Secure Your Own Mask First

I love to fly on airplanes.  Mainly because I love to travel.  The actually plane ride tends to make me a little sick.  The take off and landing are rough for me, and if there is any turbulence at all, my stomach does not appreciate it.  But I still love to fly on airplanes, because it is a means to an end; a passageway to adventure.  It’s always the same routine when I fly.  I  check my  bags; go through security; buy some water, gum and a trashy magazine, and I’m on my way.

The last time I flew, the flight attendant was giving the speech that they always give right before take off.  (You know, this one.)  She pointed out the exits, and gave us instructions on how to fasten our seat belts.  She came to the part about the oxygen masks and explained how to put the masks on and how to get the oxygen flowing.  Then she came to the part that always gives me pause.  She said, “Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”  I always want to raise my hand at this part and say, “Wait, but if I’m traveling with my children, of course I’m going to put their masks on first!  What kind of mother would I be if I put my own mask on first?”  It makes me feel like a terribly selfish person to think of taking care of myself first in this scenario.  It occurred to me that if, heaven forbid,  we ever had to use those oxygen masks, if I put the masks on my kids first, I could potentially pass out from lack of oxygen, and then I wouldn’t be of any help to anybody.

I came to the realization that this concept has applied to my real life for a very long time, only instead of trying to help those around me before I helped myself, I was trying to fix them.  This was mainly true for this man of mine that I am married to.   I had spent years and years trying to fix him and mold him into the husband that I wanted him to be.  I thought that if only I could fix him first, then I would be happy.  The harder I tried to fix him, the more resentful I became that he didn’t appear to be listening or paying attention to me.  I couldn’t understand why he would choose to discard all my wisdom.  They say that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.  I really bristled against this idea for a long time, and frankly, I thought it was bullshit.  Maybe it all boiled down to my pride, but I didn’t want to work on myself.  The only reason I wasn’t happy was because the people around me just wouldn’t get their shit together.  I was doing just fine.  Until I wasn’t.  All of a sudden, we encountered turbulence.  The kind of turbulence that makes you wonder if the plane is going down, and the oxygen masks were deployed. I was faced with a choice.  Would I keep trying to fix those around me in the hopes that they would change and make me happy, or would I put my own mask on and work on myself first?  I decided to try the latter even though it felt very counter-intuitive.  What I found was this: putting the mask on myself first mean that I got the life saving oxygen that I needed.  For the first time I was able to honestly look at myself and what I was bringing to the table.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  Life lessons that I had known in my head for years began to really sink in and become true heart knowledge.  Here are two really important things I learned when I put my mask on first:

  • Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies. I had heard this little quote years ago, and it always resonated with me.  It wasn’t until I got really honest with myself that I realized I had been poisoning my soul with resentment for years.  Resentment was my twisted version of hope.  I thought it would bring about the change I wanted in those around me, but all it was doing was slowly killing my spirit.
  • Forgiveness is the antidote for resentment.
    Oh Forgiveness!  How I fought you.  I thought forgiveness meant I was giving up.  How would I ever get what I wanted if I forgave someone for what they weren’t able or willing to give me?  When I finally gave in and truly forgave, freedom was there for the taking.  I experienced freedom from resentment for the first time in years. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

The most amazing thing began to happen.  As I began to learn about myself and discover how I got to where I was, I began to change how I did things and how I viewed my life and the world around me.  As I forgave and let go of resentment, this man of mine and others around me began to take notice of my change, and they in turn began to change how they interacted with me.  The change that I had been so desperately trying to bring about in others was beginning to happen naturally as a result of me putting  my mask on first.   For the first time I was indeed able to then help those around me in a constructive, affirming way that I was never able to accomplish before.  Turns out it’s not selfish at all to put my mask on first, and they tell you to do it that way for good reason!  mary-kay-oxygen-mask

Hi, my name is Joy

I recently went to the movies with my mom in the afternoon while my boys were at school.  Watching the previews is one of my favorite parts of going to a movie.  A good trailer fills me with anticipation and excitement.  On this particular day, we saw a trailer for an upcoming Jennifer Lawrence movie.  The movie looked interesting, but as I watched I didn’t get the tingles, or think that it was a “must see”.  What caught my attention was the end of the preview.  In the last frame, Jennifer proclaims, “My name’s Joy, by the way”.  Turns out the name of the movie is also Joy.  (Check out the trailer here.) Well, now I have to see the movie, right?  After we left our movie, I went a different way home than I usually go.  As I drove, I was watching street signs, and I realized that I was driving on a street called Joy.  Not long after I noticed the name of the street, I passed by this wonderful park and at the entrance was a big sign that said Joy Park.  What a coincidence to get all these reminders of joy on the same day.

I have never taken my name for granted.  I was adopted, and my mother named me Joy because when the social worker called to tell her that they had a baby girl for her, she was overwhelmed with joy.  What a great way to be named.  For most of my life, I felt like my name truly fit me.  I was a happy person, and it wasn’t an act.  My nickname in high school and college was Joyful, for Pete’s sake.  I came to believe that it was just in my nature to be a happy, upbeat, optimistic person.  It’s who I was.  I encountered some bumps in the road along the way, and I would have moments of Grief or Anger, but they were just blips on the radar, and I would always return to Joy as quickly as possible.  So it came as quite a shock to me when I had a period in my adult life when I came to a bump in the road that was more like a mountain, and I couldn’t shake off feelings of sadness and depression.  It was like a foreign entity had come in and kidnapped my Joy and left me with an emptiness that I didn’t know what to do with. Grief and Anger had been mere acquaintances before this.  They had come knocking on my door in the past, and I would opened the door and let them into the entryway, but that’s as far as they had been allowed to come in.  We would speak for a moment and then I would quickly usher them out before they had a chance to get too comfortable.  Joy was my roommate and it was a two bedroom house.  No room for anybody else to stay any longer than necessary.  This time when they knocked on the door, I answered it, and they  pushed right past me and set up camp in my living room.  I didn’t know what to do with these unwelcome house guests.  It was somewhat of an identity crisis for me, because for the first time in my life, being joyful felt like an act.  I felt like a fraud because I was still smiling on the outside, but I felt sad and empty on the inside.

The biggest thing I learned while Grief and Anger were living with me is that they aren’t the enemy.  I don’t need to fear them.  They have a place in my life just as much as Joy does.  I can say that for a time, my name was Grief, and that’s o.k.  Anger reared its head to get my attention, and I listened instead of running and hiding under the bed.  They didn’t diminish who I was; they added another dimension as I learned to lean into them and learn what they needed to teach me.  Grief; Anger; Fear…these are all God given emotions that He gave us for a reason.  Turns out Joy was still there all along as well.  She hadn’t been kidnapped, she had simply moved to the other side of the house for awhile so that these new guests could get the attention that they needed.  It was scary getting to know these new parts of myself, and I couldn’t have done it without close friends and a good counselor.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to know them though, because having a genuine relationship with them opens me up to an even deeper relationship with Joy as well.  I dug and scratched my way over the mountain with Grief and Anger as my companions, only to come out stronger on the other side.  My name’s still Joy by the way, but now when I need to, I make room in my house for Grief or Anger. Throw in a dash of Compassion and a lot of Grace, and I’m starting to see my whole authentic self.  It’s nice to meet me!


Imagine Creativity Unleashed

There are some places in the world that seem to inspire creativity.  For me, two of those places are Paris and New York.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting both cities more than once, and there is something magical in the air.  Paris has always been intriguing to me because there are so many great authors who went there for periods in their lives to write.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and James Joyce all roamed those streets and sat at Parisian cafés to write.  I actually read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir about his time writing in Paris, while on a train to Paris.  How cool is that?  New York is teaming with creativity of every genre you can imagine.  There are performers on many street corners and subway platforms.  Dancers, musicians and artists are putting themselves out there for people to see.  Actors go there to get their big break on Broadway or television.  These people all have one thing in common.  They are brave enough to unleash their creativity on the world, come what may.  I have always felt like if I could spend a decent amount of time in one of these places where magic is in the air, maybe some of the creative magic would rub off on me.  You see, I never thought of myself as a creative person.  I thought to be considered creative that I had to know how to draw or play an instrument, or really like to do arts and crafts.  I believed that I had to be able to create something in the traditional sense to be a truly creative person.  What I am discovering is that every single person walking this good earth is creative in some way.  We all have ideas that want to land on us and be realized through us if we are willing to say yes.  I shudder to think of all the opportunities that I have wasted because I dismissed them on the basis that I was not creative enough to tackle it.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we were to realize the nature of the creativity that lives in each and every one of us and act on it!

I only recently started writing on a more regular basis.  I still don’t know that I would call myself a writer per se,  but I’m ready to take the plunge and embrace my creativity and surrender to what it wants to do through me.  Now if I can just push past my fear.  I think fear inevitably comes along for the ride when it comes to expressing creativity.  Here are some of the fears that I have to push past:

  • My story is not original.
  • Other people who are experienced writers or storytellers would be able to tell the same story so much better, so who am I to attempt it?
  • Who am I to think what I have to share is important, or that anyone would be able to relate?
  • My story might make people uncomfortable or (heaven forbid) not like me.  I want people to like me!
  • I’m not organized enough to be a writer and balance my kids, my job and my husband.  It’s just not the right season to start this creative venture.

I could go on, but you get the drift.  Creativity is scary.  I think that’s why I find it so remarkable when I see people who are brave enough to dance on a street corner, or get up in front of a crowd and share their story.  Imagine for a minute what life would be like without those people’s creativity.  It would be so dull and boring, wouldn’t it?  Life would be monotone and mundane.  Creativity adds vibrant color to this world that we live in.  Creativity adds vibrant color to my everyday life when I am daring enough to let it flow through me.  I am imagining my life going forward as I embrace my creativity.  I challenge you to imagine where creativity will take you too.


Binocular Vision

I’ve been intrigued with the idea of binocular vision for a while now.  According to the dictionary, the definition of binocular vision is as follows: vision using two eyes with overlapping fields of view, allowing good perception of depth. Pretty cool concept to think that our eyes work together, each seeing a slightly different picture, but overlapping to give the world we see around us depth.  I’ve done the experiment before where I just look out of one eye, and it does make things very one-dimensional.  Or the trick where I look at one fixed spot and close one eye, then close the other, and I can see how the spot seems to move a little bit depending on which eye I am looking through.  Only when we are looking through both eyes do we see depth.  Amazing stuff.

A couple of years ago, I read the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It  by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny.  In the book, they have a slightly different definition for binocular vision as it relates to marriage: the artful ability to see your partner’s perspective as well as your own.  Wow.  I don’t know about you all, but I’m pretty sure that my perspective is the right perspective, especially when it comes to how to raise our kids or how to load the dishwasher the correct way.  Don’t even get me started on folding the laundry.  Everyone knows there is only one right way to fold a towel.  Then I read this passage from the book:

The nice thing about binocular vision is that you don’t have to agree with your partners perspective.  The key is to focus on your partners feelings instead of the facts.  You don’t have to agree with the facts of your partner’s point of view, as long as you give importance to the feelings associated with it.  (Page 125)

One of the biggest things I’ve always wanted from my relationship it to feel validated, or to know that my opinions mattered.  It was a hard pill to swallow to realize that that meant I had to do the same for him, and an even harder pill to swallow to realize that I hadn’t been using binocular vision in our relationship for a very long time.  Maybe not ever.  This idea of binocular vision as it relates to this man of mine has really been an eye opener (pun intended).

Here is a real life example of how this got put into play this past summer.  Imagine us enjoying a great family day at the zoo.  We were sitting on a bench watching the boys playing on this big wooden play structure.  They were having a blast, and it was a nice picturesque scene.  Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Him: We should think about changing the sleeping arrangements for the boys.  I think they are getting big enough to have separate rooms.

Me: I agree.  We could move the biggest boy downstairs, and the smallest boy into our room, and we could move back into the big room that they are sharing now.

Him:  Yes, that would work.

Me: Maybe if we move back into the big room, we could expand the closet so we could actually hang clothes in there.

Him: Expand the closet?!?  How would we do that?

Me: (I very patiently explain to him how we could expand the closet)

Him: So now you want to remodel the whole house?!?

Me:  No, I didn’t say the whole house, I said that one closet!  (I can feel my blood pressure start to rise along with my voice.)

Him: We already have the water heater that needs to be replaced and the plumbing in the downstairs bathroom that you’ve been on me to get repaired, and now you’re wanting to add remodeling on top of that.

Me: I haven’t even mentioned the plumbing or the water heater.  WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!? (Yes, I was talking quite loudly.)

Him: I’m done talking about this right now.  You’re getting upset and we’re in public.

At the point it is no longer the sweet picturesque scene.  I was spitting mad that this man of mine would not even entertain my idea about the closet.  I felt like he was shutting me down and not hearing me at all.  And who was he to just end the conversation?  Then the thought of binocular vision came into my head, and without really wanting to, I begrudgingly took a moment to think about it from his perspective.  I had a moment of insight, and this is what I imagined him thinking:

I work all the time to make enough money to support us.  Then things like the water heater and the plumbing happen, and it’s like throwing money down the drain.  Then this wife of mine wants to add remodeling projects into the mix.  Where is that money supposed to come from?  

I was already angry when I had this glimpse into why this man of mine might be reacting to me the way he was, so even though I used binocular vision, it wasn’t like some magic elixir that calmed me down right away.  I was able to take a moment by myself to calm down, and then I went back to him and asked him if I was on the right track about how he was feeling.  Once upon a time, that same conversation would have just ended with me being angry, and I would have stored it away in my bank of hurts to be rehashed whenever I needed to. (Remember my playground?)  Even though I may not agree with his perspective, being able to see his perspective is pretty huge. It gives our relationship depth.  It’s using both eyes to see, rather than just seeing it through the one eye of my perspective.  I try to keep my binoculars on a string around my neck now so I have easy access when I need them.

Looking through binoculars

The Playground

I used to be great friends with Resentment.  It was my constant companion.  I had a whole long list of things to be resentful about, and I felt pretty justified in my self-righteous anger at the hand I was dealt.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a terrible hand that I was dealt.  I have a pretty great life with a husband who provides, and two great boys.  We don’t have any major money issues.  We have had no major health issues, which I am so grateful for.  We haven’t had to deal with unemployment.  I have wonderful friends who I know would be there for me in a moments notice.  So who was I to be dissatisfied with this life that God had granted me with?  Most of my resentment stemmed from my marriage.  I thought I had married my soul mate, but the real life version of marriage was not meeting the version of marriage that I had in my head.  Every time I felt like this man of mine let me down – every time he didn’t call to tell me he would be late getting home; when I didn’t feel heard by him; when he made work his priority; when he didn’t communicate with me about what was going on in his life; when we would fight and he would walk away in frustration, my resentment would grow. In her book The Mended Heart, Suzanne Eller refers to the Playground of our Mind.  For me, this playground is where Resentment lives, and I would go there to rehash the wrongs that I felt like this man of mine had done to me.  If we had a fight, I would run to the playground and go over and over what he had said; what I should have said back, and how obviously I was so much more right than he was. Instead of being calmed down by my visit to the playground, my conversations with Resentment only served to keep my hurt and anger at the forefront of my mind so that the next time we had an argument or he said or did something that hurt me, it would just build on that last time.  I spent so much time at the playground that it got to the point that this man of mine would look at me wrong and I was instantly angry.  I had pretty much set up camp in the playground.  I had my tent and my sleeping bag and my jars of food.  I had a two-man tent so Resentment would have a place to sleep too.  Turns our Resentment was not a very fun companion.  Resentment and Joy are like oil and vinegar, and there wasn’t enough room in our little tent for Joy too, so Joy eventually left to wait for me outside of the playground.  The funny thing is that this playground where I had set up camp has a fence around it, but the door was wide open, so I could have left whenever I wanted.  I was not being held prisoner.  I was there of my own free accord.  All I had to do was walk out, but that meant leaving Resentment behind, and even though it was toxic, I was reluctant to leave it.  In my mind, Resentment had become my way of trying to get what I wanted from life.  It was my twisted version of hope, and without it, would things ever change?  I struggled with leaving that playground.  It was familiar,  and how could I trust that things would actually be better on the other side of that fence?  Ultimately, it took having someone standing on the other side of the fence to keep calling me to come out.  Come out!  Come out of the playground so you can experience the freedom and Joy of life without Resentment!  You won’t regret it! So one day, I finally did it.  I walked out of the playground.  I stood on the other side of the fence and I gave Resentment a final wave goodbye.  And you know what? Joy was waiting for me.  She grabbed my hand, stretched her arms wide and we jumped and ran and played.  My playground is still there.  Resentment is still camping out, and there are times when I will walk close to the fence and wave.  There are times when I may even go inside and say hello, but I don’t stay long, because it turns out that Resentment will never get me what I want out of life, and Joy is a much better companion. If you have set up camp in the playground of your mind, come out!  Come out!  You won’t regret it!


The Longings of an Introvert

Life has been going full throttle since school started.  I feel like there has barely been time to take a breath.  I was listening to this episode of the podcast Sorta Awesome the other night.  My friend Kelly (Love Well Blog) is the co-host every couple of weeks, and they were talking about what it means to be an extrovert versus an introvert.  It dawned on me just how much of an introvert I am.  Kelly was telling the story of what she did on her kids’ first day back to school.  She went to Target and then met a friend for lunch and they were able to hang out and talk all day, and she was totally energized by that.  I had to laugh because I got my kids off to school, came back home and spent a heavenly day alone.  I took a nap, caught up on some organizing, and I don’t think I talked to a single person all day.  It was amazing.  This is not to say that I am not a people person.  I love getting together with my friends, and I get so much out of my time with them.  When I really need to recharge though, I need my alone time.  This can be really hard with two boys, a husband and a part-time job.  I know I’ve been feeling the effects this week of being constantly on the go with little to no chance for quiet.  I’ve been having random thoughts that go something like this: Wouldn’t it be great to just get in my car and drive?  What I wouldn’t give for a hotel room all by myself with a few good books.  I could just hang out by myself.  Alone.  By myself.

I had the privilege tonight of listening to a friend who had a really tough week.  She had finally reached her breaking point, and she went out walking by herself.  She found a swing, and she just sat and swung for a long time, and she was able to take solace in that little bit of time alone.  It was a good reminder for me on these weeks when I am feeling like if I don’t get off by myself soon, someone is gonna get hurt, that I can do small things to get away and recharge.  Even if it’s as simple as finding a swing for an hour.  I can’t keep giving if my tank is empty, so finding the eye in the storm where I can put some gas in my tank is essential.  I used to have mommy guilt over this, thinking that once I had kids, I had to give them all of me, all of the time or I wasn’t being a great mom.  I soon discovered how much better I was at being a mom when I saved time just for me, and I was able to let go of the guilt and just enjoy my time alone.  So, whether you are an introvert who longs for solitude, or an extrovert who craves some face time with friends, find your swing so you can recharge your battery and face the new day with renewed vigor.


Letting Go

This time of  year always makes me think of letting go.  Letting go of the gorgeous summer weather; the wonderful months of not having to set an alarm; the fun summer activities with my boys.  I’m always sad every year when the boys go back to school and the leaves start to turn.  This was brought home yesterday when I was dropping my youngest off at school.  As I was leaving, another mother was dropping off her girls.  As they walked toward the building, her youngest daughter burst into tears and refused to go in to the school.  The mother was dressed in scrubs, so I’m sure she was on her way to work, but she stopped with her girl outside of the building and just hugged her.  It brought tears to my eyes and my mother’s heart ached for them.  It was another reminder that life is a series of letting go.  When the letting go involves our children, it is especially bittersweet.  I used to shy away from grief in my moments of letting go.   Let’s face it, grief is not the most pleasant thing to embrace.  I think fear and grief are two things that people often do their best to bury or deny.  They get a pretty bad rap.  The way I look at grief has changed though in the past couple of years.  It is not just some terrible feeling that needs to be shoved down and avoided at all costs.   I am learning to become friends with grief and to embrace it in those moments of letting go when it pays a visit.  When I didn’t allow myself to grieve, I hung on to all the sorrows of letting go.  Soon I was carrying around this huge bag of loss and sorrow, and it was heavy.  One of the most freeing times in my life was when I finally embraced grief and let it do its job on me.  It’s o.k. to feel the loss of letting go.