Monday, October 24, 2016

Vulnerability = Eating Alone At Taco Bell Without Looking At Your Cellphone

If you had asked me a year ago, “What is the definition of vulnerable and how does it make you feel?” I could not have answered your question. Really, I had no clue.

But today I can tell you that eating alone at Taco Bell without looking at my cellphone makes me feel vulnerable. And I know I am not the only one, judging by what other people do while they eat alone.

Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. It has taken a while, but I can recognize when I am feeling vulnerable.

Going inside to eat by myself at Taco Bell is hard. I’d rather go through the drive-thru, order my Burrito Supreme and small Mountain Dew, and find a place to park and eat with the windows rolled down. (Yes, I am an introvert.)

Sometimes, though, I think I’ll just go in to eat. I order, find a place to sit, and pick up my phone to look at Facebook before I take the first bite. Before cellphones, I always carried a paperback book to read.

I loved the day I walked in and saw two of my friends eating there. They invited me to sit with them. Courage has its rewards at times.

Last week, I realized I felt vulnerable when I walked in and ordered. And, because I felt vulnerable, I decided to sit at the table and eat my burrito without looking at my cellphone. I made the choice to stay in uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure without avoiding, shutting down or numbing the emotion by reading Facebook. I leaned into the discomfort and sat with vulnerability.

The first person I noticed was a man in work clothes intent on his cellphone while he ate. He was the only other person there by himself. A woman sat at a table with her elderly father while he told her stories. An employee brought out their order and gave it to the woman and her father. They looked up in surprise, saying they hadn’t heard their number called. I know she didn’t call the number, just cared enough to deliver it without so they wouldn’t have to interrupt their conversation. Two women engaged in excited conversation as they caught each other up on their lives.

Nothing dramatic happened. Just life. Life I would have missed if I hadn’t chosen to spend a few minutes in vulnerability.

I am learning that staying in vulnerability when I feel it makes me more open; open to people, open to circumstances, and open to life.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Re-discovering Creativity

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe for the Women Writing the West Conference. I looked forward to connecting with old friends, meeting new friends, and being inspired to write again. What I didn’t expect was to re-discover my creativity.

The first speaker on Friday was Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Julia and her book were completely new to me. This is the 25th anniversary of the first printing of The Artist’s Way. She explained “Morning Pages” – basically, writing three pages first thing in the morning of whatever comes to mind. (I finally understand what all of my writer friends are doing when they mention morning pages on Facebook!) I bought The Artist’s Way and began my own journey of morning pages this week.

Through reading the book and writing morning pages, the first thing I’ve learned is how I have shut down my creativity. Perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking have boxed me in. My realization – Wow! I have really closed myself off to the things that matter most to me.

When I decided to write “The Book,” the project I am ten years into now, I made it my focus. I heeded the advice of other writers: write every day; get up and write first thing in the morning; keep your focus “You don’t have time for that.”

I let go of things in order to write. I started writing the book as nonfiction, changed it to creative nonfiction at the suggestion of an editor, and finally ended up at historical fiction. Historical fiction feels right. It is what I love to read. But I had never written fiction. So, I had some learning to do. I created a story arc. Other events in my life affected me and I became depressed. The pressure I put on myself for the book to be perfect began to get me and I became blocked.

Therapy helped not only my depression and anxiety, but with writing my book. In fact, that is the reason I am still seeing my therapist once a month. I am not there yet, but I know it is within reach now; especially after last weekend.

Julia Cameron writes about filling the artistic well. And I know that is where I got of track. I kept letting go of creative things I love doing because “You don’t have time for that.”

To fill the well, Julia Cameron suggests an artist’s date once a week. The first one she mentions is going to the dollar store and buying silly creative things. So, today I went to Walmart thinking I would buy a coloring book and colored pencils. I know adult coloring is the rage, but it feels silly to me. And, I know I can’t do it perfectly. Oh, just the right thing to open myself to creativity.

After finding the coloring book and pencils, I walked down the sewing aisle.

And there, on the bottom shelf, lay the most beautiful skein of royal purple yarn. 

I learned to knit when I was a child in 4-H. My mom taught me at first, later I rode the bus after school to go to my best friend’s house. After eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich, Donna and I sat knitting while listening to Waylon Jennings and other country music playing on the radio. Donna’s mother helped us when we made mistakes.

I enjoyed knitting and eventually received a grand champion ribbon for a vest I knit. I taught knitting to some younger girls in 4-H, too.

 I continued knitting off and on through the years, but half-finished projects started to wear on me. Finally, after making a mistake on a baby blanket for a friend and never finishing it, I gave up knitting twenty years ago.

Until the skein of royal purple yarn called to me. My mind flashed back to knitting with Donna, teaching others to knit and knitting during blizzards. I picked it up and caressed the soft yarn and knew I wanted to knit again. Maybe a scarf? I found knitting needles and rushed to the checkout with a smile.

At home, I found a pattern for a scarf on the Internet. It took a couple of times to get it started right. The first time I added an extra stitch and ripped it out to start over. But soon my fingers flew into knitting as though they had never stopped.  

Creativity, texture, color, memories, connection. Ahhh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It’s That Time of the Year – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s fall! It’s fall.

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year – going to the mountains to see the vibrant gold aspen, drinking hot apple cider and enjoying beautiful fall days here in Colorado.

But, this week I could tell it was fall for another reason—the cloud I can feel descending on me. It surprised me because I didn’t expect to notice my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) until late October or November.

At this point, the symptoms are pretty subtle:
  • It’s harder to get up in the morning.
  • I am sleeping longer.
  • I could eat cookies and chips all day long.
  • Feeling more blah.
  • And, once in a while, feeling plain depressed.

Really, on certain days it feels like a cloud hovering over me that sometimes descends and I realize, yep, I am feeling depressed.

The good news is I now know what to do for it instead of wallowing in it or worrying about it.

My plan of attack:
  • Be aware of my mood and emotions. Don’t shut down. Accept it when I can’t change it.
  • Increase my Vitamin D. I cut it back over the summer when I am out in the sun more.
  • Exercise. Getting outside for a walk does wonders for my mood.
  • Think about what I eat. Probably time to clear the house of cookies and chips.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Take time for things I enjoy. Writing, music, playing with grandbabies…
  • Connect with friends and family.
  • Take time to connect with God.
  • Give myself lots of compassion and grace.

My action list is pretty much my daily practice anyway. But I know to be much more intentional about it this time of the year.

Bring it on! I am ready for fall!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The "Wow! Look What I Did Today!" List

My to-do lists drive my daughter-in-law crazy.

I make a list on Monday and cross a couple of things off during the week. Then the next Monday, I make a new list that starts with the carry-overs from the previous week.

Yes, I can make anyone who adheres to the daily to-do list crazy.

Part of my problem, I’ve learned, is the pressure that comes with something being on the to-do list. Most people see it as a prompt to get something done. I see it as a threat. A threat to send my psyche straight down the shame-drain because I can’t do it or won’t get it done today. I now see that as “all or nothing” thinking. If I don’t do it all, I’ve failed. So I’ll do nothing.

I no longer write to-do lists. I may write down some things to remind me, but without the pressure. And, I still don’t mind if they carry over.

However, I still fall into the “all or nothing” thinking when I have something in mind to do for the day and it doesn’t get done. I’ve failed. I can’t even do the one thing I wanted to get done today. I am a failure…

I catch myself doing this most when my goal is a creative process like writing. Something that is important to me. I didn’t write a scene. I didn’t get the website copy done. I didn’t...

Yesterday, I caught myself going down the shame-drain because I didn’t write. I have decided I want to write something to move the story forward in my book every day. It is important to me. As I started down the spiral to shame, I stopped. I remembered writing a list a while back when I was feeling the same way. Instead of a to-do list, I had written a list of what I had done. Starting with making breakfast, I had written down everything I did during the day.

What surprised me is I went from thinking I had done nothing all day since I hadn’t done what I intended to do to thinking, “Wow, I was really busy today and got a lot done.” Looking at the list, I could see it was a series of choices. I had done some important things throughout the day that needed done.

When I made my list of “Wow, Look What I Accomplished” last night, I found the same thing. Most importantly, I realized I was busy, had some things that really had to be done that day and I accomplished them. Other unexpected things came up, too, which took time away from writing.

And, so I gave myself some grace and self-compassion. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow you will write. Something, anything, even if just a few words. Writing is a process where all or nothing has no place. Trust the process. Trust yourself.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Why Can't I Read The Bible?

A couple of years ago, I was visiting with an elder at church and confessed something I hadn’t told anyone: “I can’t read the Bible, not daily or even sometimes. When I read the Bible, I feel terrible. I can’t measure up to what I should be doing or who I should be as a Christian.”

“Really?” Jerry asked. “When I read the Bible I feel challenged. Challenged to do better or be better. Not judged or condemned.”

Jerry’s words stayed with me – challenged, not condemned. But I wasn’t sure how to move from feeling condemned to feeling challenged.

Now I can look back and see that depression, perfectionism and self-criticism made me feel condemned with a lot of help from the enemy. What better way to keep Christians from spreading the gospel?

Going through therapy and reading Brené Brown’s books helped immensely. Brené Brown helped me understand the difference between guilt and shame; something we don’t talk enough about in Christian circles, or any circles.

According to Brown, the major difference between guilt and shame is “guilt = I did something bad” and “shame = I am bad.” Guilt has the power to move a person to right action in line with their values while shame makes a person feel unworthy and worthless. I felt shame (not good enough, not perfect enough) when I read the Bible. I could never measure up, therefore, what was the point in reading it?

When shame becomes our default feeling, I believe depression sets in. In order to change, I had to recognize when I feel guilt and when I feel shame. That’s pretty hard when you move from guilt to shame in .5 seconds.

But I am learning that even when I am in shame, I can stop and look back at what put me into that feeling. If it is something I did or thought, I can see if it lines up with my values - my desire to be authentic, to have integrity and to live in real faith. If I can take a step back from shame, I can let guilt help me take responsibility, be accountable for my actions or my thoughts. Then I can take action.

When I struggle with shame, I am learning to practice what Brené Brown calls shame-resilience. Brown says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable… If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to the light was deadly to the gremlins (the movie), language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” (Daring Greatly, p. 67)

Speaking to Jerry about the shame I felt when I read the Bible brought light to my shame. Christ’s light. He offered a different way to look at my shame – challenging instead of condemning. That is shame-resilience. I also practiced shame-resilience when I mentioned it to other people. Some said, “Yes, I know that feeling.” Or “I struggle with that, too.” Starting the Beneath The Dappled Sky blog was a form of shame-resilience for me. I have learned I am not alone. I am not the only one to struggle with depression and anxiety. And, I know I am not the only one to feel condemnation when reading the Bible as a Christian.

The phrase, “put to shame” is found in the New International Version of the Old  Testament 47 times, but only 5 times in the New Testament. Why? Romans 5:5 says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  And Romans 10:11 says, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’”

Speaking shame, trusting in the Lord, and being self-compassionate have made a huge difference in my life. Reading Sarah Young’s devotional, Jesus Calling, also helped me to move from perfectionism and thinking I had to be or do something to be a “good”Christian to resting in God and trusting Him in my relationship with Him.

Even in reading the Bible.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Accepting Feeling Tired

It has been a year since I began seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety. A year of getting over hard things, moving forward and self-discovery.  The depression is gone. Anxiety is a bit of a different animal. Something I now realize I’ve lived with much longer than I care to acknowledge. But it also is much better.

I am still learning new things. The latest is the importance of recognizing when I am tired. What is it about saying, “I feel tired,” in our society? Even to ourselves?

The other day, after teaching children at VBS, I came home and did some more things. That evening I was physically and emotionally tired. But I still thought there were some business things I should take care of that night. Or something. Shouldn’t I always be doing or thinking about something?

But as I concentrated on the thoughts rolling around in my head, I realized I was ruminating and obsessing. Lots of “you should” and “you need to” thoughts were coming up. Along with “you never…”

I noticed a difference in how I felt. Not only was I tired, but now I was starting the spiral. You know, the spiral from feeling vulnerable (uncertain) to shame (you are not enough) to depression (why even try?).

Now, I know from experience what happens when I go down the spiral. Those thoughts would stay with me throughout the night and I would wake up the next morning with a huge helping of anxiety and depression.

This was the first time I connected being tired with going down the spiral. Being tired contributed to my run-away thoughts.

So I stopped.

  • I accepted that I felt tired. Exhausted.
  • I made the choice to stop my thoughts. Everything I was thinking about could wait until the morning when I wouldn’t be tired and could think more clearly.
  • And I relaxed. I sat in silence watching the sunset, watched some tv with my husband, took a bath and went to bed.  And I didn’t think about anything.
  • Most of all, I realized when I rest and relax when I am tired, I am treating myself with grace and compassion. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Love Is Patient. Love Is Kind.

My bucket of faith, hope and love
Several months ago, Dr. Anna asked me to write my insecurities on a Styrofoam cup. I wrote about my fears, disconnection, perfectionism, feared judgement and unmet expectations. Then she had me poke holes in the cup to drain my insecurities.

It felt good to drain my insecurities. At the bottom I wrote, “Every last drop of insecurity drained.”

On the drive home I thought about what I wanted to fill my cup with. And the words, “Faith, hope and love” came to me.

Yes, that is what I want poured into my cup. I want to overflow with faith, hope and love.
I opened my Bible when I got home and turned to 1 Corinthians 13. You know, the Love Chapter. If you are like me, then you read it as an outward action. Love is patient (with others). Love is kind (to others)…

For some reason I read it differently on that day:

Love is patient. (I can be patient with myself. The same way I would be with a friend.)

Love is kind. (I can be kind to myself. I can speak kindly, the way I would with a friend.)

Love is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. (Whoa. I don’t have to be angry with myself or remind myself of what I’ve done or not done every day. My mistakes don’t have to play over and over in my mind.)

 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. (Depression lies. Satan lies. Anxiety lies. I rejoice in the truth. I seek the truth and dismiss the lies.)

Love always protects. (I protect the truth. I protect myself from lies.)

Love always trusts. (I trust myself and God.)

Love always hopes. (Through God, I see the best in me and always hope.)

Love always perseveres. (Don’t give up. Seek the truth and move forward. Stop living in the past.)

Love Never Fails.

I have lived a life believing the lies of perfectionism. Now, if you have seen my home or know me, you may laugh to think I struggle with being perfect. I fall on the other end of the spectrum. If I can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all? The All or Nothing Mentality.
Letting go of perfectionism is all about learning to be self-compassionate. Learning who I am. Trusting myself. Being willing to try and fail. Everything 1 Corinthians 13 says. 

No, it's not easy. In fact, my anxiety ratcheted right up this last month and I realized it was about perfectionism. That's when I bought the little pink bucket and wrote 1 Corinthians 13 on it. It helps to have a reminder around.

If you wonder about your level of self-compassion, you can take a test at

If you can't love yourself, how can you love others openly and honestly?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

When A Community Is Rocked By Suicide

Last Saturday, I sat in church for a service with many people from my community. None of us wanted to be there. We listened to Pastor Roger give a message around the question, “Why?” A question that will never be answered.

We all gathered together: the young man’s mother, father and stepmother. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins. Friends. Classmates. Parents of friends and classmates. Teachers. Bus drivers. Coaches. VBS teachers. Pastor. Church family.

Through tears, we watched a slideshow of pictures. Twenty-one years of life – a happy, smiling kid loving life. How do you leave out a photo when there will never be another?

After the service, we all hugged each other, bound together through grief and tears. As I hugged the young men and women from our community, I saw grief and unanswered questions in their eyes. The question, “Why,” weighs heavily.

But in the eyes of their parents, mixed with the grief, I saw fear.

Their question – “What if?”

The question and the fear are real. Made even larger in all of our minds because this is our tiny community’s fourth young adult to take his own life in the past 3 ½ years.

My first inclination is to fix our community. Fix all of the problems in the school, the churches, and the community organizations. Because, really, aren’t we all responsible for these young lives? Let’s point fingers and blame each other. Set up more programs. Fix it.

But then I thought of my own struggles with anxiety and depression. Pointing fingers and blaming others have done nothing to help me. Thinking I have any control to fix my community is futile.

The only person I have any control over is me. Not my husband, not my kids, not my extended family, not the people in the church, the school, or the community organizations. I only have control over me.

But my actions can change my community. I will engage with my community. I will build relationships. Connect with friends. Build trust. And hope.

I will live an authentic life. I will speak well of people. I will share my faith.

I will make the difficult phone call when someone is hurting. I will show up. Not to fix, but to love.

I will reach out to a trusted friend when I find myself sinking into depression or when anxiety hijacks my thoughts. I will name my emotions, try to understand them, and accept them instead of burying or numbing my emotions. I will seek counseling when I need more tools to move through depression and anxiety.

My hope in living an authentic and wholehearted life is to encourage both the young adults and the parents that there is hope. You are not alone. I struggle, but by being courageous, leaning on my faith in God, learning to know myself and gaining the tools I needed through seven months of counseling, I can live my life. Not someone else’s. My life.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My 3:00 a.m. Worry Time

3:00 a.m. – my worry time. I have learned 3:00 a.m. is also known as the “Witching Hour” or “Devil’s Time.” Hmm, sounds about right.

I awake from a deep sleep with anxiety. Sometimes a worry will pop into my mind without me even thinking it. If not, I will find one. Then I lie in bed and worry, like a dog with a bone.

Prayer seems like a good way to handle it. If I just pray about whatever I am worrying about, the worry will go away. Right?

Wrong. When I pray, I find I am just worrying over the problem in prayer. I don’t turn it over to God. I tell Him what He ought to do and how He ought to do it. Along with a deadline. Please, Lord?

When I am done praying, I don’t feel any differently than when I spent the time worrying.

My daughter recently moved across the country. I am happy and excited for her! But, I am a mom. And now I find my daughter on my mind when I wake at 3:00 a.m.

When I realized my prayers of worry and control were doing neither her nor me any good, I remembered some words a friend told me after a fearful time in my life.

In 1995, my husband, John, was accidently injured while working as a lineman for a rural electric company. A hot wire came in contact with the guy wire John was tying off on the ground. 7200 volts of electricity went through his body. The ER doctor met me at the door of the emergency room and told me they were monitoring his heart and kidneys for damage. John had a couple of bad burns on his fingers where the electricity entered his body. Thankfully, he recovered without any lasting damage. But I didn’t handle it so well.

I could no longer believe that God would protect my loved ones. I struggled when John returned to work. Would he walk through the door that night? I talked to my friend, Betty Johnson, about my anger towards God and my questions of why He didn’t protect John.

And I will never forget what Betty said: “Gayle, God never promised complete protection for your loved ones, but He does promise to be with you through whatever happens in life.”

God will be with me. He will never leave me alone.

Because of this, I can pray, “I trust you, Lord.”

This has become my go-to prayer when I begin to worry. I whisper the words, “I trust you, Lord” when I feel fearful. It is what I pray when I want to control a person or a situation.

I have learned that worry and fear are about control – ironically, the outcomes over which I usually have no control. How silly I am to think things should happen the way I think they should. Or that people should act the way I think they should.

Now when I wake up at 3:00 a.m. with worries, I have a routine:

Capture the thought. Rather than letting my thoughts go like a runaway train, I capture the thought, the worry. I make myself aware of it. Then I ask,

Is it rational or irrational? Once again, this is awareness. If I realize the thought is irrational (out of proportion, making something catastrophic or making leaps in logic); I stop it. I tell myself it is irrational and I will no longer think about it.

Do I have any control or not? If the thought is rational, I ask myself if I have any control over the situation or not. If yes, I can decide on one action to take during the day and leave it at that. If not, then I pray

“I trust you, Lord.” I trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, has a plan. I trust that He is in control. Not me. Him. And no matter what happens, I will still trust in God’s love, kindness, and mercy.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

P.S.  This routine also works during the day!