Vulnerable Post Alert! I recently sustained a back injury--the type of injury that makes you wonder how people can live with chronic debilitating pain. As I was crying, screaming and moaning (let’s be real—I’m a terrible patient!), I asked myself, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me?” My mind was spinning with ideas, like the need to slow down. However, I recently created more margin in my life, so I knew that wasn’t it. Then, the image of this beautiful tea cup came to mind.
I’ve been collecting tea cups for almost 25 years and this was one of the first in my collection. As I was preparing for a little tea party with my family, I noticed that the tea seeped from the tea cup. I initially thought it was a spill, so I cleaned it up and re-poured some tea. Once again, I noticed more seeping. I discovered that the tea cup had a crack in it, but the strange part was that it was invisible to the naked eye. This image came to mind as I was contemplating what I can learn from my back injury. My heart, like this tea cup, had little fissures of resentment, frustration and pride. I internalized it as “micro-moments.” It wasn’t anything blaring or obvious, but little moments of an eye roll, a passive word under my tongue, an angry heart for pervasive division and ignorance, and the list (sadly) goes on. Over the course of this week, I have asked for forgiveness, knowing that this is not who I want be. These little fissures not only reflect the fractures in my back, but more importantly, the cracks in my heart.
Every experience has the opportunity to teach us something, if we are willing to ask and willing to listen. I find myself looking at this week and feeling grateful for the life lesson, one that I will surely learn repeatedly throughout my life. I echo the sentiments of the Psalmist David when he said, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4). Dear friend, whatever you are going through, I encourage you to search your heart. One of the most life-giving questions for my own life is “what can I learn from this experience?”
My heart is breaking and continues to break. What is happening in our world and nation is devastating, but what makes the wound infinitely worse is that truths have been politicized. George Floyd’s death was tragic, inhumane, and epitomizes the reality of evil. Racism is real. How this has become a debate rather than a dialogue is mind-boggling.
The current crisis has left me speechless. I have struggled to find the right words for a very wrong situation. We often deal with trauma, problems, and confusion with silence. In my own life, in my darkest hours, silence was the loudest from those I held most dear. I’ve learned this is not from a lack of care, but rather the inability to know what to say. Almost everything doesn’t seem like enough. BUT, I’ve also learned that being understood is what most people desire.
Many clients and friends have expressed the desire to do something. For some, it’s a peaceful protest; for others, it’s educating oneself on systemic racism. There are numerous ways to take action; but, one thing is critical —we must listen. Start the dialogue, pick up the phone, go to your neighbor, have the hard conversation. If you struggle to find the words, simply say, “I know you are hurting, I’m so sorry.” And, then, simply listen. David Augsburger stated, “Being listened to is so close to being loved, that most people can’t tell the difference.”
When I was an undergraduate psychology major, I took a therapeutic techniques class. My main take-away from that course was empathy training, a technique that fosters genuine understanding, validating and seeing. Then, in graduate school, as a sociology major, I learned the profound concept of “verstehen”- a German word that describes the need to put oneself in another person’s shoes. I was amazed how this concept enabled me to see issues like racism and poverty in a new way. These two learnings have transformed my life, my marriage, the way I parent, and how I see the world. However, as you can imagine, the application of these concepts were very different in my 20’s versus my 40’s. Life happens and you begin to see that things are not what they seem. Enter sign. Grace upon grace. I think this sign is meaningful to me because it encapsulates both empathy and verstehen, not to mention a foundational element of my faith. I have this sign at work and at home, as a reminder to extend grace to others and to myself. Yes, I need a sign! As we are in a pandemic, this concept couldn’t be more appropriate. Many are paralyzed with fear, buying toilet paper and flour in unthinkable amounts. Grace upon grace. Many shame others who don’t stay home, believing a social distancing walk with a friend jeopardizes the heath of our community. Grace upon grace. Others say our nation is overreacting, proposing the numbers are inflated. Grace upon grace. On so many levels, this is a challenging time. Our framework is typically influenced by our circumstances, environment, culture, etc. So, maybe the initial hoarder who started the toilet paper frenzy grew up in poverty and was simply trying to plan ahead. Maybe the person who wrote a divisive post about reopening the economy lost his/her job and 20 years of investment in retirement. Grace upon grace. Now, I’m very well aware that this concept is not going to solve a global crisis, but for me, it has solved an internal crisis. There is so much evidence of greed, shame, and divisiveness now, and the only thing that really makes sense to me is grace upon grace.
Happy Mother’s Day Month! As I mentioned last year at this time, I’m a recovering Mom-Zilla. This is my 16th Mother’s Day, but, sadly, I wasted the first 10 of them by unrealistic expectations (although my sweet hubby went out of his way to spoil me). Several year ago, I realized that I was getting in the way of my own happiness. So, I started a tradition of buying myself flowers and hosting a tea party for ME. My tag line for my life coaching business is “make life happen.” While it may seem cliche, my ultimate intention stems from a fundamental belief within me—we all have the ability to make our lives happen! Be intentional. Be purposeful. If you have a dream, chase it. If you don’t, dare to think big . . . This is why, as many of you know, I learned to swim at close to age of 40! It’s never too late. So, my friend, if you are/were anything like me, go buy yourself some flowers and create the day that makes your heart happy. We create our own realities. Last night, I bought myself flowers and this morning, I will make blueberry lemon scones. Do what you love, friend. Reframe those expectations, enjoy your family, and relish in what you know to be true—YOU ARE AN AMAZING MOM!
Both-And Thinking. This has been a constant discussion with my family, friends, and clients. As all of us feel the strain of shelter-in-place, trying to balance work and our newfound roles as homeschoolers, feeling isolated, feeling the anxiety that comes from uncertainty and unpredictability, this season feels hard. BUT, despite the dark cloud of COVID-19, we are also feeling the immense joy of more family time, a slower pace of life, family walks and the genuine excitement of finding toilet paper! Yes, as humans, we can feel BOTH emotions. We tend to think more dualistically, like good/bad, evil/pure, and black/white. The reality, however, is that life doesn’t work that way. It’s not either-or, as Richard Rohr identified, life is both-and. There is a vast chasm between black and white, good and bad, right and wrong; only once you’ve either lived long enough or experienced suffering, do you realize the vast shades and layers in between. While there are many benefits, Rohr explains that the “dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love.”
Right now we are bombarded with messages of either joy or doomsday, hope or fear, peace or worry, and wins or losses. But, as I’ve learned and will continue to learn, life is BOTH-AND. I am BOTH deeply concerned about this terrible disease, AND I also have peace in my heart. I ache over the loneliness my kids feel, AND my heart is overwhelmed with joy by the unity we experience. I feel confined and restless AND content and happy. I am BOTH empty AND full. So, my dear friends, while we navigate these times, let us remember that we have the capacity to feel both. Our own experience proves the reality. So, what I tell myself and my children, almost on a daily basis, it’s okay to feel both.
If I had to pick a quote to describe my ultimate aspirations, this would be it! Viktor E. Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. I read Man's Search for Meaning almost 15 years ago, but as life unfolded, I was challenged to practice it's truths. Adulting is hard. And, now with the added layer of COVID-19, we find ourselves experiencing additional stressors--homeschooling, working, trying to isolate without being isolated . . . We don't have all the answers, but one truth I cling to is what Frankl eloquently stated, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." For me personally, this means being thankful I can work from home, practicing gratitude that my kids are able to maintain their education virtually, thinking creatively about being at home (happy hour with the kids = 4pm snacks and hot cocoa), etc. There are countless ways to persevere through this season, and for me, my greatest challenge is my attitude. How can your attitude impact your current experience?
It’s been said that “It is a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.” This could not be more true when I think about life coaching and teaching. I just finished up another class and feel overwhelmed with joy—not because it was easy, because, let me tell you, it was not! But, I am joyful because I am able to fulfill my passion and my purpose. On a recent course evaluation, a student anonymously wrote, “Professor Joseph is one of my all-time favorite teachers after this course . . . She was kind to everyone in class and created a safe environment. Time and time again, I watched her lead with compassion, grace and patience while she listened to her students. She is not just an academic professor, but a caring, wise, and intentional shepherd. . . . The learnings and Professor Joseph have widely impacted my outlook on education, my personal weaknesses, my personal strengths/abilities and God’s vast provision. Thank you so much for providing your ADC students with this amazing experience!” I do not share this feedback to boost my ego; rather, I share this account with HUMILITY and GRATITUDE. The hours of preparation and the late nights of grading are worthwhile when I rest in the knowledge that I am fulfilling my calling. How does your career and passion come together? If it doesn’t, how can you weave purpose and meaning into your current career?
My journey to “open hand” living began 15 years ago when I became a mother. I had a daughter with severe GERD and found the next 3 years of my life filled with weekly appointments to the pediatrician, gastroenterologist, pulmonologist and/or feeding specialist. Little did I know this season would continue 3 ½ more years when we had a son with similar yet worse feeding issues. As life continued to unfold, many gifts, like my children and my marriage, became lessons in “open hand” living. I tend to have clenched fists with my most cherished people. And, yet, I have learned that the more I clench my fists, the less I actually hold. When the kids were young, we tried to teach them to share by posturing our hands open, explaining that when your hands are open, you actually have the ability to receive. Little did I know, once again, that this lesson was just as much for me as it was for them! As my fingers are pried open, one by one, I am learning the fullness that comes from empty hands. It’s natural to hold onto the people and things we hold dear. But, I am learning, and will continue to learn, that the only way to freedom is having open hands. What areas of your life do you need to practice the posture of open hands?
I recently celebrated my 43rd birthday—and to be honest, it has taken me this long to finally leave the house without make-up. This may not appear to be an amazing feat, but if you know me, it is HUGE! Although there are aspects of aging that take time to accept—like going to bed before my teenager and accidentally putting on my eyeglasses when I am wearing contacts, I appreciate the ability to embrace truths that took me decades to fully understand and appreciate. Though I know that no one cares if I wear make-up or not, I was never comfortable leaving the house without it. Then, I reached the ripe old age of 43 and bam, it happened—I just don’t care! Elizabeth Gilbert shared the wisdom of a woman she met, “’We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth--nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.’” So, my friends, whether it is something simple like make-up or something more significant like the impression you make to your colleagues, embrace the truth that people’s opinions are simply vapor; it lasts for but a moment, the good and the bad. Let us find freedom and humor in knowing “nobody is thinking about us anyway!”
Lilly’s first high school play! Lilly tried out for a supporting character and received the role of . . . A tree! Well, not a real tree, but a metaphoric tree. . . you know, the part in the play that “feels” insignificant. She was part of the ensemble and had the role of a maid, sea otter, sea creature, and the ocean. Although she knew the importance of the ensemble, Lilly was disappointed. The interesting thing is I couldn’t have been more proud. Over the last 2 1/2 months, Lilly had 3-4 practices per week for roles that “felt” invisible; but, she dug deep, made the best of it, and nailed her characters! She made sweet friendships, enjoyed using her dance and choreography skills, and had fun being a part of a cast and theatrical production. Most of all, she learned that sometimes the byproduct of hard work is in the person you are becoming, and not the work itself. As I sat in the audience for 3 of 4 performances (I can hear the Little Mermaid soundtrack even in my sleep!), I relished the experience. You would have thought my soul misunderstood Lilly’s characters for a leading role; but no, I was proud that Lilly made the best of it, that she was willing to start from the bottom, and that she was committed despite her disappointment. It takes courage to be a tree!
One committed to processing truth, finding light in the darkness, savoring the simple, and living fully.