Transforming My Life

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The Best Gifts to Say I Love You

IMG_0698Well, Valentine’s Day is only a few days away.  Every time I walk into a grocery store, I am tempted to buy roses or go down the chocolate aisle.   I love chocolate hearts –  I can’t resist buying those pretty little ones all wrapped in the silver, pink and red foil.  The Dove dark chocolate ones with the antioxidants make me feel like I’m eating something semi-healthy – or at least that’s what I try to tell myself.

Roses, candy hearts, love letters, gifts ….

All lead me to think about love.

“Love” is a word we carelessly throw around all the time, not consciously thinking about what it really means to us, let alone defining how we want to live, give, and receive love.

Learning what it means to love others really is a big deal.  We need to give this subject the attention it deserves.  Love is at the core of everything good in life.  It is our greatest need.  It is what connects us.  Each one of us longs to know we are loved.  When we take the time to look around, every creation is soaked in love.

Which leads me to a question you may want to think about, especially this Valentine’s Day, and everyday –

If you were to pick three ways to show someone you love them, what would they be?

If you are wondering why you lack that loving feeling, I challenge you to begin to change one vital thing –

Make some changes in the way you listen.

I know!  It seems pretty simple doesn’t it?  Contrary to how easy it seems, learning to really listen is like learning a new language.  It is not easy to do.

Learning how to listen to someone you love, is the greatest gift you can possibly give –  whether it be your spouse, your children or another significant someone in your life.

We all yearn to matter, to be heard, understood, valued, and accepted.  And yet, we often fail in our attempts to love others for who they are.  Instead, it becomes about us.  Rather than the conversations drawing us closer together they can become divisive.  When people say something we don’t like, conversations can become about who is right and who is wrong.  Before you know it we are yelling or off in separate parts of the house stewing over what is wrong with our parenting, or wishing we hadn’t married this person.  We desperately want to change or fix them.  And sadly, we miss out, because we didn’t take the time to get outside of ourselves enough to listen to what the other person was trying to say to us.

If you desire to radically transform a relationship with someone who matters to you, go to school on how to listen.

Here are three powerful ways to listen, that says,  “I love you”. 

1.  Listening with Words of Understanding.

I say I love you when I seek to understand where someone else is coming from.  Another way I think of this, is to practice being curious about someone else.

Being curious in order to better understand, says, “Tell me more.”  Seeking to understand reflects back what it hears.  “Wow, I hear you had a bad day.”  “That must have hurt.”

I don’t assume I know what you are saying.  I don’t jump in to give you advice, at least not yet.

I seek to understand first by creating a listening space for you and I keep my mouth shut.

Listening with understanding requires I slow down, am open-minded, rather than assuming I have the answer.

When I seek to understand you, I put my own opinions, beliefs and judgements on hold, and I fully accept you as you are.

I accept where you are in that moment.  If you are upset, I allow you to be upset.  I listen to what your upset is about.  This is not easy to do when I want someone to feel better.

When I listen and accept you as you are, you feel safe, and you will want to share more of yourself with me.

2.  Listening with Words of Empathy.

Saying I love you means I am empathetic.

Empathy says, “How you feel matters to me”, “Go ahead and cry.”  “Tell me about it.”  “I hear what you are saying” “You make sense.”  “I get it.”  “I have been there too.”

Empathy does not say, “What do you have to be sad about?”  “Get over it.”  “Don’t cry.” or “Enough already!”

Empathy is not dismissive, but instead takes the time to sit with you, where you’re at in that moment.

Empathy is patient, and kind.

Empathy does not try to “fix it” or give advice unless advice is asked for.

3.  Listen in Ways that Validate Feelings.

When someone listens with understanding and empathy, we feel validated, and in turn, cared for.

When we are “in the pit,” discouraged, or disheartened, understanding and empathy  validates our experience.

This creates a feeling of acceptance, comfort and calm within.

We feel less alone. Hope is created and somehow our problems do not seem as overwhelming.

Validation comes when a person is willing to just listen without judgment or offering advice.

Listening with words of understanding, empathy, and validation are foundational ingredients that connection, intimacy and healthy relationships are made of.  The next time I’m with someone I love, I am going to ask myself the question, “Am I listening in a way that shows this person they matter to me?”  

I have found in my life, when I feel disconnected from my husband or someone close to me, I am usually unwilling to connect with them in ways that require me to really listen.

Today, I am choosing to set my intention on cultivating love by practicing this language of listening, seeking to understand, show empathy, and validate how they are feeling.  No advice, or fixing allowed.  I am choosing to step aside and trust their process.  Now that calls for another blog post!

And if you ask me, speaking this new language of love is more rewarding (albeit a little more challenging) and meaningful than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyday,

Sheryl

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How to “Make it Through” Thanksgiving Truly Thankful


Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

If your Thanksgiving is not a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, well, welcome.  You are in the right place.

For many of us, we dread the holidays.  They can be tons of fun and they can be tough.  Holidays have a way of reminding us that things are not what we want them to be.

Relationships are strained.  Our Mother-in law irritates us.  Uncle Al, scares the kids, and to be honest, well, he is creepy.

If you have young kids, they  tend to be unedited and honest about these things.

” Aunt Eleanor’s food always tastes bad. And her eye looks funny.”

We want to hush them up, especially if they are really little and say what they are thinking out loud.

Have you ever experienced the discomfort of a relative wanting to hug and kiss your child?  They come in with arms wide open and bend down, only to have your three-year old run away and say,

“No, no, I don’t want you to hug me!”  And then they add why, or they make a bad face and push them away.  Embarrassing!

As adults we can feel the same way, only we don’t say it out loud.  Let’s just admit it so we stop making our kids bad for telling the truth.

We want to be grateful.  We really do!  I mean, we all know that being grateful is highly rated.

We have the evidence.  The studies have been done.  It even changes our brains for crying out loud!

Most of us listen to Oprah.  Some of us even have gratitude journals.

For those of us who are God fearing, …isn’t it a sin to not be thankful?  Even ungrateful?

If you are reading this and your family is awesome, I am a little jealous, well maybe a lot jealous, and that is a good thing.  You are blessed.  And so are those of us who are in the other camp, the camp of “making it through”.  Or do we?  Do we really just have to “survive” it?  Isn’t there a better way?

We are responsible for our lives.  We have no one else to blame if we are unhappy during the holidays, not our Mother-in-law, not Uncle George, or the mean cousin.  We create our own happiness and our own experiences.

Some of us just need to work a little harder about how we navigate through the holidays.  And the choice is ours.  Will we be miserable or will we choose to create the Thanksgiving we want?(no guilt intended.)

I want to share with you strategies that I have learned to use in my life while navigating through the holidays.  I was tempted to call them survival strategies but that is a defensive statement.  Let’s instead live on the offense.  Instead of reacting, let’s have intention to create what we want.

These are life-giving practices we can all learn to cultivate in order to have greater satisfaction, joy and peace not only during the holidays but on a daily basis.

1.  Be proactive.  Take the time to be intentional to think and plan ahead of time.

What do you want your Thanksgiving to look like? ( no matter what the circumstances may be at the present moment).

Write it out.  Be specific.  If this is tough, sometimes it is easier when we think about what we don’t want.

Are you tired of “doing it all?”  Ask for help.  Have others bring something.  Buy some food dishes already made.  Do you want help setting the table?  Do you like to have someone in the kitchen with you to keep you company?  Play some music.  Music has a powerful way of changing our environment and creating fun and joy.  Take time to ponder those things that bring you joy.  One of the activities that brings my husband and I joy is to take a walk in the morning together and to play a game as a family.  Whatever it is, be intentional and set yourself up for success.

If you are going to someone else’s house, what are some situations that might arise that can trip you up?  Do you have an irritating relative that really gets on your nerves? How can you take care of yourself?

2. If you are married, have a conversation with your husband.  How can you support one another? If you’re not married think of someone else that is supportive.  One year, my husband and I had family over for the holidays and we switched roles.  Historically, he was the one who was in the corner grumpy.(I hate that) I was the one who would plaster a smile on and try to make up for his grumpiness. (Also known as “over-functioning”.  It is exhausting and  a great set-up for being resentful!)

Which leads me to my next life changing practice…

3.  Change it up.  Do something different.  As we reflected on the usual roles we play in  our families, we decided to do it differently.  We talked about how I  wouldn’t over-function and be “phony” as my husband called it, and he would stop being a “jerk” as I called it.  (And by the way, we have not over-come this, we have to regroup at every family event.)  We decided to make a game of it.  He focused on being more cheerful and I fought the urge to over-function.  Strategize on those things that are not working  in your family.  If your husband isn’t open, look at what you can do to more effectively engage with others.

4.  Have compassion. Understand where others are coming from.

I don’t mean to tolerate unacceptable behavior.  I am talking about looking at other’s behavior through a different lens.  Why does Aunt “So and So” go on and on talking about meaningless things?  Could it be she is hungry for attention or affirmation?  Why is a family member grumpy in the corner?  Maybe this is how they learned to protect themselves in the family.  I am not wanting to make excuses here, but realize that most of the time it doesn’t have to do with you.  Don’t take it personally. If you find yourself taking it personally, think about what you want or need to do about it and then work on letting it go.

5.  When you find yourself criticizing others, ask yourself, “Where is the log in my eye?”

Take full responsibility for how you play a role in whatever dynamics there are in your relationships.  You are not a victim.  Think about this one.  What could you do different in the way you respond to others?

Live a life free of blame.   How would you respond if you could not blame the other person. Believe me, this is hard to do.

6.  Allow other people to have their reactions.  They are only reactions.

Just like we desire to have our own opinions and reactions, allow others the same respect.  Does your Mom think your kids are out of control or makes comments under her breath?  What is true about it?  Fight the urge to be defensive.  Stand back objectively.  “Hmm…maybe she is right.  The kids are a little wild.  They are excited, and I don’t agree with my mom on how to discipline.  That is okay.  She can have her opinion and I can have mine.”  Once I started seeing the truth in what my mom said, and quit defending (well, half of the time), it lessened the tension.

It went something like this, “The kids don’t help you around here.  You are doing everything.”  Me – “You know what Mom?  You are right.  I don’t ask them to do enough.  I need to work on that.”  BAM!

7.  Have a sense of humor.  Lighten up and hold things loosely.

Humor keeps us from feeling like something is happening to us (victimhood).  Humor helps us to accept what is.  Humor lightens the load and the desire to control those things we can’t.

8.  Accept the present reality.

This is probably the hardest for me and the most painful.  Acceptance requires I sit in the discomfort of “what is”.

Hurt.  Anger.  Disappointment. Loss.  Sorrow.  Grief.

But, this is the place where we can learn and grow by practicing gratitude. (This calls for another blog entry).  Without struggles, conflict, pain or plain irritation, we wouldn’t need to grow.

Thanksgiving and practicing gratitude requires we look outside of our circumstances, and look to how we can be transformed from them.  

All of us are in the process of becoming…through our circumstances, whatever they may be…

Who will we choose to become?

Grace and peace,

Sheryl

 

 

 


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The Hamster in Your Head

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We all have them!  Thinking patterns that spin around in our heads, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.  They keep us stuck and limit our happiness whether we recognize them or not.    Usually, these “hamsters”  strike most often when we are feeling vulnerable and exposed.  We might come upon situations in our lives that trigger fear, uncertainty, and feelings of rejection.  It is comforting when a friend reminds me, “It sounds like that hamster is in your head today spinning on his wheel!”   Sometimes it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

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  Human beings all struggle with thinking that keeps them from fulfilling their potential.  These distorted beliefs hold us back from being successful and connecting with others.  These thoughts attack all areas of our life, social situations, taking healthy risks, and stepping out of our comfort zone .  This sucks our joy and keeps us from deeper relationships.

Let’s identify a few of these limiting beliefs and see if you see yourself in any of these:

“If only I was better looking, thinner, made more money, then……(fill in the blank)

 I am not enough.

If you really knew who I was you wouldn’t like or accept me.

I am not smart enough.  I am not good enough.

I am not lovable because…..(fill in the blank)

This relationship will never get better.

It is no use trying.  Nothing will change.

We all suffer from mistaken beliefs.  If we are willing to have courage to identify them, face them and do the work that we need to do, we can transform the way we think, one day at a time.  As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  This is a process that we must commit to if we desire lasting change in our lives.

elephant-21 A Certified Life Coach can help you to begin to change your thinking.  Here are a few steps to get you started.

1.  Log your thoughts.  In order to change your thoughts you need to able to recognize what is limiting you.  Keep a journal of what you are thinking and feeling. Note what you think is holding you back, i.e. from reaching out, taking risks  or engaging with others.  What do you believe will happen?  What are you afraid of?

2. Write down a column of your beliefs and another column of new beliefs to replace the lies. Many of our thoughts have to do with what we heard growing up and are simply not true.  We have to work through what we were taught and learn to replace these thoughts with new beliefs.

3.  Modeling –  If you want to lose weight, join Weight Watchers, if you want to run a marathon, join a running group or find a running buddy.   If you want to grow your business,   find a mentor or friend with who has successfully taken this path. There are many business development groups to help you set goals and keep you accountable.

4.  Support- Get around others who will accept you and can speak truth into your life.  When I am feeling discouraged, I call supportive people in my growth group to remind me of  my capabilities, gifts and when I am thinking thoughts that are not true.  They help to lift me up and cheer me on when I feel like giving up.

5.  Have a growth mindset.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and make mistakes.  In order to grow you need to be willing to fail and keep on going.  The only way to grow is to be willing to get in the game and play!

Join me on the journey,

Sheryl


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Disguised blessings

I had the privilege of hearing this touching story a few weeks ago from someone that means a lot to me.  She is a beautiful woman inside and out and I am grateful to have her walking through the ups and downs and lessons of  life with me.  Here is a little bit of her story, as she tells it, and how refusing to continue doing life alone, changed her life…..

“I live what I like to believe is a pretty great life.  I’ve been married for 21 years and I’m the mother of five children.  I have a nice home in the suburbs and a husband who works hard to provide for our family.  I’m part of a community of people who see the best in me and want the best from me.

My childhood was very different.  I grew up in a divorced home with very little stability.  Two parents trying to figure out their own lives after getting divorced, left me alone a lot with little guidance or support.  I learned not to rely on anyone and the way I coped was to try to create my own stability.  I would make dinner for my little sister, I’d do our laundry and I went as far as paying my own high school fees.  I watched my mom live her life alone, with out many friends and no community to give her the support she needed.  She was living her life just trying to survive.  Watching her is where I learned to believe it was “me against the world”.

I began living my life trying to hide my childhood pain.  I made a vow to myself that when I had my own children I would take care of them and do all that I could so that they would never experience the pain I felt as a child.  I wanted my children to feel secure.  What I did not give them was a sense of community.  I still believed I could do it all myself and not depend on anyone else.

Fast forward to 1997 and the birth of our third child, Nicholas.  Nick was diagnosed at birth with a rare syndrome called Cornelia deLange which affects him physically as well as mentally.  I was devastated with his diagnosis and this really re-enforced my beliefs that the world is against me.  We had just started going to church, but that didn’t change what I was saying to myself, “If God loved me, He would not have allowed this to happen.”

I knew that Nick was going to need help beyond what I could give him.  But I still managed to find a way to make it all about me doing everything for him.  I was going to get him all the therapies he needed so that he would have every opportunity in his life.   Throughout this process I began to see that the support Nick was receiving from his therapists was going beyond the mechanics of helping him physically and mentally.  They weren’t just loosening his muscles and teaching him sign language, they were rooting for him.  They wanted him to succeed.  It was the first time I experienced the power of community as being a place to feel loved, challenged, seen and cared for.

While I was able to seek out and accept help for Nick, I resisted it for myself.  I still believed that I could do my life alone.  As I watched Nick thrive in his community, I began to realize that I also had a disability.  Nick lives his life wanting to be with people and in community with others.   I began to want what Nick had for myself.  Becoming a part of the CLE community over fourteen years ago were my first steps in overcoming my disability.  I still fight it and want to believe I’m not relationally disabled, but I know this community is what I want and need.

One of my favorite verses in scripture is Matt 7:9-11, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Nick’s diagnosis has been the greatest gift God could have given me.  Far from a curse, it has been a blessing.  I needed God and a community that was accepting, loving and challenging me to be the best me I can be.  Through Nick, God helped me realize that I cannot live my life alone and through Nick, God brought me into community others.  I know there will be more stones in my life and I’m thankful that God will continue to open my eyes to see that stones, while they may cause some pain and stumbling, also cause me to reach out an grab hold of the steady hands all around me.”

Thanks Laura for sharing your story and reminding us of how much we need God and others in our lives to love, accept and challenge us to be all we were meant to be.

Grace and peace, Sheryl