New Normal: Joy in the chronic…

Yesterday was my birthday. I am officially 52 years old. I remember thinking my mom was old when she turned 52 but I thought she was young when she went to be with God at 70. I have no idea if I am young or old right now. I feel both.

I do know that I went to the oncologist on my birthday, and surprisingly, I wasn’t really all that put out by having a doctor’s appointment on my birthday. This was, I am sure, in part because I needed to know that there was improvement in my white blood cell count from the week before. This is my new normal. The receptionist even said, “I know who you are Sonia, you are all checked in.” (Are we friends now or just people in each other’s lives from now until…a long time from now? Oh gosh…I better start remembering her name!)

Last week I had coffee with my friend Susan and she asked me if I think about “it” all the time. Ummm, that would be yes. First thing in the morning and in the moments before I sleep, I think about being “chronic”…and if I am honest, about 100 other times during the day. There is a little weight that sits on my shoulder and only goes away when I am listening deeply to a client or a loved one. I am trying to make that weight my friend and use it to feel, think and live more aware. I am trying to make that weight my new super-power for understanding people better.

So this was interesting timing: A new client called last week and wanted to know if I specialize in chronic pain. I told her that I am not yet an expert in that area, but I do know some people who specialize in treatment for those battling daily bouts of extreme pain. Our short interaction brought to my attention, in a profound way, that people who have long-suffering, whether it is emotional or physical, fall into a category all their own. When there is a timeline associated with a traumatic event, a therapist can utilize so many techniques designed to help a client realize that just because it happened once, doesn’t mean that it will happen again. But someone who is battling a situation that is for the rest of their life…that is different. I am beginning to understand.

When we got the report on Wednesday that showed my WBC numbers scooting back into normal range, I became immediately hope-filled. Mike and I did a victory dance outside the office, took the stairs because our spirits were lifted, and Mike fist-bumped the medical personnel having a conversation in the stairwell. (I chose not to touch anyone who may not have used hand sanitizer in the last few seconds after touching sick people, because those darn white blood cells are still a little bit of a thing.) They too joined in our victory celebration. That trip to the doctor’s office was joyful but I know that I am going to have to remind myself of this joy somewhere down the road of the journey I am on, when the news is scary again and I have to fight a little harder. I have joined the fraternity of people whose story has to be coerced into joyfulness because it wants to take us the other direction.

What ongoing situation in your life tests your limits? What reoccurring emotional battle or physical dilemma will not release its grip some days? Are you able to find joy in the suffering?

James 1:2 reminds us…

”Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.”

I get it. It was the one day of the year that I should have been at the spa, relaxing, forgetting my troubles. But, because of the Lord’s gracious spirit, I was able to be blessed by those silly numbers…going up just fractions of a point…enough to know that God sees me, in my brokenness and chooses to give me hope on this day…joy on this day. I will take it and celebrate today.

Do you need a little hope too?  Do you have a situation in your life that feels chronic? You need to know that hope can be found, even in the most dire situations of life. I am praying HOPE for my clients, my friends and the world…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #3: For you, for me or for us?

If you have been married any time at all, you know that there are moments in marriage that are very imbalanced. One person is out doing the other person by carrying the emotional weight of a stressful conflict or by doing the bulk of the supposedly shared responsibilities. There are a number of very good reasons for imbalance, the most obvious being that one person is going through a particularly stressful time, for whatever reason, and the other spouse has to pick up the slack.  However, there are also times when life does not necessitate an imbalance and one person gets sick and tired of doing most of the emotional or physical lifting, when they are married to another perfectly capable human being.  When couples end up on my couch, oftentimes that imbalance has gone on too long and some reorganizing has to be done to save the harmony of the home.

Much of the time, in conversations surrounding the “who-does-what”, it becomes very clear that  people do the tasks or take on the emotional burdens that make sense to them. For example, one spouse may not mind a little clutter around the house, while their honey may need things tidy at all times. So each time the neater spouse picks up something left out-of-place, they are making a mental checklist of their efforts and then slowly, like a crock pot, resentment is building.

A quick reframe that can be used in these situations is to ask yourself who you are actually doing this task for….yourself, your spouse or for the marriage!

Couples that live well together have usually figured out a system that works…each of them have areas of their shared life that fall within their “jurisdiction”. For example, regardless of my strong views on equality for women, it is best if I do the bulk of the laundry in our family and Mike tackles all things related to our cars. It is an area of our life that we are both comfortable with traditional roles. These are not the areas where conflict arises.

The areas of conflict for married folks, arises where there is expectation on one person’s part that the task should be performed by the other person OR the other partner is not pulling their weight. For example, I have the expectation that my husband should be able to get his socks in the hamper and he has the expectation that I will close the cupboard when I take a dish out. (We both have improved in these areas over the years, but honestly, the struggle is real.)

Of course, neither of the above scenarios should land us in counseling but you would be surprised, how if gone unchecked, numerous imbalances can lead to built up frustration between two people. I once had a family in counseling that literally talked about kitchen responsibilities in my office for a solid three months. Each person had different expectations of the part they should play and it lead to some intense conflict. Fortunately, we were able to reframe their approach to shared responsibility, not only in the kitchen, but in their interpersonal dynamic as well.

A healthy switch in viewpoint can sometimes change the whole dynamic.

Step one: Ask yourself why the task or issue at hand is important. Who does this affect the most? Are you making something that is only important to you, everyone’s problem? Or is the task or idea being challenged something that has to be addressed, in order for your home to function properly? Set expectations and communicate time lines so that you avoid disappointment.

Step two: Realize that even though you have pledged to cleave as one, it doesn’t mean that you are going to share a brain. Don’t expect that your spouse knows what you think is the priority for household chores or child-rearing. Each of you were raised in different homes, by different parents. Blending those experiences takes numerous, ongoing conversations, to find a happy medium that you both are comfortable with.

Step three: Find ways to serve one another. Healthy marriages involve two people that WANT to help one another get through life. When I toss those wayward socks into the basket and Mike closes the cupboard, without making an issue of it, it should not feel like a big sacrifice. You are doing those tasks for harmony within your marriage! Also, remind yourself not just of the tasks your spouse doesn’t do, but what they do! You may even find that it is not as imbalanced as you thought.

Step four: Own up to the areas you fall short and work to improve. “It’s just the way I am” seems like an authentic, self-aware statement, but it does not usually promote positive feedback from the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. For goodness sake, give them some hope that your relationship is going to improve with age!

While I purposefully used simple illustrations, I am aware that imbalance in relationship can run much deeper than who is mowing the lawn each week. If you sense there is an imbalance that is rocking your marriage, don’t wait until you are ready to leave your spouse to start the conversation!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Rejection: Bad news or good information?

I have a client who is encouraging me to write more. Because of all the HIPAA-ish laws surrounding counselors and clients, I have to be VERY careful not to divulge any specific information about this person, but let’s just say it is a counselor-client relationship that works really well because my specialties line up with her life/journey work. Recently she sent me a list of “Sonia-isms” that she has found helpful and I now have a topic list for my blog that should last me through the end of summer, at the very least.

So here it is, the first “Sonia-ism” that meant something to someone I work with…

If someone tells you that they don’t love you, you need to believe them.

Nobody likes rejection. Whether the rejection comes overtly or subtly, the pain that comes with being told or shown that you are not valued can hit hard. I am often sitting with clients as they sift through the dynamics of a relationship-gone-bad and when we uncover that their love is unrequited and they are not valued in the relationship being discussed, it is pain-fulllllll. And that is when boundaries of the heart must be set.

The hard thing about setting boundaries is that after a visit to the counselor, there is pumped-up adrenaline for confronting all the people in your life who are overstepping boundaries with you. You equip yourself with words and phrases, to tell them that for you to be happy in the relationship, some of your expectations must be met as well. When playing this scenario out in your mind, or in front of your bathroom mirror, your friend, boss or relative always responds with, “Oh my gosh! I had no idea you felt so used and abandoned by me! I will do anything I can to repair this relationship!” Sadly, this is not usually what happens. It sometimes happens though, so don’t stop trying!

Oftentimes, you might find yourself sitting across the table from someone who has NO interest in changing anything about their interactions with you. In fact, they may feel burdened by the relationship and see YOU as the crazy one! When you take that step to be vulnerable and take the risk to ask for what you feel is necessary for the relationship to continue, and you get a blank stare or an empty promise, and it turns out that the real answer is, “Ummm. Nope, I think you are overreacting….or I prefer that you do all the heavy-lifting in our relationship”, that can hurt like a mama….yep, that can STING!

But I am going to encourage YOU in the same way that I encourage my clients! REJECTION IS GOOD INFORMATION! Before that gut-wrenching conversation, the reason you hung on to that hanging-by-a-thread relationship was that you did not know for sure what the other person thought! You had guessed and hoped for the best! Once you KNOW that you are not a priority for that person, you can release them, guilt-free, and not be a puppet to their manipulation any longer!  Take the time you need to grieve the loss of love, the loss of time, the loss of hope for something beautiful and scurry along to relationships that are reciprocal and life-giving.

Now the disclaimer here is this: Spouses and family members may not be easy to release, and there are some steps that are required if you want to feel good about emotionally or physically deserting any of these folks. But ignoring rejection often prolongs deep seeded hurt and promotes abusive relationships. Don’t be that person who lives with regret because you don’t want to accept that someone doesn’t love you the way you love them. Your love is valuable and precious, and in healthy relationships, your love is appreciated and returned. It saddens me to hear, “I should have known” or “The signs were there, I just didn’t pay attention,” when I am coaching someone in their efforts to begin their life again. Listen to the words of the person across the table.

Let the truth set you free….

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

College Application Part 2: The Common App, Parental duties & THE WAIT

A couple months ago, I wrote a piece about how to rock the college essay. Since then, I have worked on a few essays and college applications with clients and I must confess that I get invested in these kids and their next steps! It takes me back to going through the process with my own kids, and I want to help these individuals express themselves in a way that a stranger reading about them will think they are perfect for the school of their choice. I am not thrilled that I have to wait so long to hear the outcome!

Is this the time to stop helicoptering?

So when I read an article the other day about how parents need to stop helicoptering and let their children apply to college without any intervention, I wondered if offering these services to my clients is me not letting teenage kids grow up through this process.  But, if you follow me at all, you know that I am a shoot-it-straight kind of gal and this is where I landed. We live in a world of high achieving people and that ‘driven mentality’ is not going anywhere. For most parents of kids applying to college, they have attended about a million back to school nights and teacher conferences. They have cheered from the sidelines in the rain or the sweaty gym. They have made almost-midnight runs to get glue for projects that will end up under a bed. So….is the ‘college application’ the time for these invested individuals to not at least check in on that process. I hardly think so.

Before I say the next thing, let me preface it with I LOVE TEACHERS! I was a high school teacher, my kids have been blessed by teachers and teachers by in large are a fine group of people. But here is what I found out when I had two kids going through the apply-to-college stage of senior year. In my day, kids applied to a couple schools and worked on their essays in English class. Today, our youngsters are applying to an average of 8 schools. Experts are suggesting that kids apply to 12 so that they have negotiating power at the finish line. Our teachers do not have the bandwidth to read all those applications, write recommendation letters and continue to offer vibrant curriculum in the first couple of months in the school year. You cannot rely on your teachers to catch every grammatical error or have the time to encourage your little darling to restructure the last paragraph because it makes no sense whatsoever. They are preparing your child to go to college but they are not responsible to get them in.

Other adults have to step in and assist with this process. Why? Because choosing a college is like choosing a home: You want the best home, in the best location, for the best price so that you will be happy and not want to move. Just like you most likely would not purchase a home for yourself without getting at least a little input from someone you trust, your child might need a little support as they choose an institution, to be their alma mater, throughout their life on earth. This is done by researching for best fit, applying to schools that meet your decided upon criteria, and then offering up the best possible application that your child can put together in a few weeks time.

Use the common application but go the distance

Sonia Nelson - Moriah VenturesThe Common Application is a new tool that is important for this process. For those of you navigating through it, you know that more and more colleges and universities are allowing students to use it, which is WONDERFUL! But here is my caution to you…read the fine print. Some applications allow students to use this tool and then have some optional questions. If there are optional questions on an application, the answer is YES…you should complete those questions if you have any desire to attend that university and most especially, if you are hoping to have them float some funds your way. And before you say, “I don’t think we are going to get any financial aid”, let me assure you, almost everyone can get some and you don’t want to ruin that opportunity because you didn’t feel like answering a few questions.

the time for celebration comes in a blink of an eye

Sonia Nelson - Moriah Ventures

I want to close with some encouraging words now that I have probably stressed a few of you out. The fact of the matter is that during the application window of time, it seems like you are running around with your head cut off. Your child is retaking SAT and ACT tests and resending results and application deadlines are all over the board. You are deciding whether to do rolling admission, early admission and whether you think you want to spend $100 to apply to a reach school. And then as soon as the crazy starts, you enter the longgggggg wait. It is important that you remember this is the last year that your child will have this time. Don’t spend it worrying if they are going to be admitted to their #1 choice but rather, know that you have put in the work and what is meant to be, will happen.

And then enjoy those acceptance letters. If your child has set realistic goals according to their abilities and done the research for best fit, you will get acceptance letters. Celebrate.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Sonia

College Essays: What story are you telling?

In my first career after college and graduate school, I was a high school teacher in Southern California for about eight years. That seems like a lifetime ago, mostly because it was, but it is an experience that has impacted my current work as a psychotherapist  most profoundly.

A few years ago, people who knew I had experience in education and who appreciated some of my blogs, asked if I would meet with their children to help them write their private high school or college applications. I thoroughly enjoy talking with students about their interests, their educational goals and their excitement about continuing education. I also enjoy helping students have a competitive chance to get into the school that fits them. This continues to be a service that I offer through Moriah Ventures but I want to share some ideas to keep in mind if you are currently in this process.

Risk being vulnerable.

By the time your application gets to the “read the essay” stage, you have already made that particular school’s cut for SAT or ACT score and grade point average. They know that you have the ability to learn in the classroom at the level they require. The essay is an opportunity to let the institution know that you have learned something important from life, outside of the walls of academia.

What has happened in your life that has been a challenge or has rocked your boat in a way that changed you forever? Don’t be afraid to share a time that you overcame adversity or experienced something painful. It shows a depth that not every kid has at 17 or 18. While there is a temptation to share victories, make sure you are focusing on something different than the resume already attached to the application or at least highlighting the event in a more descriptive way.

Show the JOURNEY in process.

If your essay highlights an event in your life, make sure that the reader knows that the experience did not end there. Show that the learning is ongoing and will continue to impact your performance at the next level. If your experience made you, for example, more compassionate, how does that affect what you are hoping to study or what organizations you plan to join?

Be unique.

The folks reading the applications are reading essays from people who are all the same age and stage. Ask yourself if the experience you are sharing will make you seem like everyone else in the application process, or will it highlight the special something you are going to bring with you to their institution. If you feel like you might be using an experience common to many, find a way to show how the impact was different for you than most others, or how you interacted a little differently with the event because of your cultural or personal uniqueness.

Proof, proof and proof again.

The process of getting all the words down on paper can be exhausting but you want to make sure that the message you are trying to get across is clear, to a person who has never met you face to face.

Try reading your essay out loud. People have a tendency to visually correct mistakes without even realizing it.  You will be surprised at how many mistakes you can hear, but you missed when you read the essay 100 times.

Have other people read your paper and tell you the points that resonated with them. If they are not getting the message you had hoped, ask them for their advice on how to better communicate your ideas.

Don’t send an essay with grammatical errors. While your friends may love what you had to say, they may not always have the ability to proof well. Ask your favorite teacher or a friend who always gets good grades in English, to give your paper a combing through.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Sonia
snelson@moriahventures.com