Mother’s Day: A memorial to my mamacita

The thing in my life that brings me more joy than anything else, is parenting alongside my husband, so I feel like I should love Mother’s Day. But, Mother’s Day is especially hard for people who don’t have a positive relationship with their mom, wish more than anything they could be a mother and aren’t, or have lost their mom and are left to navigate the world without her. I lost my mom when I was way too young. I look back and realize that it was the beginning of a life journey where I began to learn about grief and how to minister to people in a counseling setting. As we begin to celebrate moms this weekend, a practice that is beautiful in so many ways, I pray for those that have a hard time on this day. I miss my mom just a little bit more on Mother’s Day… so today, I am sharing the word’s I spoke at her memorial service so many years ago as a tribute to those who celebrate this day without their mama:

Mamacita…My little mama….

Last week, a friend of my mom’s (no, I won’t tell who…), was at the house when a hospice nurse was there. The nurse asked her relation to my mom. She said, “Salma is my best friend and although I know I am hers, I know there are at least 20 others who feel the same way.” The other day my brother and I were on the couch with mom and I jokingly asked her who her favorite child was. She smiled a little and giggled as she said, “Who’s all here?”. As my mom’s only living daughter, I’d like to think I was her favorite. Of course, she made me FEEL like she loved me best but the truth is, my mom didn’t have to play favorites. My teeny mama had a heart as big as a house with plenty of room for all those she loved. I don’t know how she had the time and energy to maintain all the relationships she had. I can only count it as a gift from God that she how to prioritize her life in a way that she was there for so many of us in this room when we needed her most. I have countless memories of times when my mom held my hand and said just the right thing to encourage me, praise me, confront me or challenge me.

I think she had time for all of us because she made time for all of us. I always thought my mom was a pretty decent housekeeper but she was always trying to be better at it. She was always saying, “I just need to get organized!”. One time she told me, “You know what my problem is? If someone calls or drops by, I’d much rather talk to them than finish what I am doing.” Thank goodness she realized that organized cupboards are great but they don’t make good friends. Still, it was always on her mind. Flying home from my brother John’s wedding in New Jersey, the engine of our plane caught on fire and we had to make an emergency landing in Denver. Thinking of other’s first, she turned to my Dad and said, “If you have to save us, save Sonia first.” Then she turned to me and said, “If I die, don’t let anyone see my messy drawers!”

My mom did always put others first. The event in my life that was most meaningful to me was the birth of my twins. As many of you know, Mike accepted a job in Salt Lake City and began commuting there 4 days a week just 14 days after my c-section delivery. I was overwhelmed by my colicky babies and with the showing of my home to potential buyers. Mom, still weak after beating cancer the first time, would arrive on Sunday night and stay for the four days while Mike was gone. She did this for almost 6 months. She gave up her lecturing, her lunches with friends…almost everything…during this time to make sure that I could recover and mentally prepare for my move. We had sweet times together during that crazy time. We laughed and cried, and talked and talked and talked as we rocked Azile and Emilee. I have often thought that I would not have enjoyed one minute of those months had she not been there with me.

Another gift that my mom gave to me is that she loved the people I loved. She took in every one of my friends as one of her own. Granted, most of my friends were lovely people, but there were a couple who were…well, not as wonderful as others…yet, I could always count on my mom to show the people I brought home, her renowned hospitality.

By giving of herself to others, my mom inadvertently gave me another gift that I have appreciated more than ever in the past week. She gave me the gift of many of you. Because Mom was a Godly woman, because she was a good friend, because she opened her heart and home to others, she created an enormous circle of friends that Dad, Paul, John and I think of as family. No one can ever replace my mom in my life, but she made sure I had at least 20 women, all her best friends, who because of their love for her, will grieve with me and love me through this most difficult time in my life.

Thank you all so much for being here today and for that you meant to my mom.

 

Happy Mother’s Day…because whatever our joy, whatever our pain…we are grateful for the women in our lives who have sacrificed to make our lives richer.

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Abortion: Some thoughts from a mental health professional

I remember when most of the debate surrounding the abortion issue revolved around whether or not a woman who was impregnated during rape should be required to carry that baby to term. The debate has changed so much and for the first time in a long time, people are starting to question the practice.

I have never been faced with the decision to abort my baby. For goodness sake, after three years of infertility treatments, my twins are a miracle. I only had 2 viable eggs when I went through the in vitro process and I was told I had 0% chance of having twins, 1% chance of having a single baby…so no, never faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I planned more than most for the one I had.

I remember thinking in high school that my parents would kill me if I got pregnant. I realize now, looking back, they were just good parents who were empowering me to self-protect, and if I had gotten pregnant, they would have built a wing on their home for us to live. But their parenting, my faith and the fact that I only dated really wonderful people, made this a non-issue in my life. (I am adding this to the list of things I am grateful for…)

But it is an issue that I sit within the counseling space quite a bit. I remember in my first couple of years of counseling being surprised and touched to the core, at how many women had experienced sexual trauma in their lives. By sexual trauma, I mean, harassment, molestation, rape, unhealthy sexual boundaries within both committed and non-committed relationships or even marriage, and yes, I would add abortion to that list.

For the purpose of my thoughts today, I am not addressing whether you believe a baby is a baby when it is a clump of cells, when it has a heartbeat or when it kicks it’s a mama in the last trimester like it is kicking a football. I am not talking about the baby. I am talking about mama. Remember? That is who this original discussion was all about.

I have never, I mean never, had a woman in counseling say that her abortion was a great experience. I have never had a woman say it was the best decision she ever made. There is always regret, sadness, wondering, and wishing the decision had not had to be made. My work within this space is always about being able to forgive yourself, allow healing and being realistic about the consequences of decisions we live to regret. Not one woman that I have sat within this space, whether the abortion took place recently or 25 years ago, felt that she would ever “get over” it. At the time of her abortion, she was lead to believe that she could keep her life… stay in school, keep the boyfriend, whatever… But in reality, she was never the same. She just moved forward, wounded and often alone in her pain.

So, if we, as a country, are going to adopt practices that we say are to protect the rights of the mother, let’s get real and say that we are not doing a good job of protecting those women. They are feeling abandoned, judged, and alone, whether they keep the baby or whether they abort it. If you take the side of allowing abortions as a means for birth control, then get honest and provide mental health resources for the women who follow your lead. Mental health resources can go a long way in preventing unplanned pregnancies as well…empowered people make better decisions for themselves. And if you are advocating for protecting the unborn, give your time and resources to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, and fight for legislation that provides resources for women who keep the baby or choose to bless another family with the baby they can’t keep. Trust me, there is a long line of people who would welcome these babies with open arms. I see these broken-hearted women in counseling as well. Many of the women in these families know the pain of being unable to carry a child or having to abort to save their own life. Is there a way to bless these women as well, rather than minimize their experience by celebrating abortion in the face of their loss?

Let’s advocate for women. All women.

If you or someone you love has a struggle in this area, as always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #1: Let’s talk porn

As a member of the American Counseling Association, I am encouraged to stay educated on the latest statistical data surrounding human emotional dysfunction. Let’s just say that recently I have been reading a lot of articles about sex and I feel compelled to say a few things. 

Here are some facts. With the recent surge and availability of pornographic materials accessible via the internet, more and more couples and singles have found that their initial interest in porn is turning into an addiction to porn, or an inability to find sexual satisfaction outside the use of pornography.  If you had told me before graduate school how much I would be talking about sex in the counseling space, I would not have believed you. But because of the cultural norms of today and the availability of pornography, let’s just say I talk about sex A LOT. I would also like to add that I am very concerned that if this problem is not addressed, the repercussions are going to play out detrimentally in the marriage bed.

Just to give you a little statistical information, current estimates are suggesting that the AVERAGE age of the first exposure to pornography is 11. That is the fifth or sixth grade for most kids. This happens primarily because websites that target kids, purposefully choose domain names that are close to websites popular with kids. It also happens because parents of kids forget to clear their browsers or don’t want controls on their computers. Curious kids that click through the images are then stimulated by the images and often return to the images without a lot of understanding of what they are seeing, other than the physical response they experience as stimulating and rewarding. 

Fast forward to the prolonged use of pornography: Because porn is a supernormal experience of the real thing, the brain adjusts its release of dopamine (pleasure hormone stuff) to accommodate the images and subsequent pleasure. Unfortunately, if this goes on for a while, the person who continues to engage with pornography might find themselves depressed when they are at a “baseline” state, needing the visuals just to alleviate a bad mood. They also may find themselves unable to perform in real life “situations” because the stimulus and atmosphere do not compare to what they have experienced online. (I bet the manufacturers of Viagra love this!) But sadly, you can imagine what this does to a marriage relationship. No normal human being, with a job and a couple of kids can compete with enhanced sexual images that are being produced in an artificial environment. 

Like all addictions, it is important to understand that if a sexual addiction goes untreated, negative behaviors can escalate. Sexual addiction starts as needing artificial stimulation for a sexual experience but can manifest in later stages of addiction as compulsion….compulsive masturbation, anonymous sex, etc. (Of course, sex offenders are people whose sex addiction has gone WAY off the charts, but since I really don’t see people in my practice who fall into that range of addiction, I am going to keep it simple.)

Back to MARRIAGE! Sex in marriage is supposed to be more about intimacy and connection and a bit less about getting an itch scratched! When couples come for counseling and express that their sex life doesn’t exist without the use of pornography as stimulation, it is an indicator of dysfunction within their interpersonal relationship and the road to healing can be difficult. And because millennials have been “culturalized” to view porn, their marriages are suffering the most! Did you know that millennials of today have sex LESS than any previous generation because they find pornography an easier “outlet” to sexual satisfaction????? Hmmmmm….that is a whole discussion in itself.

So, what if couples worked on communication more and found ways to bring their excitement to the bedroom? And what if foreplay started with someone making coffee for the one they love in the AM and progressed through the day with encouragement and stimulating conversation? And what if the approach to sex was how to care for the individual you are in love with and less about checking a box? Is there a chance that marriages could be satisfying and worth hanging on to? Are you willing to give it a try?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Life Coaching for LEGACY: What are your long term goals?

One of the most fulfilling parts of my job is the moment that I am sitting with a client and they realize that the ‘crisis’ they came in with, sometimes months before is gone, being handled or in a state that is manageable. There is a feeling of aaawwwww when our conversations change from how-to-get-through-each-day and move into life coaching. Life coaching is different than crisis counseling. It is a next steps process that is intended to help a client reach long-term life goals and lead a fulfilling existence, beyond a crisis management life mode.

Many of us want to leave a legacy. We want to live beyond our physical bodies on earth through the impact we made. For you, this could be a financial legacy or a relational legacy. It could be something like a garden or a dream home you design and build. It might be a published work. Whatever it is, the process of achieving that goal has to actually start if the dream is going to be realized!

Let’s get this show on the road!

Here are just a few questions that I like to dig into with my clients going in this direction:

1. What is it that empowers you each day? Is it faith, personal drive, career goals, family? What and who are your “why” for all that you do?

If we take some time to understand what motivates us and why, we often uncover goals that conflict with one another and goals that line up well with on another. This helps with setting reasonable timelines and milestone markers. It is important to know why you are doing life!

2. What are you doing when you feel the MOST “you”?  How often is this happening?

We are lots of things to many people but there are moments in life when something deep inside our soul moves and lets us know we are where we are supposed to be. It took me well into my forties to discover this for myself, but now that I know, I seek out opportunities where I can thrive!

3. When you think of leaving a legacy, where would you like to see that happen? Do you want to leave a large inheritance for your children, rich relationships with friends and family, service to others, political change? (There are no right or wrong answers!)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have it all! However, setting priorities keeps us focused so that we don’t achieve less important goals in place of our ultimate goals!

4. What does the confident version of yourself dream about?

If you take a realistic inventory of your skills and potential and attach a dream to them, what does that look like?

5. What uncomfortable step needs to happen in order for the legacy to be put in motion? Is it a job change, a move, a change in relationship?

Is there an obvious first step that you need to take? That may need to be your #1 goal in the short run if you are ever going to get started on building the life you want!

6. Who can you rely on as a support system in your life journey?

It is difficult to achieve life goals when you don’t have community. I operate best with a small, very loyal community. Others need a personal cheerleading squad. Know who and what you need to stay encouraged and then take steps to get that support system in place.

7. What is keeping you from starting now?

I always said I would do missions work when my kids were grown. Then a woman I know who had babies at home went to Africa for a few weeks and her family survived! I have been doing missions ever since. What literal or imagined obstacles are holding you back from your dreams?

Here is what I know from the counseling I do and life I have lived. There will always be another crisis. They usually come out of nowhere and threaten to strip our lives of all happiness and meaning. That is why it is important to know what the long term goals are…what is propelling you to live each day fully and with intent? I hope to have a few decades to explore, to dream and leave a legacy!

Join me! I would love to help.

Love,
Sonia

New Luggage: Turning the old baggage of life into a story

A couple years ago, I made the decision to “invest” in good luggage. I was done with the discounted luggage I had picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx that had to be repaired with duct tape after a few trips. I do my share of globe-trotting, so I felt it was time.

I have a clear memory of going with my parents to The Broadway, a local department store in my hometown, back in the 70’s, to buy the yellow, hard-sided, 5 piece set that my family took to Venezuela, the first time the Gusiff family went together for an almost month-long stay. So I dragged my husband, Mike, to Macy’s, where there is a decent sized luggage department, to help me make an adult-like purchase. I did online research and considered size, shape, and wheel quality in my purchase. I read a number of customer reviews. I applied for a Macy’s credit card and I made the purchase.

My bag has been around the world, on family vacations and business trips. I thought we were going to be life-long companions. The literature had promised me something like 30 years. That was until I hoisted it off the conveyor belt after my latest trip to Mexico and the handle and a wheel were not okay. I could barely role that 50 lb. monster out of the airport. (Actually, Mike could barely roll it…let’s be honest, he is my bellhop when I travel…) My reliable luggage must have gotten hung up somewhere between the plane and me, and the damage was too much.

Isn’t that the way it goes? We are traveling through life, things are cruising along and then we get hit with some unexpected damage: An illness, a job loss, a death or a break-up. After a while, we have accumulated enough of these experiences to say that we have “baggage”.

We all have baggage. We all have struggles, hurts and deep pain that has caused us to stumble at times in our life. I spend my days sitting with others who are in the midst of battles that seem overwhelming and unbeatable at times. One of the most powerful counseling tools is when the client is in a place in therapy, where they are healed enough to use their life situation for the empowerment of another. Sometimes the best way to heal from our own hurt is to help another in their similar battle!

In the car on the way to work this morning, I heard the opening lines to Big Daddy Weave’s song, My Story, and almost burst into tears!

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

I have a story that has its share of dramatic moments. I bet you do too. How do we cling to the promise that God works together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)? How do we reframe the struggles of life and learn to tell our story in a way that communicates not only the pain but the victory?

What part of your story are you willing to share with someone going through the same thing? Are you willing to sit with another person through the loss of something important in their life because you know what that feels like? You might be surprised at how much you are blessed when you do!

I mentioned a trip to Mexico. It was actually my 12th mission trip in the last 8 years. This time, I served on a team of women, all volunteers with Thrive Ministry. We all have a story. We are cancer survivors, widows, divorcees, women who have buried their children, trauma survivors and so much more. But the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the King of Kings, The Great Healer, our Amazing God has allowed us to use our stories. We get to experience the joy of serving other people who are hurting and when we do, our story doesn’t feel as overwhelming, as painful.

A package just came in the mail today. It is my new luggage. Same brand, just a newer model. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

With love,

Sonia