tempted to be afraid and know others who struggle with anxiety that keeps them from living fully in the moment.  I am going to share a technique with you, but I think it is more important to share thoughts and words.  It is often the conversations with our children that are the most healing.

Helping children cope with loss is a family issue, not just one with the child.  Ultimately, it brings up what you as a family believe about loss, death, and what happens after death.  It is full of teachable moments with your children where they are needing to be taught the answers to those questions.  If you don’t know the answers yourself, you will find yourself struggling and unable to walk into that swamp with them.  There is no escaping suffering in this life, and grief eventually will become a friend of ours.  That doesn’t have to seem depressing- in fact- I think it is in the pocket of grief that we are truly alive.  The overwhelming feeling of grief is evidence that we loved someone, something, or had hope in something.  What a wonderful thing to say!  That overwhelming feeling of heartbreak is not something to fear, it is something to fully embrace and experience- it is what connects us that point forward with the person we lost.

I tell families all the time that if you don’t allow yourself to feel, those feelings don’t go away.  You push them down and pack them in.  Like a Coke bottle, they will eventually leak out or explode when life shakes you up (sometimes on a daily basis).  Letting it out in healthy ways releases the pressure and gives you a better perspective on everything.  So, when working with the child, encouraging them to fully cry when their emotions are pricked will let out some of the pressure.   I don’t know about your kids, but Aidan seems to only feel his emotions when he is triggered by something- it is then that everything else that he has been feeling comes out with it.  One good cry and he feels better.  Jack on the other hand, will handle disappointment by thinking up everything else under the sun to also be upset at and snowballs.  I remember his feelings getting hurt by someone and him crying about how he never got a yellow umbrella- A yellow umbrella? He never asked for a yellow umbrella!  The point is, sometimes our children will have their emotions pricked by hurt feelings at school or disappointment and everything else will come out.  Instead of pointing out their irrational thoughts, consider letting them release the pressure and talk about it with them afterwards.  We adults do the same thing, bickering with our spouses, gossiping about others, and snapping at our children- all because there is something else going on inside.

I would definitely recommend some of the previous play therapy techniques in the previous days to sort out the feelings the child is having.  I love to have children draw where their loved one is and talk about what it is like there.  Often times, you will hear children want to go there and be with them.  This doesn’t have to be alarming- it is their concrete way of processing their loved one being in a different place.  When Daddy is on a business trip (and is not physically in front of them), it makes sense to fly on a plane to see him- why not take a plane to Heaven?

When my Granddad passed away, it was hard on all of us.  I knew this was going to be my first experience of intense loss and had feared it for a long time.  Matt has been amazing in walking me through it all and I have learned so much from him.  After losing several friends in Afghanistan, he had already walked hand in hand with death.  When it came time, I can look back and say I worked hard to take his advice as well as my own.  I fully embraced those moments of initial loss.  I didn’t try to be strong for anyone (unless I felt capable and wasn’t pushing things down) and made sure I let my children see me cry, saving the worse for private moments.  I can honestly say that I can look back on that time as a sweet time between me and my Granddad.

When a loss doesn’t happen naturally, but suddenly and with unanswered questions, the grief that follows is often called complicated grief.  The normal grief process is dragged out, can effect the community of support, and leave a person with far more questions that answers.  Reflecting on the connection with the one we lost can help ease the pain when it is triggered again and again.  I encourage parents to help the child make a book of positive memories through art, photos, and stories that will help bring back memories that will fade over time.  It can be kept in a safe spot and taken out periodically when needed and given as a gift when the child is old enough to care for it.

After encouraging your child to feel his or her feelings, it is important to communicate what you believe and want your children to understand about death.  Talking to them and finding out what they have heard from other adults is important, as they may have heard conflicting things from others. Sometimes children will explain death to me and use adult language they overheard, all the while not understanding any of it.  Here are some questions to think about when talking to your child.  By the way, we adults struggle with these too, so getting help to resolve these within your own life may be simultaneously important:

  • How can this person be both in Heaven and in the ground at the same time?
  • Someone said God wanted her with Him, why would God take her?
  • Will it happen to me?
  • Will it happen to my parents?
  • Can I pray to him or her?
  • If Heaven is such a happy place, I want to be there too.

You may see your child regress and have some separation anxiety- this is normal.  Giving your child a sentimental object to hold on to is completely okay.  The thing your want to look out for is whether it is interfering with their functioning after the initial stage of grieving.  Can they go places without it where it wouldn’t be appropriate?  Helping them wean when they are ready will be a healthy part of the grief process as they begin to transition from the object as connect with their loved one and instead through memories.  This is similar to a security blanket and can relieve anxiety if grief is coming out as fear.  Think about weaning your child from a pacifier- it will be a similar experience of patience and understanding.

One of the best things Matt prepared me for was how much easier it would be to connect with my Granddad after he was gone.  I didn’t get it until after, but there is something comforting about connecting with him whenever I think of him now, and not having to try to call him on the phone- and that is something special.  Some people feel better “talking” to the person they lost- not necessarily because they feel they can actually hear them, but because their spirit is not contained in the body anymore.  Sometimes not having all the answers to the afterlife gives us the freedom to do what we need to do to grieve.

One of my favorite techniques is using balloons.  I remember doing this technique with adults as well and it seems to work no matter what the age.

It’s very easy.  The child can write a letter or draw a picture to give to their loved one.  Take it to your local grocery store and ask them to stuff it inside a helium balloon.  Let the child release it!  As easy as it is, there is something wonderful about releasing those words and feelings into the sky.  Parents sometimes look at me like “Is this really going to help?” and then come back in tears saying it was powerful for the whole family.  Even when you are old enough to know that your letter isn’t actually going to “get there”, it still feels somehow like it does.  Let the younger children believe it- there is something powerful in the imagination!

You can also do variations of this technique more frequently if you’d like:

  • Writing letters and burning them
  • Writing a message on the loved one’s social media page
  • Sitting with others who are grieving the same loss and sharing stories

Don’t forget anniversary dates.  There is an internal clock in our bodies that we are not conscious of.  Have you ever had a rough day and then looked at the calendar to find out it was an anniversary of a loss or tragic moment in your life?  Mark your calendars so they don’t surprise you or your children.  Plan both meaningful events and unrelated events that get you out of the house and with other people that day.  Step in, feel the connection, and then give yourself opportunities to step out of it.

Here are a few resources that I like:

For an incredible list of statistics on children and grief:

National Poll of Bereaved Children

A Developmental Chart on Children and Grief

More on Childhood Grief

A Community of Grief (Groups)

A List of Do’s and Don’ts When Talking to Children About Grief

Brene Brown gave an EXCELLENT Tedtalk on anxiety that keeps us from experiencing joy:

 

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 Click Here for iPhone, Ipad, or Apple products

 

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This is the half way mark!  It’s hard to believe, it has been such a wonderful journey- and easier than I thought.  In fact, the hardest part is finding the time to blog about it and design the page.  In other words, if you haven’t tried some of these ideas, they only take between 5-15 minutes.  Of course you can go on longer, but sometimes that’s all the child can handle with their attention span.

After taking a Sabbath break over the weekend, we decided to jump back in.  I asked some of you what issues you would like to see and wanted to respond to those.  Keep your thoughts and ideas coming so I don’t just use our own experiences that may not relate to what you are going through.  I am looking towards focusing on loss, attention, anxiety, and past bad experiences (trauma) in the coming days.  Obviously one play therapy experience isn’t going to change the issue dramatically, but when you do several over time, spending quality time with your children- you can see the difference.  In fact, unless I am dealing with a traumatic issue that happened with the family, most children in the end are just needing their parents to slow down and spend time with them- that is where all healing happens.

When you think about it, kids are just little people and adolescents are just bigger little people.  Many of the things that help adults are skills that can help children, its just that we as parents are supposed to teach it to them.  Expecting them to handle hurt and anxiety like an adult is unfair.  I guess that brings up the point that we as parents better have some coping skills ourselves in order to teach them!

Children can experience anxiety surrounding lots of things.  Meeting friends, starting the school year, upcoming changes, fear surrounding a parent’s anger or loss, trying something new, etc.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when they are feeling anxiety because it may not look like the way adults show it- or does it?  When a child is struggling you normally see them regress back into a previous developmental stage (potty trained children begin to wet the bed again, fighting with their siblings more than usual, nightmares, baby talk, clingy behaviors, etc).  One of the greatest things you can teach your children is how to get the nervous energy out of their body and relax.  Relaxation therapy sounds silly and can feel awkward to do, but it is easier than you think and kids really enjoy it.  Visualizing emotions and knowing what to do with them also teaching self-control and what we in the psycho-babble world like to call self-regulation.  In layman’s terms it just means we all have a certain amount of responsibility for the emotions we feel and controlling them in healthy ways.

Adults who do not have good self-regulation tear up their relationships with rage filled anger, manipulation, and passive aggressive attempts at controlling others around them- all while blaming the other person for the feelings they have.

We are not superheroes (even though I regularly become Wonder Woman in this house and wish I was).  We need others, need community, need support.  We are built that way.  There comes a point where we all need others to get through something that is beyond our own ability to cope.  However,  we owe it to our amazing, supportive community (and protect them) when we do our best to regulate (manage) our feelings first before asking them for help.  Teaching your child how to calm him or herself is a powerful step towards self-regulation and healthy boundary setting in their relationships.

Today, I wanted to guide my boys through relaxation therapy before bed.  It’s not hard and you can’t really mess it up.  In fact, we had a good time giggling through some of it!  Here are the basics:

1.  Help them visualize a place where they are completely happy (My boys were thinking of Disney World and Legoland).  Ask them to close their eyes and think about the colors they see, the warm sunshine on their skin, whether or not people are around them, the smile on their face- then we are going to come back to that thought. 

2. Breathe three times through your nose and out through your mouth, each with a count of three.  This will be practice for later.

3.  Keeping your eyes closed (this is where the giggling begins), starting with your toes by curling them and tightening your foot as hard as you can as you count to 5, then relax using the breathing we learned.  Move up to the legs- since kids are still learning to feel and control certain muscles I did the whole leg, where as adults you move muscle to muscle (calves first, then to quads).  I found it was easier for them to cross their legs and squeeze their legs together as tight as possible.  Move to the buttocks (this is where we really started giggling), to the tummy, and then to the arms.  For arms, I asked them to cross them over their chest and give themselves the biggest hug they could, then flex their muscles, and then to their hands- of course don’t forget we are relaxing and breathing out before each one.
When we got to the hands, I asked them to picture any bad feelings, worries, fears, or yucky feelings from the day (give them a moment to think about it) and picture putting all those feelings into a red ball in their hands.  Then I had them squeeze their hands together (or as fists) like they are squishing that red ball as hard as they can.  Then when they relax, the red ball is gone.

4.  Finally, it’s time to think about our happy memory again!  Remind them of what they saw there, how they felt, the warm sunshine, the smile on their face again- and Ta-da!!!! It’s bedtime…  I didn’t hear from them again.

At the very least, this is a great technique to introduce to them as school is starting.  If you practice it ahead of time, try using the hand clenching and breathing throughout the day- this is definitely something they can do in the classroom.  When you see your child panicking, having a tantrum, and beginning to get worked up, you can remind them of the breathing.  By the way… it wouldn’t hurt for us adults to try this as well…

What is your happiest memory???

 

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I know I’m not the only one who has a child that struggles with attention.  As we approach the first week of school in two weeks, I know what’s coming.  The first month, the new teacher will talk to me about how Aidan gets easily distracted by everything else in the room.  He is definitely not hyperactive, but will “Space out” and start thinking of who knows what rather than the boring lecture in front of him.  I will talk with the teacher about this, again.  Thankfully, he will have the same gifted teacher for the third year in a row who will tell me that he is struggling to stay on task, but it’s just the first month.  For the last several years, this is the pattern.  He struggles through out the first semester and somehow starts to gain self-control by the end of the year and then summer starts.  I am definitely one of those parents who would love year round school, just to end this cycle.

Matt and I re-evaluated our game plan this past week.  We are cutting way back on any video games to almost none at all.  I know this is a debate that is wide spread for parenting right now and so this post is not about that.  For Aidan, that “world” easily gets stuck in his head and we have a hard time pulling him out.  We are outside more than ever and engaging in every bit of peer social interaction as possible and looking into martial arts for the fall.  So, in thinking about play therapy techniques that are more teaching oriented rather than interpretive- I took to researching building attention span.

One that I found, I was a little hesitant to try.  Honestly, it sounded somewhat torturous.  Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realizes anytime you want to build a skill (and self-control is definitely one) you have to practice and put forth the effort- hopefully with a reward!  So the game I found involves the child building something while avoiding distractions.  Here’s how we did it:

Materials:

LEGOs– honestly, the materials aren’t as important.  Anything the child enjoys doing will work.  LEGOs worked great for us because you can mindlessly stack them into a tower if needed.

Stopwatch: In a full 50 minute session, they recommended 10 minute increments.  This felt like a lot to me for the first time. I chose to do 5 minutes to see how they felt with the intention of working up to 10 minutes.

Reward:  I used tickets.  You can get carnival tickets at Walmart that will last you into eternity.  I use these as reward for various types of behavior modification.  Don’t forget to think of something to use as an ultimate reward!

Here’s how you play:  Aidan and Jack were asked to build something with their LEGOs (it doesn’t matter what they were building).  In fact the first level (and what I encouraged Jack to do) was to simply stack pieces together.  It was too hard for him to think about what he was building under pressure.  The most advanced level would be reading and following directions (HELLO HOMEWORK?).  While they were concentrating on building, I get to try to distract and break their concentration.  IF they can get to the end of the time limit without me breaking their concentration, they get a ticket.  Then, based on their ability (and I would say stress level with the pressure) decide how many tickets they need to accumulate to get the ultimate prize.

I thought today was the perfect day to try this.  I had the amazing opportunity to go out with a friend today while her husband graciously offered to watch the boys (Matt was out of town).  They of course got to play video games during the day while at their house, so I knew we would have some attitudes tonight.  In fact, my discernment was giving me that we were ALL a little off.  Patience was running really thin for everyone.  I decided to be honest with them and point it out.  I told them that I really wasn’t sure what we all needed- space or quality time.  This was not the time to test them under 10 minutes of timed pressure and over frustrate them.  So… we did a one time 5 minute test run on this game and then talked about it after.

Aidan loved it.  I tried lots of things to distract them.  I asked questions, I tried to show them things, I even tried to help them!  But I pulled out the “Ace Card” at the end.  I pulled out Angry Birds.  Aidan about shoved his whole head into the LEGO pile attempting to avoid looking, and Jack… well he just ran into the closet with his hands over his ears!!!  All in all it was pretty funny.

We went downstairs for our bedtime snack (our reward) and I could tell we all needed a little bit of “centering” from the day.  I pulled out the boys’ devotional book and found one titled “Difficult Days”.  We all laughed as if to say, “We better read this one TODAY!”  During prayer, the Lord reminded me of something pretty powerful.

The most important thing we could ever focus on is Him. Nothing in this world will provide the peace and guidance that He can.  Nothing compares to the assurance He provides when we still our hearts and focus on Him. 

There are so many things that try to distract us from that truth.

There is a distraction every second it seems.  The guilt I am tempted to feel as a mom for wanting ANYTHING for myself, a bad attitude after something doesn’t go my way, loneliness when you are missing community, frustration at the lack of quiet around the house, or emptiness in your heart when it feels you aren’t moving towards purpose.  I do a great job of distracting myself from the truth that God is present and should be the center of my attention.  The enemy sometimes doesn’t have to work that hard to get me to look away from that.  When I stay focused on Him, or what He has given me to hold on to, everything else falls in line… EVERYTHING.

So the boys and I walked away with more than a LEGO tower.  They walked away seeing Mommy as human- even she gets distracted.  They heard God’s words that reminded them that God can help us when we are struggling and we can go to Him when we have a bad day.  And I walked away humbled.  Realizing that Aidan and I aren’t so different, and that I am also needing some help on my own attention span.

Here are a couple of resources on building attention spans.  I will likely do more of this soon, so I won’t give too many right now.  Aidan has not been diagnosed with anything because his attention is not interfering with his ability to function at home or school.  All children need to learn self-control, especially of their mind- so regardless of how severe your child struggles with attention- I think it’s a great thing to work on!

What is ADHD and how can Therapy Help?

The Daily Report Card

Using a Reward System

There are so many of you out there that are doing these things on a daily basis!  Share some of your successes and resources with us!!

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I held off as long as I could before doing drawing. Drawing is one of the easiest things you can do with your child and in play therapy! Today was a day of drawing self image portraits with the option of drawing a family portrait. There is so much to be said about interpreting drawings, especially family portraits. I know you’re probably tired of me emphasizing the dangerousness of interpreting too much in your child’s play, but it’s especially important for today! If you are not aware of developmental drawing abilities for children, click here to know more (no really, you should check it out- it’s pretty cool).

Knowing what your child is capable of drawing at their developmental level is crucial to understanding what they choose to draw, especially for these type of portraits! For example, a child around the age three to five may use stick figures to represent themselves or others (completely normal and appropriate for this age). However, if you have a child around 10 years old that mainly illustrates with stick figures it would be more concerning and could reveal possible issues of depression, low self-esteem, or even developmental delays.


On the other hand, if children are drawing things that are inappropriate such as too much detail around the genitals, or heavy emphasis on those areas, this would cause concern for possible sexual abuse.  If you notice any of these concerns, contact a professional to help you and do not try to interpret your child’s play or drawings on your own.  There is so much that I could give you today, but I don’t want to give you too much to become dangerous.

I really want this project to be fun, so the information that I give you should be used to start conversations between you and your child, not cause you anxiety. Use the resources that I provide to ask questions and dialogue with your child instead of of you standing back and examining their work. The purpose is to open communication within your family, not to “figure them out”. Believe me, that may never happen (hehehe!).

Here are a few things to consider as you watch them draw. Don’t forget to read up on the developmental drawing stages, first!
1.  Are there any body parts missing? I lack of arms could show feelings of helplessness. However, this is a developmental milestone for a child to consider drawing arms, hands, and fingers. For example, Jack forgot to draw his arms. After he was done I stated “Jackson, I noticed your picture doesn’t have any arms.” He was surprised that he forgot, so when he drew his arms, he drew them very long with strong muscles attached. This child clearly does not feel helpless or out-of-control.  In fact, when I did some research, it said “control others and desires strength and power, although longer arms can also signal a desire to reach out to others.” Either way, that is definitely Jack!  He also had his thoughts in thought clouds, wondering about the upcoming move.  He drew a heart around all of it and colored it in saying, “Everyone will stay close to my heart.”  Some of his feelings were triggered today by not having a great time in childcare during the morning (enter Mom-guilt, here.)

2.  Is anything hidden? Some children may hide limbs or not to draw a part of the body because they don’t feel confident enough to draw. Geez, I even felt the pressure as I was drawing my own picture! There are some parts of the body that I am not good at drawing- So I either didn’t draw it at all, or found a way to conveniently not make room on the page for it! It’s important to realize that children may feel the same way. If there’s any hesitancy from the child to draw, they may not feel secure enough in their ability to draw it well. This provides a great opportunity to talk with them about their feelings and provide positive feedback on their effort. After our drawing time today, I looked back and realized that should not have drawn with such detail in my own picture.  It would have been better to have drawn a more cartoon version of the family portrait. Too much detail could have made Jack self-conscious in his own ability to draw, or draw well.


3.  Head – Did they draw their head larger than their body or much smaller than their body?  Larger could be interpreted as desiring to feel smarter or better academically, whereas small could show insecurity.
4.  How big is their portrait on the page? Did they take up the whole page (aggressiveness or overly confident), or make themselves tiny in the large space (Insecurity)?  I’m sure you can tell by Aidan’s picture where he stands!


5.  Where did they invest the most detail?  This can be a conversation starter- “I noticed you spent a lot of time on ____”
6.  What kind of action did they show themselves doing? This can reveal thoughts or confidence in things they are good at or what they are feeling is happening in their current relationships. 
7.  Lots of time erasing can show anxiety or worries of perfection.
8.  What kind of smile is on the face? Obviously a smile or frown shows emotion, however if the child does not draw a mouth, it can show feelings regarding whether or not they have a voice in the home or the ability to share their thoughts and feelings.
9. Comparing the resources that I found to their drawings. I didn’t necessarily learn anything new about them but it was fun to see their drawings reflect what I thought to be true about each of their personalities.

I also wanted to share with you the emotion faces that I often use.  I pulled this out as well during our drawing time and the boys had a fun time laughing at some of the silly faces.  It will definitely serve them during some of our other play therapy moments.

Emotions Vocabulary Sheet

My Feelings Activity Book (Especially great for pre-K level who are just beginning to understand emotions)

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Well, I tried to coordinate “sand day” for the beach- but then I guess it’s a good thing that it didn’t work out that way because not everyone reading this has access to a beach!!  More of you probably have a sand box in your back yard, though, and sand has turned out to be one of my favorites!  There is something about the cool sand that children love, digging their fingers in and burying their arms as far as they can go.  It’s relaxing, just like when we adults long for sitting in the sun on the beach and feeling the waves wash sand over our toes.  So sand plays a huge role in play therapy.  The sand tray also creates a space for a child to develop a new world using toys or drawing in the sand itself.


The boys have been begging for me to take them to my office and show them my sand tray and today was a perfect day for it.  I shared with them the rules, which is really only one:  Keep the sand in the box.  Out of all the children I have worked with, guess who could not follow that rule? Yep… that would be my kids… maybe it was because the two of them were together… regardless- it was cra-cra.

Oh well, we are playing, right?  Who wants to play with someone who can’t step out of the rule book?  So I tried to relax a little bit, knowing at the end, the vacuum and I were going to have a date.

Sand is a great tool for relaxation.  Often times I will start off giving them a chance to just feel the sand.  We will talk about our week or our day as they strum the sand between their fingers.  The teenager I mentioned earlier loves the sand.  Sometimes we will sit and doodle on the floor and talk (I love my job), but mostly she plays in the sand and picks out the tiny pebbles and collects them in the corner.  I don’t know… that’s her thing… but it works.  Really, it’s about talking without eye contact.  It’s about shared experiences, doing something side by side instead of me standing over them.  It is so easy to do that with my own kids, to have them color while I busy myself with something else, when some of the best talks happen when I am sitting on the floor too doing whatever they are doing.

When I asked about how they felt in the sand they described that it felt “great” and “so soft” and they could “play in it forever!”

Sand is also great for creating an alternative world.  I have seen it be a house where kids draw lines to separate bedrooms as they play with action figures in the “house”.  I have also seen it be heaven.  One of my favorite moments was going on a journey up into our “sand” heaven to visit a child’s dad and spend a day with him there.  What a tour that was!  The most therapeutic part was when it was time to say good-bye and the child got to be the one to leave and go home because she missed her house and friends. 

After I let the boys play and dig for a while, I asked if they would like to pick one of the action figures as “them”.  I had a bunch of Star Wars figures so it turned out to be Aidan, Jack, and Daddy.  I got to be Daddy.  Role playing is a great way to hear from kids what they enjoy about their relationships as well as what they wish could be.  I loved watching the boys welcome Daddy home from work and have a tickle fest before bed.  Aidan is definitely my affectionate one so he enjoyed giving lots of hugs and kisses and wrestling with Dad.  Jack tackled him too of course, but spent more time burying his action figure (haha!)

Speaking of themes, some that you could look for (but not over interpret) are actions like consistently burying “certain people”, angrily burying, and creating valleys that separate people from one another.  I will be constantly pointing out the danger of interpretation as we move through our 20 days, but when you see something curious, don’t be afraid to ask about it.  If you don’t feel like you can ask yet, then keep watching and see what happens.  Some of the best therapy in play is not anything we ever do- but letting them play it out.  Kids will play the same story line over and over again, but that is their way of making sense of something.  When we step aside (both our own agenda and physically step aside) they will often play it out and work out a new ending.  As adults we talk it over with a friend and a banana nut muffin, but kids don’t have that ability, so they act it out.  Don’t be alarmed if it is a repetitive storyline.  Instead, ask to join in as a character at some point- you will definitely have the story line down!

The sand on the carpet was worth it.  I already knew the boys had a special bond with their Dad, but seeing them play out their favorite parts of the day was awesome.

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I love story time.  To be honest, I have gotten away from it a little.  I used to be so good at laying down with my children at night and listening to them read.  What a joy it is to hear them learning and sounding out words.  So, I was looking forward to this one.  We waited all day.  Not only was Jack going to read to me, but I knew that it is a more special time than any to have those wonderful talks.

I often encourage parents, that if they really want to know what’s going on with their children, bedtime is the best time.  There is something about those droopy eyelids that work like a truth serum.  Of course, it doesn’t happen instantly, but if you make it routine to tuck your kids in bed at night, or say night time prayers, or read books together it becomes something they look forward to.  Add to that a question or phrase that you say to them every night.

“How was your day today?” 

“Was there anything you wanted to talk about tonight?” or

“Do you have any questions about _____ that happened today?”

They may not answer all at once, but if you continue to do this night after night, you will eventually find them testing the safety that you are providing by asking that question or opening up.

Story time is a great time to read books that open up feelings and that also teach how to handle them.  There are so many wonderful books out there and I will give you a few of what I have.  The teachable moments don’t necessarily happen the first time you read that book. It’s when you read them again and again, where they children know what’s going to happen next that they can really think about it and possible relate their own experiences.  I once read a therapeutic book to a little girl about a boy who had stuffed all his feelings inside and it made him feel like there was a big angry ball inside his stomach.  He tried lots of things to get rid of that angry ball in his stomach, including being mean to his little sister and ignoring it.  Eventually he went to a magic lady who told him that if he tried to use words to describe how he was feeling and even talk about the bad things that happened to him, that big angry ball in his stomach would go away.  He learned to talk, learned to paint, and eventually one day told the magic lady about the terrible thing that happened to him. Slowly, the big angry ball started to disappear as he learned to talk to those around him who were safe.  We must have read that books three or four times before the little girl finally asked me if I was like the magic lady in the story.

Tonight, we read “Chester Raccoon, and the Big Bad Bully”.  I honestly can’t tell you how many times we have read this book- so many I thought they were tired of it.  But we had a little twist in our experience of it tonight.  Jack did a great job reading it and I was reminded of how much I love to be read to and how this moment will be gone soon.

In the story, the bully is described as a prickly stone that all the forest animals help shape and buff so that he can be like the other stones.  The mother in the story encourages the kids to realize that the bully may not know how to act differently and may need a friend.  Being his friend and showing him how he can and can’t treat others will possibly help him learn to be a team player.  What I wasn’t expecting, was for Aidan and I to have a conversation about how all of us need to be shaped and learn new things. Aidan is in a tough season of peer socialization.  I encouraged him to trust Daddy and I as we teach him some important things about how to make friends, but also be a friend.

As I look back, Aidan taught me a great lesson.  Just as much as he needs to trust me, I need to trust God as he is shaping me.  I may not know how to act different.  It may have always been my “way”.  But that doesn’t make it the best way and certainly doesn’t give me the right to say everyone else will just have to deal with it.  I need God, and I need the people he has put in my life to help shape me in to a person that works better within the community.

Here are a few of my favorites that we own.  What are your favorites?

 

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Raise your hand if you love Play Dough!!!  ME!!!  It is the perfect rainy day activity (yes, we are still drowning here).  This time, Jack was the first to mention it so I was excited to pull it out for today’s play time.

Play therapy includes what we like to call “directive play” and “non-directive play”.  Obviously, directive means that I ask the child to do specific activities (remember when I asked them to paint what they would miss after we move?). As a therapist, we have many sessions of non-directive play building the relationship and giving the child time to enjoy the room.  As a parent, we have to rely on our discernment to help us know when we can be directive and when to go with the flow.  Every child is different too, so some may enjoy waiting for what the directions are (Aidan) and others who may want the freedom to be creative (Jack).  Both styles are equally important and both can be therapeutic.  All that to say, make sure you pay attention to your child during play time and be willing to let them choose.  Having control is powerful, even for us adults.

Think for a moment you are a little person.  Every waking moment is determined for you.

Play time should definitely be a time for children to use their imagination any way they choose!  Back to Play Dough!

The last time we played Play Dough, Jack and I had made a candy store together, so he really wanted to continue that theme.  I was finishing some dinner prep so I told the boys to do whatever they wanted while I finished up.  I could tell that they were catching on that each day I was going to ask them to try something specific, so I was feeling the need to have us be more non-directive play to keep the balance.  My plan was to give them time to be creative and just watch how they played but have a directive option ready.  Developmentally, Jack is still in a place of learning physical creativity.  He is just now figuring out how to make his own creation out of LEGO’s, so asking him to do something complicated with Play Dough needed to be an option, not a challenge.  Honestly, anything he decides to try and create is a huge deal.  I definitely want to give him an option, but be open to him doing his own thing and celebrating that.

When I was done with my dinner prep, Aidan was especially up for the challenge.  I asked them if once they were done with their current creation, if they would be willing to make themselves out of the play dough.  As an extra challenge to Aidan, I asked if he would come up with a way to show me what he liked most about himself.  When he got to making his face, it was funny to hear him talking to Jack about not wanting to use red, because that would make him look angry (HAHA!)  I love his creation of himself.
As they make a play dough version of themselves, pay attention to some of the details they choose to use or leave out.  We will talk more about this when we get to drawing in Play Therapy.  Are they leaving off hands or feet?  I don’t want you to look too deeply into this- interpretations can get you into trouble, so make it a fun conversation and consider their developmental stage. Children under six years of age are likely into stick figure drawings and may not even consider hands- they haven’t even considered clothes!  For example, when Aidan was done, I said, “So I noticed you don’t have any hair.”  He gasped, he hadn’t even thought of that!  Of course he should have hair!!  (And really, how many people would go through the extra effort with play dough to make hair- well, maybe me- but that is because I didn’t want to be bald).  He quickly made hair, and that was that.  He put a LEGO in his “play dough-Aidan’s” hand and told me how great he was at building things.  We have been talking a lot lately about engineering and he has taken a big interest in that, so I was pleased to see that he really does like that part of himself.

At another point, I asked Jack if he would like me to make a Play Dough-Jack which would have given me an opportunity to show him how I viewed him, but he did not like that idea. That is a bit daunting for Jack to see how others might see him, but when he changed his mind later, I told him I would rather see him do one of himself someday and that I though it would not be a good idea for me to do it before he does.  I purposely said this to show him that his idea of himself would be great no matter what.

Play Dough can be used in many other ways.  I have a teenager that I work with that was having trouble talking to her mother about some heavy topics.  After many sessions of talking (through drawing and sand) and getting her communication more comfortable we were ready to talk to mom.  When I brought mom in, I was holding and playing with play dough in my hands.  When it came time for the teenage girl to try talking to her mom, I offered the cool, soft, play dough to her mom to play with.  I immediately noticed a difference in mom’s ability to remain calm.  Several sessions later, the teenage girl told me she tried talking to her mom on another occasion at home, and beforehand gave her mom some play dough to hold on to.  Now, it is a funny “cue” for them that “we are about to have a serious talk and I need you to listen.”

Play Dough can also be great for teaching anger management to children.  If they are too young to make more complicated creations, you can make a ball and throw it at a target, smash and pound it on the table, make it into someone else you are angry with and smash the dough instead of using hurtful words in real life.  It can also give a child a place to try using words as a “dress rehearsal” before being confronted with the real thing.  For more ideas in using play dough, try here and and fun family game on expressing frustration here.

I also have this book on “101 More Favorite Play Therapy Techniques” and love this excerpt they described using play dough.  To read it, click here.

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The sun peaked through the clouds today for about an hour and I think every kid in the neighborhood came out to see it.  That’s probably not true- the parents probably threw them outside.  I connected with some neighborhood moms as I watched children running through the mud and using grass puddles as slip-and-slides.  What a happy moment to feel the vitamin D!  After a wonderful afternoon filled with grown-up time with lunch guests, the boys were itching for time to connect.  Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, you just know the evening needs to balance out with family time.  We usually fill this time with cards or a board game around the table.  A quick game of UNO or even go-fish “fills the bucket” of connection every time.

Play therapy is not always about searching for facts and feelings.  Often time, play therapy is used for teaching social skills and working through relationships.  Many children I work with begin therapy because the parents see anger or anxiety symptom. However, once you know the facts, therapy is about building communication and working through social situations they feel stuck in.  For this reason, play therapy often goes well into therapy with adolescents.  Believe it or not, I have teenagers that love to come in and rake their fingers through the sandbox as they talk about their problems.  After all, they are only children in bigger bodies (I mean that in the best way!).

Tonight we played one of the boys favorites.  It’s called “Friendship Island” and I ordered from Discovery Toys.  I don’t remember it being this expensive, but here it is on Amazon.com.  I highly recommend buying this game if you have very young children who could play this for years or if you have a child with any developmental delays that will be working through complicated social situations for a long time.  Don’t let the price sway you, though, because today I want to talk about how you can make one of your own. 

The concept of Friendship Island is that as you move through the game board (think Candyland) the players answer questions about what they would do in various situations involving friends, making friends, and keeping friends.  Friendship Island gives different rules for playing based on age groups allowing younger ones to move easier throughout the board and even ask other players for help.  The player rolls the dice and moves that many spaces.  Based on which color they land on, the player is asked a question off of a card of that color.  Questions are true/false questions, multiple choice, and “describe a time when you ____”.  The questions give the children an opportunity to think of times when they shared with someone else, waited their turn, or took opportunities to try to work things out with a friend rather than tattling.

If you want to make your own, you can use most any game board (Candyland, Sorry, etc).  If you want to get super crafty, you could use index cards to write out questions.  If you don’t have hours on hand to do that kind of detail work, consider having certain colors or certain spaces on the board connect with a theme.  For example, yellow spaces are about how to make friends (Think of questions that have to do with how to ask a friend about their interests, avoid bragging, introducing themselves, playing along with the other child’s games, and how to give compliments). Another color can be the theme of keeping friends (Knowing when to tell a parent or teacher, how to work through a disagreement, how to handle hurt feelings, rumors, and playing along together).  Other colors could represent describing successful moments they have had.  Easy questions that give you an opportunity to praise a child for good decisions they made taking turns, sharing, working things out with a friend or sibling, told the truth, etc.  Don’t make this too hard on yourself.  Keep it simple, your kids will appreciate it.  Even easier, have the kids help you come up with the questions that go with each theme.

One important rule in a game like this is that (especially for younger ones) there doesn’t need to be a winner.  This is one of those times when everyone wins.  I know there is a lot of attention on our generation for not having “losers” in sports and games.  The movie Parental Guidance was AWESOME and I highly recommend it, not to mention it is hilarious- it gave me a great perspective on how others might see some of my parenting decisions.  But for this game, winning promotes openness in the discussions.  The last thing you need is a frustrated 4 yr old who is more concerned about losing than thinking about working through the idea of sharing.

I love this one, where they used paint swatches to glue a new game board.

I also love this one, that someone made for a child with Autism, but issues very relevant to all children.

Let me know if you need more examples of questions and scenarios.  And don’t forget to think out some good answers!  Be vulnerable yourself and tell your children about times when you didn’t make good decisions, how you felt, and when you struggled in a relationship.  Tonight, I had the opportunity to tell my boys that even as a grown up when a friend stops talking to me, I am tempted to feel like they don’t want to be my friend anymore.  Yet, the best answer is to go to them and talk to them about it in order to find out if I have done anything wrong.  This not only reminds them that I am human, it also shows them that adulthood is not going to be perfect and free of hurt.

What friendship struggles do you see your children struggling with?

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    I’ll be honest.  We’ve been on vacation for 2 weeks and the last part of it has been staying at home.  A majority of our time during these two weeks have been monsoon rain storms.  It seems no matter where we went, rain followed.  I am sick of rain, and I think we are all beginning to get sick of each other.  The boys are fighting, I am finding reasons to run an errand (surely we need something from the store, right?), and Matt is taking as many naps as possible before returning back to work.  So when I started to think about what play therapy technique I was going to share with you today… well, let’s just say I was not sure I was up for “playing” with anyone.  But, I try to be a woman of my word… so I needed something that took little effort from all of us. After some research, I found one using Pick Up Sticks!  Thankful for having some of these annoying little sticks that seem to find themselves all over the house, I grabbed them and headed up to the boys room.  If you don’t have these, you can make paper strips, use different color straws, or goodness… I bet I could have used Lego Bricks and had them build a tower as they chose their colors.

So if you don’t know how to play Pick up Sticks, it’s pretty easy.  The game has a bunch of sticks made up with at least five colors.  You drop all of the sticks into a pile on the table (a carpeted floor seems to work better for us).  One at a time, each person takes turns picking up one of the sticks, hopefully without moving/disturbing any of the other sticks.  In this version, we all agree what feeling goes with each color (blue= sad, red=angry, yellow=happy/excited, and my boys wanted green=sick and black=nervous).  It doesn’t matter what you decide, as long as you all agree.  Hearing them decide what colors go with which feeling can give you great feedback into what they might be feeling or have been lately.  Here is the color-chart I referenced in day 1.

Once you decide, you can start the game, but as you choose a stick to pick up, you have to describe a time when you felt that feeling.  So if you pull blue, you have to describe a time when you felt sad.  As simple as this is (I was certainly thankful!), it can give you great insight to experiences your child has had.

In our stack of sticks, there was one black.  Normally worth 50 points, it’s the one everyone goes for.  Aidan for some reason kept going for this one even though it was at the bottom of the stack.  You can get a lot from watching which colors children go for and which they try to avoid.  Although I am sure he was conditioned to go for the black one, I could tell once he finally got it that he had a lot to process.  He certainly tends to be the “nervous” type.  He was the one to first name the black one “Nervousness” and even though Jack disagreed (he wanted mad), once Jack tried to name the red one, he conceded with Aidan.

When it came time to play the game, any fly on the wall could have told you we were all kind of tired of each other.  As we chose our sticks we all kept getting stuck on green.  I mean how many times can you conjure up feelings of “sickness”?  I made a reference to one of my experiences where I was actually nervous, but felt sick in my stomach.  For a moment, we talked about how when you keep bad feelings inside, it can sometimes make your stomach (or body) feel “yucky” and maybe even sick.

By the end, we had shared with each other moments of upcoming nervousness (of course about moving), and moments of joy (my favorite).  Sad feelings revolved around the end of the school year last year.  I don’t know if they would have had the same experience in a civilian school, but we were blessed this last year to have teachers who really care about our military kids.  Jack’s kindergarten teacher had a PhD in Education, her dissertation on “Military kids During Deployment” (that will certainly not happen ever again!).  They both were sad to say goodbye to their teachers, but it also meant saying goodbye to fellow students who might move during the summer.

Our time together today was brief, but it was a great reminder that just when you think you are needing a break, 5 minutes of playtime can completely change your perspective on your relationship with your kids.  Isn’t that the message of quality time?  Anything of “quality” is good, pure, and full of something, otherwise it wouldn’t be “quality” right?  Whether it’s five minutes of what Matt and I like to call “face-time” with your spouse, your children, or with God- it can sometimes be exactly what you need to change your attitude.

Happy Playing!!

What do you do when you are sensing your family needs a break from each other?

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