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

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

Empaths: Boundaries are always going to be an issue for you

I will never forget my first reading of Drs. Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries. I was in my early thirties and had never understood the part I played in my boundary-less life.  The unrealistic expectation that my people-pleasing ways would bring relationship and that if I was just “nice enough”, people would respond positively, had lead to some pretty difficult disappointments. So being given permission, from a faith-based perspective, to advocate for myself was freedom I had never experienced!

I wish I could say that all it took was that one read-through to cure me of my rejection based wounds. But as anyone who has done extensive counseling for “woundedness” that stems from a fear of rejection, it is not that easy. Being a natural Empath, I struggle with over-identifying with other people and therefore lose sight of what my needs are until I am feeling really taken advantage of!….Can you identify with this?

As our greatest struggles often become our passion, I find myself counseling people who are also high on empathy and low on advocating for self. My clients need encouragement to stand strong with spouses, bosses, children, and friends. A problem that can become a hurdle is that the energy that it takes for an empath to stand up for his or herself, even once, can leave them exhausted and then they fall right back into that line of thinking where they assume others will see them, hear them and then respond with the same level of commitment. 

I realized recently that boundary work is always a work in progress for the hardcore Empath. Here are three guidelines to use when navigating relationships:

  1. In relationships meant to be reciprocal, if you do not have expectations on the table, you will feel misunderstood and eventually will get burned. Setting expectations is important no matter how secure you understand the relationship to be. Assuming that you will be valued and respected is what gets empaths in trouble! Learning phrases like, “I have been more than happy to help but going forward, I have some expectations as well” and “I enjoy working toward our shared goals but not at the cost of my own”, will alert the person not as high on the empath scale that they are close to crossing a line with you.
  2. Mirror the level of commitment you are getting in return and there is less chance of feeling used in a relationship. High-level Empaths tend to work harder when they sense the other person pulling away, leading to an even greater investment and more to be disappointed about. 
  3. All information is good information. When you learn that the other party has less of an investment in the relationship than you do, don’t let that feed your rejection-minded tendencies. It is important to embrace being your own greatest advocate!  You can choose to protect yourself rather than get punched in the gut and no one will think less of you!

As a general rule, Empaths tend to want to help and encourage. They share easily and have a Mi Casa Es Su Casa mindset. What they do not often want to admit is that they expect reciprocal actions. This is where that Su Casa mindset stuff is really important because those who are not so Empathy-leaning are surprised when they are asked for a reciprocal response that was not spelled out for them. 

Living emotionally healthy lives is a lot of hard work. Keep swimming!

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

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