Tag Archives: Rising Strong

Living Brave Reflection 10- The Stories we Tell Ourselves

The Storyteller by andrianart@deviantart.com

The Storyteller by andrianart@deviantart.com

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. (Brown, 2015, p. 82)

As a pastor I have learned the power that stories have in peoples’ lives. We all look to different sources to make sense of our lives, whether in popular culture, in religion, in politics, in science and work or in many other sources we are searching for frames and stories that help make meaning of our lives and experiences. We all tell ourselves stories to make sense of our experience of the world and some of those stories are true, others are conspiracies and some become confabulations. As the quote above from Brené Brown indicates frequently those initial stories may be told at our own expense or at the expense of someone else.

A recent, light-hearted example of this story telling at work happened this past weekend for myself and my wife. On Friday morning, during my day off, I was working on the lawn while I had the laundry going. My washing machine was replaced in the past year but my dryer is getting older and I knew from the noises it was making that it was having some issues (and most likely a belt). So on Friday I came in from working outside, change a load of laundry and start the dryer and while I walk away I hear a loud ‘Thunk’ and the drum is no longer spinning. I decided to finish the lawn while I think about what to do next and I imagine several stories (calling someone to repair the dryer, purchasing a new dryer, trying to fix it myself) and so when I finished the lawn I searched on the internet for instructions on how to fix a belt on a dryer. The good news was that there were lots of instructions but there were none for my dryer specifically. I started trying to figure it out, initially with a set of directions that took me in the wrong direction. I invested a couple hours into opening up the dryer until I reached a point where I was stuck. I knew I needed to take a shield off so that I could get to where the belt was but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and I was telling myself several stories. The first story was that I had just made things worse and that who was I to think I could tackle a project like this where I didn’t have any expertise. Surely a technician could have had this project done within an hour. I also told myself that even if I could get this fixed that the dryer would surely not work right afterwards and that I really should just go out and purchase a new one (an expense I really didn’t want to have at the moment). My concerns about finances started to surface at that point (I had an $800 car repair just the week previous even though financially I am OK, it is just one of the things that triggers anxiety for me). I finally resolved that the worst case scenario was that the dryer was broken and that me continuing to take it apart wasn’t going to make it run any worse so I went back, found some instructions that were more helpful and within the hour I had the machine disassembled (with pieces strewn throughout the hallway) and ready to change the belt, if only I had one. The nearest place I could find that carried the part (after driving to a appliance repair parts store that was now closed in the local area) was around 45 minutes away and because I had to pick up my son from school I didn’t have the time to make the trip until after he would be picked up. I had moved through the initial stories, but now came another set of stories for someone else.

So my wife was working that day and around 3:30 I text her, “What time do you get off work?” Now this is unusual text from me without any additional information but she replies back, “4” but I later learned she was beginning to wonder what is going on? So my next text was, “How close are you to Garland?” and she was working from a different location than normally so she asks her co-workers and they told her about 15-20 minutes but she is wondering what is going on and trying to make sense of these two texts. She shared, later,  that she wondered if I had found someplace that I wanted to meet for supper and that maybe I was thinking of a nice date night for the two of us (a good story, unfortunately at that moment not a true one). So when she texted back that she was 15-20 minutes away, my next text gave her all the information she needed for a true story, “Can you go by the Sears parts and repair center at 1617 Kings Rd in Garland. I will order the dryer belt I need but that is the closest place to pick it up.” Fortunately she was a good sport, picked up the part (knowing now that it had nothing to do with a date night and that the dryer had broken) and within an hour of her being home I had the dryer fixed and it was running beautifully and we could later laugh about the miscommunication and the stories that were made up.

Frequently the stories we tell ourselves are not as light-hearted as the one above. I know there are many times where I have taken the limited facts I knew and created a story centered upon my own fears of failure or perceived weaknesses. There are times where I have interpreted the actions of another person in a way that may have nothing to do with their intentions or desires but instead are the remnants or scars from when other people have treated me in the past.  Sometimes the stories I tell are simply not true, or not the whole truth, and I’ve had to learn to challenge the stories, to get curious to see if they are true, to try not to get trapped in a story that sounds an awful lot like my fears and insecurities coming to the front.

 

Living Brave Reflection 8: Stockpiling Stress

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Sometimes your greatest strength has its shadow side. I have always been a very resilient person who is able to keep a clear head in intense and stressful situations. I have high expectations of myself in the way in which I interact with others and try very hard not to offload any emotional or situational stress I feel on them in inappropriate ways. I am very good at being a non-anxious presence and have been able to remain in a more rational space when walking through some of those anxiety filled environments. Yet, you can’t walk through an anxiety filled environment without inhaling the fumes and having the fear and the worry enter into your lungs and pass into the bloodstream. You can’t bear other people’s burdens without a way of unburdening yourself and dealing with your own stress and anxiety. You don’t engage anger or fear without the endorphins which prepare your body to fight or flee flooding through your system leaving their residue remaining in fiber of your being. Yes, there is the healing power of removing oneself from the stress and letting the body work the toxins out of its system. There is the incredible healing power of exercise, sleep, good diet and conversations with trusted friends, of being in places where you are accepted and nurtured. But if you are like me, the longer you remain in the environment the more your stockpile stress and the less attractive the very things that would bring healing appear. I am good at pushing myself to the point where my body finally begins to react to the stockpiled stress and emotions and then begins to plead its case in various ways to force me to slow down or to make changes.

Perhaps I am more aware of this after 2010 when my body reacted to years of dealing with chronic stress by triggering a number of reactions both physically and emotionally. There were a number of standard physical signs-carrying tension in my neck for example, but also others which I didn’t realize until later. During 2008-2010 I suffered a number of very painful cramps in my legs that prevented me from running for significant periods of time (one of my primary stress relief outlets) which partially were due to not replacing shoes often enough but I believe were also aided by the amount of stress I was bearing. Emotionally I began to suffer from panic attacks, had trouble sleeping and drifted into depression.

I have attempted to become better in listening to my body. Granted, I’m no longer in my twenties and my body doesn’t respond to physical and emotional demands in quite the same way but I am still a pretty resilient person. Yet, with that resilience can hide the weakness. The belief that I can continue to push past my limits or endure things that may be unhealthy or violate boundaries that I need to recharge and rejuvenate. I’ve learned that often my body is the canary in the coalmine, the indicator that once again I have been stockpiling stress. So perhaps it is time for a warehouse sale, to open the doors and clear out all the crates.

Living Brave Reflection 7- There Is No Going Back…

There are experiences that have shaped who I am in various ways. Even though there are parts of my life that were painful and difficult I feel very fortunate to live the life that I have lived. Yet, there is no going back to the person I was prior to any of those points.  Sure, I can romanticize the past occasionally, thinking back to a simpler time. Yet, even if you could turn back the clock I am a different person than I was. There really is no going home the same way as you began your journey. The road has changed each of us, and for me I can be thankful for those changes.

I would have never chosen to be color deficient and be denied the ability to fly (which was my life’s ambition through middle school and high school) or to be able to utilize an appointment to the Naval Academy (which I worked hard to receive), but it led me to being a part of the Corps of Cadets and the band at Texas A&M and a whole different set of experiences. I would have never chosen to receive Chemical Corps as a branch when I graduated from college and was commissioned into the army, with a civil engineering major I was planning on either the Corps of Engineers or a second choice of Armor. Yet, it put me in positions with people who helped form me as a leader and probably made it easier for me to accept my calling to enter seminary. I would have never chosen to have my son diagnosed with autism, and at the time of the diagnosis I raged at the injustice of it and the broken dreams that I had for my son, yet I have learned more from him than I could have ever imagined and as a 17-year-old young man I am proud of what he has accomplished. I would not have chosen going through the experiences of conflict in a congregation that I did in my second call and the amount of emotional and personal upheaval it caused, yet I would not be the person or pastor I am today without that experience. I would not have chosen to be denied entry into PhD programs multiple times during that same period but it forced me to find my own avenue for creative activity. I would not have chosen to see my marriage of 13 years dissolve no matter how much effort, work and love I poured into it, but without that painful experience I’m not sure I would have rediscovered who I am or been ready for the relationship that I am very happy to have with my wife of almost a year. The list could go on and on, for there are countless experiences that formed me to be who I am. Each time I had to make sense of the change and figure out a way forward and there are gifts from each experience, even when they may have been heartbreaking at the time.

Yet, because of each of these experiences I am a different person than I was before. Because of that I see things in a new light. There have been times where I have been told to ignore a part of my story because it didn’t fit where I am. It took me a long time, for example, to reconcile my experiences of seminary and my experiences in the military—they felt like two pieces of a story from two different lives. Each experience was very different and forced me to be able to engage the paradox that is life and the beauty and complexity of the interaction of the stories that shaped me, the experiences of the present and the hope and challenges of the desired future at any time. I am thankful for the wide range of experiences that my forty-three years have allowed me. I am the man I am today because of this journey.