The Power of Presence

 
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Hi. It’s me. Yep, the one who said she was going to take a break from writing for the month of December. Well, I did that. And then somehow, December turned into January… and January turned into February… and February turned into March… and, uh, here we are in April, and I’m back! Thanks for sticking with me, guys. I love you all. And to those who unsubscribed… smh.

In all seriousness, I do have a half-decent reason for my extended absence. I mean, it doesn’t necessarily cover a multitude of sins, but it is half-decent. Turns out, I’m having a baby! Yeah, like a real live child. I know. What? That was my reaction, too. 

Anyway, in light of this news, Erik and I decided to go on what kids these days are calling a “babymoon.”

We chose Hawaii for our babymoon location, so our first step was to fly the ten hours from Chicago to Honolulu. Being the need-our-own-space introverts that we are, we naturally chose seats across the aisle from each other so that we could both be on the end of the row.

 
Comfort over cuddles. Always. (Let’s be real though: we still both ended up like this guy^^)

Comfort over cuddles. Always. (Let’s be real though: we still both ended up like this guy^^)

 

However, until just a few hours before the flight, I didn’t realize what this would mean: that I would be sitting next to a stranger.

Here’s the thing. I’ve flown pretty much every year of my life since I was 3. Recently, though, I’ve become anxious about who will end up as my seat buddy. Why? Four words: The Lithuanian Basketball Player.

Allow me to explain. 

On a flight back from Europe a few years ago, I found myself sitting next to a 6-foot-10, man-bun-wearing, 23-year-old basketball player who (allegedly) played for Lithuania.

(Don’t ask me for specifics, I guarantee you I won’t know them.)

I had chosen the end seat in advance, and he had gotten stuck with the middle seat.

Before the plane even took off, he started whining – to no one in particular – about the lack of legroom. He then attempted to negotiate with the flight attendants, claiming that he would “drop any amount of money” to be moved to a seat in First Class. “I have my mom’s credit card,” he sputtered repeatedly in desperation. “The flight is fully booked,” the flight staff replied back unblinkingly.

Bummer.

I offered him my seat. Oh no, not because I was trying to be nice. I simply did not want to hear him gripe for the entire 8-hour flight. “No way – I couldn’t do that to you,” he replied in a tone which suggested that we had known each other for years and which also suggested that I was the ridiculous one.

Long story short, The Lithuanian Basketball Player retaliated by ordering four bottles of rosé all at once… which he received with no questions asked. (I guess the flight attendants were trying to make up for not having an extra seat that he could move to, but really? Come on, guys. Also, isn’t it kind of funny that this mammoth man was drinking copious amounts of rosé? But, I digress.)

Within an hour or so of the flight, he was very, very drunk. That’s when the belligerent behavior started. And, of course, the comments.

What’s your name? Are you single? Oh. Well, your boyfriend’s a lucky guy. What’s his name? What are you watching? This part is the best! Here, take a selfie with me. Come on – TAKE A SELFIE WITH ME. What drink do you want? Come on, let me buy you something. Wait, let’s do a SnapChat story!

I cannot communicate to you in words the level of immense relief and gratitude I experienced when he finally fell asleep, mouth half-open a few hours in. He stunk, but at least he left me alone.


 Not only did this experience scar me for life (just kidding… but really), it also ushered me into a season of reflection on the power of presence.

What impact can my presence have on another, for good or for ill? What does it mean to be present? What does it look like to be a peaceful presence? A grace-filled presence? A trustworthy presence?

In counseling school, we spent a significant amount of time learning to just be with another. This is because a therapist’s relationship with her client– AKA the “therapeutic alliance” – is of utmost importance.

You know those people who you just feel safe and calm and happy around? I can think of several. Good friends, family members, pastors, even a few people I don’t know very well.

Regardless of the exact amount of time I spent with them, the exact context in which we interacted, or the exact words they said to me, their presence left a profound impression on my heart. Their presence demonstrated Jesus’ grace, comfort, and love in ways that are difficult to articulate.

We will be faced with unpleasant interactions and experiences. We don’t get to decide what type of a presence others choose to offer us. But we do get to decide to offer others the gift of our own kind, loving presence.

It doesn’t take much. Just a humble heart and a deep respect for the dear soul sitting next to you.

 
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Learning to Love Who You See in the Mirror

Note: If you've kept up with my blog posts these past couple of years, you may have noticed that it's been quite some time since I've written about body image issues. For some of you, this may have been a welcome hiatus! To be honest, I haven't steered clear of these topics on purpose. Rather, I simply found myself in a season of life during which concerns about my body and my food consumption were not my primary focus. That doesn't mean they went away completely, but they did take the backseat for a period of time.  

While I have no intention of reverting this blog entirely to its original form, I would like to share a couple of things that have been stirring in my heart on this topic. I hope that’s ok with you. :)


I attend a wedding. It’s pretty. Fun. Lots of love and laughter and support from family and friends.

The bride looks so thin.

A friend comments on how a mutual acquaintance of ours has lost weight.

I skip lunch.

A 50-year-old woman shows me a picture taken 3 years ago of her in a hot pink mini dress. Says she wants to get back to how she looked then.

I wish she would talk to someone else about this.

A kind, intelligent 12-year-old girl tells me, “I’m fine with my body, I guess. I mean, everyone always wants to lose a little weight though, right?” Searches my face for approval.

I want to cry.

I’m dressing for a party. None of my jeans fit. Again.

I collapse on my bed.

I step on the scale at the doctor’s office. Keep my eyes straight ahead of me. The doctor asks me to read the number to her.

I can’t do it.

My husband hugs me. Asks what’s wrong.

Nothing. It’s nothing.


The words above represent some of my experiences these past few weeks. This struggle that I thought was subsiding seems to be attempting to wriggle it’s way back into my life, and believe you me: it ain’t fun.

But this time, I’m learning that there’s more to the story— that I can choose more for my story.

Because you can see a lot more when you slow down, when you take the time to look instead of judge.

And the truth is, when I actually look in the mirror, I see… my dad. I see my mom. My sisters. My brother. My grandparents. Other beloved family members - ones who are living and ones who have passed away.

In my eyes, my cheeks, my shoulders, my neck, my legs, I see shared qualities, traces of the dear people I’ve grown up knowing and treasuring and admiring all my life.

So why do I (how can I) look upon my own body, my own face with such harshness in my heart?

And when I consider what makes a person beautiful, what comes to mind is: Kindness. Gentleness. Humility. Hospitality. Thoughtfulness. Tenderness. Selflessness. Love.

So why do I waste hours agonizing over which exercise plan I finally need to jump on, which food I need to cut out of my diet, which makeup palette I need to buy to become beautiful when I already have everything I need to simply be beautiful?

Like pretty much anyone else on this planet, I want to look in the mirror and love what I see. But I don’t mean I want to change what I see into what the world deems “loveable” so that I have permission to love it too.

I want to just see what’s actually there and love it now.

And I think that maybe I do love it now. That I’ve always loved it. I just forget who I am sometimes.

Look at you. Simply look. What do you see? Who do you see?

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Do as I Say, Knot as I Do

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Have you ever ignored a seemingly small issue, and the next thing you knew it had gotten completely out of control?

Recently, this happened to me in a rather unexpected way.

I was brushing my hair a few weeks ago, and I hit a snag. This snag turned out to be a tight, stubborn little knot near the middle of a section of my hair.

I couldn’t see it at first; in fact, I almost couldn’t find it at all – it was well covered up beneath a good amount of hair. But I could feel it as I continued to brush, and I realized it was clearly not going to budge. After a while, I decided to call it a day. I arranged my hair to cover up the knot, put my brush away, and went to bed.

The next morning when I woke up, I didn’t think at all about the knot. I took a shower, hastily threw my hair in a ponytail, and went to work.

A few times throughout the day, though, I remembered the knot.

“I should really deal with that today,” I told myself.

But when I got home, I made allllllll the excuses.

I’m tired. It’s not that bad. It’ll be painful to try to fix that now. I’ll take care of it tomorrow. It’ll work itself out.

This continued for the remainder of the week.

Then, one day as I was sitting at my desk and running my fingers through my hair, I felt something.

Something big.

I grabbed my phone and turned it to selfie-mode so I could see myself.

Lifting the front section of my hair to reveal the underside, I was shocked by what I saw. It was what can only be described as a big, fuzzy, monstrosity of a dreadlock.

Quite unbeknownst to me, the once tiny knot had spread and grown and morphed into something… rather amazing.

When I got home that day, I attacked the chunk of tough, tangled hair with all the might I could muster. I combed and combed and brushed and brushed as thoroughly and as diligently as I could, losing much hair in the process. But each time I felt like I was making headway, I would find another knot, another entanglement.

Eventually, I realized it was no use. The only way to get the thing out was to remove the source of it all… quite literally.

I grabbed a pair of scissors, and…. chop.

 

It’s normal to want to ignore or hide our obsessions, temptations, addictions – issues we wish would just go away on their own. But the truth is, the initial ease of hiding usually ends up costing us big time later on.

I believe the only way to truly heal from our struggles is to face them head on, wherever we are on our journeys – to welcome accountability as we pull our sources of shame into the light.

It won’t be comfortable; in fact, it’ll likely be scary, awkward, and even downright painful.

But our courage to come out of hiding might just be the thing that saves us in the end.

THIS JUST IN: Stuffing a Cookie In Your Mouth is a Letdown

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I remember my first sin.

Or rather, I remember the first time I knew I had sinned. (I’m sure I sinned many times prior to this event – helloooo, Queen of Disobedience.)

I was four years old when it happened. My mom had just made M&M cookies (can someone say YUM?), and she had instructed my siblings and me to wait until after dinner to eat one.

Until after dinner? That’s like a lifetime in kid years!

As soon as she left the kitchen, I promptly grabbed the biggest cookie I could find, sprinted to the laundry room, and stuffed it into my mouth.

The accuracy here is uncanny^^

The accuracy here is uncanny^^

Though I certainly didn’t consciously process these feelings as a four-year-old, I do remember experiencing a twinge of disappointment and isolation as I chomped away at the sweet dessert. As wonderful of a baker as my mom was (and still is), it was honestly kind of a let down.

And I’m entirely confident that my dissatisfaction had absolutely nothing to do with the cookie itself.

That evening, I no doubt watched with a sense of detachment and regret as my sisters and brother received their treats with thanksgiving and joy. 

^^ Those perfect little goody two shoes…(JK)

^^ Those perfect little goody two shoes…(JK)

Isn’t it funny how memories of seemingly trivial childhood experiences can resurface in ways that deepen our understanding of current life situations?

20+ years later, I can truthfully say that not much has changed on the “stuffing cookies in the mouth” front for me. And, interestingly, in much the same way that my cookie love has remained all these years, so has my propensity for impatience.

Sure, many things have tested and honed my patience skills since childhood. But it’s that intense, groanworthy ache for NOW that has stayed with me all this time.

On a consistent basis, I find myself wanting to know what will happen next.

In work, in relationships, in movies – it doesn’t matter what it is.

I want to know.

Oftentimes, I plead with God – If I just knew what would happen in this certain area of my life then I would be able to be patient and trust you!

But you know what, babe? God doesn’t usually work that way – at least not in my life.

He’s never left me high and dry, but he has consistently illuminated just the next step on the path at just the moment I needed to know where to place my foot.

And a truth that’s slowly but surely making it’s way into this pretty little head of mine is this:

If I knew exactly what would happen and when it would happen, I probably wouldn’t need to trust God very much.  

Man, what a hit that would take to my relationship with him - a relationship that’s based primarily on trust and faith - if there were no need for trust and faith. Would the relationship even exist anymore if that was the case?

 

It’s hard to wait for something you desire in your deepest heart of hearts.

It’s really, really hard. I’m confident I’m not alone in feeling impatient and frustrated and confused in seasons of waiting, wondering, wanting.

But what would happen if, instead of rushing to find satisfaction in things we believe will fulfill us (e.g. the “perfect” job, house, body, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, children, church, life calling… or cookie), we remained faithful and obedient and waited to receive God’s gifts in His perfect timing?

What if we opened our hands to the Lord’s authority and allowed him to use the lapse of time to produce an even sweeter and more bountiful harvest?

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Love, Steph xx 

PS. A song that’s been encouraging to me lately is Yes I Will by Vertical Worship. May you find peace and strength as you remain steadfast today.

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” ~Isaiah 26:3

It's Only Pudding

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Who here watches the Great British Bake Off? Oh my gosh, me too.

(If you don’t, please keep reading. I promise to refrain from making too many annoying inside jokes and/or other excessive references to the show.)

To those of you who are familiar with GBBO (you know you’re in deep when you start using the acronym, am I right?), please bear with me as I attempt to briefly explain the premise of this masterpiece of a show.

Those are the judges^^ If that doesn’t convince you to watch, I don’t know what will.

Those are the judges^^ If that doesn’t convince you to watch, I don’t know what will.

A group of talented amateur bakers compete in a series of challenges in which they are critiqued, praised, and ranked based on such details as the moistness of their sponges, the evenness of their layers, and the distribution of their fruits. (I know, right?)

Each week has a different theme – e.g. bread week, pastry week, biscuit week, etc. – and every week after the challenges are over, a contestant is sent home while another is named “Star Baker.” (How cute is that?) At the end of the fourteen weeks, one hardworking hopeful is named the winner.

The show is full of wonderful close-ups of delicious bakes, cute snippets of humble contestants describing their successes and shortcomings throughout the challenges, and of course, a generous dose of lovely British humor from the hosts and judges.

Basically, it can be summed up as such: Brilliant Brits Baking Breathtaking Biscuits (& breads, & pastries, & cakes).

Have I done ok, fellow GBBO lovers?

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Recently, I was watching the episode on “Pudding Week.”

*Note for Americans reading this post: British pudding is quite different from the Jell-O pudding cups we have here in the US of A.  

As usual, all of the contestants were rushing around attempting to perfect their puddings, many cracking under the pressure as they realized how much work they needed to do.

Me, halfway through a recipe I found on Pinterest^^

Me, halfway through a recipe I found on Pinterest^^

Minutes before the judges were to evaluate the contestants’ creations, Kate, a young woman with a particularly amusing scouse accent, was having a rather hard time.

The hosts announced that time was up, and the camera zoomed in on Kate’s drooping creation. Despite her visible disappointment with her final result, after acknowledging that it was indeed somewhat of a disaster, she calmly shrugged, smiled, and said, “It’s only pudding.”

And this little throwaway phrase in an obscure episode of a British baking show has become my mantra these past few weeks.

Because you guys, so many times —

It truly is only pudding.

 

I’m not saying we should shirk our responsibilities, and I know that much of what we do matters a lot more than squeaking out a presentable pudding. But many of the things we choose to beat ourselves up about do not merit the stress we allow them.  

This week, when you’re tempted to let something relatively small-scale get under your skin – be it a mistake, a misunderstanding, or a mediocre mousse – I challenge you to take a deep breath and kindly remind yourself (preferably in a thick accent of your choosing):

Love, it’s only pudding.

-Steph xx

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The Busy Bee's Guide to Not Giving a Darn

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Ever been in a situation and think, “Well, shoot. Didn't see this coming!”

Me too.

Many, many times.

 

One of these times was on a first date. It was going pretty well … until something happened. Or rather, I noticed something had already happened.

Something … irreversible.

We had just finished our coffee and were heading back to my date’s car, when, in horror, I looked down at my shirt to see some major pit stains going on.

And when I say major, I mean major. Like, dripping-down-my-sides-almost-to-my-belly-button major. Well, at least that’s what it felt like. All I know is it was really bad.

100% me in that moment. Arms down and everything. ^^

100% me in that moment. Arms down and everything. ^^

Thankfully, I remembered I was wearing a white tank top underneath my top layer. As he turned away to buckle his seatbelt, in a split-second of momentary, nearly James Bond-like genius, I discretely removed my top layer and shoved it in the backseat.

He turned back to me.

“N-nothing," I stammered, my face bright pink.

“Nothing what?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Oh … just … nothing,” I replied, smiling flirtatiously (A.K.A. grimacing like oh-gosh-I-pray-you-didn't-notice-me-hurling-my-sweat-soaked-cardigan-into-the-backseat-of-your-car-like-a-maniac).

That was a close one, I thought, breathing a sigh of relief.

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Many of us experience symptoms of what has come to be known at large as social anxiety. (Sweating is one of my symptoms, in case you couldn’t tell from my charming little anecdote above.)

In his book The Solution to Social Anxiety, clinical psychologist and social anxiety expert Dr. Aziz Gazipura (drawing from extensive research by vulnerability/shame whiz Brene Brown), describes social anxiety as the feeling and experience that accompanies the belief that “I am not _____ enough, and therefore I will not be loved.” 

It may not even be a conscious thought, but rather an underlying belief that can lead to consistent discomfort and avoidant behaviors.

Been there? Same. It's not too fun, is it?

 

I'm going to be up front with you: I don’t know the secret to stopping my profuse sweating.

Trust me, I’ve tried every trick in the book (minus surgery). I dare you to find a clinical strength deodorant I have not yet heard of. Go ahead. Try me.

But what I do know is this: when I’m ok on the inside, I have a much better chance of being ok on the outside.

 

So here is a list of some super-quick strategies that have helped me on my journey thus far. I call it "The Busy Bee’s Guide to Not Giving a Darn.”

 

*Quick note: I firmly believe that any true and lasting transformation comes only through the finished work of Jesus Christ. This guide is not meant to be a “one size fits all” type of resource, and it is by no means comprehensive or complete.

Its simple, practical purpose is this: To help you get out of your head and to a place where you can start believing that it is possible to step freely into your true identity as a well-loved child of God.

 

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I believe you were created as you for a reason. Your being matters. Your life is purposed.

And you are loved just the way you are.

Love, Steph xx

PS. Oh, and by the way ... the guy from that date story? I married him. Turns out he never even noticed the profuse sweating. Go figure.

Lessons Learned from Sleeping with Someone

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Disclaimer: This is not a sex blog. Yet. (Kidding.)

 

The other night, both Erik and I fell asleep around 10pm. (Yes, we live like grandparents. Get over it.)

Then, at 3am, a freight train rolled through on the tracks right behind our apartment building, jolting us both awake. After that, neither of us could fall back asleep. In classic fashion, I started pondering various philosophical conundrums, and Erik, simply put, was wired.

He moved toward me to try to snuggle. You guys, the room was very warm. I inched further away, but there was no more space on my side of the bed. So I just lay there.

(I love his snuggles, but they were not helping me sleep.)

After a few minutes, I had to say something. “Um, honey … can you move that way juuuust a little bit?”

“Oh! Of course.” He moved his body all the way to the other side of the bed.

“Want to watch an episode of Lost?” he asked a while later.

“I think I’m too tired to watch right now … you can watch, though!”

He stayed in bed next to me.

After about an hour of trying to sleep, I turned toward him again. “You still awake?”

“Yup.”

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We eventually both managed to fall back asleep. I had a bizarre dream about inner tubes and helicopters that woke me up again at 5am.

As I groggily opened my eyes, I realized I had stolen all of the covers. I hastily redistributed the sheets and comforter, accidentally nudging Erik in the process. His eyes fluttered opened. I quickly closed mine and pretended nothing had happened.

Real life photos of us^^

Real life photos of us^^

We both awoke again around 6:30am. As I looked over at him, thanking God that I get to wake up to his sweet face every morning, I thought about how learning to sleep in the same bed as someone else kind of feels similarly to learning how to live in community.

 

Things (or people) come unexpectedly into your life and disrupt your patterns. Some of them may be like slow, loud freight trains, others like a pervasive heat wave, others like relentless snuggles, and still others like unsettling dreams.

You feel uncomfortable. And you aren’t quite sure how to articulate what you need to those around you. So maybe you ignore your needs, maybe you overcompensate, maybe you avoid confrontation, or maybe you try to create an illusion.

And, at some point, you inevitably wonder if it would be easier to just go it alone. 

But then you realize that, at the end of the day – or the beginning of the day, or whenever you’re most awake and most yourself or maybe most in pain – you are so thankful to have this person or these people with you on this journey of life, and that all of the awkward moments, the figuring out, the waiting, the wondering – is worth it.

 

For some of us, seeking out community feels very difficult. Trust me: as a tried and true introvert with a tendency toward social anxiety, I get it. But friends, we need each other. Not in an unhealthy, dependent way, but in a genuine, connectedness-oriented way. Please don’t hear me wrong: I’m not saying you need to get married. No, no, NO. I mean, if you want to and you do, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s equally great.

But regardless of our marital statuses, we all need to be intentionally surrounding ourselves with some sort of community. We are called to mutually uplift, challenge, and love one another, and we can’t fulfill this calling alone.

Current data shows that our social relationships affect a whole host of health outcomes – physical, mental, spiritual, you name it – for better and for worse. Various studies have raised a number of questions about our relationships with others – e.g. whether quality or quantity of relationships matters more, how our need for different types of relationships changes over the lifespan, etc.

Amidst these questions, one finding remains conclusive: Being in relationship with others is impossible in isolation.

Makes sense, right?

 

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I encourage you to dig deep this week and really ask yourself:

Who is my community? What are their names? What do I hope for as I get to know them better? What am I going to do today or this week or this month to continue to intentionally build healthy relationships with them?

Love, Steph xx

Bullying: 3 Truths and a Lie

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The following excerpt was contributed by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous:

Tonight, I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because I’m weeping. I’m weeping because I’m remembering.

I’m remembering you.

I hate that I still cry until my head hurts over what you did and said. I hate that I still give you even a fraction of my time and thoughts. I hate that you still exist in my memory at all.

I’m trying to figure out why you are still there, in my mind. I'm starting to figure out that it might be because I can trace virtually all of my insecurities and anxieties back to you.

You hid from me at recess. You asked me why I was acting like such a baby when I cried at your cruelness. You forced me to do things for you.

You told me I was weak and stupid. You mocked me for being kind to others.

You actively encouraged me to hate myself. You wondered aloud what it would be like if I died.

You so masterfully and eagerly worked to engrain destructive messages into my mind and heart.

And then you made fun of me when I had to get up in front of the class and leave the room to see a counselor. You didn’t realize I needed to see a counselor solely because of your abuse.

You berated me when my mom came to eat lunch with me at school. You didn’t realize she was coming to try to protect her little girl from you and your hurtful, hateful words.

You ridiculed me when I pretended to be sick every single day so I could go to the school nurse’s office to simply sit with her. You didn’t realize that I was going to see her so I could escape your relentless demeaning comments.

Or maybe you did realize and you just never wanted me to get help. It seems you were threatened by the very idea of another person’s support and love for me.

And I was so quick to forgive you. Why?

How dare you? How dare you hurt me?

How dare you shame me with lies that have stuck with me for well over a decade?

Those lies weren’t with me before you.

I was confident, strong-willed, joyful, free.

But you stole all of that from me. I became reserved, withdrawn, apologetic, ashamed of everything I was.

I very rarely think about you anymore, because you truly aren’t worth it.

But sometimes the memories creep in, and I can’t help but grieve how much you stole from me.

You stole an entire year and a half of my life. You stole it with your lies and your insults and your accusations and your malicious intent.

And even though I haven’t seen you in years, you somehow threaten to steal more from me in your absence.

But I will not let you steal any more.

I am done with you.


This chilling recollection of relational and emotional bullying highlights the short-term and potential long-term effects of such treatment. Discussions about bullying as well as prevention and intervention planning are key to addressing this issue. 

To get the ball rolling, here's a brief "3 Truths and a Lie" list on bullying. 

 

1. Truth: Bullying does happen. 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I kid you not, someone (a grown man in a professional setting, mind you) once tried to convince me that bullying is not a real thing. In his words, "Bullies don't exist. Victims of bullying are just wimps who need to learn to punch kids back instead of crying to their parents."

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Side note: This was the same person who, when I told him I had felt unsafe in a certain situation at work, responded by informing me that, "There's no such thing as being unsafe", and that, "If you feel unsafe, that means you are making yourself unsafe and need to try harder to realize that you are safe." Oh, and he also assured me that if I just dressed more modestly and sat next to him more often at meetings, I would feel safe. Yep. But I'll save more details on that ridiculousness for a different blog post ...

 

I think most of us (aside from this particular person, apparently) would agree that bullying is indeed a real thing. However, until something 'extreme' pops up in the media or until someone close to us is affected, it is easy to forget how often it happens.

According to various sources, including the Anti-Bullying Institute and the National Education Association:

  • 6 out of 10 teens report witnessing bullying in school once a day.
  • Hundreds of thousands of students skip school every day for fear of being bullied.
  • 35% of kids report being victims of cyberbullying, and with increasing access to the internet, that number continues to rise.
  • An estimated 9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being harassed at school due to their sexual orientation. 
  • Around half of students report being bullied due to cultural or religious differences.

The list goes on. 

Bullying is certainly alive and well in our schools and communities. 

 

2. Truth: Bullying takes on different forms.

Not only is it important to make ourselves aware of the prevalence of bullying, but we also need to take steps to remain informed about what bullying is and what forms it can take.

An article from Psychology Today describes bullying as "a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, or younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully" and as "a deliberate and repeated attempt to cause harm to others of lesser power."

There are currently four common types of bullying: physical, relational, and cyber. 

To learn more about these types of bullying, I suggest checking out this article from Counseling Today.

 

3. Truth: Bullying may lead to serious psychological, social, physical, and relational ramifications.

Regardless of the type, current research shows that bullying may deeply and negatively affect a person's health and well-being.

It is important to remember the good old principle, "correlation does not equal causation." However, according to the aforementioned sources, bullying behavior has been linked to such concerns as depression, anxiety, deterioration in physical health, substance use issues, early sexual activity, violent behavior, and low self-esteem.

Interestingly, these consequences seem to affect not only the one being bullied, but also the one doing the bullying and even those witnessing the bullying.

And. as is demonstrated by the excerpt at the beginning of this post, the impacts of bullying take root when the bullying begins and can stick with a person well after the bullying has stopped.

 

4.  Lie: Bullying is going to happen no matter what, and there is nothing we can do about it.

I guess I would call this one a half truth/half lie. Yes, bullying will probably continue to happen. In our fallen human state, kids (and adults) will continue to treat each other poorly.

But there are things we can be doing to help.

 

  • Remain Informed.

Websites like StopBullying.gov offer resources on how to identify and prevent bullying in schools and communities and provides information on how you can contribute to the anti-bullying movement. 

Apps like Net Nanny allow parents to monitor various aspect of their kids' phone use, including time spent, sites visited, and keywords utilized.

Amazon offers a number of books on the topic for persons from early childhood through adulthood (e.g. this book for kids or this book for parents.)

 

  • Communicate.

Current research suggests that consistent efforts put forth by communities and schools have helped prevent an increase in bullying, 

And what is the common denominator of these successful anti-bullying efforts? Open communication. 

Parents, teachers, adults of all ages who work with or interact with kids and/or teens in some capacity – I urge you to be checking in with your young people about how they are doing with friendships and peer groups.

You never know what might be going on at school or in other settings.

I don’t mean to say that you should live out of a place of fear or obsess over what is happening every minute. There is obviously no way to have total control over these situations, and it is not your job (nor is it healthy) to try to have total control.

But sometimes kids are very hesitant to show that they are struggling or that someone is giving them a hard time, and an encouraging word or action from you could be extremely powerful.

 

  • Model kindness.

I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Kids watch what we do, and they emulate it. Let's show them what kind looks like.

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The anonymous writer from the beginning of this post finishes her letter this way:

Part of me hates that I even took the time to write this, because I honestly never want to give you another moment. But it is through these kinds of things that I begin to glimpse the truths about me that you tried so hard to bury.

TRUTH:

Today, I am surrounded by meaningful friendships with amazing women and men.

I have the most incredible and supportive family in the world.

I am engaged in significant and challenging work on a daily basis.

I am marrying the kindest man I have ever met who loves me more than I ever thought possible.

I am confident of God's great, unfathomable love for me.

I am strong. I am beautiful. I am valuable. I am smart. I am unique. I am unapologetically kind. I am here for a purpose.

And you will have no power over me.

 

Good always triumphs over evil. Every.single.time.

Let's do what we can to shine our lights bright and to cultivate kindness wherever we go.

You with me? 

Love, Steph xx

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Instagram Got You Feeling Incomplete? Try these 4 Social Media Tips

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The other day, my husband and I were jogging on a path near our house. As we rounded a corner, we came across an interesting scene, likely similar to many you've seen in your own life.

It was ... an Instagram couple. 

Not only was it an Instagram couple, it was a fit Instagram (Fitstagram? Instafit?) couple.

In Action.

The guy was standing in the middle of the path, iPhone poised at the ready as he hurriedly snapped an assortment of photos of his lady prancing gracefully beneath a canvas of enchanting tree branches, streams of radiant sunbeams shining through their leaves.

It was really quite picturesque.

As we dogged these individuals and continued on our run, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. And maybe out loud a little bit, too. 

"Babe. Run in front of me. Quick, run in front of me. Run faster," Erik joked in his infamous "jock" voice, playfully pretending to take photos of me as I frolicked along. 

But the further we ran, the further I got to thinking. 

 

Wow, I am a hypocrite.

 

Don't get me wrong: I'm no social media guru; in fact, I'm pretty awful at it. I don't post pictures very often, mostly because I'm not very good at figuring out what in my life is "interesting" enough to post.

But how many times have I taken fifty selfies in a row, stood on a chair above my grilled salmon with arugula side salad, stopped at the side of the road by a random patch of flowers, nearly put myself in harm's way just to get the "perfect" shot so I could post it on social media? 

 

To be honest? Plenty of times. 

 
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In today's culture, social media is everywhere. 

Between twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, it seems there is always something to look at, comment on, or share.

And, while I truly believe that social media can be a wonderful, helpful, edifying tool, I also know that, when misused, it can be a discouraging, demeaning, and downright destructive weapon. 

Social media helps us do a lot of really good things, like keep in touch with friends and family across the world, advocate for causes we believe in, and share beautiful words and photos.

However, we need to remember that every form of social media is severely limited.

When we look at someone's social media account, we are only given access to a fraction of that person's actual lived experience - a tiny, cropped, tampered with fraction that we then use to evaluate that person's quality of life. 

It's like reading one word of a book and trying to describe the main story line.  

It's like taking a first grade level math class and trying to understand calculus.

It's like meeting Flat Stanley and trying to convince someone we know the real guy. (Do kindergarten classes still do the whole Flat Stanley thing? I sure hope so, 'cause that tradition is cah-uuute.)

 
Remember this guy? ^^

Remember this guy? ^^

We are given an idea of what may be going on in a person's life or in a certain situation, but that idea is highly incomplete and likely largely flawed. 

And when we simply accept what we see on social media as true, we are generally more prone to comparison, judgment, stereotyping, and others/self deprecation.

 

Near the end of our jog, we saw our fit Insta-couple again, this time coming from the opposite direction we were running. 

"Whoa, they must have run a long distance," Erik said. 

For a split second, I felt a sense of guilt. They definitely ran farther than we did.

Then I stopped myself. 

"Oh my goodness. They got you," I replied with a smirk, "That's exactly what they want you to think."

While this was said mostly in jest, it is exactly what social media can turn into if we aren't careful.

A hyperbole. A competition. A facade. A lie. 

 

Looking for a small way to improve your relationship with social media and/or your phone, which may, in turn, lead to a healthier relationship with yourself and others?

 

Here are a couple of ideas for you:

 

1. Limit your time on your social medium of choice. 

Guys, there's an app for everything now, which means there are a number of apps out there that help you track how much time you spend on your phone each day. One of these is called Moment, an iOS app that automatically tracks your iPhone use and allows you to set daily limits for yourself.

Don't want to download another app just to try to help you stay off of your other apps? Totally understandable.

I would encourage you to simply try to see if you can go the whole day - heck, even half a day or a few hours - without picking up and looking at your phone. It's surprisingly challenging but very refreshing. 

(Obviously, if you have life or work or other responsibilities that require you to use your phone, please do not heed this advice.)  

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2. Unsubscribe from accounts/sites/blogs that make you feel like garbage. 

How do you know if you need to reconsider which social media accounts you follow? 

Notice how you feel when you scroll through your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter feed.

Feeling pretty crummy about yourself?

Sounds like it may be time for some spring cleaning.

    

 

 

3. Post a picture you wouldn't normally post. 

Please take this one with a grain of salt. We all know, either from our own experience or from the experience of others, that posting before you think can be very detrimental. Trust me, just ... don't go there. 

But I believe many of us, myself included, think way too much before posting a picture. We search and search for just the right angle or filter, and after wasting a bunch of time and energy, we don't even end up posting the darn thing because we still deem it "not good enough". 

I'm not saying that taking quality pictures and spending time editing them purely for your own enjoyment is a bad thing. Photography in and of itself is awesome.

But what's not awesome is when we judge ourselves so harshly and worry so much about the judgement of those around us that we become too scared to share our lives with others.

Choosing to refrain from posting pictures simply because you don't really enjoy it or don't wish to share a particular part of your life with the general population is great.

Choosing to refrain from posting pictures out of fear of what others will think about you is not.

 

4. Delete/deactivate your social media account(s). 

I know, I know. I had to end with a tough one.

To reiterate, I sincerely believe social media can be and is being used for good in many cases.

However, if you are discovering that social media is hindering you from living your fullest life, I highly recommend stepping back for a while. 

You don't need to delete your account forever (do they even let you do that anymore?) - although you could go the quit cold turkey route if that's your style.

You may find it beneficial, though, to take a little break - for even a day, a week, a month, a year - and see if you don't feel better about yourself, those around you, and your life in general. 

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The real you is the most beautiful version of you there is.

I know it. And I believe it. 

Make sure you're doing what you can so that you can know and believe it, too.

 

Love, Steph xx

Cures for the Sunday Blues

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*Disclaimer: Please note that in this blog post I use blanket statements and subscribe to over-generalized themes (e.g. "work stinks"). I do this only to make a point and in no way am under the impression that my thoughts included herein describe every person's experience. If this bothers you, please feel free to read a different post. :) 

 

Picture this: It's 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, and you're lying on the couch in your footie pajamas. You're halfway through ABC's Harry Potter marathon, and the fourth movie is about to start.

                    You^^

                    You^^

Your tongue is sore from eating too many sour patch kids, and you're severely dehydrated from the alarming quantity of coffee you've managed to consume in one sitting. 

You sleepily reach for your phone and mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed, even lacking the energy to double-tap the cute selfie your bestie just posted.

You notice an email notification pop up on your screen. This nefarious email ... is from your boss.

Gasping in horror, you throw your phone to the other end of the couch in disgust. 

You grab your pink Snuggie and pull it up over your face, trying in vain to eradicate from your memory the dreadful sight your eyes just beheld. In the distance, you hear the sweet, somber melodies of the Harry Potter theme song lulling you into a dreamless Sunday Blues escape nap ... doo doo doo doo doo doo doooooo doo ...)

 

Been there? Me too.

 

Ok, maybe your Sunday afternoons don't look *quite* like this ... but maybe I'm not far off here. 

Statistically speaking, Sunday doesn't typically come out on top in terms of gloomiest days of the week. I mean, how could it when it has Monday and Tuesday to compete with, am I right? For many of us, though, this particular time of the week can be hard. Really hard. 

 

Why? 

 

Depending on your current life situation, there are many reasons why this time of the week may be more difficult than others. 

I believe one main, fairly ubiquitous reason is that our society seems to thrive on a "live for the weekend" mentality. We go throughout our work or school week, anxiously awaiting Friday afternoon when we can peace out and check out. 

                Also you^^

                Also you^^

Regardless of if your rad weekend plans consist of partying your face off or reading your face off, we all have one common goal: to rid our minds of work/school-related responsibilities until the last possible second. 

And to me, that's what makes Sunday afternoon so hard. We can't put off thinking about it any longer. Sure, we can try to wait until Monday morning to allow thoughts of the upcoming week to permeate our consciousness. And some people are able to do that rather successfully. 

Many people, though, myself included, find it nearly impossible to fully enjoy Sunday afternoon and evening. Worries and stress about the upcoming work or school week creep in and hover over our heads like dark rain clouds, threatening to break loose and release a storm of chaos at any moment. 

So, how do we cope with these nervous, anxious, angry-butterflies-in-our-tummies types of thoughts and feelings that so often seem to result from the impending doom of a new week? We can't avoid Mondays altogether - though wouldn't that be a wonderful world if that were possible? - but we can take steps to keep that fear and negativity at bay. 

 

Here are 5 tips for fending off those scary Sunday Blues ...

 

1. Stay active.

I know, I know - we all wish we could lie on the couch forever and watch Harry Potter until the cows come home.

(I mean, would you really be human if you didn't want to do that?)

And it truly is okay to take breaks like these sometimes. In fact, it's good for you to do so.

But, as tempting as it may be to zombie out on a Sunday afternoon/evening, it likely won't help you feel any better. In fact, it may even make you feel worse.

(No, I'm not dissing Harry Potter. I would NEVER dream of doing such a thing.)

While tuning out for a while can be helpful and healthy in moderation, studies have shown that too much of this can be harmful to your mental and emotional health.

And, even though watching Harry chase the snitch over and over again may provide you temporary reprieve from your anxiety about what awaits you in the morning, it is only delaying the inevitable. You will need to face the day eventually, and, in my experience, it is often more difficult to do so after engaging in these types of numbing behaviors.

Additionally, there is increasing research that shows exercise to be linked to improved overall health and quality of life.

No, you don't need to force yourself to run a marathon on Sunday evening. I would encourage you, though, to do something at least moderately active. Go play a couple matches of tennis with a loved one. Go for a thirty minute jog around your neighborhood. Play a quick game of four square with your buddies. You get this gist. 

*Please note that I do not endorse engaging in extreme exercise behaviors for the purpose of unhealthy weight loss. Rather, think badminton, ping pong, pogo -sticking, that sort of thing. Keep in mind that the purpose is to help you feel good.

 

2. Get something done. 

A small sense of accomplishment goes a long way. Starting something and seeing it through to completion may be just the little boost you need to feel more encouraged and confident going into your work or school week. Fold that pile of laundry you've been avoiding for the last month. Bake a pie. Read a full chapter of that book that's been sitting on your shelf for the past six years. Paint a room. Build a Lego castle. I can keep going, I promise.

    Me cheering you on^^

    Me cheering you on^^

 

3. Prepare for Monday morning. 

Anxiety levels tend to decrease when we take baby steps to better prepare for potentially stressful situations. Pray about your concerns. Pack your lunch for the next day. Pick out a cute outfit. Set out other odds and ends you will need to bring with you in the morning. Make sure you know where your keys are. I could use some work on that last one. 

 

4. Eat a nutritious and delicious dinner. 

Choose something for Sunday dinner that tastes good and historically has helped you feel good, too.

If eating a lot of pasta has made you feel lethargic and tired in the past, it's a pretty safe bet that you're going to feel lethargic and tired when you wake up in the morning if you eat three cans of Chef Boyardee right before bedtime. When the sour patch kids come a'callin', focus on proteins, veggies, and healthy fats.

Make sure you eat a sweet treat, too, though - one that you really love.

 

5. Go to bed early. 

This is the most difficult one for me. FOMO is a real thing. I often feel like I'm wasting my Sunday evening, like I should be using every single drop of the precious time off I have before being thrown to the wolves again. 

Guys. Your body needs rest from all that partying, or reading, or whatever you do on the weekends. You will feel so much better if you go to bed early. 

Try it. I dare you. 

Also me, daring you to be the awesome you that you are^^

Also me, daring you to be the awesome you that you are^^

 

Give these a go and let me know what happens! Feel free to message me if you need help brainstorming ways to take care of yourself on Sundays. Remember: we're in this together! 

Love, Steph xx

Adoration in Action

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I hate to be that person … but someone has to be, so I volunteer as tribute: the Christmas season is officially … over. Womp womp.

(Side bar: I’m not entirely sure why someone had to be that person … I’m quite confident you are all aware that Christmas is over. But, honestly, I needed an opener for my post, and that was one of the less cringe-worthy options, believe it or not. So here we are.)

I suppose I shouldn’t assume that everyone would have a negative reaction to my stating that fact. Some of you may be rather relieved, especially if, like me, you have quite literally been up to your eyeballs in sugar cookies and fudge and have heard about a sickening number of chestnuts roasting on open fires since mid-October.

But unless you are a total Grinch—and I promise I’m only mildly judging you if you are—or you work as an elf for Santa and are, understandably, very exhausted at this point in the year, you probably feel at least a hint of sadness in your heart that this season has come to an end.

For most of us, the end of Christmas means back to work, school, routine. It means back to real life.  And real life can be real hard.

 

Still, it’s interesting to note how dramatically our dispositions can shift as we make our eager ascent from “normal life” to “holiday life” at the end of November, and then our reluctant descent from “holiday life” back to “normal life” at the beginning of January.

Sure, there’s always some form of stress that accompanies the Christmas season, but, for the most part, people also just seem to act and live … lighter. Why is that?

Is it the refreshing divergence from the everyday grind that cultivates this sense of hope and newness? Is it that pervasive smell of nutmeg and sense of Christmas cheer in the air that enlivens and motivates us to strive for radical generosity and kindness? Or is it simply all the sugar cookies and fudge as far as the eye can see that urges us toward a stronger holistic sweetness?

I guess it could be a combination of all of those marvelous components, but one thing is for sure: coming back to earth from all of that can be, at best, a bit disheartening, and, at worst, somewhat excruciating (… I really love Christmas, ok?).

 

Because my family’s holiday season was exceptionally special this time around, it was especially painful to see it end. The main highlight was supporting our incredible little brother, Jon, as he married his lovely college sweetheart, Laurann (cue much happy weeping). They had a New Year’s Eve loft wedding, and it was absolutely stunning.  

They definitely could have starred in White Christmas if they were born 70 + years ago.

They definitely could have starred in White Christmas if they were born 70 + years ago.

          The triplets of different            ages.

          The triplets of different            ages.

Wasn't kidding about the weeping. Wasn't kidding one bit.

Wasn't kidding about the weeping. Wasn't kidding one bit.

As I listened to the ceremony musicians’ beautiful rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and watched my soon-to-be sister-in-law float down the aisle in all of her bridal glory, the words of the traditional hymn hit me differently than they ever had before:

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

O come let us adore Him. Adore. What does that word really mean?

 

a·dore:

verb

to love and respect (someone) deeply; love dearly, love, be devoted to, hold dear, cherish, treasure, prize, think the world of, worship, venerate.

 

After consulting my good friend Merriam Webster (see above), I started thinking about what it would look like to adore Christ, not just during Christmas-like moments, but in every moment.

And I came to the conclusion that adoration cannot remain a feeling. It is, by definition, a decision, an action, a way of life.

It’s showing deep respect, kindness, and selflessness to others, even (and especially) when it’s inconvenient or seemingly unfair. It’s honoring our bodies and remembering our identities as image-bearers.  It’s loving the Lord with every first and last bit of time and energy we have. Essentially, it’s our life’s work.

It’s not just a Christmas thing – it’s everything.

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year. To be honest, I forgot, and then I remember, and then I forgot again, and then I didn’t feel like it, and then it was mid-January.

And that pretty much sums up my ADD brain for you. 

I did just think of a pretty good one, though. It’s not exactly measurable or objective or specific or any of the things they say it should be. But it is sincere - and I'd like to think that counts for something:

In 2018, I will do my best to position myself toward a year-round lifestyle of adoration.

And I invite you to join me.

Love, Steph xx

Lessons Learned from a Piece of Candy

During my college years, I worked at what was, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest summer camps in all the land. All summer, I got to adventure, hike, swim, sing, and fearlessly dream with my best friends. It was the most incredible few months of my life, and I wanted to stay forever.

One of the many memorable parts about camp was The Beehive, which was the gift/snack shop. There, one could get their campers to buy them copious quantities of some of the finest sugary treats in northern Wisconsin. One of the most popular among the counselors was called the Chips Galore. It’s basically an ice cream cookie sandwich from heaven.

The campers, on the other hand, were often inclined toward other, less conventional options.

Enter Jumbo Jawbreaker.

I assure you, the Jumbo Jawbreaker is exactly what you are picturing in your head right now – a colossal, techni-colored sphere of artificial flavors where dreams go to die. Oh, the mere thought of it makes me shudder.

Shockingly, the worst part about this “treat” is not the atrocious nutritional content. I couldn’t care less about that to be honest.

The worst part is the sheer amount of time it takes to get rid of one of these monsters.

Throughout the day, campers would stroll around the campgrounds, intermittently slurping smugly at the exterior of these festering sugar orbs, barely making a dent. At bedtime, they would set them in their wrappers on their nightstands, and in the morning, they would take them out again and continue slurping. Rinse, repeat.

Think of the bacteria, people. Think of the bacteria, and let’s take a moment to collectively gag.

None of it made sense to me. I simply could not understand the appeal. In amazement, I daily watched campers forego quality snacks like Snickers bars, Kit Kats, Skittles, and yes, even Chips Galores in favor of their precious jawbreakers.

 I tried to put myself in a 9-year-old’s shoes. I suppose I could see to some extent how something so long lasting could come to be revered as a badge of honor, much like Violet Beauregarde’s chewing gum in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Still, though, my brain could not comprehend how or why anyone would actually invest in something so disgusting and tasteless.

__________________

While the whole Jumbo Jawbreaker craze still remains a bit of a mystery to me, lately I’ve been reflecting on how often I settle for a Jumbo Jawbreaker kind of life. I pass up flavor for blandness. I ruminate on my past yucky-ness rather than embracing the newness of life that is offered to me every single day. I allow my past views of myself to dictate the way I see myself today.

It can be easy to get stuck in old habits and to resort to negativity and half-heartedness. Though it may not be preferable in the long run, it can be comfortable in the moment. 

 

A few weeks ago, I was spending time with one of my closest friends who knows me very well. There was a lull in our conversation, and, all of a sudden, he looked at me and said, “Steph, what are you worrying about?” 

I chuckled at how spot-on his assessment was, and, not even four seconds later, I was in tears. I told him about what I was worried about and how I couldn’t get certain concerns out of my head. He encouraged me and prayed for me.

“Steph is not a worrying person,” he said. “She’s a trusting person. Let that trust grow.”

This experience rocked my world. For so long, I had thought of myself as a worry wart, a Nervous Nelly, an... Anxious Andrea (...ok that's not a thing, I just made it up).

But that’s not the real me. Worrying is something with which I have struggled; it isn’t woven into my identity. To realize that I have the choice to focus on embracing and tending to this newfound trusting part of me rather than solely trying to will my worries away is incredibly freeing.

What would it look like if you chose to consciously shift your perspective from old to new? What if, instead of focusing on eradicating your longstanding struggle with anger, you gave yourself permission to focus intently on cultivating gentleness? What if, instead of feeding your discontentment by comparing yourself to others, you uninhibitedly pursued joy? What if, instead of spending all of your energy on yesterday’s self-centeredness, you committed to being relentlessly kind and generous to those around you today?

 

It’s a new day. Choose the new you.

Love, Steph xx