When my girls were little, I quickly noticed that they based a large percentage of their feelings and reactions on mine.  This was most evident when they were learning to walk.  Anytime they wobbled, tripped, fell down, or even just startled themselves, they immediately looked to my face for a response.


If I heeded my natural impulse to rush in and begin fussing over them, looking for injuries and cooing, “Oh, poor baby, are you okay?  Are you hurt?” they would take that as a cue that something was wrong – or should be.  Immediate result: terrified wailing, screaming, and gnashing of what few teeth they had.

It didn’t take me long to see that a better way was needed.  Instead of projecting worry, I trained myself to treat every fall like the world’s greatest magic trick.  Whenever they took a tumble, I would hold my breath, throw my hands in the air, and exclaim, “Ta-dah!”

To everyone’s great relief, it worked.  The girls were distracted, I was at peace, and we were all able to move forward with whatever business had been at hand.

Fast forward to today and the great thorn in my fourteen-year-old’s side: Algebra.  Well, it’s not really Algebra that’s the problem; it’s the teacher’s method.  He’s a super nice guy and his students love him, but he only teaches to one learning style.  He lectures and gives quizzes and tests, and that’s it.

My girl is a visual and kinesthetic learner.  She needs graphics and models and most of all, lots of tactile practice.  In the absence of those tools, she struggled mightily through the first semester of that class, barely passing by the skin of her teeth.  Even though she scored no grades lower than a 98 in every other class, she takes each mistake and under-performance in this one as a personal condemnation.  She must just be “bad” at math.

This week, I had the idea to talk to her about this class in terms of a new strategy.  Among some other tools that we sought out, I dusted off the old, “Ta-dah!” approach and challenged her to use it herself every time she makes a mistake on a problem in this class.

As always, my words to my daughter immediately took on an unexpected resonance for myself.  I get enveloped in self-defeating cycles in my work and aspirations every day.  Each time I miss a task, break my diet, or even just oversleep, I face the choice of whether to pick up and and move on, or take it as a “sign” of futility and an excuse not to try again.

I read just this week in the Harvard Business Review that cultivating a positive attitude toward failure is a great contributor to ultimate success.  “In fact, evidence suggests venture capitalists often see failure as an asset—not a liability—in an entrepreneur’s record. Why? Because failure suggests a tolerance for risk, a perseverance to succeed and, most important, a passion to push the envelope.”

What works for babies and pioneers can surely work for me too, right?

Forgot to put an important date on the calendar?  Ta-dah!
Procrastinated through two-thirds of my writing time this morning?  Ta-dah!
Snapped at my mom, put my socks on backwards, and dropped everything I touched today?  Ta-freaking-dah!  (Also maybe some chamomile tea at that point.  Or a cocktail.)

And now, for my next trick…

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. -Maya Angelou

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
-Maya Angelou

the big reveal

Halloween costumes have been the subject of much colorful discussion this year in my circles.

First there was this cartoon, which I saw posted on several Facebook pages but most notably on A Mighty Girl:

costume dilemma

Somewhat related, several of my coworkers have loudly bemoaned their difficulties in finding the perfect work-appropriate costume that is fun while remaining firmly within our safety and HR-friendly standards.

And scary clown costumes are making headlines, thanks to some disturbing experimentalists in California and Europe, as well as our freaky friends at American Horror Story.

All this talk of dressing up and what to wear and whom to be and how to be it has me thinking.  I don’t believe we actually cover ourselves up in this tradition of donning the perfect disguise / gag / alter ego for the night.  Rather, our choices reveal much more about us than we intend.

halloween 13For example, two years ago, my oldest daughter, in the midst of a tumultuous inner bout with teenage emotional upheaval, chose that Halloween to become Storm, the X-Men team member with control over any type of weather.

My beloved cousin, who moved away this year to law school, is being the Mad Hatter for Halloween: a kinetic, poetic creature driven mad by his craft, but coping through the whimsical interpretation of a comforting domestic ritual: afternoon tea.  (He also happened to escape an unjust conviction and sentence through manipulation of the “law” and an appeal to the Queen of Hearts, who had condemned him.)

Celebrities often dress up in surprisingly tame choices – surprising until you remember that they are already larger than life.  In that case, a simple cat or garden gnome costume is comforting in the other direction: a reflection of things that are ordinary, simple, and safe.

When you consider that the original purpose of wearing a disguise on Halloween had to do with warding off unwelcome spirits and/or attacks against the soul, the expressiveness of our costumes becomes all the more poignant.

I myself am not dressing up for Halloween, and haven’t done so for years.  Whether it’s due to an excess of honesty (I am who I am and I like who I am), crippling indecision, or mere self-deprecation (I don’t feel qualified to wear the one I really want to be), I will leave to your imagination.

Then again, that might tell you everything you need to know.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.  -Oscar Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde



“I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”
Stephanie Lennox

The first week of Lent is finished, and I am happy to report that it was largely a success.  My girls and I accomplished all of our goals and stayed faithful to the promises we made.  We supported each other in our different struggles and came away from it closer than ever.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Saturday sucked – like, a lot – and it was all my fault.  I was awful.  I was moody, depressed, and overwhelmed with every little thing my girls did or didn’t do.  I went to bed that night exhausted and on the verge of a significant identity crisis.  I was so distracted that I forgot to set my alarm and overslept for church the next morning.

Want to know what fueled this horrible, no good, very bad day?

I gave up sugar.

To be precise, I gave up white carbs (as per the 4-Hour Body prescription) because I know what a stumbling block empty foods are for me.  I use them to distract, divert, and procrastinate, and I always feel terrible later.  Since I am focusing on Hebrews 12:1 this Lent, casting off complex burdens with food seemed the obvious choice.

The initial results were devilishly easy on the physical side.  I have given up soda, junk food, and even this range of carbs before, each invariably resulting in at least one day of detox: migraines, fatigue, nausea, the whole bit.  This time, nothing.  My body felt fine – even good – the whole week.

Then there was Saturday.

I have to say it scared me a little bit and here’s why: What if I’m not the nice girl I have always thought I am?

My whole life, the words that people have used to describe me have always been along the lines of friendly, optimistic, helpful, sweet…  What if it turns out that I’ve just been hopped up on sugar for thirty years?  What if my soft, gooey center is vinegar instead of jam?

Turning to research for answers, I noted with dismay that identity crises go hand-in-hand with addiction.  Some addicts become addicted because of an identity crisis; others experience the identity crisis as a phase of recovery from the addiction.  The luckiest of all turn to addiction for relief from the identity crisis, then face a new identity crisis later during rehabilitation – a cyclical loop of uncertainty.

It will take some time for me to dig up my root causes, and I won’t bore you with my soul-searching here.  Suffice it to say that a new project as I press on through Lent is going to be reviewing who God says I am, meditating on my identity in Him rather than in human eyes.  I thought I already knew this.  Clearly, I have overestimated my depth of understanding.

Coincidentally enough (if you believe in such things), I just happened to see Flight this weekend in my race to be fully informed before the Oscars, and this struggle is brilliantly portrayed therein by Denzel Washington.  The question of “Who am I?” is a recurring theme in his life and the life of others who struggle around him through the story.  It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, but I am encouraged knowing that I’m not the only person to wrestle with such seemingly elementary issues.

Today, I am thanking God for movies, long baths, my family’s gracious patience, and especially Sundays!


The scene: A dark, too quiet night in the bowels of some remote location.

The character:  A beautiful but foolish all-American young person.

The plot: S/he has come here with a group of friends to let off steam and maybe even get lucky, when suddenly (but only after receiving numerous warnings from the Internet, their travel agent, a grizzled but sage groundskeeper, and the groundskeeper’s faithful cocker spaniel), they are separated.  Each is now in a severe state of duress as they search for one another in all of the most logical places which naturally include the basement, abandoned boat house, topiary maze, and tool shed full of rusty but still sharp implements of construction or death.

The viewers:  We tend to fall into one of two categories.  Either we’re clutching the nearest pliable object – even if it is another person’s unsuspecting quadricep – and intoning futile bits of wisdom to the character (such as “Don’t go in there you MORON!”), or we are on the edge of our seats, gleefully egging them on to their gruesome but well earned doom.

And don’t we all say the same thing in these moments?  Something along the lines of, “Who in their right mind would ever really do that?”  We are so sophisticated as observers of the journey that we almost always end up losing respect or even sympathy for the characters.  They made a series of obviously poor choices to get themselves into such peril.  When it comes down to it, don’t they deserve what they get?

Honestly, I hope the real life answer is no, because I am here to confess that I make a lot of boneheaded moves when I am in the grip of fear.  Okay, it’s typically not as extreme as your average Friday the 13th gore fest, but movies are just exaggerated versions of our own stories, right?  I’ll even take it a step further: Not only do I often respond foolishly to my fears and foils, but sometimes I make the same mistakes more than once Picture that in Saw XXVII or whatever we’re up to now; the audience would be throwing real live tomatoes at that character!

Here, in ascending order, are some of the things that go bump in the nights of my soul and the stupid responses I make:

5.  Scorpions – No really.  I can’t even look at them.  They’re so…crunchy-looking and lethal.  They are the embodiment of evil to me.  Gross.
Healthy response: Study them, learn about them, realize that I live hundreds of miles from their nearest ideal climate, so they pose no true threat to me.
My response:  Cringe and gag and refuse to approach their tiny exhibit at the zoo such that even my eight-year-old mocks my revulsion.

4.  Fatal illnesses, the more obscure, the scarier – It’s called hypochondria, and it’s a real thing, okay?  Mine is a mild form, but people still seem to find it comical to listen to me when I or one of my girls get sick.
Healthy response: Stay calm, observe or at most chart their symptoms so I will have data to share with the pediatrician should it become worse.
My response:  Ask them a dozen animated questions about everything from how they feel to how long that hangnail has been there, then hit the Internet for medical info and affirmation only to find – surprise! – a bevy of horror stories and endless possible diagnoses, scouring them until I am finally certain that we all have either this year’s cold virus or Scarlet Fever or terminal cancer.

not an effective technique

3.  Bad news – It doesn’t matter what kind: financial, political, death in the family…  They all bear the same weight on my scale of frightful forces.
Healthy response:  Take a deep breath and face it by gathering all of the facts, then formulating the best strategy for getting through whatever it is.
My response: Avoid, evade, and elude.  Maybe if I remain ignorant of it, it won’t be real.  Of course, that’s the equivalent of hiding under something and trying to disappear, thereby only making myself an unmoving target for the monster on the loose, but try telling me that when the phone rings unexpectedly.

2.  Irrelevance, obscurity, basically having no impact on the world or my piece of it – In the epic words of Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, I fear “a cage…To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire” (J.R.R. Tolkein).
Healthy response: Move, act, risk, follow my dreams wherever they lead me, tell a better story with my life and pursuits.
My response: Fret about it in my journal, then divert myself via facebook, TV, or movies…basically other people’s stories.

1.  Being disposable – My dad left me when I was a small child for another family, my husband left me when our children were small for another woman.  It’s easy to infer a pattern, common denominator, or root cause there.
Healthy response: Spend time daily with God being affirmed and reminded of His love, promises, and sacrifices for me.  When I am bathed in the Word, I could never believe anything but that He made me completely unique to fill an irreplaceable role in His heart.
My response:  Get distracted by busyness and performing, which lead to comparison, which leads to judgment of myself or others, which leads to depression and believing that my worst fear is true.  So basically, I walk alone into the dark, foreboding room and right into the arms of the killer.

I’m getting better, I hope.  Self-awareness is a vital first step, and I have a great family wonderful friends to help me and hold me accountable and keep me out of the basement…when I don’t let myself get senselessly separated from them, of course.