Transforming My Life

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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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Growing our Souls through Loss

Lone Maple Tree

“Loss.  It’s a word that many of us fear and few of us can evade.  The experience of loss does not have to be the defining moment of our lives.  Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss.  It is not what happens to us that matters so much as what happens in us.”  Jerry Sittser

All of us have suffered loss at one time or another.  The loss of spouse, children, parents, job, health, marriage, childhood or any other kind  impacts us in ways that we never could have imagined. Many of us are living with the after-effects of profound trauma or the loss of innocence that has left our lives forever changed.  The world can look dark and without hope.  I experienced the loss of my Father at the age of ten.  In the blink of an eye, a tragic accident claimed my Dad’s life with my entire family in the car.  It not only changed my family, but how I viewed everything.  Tragedy forced me to grow up overnight.  No longer a carefree kid, I  faced the reality that bad things can happen in an instant.  While I can still struggle with the fear of bad things happening everyday, I also believe that out of  grief and loss, we can experience incredible healing and transformation.  I am loving the book, A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. It has touched me profoundly and is unlike any other book on grief that I have read.  It addresses the topic of how a soul can grow through loss and pain and begin a new life – “a life marked by spiritual depth, joy and compassion and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings..”

“Many people are destroyed by loss because, learning what could have been but failed to be, they choose to wallow in guilt and regret, to become bitter in spirit, or to fall into despair.  While nothing they can do will reverse the loss, it is not true that there is nothing they can do to change.  The difference between despair and hope, bitterness and forgiveness, hatred and love, and stagnation and vitality lies in the decision we make about what to do in the face of regrets over an unchangeable and painful past.  We cannot change the situation but we can allow the situation to change us.  We exacerbate our suffering needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another.  That causes gradual destruction of the soul.”

“God’s forgiveness will show us that he wants to take our losses and somehow bring them back upon us in the form of a blessing.  This work of grace will not erase the loss or alter its consequences.  Grace cannot change the moral order.  What is bad will always be bad.  But grace will bring good out of a bad situation; it will take an evil and somehow turn it into something that results in good.  That is what God accomplished through the crucifixion.  He turned the evil of an unjust murder into the good of salvation.  God can do the same for us as well.  We will not be delivered from suffering, but with God’s help we can be transformed by it.”

Grace and Peace,

Sheryl


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No Shame On You

beautiful_nature_wallpaper_1920x1200“Love is patient” 1 Corinthians 13:4

 “Love never gives up” The Message Version

Most of us are familiar with the passage on love from 1 Corinthians Chapter 13.  We hear it used at weddings, funerals, and in sermons.  We see these sentiments on plaques and anniversary cards.  These words can be so cliché that we don’t take the time to ponder the impact they can have on how we relate to others and ourselves.

I was reminded the other day how impatient I can be with myself.  Arriving at a school field trip to the Des Plaines River with my 7th grade daughter,  I had not realized I needed to wear boots and jeans.  I began to beat myself up as they were sharing how muddy it was, that we needed to douse ourselves with insect repellant and to make sure to check for ticks.  When they began to tell us to look out for the poison ivy and oak,  my face felt flushed and my heart began to sink.  I looked at the other Mom’s as they turned and looked concerned at my athletic skirt and cute, new sporty shoes I had just purchased last week!   I was so embarrassed.  I was reading their minds, “Doesn’t she read the parents page?  What an air head!  What was she thinking? How irresponsible!  Wow, and I thought I was disorganized!”  All these critical voices were shouting at me.  I had to remind myself to fight the shame.  Thankfully my daughter’s friend’s Mom(I have always liked her and now I really like her!) ran me by her house to loan me a pair of boots and jeans.  I was so grateful I could have cried.  I was tempted to beat myself up and try to save face by repeating how stupid I felt, but I didn’t.  I reminded myself to be patient with my shortcomings, to practice self-love and acceptance.  I gave myself the grace to make mistakes and learn from them.

Shame is toxic and we are no match for shame on our own.  We need safe, compassionate others to be patient with us on this journey.  We need to give ourselves the love and grace we desperately need when we feel shame rearing its ugly head.  Those of us who grew up being held to a standard of perfection, where criticism lurked when we made mistakes, are especially vulnerable to these shaming messages.  I often have to remind myself to be conscious as I parent my own children to not shame them when I am tempted to do just that.

Today I will choose to be patient with myself,

To love myself,

 To accept myself,

Right where I am today,

I will give myself the freedom to make mistakes,

to make things right when I am wrong,

I will choose to love myself apart from the approval of others,

and commit to giving and receiving the gift of patience and grace towards my shortcomings,

imperfections and inadequacies, knowing who I am is more than enough.

Today I will be tender with myself.

Today I will give myself the grace, compassion and self-love that I deserve.

For I am a child of God and

I am loved.

Grace and Peace,

Sheryl

 

 


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If we were to change the world….

Blue-Nature-wallpaper

If we will awaken to the possibilities of new life, we will open our hearts to a greater understanding of who we are.

If we will open our hearts to a greater understanding of who we are, we will experience the false self we are up against.

If we are willing to experience the false self we are up against, we will choose to take the journey towards humility or not.

If we choose to take the journey towards humility, we will hunger for grace and truth.

If we hunger for grace and truth, we will learn to love ourselves.

If we will learn to love ourselves, we will be willing to surrender to all that holds us captive.

If we are willing to surrender to all that holds us captive, we will be willing to release our fears of abandonment and trauma.

If we are willing to release our fears of abandonment and trauma, we will experience a peace that surpasses all understanding.

If we experience a peace that surpasses all understanding, we will  be touched by God.

If we are touched by God, we will realize we are not alone.

If we will realize we are not alone, we will learn to love.

If we will learn to love, we will desire God’s will.

If we desire God’s will, we will be transformed.

If we are transformed, we will change the world.

If we change the world, the world will return to God.

May we all have the courage.

Grace and Peace.

Sheryl

Concept of this poem taken from the book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.  I changed the words to fit for me based on the poem, The Stages of the Work.