Community: Health depends on it

How could any of us know that when we read George Orwell’s 1984, in high school, we would actually live it one day? It was presented to us as Science Fiction, and something that was thought provoking. We should have read it like a training manual. One of the best quotes to describe our times, inside this epic piece of literature was:

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.”

I sat with a client last week, who is as frustrated as the rest of us, with regulatory guidelines that keep her from interacting with friends and family. She said, “I know a lot of people, who also know a lot of people, and none of us know anyone who has died of COVID, so it is hard to understand why we can’t interact with one another.” She, like many of my clients, is fighting hard to keep upbeat, pushing off depression, during this time. Statistically, the numbers are staggering right now. Depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse…all on the rise. Some reports are showing a 30% increase in reported suicide attempts. At some point we need to consider that advocating for mental health is self defense, during this freedom-less time.

Recently, I ran across an article put out by the CDC, that warned about the dangers of isolation. Recent studies were cited in the article, studies that proved that Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia. As a mental health professional, I am appalled that along with suggestions of social distancing and mask wearing, there were not guidelines of how to maintain a healthy emotional state during this time. I see firsthand the damage as I sit with clients (all via Telehealth now!) on a regular basis, who now struggle with increased anxiety and depression or who never experienced symptoms before, but are now battling sluggishness, sleeplessness, lethargy, hopelessness, lack of motivation, apathy, and many other symptoms associated with depression.

I am an introvert, who already worked from home as much as I went into my office. So, at the beginning of the shutdown, my life did not change as much as it did for others who were working from home for the first time. But I knew, that over time, the shutdown would start to feel suffocating, even to my love-my-alone-time-self, if I did not proactively make sure that I had community during the weeks (who knew it would be months!) ahead. I immediately put a plan in place for myself that included my neighborhood besties, who live, work and shop at my same haunts, so our exposure is almost identical. We met regularly, but were careful and responsible, so much so, that one of our members had COVID and the rest of us stayed healthy! Having this interaction made this shutdown doable for us. Some people have openly criticized my willingness to risk human interaction at the level I have chosen, because they know that I am immune compromised. For me, mental health is as important as physical health. How do you think I continue to beat the life sentence I have been given?

What are you doing to keep human interaction at a healthy level? What are you doing to protect your mental health and thus, your survival?

I want it to be clear that I am not proposing that you engage in activities that put yourself at risk for the disease, just so you see people face to face. I do not encourage the immune compromised to rub shoulders with strangers during this time. But most of us have the ability to find a team of people to do life with strategically and still minimize risk.

One of the personal victories that I had during this shutdown came from a proactive attempt to create community. Mike and I have been doing church virtually for the last four years, partially for my health, as I have been a germ avoider for the last 6 years. It was also fun to “attend” the same church as our kids living in Waco, TX. So, when Antioch of Waco offered the opportunity to join an online small group during the shutdown, we took a risk and joined a group. We now have friends that we have met with weekly for the last 18 weeks….who knew?

I encourage you to take a look at this short report that gives some support for maintaining contact with other humans: https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf. If you are struggling to feel purposeful, or you find yourself not caring about the future or you are just sleepy all the time, you may be on the brink of a deeper dive into depression that could be reversed with some human interaction. The risk might be worth it, especially if done with care.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

Rise Above: There will always be a Covid

I remember sitting at my mama’s feet, as she tried to communicate with the customer service rep on the other end of the line. I am sure, me sitting there while she tried to make her point, was super helpful…why do our littles always sit right next to us when we are on the phone? She was being asked to repeat herself, over and over again…no doubt her accent was making it difficult for the person unwilling to just listen for a second. She put down the phone with disgust and told me to get my shoes on. We were going to go in person, “so that they can see that I have money and I am not stupid.” Before she hung up the phone, she asked for the person’s first and last name, a practice I use to this day to advocate for myself. I hope my girls learned lessons sitting next to me when I was on the phone!

Meeting in person did not always work. She also told me the story of when the Friendly Hills Country Club ladies came to “interview” her and they obviously did not see her as an equal. When she shared this story with me, she reflected that being refused was good information…better than being admitted and treated poorly. Even when the club changed some policies, she knew it wasn’t a home for our family.

My mother was anything but stupid. She came to the United States, brought by missionaries Chuck and Mary Olvey,  to attend their alma mater, where she graduated at the top of her class, in her second language. I still have a copy of the speech she gave at Biola’s graduation, typed out…a message to inspire others. In her life, she overcame obstacle after obstacle, with a grace that probably gave the impression that it came easily to her. As her daughter, I had a front row seat to some of the obstacles, and it wasn’t easy; she had a deep rooted faith and she refused to give up. And she refused to be mediocre.

Here is my mamacita getting her citizenship…fun day!
Green Card photo….how brave she was!

When California held a vote to make Spanish an official language, I learned how very wise she was….”If California says they are willing to loose language, a uniter of people, there will always be two or more groups, and the English speakers will always have the advantage.” Soon after, she began volunteering, teaching Hispanic adults to read and speak English. She also decided around this time to turn in her green card for United States citizenship, so she could vote.

In the last few years, I have been told by professors, friends who have differing political viewpoints, and popular culture, that my story and my mother’s story don’t count, in my perception of how to really change the world. That is fine. Maybe our story is just for us and the children I am raising.

My daughter is teaching dance in Waco, Texas, and after having classes via Zoom, for 10 weeks, some of the girls were not feeling ready to perform. She shared with me that she told those girls that there will always be a Covid, or a current event, or a personal struggle, that will impact their lives…but they have a recital to perform and they can choose to give it their best effort or give up. She has no idea that she inspired me that day. Sometimes in life, it just seems easier to give up. There is a temptation to forget how hard we have worked to get where we are, and in those moments, we can be willing to throw it all away.

Friends, is there a situation in your life that is beating you down? Is there a job situation, an illness, a broken relationship???? Are you tempted to give up, retreat, or forget that you have life to be lived? I have never met a person who didn’t have a situation in their life, where others were to blame, or the unfairness of the situation was unbearable. But we all do have the choice to press on. Every hero, every success story, has a moment in the story, where all the odds were against them, and they did. not. give. up.

Have faith. Do not give up. Refuse to be mediocre. Thank you, Mamacita, for the lessons you taught me, when I sat at your feet.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

 

Relationship: Two people, two stories

I can tell you the first and last names of almost all these kids. Nolan is the swagger in the middle of the second row.

When I was in the 4th grade at Faith Lutheran School, Mr. Johnson was thrust into our combination 4/5 class, his first year of teaching. I was a first year teacher once, so I understand that it can be rough that first year, but I think it is safe to say that Mr, Johnson had it worse than most. His class control was so bad that I can still see scenes in my 53 year old brain of my class running around, having too much fun for a Christian school education. During one of those times, a kid named Nolan was swinging his arms around, and by accident, his fist landed square on my face. Later a doctor told me that it probably was fractured but I was a kid in the days when you didn’t go to the doc for just anything, so I think it just healed on its own over time and now I have a little bump to remind me of that day.

Mr. J’s solution, to what must have appeared to him to be a fight…(why he thought I was fist fighting is of concern to me at this moment)…was to make Nolan and I put our desks side by side for the rest of the day to work it out. While I remember not totally blaming that kid for accidentally punching me, I also remember being irritated that I had to sit so close to him, as he still wasn’t my favorite person, since my nose hurt and he was the cause. But, sit there I did, because I am a rule follower most days…and, of course, there weren’t cell phones in the 70’s, so I couldn’t call my mom. By the end of the day, he and I were chatting and having a great time. Maybe Mr. Johnson wasn’t as clueless as we thought. Nope…he was. But, whatever, it is kind of funny now.

Sometimes, between people, there are disagreements about how things should be handled. But it doesn’t always mean that one person meant to hurt the other one or that someone has to be wrong. Nolan was swinging his arms and I was probably running, and sadly, I got a splintered bone out of the deal. But when we were made to sit next to each other and each made to apologize for the part we played, we ended up getting along just fine. I can almost hear the conversation when Nolan told me it was an accident and how he felt really bad and then he reenacted the whole thing so I could fully get a picture of his intentions.

Obviously, Nolan isn’t the last person to hurt me. Over the years, I have had lots of times where infractions have occurred in relationships, apologies exchanged and life continued. I have also had situations where people have hurt me, or I them, and there has not been reconciliation. I know I prefer the times when the relationship was recoverable.

We are in a historical time where tensions are high, opinions differ and people are getting very hurt. Some people are willing to sit next to their friends who have different perceptions or solutions to problems, and others are hell bent at getting everyone else to say, do and act exactly like them. There might be some value in sitting next to another person, to hear their story, to see if there are more similarities than differences in our viewpoints, as we navigate controversial issues and the approaches to solving the tough questions. I have a gut feeling that many of us have good intentions and want similar outcomes.

Hopefully, one day we will look back at this time and we won’t remember the fighting as much as remember the healing. Hopefully, we will remember good people, trying to do good things in a hurting world.

With love,

Sonia

Empathy: Love yourself, love others

 

A couple years ago, my brother did a DNA test that resulted in me finally understanding where my crazy-curly head of hair came from. We have some African lineage, that is obviously determined to be passed along from generation to generation through whatever DNA is linked to hair. You can only imagine some of the playground comments I got, in those sad days before real hair products. I often joke that it is a good thing I never met Farrah Fawcett in a dark alley, for what she did to me in junior high. I was so jealous of my straight-haired, blonde friends who could use one of those flimsy plastic curling irons to get results that took me hours to achieve and then didn’t last if the humidity markers were above 1%.

I realize now that my mom hated her hair too. I will never forget her pulling up to take me home from piano lessons, with a new wig on. It was the 70’s and I guess that was the solution for bad hair days back then. I didn’t know it was a wig, so I burst into tears when her new “frosted” wig had blonde streaks in it. I thought I was going to be alone in my brown-frizzy-curly-haired world. I wept all the way home. When she finally removed It so I could see that it wasn’t real, she told me that should would not wear it anymore if it hurt me so much. Of course, once I knew it was removable, I was good to go.

At her 4th birthday party, my daughter Emilee came running in the house bawling her eyes out. I pulled her into my lap to check for scraped knees but she wasn’t hurt. She sobbed into my chest, “I hate my hair!”. I was ready for this. I told her how Jesus made everyone different and that our family had curls…blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…. She looked up at me and said, “No mama! I LOVE my curls! I hate my BLONDE hair. You, Azile, Daddy and Maddy (her little bestie at the time) all have BROWN hair!” I looked down at her beautiful platinum blonde hair and thought to myself, “How many people would love to have this color hair?” BUT WAIT…did my daughter say she loves her curls? Could I learn to love mine?

On my drive to get my hair done, I was nervous. I had never ventured into the world of blonde. I had never felt like it would fit. But my baby did not feel part of our family. So I added some blonde streaks so that my hair color would be the color of both my children. I remember Leelee touching those strands over and over when I got home. Years later when I tried to go back to my real hair color to save some money, people would ask me if I felt well. They would tell me that I didn’t “look myself”.

We all have voices in our head that tell us we aren’t good enough…that we don’t belong. I also know that this example is just hair…but almost every person has, at some point in their life, felt excluded because they were not like other people, because of physical appearance, or belief system, or family of origin, or where they lived, or WHATEVER!

What piece of yourself are you willing to give up, share, let go of, or offer as a gift to another human so they feel included, loved and part of a family?

When my oncologist was giving me my treatment plan 6 years ago, I think I shocked him when I told him I was less afraid of losing my boobs than I was of losing my hair. It had taken me a lifetime to love it and I wasn’t ready to lose it now.

 

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However, I am willing to give parts of myself, while I work through my story, for the emotional healing of others. As we all are living in this turbulent time, I encourage everyone to dig deep and find how you can be part of the solution for others feeling whole. And who knows…in that process you may find a YOU, that fits you even better.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

My Offering: Sitting in the Pain

I just got off the phone with my best friend from my childhood. We met in 7th grade when she and her brother accidentally rang my doorbell, when they were going door to door selling magazines for the school fundraiser. She told me later that she was mortified when I answered the door…we were in 7th grade where everything is embarrassing. I honestly thought it was hilarious, and it lead to a joined-at-the-hip friendship that took us through high school and beyond. I can’t tell you how many memories I have of the two of us laughing till we cried. We passed notes, talked on the phone, double dated, played sports, went on family vacations, were in each other’s weddings…we had no idea that life might not always be so carefree. Since then, our lives have not always been intertwined, but we talk and get together whenever we can, because we will always be heart sisters.

This morning I was liking a photo of her handsome son on Instagram. Her son and my girls are the same age. I remember thinking it was so fun that we were pregnant at the same time. He was recently made a deputy and I thought the picture was celebrating that. It wasn’t. It was the picture in the paper, that told how he died in a car accident yesterday. His was a young, beautiful life, cut short and his mama is my dear friend. And even though I am a trained counselor, and have lead grief groups, and taught seminars on grief… I had no words.

Sometimes in life, there are no words for the pain we shoulder. Even as I have been crying for her all day, and reflecting on our earlier conversation, where she shared about the last time she saw her son and the way God allowed some moments to take place in the last week that she will be forever grateful for…I still do not know what to say. I know better than to think there is a sentence or a phrase that will take any of her pain away. She has faith. She is relying on that to get her through this time. I can only offer myself to sit in the pain with her.

Have you ever had someone sit with you in the pain? I can think of several times in my life where my situation in life was inconsolable and there were no words to ease my burden and there were people who sat…sat next to me…no words…just presence. Presence just says, “I Iove you and I wish had a magic wand to wave on your behalf…but since I don’t, I will sit and pray and hold your hand…” I can only hope that is what I offered this morning.

Our world is topsy turvy right now and you might know of people who need some sitting next to. Maybe you need someone to sit in your pain with you. If you have ever shied away from being with another human because you didn’t know what to say, know that words are not always the only way to be there for someone. I am grateful for every person who has silently come alongside me and sometimes it is all I have to offer.

I wish I could wave a magic wand today…for my dear friend and for those who are facing all sorts of crazy in this pandemic. But today, all I can do is say I am sorry and offer my presence.

Love,

Sonia

Stormy Waters: Who is in your boat?

For those of you who follow my personal Facebook page, you know that my recent trip to counsel global workers started with a bang. I was sitting on a plane, minding my own business, watching a movie, when I experienced the most painful back spasms ever. If you have flown internationally, you know there is that time, in the middle of the flight, where the cabin is super dark and everyone is supposed to be asleep. I was trying to comply! I am a girl who flies a ton but in all those travels, I have never had the need to push the call button. I was humbled when I had to not only push the button, I had to engage numerous flight attendants to help me. (Shout out to Lufthansa Airlines…I am forever grateful for the care they gave to me! Carol, Caroline and Lauren literally held my hand, encouraged me, and did everything they could to help me through a crazy time.)

The rest of that day was equally humbling as the back spasms continued and I had to be transferred through airports in a wheelchair, transported with special equipment and given special assistance at every turn. If it weren’t for Lorrie Lingren, the CEO of Thrive Ministry, I would probably still be sitting in a concourse somewhere in Germany. Of course, the larger concern looming through it all was, how effective would I be once I got to the conference!?

Fortunately, once I got to the hotel and was able to take some muscle relaxants, the healing could begin. I also had Mary Ellen, our Physical Therapist on the volunteer team, who worked on me and our precious doctor, Cheryl, who walked me through the pain management. I felt close-to-fine once the retreat commenced and I was able to use the experience to relate to some women in tough life situations.

Our speaker was ironically talking about navigating stormy seas in life. Talking to a room full of women, engaged in serious work around the world, who live cross culturally…you might have expected the message to be one that gave them license to take a break. Instead she crafted her message with words like; keep going, don’t quit, trust the journey.

Our speaker referred to the familiar Biblical account, in Mark 4, where the disciples of Christ are in a boat with Him when they encounter a storm. While they fret, He is sleeping, giving them the impression that He doesn’t even care. But if you look a few verses back, He actually took them into that storm so He knew all along about the trial they would face and that He would calm the waves at the right time.

Life is full of storms. Everyone faces struggles that, in the moment, seem overwhelming. When I called my sweet husband from Germany, he was ready to hop on the next plane to come and save me, but I knew in my heart I needed to trust that God knew my struggle. I am grateful that I did not turn back. I would have missed out on connections with women who needed encouragement to stay put, keep focused, fight for good things in the world. My calling can’t be minimized because of a bump in the road!

Are you in a life trial where you feel alone and unseen? Are you unsure if the God of the universe cares for you? I am positive that He does. Who else is in your boat? When I look back on it, I had a whole team of people caring for me so that I could, in turn, care for others. Do you need someone to remind you not to quit, to keep going, to trust in the journey?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia