The boy and the lion

  

I drew this picture last week as I was thinking about the fears we grow up with, and how, in the process of healing and growth, we must once again face the fears we grew up with.  This is a picture of my two year old son, holding a stuffed lion in his arms, while reaching up about to touch a real lion.  It is my prayer that he will be able to face the fears he has in his life — even some fears that will be caused by my imperfect parenting — and face them courageously.

In counseling, one of the things we help clients do is to face their fears. It’s hard to predict when the person is ready to face their deepest fears in the process of counseling, but when it happens, it is the most courageous thing we could ever witness in that person’s life. It is like stepping into the lion’s den and facing the lion they’ve been avoiding all their life.  

We all have these lion-like fears, and often times, these fears began when we were little. When a person faces their fears, it is as if they are going back to place where that fear originated to breathe grace, life, and love back into that part of their story.

Parenting Stories and Reflections: Letting Go of the Wrong Key

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Recently, our little 1 year old son, Jayden, has been obsessed about playing with keys and locks.  Yesterday, he grabbed my keys when we came home from the mall and began cruising around the house, jabbing and sticking my keys into anything that might resemble a door knob or lock.

He found a door and my wife held him up to door knob for him to try his luck with the keys.  However, Jayden had decided to use the wrong key for the lock, and he was crying because the lock did not fit the key.  He looked up at my wife with tears streaming down his face, asking for her to help him with the lock, but at the same time, refused to let go of the keys so that she could show him the right key for that door.  My wife couldn’t have done anything about the lock, if the key did not fit.  It was a conumdrum our little boy was stuck in with no resolution, unless he was willing to give up the keys and let us help him.

It made Winnie and I think about how this situation parallels our life circumstances and God sometimes.  We may be in the crux of a conflict, holding tightly onto a key that we think will solve the situation, when in reality, it is the wrong key to unlock the situation.  However, at the same time, we tearfully ask God to help us without relinquishing our thoughts, ideas, biases, opinions, and overall control of the whole situation.

The funny thing about the situation with my son was that he actually had the right key on that same key ring.  All my wife wanted to do for Jayden was to switch out the key that he was holding.

Games for Therapists and Parents: Additional thoughts on Jenga

jenga

I’ve noticed a lot of people have checked out my previous post “Jenga Anxieties and Worries.” Here are few more thoughts that I’ve came up with lately to add onto the topic.  Please take a look at the previous post, if you haven’t read it already — it will help give you a better context to what I am talking about.  Thank you for reading!  Please leave a comment, I would love to hear what you think!

1. At the end of the game, and after you’ve talked about or processed with your child or client their worries and anxieties, have them write down their anxiety and worry on one of the blocks.  Give it to them as a momento or souvenir, reminding them what worry and anxiety can do to them, if they don’t ask for help, share their burdens, or when take on too many things.  Just make sure you have plenty of extra blocks before you start giving them away.

Therapists, another idea is to do this with more of your clients, letting them write down their anxiety or worry on a piece of Jenga block, and begin a collection of Jenga blocks to use for the game.  So, whenever you pull out the game to play, other clients would be able to see and read what previous clients have wrote down on the blocks, and it would help them normalize what they are going through.  This will help them feel that they are not alone.  Of course, have your clients anonymously write down their worry and anxiety.

2.  This second idea is a demonstration of stress while playing Jenga.  It is not to be used as punishment, nor to purposely thwart or discourage your child or client.  It is to help them see how stress could affect their performance when playing this game.

After the first round, ask your child or client(s) to carry/hold one textbook (preferably those big, thick history, social studies, or math, or science text books) in one of their hands as they pull out their Jenga brick.  With each additional round, ask them to add another text book to their hand before they proceed with their turn.

After the tower falls, process with your child or client(s), ask them: how did it feel to have the extra weight when they were playing the game?  Was it harder to concentrate or focus with additional burdens while playing the game?  What can they connect these extra burdens to what is going on for them in their own life?  Ask them what they can do to unload those extra burdens in their own life to help them better manage the things they need to do?

This demonstration is also good for kids who struggle with ADHD, and teaching about concentration, coping skills, and self-care when one is balancing too many things in life.  With the kind of stress and schedules our high school kids are having in order to get into college, this activity may be good to help them realize the effects of having too many things on their plate.

Hope this is helpful!  Enjoy!

 

Father Helps Olympian Son Cross Finish Line

REDMOND

(Photo from Moonduststudio.com, Getty Images.

Click on above picture to Derek Redmond’s Video on Youtube)

We went to Faith Community Church this morning, and we were really touched by this video that they showed and narrated for Father’s Day. My wife and I were in tears, and our little one-year-old was getting a taste of Daddy’s tears and snot dripping down his head.

British sprinter Derek Redmond was the much anticipated winner for the 400 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  He had withdrawn from the 1988 Seoul Olympics 10 minutes before his race, due to injury, so after training for another 4 years, 1992 was suppose to be his comeback.  It was heartbreaking seeing Derek fall 250 meters into the 400 meter semi-final race from a snapped hamstring.  However, courageously, Derek get back up and began to limp towards the finish line, hopping on one foot.  The physical pain and anguish were evident on his face as he struggle to the finish line.

It was then his father came running down the stands, jumped over the barrier onto the track, and wrapped his arms around his son to help him run to the finish line.  We see Derek breaking down in tears in the arms of his father as he limps to the finish line, and what hits me even more is how his father was telling the Olympic officials off as they try finish the race together.

I watch this, and not only do I see Derek’s courage, but I also see the tremendous and overwhelming love of a father.  In one of his darkest moments in life, Derek’s father ran down from the stands, wrapped his arms around his son, and limped with him to the finish line.

As a believer, I can’t help but see how this story parallels God’s furious love for us.  In our darkest moments, when we are trying so hard to finish on our own, God the Father is right there, longing to wrap His arms around us, to lean on Him, to cry unto His shoulder, and limp with us as we run this race of life.   God doesn’t care how bad it looks, what other people think, but nobody is going to get in between Him and His Beloved Son and Daughter.

This is how Outrageous God’s Love is for us.  Are we willing to lean into Him?

Happy Father’s Day!

How One African Tribe Reconciles

My friend Joe Whitcomb is speaking at Oneonta (that’s “oh-née-oh-ta) Congregational Church in South Pasadena today on reconciliation, and I love what he texted me this morning:

“Today I am speaking at a church on “Reconciliation: Healing Fractured Relationships in a Disconnected World”

The search for Jesus is about reconciling loss and tragedy to God and us.
As long as we share our stories, as long as our stories reveal our strengths and vulnerabilities to each other, we reinvigorte our understanding and tolerance for the little quirks of personality that in other circumstances would drive us apart. When we live in a family, a community, a country where we know each other’s true stories, we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.

I have read the story of a tribe in southern Africa called the Babemba in which a person doing something wrong, something that destroys this delicate social net, brings all work in the village to a halt. The people gather around the “offender,” and one by one they begin to recite everything he has done right in his life: every good deed, thoughtful behavior, act of social responsibility. These things have to be true about the person, and spoken honestly, but the time-honored consequence of misbehavior is to appreciate that person back into the better part of himself. The person is given the chance to remember who he is and why he is important to the life of the village.

I want to live under such a practice of compassion. When I forget my place, when I lash out with some private wounding in a public way, I want to be remembered back into alignment with my self and my purpose. I want to live with the opportunity for reconciliation. When someone around me is thoughtless or cruel, I want to be given the chance to respond with a ritual that creates the possibility of reconnection. I want to live in a neighborhood where people don’t shoot first, don’t sue first, where people are Storycatchers willing to discover in strangers the mirror of themselves.”

I think this is a way of God’s Grace and Love, in a world where the culture of negative reinforcement has driven and motivated us be good through the fear of punishment. We live up to expectations through our fear of Shame, but how long is that going to last before we are filled with bitterness, anger, low self-esteem, low self-worth, and poor self-image. As believers, we believe that God’s Grace and Love reconciled us unto Himself, reconnecting us back to Him, because we are His Sons and Daughters, His Beloved. God’s Love and Grace is the coruscating light in our dark, shame motivated world.

The question, will the offender accept what the villagers are doing for him as them loving him, or will he seethe with suspicion? Will we embrace the Light , the Truth of God’s Grace and Love, or will we continue to live in the Darkness of Shame and Fear?

Joe will also be speaking next Sunday as well at Oneonta Church in South Pasadena, service starts at 10:30am.

(Photo found on gistonthis.com)

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Games for Therapist and Parents: Jenga Anxieties and Worries

Jenga

 

When you think of the game Jenga, does your hands start to get sweaty and you feel a bit jumpy and nervous?  For me, Jenga has a way of bringing out my anxieties rather than containing them — which actually makes it a great game to play with your kids or in therapy.

Next time you play Jenga, have each player answer one of the following questions each time they pull out a block and successfully places it on the top of the stack.

–  Name one of the things you’re nervous or worried about.

–  What do you do when you’re worried?

–  Tell about a time when you were worried or nervous, and what happened?

–  Name one of your remedies or solutions for feeling nervous or worried?

–  Name one thing that happens to your body physically when you get nervous or worried. (i.e. sweating, shaking, etc)

The main purpose of playing Jenga this way is to create discussion, encourage authenticity and transparency, and to normalize feelings of worry and anxiety.  So, the point of this game is not to be “Mr or Ms. Fix-It.”  Create an open and safe environment by listening, empathizing, and walking in the person who is sharing’s shoes.

DON’T GIVE ADVICE.  Even if your child or the client asks for advice, take the opportunity to encourage their problem solving skills rather than your own.  By doing this, you are empowering them and building their self-esteem and confidence.

Parents, you’d be surprised how your children will react when you share about a time when you were nervous or worried.  Showing your kids, especially adolescents, that you don’t have it all together will actually build respect, not tear it down.  Therapists, this activity is great for building rapport — just remember to prepare in advance and consider transference or counter-transference issues.

Lastly, when the Jenga tower collapses, remind everyone that even though the tower has collapsed, we are still standing; we have survived.

Have fun! Enjoy!

Please also check out “Additional thoughts on Jenga.”

 

 

How to Survive the Social Network with Your Heart Intact?

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I got this shirt from Target a few months back, and I’ve gotten so many comments from people when I wear it.  Most of the comments are from people who totally agree with what the shirt said, and there was even a guy that wanted to buy it for his friend, who he claims is constantly guilty of this.

One of the amazing things about Facebook and all other the social networks is that anyone and everyone can have a platform for their life.  Some people truly use it to connect with others, but some really just want to show off.  Nothing could be more annoying than when you’re trying to have real, authentic connection with people and they start posting pictures and thoughts that are outlandishly self-referential, insensitive, and just blatantly boastful.

Yesterday, my wife showed me a news article on a Christian actor that posted online about how his wife did not feel any pain when she was giving birth to their first child — which is pretty cool if he could have stopped writing right there — however, he credited their painless delivery to the fact that they were Christians who lived blameless and pure lives.

I cringed when Winnie told me about it.  It is quite painful to hear something like that, and he actually got quite an earful from hundreds of people responding to his post.

This is just one example, but sometimes it is not as blatant.  It could be that someone is on vacation and they’re posting realtime pictures of scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef and and you’re sitting in 110 degrees of desert heat.  Or, there’s a friend who likes to post his trophies, new toys, and new purchases every other day.  Or, there’s another friend who takes pictures of an exclusive party or get-together, but then they post it on everyone’s newsfeed, those who aren’t a part of the ‘inner circle.’

These frustrations will always be there, and sometimes I would have to revert back to Henri Nouwen’s words on who I am and my self-worth (see previous post Like or Unliked).  But for now, here are a few practical tips for surviving the social network:

1.  DON’T GET ON FACEBOOK (OR YOU’RE PREFERRED SOCIAL NETWORK) WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY, LONELY, SAD, OR HUNGRY.  Be aware when you’re vulnerable.  Try another social outlet that’s more direct; i.e., grab a friend for coffee, dinner, lunch, or a movie.  Talk on the phone with a buddy.  Do something else, like watch a comedy, walk your dog, go out in nature, do something creative or fun.  The world is out there besides the computer screen.  Seek to feed your heart and self-esteem beyond the social network.

2.  RESTRICT AND LIMIT OTHER PEOPLE’S POST AND ACCESS.  This is a way to self-care that may seem restricting but it could actually be freeing.  Restrict and don’t allow access to everyone.  Imagine yourself as a castle.  Not everyone gets access into the city, and even less people gets access into the inner wall.  And of course, the castle is restricted access to only those you trust.

3.  CREATE YOUR OWN TRIBE.  We all need close and intimate connections with friends and family.  Start creating your own people.  Ask and invite those who have shown trustworthiness into the inner castle of your life.  It may feel awkward and weird, but it’s worth it.  When you restrict access and create your own tribe, you actually give space for yourself by unplugging the negative or the irritating, and plug into what strengthens, inspires, and fills you.

4.  PRACTICE BEING HAPPY FOR OTHERS.  This is hard to do, and I do not suggest doing this by itself, straining yourself emotionally just because it is the right thing to do.  Practicing being happy for others happens in the context of relationship and community, and it is an outflowing of knowing who you are and that you are loved.  Doing this step by itself is pure legalism, but doing this within the context of knowing love is power.

5.  PRACTICE BEING REAL AND AUTHENTIC ON FACEBOOK AND IN REAL LIFE. Keeping it real and authenticitic are the new ways to be humble.  If being pretentious separates people, let’s have the courage to risk in order to bring people closer together.

‘Like’ or Un-liked?

Am I "liked" or "un-liked?"

Am I “liked” or “un-liked?”

Sometimes I think Facebook regresses us to being 5th graders in elementary school again.

Everyone wants to be liked.  Everyone wants to be seen and accepted by others.  This is what we were made for as humans — to connect with one another.  This is why the ‘like’ button on Facebook (or on most social media platforms) is so addicting.  Whether we admit it or not, we feel really good as the number of ‘likes’ increases the minute after we post something online.

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind:

“I wonder why Dan (*replace with your friend/arch rival/nemesis/somebody you compare yourself to…) didn’t ‘like’ the picture I posted? 

“I wonder why Dan gets more ‘likes’ on his posts.”

Sometimes you just want to set a rule between you and your friends that says:  “I’ll like your posts, if you’ll like mine!”  That way, nobody gets left out, and nobody is wondering if those friends who didn’t ‘like’ your post were inadvertently trying to tell you something in a passive-agressive way.  If you’re one of those people who has a tendency to seek the approval of others, the ‘like’ button could totally drive you into Facebook Depression or Facebook Social Anxiety.

The reason is that whenever we post a picture, a thought, an idea, or something about who we are , there is a temptation to associate our value to the amount of ‘likes’ we get from our friends.  There is a temptation to compare the number ‘likes’ another person gets on their post.  If we were to pursue these thoughts one step further, you might find yourself face-to-face with the real question behind these thoughts.

“I wonder why Dan didn’t ‘like’ the picture I posted?” turns into: “I ‘like’ his stuff all the time.  Am I just invisible or I guess I DON’T matter to him?”

“I wonder why Dan gets more ‘likes’ on his posts?” turns into: “What’s wrong with me?  Am I not good enough?”

I think this is the underlining question behind it all.  It is a question we have been asking even before you turned on your computer this morning.  It is a question we all have been asking even before the invention of a social network.  We’ve decided to enter into this life, trying to find our own answers to our worth, value, and personal meaning.  In my journey, I’ve found that the only person that could answer this question is God.

I came across two Henri Nouwen quotes that really help me see this:

“As long as I keep running about asking: “Do you love me? Do you really love me?” I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with “ifs.” The world says: “Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.” There are endless “ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These “ifs” enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world-trying, failing,and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.”

“…The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.

THIS IS GOD’S ‘LIKE’ BUTTON.

Games for Therapists and Parents: The Journey of Chutes and Ladders

chutesandladders

One of the games I loved AND hated as a kid was “Chutes and Ladders.”

Basically, “Chutes and Ladders” is a random game of chance that all depends on the spin of the spinner and where you land.  When I played the game as a kid, I rarely looked at the pictures, but the pictures actually try to teach the player that actions have consequences.  If you take a closer look at the pictures, good, productive, and helpful actions will be rewarded with good consequences and climbs up the ladder towards ‘winner’ tile, while silly, stupid, and bad actions will reap bad consequences and chutes that bring you further from the ‘winner’ tile. Overall, this is a game that’s great for teaching about consequences to younger, elementary school kids.

However, here’s a twist.  Play this game with your middle schooler, high schooler, or young adult, and call it, “The Journey of Chutes and Ladders.”

Whenever a person lands on a ladder that propels them forward, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they were climbing the ladder, getting ahead in life, or just having a good day.  Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way.  Have them talk about how that felt.

Whenever a person lands on a chute that drops them back, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they fell, failed, or just having a bad day.  Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way.  Have them talk about the feelings that they struggled with or if they were able to get out of it.

Allow the game to bring out the natural frustrations, disappointments, sadness, anger, or even excitement, elation, joy, and courage that this game could invoke, and allow everyone to relate or tie it to something that has happened to them in life.  Focus on these themes and keep these in mind as you play:

1.  Sometimes good or bad things happen outside of our control.  Life could be unfair.

2.  Process the feelings and celebrate the victories that were shared by each person.

3.  Process the feelings and grieve the losses, failures, crisis, mistakes, etc that were shared by each person.  Ask the person what was it that kept them going — “What strength did you lean on during that struggle?”

4.  The point of playing “Chutes and Ladders” this way is to focus on building connection, trust, safety, and rapport.  Listen, reflect, empathize, and also be willing to share.  (Therapists, this is a good time to be Rogerian.)  As I said before, if you’re a therapist, think of some things you’d be comfortable sharing that won’t disrupt your relationship with your client.  However, if you’re a parent, I would challenge you to be a bit more vulnerable, authentic, and real, especially if you’re kids are older.

In the end, our journey in life is full of “chutes and ladders,” failures and successes, disappointment and fulfillment, and struggles and victories.  We get stuck if we try to define ourselves by either one or the other.

Confidence is Walking a Tight Rope

Photo from firstsliveone.wordpress.com

Photo from firstsliveone.wordpress.com

I’ve always been someone who looked at confident people from a distance and wondered how they got to be so confident.  I envied them.  They never seem afraid or are filled with self-doubt.  I thought they were just perfectly confident all the time.  I longed to be like them, and I tried to pull my self-esteem up by its’ bootstraps, trying so hard to eliminate my fears and doubts, but it didn’t work.

Either I wind up feeling depressed because I couldn’t eliminate my fears, or I felt fake trying to suppress my self-doubts, pretending to be somebody I’m not.  Either way, I came to realize that my fears and doubt weren’t going anywhere.

I began to think about this.  Maybe the path to true confidence and better self-esteem (at least for me) is the journey through my fears and self-doubt.  Perhaps the feeling of confidence is not sterile of fears and doubts.  In fact, come to think of it, is confidence really confidence if you don’t feel any fear or doubt?

So, recently, whenever I thought about confidence, the image of walking a tight rope would pop into my head.  When we walk the line, the reality of falling is always there.  The fear of falling is very real and present, but I think confidence is the courage to just take the next step.

Don’t underestimate the tiniest movement, the slightest shift in attitude, or the unnoticeable amounts of trust and faith.

Confidence isn’t a demeanor, but the small choices we are willing to apply our courage to.  It is moving forward — even if it is only an inch.