A Friend Who Loves at All Times

Image courtesy of Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net

The thing I appreciate most about the counselor-client relationship is the formality of it all. Both parties show up to each session with one goal in mind – to work on whatever issue needs to be dealt with to move on from unhealthiness to health. Such is not the case however among friends.

Friends share, vent and disclose information to one another (which is a wonderful thing), but friends may not necessarily do so with the intention of seeking a solution. Sometimes friends just need a listening ear, a non-judgmental heart and a warm embrace in their time of need. Sometimes friends need to play with fire and get burned. Sometimes friends just need you to get dirty with them when they are stuck in the muck.

Sigh.

I’m not sure if it’s the counselor part of me or the perfectionist side of me, but something in me wants to save people. To prevent them from getting hurt. To stop them from doing things they will regret. This desire comes in handy when I’m sitting in the therapist’s chair, but it produces a tangled, jumbled ball of frustration when I can only be a friend.

One thing I have learned over the years is that being a friend during the good times is easy and fun. Staying up late at night chatting about boys or going to the spa to get your nails done is great and a necessary aspect of friendship. But then there’s the “a friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17) side that is way more complicated. Why? Because it involves speaking the truth in love and letting go of the wish to micro-manage someone’s choices. Loving a friend at all times means just that – loving them through the back-and-forth struggles, the shocking revelations and the emotional messiness. Love means sticking around as the conflict unfolds, the story reaches its climax and hoping beyond hope that it arrives at a good resolution.

I am learning to be that kind of a friend. The process is pushing me way out of my comfort zone and making me squirm and scream at times, but my friends are worth it. Moreover, I find myself being even more grateful to have God to look to as the ultimate example of a friend who never gives up on us, but loves us completely and unconditionally.

Here’s The Fray’s “How to Save a Life“, a song which reveals the earnest desire to help a friend.

How have you learned to be a friend who loves at all times?

Monday Mentionables: Garlic Cheese Bread, Baked Bacon & Scrambled Eggs

Hi everyone, happy Monday to you all. 🙂

So glad that spring is officially here and there are actually green leaves growing on the trees outside our house. Hope there are signs of spring in your neighborhood, too.

Today’s mentionables are all food related. I’ve been trying to make easy, no hassle meals that the kids (and we grown-ups) will like eating. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve tried with you.

1. Garlic Cheese Bread. Who doesn’t love fresh from the oven bread? Top off a store bought loaf with some butter, garlic and cheese, add a bowl of soup or salad or pasta and you’re good to go! I made my own two versions of this recipe I found online – one with just cheese and the other with cheese and crab meat. I think they both would have tasted better with garlic, but the kids have the taste buds of a vampire, so I left it out just to be safe. They still turned out quite yummy.

The top row is cheese + crab; the bottom row is just cheese.

The top row is cheese + crab; the bottom row is just cheese.

2. Baked Bacon. Breakfast foods are the best, don’t you think? There’s something for every kind of eater, whether you prefer savory or sweet things. The kids love to order bacon when we eat out for breakfast, so I thought we’d have our own breakfast at home – for dinner. One night last week I made a meal of scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and mini hot dogs, which the kids devoured. Okay, devoured may be a strong word to use here, but let’s just say they ate more than usual. 😉 For the bacon, instead of frying it, I found directions online for how to bake it (and save yourself the effort of slaving away over a hot stove). It turned out nice and crispy and less greasy.

3. Scrambled Eggs. Speaking of eggs, for some reason when I have made scrambled ones at home, they don’t turn out quite as fluffy as the ones from a restaurant. So I did what any person would do – I went online to do some research and found the key to making restaurant/hotel style eggs. The secret ingredient? H2O! I added one tablespoon of cold water for every egg and voila – fluffy eggs! Even E said they were good, which means they were GOOD. 🙂

Now back to the drawing board (aka. internet) for more recipes to try out this week! If you have any suggestions for easy, kid-friendly meals, please please send them my way! 🙂

Have a good Monday!

Parenting Lessons: Words vs. Actions

Whoever said, “Actions speak louder than words” obviously had children. How do I know this? Because the two little people who showed up on our doorstep one day and call me “MO-OM!” have made me painfully aware of every little thing I do.

I see my own actions in the way they talk to each other, in the words they use and more importantly, in the tone of voice they speak with. If they are more whiny or harsh than usual, it’s a good sign that I’m being more whiny and harsh than usual. Also, if they are being extra considerate and kind, it’s likely because hubby is home and treating them with consideration and kindness (and I am out doing some retail therapy, haha).

But something C said to me the other day really stopped me in my tracks. E and hubby were playing Mario downstairs and she had asked me to go upstairs with her to get a toy. As we were walking up the steps, I heard her sweet, innocent voice ask, “Do you want to do some work, Mom? I won’t bother you.”

I turned to her and immediately replied, “You don’t bother me! No, I don’t want to do work. We can snuggle!”

Her whole face lit up as if someone had turned on a fountain inside her body. Joy bubbled up and brightened her big brown eyes and her voice climbed up an octave. “Snuggle?! Okay!”

She grabbed my hand and soon after we sat on the couch with our arms wrapped around each other. No words, just a sweet time of being together.

That conversation with C made me think of just how much of what I say and do gets ingrained into her thoughts and beliefs. I cringe right now as I wonder how she got the notion in her head that she could be a bother to me. I don’t want my kids to ever think they burden, annoy or inconvenience me. But if you were to peek inside my heart during any given day, you would see the impatience and resentment I harbor there. And how those emotions spill out sometimes when I’m tired or frustrated. Which explains why C assumed I would rather spend time with a computer screen than with her.

Yikes. What a good wake up call.

There’s a verse from Proverbs that says:

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It occurred to me that training up a child involves as much what we say as what we do. Do we emphasize the importance of listening, but pay more attention to our phones than our kids? Do we want our kids to understand grace and forgiveness, but criticize them when they do wrong? Do we tell kids to love each other, but neglect to spend time with them?

I am so guilty of all this and more! But I am also thankful for the chances I have to be made aware of my shortcomings. And to keep trying and growing into a better, more loving and gracious parent. A parent that E and C need and deserve.

This song by Steven Curtis Chapman, “One Little Heartbeat at a Time” is just what a tired mom needs to hear. 🙂

How do you use your words and actions to influence the kids in your life?

Monday Mentionables: Inspirational Stories

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lateness in getting this post up. It was a busy weekend with a preschool open house and a birthday party to attend – I feel like I’m only now catching my breath!

So before it becomes Tuesday, here are today’s mentionables, which I hope you will find inspirational and heart-warming.

1. Bus Shelter. This bus shelter set up by Duracell (the battery makers) is not powered by electricity, but by people. Check out this video of how human touch warmed up some Canadians in the middle of winter.

2. Homeless Shelter. This story featured on the Today show tells about a couple who both fell on hard times and happened to meet at a homeless shelter where they were staying. They eventually got back on their feet and moved out of the shelter, got married and started their own organization helping people stuck in the cycle of poverty. They even passed out food to people on the street on the day of their wedding. Check out their tale in this video.

3. Storm Shelter. This story is not about storms in the weather sense, but in the trouble sense. This CNN article (with video) features a teenager named Charles who faced and endured many dark days in his life with the help of his adoptive family. There are no words adequate enough to describe the love and strength his parents and siblings extended to him during his short life. Read and watch his powerful story here.

May these stories inspire us to love and reach out to others this week. Oh and Happy St. Patrick’s Day, too! 🙂

Image courtesy of lamnee/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/freedigitalphotos.net

Stuck in the Muck

I write a lot about change on this blog. This space is after all dedicated to makeovers of all kinds and the “befores” and “afters” surrounding change. I tend to focus on the “afters” in my posts because they are wonderful and whole and new, but it would be remiss of me if I didn’t also talk about the “befores”. So that’s what we’re going to do today.

(Now let’s roll up our sleeves and prepare to get dirty.)

Let me take you back to a day I remember well, my appointment with my very first client. I was a graduate student with many hours of classes under my belt, but absolutely no experience putting what I learned into practice (in other words, working with a real human being). I was half terrified/half curious about what it would be like to sit in the therapist’s chair. Thankfully, the young man I met that day looked just as unsure and nervous as I felt; we both entered the room with wide eyes and fidgety feet. I asked a lot of questions and he answered them. His reason for seeking counseling? To work through his experience of childhood molestation.

We started off that first session reliving in detail what had happened when he was five. Each session thereafter ended up being a replay of the previous one; we talked about what he did that week, how he struggled with depression and anxiety, and suggestions on what he could do to feel better. Over the course of several months, there were some “a-ha” moments, where he would connect his current self-destructive behaviors with his experiences from the past, however we never reached a major turning point. We kept circling around the same issues and the same behaviors over and over, like we were lost in the middle of a desert. Everywhere we turned, we saw the same thing – miles and miles of bare sand surrounded by an endless blue sky… and no way out.

Image courtesy of think4photop/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of think4photop/freedigitalphotos.net

I think the whole experience was frustrating to say the least, for him and for me. It came to a point where I suggested putting the brakes on therapy after he had canceled a few sessions in a row. It became obvious to me (and my supervisor) that this client was – to put it in fancy counseling terms – stuck in the muck.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way to get unstuck. More often than not, it takes time, pain and more time to want to get out of a messy situation. It’s not that people don’t know they need to get out of the slime and filth they’re in; the truth is they would rather stay in it. When you’ve been covered from head to toe in mud and dirt, you get used to it. You don’t mind the wetness between your toes or the grime caked in your hair.

I couldn’t really blame my client for being stuck because I was stuck once, too. As a prerequisite for graduation, I had to fulfill 30 hours sitting in the client’s chair. I’m sure I more than likely frustrated my own (way more experienced and qualified) therapist as I kept “wandering in my own desert”. During one session she told me I needed to read a book which, according to my Amazon.com history, I purchased on October 24, 2003 (it’s scary how much the internet remembers!). The title of the book said it all – Hiding from Love: How to Change the Withdrawal Patterns that Isolate and Imprison You – and it said more than I wanted to hear at the time. So what did I do? I skimmed the first two chapters and then hid the book underneath my bed (real mature for a counseling student, I know!).

Being stuck is not fun, but it is a crucial part of the process of change. In order for things to get better, they have to get worse first. I’m talking about yucky, dirty, crazy, as low as you can go, bad. There will come a day when you’ve been sitting in the muck for so long that the mud has hardened. The sludge and waste you’ve accumulated over the years have finally weighed you down. You can no longer take a step forward because you are that stuck. Only when you get to that end of your rope – your long list of excuses, your facade and your self-medicating behaviors – will you be willing to crawl out of the muck.

But in the meantime, if you feel like you’re stuck in the muck – whether you’re dealing with an unhealthy and destructive way of thinking or behavior – sit a while and take it all in. Experience the ickiness and the pain that you’ve tried to keep hidden away by being busy. Allow yourself to feel. And may this awareness move you to make the decision to change.

This post was actually inspired by Bastille’s song “Pompeii“. The lyrics are a good analogy for being stuck in the muck.

Remember a time you were stuck in the muck. What motivated and helped you to get unstuck?

Monday Mentionables: Boiled Eggs, Penny Chic & Rascal Flatts

Happy Monday everyone! Hope you are not too blurry eyed from the time change. I think “springing forward” is much harder to adjust to than “falling back”, don’t you? Poor C (who wakes up with a smile on her face every day, I’m not kidding) woke up today in tears complaining, “I’m still tired!” Sigh. Another reason to move to Hawaii… 😉

Here are today’s mentionables…

1. Boiled Eggs. Boiling eggs is not as easy as one would assume. There are actually “formulas” to getting the right soft or hard boiled egg. Here are a few tips hubby and I have picked up through our own research (aka. trial and error). For soft boiled eggs (runny on the inside), stick the eggs in a pot with enough cold water to just cover the top of the eggs (and not more), bring to a boil, turn off the fire and let the pot sit covered for 2-3 minutes, then remove the eggs and immediately submerse them in a bowl of cold water (to stop them from cooking). For hard boiled eggs, place the eggs in a pot with cold water, bring to a boil, turn off the fire and let the pot sit covered for 8 minutes, then remove the eggs and rinse under cold water. You may need to do your own research to get your egg yolks to the consistency you’d like because the type of stove you use makes a difference in how quickly it heats things up. For more detailed instructions (with cool gif’s = small moving pictures), check out this link.

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/freedigitalphotos.net

2. Penny Chic. This website is all about dressing chic for less! We’re talking about putting together outfits with bargain finds – from Target, Walmart, H&M, Forever 21, etc. – that are easy on the eyes and the wallet. I especially like their section “Penny Chic vs. Pricey Chic” which compares a similar clothing item from two stores, one high end and one not so high end. Also, check out their “Penny Tips” section to learn nifty information about everything from how to make the perfect sock bun to how to wash your leggings.

3. Rascal Flatts. I’m not much of a country gal, but I do like this song by Rascal Flatts called “God Bless the Broken Road”. If the novel I’m working on could have a soundtrack, this song would definitely be on it. Take a listen to it here.

Have a good week! 🙂

Shedding the Past

A friend and I were sharing over breakfast the other day how we feel like we finally know ourselves better. It’s taken 30-something odd years for us to know our likes/dislikes and everything else that makes us who we are, but here we are – older and wiser. 🙂

I used to think I’d have it all figured out by the time I turned 20. I mean, come on, 20 years is over 7,000 days. That should give you enough time to grow up and be your own person, right? But ironically, I think those first two decades (which we hope would mold us into adults) may actually be the years we need to shed before we can mature.

A girlfriend asked me recently, “Why do you feel like you have to be perfect?”

I answered, “It’s how I was raised.”

Let me correct that – it’s how I was born and raised. Genes definitely play a part in who I am. I can’t help but be organized, cautious and structured (just like my son). But the way I was raised really “did me in” and locked me into a box I’ve been trying to make my way out of the past few years.

Image courtesy of Stoonn/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Stoonn/freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but the ones I do have center mostly around the emotion of fear. Fear of speaking up, fear of the consequences if I didn’t conform, fear of being myself. One memory I do recall well happened when I was twelve. I had been eating breakfast at the kitchen counter under a fluorescent bulb. The sun had not yet broken through the dark sky outside the window. I heard the phone ring and thought it odd that someone would be calling at six in the morning. My mom answered and after a brief exchange, she came over with shock and sadness written on her face.

“Your cousin passed away.”

My teenage brain couldn’t digest this news. My dear cousin who was only 2 months younger than me had died. He had been my closest relative till then. My family had lived with his for a while after we immigrated to the U.S. and we had become good friends. Good enough friends that he once stuck a tic tac up his nostril in hopes of making me laugh.

The tears started falling as soon as I realized he was gone. My grandmother who lived with us at the time heard what had happened. She stood next to me, all five feet of her, and fixed her eyes on my face.

“Why are you crying?” she spit out, contempt dripping from every word. “Don’t cry.”

And just like that I wiped away my tears and tried to swallow the rest of my emotions down with my soggy cereal.

Now I don’t share this memory to paint my grandmother as a monster. She didn’t have an easy life, and circumstances (and likely genetics) played a part in making her who she was. She was in fact a very tough woman who raised four children after her husband passed away. She was also the person who raised me.

Knowing what I know now about child development and attachment and so forth (my degree in counseling wasn’t all for nothing!), I understand why I am the way I am. Why I’m so hard on myself. Why I’m so hard on other people, too (namely my kids).

But the more distance I have from my past, the more I am able to see myself apart from it. It will always be a part of me, but its sticky, tar-like grip on my heart has loosened over the years as I experience grace and love from God, my friends and my family. I know now that it’s okay to feel, to express myself and to be who I am.

It’s good to keep learning about yourself and to keep growing. That’s the beauty of growth. It’s never too late and there can never be too much.

Take a listen to Katy Perry’s song “Roar“. I can really relate to the opening lyrics.

What would you like to shed about your past? In what ways do you hope to keep growing in adulthood?

Monday Mentionables: Green Smoothies, Cool Bikers & Editing Wizard

Welcome to Monday! It’s been raining here in CA (finally!) and it’s a great blessing. This might be the first year where I’m okay with winter lingering around a little while longer. What’s the weather like in your neck of the world? 🙂

Here are today’s mentionables:

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Look at that bubbly green goodness!

1. Green Smoothies. Before you start gagging at the thought of drinking a green smoothie, you should try one! They are really quite tasty and easy to make (I use a Magic Bullet). Hubby and I started drinking them regularly this year as a way of detoxing from all the grease and sweets we devoured over the holidays. It’s a super easy way to get your intake of veggies and fruits in a couple (or more) gulps – no chewing required! I used this recipe for a kale/cilantro/apple smoothie, but you can really just make up your own. To make a smoothie more refreshing, try adding cilantro or cucumber and to sweeten it up a bit, try adding dates or any fruit.

2. Cool Bikers. I saw this very touching story on Yahoo recently about a group of bikers (of the motorcycle variety, not the pedaling kind) who are on a mission to help children who were abused. They use their tough guy/gal image to offer physical protection and emotional support to these kids by driving them to court hearings and even camping out in front of their homes overnight so the kids can sleep peacefully! Watch this video to see how they changed the life of one little girl.

3. Editing Wizard. For all you writers out there, there’s a great tool my critique group leader found online to help you edit your work. You just paste in your manuscript, click a button and it analyzes your text to highlight things such as overused words, cliches and redundancies. Some of its features are free to use, but you can also subscribe to their site (in other words pay money) to use the rest of them. I think this tool would actually be good for students as well. Check it out here.

Have a good Monday!