Adjusting the Eyes of the Beholder

What if I told you that you could change the image you see in the mirror without a single application of the newest beauty product or without a single dose of the most recently released line of supplements?

Remember the quote that most of us have heard hundreds of times in our lives…“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

And who is the beholder when your reflection stares back at you in the mirror? It’s you! You are the beholder! Your eyes are the judge.

In my career, I have sat across from individuals of, quite literally, all sizes, height, skin tone, hair color, and complexion. They have been tall, small, curvy, average and stick straight. Their hair has been blonde, brown, black, red, grey or some other manufactured color that is not in anyone’s genetic phenotype. Some have had no hair at all. They’ve had green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, hazel eyes or some combination of the four.

Over and over and over again, they doubt their beauty.

The number of heart-breaking reasons could easily fill a thousand pages. Sometimes the interpretation of their beauty was delivered through a well-intending adult in their life. Sometimes the interpretation is delivered through their own repetitive act of comparing them self to some photoshopped, filtered, or airbrushed image posed on a screen. Sometimes the interpretation was delivered directly through trauma…through someone who intended to harm them.

The list makes me weep. While the cause may be unique, the impact is similar…distorted eyes for the “beholders”.

Oh and trust me, dear ones, my eyes are distorted as well.

What if today, we determined that we would see through eyes of kindness, through eyes that love and search for value? What if today, we agreed to look at ourself until we recognized our beauty? What if today, instead of judging our worth based on wrinkles, scars, hairs out-of-place, or against images of what we think we are supposed to be, we choose to not judge ourself at all? What if we choose to accept that our beauty is not something that is coming once we enhance our appearance, meet some goal, or purchase some product, but that it already exists? Truly…right now…we’d believe that it is already in existence.

It doesn’t take a dime, but it does take courage and it does take compassion to admit that your beholder’s eyes are wrong. Let’s do it together. Today. Let’s adjust our view, take on new eyes and look deep until we see our beauty.

When Celebrating Feels Unnatural: A Mother’s Day Reflection

My journey of motherhood is complicated. As time passes and I am granted more opportunities to enter into the stories of other women, I am beginning to recognize that the journey is complicated for most of us. Literally, for most of us.

I have learned that celebrating Mother’s Day can feel like an unnatural choice. To many, Mother’s Day does not automatically come with a simple dose of all the positive emotions one might assume. Recognizing Mother’s Day can easily bring to the surface emotions that we have worked unreasonably hard to hide. For some, loneliness, disappointment, grief, longing, bitterness, guilt, and shame are a part of this day. They are the pieces that make the celebration feel a bit unnatural.

Here is what I want you to know…You Are Not Alone. Not. Even. Close.

As I think about my own rocky journey, I remember the days that I sat in silence…in confusion…in loneliness. Years of infertility. Burying my 3-day-old daughter. Watching caseworkers remove our son following a failed adoption. For many years, there was absolutely no desire to celebrate.

Ten years ago, I was given the unexpected gift of a beautiful healthy son. Two years later, it happened again. Yes, TWO amazing sons! One who looks like his daddy and one who looks like me.

And with that, there is something else I want you to know…those two boys didn’t take away the pain of the journey and their arrival didn’t eliminate the path I had already traveled.

There are many truths I have learned through my own journey and one I’d like to gently tell you today…my pain has only lessened as a result of giving myself permission to deeply experience the fullness of the emotions that have accompanied my journey.

So, this is what it looks like today…I wear this awesome set of rings bearing the names of the four children that’ll always have my heart. We grill lunch and eat with my mom who is experiencing her first Mother’s Day without the man who made her a mother. My husband and sons plant flowers and build a garden in our yard. We eat ice cream at the grave of my daughter. I say a prayer for the son that I do not get to raise.

It’s complicated. And yet, I have found peace, beauty, AND joy in the ways we honor our complicated story.

I know your story is complicated too. I know this because I have heard the stories, countless stories. Maybe I haven’t heard your story but stories that may not be as far off as you’d imagine. Please know that your journey matters…the parts that are easy to celebrate AND the parts that make the celebrating less natural.

And please know that you are not alone. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.

Our Need for COMFORT

Can we talk for a moment about comfort? You know, your need to be comforted, and my need to be comforted, and any human’s basic need for comfort. Recently, light bulbs have been turning on in my mind as I have listened to myself, clients, friends, and family communicate different struggles in life. Deaths. Disappointments. Physical pain. Broken dreams. Unfulfilled desires.

We ALL need comfort. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. US.

As I have sat with different individuals, I have noticed a theme that while we all NEED comfort, many of us resist being comforted…myself included. We tell ourselves that needing comfort is for the weak, that it makes us bad or somehow inadequate. And so we secretly stifle our need to be comforted, paint on our strong, unaffected faces, and carry on. And then…we secretly seek to fulfill our need for comfort elsewhere…because even though we pretend to stifle the need, it doesn’t actually go away. So, we numb. We drink. We binge. We sleep. We scroll. We click. We attempt to find comfort….but it escapes us before we even find it.

Admitting our need for legitimate comfort takes courage. Allowing ourselves to receive the comfort offered takes humility and surrender…it is the act of letting others see and respond when we feel undone.

I love Jesus’ words when He speaks to the crowds through what has been labeled “The Sermon on the Mount”. In Matthew 5:4, Jesus specifically says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” BLESSED are those who mourn. He doesn’t say WEAK are those who mourn. He does not say INADEQUATE are those who mourn. And He does not say A BURDEN are those who mourn. He calls mourners blessed. How are they blessed….through receiving comfort.

Is it possible that until we recognize that our need for comforting is acceptable, we will continue to feel as if we are drowning in our shame? Is it possible that unless we recognize that our need for comforting is reasonable, we will keep running back to the things that leave us feeling empty? Is it possible that in not accepting our need for comforting, we actually push away a fulfilling relationship with God and with our closest people?

Some of us are great at comforting…that is beautiful. But let us also seek to be people who believe our personal need for comforting is not only acceptable but good.

Paralyzed by Compassion

In my experience as a therapist, anxiety can, at times, overwhelm even the most functional individuals. It can lead to feeling hopeless….like there is no way out. It can lead to feeling helpless…like there is nothing you can do. Anxiety can lead to a physical and cognitive sense of paralysis. If you’ve experienced significant anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.

Over the past days, as I have looked through articles and horrifying images of the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have ridden quite the pendulum of emotions.

I have felt deep sadness. As I looked at the devastated man holding his dead 9-month-old twins, I experienced flashes of my own story. I have wept tears for him and for the other men and women who have watched their children and family members die in an unbearably heinous way.

I have felt that anxiety that I initially spoke of. The kind that overwhelms and paralyzes. I have had to look away and catch my breath because the words and images were too much for my heart to take in.

We SHOULD be affected when we see others hurting. We SHOULD feel deeply for them. This is empathy. Empathy leads to compassion. Compassion leads to action.

But sometimes we don’t get through that full equation. Sometimes the taunting of the anxiety stops us in our tracks before we move to action. It tells us, “There’s no hope. There’s no helping. There’s nothing you can do about it.” That’s where the paralysis sets in and numbing your emotions or avoiding feeling it all again seems like the quickest and least painful way out. Here is what I have noticed, sometimes inaction is not just a product of not caring but it can also be a product of feeling overwhelmed by caring.

Because I have experienced anxiety in my life and because I have sat with dozens of individuals who experience anxiety on a regular basis, I want to gently whisper these words to you. Focus on taking just one step. And know that it is good.

Contrary to what the anxiety may be telling you, you do not have to have the perfect solution. Your compassionate actions do not have to be THE answer. Take just ONE step. Focus on doing ONE thing. ONE action. When the anxiety tells you there is nothing you can do, do ONE thing. When the anxiety convinces you we are all doomed, do ONE thing. When the anxiety makes you think you are insignificant, do ONE thing. And know that it is good.