Living Out Loud With Passion & Faith:What’s Your New Tag Line for 2016?

Jukebox Hero
Living Out Loud and shamelessly playing my air guitar to Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero karaoke  after Sean’s cousin Jeanne’s cruise wedding. We were all a bit pie-eyed “performing” in front of a bewildered if not disgusted audience. Good thing they didn’t have rotten tomatoes!

Happy New Year! I removed the word “Healing” from my homepage tagline “Living and Healing with Passion and Faith” to “Living Out Loud with Passion and Faith.”

Why? Because after four years of blogging and therapy and getting deeper into my faith, I felt it was time.  I feel more whole. When I first started blogging four years ago, I was in the throes of therapy working out forty-something years of hurt, anger, righteousness, and conflict. Some of the junk was due to the cards dealt to me; some of it was self-inflicted.  Many of my posts talk about facing stuff, shedding old skin and growing some new.

I’ve been able to forgive myself and forgive others. I’ve learned the blessings of extending grace instead of waiting for the other person to bend first.  I’ve become a bit more discerning before jumping in. It is OK and sometimes crucial to say “no.”  I remind myself to consider the big picture, to be still and know that God is God. More than a few times, I’ve given a tricky person or difficult situation over to the Divine to duke out, instead of me.

I’ve also gained peace by disengaging when it just wasn’t worth the effort or damages to hammer my point home.

So, here’s to a new year of living up to my new tagline “Living Out Loud with Passion and Faith!” I expect to laugh more, cry more, praise more, forgive more, and play more air guitar!

Is it time for you to have a new tagline in 2016? What would it say?

Getting “Unstuck” This New Year: Changes That Heal

Raw emotions had inconveniently bubbled to the surface in early December threatening to ruin this holiday season. In spite of lots of hard work to try to heal after I left my church of 46 years in April, I just couldn’t keep a lid on it.

I was stunned at the intensity of this sadness and anger that demanded to be dealt with. I so badly wanted “drive thru” healing, to be completely done with negative feelings by now.

In reality, I had not dealt with feelings of huge disappointment in the way things went down at my former church. It wasn’t so much about the leaders of the church, it was more about family who still attended there, who in my estimation, didn’t “get my back” for one reason or another. I was also mourning the fact that I would not be attending Christmas Eve service there this year. In spite of it all, that church did offer a beautiful Christmas eve service that meant so much to me and my family.

It all just came to a head in early December. Facing the holidays, how was I supposed to just paint a smile on and conduct “Christmas-extended-family-business as usual”?

I confessed to my new pastor and to my former therapist (she called me “out of the blue” in early December to check in), that I was struggling this particular holiday season. They understood my unresolved, raw emotions, and gave me permission to be a little ripped, and to give myself some more time. It had only been 8 months.

I immersed myself in a women’s Bible study group this fall in the new church to establish new relationships and try to see God, Jesus and Church (not religion) in new ways. One woman pointed me to a Christian psychologist and author, Dr. Henry Cloud. I picked up his book, “Changes That Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future.”

What I had read and been counseled struck chords deep in my soul. I began applying Cloud’s suggestions to make changes that heal by navigating with Truth and Grace and allowing for Time to pass. In the meantime, I needed to stop blaming others, take responsibility for my actions, create new paths and draw healthier boundaries. I was honest about the way I felt with the people I love. It was a little messy at first, but enveloped in God’s mercy and grace, I was able to see them in a new and healthier light. I felt myself grow up. Things still aren’t perfect, but at least they are honest.

I want to share some of the highlights which turned out to be wonderful and merciful gifts I’ve received this Christmas season:

Getting a handle on bitterness. As I continue to harbor bitterness towards someone it will only stunt and make me ill. I will be estranged and/or only fake being “nice” and “loving” to that person, but the ugliness will eek out or spring forth eventually if I don’t deal with it truthfully. I have learned that sometimes the only way to start dealing truthfully is to confess to God, “I really suck at being loving and forgiving towards ________right now. I just don’t feel it.” God knows our hearts anyway, so we don’t have to fake “being good” when we’re just not there. When we admit we are weak that is when God makes us stronger, shows us the way.

Expectations. I need to stop expecting others to behave or “be” a certain way for me to accept them. I have been guilty of expecting more out of others (and myself). This doesn’t mean I have to be a “doormat,” accepting unacceptable behaviors. It means setting respectful boundaries. I can hope for “the ideal relationship” by modeling how I want my relationships to be.

Forgiveness. I recognize my need to forgive (and be forgiven) to eradicate the bitterness I have towards others. Sometimes forgiveness seems a tall or impossible order. In such cases, I need to give that person or relationship over to God. Let it be “between them and God.” That way, I can be “unstuck” to grow and be who I am supposed to be! Happy and blessed New Year!

Enjoy the lyrics of I Am,by Crowder.

Somethin’s Brewing: New Coffee House Starting to Perk

The outreach team and in-house band at the new church we’ve been attending wanted to pick our brains on how to run a coffee-house of all things! About a month ago, a new “sister” there stopped to chat with me to say the church had been talking about having a coffee-house for two years, but they weren’t sure what exactly to do. My heart raced and my throat tightened as I blinked back tears.

We (my husband, niece and I) had left my old, life-long church this past April after being the principle facilitators of Soup and Song open mic coffee house—for EXACTLY two years!

Before things came crashing down with the administration there, the coffee-house was drawing in an average of 55 participants on the Saturday nights it was held since 2012.  April 5th was the two-year anniversary. The coffee-house was a success at the tiny church not because of me, but because it was always God’s coffee-house. Tons of prayer went into each one. I never knew how many pots of soup or chili would be donated or how many trays of cookies or brownies would grace the table. I never knew who or how many were coming to perform, to help set up and take down. Lo, there was always enough. It was the fishes and loaves thing that kept me flying by the seat of my spiritual pants, that gave me hope at my long-time, fledgling church.

It kept me humble and it kept me in the moment! Oh, we had many a great moments. I can look back and see God all over it.

I understand it is still going on now. After of ton of God’s grace and mercy, time and healing  I can say “God bless it” and mean it.  It is still attracting people to fellowship, share music. That is the point.

Yes, it has been a painful transition to be called away from a place you’ve known, good and bad, had so much hope for, had vested so many years in, but I honestly believe it was God’s call. I wandered heart-broken and bewildered for a while, but God’s been faithful. My family has a been beyond welcomed, more like enveloped, into a healthy place of worship. Encouraged, included, and now invited. 

While the new coffee-house is just heating up and will likely be a blend of what worked well in Higganum, I know it will be God’s coffee-house because it is being brewed in prayer. I am confident it will be welcoming place where people of all ages, churched and non-churched, can come in, share talent, encourage others, and have some great food!

Stay tuned for details. Coffee will be on early in the new year, God willing!

Click on this great song! “Thrive” from WOW Hits 2015 (Deluxe Version) by Casting Crowns. Released: 2014.

How To Thank My Retiring Therapist?:Kenny Loggins’ Lyrics Beat Out The Best Greeting Cards

Hallmark (and other companies) create greeting cards for nearly every occasion. Births, sympathy, encouragement, graduations…but searching racks and racks of prose, I just couldn’t find one that aptly says Good-Bye and Thank You to my retiring psychologist!

The card I finally ended up giving my therapist, I had narrowed it down to four possible but mediocre choices, was a bit wordy. On the front it said, “Finally, a thank-you note that says how I really feel.” Relational enough to give to a therapist, but even after a ton of descriptive words such as “grateful, happy, supported, content, forever in your debt, acknowledged, peaceful…” it still didn’t quite nail it. The writer in me added “thankful” and a deeply personal message. Yet, mere words didn’t fully express the depths of gratitude I wanted to convey to my professional advocate and guiding light for helping to save my sanity, salvage relationships as well as extricate myself from toxic ones, and who knows, possibly extended my very life! Reflecting now, I think that the incredibly accurate, succinct and perfectly-timed lyrics I heard on my car radio as I drove away from my last session fully expresses what is in my heart and pays tribute. Enjoy the song at the end of this post.

I had my very last appointment on August 28th with one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever been blessed to know, clinical psychologist Dr. Ella G. Marks, PSYD. I began seeing Dr. Marks on a weekly basis over four years ago because at 45, all the stuff I tried to keep stuffed down, held back, or tried to hide just wouldn’t stay buried anymore.  Four and half decades as an adult child of an alcoholic family, a product of divorce, years of appearing to “fly right” but still over-indulging in risky behaviors, being lost, pressing my luck, and meandering off-track had blurred and scalded into a hot mess. It began oozing out in physical symptoms of panic attacks and heart palpitations. I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to really take care of me and do some very heavy, but very necessary lifting. Or else.

I prayed and researched and left voice messages.  There was something about Dr. Mark’s soft-spoken, lovely, Virginian- accented-voice message that gave me courage and lead me to her kind but firm care. When I still rather hesitantly made my way to her creamed-colored office with a bright white couch in the office park in Madison, CT,  I was comforted by her soft creased face, her sparkling blue eyes and billowy white hair.  I found out by peeking at the dates on her framed diplomas in her office that she had to be in her early 80s. I learned early on that she had studied at first to be a dancer, but then married an Episcopalian preacher, had four children, and then decided to go back to college.

She completed her bachelors in her late forties, her masters in her 50s and fought to enroll in her doctorate program at the tender age 59. She served as a social worker, then earned and hung her shingle as a psychologist and bariatric medicine doctor at the age of 71.  How blessed was I to connect with her a decade later!

Quite a head case, I remember saying to her, ” I have lots of anger and confusion. Am I too much for you?” She smiled graciously and said, “No, you are not. You have a lot of mourning to do.”

I would discover over the next four years just how well-equipped this woman was for the likes of me. She guided me to some really tough and ugly places to repair years of damage, grief, and anger stemming from a tumultuous alcoholic environment as a first-born.  I worked honestly through confusion, hurt, betrayal, marital challenges, a serious motorcycle accident, extended family woes, and a recent exodus from a church I’d given my soul to for 46 years.  She praised me often that I was “what they call a worker,” and reminded me that therapy is a “partnership” whenever I thanked her for helping me. She gave me permission to give myself some credit for my healing, for good things I have done and am doing in my life.

I had written in my card to Dr. Marks that she will forever be a part of “my new psychological DNA.” I will from here on out have greater success with stopping a negative thought and replacing it with a better one. I will think of what she would advise and say in any given situation. A life-long dividend of the work we’ve done.

I know it was hard for Dr. Marks to retire from her beloved work. She who practices Pilates and walks every day is in excellent physical as well as mental shape and “presents herself” as someone at least a decade younger than her actual age.  She reluctantly wound down the over 20 years of her practice, extending her calendar for months since she’d first announced earlier this year she’d be retiring. “My family wants me to leave before they ask me to leave,” she’d smile, “but I am going on one more month.” That lead to another and another, until finally the end of August was really it.

I cherished her guidance and wisdom to the very last session. My throat tightened as I pulled into her parking lot. As I climbed the stairs for the last time, I took photos of the waiting room, her office, but out of privacy, I did not take any of her.

So surreal. She lead me in from the waiting room, the one last time. Into her office, one last time. “How are you?” She asked in her customary greeting. “Full of emotion,” I squeaked out. I noticed she was welling up a little, too. “This must be hard for you saying goodbye to everyone,” I said. “It is,” she confided.

Then we settled in across from each other. I gave her my card and photo of me hula-hooping that was taken at the recent Buzzi Reunion at my house. I joked that I wasn’t meaning to be a narcissist, but wanted to show her my happy spirit, celebrating our years of working together. She smiled, “You are a worker!”

As we sat, I said that I hoped we could see each other again, for coffee. Always the good doctor even up to the very last minute, she wanted to impart one last tool to help me hereafter to cope with stress and any mild depression. Meditation. She told me of a study where participants who meditated each morning and evening fared better than the group which took only medication and the other only talking therapy. I balked a bit saying I’ve tried meditating, but my mind wanders like a herd of cats even when I try focusing on a monosyllabic word or sound. Because she knows my faith walk, she said to me, “Just try to say, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”

I smiled because I was wearing that bracelet that very day for extra help knowing I’d be saying goodbye.

Half way through our last session, I had arranged for my husband Sean to come in and meet my Dr. Marks. I had shared so much between the two of them that it only seemed right they’d finally meet in person.  It was one of those spiritually-charged, crystallized moments in time as I made the introductions. Sean thanked her as he sat on her white couch next to me. They chatted casually, each feeling as though they’d known each other well—I guess after all this time, they sorta had!

Sean asked her what she had planned now that she was retiring. Without hesitating my heroine said she was going to travel to India where’d she’d gone many times on sabbatical, “but after the monsoon season in September,” and then she was going to join a hiking club!

God bless her!

When it was time to say goodbye, Dr. Marks and I hugged for a very long time. “We can get coffee now, can’t we?” I asked hopefully. “Oh, yes. We will no longer be bound by hippa.”

“We have each others phone numbers.”

As I began driving out of Dr. Mark’s office complex for the very last time, tears of every emotion streaked down my face. Sadness,closing a chapter, a sense of accomplishment, good health, new beginnings, joy!

All of a sudden Kenny Loggins’, “I’m Alright” began playing on my car radio. I kid you not. Sean, who was tuned in to the same station, called me from his car ahead of me. “Can you believe what is playing?” I blurted first. “You are alright,” he said.

I’m alright, Dr. Marks. Thank you, and thank you, God, for Dr. Marks! OK, and thank Heaven for the serendipitous Kenny Loggins’ lyrics as I was driving on!

"I'm Alright!"I gave this photo to my therapist on her retirement as a celebration of our work together over that past four plus years.
“I’m Alright!”I gave this photo to my therapist on her retirement as a celebration of our work together over that past four plus years.