Hands Off My Nachos!

I am happy (and surprised) to report that over the past two months, my 5 minutes of daily tap dancing has turned into 30-45 minutes! I have to begrudgingly admit that exercise really does help with depression. Gone is the girl who balked at taking a 15 minute walk. (The dog is much happier now too.)

Unfortunately, it’s not all cupcakes and roses. Even though I have more energy and am not as depressed, exercise is proving counterproductive towards another one of my personal goals – to maintain my current weight. I gave my weight and all that goes with it to God a long time ago, but I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, it is harder and harder to not gain weight, and I really think I should be able to button my pants without having to buy an entirely new wardrobe every year. Ironically, I was doing fine this year UNTIL I started exercising. Since I became a “weird tap dancing mother,” as my 7 year old now says, I’ve actually gained weight!! It’s only a few pounds, but still. It’s most definitely related to the exercise, and I need to figure out how to nip it in the bud before I bust out of my clothes.

As much as I try to convince myself that the few pounds I’ve gained is muscle weight, I know that’s just not true. I’m not in the gym lifting weights, bulking up, over here. I’m tap dancing in my garage! I think it’s more likely that my weight gain is related to all the extra desserts and food I’ve been eating. Apparently, just because you work out, you can’t just eat whatever you want whenever you want to eat it.

Whatever. This entire topic is making me hungry.

Anyway, a second fly in the ointment is that, while my depression has lifted a great deal the last couple months, it isn’t completely gone. I really need to look at the other tips my therapist gave me.

Of course, DIET was the number two area she said to focus on! Basically, she said that if you constantly eat crappy food, like nachos and fast food, you can’t expect to not feel like crap.

I found it especially ironic that she used nachos and fast food as examples, because I eat one or both of those pretty much every day. I know I don’t always make the healthiest food choices, but I have convinced myself there’s no point in trying to be “healthy” because who can figure out what that even means anyway.

But the truth is, even though virtually every food can be considered bad for you by some expert or guru, that’s not a reason to completely give up trying to figure out what is healthy for YOU. I already know the diet that works best for me. A couple years ago, I went on a diet called FODMAP and figured out that I do not tolerate fructans or lactose well. After 6 weeks on FODMAP though, I felt so self-deprived, I haven’t been able to bring myself to consistently avoid my trigger foods since.

Maybe I just need a better acronym than FODMAP to motivate myself. (FODMAP stands for a bunch of really hard to pronounce compounds and substances that only a nutritionist or doctor has any chance of understanding. I dare you to look it up.)

How about I try to use the SELFY acronym from my last blog post to come up with a way to improve my diet?! That might work!

S is for SIMPLE – The complexity of the FODMAP diet was definitely one of its major hurdles. Even after I realized I only needed to avoid half of what it restricts, it was still incredibly difficult to figure out if foods had the banned substances. For example, anything with honey has fructans in it, and honey is used way more that I realized… it’s in a lot of breads, it’s used frequently as an alternative to sugar, etc. To make my diet improvements SIMPLE, I will JUST try to avoid lactose and hold off on avoiding fructans for now.

E is for EVERY DAY – The way lactose is described in FODMAP, it’s only to be avoided when in foods like milk, soft cheeses and ice cream. Hard cheeses are fine, and so is dark chocolate. Even a small piece of milk chocolate, say, the size of a fun bar, is allowed. I think I can manage this every day. I know I can at least work with it as a daily goal. I’m sure I will occasionally cheat, as I have with the exercise, but I just can’t quit taking things one day at a time or I know I won’t be successful.

L is for LITTLE – When I first looked at this one, I wasn’t sure how I could apply this concept of “starting small” to eating. “5 minutes a day” just fit so perfectly with exercise, but the same idea doesn’t translate over to diet. I can’t just eat for “5 minutes a day”! I finally decided I will start LITTLE by only cutting out super obvious things that I know have lactose in them, like ice cream, milk chocolate and ranch dressing. I won’t obsess over knowing all the ingredients in everything. Phew! That Payday bar I ate while writing this isn’t off limits after all, even though it has “nonfat milk” as one of the minor ingredients.

F is for FUN – This really doesn’t feel fun at all. I like chocolate. I like ice cream. Ranch dressing is what makes me able to make a “healthy” choice of a salad at a fast food restaurant. Nothing can really change that it won’t be much fun to give these delicious foods up, but I can take actions to add in fun where it wasn’t there before… I just paid $7.99 and downloaded the Monash University FODMAP app on my phone! Anything that involves an app on your phone is automatically fun, right!? I also just decided that dark chocolate, which is totally allowed, will be something I keep stocked in the pantry from now on. Dark chocolate always brings the fun.

Y is for YOU DO YOU – It was super easy for me to figure out how this one applies. “Me doing me” means that I WILL CONTINUE TO EAT NACHOS, GOSH DARN IT!! Nachos are part of who I am. You cannot take them away from me, okay? I make my nachos with corn tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, salsa and avocados. All of these things are healthy by my book. The nachos stay.

The next tip from the therapist on managing depression is to make sure that you get enough SLEEP. Ugh! Seriously? How do these people know exactly what I need (but don’t really want) to hear? I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, why is it so hard to get 8 hours of sleep a night? I know that is what my husband thinks. I can hear his brain screaming at me to JUST GO TO BED as he dozes off every night at a reasonable time. Maybe once I am on the track with a healthier eating plan, the sleep thing will be easier too. Kind of like how once I started exercising, my diet automatically improved as well? Oh wait… that didn’t happen. Oh well, one thing at a time. I’ll cover the dreaded sleep topic in the next blog post. Until then, thanks for reading and good luck with your own diet goals!

Exercise, Depression and my Inner Hulk

I went to a therapist this week. The first session was more of a “meet and greet” than anything else, but I can already tell that she means business. I know from past experience I need a therapist who means business. At the next session, she says we are going to talk about the 5 big things that help with depression. So, of course, I have been Googling “5 things that help with depression” on a regular basis to try to figure out what she might say. Patience isn’t exactly my strong suit.

As you might have guessed, there’s one thing that’s on EVERY “Top 5” list – Exercise. This makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Obviously, I don’t mean I want to go to the gym so I can get muscles like the Hulk. That would actually be a productive reaction. No, I literally picture myself screaming in agony and transforming into the Hulk. Of course, since I am depressed, my frustration does not come out in any real way. I just switch my Google searches to alternative ways to deal with anger that don’t involve so much physical energy.

In all seriousness, I see the writing on the wall. I get it. Exercise is like, super important and necessary when it comes to depression. Somehow, I’ve got to figure out a way to incorporate it into my life.

Before I do though, let me just spend ONE more millisecond being sarcastic and snarly. I apologize in advance to the well-intentioned bloggers out there who published Top 5 lists of remedies for depression. It’s really not you. It’s me. And to the particularly ambitious blogger who had a daily “brisk 15-30 minute walk” in your Top 5, thank you for giving me that kind of credit. The truth is, right now, I’m not capable of physically doing anything that even comes close to being near the realm of 30 minutes a day.

It seems like a grand idea to take a 15-30 minute walk every day doesn’t it? I mean, obviously I HAVE 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day. Otherwise, how could I write this blog post?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. One activity can’t so easily be substituted for another. A blog post can be written in bed. It does not require the individual to brush her teeth. Or take a shower. These things, which are non-negotiable morning routines for most people, typically happen 15 minutes before I have to leave my house to pick up my kids. Now, you might be thinking that I should just start brushing my teeth and taking a shower earlier in the day. Isn’t that a simple change?

Again, it’s not quite that simple. Just thinking about exercise makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Now you’re asking me to somehow motivate myself to shower and brush my teeth earlier in the day too? I have been around this block enough times to know that only something external, like having to go pick up kids or go to work, will motivate me to do these basic necessities. If you throw on top of this whole exercise thing that I must also internally motivate myself to get ready in any way, shape or form, I promise, I will give up before I’ve even started.

Another flaw with the “brisk 15-30 minute walk” idea is that it requires me to actually go out IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD by myself. I have no desire to do anything alone right now where I will also be in full view of others. I don’t really know how else to explain this particular issue (ahem, excuse), but I just felt like it deserved mention.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous all of my excuses are. But I am not quite ready to let go of them just yet. What I AM willing to do (praise God) is give this dreaded exercise concept a chance. But it will be on my own terms and with my own “Top 5” list, thank you very much. I even made my Top 5 an acrostic poem so it would be extra special and fun. And if you think that is a cool thing, then I am being totally serious and sincere with the whole acronym thing. If you are rolling your eyes like I would be, then I am being totally cheesy on purpose in a super cool rebellious and sarcastic way.

Without further ado, to actually start to exercise, I am making exercise the ultimate SELFY.

S = Simple
E = Every Day
L = Little
F = Fun
Y = You Do You

First, I am keeping it so unbelievably SIMPLE there is no way I can find an excuse not to do it. Going to the gym … way too complicated. Going outside … way too complicated. Putting on exercise shoes … way too complicated. Believe it or not, I do not own a pair of exercise shoes. I do, however, own tap shoes.

Second, I am striving to do it EVERY DAY, or at least every day of the work week. Otherwise, I know I will just procrastinate until later in the week and set myself up to fail. If I just take it one day at a time, like with everything else, I think I will have better success.

Third, I am starting LITTLE. (Yes, I realize it would sound better to say I am starting “small” but little works better with the acronym, alright?) 30 minutes a day just isn’t realistic for me. Who am I kidding? 15 minutes a day isn’t realistic for me. I am starting with 5 MINUTES every day. 5 minutes is a long time. I will be so super proud if I exercise for 5 minutes a day. I will throw myself a party if I exercise for 5 minutes a day for a week. I don’t care that most of my friends work out for an hour or more at a time. 5 MINUTES is my definition of success right now, and I am not ashamed.

Fourth, I am doing something that I think is FUN. Every time I try to exercise, I do something I have never done before or that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy running so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to go to Zumba class at the gym. My butt will never move the way the instructor’s does, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror trying to shake it like she does for an hour. My body will never bend the way yoga-lovers’ bodies do. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to do yoga. I am really good at and really like tap dancing. And did I mention that I have tap shoes?

Finally, my mantra will be YOU DO YOU! As if tap dancing in my own home for 5 minutes a day isn’t uniquely ME enough, I am going to do this as only I can. I am going to blog about it just because I know it will help ME. I am going to try to be funny and self-deprecating about it just because I think that is who I am supposed to be and it makes ME feel good. I am going to give it to God and try to use it to help others in any way I can, because that is ME being ME.

Alright, well, there you have it, that is my “Top 5” list. It has already motivated me to exercise 2 days in a row. If anyone else is coming to this exercise table kicking and screaming because of depression, I’d love to hear how you have motivated yourself. Thanks for reading!

When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.

Let Your Light Shine

Let Your Light Shine

Last Saturday, while having coffee at Starbucks, I looked down at my hand and saw that my engagement ring was missing its main diamond. I was devastated to realize it had fallen out, and I had no idea when or how. I looked all over Starbucks, in the parking lot, in the car, and at home, but there was no trace of it.

My engagement ring is more valuable to me than any other material possession I own, not because of its monetary value, but because it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever received from the love of my life. He bought it for me, all by himself, before all our accounts were combined and everything was a joint purchase and life got so complicated. He spent hours and hours looking for the perfect ring, and when he couldn’t find it, he had it made. I was not involved in this process at all, and I was a pretty involved fiancée-to-be. I mean, by the time we got officially engaged seventeen years ago, we had already picked the date of the wedding, booked the church and rented out the reception hall. But picking out the ring was HIS decision, and he isn’t easily moved. He is strong and steady and takes his time to be sure he gets it right. And so he bought this ring on his own time table and proposed when I least expected it. It was worth the wait. The diamond was exquisite – truly flawless. It shined as bright as the love that inspired it.

I didn’t think my diamond would ever be found, but there was also a voice inside telling me not to give up hope and to just keep looking. About a day and a half later, I noticed something sparkling in our bedroom carpet. I looked closer, expecting it to just be some shiny something-or-other that had hit the light in just the right way, like it had been so many times before. But no, this time, it was the diamond I thought I’d lost forever that once again shone before my eyes. My engagement ring is now at the jeweler where the diamond is being reset with stronger prongs and polished so that is shines as brightly as ever. Hopefully, this time, it will stay put in my ring forever.

And yet, I know that there is only one light that will surely shine forever. It sparkles much more brightly than any diamond. This light also seemed to be lost once, and then reappeared, three days later. This light was also a gift that had nothing to do with the recipient and everything to do with the giver. This light also didn’t come easy to give. Its giver was also strong and steady and took the time to be sure things were perfect. After all, in this case, the gift brought about salvation and grace. Jesus Christ was well worth the wait. And just like my diamond is being reset into stronger prongs, Christ’s light moved into a different setting after His resurrection. He now lives inside of each us where His light is meant to shine more brightly than ever.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to wear my diamond ring once I get it back from the jeweler. I fear the diamond will fall out again. Perhaps it would be better to just keep it in a safe. But then I remember that Jesus said we are not meant to put our light under a bushel. We are to let it shine. My ring is meant to be worn on my finger always, to shine brightly as a symbol of the love that it represents. And the light of God is meant to shine through me, and through you, for all to see. I’m going to let it shine. Will you?

Definitely Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

This week’s Fifth grade Sunday school lesson focuses on the importance of God’s word. We will each get ten paper rectangles to record the things we take time to learn about. Then, each of us will use our rectangles to build a pyramid of our priorities. I’m calling it the Personal Priority Pyramid, or PPP for short. Even though we will write down different interests and subjects, the exercise is intended to show that we should still all have the Bible at the top of our PPPs. I’m supposed to make it personal by sharing about a time when God’s word wasn’t at the top of my PPP and how that wreaked havoc in my life until I reprioritized.

I’m pretty sure this week’s lesson has brought about more growth in me than it will in the Fifth grade girls I’ll be teaching!

It’s not really the lesson itself that stirs up uneasiness within me, or at least, not the lesson as it appears at face value. Sharing about something personal certainly doesn’t cause me any turmoil. I’m more or less an open book. And it’s super easy to think of a time in my life that pertains to the lesson, so that’s not the opportunity for growth.

It took me a while to realize that the reason this lesson makes me uncomfortable is not because it’s not true, but because I so often fall short at remembering it. The experience that jumps to the front of my mind is from twenty years ago if that tells you anything. When I was in college, my area of expertise somehow all of a sudden became entirely about food and exercise. I could tell you how many calories and fat grams were in EVERYTHING, how much and what type of exercise would burn off those calories and fat grams, and exactly what I had eaten every day for the past month. Today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone, last Wednesday. But the devil had a firm grip on me, and it took everything I had to find release. I started taking anti-depressants. I went to therapist after therapist. I went to church. I sang in a choir. I gave up caring about food or weight and ordered pizza. But most importantly, I read the Bible. God led me to His word and guided me through it during that difficult time like He never had before.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve felt that connected to the Bible since then.

I want to say this lack of connection is all related to the fact that God has filled me in other ways these past couple decades – through the Holy Spirit, through relationships and community, through inspirational Christian speakers and authors, through prayer, through writing and speaking. But the truth is that I’m also – mostly – at fault. The only other time I’ve tried to read the Bible all the way through, I stopped in Isaiah – in other words, before the hero of the story was even born. Whenever I’ve done Bible studies, I’ve tried to recreate my university experience, going to the same passages and books that moved me then. When I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings I got in college, instead of realizing I’m just no longer the same kid who needed a sound, theological proof like the one laid out in Romans, and I should perhaps have picked a different book to study, I just get frustrated and decide the Bible and I just need a little distance from each other.

Of course, I still read the Bible. It’s just really not at the top of my PPP. It’s not the thing I prioritize most to learn about.  I certainly don’t spend as much time in God’s word as I do checking Facebook or the Daily Mail. The non-fiction book I read a little bit of every night is a parenting book, not my Bible. The information I dive into daily, after having perhaps glanced at a verse in a devotional, is my work email inbox.

It’s hard to admit how much the Bible has taken a backseat lately. It makes me feel unfit to lead this week’s lesson. And yet, it actually makes me more fit. Ironically, I know this because my favorite Bible verse tells me so. Of course, that isn’t really ironic, since the Bible truly is the most important book of all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end this post with a Bible verse when I started it, but as always, with God, you have to expect the unexpected.

You see, in His usual fashion, God waited until I was in complete surrender and admitted my weakness before He reminded me that I’ve not been quite so disengaged from His word. In fact, the Bible verse that finally filled me with the assurance that I am more than fit to teach these Fifth grade girls is one that just came to life a couple years ago. It has touched my soul a thousand times recently and let me know that I am okay just as I am, warts and all. For Jesus assures us all that His grace is sufficient. Not only should I not be ashamed when I teach on Sunday, I should share about my weakness, knowing that God’s power will be even more perfect because of it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I pray that I will remember this verse on Sunday and that I can give these girls a real example of what it means to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean we always have to perfectly follow all the rules we learn at church. In fact, it means the opposite – that we have admitted and surrendered in the deepest parts of our souls that we are utterly incapable of living flawless lives. Christ’s light and all of our need for Him shine all the more brightly when we stop thinking we need to be perfect, little Christians and remember that being a Christian has one and only one stipulation – to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Signs, Strengths Finder and Sweet Surprises

Once again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. How does that happen? Oh yeah, it’s that whole working mom thing. That nine day work trip to England in October wasn’t exactly conducive to my blogging habit. Nor was the overnight Fifth Grade Camp trip I took in November, although entirely different from the business trip in every other respect. My seven-year-old’s issues continue to take a lot of time and attention even though we no longer speak of them here. And then, of course, we had the holidays, and another international trip, this time for the whole family.

One thing that’s remained constant over the past few months is the stream of signs pointing me back to this blog. For example, in October, I got a sweet email from a friend in which she encouraged me to write. She said I have a gift. I really like her. I liked that email. It made me feel super happy and special and like I should make the time to write so that others can benefit from my incredible gift. She didn’t use the word “incredible” but that’s not important. What matters is that I realized that you should not be deprived of my talent.

Speaking of talents, another affirmation came through StrengthsFinder 2.0, and its corresponding talent themes. StrengthsFinder is a methodology for identifying your natural gifts and figuring out how best to apply them in your life. You take a 177 question timed test (20 seconds per question) to determine your Top 5 talent themes. Instead of giving you common personality types that aren’t categorized as good or bad (ex. “extrovert” vs. “introvert”), StrengthsFinder hones in on your unique and specific strengths (aka talent themes). The methodology has been validated over years of research and application, across corporations around the world, as well as in other settings like churches and non-profit organizations.

Here’s the cool part. Because there are 34 different talent themes, the likelihood of two people having the same Top 5 strengths, in the exact same order, is 1 in 33 million! That means that if all 5.5 billion adults on the planet took the test, your result would only be the same as around 165 other people in the entire world. Based on this level of uniqueness, you get a “personalized” profile report that includes a description of your strengths, suggestions for action and example applications.

My StrengthsFinder results validated not only that I should write, but that I should share about my faith and focus on connection…. in other words, exactly what I try to do with this blog! My assessment specifically highlighted “my comfort with language,” “ease of written expression” and knack for “finding the right combination of words.” While not surprising, these characterizations added some needed fuel to the fire that drives me to write. The surprises in my assessment turned my creative drive back into a raging fire.

First, I learned that Connectedness, described as having faith in the link between all thingscan be viewed as an innate gift. People with this strength think there are few coincidences and that most events happen for a reason.  Apparently, this is one of my strongest gifts!

The realization that it is a natural ability to see how seemingly disparate things are connected triggered a breakthrough in how I see the value of my writing. It validates my perspective and makes me want to write all the more about how God is in everything.

What’s more, this new paradigm opened my eyes to see that when other people don’t relate, it doesn’t necessarily mean what I’ve written is wrong or bad. On the contrary, Connectedness may just not be one of the reader’s strengths. And that’s okay. It’s sort of like how, if I’m totally honest, I don’t really understand sports. I mean, I get the rules, but I just struggle to understand the point of it all. I almost always just end up rooting for the winning team. Or, if I’m really committed to a team, like of course I am to the Dallas Cowboys (go Dak!), I’ll root for them through the whole game, but if they lose, I’m not really that disappointed. I just think about how happy the other teams’ fans must be and how it all must somehow be for the greater good.

It’s not just my Connectedness talent that causes my indifference to the big game. I also lack some key talent themes that lend themselves to loving sports. Competition isn’t in my Top 5, for example. Neither is a talent theme called Positivity, described as a contagious enthusiasm. My husband’s having Positivity in his Top 5 finally explains how he stays dedicated to the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite an unprecedented number of disappointments. Or at least it helps to explain it. I’m not sure anything will ever fully explain his unwavering dedication to a team with the worst record of all time in any sport. But I digress.

The point is that it helps to think of how others might react to my blog in a similar light to how I view sports. Just like sports fans wouldn’t allow my “Oh well, it’s just a game. Maybe it was just the other team’s time.” attitude to change how heartily they root for their team, nor should they, I shouldn’t be overly impacted by those who read my blog and think “Why does she have to write about what she writes about? She’s seeing connections where there are none. Why does she over think everything so much?”

We just all have different strengths and weaknesses, and that’s okay.

Just because a reaction to my writing is less than “Wow, you have an incredible gift,” it isn’t necessarily (and most likely is not) a reflection on me. Perhaps the reader struggles to see the connections I write about because Connectedness is at the bottom of their list of strengths. And that’s okay. Or perhaps the reader just doesn’t really get the point of blogs. Maybe her Top 5 is filled with more extroverted strengths than mine, like the Woo and Communication talent themes, and she would rather be out at a party or socializing than reading an introspective piece like this. And that’s okay.

It wasn’t just my Connectedness talent theme that led me back here in some way or another. My top strength, Strategic, mostly seemed to verify that I’m in the right 9-to-5 job, but I also saw some applicability to this blog, especially when I read about the ability to recognize patterns. My third strength – Input – is a craving to know and collect more. The opportunities for action for people with this talent theme state repeatedly how important it is to share information with others. Like, you know, through a blog. Intellection, my fourth talent theme, is characterized by introspection and intellectual activity, two traits that are pretty obviously well-suited to a writer. Ideation is the last of my Top 5 and is the closest strength to creativity. It’s described as being driven by ideas.

Now, I have to say, I was honestly shocked that Ideation was in my Top 5 and Analytical was not. Analytical is more or less what it sounds like, and it’s something I’ve always identified as. I have always seen myself as one who is always questioning, analyzing, needing proof, as the talent theme says. Always good at math and logic, people still tell me regularly that I should  be a lawyer.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Analytical is my #6 talent theme, but for now, I haven’t paid for my full report and I’m not sure I’m going to. Ideation’s appearance in place of the expected Analytical has given me permission to be this blogger / writer that I want to be. It showed me how to press the stop button on some old, negative tapes that play in my head, the ones that say “Don’t forget, you were always a little bit better at math than English. You should not be writing. Why did you ever stop programming? You are wasting you gifts and should become an actuary.”

Thank God I have listened more to the more encouraging voice inside me, the one that shows me where to look for signs that I’m on the right track, that of course nothing is wasted, that it’s no surprise I started this blog. It’s just who I am. I don’t always have to understand the why and the how of it. Even if life gets in the way and forces a three month break, I should not abandon my writing.

So, here I am, back to blogging, yet again! And that’s more than okay.

(If you want to see if you have a similar journey to mine, go to this link to read more about Strengths Finder 2.0: http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx. I would love to hear about your journey!!)

Finished is Good Enough

I have started to write many times the past couple weeks, but I just can’t seem to finish a blog post.

First, I was going to write about how my precious, anxious little boy is handling First Grade, but then I asked if he was okay with that. He said he didn’t want me to write about his issues without his permission, because, well, it was sort of private.

Then I was going to write about how my six-year-old expresses his emotions and sets boundaries better than I do, but then, well, I just really didn’t know where to go with it. It always ended up being about someone else instead of me.

Then, I was going to write about the first time I “cooked” for my husband and how inadequate I still feel in that department. I put “cooked” in quotes, because it really is a stretch to call what I did 17 years ago cooking. I put some chicken in a pot of boiling water, cardboard backing still attached, with absolutely no plan as to what to do next. We ended up ordering pizza. I have come a long way since then, but I still feel like I need a “Meal Planning for Dummies” book much of the time. But as I started to write about it, it stalled out because the direction the post was taking was too familiar.

I could see myself writing the same words I’ve written 100 times before – that it’s okay not to be perfect, that it’s okay not to be great at things other women are good at, that no matter what, we are all beautiful children of God. Of course, that’s all true, but it just seemed stale. And while I’m okay with the underlying message in every single blog post being the same – that we are all loved beyond measure and that it all comes down to God and Jesus – I’m not okay with just repeating the same words over and over. I know from personal experience how “churchy” language can lose its meaning when it’s overused. Above all, I feel called to be real when I write.

So here’s what’s real for me right now. I am overwhelmed. I really shouldn’t even be writing this blog post right now. There is so much going on at work; I can’t seem to get on top of it all. I’m even travelling to England for my job! I’m excited about the trip, but I’m also scared. This is the first time I’ve traveled for work in years. I normally work in my pajamas with no makeup on. What if I am a total failure on this trip? Even scarier, what if I’m a success? What if this is the first of many trips I am expected to take? Remember, boundaries are not my forte. I could see God setting me up with an “opportunity for growth” here – what a great way to learn to set boundaries right?

Then, there’s everything else, like being a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister and a friend and a neighbor and a Sunday School teacher and a home owner and … the list goes on and on. Sometimes I just want to curl up under the covers and watch a couple Lifetime movies. Last night, I actually did curl up under the covers and watch a couple Lifetime movies. (Thank God I took the boiling chicken incident as a sign that I had found the man for me and my husband continues to say “yes, let’s order pizza” when I have little meltdowns.)

The truth is, I hate admitting that I get stressed and overwhelmed like this, because I don’t want to come across as an ungrateful brat. I mean, how can I ever complain about anything when I have such an amazing life. So many people would give everything to have what I have – two healthy and wonderful children, a great job, a fantastic family, incomparable friends, a beautiful home, the opportunity to teach Sunday School … the list goes on and on. I haven’t even mentioned my dog. I have SO much love in my life! My cup overflows, and yet, there are times, I can hardly even stand to be in the present moment, because I am so stressed and overwhelmed.

I could probably look back at ten of my previous blog posts and copy over the last couple paragraphs to end this post with a neat little bow. I’m sure things I’ve written before would apply here beautifully – how we are all “perfectly imperfect,” how it all comes down to irrational fear and that fear is tackled best by praying, writing or talking with a friend. All of those things are true. But here are some other, not quite as neatly packaged things that have been helping me lately:

  • Mantras – I say something like what is below over and over again in my head.

          I trust God with everything, I trust God with everything.
          Don’t think, just do. Don’t think, just do. Don’t think, just do.
         Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

  • Really, Really, Really Detailed Lists and Schedules – This week, I seriously could only get focused and get anything done when I took the time to actually plot out in five-minute intervals what I was going to do.
    • 10:05-10:10 – Send email to so and so about topic A.
    • 10:10-10:15 – Schedule meeting about topic B.
  • “Next Right Thing” Sticky Notes – I’ve heard for a while now that when you are stressed or overwhelmed, you should just do the “next right thing,” and I love this idea. However, sometimes, there are just SO many “next right things.” When I feel paralyzed by all the choices, I will write a few options down on sticky notes and then randomly pick one. Right now, no joke, I have the following sticky notes on my desk:

                Shower
                Clean
                Work

A few months ago, I was at a talk with Elizabeth Gilbert where she said if you can’t finish something, give yourself permission to do a bad job at it. This has helped me SO much. I now say things to myself all the time like “You have permission to just do a terrible job at dinner tonight” or “I want you to go ahead and send this email even if it’s just awful.” When my perfectionist tendencies kick in (in other words, always), this is the only way I can actually get anything done. Including this blog post.