You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #5: Vows Then and Now

Today is 27 years for Mike and me…That feels like a super long time and yet, it seems like yesterday that we took the plunge. It has been hard and it has been easy to do life together: hard because life can be overwhelming, and easy because I could not have asked for a more loyal, encouraging and Godly man who is as committed as I am to live this marriage fully.

I have mentioned before that our pre-marital counseling was done by a pastor, not a trained counselor, and when I look back on it, I almost laugh out loud. Could we have talked any less about what is really important in marriage? So today, I am going to walk through some traditional wedding vows, similar to those that I repeated back on March 14, 1992 and reflect on what I wish I knew then and what I want my own girls to know, should they decide to commit to marriage someday. It is also what I try to share with the many broken marriages that I speak into on a regular basis. 

“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward…

Being married is a partnership. It is a commitment to love your person when they are beautiful and fun, and when they are ugly and being a pain in the butt. It is waking up together, sharing conversation, whether you feel like talking or not, dreaming together but sometimes having to be okay with Plan B or C or D…. driving carpool and sitting at soccer games and dance recitals together… and at the sides of hospital beds.  It is learning to live with each other’s extended family in a way that honors those people, but protects the family you have committed to be. It means giving in when you can, and not making things like how you load the dishwasher a moral issue. It is loving your person when they are less than perfect, but also encouraging and even pushing them, to be their best self. It is agreeing that their dreams are as important as your own and being okay with the fact that there may be times when one of you has to sit on the sidelines. It is saying, “I don’t really like you right now, but I am not going anywhere.” It is committing to love them so much, your competitive self refuses to give up.

Having and holding is sometimes having a great sex life but being patient in those times that it is not going so well in the bedroom. It is realizing that intimacy comes from looking into each other’s eyes and asking good questions so that you each feel known. It is realizing that physical closeness happens as a result of emotional connectivity, not the other way around. It is foreplay that starts with making their coffee in the morning or running their errands so that they can relax a bit or setting aside time for just the two of you to sit with one another. Sometimes the best connection happens when you awkwardly dance in the kitchen or belly- laugh-til-you-cry together… or when you hold your spouse’s hand when they need encouragement during a dark time or that long hug when you are both too tired for life. It is a commitment to be available, to listen, to be present… for the good days and the bad ones.

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Better, richer and in health are way more fun than the other options, but a spouse that comforts and battles with their person in the tough times often gets the reward of forever love. Most marriages experience something less than fabulous, where one or the other has to give up time, money and personal goals for the other. It is important to realize that when you sacrifice for your spouse, or get in the trenches with them as a fellow warrior, it is powerful for your long term marriage goals. If this kind of love is reciprocal, you can create a relationship that no life circumstance or stranger can come between.

Infatuation often grows in the good times but real love is found in the tough times of marriage. How you and your spouse respond to life’s stressors determines the long term success you will share together. If you are married and going through a difficult life event, you should not feel alone. Often people tell me I am LUCKY for the relationship that I have with Mike. Are you kidding me? Our relationship is what it is, because we have not always been so lucky. We have had some most amazing times but we have also had life steal our joy and our dreams, have been poor and have been sick… and in those times, we have held hands, locked arms and prayed on our faces. The blessing is that we are, because of our struggles, the closest of friends, bonded and more in love than when life actually gave us space to breathe. But let’s be clear, there was no luck involved.

BTW, it also means that when you have good times, laugh and love as much as you possibly can…and lift those hands that prayed so hard, to the Lord in praise. It helps fill the tank for the not-so-great times, and reminds us that all good things come from God.

to love and to cherish, till death do us part,

Loving and cherishing is a sort of having-your-spouse-in-your-heart-and-on-your-mind-all-the-time kind of thing. Of course, saying “I love you” should happen everyday but showing “I love you” means learning their love language and acting on it, protecting your spouse from people who mean them harm and acting honorably toward your person whether they are in the room or not. It is having hard conversations and learning how to communicate so that you understand one another. It is wanting to grow old with them rather than getting upset when they are aging. It is believing that what’s mine is yours, so I want to be respectful and take care of what is ours.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Most marriages take place in front of God for a reason. That reason is that unless you are super-human, you are going to need supernatural intervention at least a few times to stay committed to that person you mistook for close to perfect. It is an accountability that should remind you that if you want God’s blessing in your marriage, you might want to consider some of the marriage advice He gives. He tells us to first seek Him, and then love each other fiercely and loyally. He tells us to even put aside ministry done for Him, if our marriages are not right. He tells husbands to love their wives as much as He loves us and wives to honor our men with our whole being. It is a pledge, not a warm fuzzy pinky promise…it takes serious commitment and selflessness, from both people, to fulfill… but if you truly want to grow old together, you may want to consider the benefits of starting now.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Value Your Time: Are you worth more than a tank of gas?

A few years ago, my husband and I began using a phrase when we felt people were taking advantage of our Empathic-ness. It came out of an experience he had with a local realtor who kept canceling meetings and when they finally settled on a time to share a lunch, the guy was over 30 minutes late. Mike left the restaurant and when the realtor called to explain his tardiness, his excuse was that he had stopped for gas and he hoped to reschedule. Now, let’s be clear…there are lots of good reasons to cancel a commitment and lots of reasonable excuses for tardiness but….really?

So now, when we encounter situations in our life where it is clear that our time, our love, our commitment, is not being appreciated how we hoped it would be, we declare (or mumble…or emphasize with an eye roll…) that we are INDEED worth more than a tank of gas!

It took us years to get here.

Are you an Empath that finds yourself in situations where the other person in the relationship does not seem to put the same value on you, your time, your commitment, that you put on theirs?

Is it hard for you to claim self-worth because it feels selfish? Let’s try to reframe this so that you can start living in an empowered, more “true to yourself” way! Give and take in a relationship is part of every healthy friendship, marriage or business relationship. However, an imbalance can occur, leaving one side or the other feeling really taken advantage of and hurt. Without fail, the more Empathic you are, the more you tolerate as you seek to preserve the relationship.

Chasing after a relationship that is doomed to fail, is common for Empaths. They are prone to think that there is something they can say or do that will make the other person respond more favorably. Unfortunately, in this process, respect can be lost leading to more situations where the Empath does not feel heard, understood or valued.

If you are the Empath, there is wisdom in taking care to reserve that “extra effort” for relationships that have a hopeful outcome, or for members of your family that you are bound to for life. But putting on some protective armor for other relationships is important if you want to find meaningful relationships in this life. The longer you stay connected to someone who does not value you, the longer you risk being away from the relationship that will value you.

Because YOU are worth more than a tank of gas!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Thanksgiving: It is easy to be grateful when you have just been to Africa

Sonia Nelson - Couchtime.netRecently, I returned from a trip to Africa, feeling abundantly grateful that my calling brings me back to the safety of my comfortable home in the United States. I absolutely love and feel called to do the work I do: I serve those who serve abroad. But I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to go. There is a cost to this kind of ministry, physically and emotionally. That said, I cannot describe the respect and love I have for the women I meet, who serve daily in orphanages, on co-op farms, in refugee camps, in medical centers, and in missional functions, in places where they often cannot find what we, here in America, consider basic needs. They battle all the same problems in marriage, family and work relationships, only they do it in places where they do not always have command of the language, resources are VERY slim, and much of their financial and emotional support lives oceans away.

Spiritual Girls Weekend for Weary Souls

For those of you who might be confused about what I do on these trips, here is a brief description. I have a couple organizations that I am a part of, that offer restorative conferences for women serving overseas. Some of these women are with Christian missional organizations and others are with organizations that are committed to building up communities around the world, with or without a faith-based component. The teams I work with offer counseling, pampering, and encouragement through music and motivational speaking to women who are pouring their lives out for those less fortunate. Think “Spiritual Girls Weekend” for weary souls.

I recently served in Mozambique, a country who sits around #7 for poorest nation status. Of the 25 poorest countries in the world, only a handful are not in Africa so Mozambique is a nation surrounded by other poor nations, with no real hope of big change in the near future. Mozambique continues to struggle after a recent bout with communism and while there is progress, it is very slow. I left for this last trip on October 30th and returned on November 15th to the splendor that accompanies the holiday season in the United States. The contrast between the poverty that I viewed looking out of the hotel where we stayed, and Christmas lights lining the roads in my community remind me how fortunate I am. Even in the toughest of financial struggles, I have always had food and shelter. I have never had to watch my children go hungry. And without fail, someone decorates my community each year with a lovely display of light at Christmas time.

Move from feeling to acting grateful

I am aware that it is easy to say that I feel grateful for what I have, with the images of the poor so fresh in my mind. So my challenge to myself this year is to go beyond feeling grateful. When we go around the table and I say I am thankful for my family, my friends, and my warm home, do I check the gratefulness box or do I continue the conversation and explore what is required of me? For example, it is humbling when supporters share their financial resources with me so that I can do what I do. How do I show my team of generous people, who give so that I can go, how grateful I am for the part they play in making the world a better place? How else can I serve to make use of every penny they invest?

Sonia Nelson - Couchtime.netLuke 12:48 reminds us that to whom much is given, much is required. So today I have to ask, “What does acting grateful look like after we have cleared the Thanksgiving meal dishes?” What skills, passions, and gifts do I have to offer and where else can I make a difference in the life of another? How do I actively show that I am grateful for it all?

Are you ready to move from wanting more to giving more? What skill or gift do you have to offer the world? Are you ready to move from feeling grateful to displaying gratefulness?

With love,

Sonia

Following our dreams: Uncertainty in life is an important part of the journey.

Matthew 2: 9-12

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

sonia-blogAs I reflect on the account of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to the experience of the wise men. Known for their spirituality and their intellect, they took great risk and endured extensive travel to meet the Savior of the World. Had they known up front that they would find an infant in a stable, would they have journeyed so far and taken such elaborate gifts? How did these noble men know to bow low to the child before them? Was it confusing or embarrassing for them to return with the news of what they had seen? What went through their minds when they received the warning that lives might be in danger if they returned to Herod?

How many of us are like the wise men, drawn to Christ and brought to our knees?

Like the wise men, when we come to Christ, we are following a star and looking for the one who came to save. The appealing message of redemption and new life moves many to raise their hands or walk the aisle, during an altar call. Our hearts are hopeful as we ready ourselves for a new life in Christ. But the Christian walk can oftentimes, lead us into humble settings, where we observe God’s work in our life through trials and tribulations. We are brought to our knees by illness, financial insecurity, broken relationships or lost dreams. We have life experiences that require us to be submissive to people and situations, at the cost of our pride and earthly joy.  As we navigate these experiences, we sometimes question why our faith was not enough to spare us from the difficulties that life presents or why we cannot, in the short run, feel the blessings we imagined a life in Christ would bring.

Might it be that through our disappointment, we grow to be more like Christ himself? Who would choose to be born in a stable and die on a cross? Only our humble Lord.

We come to realize the saving power of Christ when we are humbled and desperately need to be saved. We find true wisdom when we put our trust in Him. During this season, let us be grateful for the humble King of Kings. Like the wise men, let us bow low to the baby in the manger.

Sonia

Lesson from my high school drama teacher: Encouragers leave legacies.

therefore-encourage

Have you ever thought, “I wonder if I would be good at….” or “ I wish I had tried to….” Listening to the cry of our hearts and being all that we desire, is often difficult if we are required to completely self-motivate.

I had a drama teacher in high school, Mr. Earl Byers, who taught me, through his example, the importance of empowering others. Like many of my classmates, I took an introductory drama class my freshman year because it sounded fun and fulfilled part of the Fine Arts requirement. To this day, it is one of the classes I can recall many moments from and still count some of my classmates as friends. This I know: besides just a few in the class, none of us were “gifted” actors. However, that Mr. Byers could get us to do the craziest things on improv day and he knew how to make us believe that no matter how small, our contribution meant everything to the production.

Because of that class, I took part in numerous musicals and plays throughout my high school years. Most of my roles were small but Mr. Byers would take the time to coach me, individually at times, to get the reaction he was looking for or make me take my little part more seriously. One time, he let me order an extra costume, even though my part did not really require numerous costume changes. I now realize, this was his way of bringing out the best in each student. My favorite memory, was when he awarded me the lead in a play when I had not officially tried out for it. That production ended up being selected for some prestigious awards and I got to experience performing in competitions and on stage at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. I count those experiences as priceless. I saw on Facebook the other day, another student in my graduating class had dinner with Mr. Byers last week. In her post, she said she cried when she left him because she realized what an impact this man had on her life. I get it! It is powerful when a person who you respect, believes in you. Powerful.

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