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Sep22

Tag Team Back Again…

…check its records let’s begin. Party on party people let me hear some noise!  DC’s in the house jump jump rejoice!!! There’s a party over here, a party over there…

Friends,

I am excited to tell you about an event coming up in Seattle that Shauna is administrating as Alumni Outreach Coordinator at The Seattle School and where I will be speaking.  It’s called Symposium: An Intersection of Conversation and Innovation.

Symposium were forums in ancient Greece for conversations between philosophers, poets, musicians, and leaders that would fuel innovation and imagination.

At the inaugural Symposia last year, Shauna spoke about “How Coding Trauma Into Language Impacts the Healing Process.” You can watch the video of her message here. And this year, I will be addressing “Metaphor in Psychotherapy: A Bridge Between Thinking & Feeling.”

To learn more about this event, including a list of the presenters and their topics, and how you can buy tickets to attend, please visit: http://theseattleschool.edu/event/symposia2016/?instance_id=29185

This event will also be webcast. So, stay tuned to our Facebook page for how you can participate from afar.

I am excited to be a part of this event hosted by my beloved graduate school, as well as tickled that Shauna and I get to participate in an event together. It’s been a long time since our shared youth group endeavors. Tag Team, it’s so good to be back again!

newsletter-symposia

Mar09

Repairing a Rupture with Mother Nature

IMG_6308 copyNature and I have been out of sorts for quite some time. It wasn’t always this way. When I was a young girl I spent most of my time outdoors. We grew up in a community tucked away in a serene valley surrounded by foothills to the Rocky Mountains. There were manicured and less manicured trails, creeks, rock formations perfect for playing masters of the rock and a nearby equestrian center that our neighborhood crew would claim as our playground after dark. I collected craw fish and rain frogs and rode my bike (on accident) over a few rattlesnakes. Nature and wildlife wasn’t something to shy away from, though I think I always had a healthy respect for the power and beauty of non-human creatures. In my late teens I was fond of camping and backpacking, catching, gutting, cooking and eating fish during such excursions. I was an avid skier well into my late adolescence relishing in the intoxicating rush of those Colorado peaks. But as I resigned myself to the many indoor demands of adulting, my relationship with nature began to take a turn.

It is possible that mildly traumatic experiences played a role in the demise of our once thrilling relationship. When I was 18 I was bit by a brown recluse spider which later made way for contracting a nasty case of impetigo, an unrelenting staff infection, that required six months of antibiotics and a whole lot of pain and embarrassment as the primary spider bite puncture rested just below my right butt cheek. It was only a few years later that I was attacked by an angry gang of squirrels that dominated an outdoor eating area in the midst of my college campus. Few people understand how ferocious those little beasts can become when they no longer maintain any respect for the human species.

So perhaps those incidences left my relationship with nature feeling slightly strained, but they’re not significant enough to explain why now as a 36 year old woman, I rarely make the time or have the desire to be outdoors. I’m not exactly sure when or how or why or where my desire went. Every now and then something awakens it and so I attempt to re-engage with the vast world I now feel so disconnected from only to discover I am extremely skittish and easily discouraged. I jump out of my own shoes when I unexpectedly stumble upon a gathering of deer eating their evening meal where I take my dog out to remember he’s still an animal. I freak out when a bug flies in my direction. Once while living in Uganda, I was working from our cottage patio when a praying Mantis flew straight for my unexpecting face. I instinctively screamed loud enough to startle the entire compound and ran for safety just inside the patio doors. I then spent the next 30 minutes tossing shoes at the bold mantis in an effort to annoy it enough that it might abandon my outdoor office so that I might return to my work. Suffice it to say that my efforts were entirely unsuccessful and clearly ridiculous.

I recently heard these words come out of my 14 year old’s mouth: “I HATE being outdoors.” This was the same daughter who would pick up worms and snakes with her bare hands. The daughter who loved rollie pollies and playing in the dirt. And now, a decade later, she screams at the sight of a bug flying toward her face as well. Admittedly, her response could very well be an indication of the influence of my own poor example. But it certainly has me wondering what else could be to blame for our mutual sense of disconnection from and fear of the world beyond the safety we find within those boxes we call homes.  

“Enough is enough,” I declared about a month ago as I decided I would find a way to repair the rupture in my relationship with the great outdoors. Each Wednesday since then I have embarked upon an outdoor excursion with the three year old and the most lovable yet annoying chocolate lab in tow. Rain or shine, the three of us are learning how to explore and venture beyond our neighborhood parks every week. Only a month into these Wednesday excursions and I am just beginning to understand why my relationship with nature took a dive over a decade ago.  

Today’s adventure led us to a lake only a few miles from where we currently reside. I knew it was going to eventually rain, so we needed to get a jump on our adventure. After parking our stereotypically middle class suburban family minivan, I grabbed our day pack, put the leash on the dog and walked in the direction of the lake with tiny one’s hand held safely in mine. There was a man fishing near the lake so I led the two little noise-makers in an entirely different direction. After nearly 30 minutes of walking I realized that the trail we were treading upon was leading us into areas less tamed by man-made landscaping measures.

My heart began to race a bit more as I saw signs indicating this was a protected wildlife habitat. I felt less in control of my surroundings and that’s when a new understanding was unearthed…or maybe it was actually re-earthed. When I was a child and especially a teen, my life was filled with chaos and traumas of varying degrees. I sought refuge in the natural world all around me not as an escape from the chaos, because there is a kind of chaos in the natural world as well. Somehow the natural chaos was expected, predictable in it’s wildness, held by something grander and larger than each individual component. It felt grounding to be in the midst of the world outdoors. It made me feel alive, like anything was possible. It revealed that beauty could be birthed from the chaos, that learning how to play in the dirt was essential to feeling grounded, and that being human was about being a part of this chaotic beautiful world.

As I moved further into adulthood, I think I began to imagine I could somehow escape the chaos and trauma of life, or at the very least, I believed I could minimize it all. Nature knew I was kidding myself and so I had to retreat from the ways it would whisper my folly. Or so I thought. But life has continued to feel chaotic, wild, and even traumatic in this chapter of adulthood as well. While venturing into the woods surrounding that lake today, I felt my heart race at the unpredictability and I heard the whispers. I remembered that a racing heart isn’t always an indication of harm to come. Sometime it’s the precursor to something breathtaking just beyond the horizon. The natural world is where we belong, despite all the ways we try to pretend like it’s not. All those structures we build and roads we pave – we think they keep us “safer” but perhaps they make us forget that we are not meant to be safe. I’m only now beginning to remember that we are really meant to simply belong to a wild and unpredictable natural world.

Jan28

The Move (Part 4): Sitting in the Gap

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The turn of this new year has felt a little strange. It came about during an in-between season of my life. Often the Christmas season ushers forth a sense of conclusion or a wrapping up of sorts to the year. Those few days between exchanging gifts and ringing in the sparkly new year typically provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on the adventures afforded and the heartaches borne. Hope usually rises as I begin to envision a new start and wonder and anticipate what lies ahead. But this year was quite different.

The unexpected move-pocalypse of 2015 has yet to be fully unpacked and understood. We are each still wrestling and sorting out how this shift in location will continue to alter the trajectory of our narratives. And the uncertainty of how or when this new place will ever begin to feel like home is evidence of the in-between nature of our current circumstances. In the past, these kinds of narrative gaps, the vowels between the consonants, the spaces between what was and what will be – these have been difficult spaces for me to find rest. I’ve often tried to hurry through them, assuming that plowing through transition as quickly as possible is what is best for all involved so that a new normal can be established. On other occasions involving transition, I’ve simply busied myself or distracted myself, or self-soothed by employing go-to addictions – all likely an unconscious effort (most of the time) to avoid feeling the stripping away effect transition can have upon one’s sense of identity, or belonging, or purpose.  

It became clear just before Christmas that none of those avoidance tactics were going to be adequate in this season of transition. There was no running away or side-stepping the ever-present sense that the losses needed to be felt and that the confusion that has ensued in the aftermath is inviting deeper levels of self-exploration. I’ve wandered into a gap between identities. I am once again living outside of the weekly rhythms of our extended families of origin. These tribes we are born into and formed out of carry so much power in the shaping and fostering of our identities (for good and for harm). We are sister or daughter or granddaughter or wise one or funny one or strong one or smart one or wounded one. Whenever we venture outside or beyond or away from our people we have a new opportunity to explore who we are separate from them. I’ve found this space to be especially terrifying. Who am I outside of the communities that have affirmed my existence, communities that have formed my own micro-world? What remains when those micro-worlds are fading into the distance?

A similar stripping away has unfolded professionally as I’ve nearly entirely walked away from my previously thriving private practice only retaining a handful of clients who wanted to continue the work via online/video sessions. When we transition vocationally we have an opportunity to explore who we are simply as human beings when we are not striving so hard to be human doings. I began working at the age of 12 generating my own income by way of babysitting thus beginning a 20+ year career in offering care to others in a whole host of different ways. This is the only substantial break I have ever been afforded aside from when I pursued my graduate degree (which I struggle to call a break given the intensity of the program I undertook while tending to three kids simultaneously). I know that this vocational pause is a luxury in our culture and in our world, but I am beginning to see why that is such a travesty. My body and brain and heart and health have been begging for some rest in the gaps all along. 

So I’m not quite at the start of a new journey like I would have typically hoped for at the turn of a new calendar year. Instead, I’m in the gap lands and I’m coming to realize that I may need to be here for a little while. It’s clear that I’ve moved too quickly through this terrain in previous transitions. At times, I am certain, survival must have required only a quick pause in the gaps. But I must confess there were others that I unapologetically pushed through quicker than the speed of light. So there is lots of unfinished business in this place, lots of rest needed, lots of recovery for this compassion-fatigued soul. Ultimately it is where a patient grief must finally be allowed. Here’s to hoping that this intentional posture of sitting and staying in the gap as long as necessary leads to restoration and an increased capacity to listen well to the voice of a more stripped-down version of myself.  

Jan14

A Year of Abundance

I have always loved the ritual of creating New Year’s resolutions. As my childhood friend Sarah can attest, I’ve jumped at the chance to recreate myself every January since we were in junior high together. I would always commit to something extraordinary like: “This year I will change my personality!”  “I will practice perfect posture!”  “I will memorize at least one poem every week!”  I put so much emphasis on the magic of starting a brand new year, like a do-over, I thought the slate was wiped clean and I could remake myself. Back then, I wanted to be the shy, quiet type that the boys seemed to like. For those of you who know me, you immediately recognize the grand feat necessary for me to “change my personality” and the unlikelihood of which not even a miracle could supply.

Twenty-five years later, I still relish the notion of starting something new and fresh; re-examining old goals, naming new ones. But my “resolutions” are no longer plural. I followed the lead of a friend who challenged us a few years ago to bear in mind a single word or phrase to guide us throughout the year. I’ve adopted that habit and found it to be freeing and focusing at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easier to keep instead of abandoning by the end of the first month.

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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 Is printed on the number “4” to remind me of my resolution all year long.

I was very intentional last year in declaring my word as “Abundance.” Tired of settling for the norm and what had become mediocre, I wanted to know the abundant life promised in Scripture (John 10, Ephesians 3). I spent a long time in January crafting a large art piece that would consistently remind me of what I had prayerfully set out in the beginning of the year to find.

I clung to that word “abundance” looking for evidence of it anywhere and everywhere. But by the end of October, I was beginning to think that God misunderstood my message.

2015 began with a colonoscopy in January and ended with a double ear infection and thrush in November. Peppered in between those health concerns the year held injuries and nutrient deficiencies. Job, asset and relational losses were also among the wreckage. I literally thought to myself that the signals of prayer to the heavens were crossed and the message was heard that I wanted 2015 to be a year of abundant…burdens!

I am still trying to make meaning out of the past 12 months. But there was a moment in August after I had endured a vocational crisis where I was able to experientially grasp the concept of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” During that month of mourning, Karl was there at every turn to comfort me and literally hold me together. I would wake from terrifying nightmares at 2 or 3 in the morning and beg him to just put his arms around me tightly so I could feel safe again.  On the weekends when I still couldn’t break the chains of anxiety, I would weep and ask him to rub my back.  I called him or texted him numerous times each day asking for reassurance or the chance to process my feelings.  In 15 years of marriage, I never needed him like I did then. And when I needed that desperately, I was finally comforted in an abundant way.

Never before have I ever been the touchy-feely type. I didn’t understand what was so special about giving and receiving hugs, or snuggling or hand-holding.  But after a painful year of desperate need, I found comfort in the human touch.  Now, Karl says with a wink that I’ve gotten a bit greedy in my need for his comfort. “Hold me? Snuggle with me?, Scratch my back?,” I say daily.  I know where to find the soothing I need. And he offers it to me in spades. But it took an abundance of need for me to find the source of abundant comfort.

And as I look at other instances from throughout the year, what becomes clear, in hindsight, is that there was an abundance of trials, to be sure, but for the first time in my life, there was also an abundance of comfort.  So, maybe the wires to heaven weren’t crossed all along and God understood my message perfectly.

Dec14

Featurette: My Job Does Not Define Who I Am

Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers.  A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment.  You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Jenny Hochmiller

Being an educator takes a certain type of person, and I question if I am that type of person.  After 6 years of experience, how is my level of confidence still shaky?  Yes, my level of confidence is unrecognizably stronger from my initial days in the classroom, but I feel inept in my ability to make a strong impact.  Am I in transition, or not?  These conflicting thoughts bring such a strong wave of emotion, as if I’m a part of an abusive relationship – one I want to leave, but have such an unhealthy attachment to.

Going into education seemed like a natural fit.  My teachers were some of my strongest mentors, and being a contributing member of a vibrant school community was something I longed for.  Of course, a teenager’s perspective of a career versus the actual realities that exist within that career create a strong collide.  I had more discourage me from going into the classroom than tell me it was a good idea, and the retention rates spoke for themselves.  Yet, I refused to be a statistic.

So I dove right in, right into the Montbello neighborhood.  Boy, was I in for a huge wake up call.  My first year greeted me with teaching credit recovery classes on computers for every subject under the sun, an Algebra class full of 40 freshmen, three rooms to travel in between, a board vote to phase out our failing school over the next four years, a building void of a principal halfway through the year, and having to re-interview for my position three times within that year.  Thank goodness for a strong bond with so many of my students and colleagues – we held each other up during what I regard as such a dark time.  Many days I had to remind myself to breathe.

But for some strange reason, I wanted to stay.  There was such a stark contrast from the environment I grew up in and the education I received, to the job I stepped into.  Yet, I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else.  The way I saw it, education is what defined my family.  Education brought them from blue collar to white collar, no high school degree to ivy league degrees within just one generation.  How could this community be denied what is considered the great equalizer of our time?  From my perspective that equated to staying, because the more who stayed, potentially the less unstable the school would be.  This was considering how teachers who had been there for two years were seen as veterans, and gained unprecedented respect from the students because they showed they cared enough to stay.

Flash forward to six years later, and I attribute so much of who I am to what this community has built within me.  Perseverance and resilience, from days this non-crier would come home sobbing from brokenness in every aspect of the word.  Drive to be the best educator I can be, despite feeling like the measures to meet this goal were impossible.  Having so much of me being intertwined with a people who are now my family.  And an endless desire for excellence, even if it feels like such a false hope that’s a dangling carrot in front of me.

The question now is, whether the level of self-sacrifice is too strong to continue.  To be excellent requires a great deal of time.  Time that bleeds into the evenings and weekends, when I’m supposed be enjoying time with family, friends, or simply indulging into necessary self-care.  Time that I so freely gave away through the majority of my 20s.  And in my experience with school reform, it has been so heart wrenchingly painful.  My greatest mentors that I have stood side-by-side with have either voluntarily left, or been involuntarily removed.  I look around, and only two remain from that first year I began, and both question their ability to continue.

Will I stay or go?  Am I grieving the end of a huge chapter in my life, paralyzed with fear and standing in the neutral zone refusing to move, or starting a new beginning by entertaining the idea of moving in another direction?  Getting a thrill out of the unknown has never been me – I am terrified.  Terrified to leave, as well as terrified that I’ll never leave.  I have no desire to go in any other direction, as well as no desire to stay.  I question if know who I am.  But a mantra I repeated to myself over and over on my drive to work last year, in an attempt to begin the process of surrendering control, was that my job does not define who I am, and God will continue to love me despite my successes or failures.

Jennifer

Jenny Hochmiller enjoys life with her husband and their new baby girl, Ariana. Her favorite beverage is Root Beer Milk.