The Power of the (Toilet) Plunger and the Pen

Have you ever witnessed a backed-up toilet explode? Let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight (or smell!).

During my last two years of college, I had the pleasure of living with three girlfriends. We shared a lot of things in that two bedroom apartment – meals, laughter, tears and, of course, a bathroom. And it was in that tiny bathroom that I got the shock of my life one spring afternoon when I pushed down the lever to flush.

Sputter. Gurgle. WHOOSH.

Before I could blink, the water in the bowl had risen to the rim and began rushing over the edge like a mini Niagara Falls. I jumped back as far as I could as the contents of the toilet seeped onto the linoleum and threatened to touch my bare feet. Half holding my breath and half praying, I considered my options: A) Run and hide! or B) Unclog the toilet. No matter how much I wanted to go with the first option, I knew I’d have to deal with the mess sooner or later. The only problem was that none of us girls had thought to buy a toilet plunger.

Oops.

Thankfully, the landlord lived upstairs, and after explaining the situation to him, he ventured into the toxic waste zone known as our bathroom and restored the porcelain throne to working condition. After thanking him profusely, I cleaned up the floor, disinfected my hands and said a prayer of thanks for whoever invented the plunger. (The fact that I used three forms of the word thanks in two sentences should tell you how thankful I was!)

Image courtesy of Mister GC/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC/freedigitalphotos.net

Who knew a simple rubber device like a plunger could be so powerful? 🙂

I think the same can be said of the pen.

You’ve probably heard the quote “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Have you ever thought about why that’s true?

As someone who writes every day, I can testify to how amazing words are. They have the influence to make or break a person, the force to change a situation and the power to evoke laughter or tears. Most importantly, I believe words have the power to heal.

How do words heal? By taking the unspoken and unsettled things in our hearts and bringing them to the forefront. By pinpointing the reasons behind our emotions – our joy and sadness and fear – and making us reflect on them. Taking the time to put our thoughts and feelings into words forces us to stop … to feel … and to be.

We spend so much of our days doing and fighting and stuffing and, basically, hiding away the experiences we go through. This is especially true of the negative situations we face. It’s so much safer to push the bad memories and emotions down and not deal with them. But the truth is that sooner or later, all the gunk and refuse and waste we hide away gets backed-up in the recesses of our hearts. And it cuts off the life that should be flowing through it. And as we learned from my bathroom story, a clogged toilet – or heart – is not a pretty sight.

I recently read some old essays that I wrote a few years ago. These pieces were penned when I first began my writing journey and was still processing through a lot of “life stuff” from the past. As expected, the words I jotted down were a little on the emo side and even a little dark. Reading those essays probably should have brought me down, but they didn’t. I felt nothing but relief and freedom.

It was through the power of the pen (or in my case, the computer keyboard) that I was able to dig through the stuff that I had hidden away. When I formed those experiences and emotions into words, I began the process of unclogging my heart.

Writing is seriously one of the best (and cheapest) forms of therapy. You can do it anytime and anywhere, as long as you have a pen and a piece of paper. So, take some time to listen to your heart and write down what it’s telling you.

Also, take a listen to Rachel Platten’s song, “Fight Song”. I hope it will inspire you to fight for your freedom from the stuff that’s clogging up your heart.

What experiences or emotions are clogging your heart? Write about them today.

My Adventure to Becoming More Kid-Friendly

Have you heard of the term “kid-friendly”? Well, if you were to do a Google search for it, you would be able to pull up endless sites about kid-friendly restaurants, kid-friendly recipes and kid-friendly activities. There are even kid-friendly jokes (I’m guessing these probably involve chickens crossing roads). In my life, I’ve even met people whom you would call kid-friendly. These are adults with big, friendly (haha) smiles and usually a few pieces of candy in their pockets. They don’t mind getting down on their hands and knees to play and do things that make kids laugh, like impersonations of Elmo (which my bro-in-law, a kid-friendly guy, has scarily perfected). You could say these kid-friendly adults are kids at heart. I personally think these people are amazing and great fun to have around, especially if you have kids needing to be entertained. Which is why I think it would be great if all parents were kid-friendly … except they’re not, especially some square ones I know. 😛

I’ve always been a baby-friendly person, usually the first or second in line waiting to hold a friend’s newborn. But liking babies unfortunately does not equate to liking kids. Kids, in case you haven’t noticed, are very different from babies. Kids can walk, run, climb, etc., and the scariest thing of all is this: kids can talk. Which makes kids just as complicated as adults, only smaller in size. And because I don’t like talking much and I dislike complications, I’m not the most kid-friendly person around.

But, as usual, God likes to place us in circumstances that help us grow. (Groan, sigh, roar. Haha.)

My lil sis posted this great (and uncomfortable) reminder on her Facebook this week. ;)

My lil sis posted this great (and uncomfortable) reminder on her Facebook this week. 😉

Back in the day (before I became a mom), I had been working towards getting my license as a Marriage and Family Therapist. In order to get said license, I needed to complete 3000 hours of internships, which included 500 hours of counseling with … (cue drumroll) … kids. When I saw that one requirement, I just about fainted. I didn’t know how in the world I would be able to work with kids, let alone spend 500 hours, with them. I hoped I could put off those hours until later, but sure enough, the only internship available at the time was at an elementary school working with children from kindergarten to sixth grade. (Cue the fainting.)

I remember clearly that on my first day there I just sat in my parked car and PRAYED. I write that in all caps because that’s the kind of prayer it was. A God-this-is-crazy-please-help-me!!! kind of prayer. I felt sooo out of my element going into a place with hundreds of little people running around. I had no clue how I was going to engage them in conversation or if they would even want to talk to me.

But to my surprise and relief, they did (especially the girls!). Each time I went to a student’s classroom and picked them up for a counseling session, I was greeted with a smile. Each 30 minute session flew by as the kids shared (with some prompting) from their hearts about their families and their worries and wishes. Even now I can still see some of their faces in my mind and remember the heartfelt conversations we shared, especially this one:

K (a kindergarten girl whose mom was no longer in her life): “I wish you were my mom.”

Me (totally caught off guard, but very touched): “You really enjoy our times together, huh?”

K (nodding): “Yeah.”

I came away from that one counseling session a lot less afraid of kids and a lot more appreciative of how genuine, accepting and adult-friendly they really are.

The gift K gave me at the end of my internship. :)

A gift K gave me at the end of my internship. 🙂

As I’ve come to understand these pint size creatures better (especially after having two of my own), I see that their ability to talk is a wonderful thing. It’s their words which give us adults access into their worlds and into their hearts. As K confirmed, all I needed to do was give her a safe place to share and a listening ear, and she was ready to come home with me. I probably also looked like good mom material in her eyes, considering I was about 8 months pregnant with E when she said this.

In all seriousness though, I can say without shuddering or cringing now that the 9 months I spent at that elementary school were some of the best moments of my life. And I’m a much better, kid-friendlier person because of it. (Yay – gulp – for challenges!)

Side note: I’ve had kids on the brain (and in my posts) lately because they are the reason I created my plush toys, the Moodkins. I believe all children deserve to be heard and have their feelings validated by the grown-ups in their lives, and the Moodkins were created for that very purpose. Please check them out at http://www.moodkins.com if you haven’t had the chance yet!

I’ve always liked the lyrics of this Whitney Houston song, “The Greatest Love of All”. The first stanza is particularly kid-friendly. 🙂

Are you a kid-friendly person? Why or why not?

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?

Game Changers

There’s something I used to do almost every single day that would take a good 30-40 minutes to complete. It was a meaningless, yet necessary, task that had to be done and someone had to do it. It involved water and soap and, you guessed it – lots and lots of dishes.

Image courtesy of koratmember/freedigitalphotos.net

Yep, I’m talking about the chore of dishwashing.

Oh, how I dreaded seeing the dirty plates, bowls and utensils pile up each day! I moaned whenever I passed by a full sink and rejoiced (for a few minutes) when it was empty. I used paper products when guests came over to limit the amount of dishes to wash (I know, it’s so not green!). I went to great lengths to cut out steps in recipes (ie. using one bowl to mix both the wet and dry ingredients instead of two separate ones), so I wouldn’t have to wash an extra item. I even tried making the process more fun by watching videos or listening to music, but I discovered it’s hard to hear anything clearly above the sound of running water.

One of my dear friends kept asking me (after hearing me complain and grumble) why I didn’t just use our dishwasher – she said it saves water and TIME! I said I tried, but the dishes just weren’t coming out clean. I assumed all dishwashers didn’t work well and hand washing was the only way to go. What I didn’t know was that our dishwasher had seen better days and was no longer working the way it should have. It took a while (11 years to be exact which is how long it’s been since we moved into our home) for me to tell hubby, “We need to buy a new dishwasher!” So, off we went to Lowe’s and found a great deal, and to my pleasure and surprise – IT ACTUALLY WORKS. Now when I “do the dishes”, I rinse off any excess food from the dishes, pop them into the handy dandy machine, add detergent and push a button – all of which takes me FIVE minutes to do. And the dishes come out clean. Amazing!

This dishwasher has changed my life. (I’m only half joking when I say this.)  🙂

It has added more time to my day to spend with the kids, to write, to do a million other things that I couldn’t do before. I only wish I had made the change sooner!

Now if a little thing like an appliance could be a game changer for me, imagine what other things could be major game changers!

I’m talking about the big things like…
~ breaking unhealthy patterns/cycles
~ setting healthy boundaries in relationships
~ choosing to do things differently for better outcomes
~ letting go of things from the past

Okay, let’s take a moment to breathe and let that all sink in.

Making changes is not easy. It can even be an uphill battle to get to the point where you realize you need to make changes. But no pain, no gain.

When I studied counseling, I learned an important truth: People only change when it hurts badly enough (not to change).

Take my analogy for example. After years of slaving away at the sink, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of washing dishes and having it take up my time and dictate my mood each day. I decided it was worth the money to buy a new dishwasher. And the outcome has been glorious!

Of course my story is a simple and lighthearted example of what making a change looks like. I know there are much deeper struggles that we face – such as depression, anxiety, unhealthy relationships, resentment and hurt – that are way more complex and challenging. Living with these conditions is like running with fifty pound weights strapped to your shoulders. It’s a struggle just to lift your foot to take a step. You have a hard time seeing through the sweat running down your face. Your heart is void of hope. There is no joy, no pleasure. You just do what you have to do to get by.

But what if you saw a sign that read, “Turn right at the next street to trade in your weights for a bike”? You’d be more than willing to put in a bit of work so you could be free from those weights. You’d be moving your legs and pumping your arms to get up the road as fast as you could! Just the thought of coasting on a bike with the wind blowing through your hair would lift your spirits and get you moving!

I know however that it’s easy to get stuck in what we’re used to and miss the “road signs” that point us to something better. We’re so used to carrying around our weights that we don’t believe we have a choice not to. Dysfunctional patterns become the norm, especially when we don’t know what healthy looks like. But don’t be fooled into thinking “this is it”. We can make the choice to drop those weights and be free. We can be free from the things that weigh us down emotionally, mentally and physically.

Don’t wait until it hurts too much not to change. Start today and take a few minutes to think about what is weighing you down. Confide in a good friend about your struggles. For deeper issues, make an appointment with a counselor to gain insight on how to move forward.

Life is too short and precious to keep dragging your feet.

Listen to Mandisa’s song, “Overcomer” to remind you that there’s so much more in store for you.

What choices have you made that have been major game changers in your life? 

The “Good” Girl

“I love you because you are a good person.”

These words of affirmation came from E one day out of the blue.  I stopped what I was doing and my eyes widened as I grasped exactly what he had just said.  Then I looked at hubby with a shocked expression and stood there speechless.  Absolutely speechless.  I was touched that E would say such a thing and pay me such a huge compliment because one – he obviously forgot about the last time I lost my temper and two – I secretly pride myself on being “good”.  Being the square person that I am, I am good at being good.  I have never gotten a speeding ticket, I am a stickler for rules and I try to be “nice” to people and do all the “right” things.  When I was younger, a family friend even asked my mom if I had attended some kind of etiquette school because I was so proper!  Haha!  You could say I am the perfect example of a good little Asian girl.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Lately though, I have been a little tired of being “good” all the time.  I told hubby I wished I could be the irresponsible, forgetful, unreliable one sometimes (I admit though the forgetful part has become more true as I age).  I would like to not feel like I have to color within the lines all the time.  I would like to be able to do something without thinking and not worry about the consequences.  But, honestly, I can’t stop being me.  For one thing, it wouldn’t be natural and I’d need to work really hard at letting go, which would defeat the purpose.  And someone’s got to keep the hubby and kids fed and cared for.

This also made me think about whether it’s natural for me to be “good”.  I believe a lot of times I try to do and say the right things because I know I’m supposed to, not always because I want to.  Whether it’s due to a fear of rejection or failure or just plain stubbornness, I am used to my square ways.  But I’ve learned that unless I am motivated by love to be/do good, it’s all a bunch of b.s.  It’s worth more to be known as a loving person than a good person.  So much more.

But how do I make that jump from being just good to being loving?  This is where my faith comes in.  For most of my Christian life, I believed I could be a good little Christian girl by following the rules and doing good things.  I was the perfect candidate to be a follower of Jesus.  What I didn’t understand though was that if I was so good, why did I need God?  God is not touched by good little Christian Asian girls who do good things and stay within the lines.  He is actually more moved by people who may appear “bad” (broken and ugly) on the outside, but are clinging to His goodness and love in order to live life fully on the inside.

When I was studying counseling, one of my assignments was to attend an AA meeting so I could better understand what life is like for someone with an addiction.  I admit that had to be one of the most uncomfortable and out of the box experiences of my life, not because the meeting was strange, but because it was strange for me (the good little Christian Asian girl) to be at a place where you were supposed to admit you didn’t have it all together and you needed help to change.  What a humbling and eye-opening night that was for me!  For the first time, I saw people who were moved by love and humility to be better people and to live better lives.  I also realized how similar I am to those people – in need of recovery from my prideful and unloving ways – but unlike them, I was nowhere as far along in the process as they were.  Because the first step of the 12 steps is to admit you have a problem and I was still happily hiding behind my facade of being a good girl.

I know I am capable of doing good things, but I also often act out of pride, impatience, and a judgmental attitude, which are all the opposite of what is good and what is loving.  I think I have shared before about trying to be more loving as a person, but it’s only because I have come to realize how petty and unforgiving I can be (especially post-kids)!  Sigh!

I honestly still don’t understand why E said I am a good person.  I know I am definitely not a perfect parent!  If anything, he is the one who is good because he is able to see beyond my moodiness and impatience and still find good in me.  And his unconditional love, and that of the rest of my family and God, helps me know it’s okay that I’m not a “good” girl and I don’t need to try so hard to be one.  I just need to know I am loved and to let that love move me to love others.

A big thank you to my friends and family who love me and my dark side.  🙂

Here’s Kelly Clarkson’s song, “Dark Side“, about the not so perfect parts of ourselves.

Who in your life has witnessed your dark side and still loves you in spite of it?