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Love's Legacy

- by Carolyn Klassen

Our love is best lived and expressed in community. Carolyn Klassen quote.

Husband and I are part of a care group...a bunch of folks who have decided to intentionally do life together. We meet for a dinner once a month. We ask each other honest questions and have candid conversations. We share of love and life and faith and care for each other.  We pray for one another. We get to know each other more and more. 

This last Sunday, Husband and I hosted care group.  I made dinner--appetizer, main course and dessert.  It was a lotta work but even more fun.

It's a heap easier hosting when it is actually co-hosting with Husband.  He vacuumed and tidied and set the table while I puttered in the kitchen. Awesome.

After dinner, Husband led the conversation of the group.  He had sent out an email earlier in the week.  When Husband and I talked about what to put in the email to talk about, we wondered how to set the conversation up--what topic to focus on, and how to shape it. 

25th wedding Anniversary photo of couple in their wedding clothes holding a photo of their wedding day
One pair in our care group, my friend J (she'd the one I went to Chicago to see Oprah with) and her husband, just celebrated a quarter century of marriage, and it was close to Valentine's Day. It made sense with this marker and with Valentine's Day so close to think about love as the topic du jour

And yes, she is wearing her wedding dress. The one she wore all those years ago on her special day. Yes, she can still get into it. 

I know!! I had the same reaction!


But in addition to several couples, our care group also has a wonderful friend whose husband died a year and half ago.  Cancer took this man that so many respected and loved. S is an important part of our group...and she comes alone.

We took a deep breath and plunged in deep...cuz you see, part of the philosophy of a care group is not to avoid important topics out of fear or discomfort because that's not authentic. We decided instead to take on the topic in a sensitive way that would include her. My thinking is that grieving folks don't want to be tip-toed around, or have their losses overlooked out of awkwardness. Ignoring her loss in this season by avoiding the topic seemed more wrong than risking the tackling of a hard topic.

Husband wrote: 

Carolyn and I were thinking about the topic for the evening, and one presented itself.  P and J celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this week.  Woohoo!  Congratulations.  So we thought that love and commitment would be the theme for the evening.  What have you learned from your spouse about love?  How are you a better person because they are in your life?  How do they reflect God in these areas?  S, I know your love is in heaven.  I didn’t know W all that well, but I would love to hear stories about him.  What made him laugh?  How did he show his love to you?  How is your life better now because you were married to him?  How did he model God’s character? 

So...after dinner, Husband invited folks to reflect on how they had experienced the love of their partner. Some of the men shared first...openly and vulnerably and honestly. They let us in on how their lives were richer for the love of their spouse. I think for the women, who often feel more comfortable talking about emotional stuff, it was significant that men jumped in. 

As a group, we noted how it is one thing to know that one is loved by a spouse..and quite another to hear that love specifically and clearly proclaimed in front of others.  

Eyes filled full and hearts fuller as we heard about the love extended from one spouse to another.

S began talking of how she had loved W; how he had made her life great.  How he had understood her and empowered her. She said that as an introvert she was the sort that would step back and position herself against the back wall of a room.  Her husband, W saw her.  

To be truly seen as someone who often felt invisible was remarkable to her.

It was a gift from him to her that was profoundly treasured...both while he was alive, and still now, after his death.

Without missing a beat, Husband invited others in the group who knew W what he would say about S.  Husband knew that W wasn't there to speak love into S's life, but the others present knew W.  Without hesitation, several easily told stories that quickly came to mind. The conversation flowed easily as stories of W's love were told.

W was an outspoken fellow that rarely left any doubt about his thoughts on anything. He had always made it so clear how much S made his life better since they started dating in high school, how her support meant much to him, and how utterly dedicated he was to her.  

He told his staff at work, he told his friends, he told his patients, he told everybody...he was almost annoyingly clear on the power of the commitment of a great marriage. 

The next day, I bumped into S.  She told me of how, when she read the email days before the event, she had wept. It was one more opportunity to mourn the death of her husband in a world and a life where these opportunities are already overly abundant. But she came.

Guts that woman has. She came.  It was a hard conversation to be a part of, but she showed up. That's what you do in a care group.  

She trusted us, I think, to help her through this difficult conversation. And I think she felt like we trusted her to be a part of it.

And she got to hear of W's love for her once again.  His love for her lives on in the memories and stories of his friends and colleagues. S told me that she thought of W's love as a sacred treasure...and that on Sunday, the sacred treasure was experienced and added to. S said that remembering Sunday gave her a "wide, sad, and thankful grin". She has the best grin, and I loved imagining that smile.

The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss.  Quote by Dean Koontz.

I was reminded of something powerful on Sunday.  

Our love is best lived and expressed in community.  

It was a gift to celebrate love and relationship not only with a life partner, but with the witnesses that are important in my life. I was encouraged by the vulnerability of the group...for the men that shared how their wives love them in front of us. That takes courage for a guy to talk about that stuff in our world. The women talked too, and it was magical.

Somehow, at the end of the night, I loved them all more. And I felt more inspired and encouraged to be loving myself.

And W taught me something on Sunday...he taught me a lesson in death that I could not have learned when he was alive:

When I am no longer on this earth, I want my love stories to live on and be easily told. I want to leave no doubt that I cared, and that folks in my life mattered to me.  I want them to be able to laugh as they tell of silly moments where I was so clearly enamoured with the folks in my life.  I want them to have watched me be ridiculously in love with Husband, with my Junior Tribe Members, and with friends and colleagues.  I'm hoping that they will have memories of lavish grace extended; of profound sacrifice and mercy during the tough moments, and of love received. I am hoping that tales will be recounted of how I loved well...just like W did.


Take note: Notes

- by Carolyn Klassen

To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow, this is a human offering that can border on miraculous. Quote by Elizabeth Gilbert

Men...take note:

Write notes

They don't have to be fancy. They don't have to be long. 

They just have to show her you thought of her.

We all struggle with the feeling of not feeling good enough, of not being lovable. Part of our heads know otherwise, but a little reassurance goes a long way. 

Active, thoughtful, spontaneous actions that express that love help it sink a little deeper into a person's soul...

Husband needs less sleep than I do. And on Saturday mornings, I generally catch up a few hours on the sleep I got shortchanged over the week. Husband gets up and reads, and thinks, and prays in a chair by the window.

This Saturday morning, I was just getting up just as he was heading out the door for carpool duty. He brought me a mug of latté, as he often does in the morning. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he really does so regularly. I promise you, bringing your wife a hot beverage in the morning is a tender act of love that will be an investment in your marriage. It will make it stronger and better for both of you).

As he left the room, I noticed a piece of paper taped to the side of the mug. A single sentence expressing his love for me on it.

<Insert happy sigh here>

He's not a poet. He's not particularly eloquent. Nuthin' fancy. Sincere and short. From the heart. He was straight up telling me he loved me, and expressing gratitude I was a part of his life. 

I loved it.

You see, as a woman, I've been the note writer. I write to let my colleagues know I appreciate them. I write the note on the card thanking a host for having us over. I write little notes to my children when they've gone to Grandma's house for the week or to camp. I write the notes for the treasure hunt we've had since the Junior Tribe Members could read. I've written tons of notes for other people...they appreciate it. 

He's written me beautiful cards, absolutely...but this was a note. That's somethin' special.

A sweet, unexpected, unprovoked note.

Not for Valentine's Day. My birthday is months away. No reason for a note.

Except he loves me and wanted me to know it. On a regular ol' Saturday.

Later on in the day, when I pulled out a can of my favourite soda from the fridge, there was another note on it. Then, in the evening, when I was puttering in the kitchen doing some baking, a piece of paper came up out of the sugar in the measuring cup, with something about how sweet he finds me. 

Love notes from Husband. Bergen and Associates Counselling

When I went to brush my teeth, there was still another note about my smile.

Next day, as I'm taking my shoes off, I realized I missed that note in my shoe going in and I'd been walking on it all morning. 

I left it in my shoe for today. I kinda liked the idea of having that note close by all day.

A collage of notes on a Diet Coke, in a shoe

You might think I'm still a starry eyed bride. Or he's a love-struck husband. That we are still silly newlyweds.

Go ahead. Think that.

I'm thinking it's his gratitude. I'm alive. I'm healthy. We had bought paint the night before and planning on painting the afternoon away in the basement, along with grocery shopping and some advance cooking. We were in the middle of a regular and busy weekend--a household full of life and action.

On Saturday morning, Husband was loving a regular life made possible by a healthy wife--one that isn't in remission on powerful drugs, or facing the next round of chemo. Health...and the fun bustle of an active life is not a given for him. The time he had spent some time reading and thinking and praying on Saturday morning had this burst of loving creativity. It came out of this sense of gratitude and love for me.

I am loved. 

I am adored.

He adores me...and he let me know it. 

Men...if you knew how big a deal that this is for women, you would surely do it more often.'s a challenge to husbands...heck...let's challenge all partners: How can you let your spouse know that s/he is adored. Here are the guidelines:

  1. Do it today (don't wait for Valentine's Day--that's too obvious and contrived)
  2. Take less than 10 minutes to do it
  3. Do it for a budget of $0. Use only what you have handy in the office/shop/home.
  4. Make it a surprise so s/he happens upon it
  5. Put it in your smart phone as an alarm on your day timer to do it again in two weeks or a month...with the same rules.
Leave it on her pillow, behind the wheel, in her coffee cup, on the bathroom mirror.

Write a note, set the coffee maker, put out a bowl and cereal for the next morning, pour a bubble bath or serve a glass of wine. Light a candle. Fold a piece of paper into an origami. Fly a paper plane with a note on it in her direction. Use your imagination.

Adore your spouse...and let your adoration be impossible to miss.

The chandelier in the laundry room

- by Carolyn Klassen

Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving. It

I put a chandelier in the laundry room this week. 

Well, actually, Husband put it up. 


That's what it is. Whimsy. 

A chandelier hanging from the rafters in the laundry room. Poster by Bergen and Associates.

Basement laundry rooms are places of damp and dark and rough unfinishedness. Furnaces, tanks, and ducts. The underbelly of the house of practicality. A room of work...there's not a lot of leisure time in the laundry room...the laundry room is the underappreciated, unsung-hero room of the house...and definitely not glamorous. 

Husband, as an act of pure love towards me, has drywalled this room and put in flooring. It's becoming beautiful. The Junior Tribe Members are teasing my desire to have a serene, beautified space for laundry.

The crowning touch of the room is a second hand repurposed chandelier from the ReStore. It's fresh and white, elegant and effective. It surprises and brings delight by shining its light in a beautiful way. Folks smile when they see it there. 

I like the idea of smiling in the laundry room.

The laundry room is a metaphor of how I want to live life. 

To bring a beauty to the dark and dreary and hurtful places of the world I come in contact with.

I read a book late last fall, Love Does, by Bob Goff. I'm about 3 or 4 years late on reading this best seller, but, pardon me, I've been busy! 

Bob talks about the value of whimsy...not a silly whimsy that is foolish for it's own sake, but a holy joy that takes chances and does wild and absurd things to make a difference in this world. Bob's office is Tom Sawyer's picnic table at Disneyland, he helps his kids write letters to world leaders, he sailed the Pacific Ocean for days with his friends and a bunch of canned meant, and he loves to pull pranks on his friends. Oh, and he is also a lawyer that prosecutes really bad guys in Uganda, and frees children that have languished in prisons for years for no good reason. He loves whimsy.

Because, you see, when you choose to be whimsical in a situation, you connect with others.

Whimsy creates connection. Joy connects people. And connection between people enhances relationship. And when you enhance a relationship, you can change the world of someone..and if enough people have their world changed, then the whole world will change.

Like last Sunday. I took a Junior Tribe Member to the airport to go back to his university after a weekend home. His school had booked the ticket for Monday. The computer wouldn't let him check in a day early--and that's when he realized the error. So he went to talk to the WestJet agent. Cat helped him. 

Cat could have scolded him that he didn't see the error sooner and made him feel bad about it. 

Or Cat could have just taken care of the issue in an efficient and professional manner, changing the ticket and charging him the fee, hardly making eye contact, and mechanically wishing him a great flight as a stiff benediction to the transaction.

But what Cat really did is have fun with us. She joked with him about the computer not working and taking time. She marvelled at the computer somehow charging us $20 less than what she thought it should be. She asked her colleague about where to sign the receipt, and somehow they ended up deciding she should sign his forehead with her left hand backwards. 

When I thanked her for being so kind and gracious, she asked me to tell her mom. I told her to tell her mom how thrilled Carolyn was with her service, and she blushed just a little.

And then she said that we were having so much fun, she found a way to bump him up a class for one leg of his journey as long as someone else didn't purchase the seat.

Pure whimsy...she turned a frustration into fun...and we left connected with Cat and we left connected with WestJet. 

She got the job done, yes...but much more, she gave us a meaningful human interaction. She created a relationship with us.

I think the next time WestJet goofs (and we all goof sometimes)...we will be a little more understanding of them. Because of Cat, we are inclined to think WestJet are good people.

Whimsy takes chances to be kind even while it does the stuff of life. (and I'm guessing Cat's day was more fun, too)

Whimsy goes out of its way, not out of duty, but out of fun and delight: What happens when we have some fun here with brightening someone's day? 

Whimsy doesn't take itself so is playful and creative. Whimsy is sending an appreciative text to your spouse in the middle of a tiff or affirming your boss even when you're all racing towards a stressful deadline. 

Whimsy is bringing a smile of empathy and connection into a dark place...not by "jollying it up" but by going in there and making a difference. Whimsy loves people in ridiculous ways that recognizes their inherent value, not according to "what they deserve". Whimsy does it in a way that recognizes your own inherent value. Whimsy is looking at the fellow on the corner who wants money in the eye, and stopping to greet him and ask about his day--letting him know that you see him as a real person. Whimsy is popping a card in the mail to a friend who is struggling...just to let them know that you care.

Melanie brought a new doorstop for our office this week:

photo of a door stopper that is styled after a toothpaste tube with toothpaste being squished out of it from under the door

Every time I walk into the office, it reminds me of Bergen and Associates Counselling's purpose: to connect deeply with our clients in a fresh way. To bring a holy curiosity, a fresh perspective, and a kindness to each client. We play with metaphors, look at a new way to understand a story of pain, or just simply sit compassionately in a space of struggle with a client. I'd like Bergen and Associates Counselling to be a haven of profound whimsy.

Bob Goff talks of the value of whimsy...and how it has taken him to places of risk and adventure and fun. It has freed kids from prison, and helped him to become an advocate for an entire country. His faith in Jesus is a big part of that whimsy for starts as his core value and inspires him to love actively. His faith inspires a playful service, not a drudgery of toil. Take a peek into his experience of whimsy?

Yesterday, my chandelier of whimsy reminded me to create a "mini date" for a JTM and his fiancee. They are students who work hard and have little money for fancy dates. We put out some cheese and bread and olives and meat on a cheese board. Put out some carbonated fruit juice and some wine glasses. Lit a candle and put out some napkins. And went to bed with a pretty table set out for them for when they came in. 

The chandelier at home, and the toothpaste door stop at work will be gentle reminders to me to bring a whimsy to the lives of others. Life can get hard, and when I take myself and my work too seriously, I start to get tired and worn out. And that, I think, makes me less effective...and I certainly enjoy life less.

Whimsy creates a holy fun that makes my own life richer when I go about my life...when I work from a place of whimsy, it makes loving others fun for me, rather than work for me. 

Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to so, but along the way, they just kind of forget.  Quote by Bob Goff

Reflections of a morning of snarkiness and grumpiness

- by Sabrina Friesen

You know those times which none of us want to admit having, but we all do. The ones where we are glad the windows are shut and the curtains drawn because there exists a side of us we'd just rather not admit to anyone?

Yeah, Sabrina Friesen had one of those mornings. Today. 

Sabrina is refreshingly honest about herself and her feelings in a way that helps her be the author of her life...and allows her to connect with her kids even when, sometimes especially when, they are pushing her buttons. She stays curious about what's going on inside of herself and those she's cares about...and that curiousity pays off!

we turn toward truth and look it in the eye. We will not be characters in our stories. Not villains, not victims, not even heroes. We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. Quote by Brené Brown. Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg

And she was kind and generous enough to let us in her her morning. She's brave...and she gives us all permission to acknowledge out loud that mornings like this exist for all of us...and in so doing, our own compassion and empathy for others (and ourselves) expands.

I think that's one more reason why she is one of my favourite people!

Thanx, Sabrina! 

Before I even got out of bed this morning I knew it was going to take work to not be a total drag today. I woke up ornery and crampy and in a generally unpleasant mood. I recognized how I was searching for things to be mad at Husband about...and without meaning to, finding reasons to justify my all over rottenness. 

An early wake up, a rude request for pancakes, and a very strong desire to stay in my bed all day made getting up tricky. But I put on some coffee and vowed to put my grown up panties on and was ready to make pancakes. 

I fought the urge to be snarky and said 'yes' to a request to play Lego when all I wanted was to drink coffee without talking. I was determined, through sheer will, to turn the day around. It was a conscious and intentional decision that I was making again and again in the few minutes I had been up.

And then the girl crumpled a coloring page and proceeded to lose her shit. A full out tantrum of epic proportions. And then she began to carve out a path of destruction and unmake beds, empty drawers of clothes, and kick and yell and snark. Parenting her has taught me how to breathe deep and calm myself. It often works. Today it took so very much to not yell in her face. 

As I was hiding in the shower I was silently lamenting how much work she is to parent, and was silently grateful for what she has taught me (by necessity) about learning how to calm my own intensity. 

And then I realized that we were having the very same kind of day.

We both were tired and cranky and moody. 

We both wanted to lash out and be mad at someone for our rotten mood. 

And I thought of how much intentional work it is for the adult me to not lose my shit on those I love - and then wonder how possibly a 5 year old would ever know how to do that. 

And then places of compassion and tenderness open up in my heart when I realize how she is not trying to be difficult, she's just having big ugly feelings, and I realize how hard she must be working to not be a total wench all of the time. 

Cue a giant exhale. Feelings are hard, whether you're 5 or 30something. It is not fair of me to expect her to master skills that I myself am still fumbling with. 

Time for hugs and love and deep breaths all around.

May this be a day of hugs and love and deep breaths all around for you and yours, too!

Skipper and the Problem

- by Carolyn Bergen

When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Quote by Brené Brown

Skipper was my husband's dog before I knew him. She was one of those hunting-type dogs...the kind that can and needs to run for many miles. An odd sort of dog to choose to have in the city, but they loved her. The family still occasionally tells a Skipper story...and recently related a new one to me:

Life at home was easier with Skipper after a good run...and it wasn't easy to get her tired. If a family member looped her leash over the handle bars of a bicycle and went for a long cycle, Skipper could be in her glory. She would run long and hard for miles...and then the family could relax, cuz Skipper could have a long happy snooze on her return.

There was an occasional wrinkle to Skipper's run...she HATED lawnmowers

It. Wasn't. Pretty.

Her hatred for lawnmowers was only matched only by her hatred of toasters. (Burnt toast once led to a piercing smoke alarm which led to a lifelong fear of all things being toasted...but that's another story. I digress).

The cyclist and Skipper would ride and run for miles and then they would suddenly come across a person mowing their lawn. With a lawnmower. And things would go sideways fast.

Skipper would PANIC!!

And when Skipper panicked, she did not run faster.

She stopped. Cold.

And her leash was attached to the handlebars. Of the moving bicycle.

Picture it. Yeah, it ain't pretty.

The dog stopped. The bike, attached to the dog, stopped.

The rider, not attached to the bike, kept going.

And then the bike crashed, the rider flew over the handlebars and landed hard. The bike might land on or near Skipper with a crash. The rider would yell loudly in pain or surprise or both. The rider would direct the energy of the surprise and fall and pain towards the the dog. (Use your imagination here.)

And Skipper would look at the bike on the ground, at the rider with the new bruises and scraped knee, and the loud chaos that had just occurred. Then Skipper would look knowingly at the rider, as if to say:

"See! Now do you understand why lawnmowers are scary? I told you lawnmowers are terrifying and you wouldn't believe me!!"

I'm teaching a workshop at a marriage retreat in a few weeks...and the prescribed topic given to me is "crisis". I had the "Skipper and the lawnmower" story rolling around in my head.

And it got me to so often in a marriage, or a close friendship for that matter something difficult/challenging/puzzling/frightening/tragic happens. 

  • the furnace breaks down
  • an elderly parent needs support during a move
  • a serious illness
  • a lost job
  • a child making devastating choices
These aren't pleasant for certain. In fact, they can be very difficult.

But often what really makes difficult situations a crisis is the response:

  • pulling away
  • yelling, blaming, defensive responses that are knee jerk reactions
  • telling a lot of people who don't have the right to hear the story
  • acting rashly to fix something that actually isn't fixable
  • silence and response at all

A difficult situation becomes a relationship crisis because of the response to the situation.

A few weeks ago, Husband did something I didn't understand. 

I had told him that I was hoping he would focus on renovations in the laundry room on Monday. And instead, he had cleaned out our bedroom and gone shopping for groceries. 

You wouldn't think that cleaning and grocery shopping is some special sort of evil, but I reacted like it was. It wasn't what  we discussed I asked for. For many, that would be a dream come true, not something to be disappointed about. The story I told myself was that Husband wasn't listening to me when we had the conversation, that he didn't really think my opinions were important, and that he was ignoring my input in his life. I questioned how much Husband valued our conversation, and therefore, me. (Honestly, you've done this at some point too, right!?)

The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness.  We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity and creativity. Quote by Brené Brown

(Note: the difficulty being here that for two days I didn't even really know that what happened, and the story I told myself about the story were two different entities which I had unwittingly fused into one)

It was like when Skipper heard the lawnmower...I reacted. It was my reaction that created a situation. This situation needed to be sorted out over the coming days. I did not ask him for the explanation. Rather, I said something short and cryptic and sharp as I walked out of the house the next morning. 

It wasn't kind, and it shut down dialogue over the situation.

We were both upset--I was thinking I was upset because he didn't do what we discussed what I expected. But what was actually upsetting here was my reaction to the situation.(*See footnote*)

The actual reasons why he cleaned and shopped instead of hung the drywall had a perfectly reasonable explanation that I didn't know about--couldn't have known about--at the time. 

For about three days, Husband and I were cordial and friendly, but not close. 

We both used the days to think and pray and be curious about our actions and reactions. He told me that he used the time (as he drywalled the laundry room!) to pray for him/me/ remind himself of how precious I am to him, and to pray mercy and grace on me. He texted me: "I love you and I love us and...I am committed to us and love being married to you.

That helped me. A lot.

I used the time to ask myself hard questions: "Did I fundamentally think that he got up that morning asking himself how he could make me unimportant as he went about his day." (Answer: no) "Did I think he was the kind of guy that would smile and nod at my ideas and then intentionally disregard me when I left the room?" (Answer: no)

We each worked to get to a place where we could create compassion and empathy for each other in the situation..and then we sat down and had a long, interesting conversation about what was behind his actions and and my reactions. There's a bigger story here than I will go into...but we went down all sorts of interesting lines of discussion as we figured it out. We recognized that when a couple marries in their 40's, we each have different perceptions of conversation and tasks and work and ways we express our values and ideas.

I apologized for my Skipper-edness. 

We all have to recognize and/or find ways of recognizing when our reactions to a situation creates the crisis

Life will throw you curve balls. Someone is gonna get sick, the car will get totalled, a parent or child will die: the world will not be fair to you. 

How you deal with the crisis as a couple will determine if the crisis creates a marriage or a friendship that is stronger, or more divisive.

Often unwittingly we will create a relationship crisis in response to a life crisis. It happens before we realize it--words are said, the withdrawal is palpable.

The challenge is to own it, and be deliberate with:

  • Self compassion- Gentle conversation with ourselves to be able to be open to hard truths
  • Empathy for your partner- If these people are in relationship with you...chances are s/he is good people, and wants it to work with you. Not perfect people, but good. S/he is human who doesn't intend to be a jerk. S/he is doing the best they can--which might be frustrating at the time, but isn't malicious (yes, maliciousness exists, for certain, in some relationships, but we aren't talking about that today)
  • Recognizing the difference between the situation itself and the story we are telling ourselves about it--that takes some time, some calming, some discernment, and being candid with oneself
  • Rumble and reckon about what our own reaction is about (as we trigger the other person to fly over the handlebars because of our own fear/anger reaction--which then really freaks us out!) So often, my reaction is because I decide the other person doesn't think I'm good enough...that's my own stuff. I need to own my stuff and think through it...on my own, with a friend, with a therapist.
  • Create space to explore the other person's story, and our story--We belong to each other. We get hurt in relationships...and then within relationship is the best place to heal.
  • Connect--deeply, honestly--in hard but life-giving ways. 
Having the courage to reckon with our emotions and to rumble with our stories is the path to writing our brave new ending and the path that leads to wholeheartedness

Reconnection is a challenge after there has been a is challenging, but it's worth it. 

A big part of repair is carefully recognizing how our reaction to the situation created it's own damage and owning it. Skipper's reaction was what created the disaster--and she hadn't a clue.

Skipper was a dog. She never figured it out for herself.

I'm glad that Skipper could help me figure it out. 

Husband read this before I pushed "publish", as he does every time I write about something that includes him. Husband says to tell you that he was telling himself another story about what was happening, and that he also "Skipper-ed" in this situation and that needed sorting out...but that I'm a writer and he isn't, so you'll just have to go with my version knowing that he would tell it differently. :) 

Anger is not the real problem

- by Maryann H. Friesen

I just love it when my fellow colleagues offer their thoughts on this blog. I get to work with some of the neatest people I know who have some of the most brilliant Maryann H. Friesen shares some of her experience and story with us.

This past year I had the privilege of doing anger management work with individuals

I love it and this surprised me.  I learn so much each time I go through the program with someone.  I have learned a lot over the past twelve months and had to dig deep.  

I often found myself in similar situations to those of the person who was sitting across from.    That is the one of the side benefits about the work that we get to do as therapiststst.each day can be a tremendous personal growth opportunity. 

Anger is necessary and good in many situations and circumstances it can motivate us and drive us to do well in the world, seek justice or protect.  

But when anger is too intense for too long and starts to wreck lives or hurt others, it definitely is a problem. 

But rarely is anger the real problem. 

Like, for instance, as I dug deeper into this idea, I found a strong pattern in my life where whenever I just really screwed something up I would snap--which usually means yelling and complaining a lot. Ouch.  

When I slowed it all down and took a closer look I found usually one of two things were lurking underneath:

Once I figured this out I was able to pursue anxiety management and shame resiliency and apply it to my own life.  Learning that shame and anxiety were underneath my own anger really helped me to get to the root of my outbursts.  

As I began to deal with these more unacceptable and uncomfortable emotions I was able to make progress in my "snappiness" (which, let's just face it, is a way to sugarcoat anger). 

Anger management turned into anxiety management for me in some ways.  Deep breathing has been really helpful in getting my brain to shift out of the flight, flight, or freeze mode back into a calmer place where I can connect with myself and others.  From a calmer place I am able to often get clear about what is important to me and figure out how to sort out what I need to. 

Life doesn

Confronting my perfectionism is something that has also come up for me.  Striving to live well imperfectly is a challenge but I am trying to embrace a new Mantra: 

I don't have to be perfect to be wonderful.  

This often means: 

  • making more realistic goals and perhaps not pleasing others at my own expense.  
  • simplifying and doing less I find myself not compromising myself too much of the time. 
  • saying no is sometimes hard and uncomfortable but I rather be uncomfortable than angry or anxious. 
Whether it is trying to be 

  • a perfect mom, 
  • bringing a creative gourmet gluten free low carb healthy homemade dish to the party or 
  • trying to look like I have it all together without trying the end of the day there is just too much on my plate and when I over function and try to do what no reasonable human being can than no good comes out of it.  I get easily frustrated and end up losing it for what seems like no reason in the moment.  

Setting limits out of self-compassion and embracing my imperfections are things I am learning to do.  Living more simply and knowing my limits is great for my peace of mind.

I recently found a nifty app called Mindshift that has a ton of practical ways to deal with some of my anxiety that was under the anger.  I give it 5 STARS and refer it to clients often.  Mindshift will help you learn:

  • how to relax, 
  • develop more helpful way of thinking and 
  • give you some great ideas about how to take charge of anxiety. 
It has all sorts of great info related to Thinking Right, Chill out Tools and Active Steps right at finger tips. Check it out it is free! 

Hope for Parenting in a Fast-Moving World Part 2

- by Lindsey Walsh

(alternate working title: Perspective Taking: Is Parenting a Chore or a Challenge?)

Is parenting a challenge or a privilege?
An ongoing periodic parenting series by our own Lindsey Walsh...

Lets talk more about Tuning In and Reading our Childrens Signals. But before we start reading their signals we have to start by hearing our own inner-signals.

What signals do you give yourself? Does your inner-voice tell you that parenting is mostly the experience of being bored, frustrated, and screwing up? Or does your inner-voice broadcast a very different message?

Do you experience parenting as a chore or a challenge, a call to penance or to love and greater fulfillment?

 The challenge of parenting is a gift

A couple of years back, Shankar Vedantam at Slate Magazine posted a blog entitled:

Parents Are Junkies: If parenthood sucks, why do we love it? Because we're addicted

In it he discusses research that shows, scientifically, just how stressed out most parents are. And asks why people keep on having kids if it is so stressful and expensive to do so. His answer: people are addicted to the highs parents get from child sized cuddles and kisses.

He writes:

We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships.  Addicts.  Quote by Shankar Vendantum

We have a name for people who pursue rare moments of bliss at the expense of their wallets and their social and professional relationships: addicts.”

Well, Mr. Venantam is sort of right: Kid cuddles make us high, and can take away all of lifes stresses for a while.

For example, our three year old often crawls into bed with us. And then he tosses and turns. He kicks off the blankets. He whines. He makes getting a full nights sleep next to impossible. And, yes, that can make me cranky.

But Ill tell you what: when the entirety of my sons feeted-pyjama-ed body is crushed up against me, when I know that I am in his heart and I am soothing him in his child-sized slumber, my heart almost splits for joy.

Even writing about the beauty of that moment makes me feel terrific. 

And, if you are a parent or caregiver yourself, you know that there simply is nothing more fulfilling than feeling the unconditional love of a child. There is no feeling as great as their desire to be with you, to cuddle, play lego, or go tobboganning.

But, despite how good it feels and how many difficulties it presents, parenting isn’t actually addictive.

Firstly, parenting doesnt actually suck. Parenting is just supercalifragilisticexpialidocioustocally hard to do well.

Parenting is like learning to drive or how to swim in the ocean without getting water up your nose. And then having to re-learn how to do those things repeatedly for your entire life.

It does not suck.  It just takes a lot of practice, repetition, and good guidance to do well.

Parenting is hard, terrifically awkward, and people will suffer (including yourself and your child) when you screw up.

And I screw up on a regular basis.

Like the time my wife and I gave our son too much dried milk balls (a common snack in China) on the airplane from Nan Chang to Beijing. That was a mistake: He barfed dried milk snack all over me, his mom, the seat, and a few rows behind us.

So, we goofed by overfeeding him, and I felt sort of bad for that. Sort of. I also felt gross and super vomit covered. But, oddly enough, as I carried our son – our laughing, puke covered son – from our seat to the bathroom at the front of the plane, I felt elated.

I was a proud dad as I carried my regurgitated-dried-milk-ball-covered child to the bathroom, way, way up there at the front of the plane.

It was an “I can do this!” moment for me, as I carried my little treasure past all of the other adoptive parents and newly adopted kids. (And all of the other, unfortunate passangers who didnt share our new parent glow.)

In that moment, I knew that, yes it sucks for to have a vomit covered airplane. But more than that, I knew that we would get through it.

We would survive!

So, Mr. Vedantam, youre right about the addictiveness of a childs cuddles, and wrong to say parenting sucks the rest of the time. Or, rather it can suck, but it doesnt have to.

Parenting does not have to suck. Parenting is very, very challenging and it requires a lot from us, from our families, and from the communities around us.

It takes courage, it takes a village, and it takes truck loads of grace, to raise a child.

But it does not suck. No more than any act of courage, love, and creation sucks.

So the first step to learning how to tune in and read your childs signals the same way you tune in and read a pedestrian crossing light is to check your Perspective and your Mindset.

If you believe that all of those boring or frustrating moments you spend with children are worthless, that they are a distraction from the good stuff, then a life devoted to caring for children is going to suck.

If you decide that being woken up in the middle of the night or being vomited on in the airplane is simply a bad thing, well, then you will experience your life as a series of trials and tribulations.

Thats your call.

That’s your choice.

Ive made that call, that choice, from time to time. These days, though I wear those “parenting is a chore” goggles less and less.

After all, my wife and I didnt adopt our son in order to get high. We werent addicted to him before we held him. That came shortly after. And that addiction to his affection is just a lovely side benefit of being his mom and dad.

We became parents because we knew that we are not animals, created to simply feed our most basic drives and instincts.

We became parents because we knew that love multiplies when it has something worth all of its brightness, courage, and warmth.

We became parents because we knew that love multiplies when it has something worth all of its brightness, courage, and warmth.

My child (and my wife) are my personal love multipliers. They are the Cindy Loo-hoos to my Grinchy side (aka Driving Man). 

I am a brighter, and braver, and warmer person for knowing and beholding them in good times as well as in challenging times.

I am grateful for my wifes love and tenderness at those times when I fail to put her first, when Driving Man appears, and I am cranky and impatient. I dont always take my sons tantrums with grace. But her support makes it easier and easier.

Its quite the thing to learn how to be with a tantruming  toddler with love and grace. Or to hold my sobbing child and to know that his sadness will pass, and my wife and I will help make everything ok.

Personally, I wouldnt know how to do that if I didnt have so many good parenting role models, like my wife, my parents, grandparents and others. I am heartened by the fact that they, too, are perfectly imperfect.

But, mostly, I wouldnt know how to be a tuned-in Dad if it wasnt so hard sometimes; if he didnt make me learn how to be there for him.

So allow the children around you to force you to rise above your boredom and frustration and desire for immediate gratification.

Allow them to make you a better person.

And please do not to go it alone!  

Reach out to whomever you know who can support you in this. Who can be there for you? Who helps you be a courageous and creative parent (or other care-provider)? 

After all, parenting might not suck, but it is very, very hard to do well.

And remember this: There is nothing more soul-satisfying than putting aside instant gratification for long term awesomeness. Thats even better than kisses and cuddles (though we need those too!).

Recently: Hopes for Parenting in a Fast Moving World Part 1 or  How to Slow Down and Stop Being a Jerk 

Stay tuned. Next post will move from Tuning into Ourselves and Shifting Perspective to Tuning into the Children in our lives

Tags: Parenting

Pursuing the Good Life Effectively

- by Carolyn Bergen

What makes for a healthy and satisfying life?

What are you resolving to do in 2016? As one year closes and another begins, wouldn't it make sense to pursue that which will have us be healthiest and most satisfied?

And how do we really know what has us be most healthy and most satisfied? What if what we think might be good for us isn't accurate? What happens when culture skews our desires and dreams to pursue goals that won't actually give us the satisfaction and joy that we seek?

Anne Lamott wrote yesterday on Facebook to the millions of folks that will be starting a "diet" to lose weight this week:

I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being. Can you put away your tight pants? Wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.

Too true, isn't it?

We pursue thinness like that will make us happy and healthy. Like when we are skinnier, we feel better about ourselves, about life.  Saint Anne says this:

It's okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it's yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It's within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it's true.

So...if you ask a Millenial (folks between late teens and mid-thirties) what their goals are:
  • 80% of them say they want to be, even
  • 50% of them say they want to be be known (at the core, is this about wanting to be seen and valued?)
So...if you pursue wealth and notoriety, will that give you life satisfaction? Are those goals gonna really get you want will make the most impact?

Nope. At least, a 75 year old carefully designed and fastidiously carried out research project out of Harvard University would say not. When men (alas, women were only added to the study in the last 10 years,[insert heavy sigh here]) were followed from their teens until their 90' see what impact various factors had on their healthy, their life satisfaction, and their very marbles that hold the memory for it all, the results clearly demonstrates factors that determined success. (and if you don't believe me, listen to this TED talk with psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Waldinger). Dr. Waldinger is the fourth in a succession of researchers to head up The Harvard Study of Adult Development project that began with a combined total of over 700 Harvard students and disadvantaged youth in Boston beginning in late 1930's.

The good life is built with good relationships. Quote from Dr. Waldinger, Researcher/Psychiatrist from Harvard University. From the TED Talk.  75 year longitudinal study

This is a fascinating TED talk that is worth 12 minutes of your life:

Dr. Waldinger states:

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we've generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. understand why I claim as a mantra everywhere I go: We are wired for connection. When we have good connections with ourselves, each other (particularly a precious friends and family who comprise our meaningful tribe) and spiritually, we flourish. We find purpose and meaning to life. We are healthier and have a joy that goes beyond circumstances.

Let me give you the three clear conclusions that have arisen from this 75 year study...all of which point to the value of quality connections:

1. Close relationships give us greater life satisfaction. 

When we have relationships in our lives, we are happier, we live longer, we have better memories. Our immunity is better. 

Loneliness is toxic. Folks who are lonely have less life satisfaction and shorter life spans. Their health declines earlier and faster in midlife. Their brain function isn't as good later in life as well connected folks.

2. The quality of relationships matters

 Connections are more than about having people around, or having married to a life partner. The quality of relationships matters. High conflict relationships without warmth have a negative effect on your wellbeing.

Having the same mailing address, or sleeping in the same room as your spouse does not qualify as a meaningful, warm relationship. 

Knowing your spouse has your back does.

Not having divorce papers doesn't qualify as being married in a way that is good for your health, your memory, and your life satisfaction. Having your spouse be a great friend does matter. And you can still disagree and fight and fundamentally have different opinions about money, politics or anything else and still be meaningfully connected!

Interestingly, as folks age, and painful conditions develop...if they have meaningful connections, their quality of life does not decrease with increased physical pain.  Folks that have unsupportive relationships experience more emotional pain on the days when they experience more physical pain.

3. Good relationships protect our brains

Bodies are better off when a person has good are brains. When octogenarians have relationships where they know they can really count on somebody, their memories stay sharper longer. 

When folks feel they don't have anyone to count on, their memories decrease earlier. 

This doesn't mean you have to live without arguments...couples who bicker often don't experience the memory decline, as long as each person knows that their spouse is ultimately in their corner.

The conclusion Dr. Waldinger makes are these:

So this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that's as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we're human. What we'd really like is a quick fix, something we can get that'll make our lives good and keep them that way.Relationships are messy and they're complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it's not sexy or glamorous. It's also lifelong. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of our men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.

This world would be healthier, happier place if folks dedicated their lives to quality relationships.

What would it look like for you to lean into relationships in 2016?
  • Cell phones in a basket in the corner during dinner?
  • One less hour of screen time replaced with a board game or a conversation or a walk in the park?
  • Choosing to join a book club, getting together with a cousin regularly to do a project?
  • Finding a night for date night? Trying a new restaurant, or reading a book out loud together, or doing online surveys together that provoke discussion and create a few laughs?

Do you long for the good life?

Get meaningfully connected!

Before it's too late

- by Carolyn Bergen

"Before it

I was talking recently to some of my colleagues about couples therapy.

One of the topics that came up was the reluctance of one partner to hear the other spouse's pain...and do something about it. 

Sometimes, when couples come to therapy, we ask the couples which one is the "draggee" in therapy, and one the "dragger". 

A therapist mentioned the painful scenario of having a couple come into therapy after one spouse has said: 

Enough. I'm done.

  • Enough of the distance, 
  • Enough of trying to make the partner hear of the loneliness. 
  • Enough of pleading, trying to make something happen. 
  • Enough of saying, "We need to talk to somebody. We need to figure this out."
  • Enough of trying to have their spouse hear that this isn't just some disgruntlement about the schedule or the chores. This isn't some bickering or complaining that will pass.
  • Enough of not being heard. 
  • Enough of not being seen and valued
The exhausted, burned out spouse says: 

"Enough. I'm not doing this any more. I'm done." 

And means it.

Suddenly the spouse hears it, and understands the seriousness of it. 

The spouse now "gets it"--big time. 

The spouse kicks into high gear (because all along s/he really did want to be married, but you know how complacency can set in), and in horror and shock, begins to plead for the marriage. 

Sincerely, dedicatedly, and earnestly, the spouse:

  • Books the counselling appointment 
  • Tries to start conversations, writes long letters of love and commitment, texts love and commitment multiple times per day 
  • now comes home from work on time. 
  • Fixes the things that have been on the "to do list" for months. 
  • Actively participates in childcare
  • Shows up at the kids' games
...doing all the things that have been complained about for years. 

The imminence of divorce propels action in frenetic ways.

Only it's too late. 

When "enough" was said, it was too late. 

The last chances had already been offered and re-offered, and had already been pulled off the table.

When one therapist said this to the rest of us, there were sad smiles of knowing all around the room. We've all seen these couples and its painful

The sad part is when these couples show up for therapy, the draggee has become the dragger, and the dragger has become the draggee.

The spouse that has been begging and pleading for years is done with the marriage. They come to therapy only to have the therapist's help to explain that there is no more opportunity to work on this. We generally only see these couples once, because there is nothing to do, nothing to work on. There is no will on the part of the one who is done to re-engage. S/he will say s/he's tried over and over for year, and is done trying.

The spouse that hadn't been accessible and responsive really is sincere about wanting to make the marriage work (and has wanted to be married all along). And as motivated as they now might be, there is no space to make the marriage work...because there is no marriage anymore. 

The marriage disintegrated in front of their eyes, but they didn't see it...because their eyes were glued to the video game, the football game, the beer in front of them, or the project at work.

Statistically, frankly, this spouse is most often (though not nearly always)--male

The long pattern of distancing isn't about being a's about the challenge of being intimate with someone in a culture that ridicules vulnerability and makes it difficult, it's about pulling away from someone who makes you feel like you are never enough and can never measure up. 

It's turning away from something you feel lousy at, to move towards an area where you have competence--like your job or the hockey team, or an area of mindless numbing--like video games or alcohol. 

So often, these men value and love their wives, and want a good marriage, but don't know how, and they pull away from the uncomfortable feelings...

...and don't realize that this results in pulling away from your life's love in ways that seem intolerable to her.

If your spouse emails this post to you, or calls you over to read it while she's surfing's not too late. 

Listen to her (or him). 

"Get it" now

 Hear how desperate your spouse is to connect with you in a meaningful way, and dare to figure out how to make this work for both of you

...before it's too late.

I miss him like a circle

- by Carolyn Bergen

Today is my annual so-low-that-down-is-up day--I blog about it every year (here in  20102011, 20122013, 2014). 

The day when we have the least amount of light, and the most amount of darkness

The day that launches a time when the days will only have more light than the day before. More light is coming...just a little bit more each day, but it's going in the right direction. 

It's a day of strange hope for me.

It can't get less light. It can't get shorter. There is only one way to the pattern of these days...Longer days, more light...UP. Only up. 

We might be at the bottom for short days, which is tough...but tomorrow will be a little bit brighter.

I saw this picture on my friend Nik's timeline a few weeks ago and asked him to send it to me for today's blog. It took my breath away. It was beautiful. The colouring is exquisite. I love the colors and the depth:

Exquisite picture of frost on window in the bathroom

Isn't it lovely?

What makes this such a powerful picture for me was that it is not a beautiful painting or work of art that someone painstakingly put hours of work into.

This is a snap of Nik's bathroom window in the morning. He posted it on Facebook and it got a lot of likes as people admired the lighting, the intricateness of the patterns, and the way the patterns and light play off each other.

It's frost because of insulation/condensation issues in the most private room of the house. The room that smells the most, and holds the most private functions. 

This picture is a sign of a winter moisture problem. This picture is simply beautiful.

And yet, it was the most beautiful thing I saw that morning. I loved the picture.

But he didn't love the reason it was there. But he loved the beauty of it so much he snapped the pic.

Darkness and light, challenges and beauty, kindness in the midst of horror...the light in the darkness shines bright.

The darkness cannot over come the light. The ugliness cannot eliminate the beauty.

Sometimes the beauty arises out because of the darkness.

I've had a few conversations with a friend of mine lately. Her husband just left. Fairly suddenly and without any chance to talk or figure things out. Their family is ripped apart, and she is struggling to face the reality of all of life, never mind just this Christmas, alone.

She has three children...She messaged me about a brief conversation she had with her 8 year old, Tanner.

"On a scale of square to circle, how much do you miss dad?" 

I asked what he meant by that. 

"Well, in a square, it's just 1,2,3,4 [his fingers drawing in the air] and it's done. But in a circle, it just goes around and around and around and doesn't stop. 

I miss him like a circle Mom."   

I read this on my phone while I was standing in line buying a few things at the busy Dollar Store...crazy full of customers, lotsa jostling and action. Lost. it. --I started to cry. Don't know if they thought I was a little odd. That's ok.

Sometimes, I just feel so understood by words that it takes my breath away. 

The insight of Tanner was remarkable and I felt like he understood grief, that he understood my grief so poignantly. I cried because all of a sudden I had language to better wrap around some experiences in my life. I miss the important people in my life like a circle. Tanner spoke a truth that was hard and sad and truer than I could feel, except if I wept.

I cried because there is one more family of children that weeps for a man who cared and loved them and isn't around anymore.

I cried because there is so much hurt, and so very many people hurt in circles...around and around. 

Square hurting happens when your team loses, or you don't get what you hoped for for Christmas. But almost everybody has some circle hurt in their lives.

I cried because this 8 year old named Tanner could tell his mother so very clearly that he hurts like a circle. Because he gave her the chance to comfort him, and he gave her language and permission to hurt like a circle too. They could be together in their sadness for the man who is no longer there.

I cried because when people talk to each other about their loneliness and sadness in ways that invite support and love, like Tanner and his mom, it makes the darkness a little bit brighter. The ugly is still ugly, but the spark of beauty in it cannot be extinguished. 

They can have each other as they loop through the waves of sadness, and they will be the better for it.

Many are struggling with the darkness in their life right now...may you let people who know and care for you of your circle grief, circle loneliness, and circle struggle. Be honest and open...vulnerable. 

"On a scale of square to circle, how much do you miss Dad?" I asked what he meant by that.""Well, in a square, it
And give each other care in the sadness.
Tags: Grief

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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

February 12, 2016

A piece of paper taped to a mug...changed my weekend. 

So exactly what purpose does a chandelier have in a laundry room? Read on...

Sabrina reflects on a challenging morning when she is grumpy...and her daughter is just as grumpy. A little empathy changes things!

read more