Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wonder Woman is in the house

The other night Dan expressed his concern for me and his desire to help me.  I was taken off guard because I had not been feeling down-trodden or bad about myself.  I analyzed the situation and realized that the house was a mess, I hadn't been keeping up with the dishes, our dinners were of the boxed variety for the most part, and I'd been staying up really late reading and doing Pinterest.  Normally, these behaviors would signal a sad Potato Girl in need of help.  So why did I not feel that way?  Why did Dan's concern seem surprising and somewhat unnecessary?

I have actually been feeling like Wonder Woman lately because I'm still following my new diet.  Every day I make many small choices to continue this diet.  They are not easy choices for me to make, and I've been making them consistently without flubbing up for...well, today is day 25.  I'm pretty sure I've never gone this long without sugar, bread, fruit, milk, yogurt, cereal--basically, all of the things I normally eat.

Today is Adam's birthday.  For several years now I have made him Rice Crispie treats to take for his class.  I asked him the other day if we could please just send in a store-bought treat this year so I wouldn't have to handle all of that yumminess.  But this was really, really the only thing he wanted, so this morning I made them.  I had the stuff all over my fingers and I did not have a single little lick.  That makes me feel good about myself, and I don't often feel that way.  One of my diet books says that you need to give yourself credit for all of your little successes.  Dan and I thought that was kind of cute, so we have a habit now of saying to each other, "you deserve credit for that!"  It makes us laugh because it is such an awkward, unnatural-sounding thing to say, but at the same time it feels good to recognize those little choices.  I do think it makes sense to celebrate and acknowledge all of the small choice you make instead of waiting until you've lost 50 pounds to give yourself any praise.  I think a difficult lifestyle change is more sustainable if you recognize all of the little daily things that are going into it, like not licking your fingers when you are making a dessert.

One idea that has been helping me has been thinking of carbohydrates as alcohol, coffee, tea, or tobacco--something that I am absolutely prohibited from even having a tiny taste of.  Following the Word of Wisdom my whole life is now making this diet easier for me.  This is the first time I've had myself treat sugar as a completely off limits item, but that seems to be a lot more sustainable, in the long run, than having little bits of sugar and trying to not go too far.  If I think of myself as a recovering addict trying to stay sober, I can see that "one little bit" of my addictive substance is all it will take to get me back to a place where I'm no longer in control of myself.  Feeling in control of this aspect of my life gives me a great sense of success and well-being.

So I think this explains why I was not feeling bad about myself or lost or down in the dumps when Dan thought I was.  Take home message for me: if I can focus on one small positive change, and really work on it each day, and give myself credit for the efforts I'm making, it can help me feel good all around, in spite of the fact that there are many other changes I want to get to but can't yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Few More Stories

Today was the session of our Stake Conference in which the children accompany the adults.  Needless to say, I didn't get quite as much out of it as I did last night, but here are my two favorite stories, both told by President DeVries:

The first is the story of Joseph Stanford Smith and his wife, Arabella.  This is a story that has been told at least once in General Conference (April 1982, by Elder G. Homer Durham), and more recently by Elder Holland for a regional stake conference broadcast address delivered on September 12, 2010, at Brigham Young University ("Faith to Answer the Call").  The Smiths and their three young children were some of the first members of the church to take part in the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition to San Juan country in Southern Utah.  As part of their journey they had to cross the Colorado River gorge.  The Mormon explorers found a narrow slit in Glen Canyon, 2000 feet above the river, which they blasted wider with dynamite and then built a primitive, very steep road down to the river.  The road was so steep that to get a loaded wagon down it, a dozen or more men and boys would pull on ropes tied to the back of each wagon so that it wouldn't run over the team of horses trying to get it down from the cliffs.  Stanford Smith had been helping to get wagons down all day.  Finally, only his wagon was left at the top.  The rest of the group apparently forgot about him and went on ahead. Here I quote from Elder Holland:

"Deeply disturbed that he and his family seemed abandoned, Stanford moved his team, wagon, and family to the edge of the precipice. The team was placed in front and a third horse was hitched behind the wagon to the rear axle. The Smiths stood for a moment and looked down the treacherous hole. Stanford turned to his wife, Arabella, and said, 'I am afraid we can’t make it.'

She replied, 'But we’ve got to make it.'

He said, 'If we only had a few men to hold the wagon back, we might make it.'

Replied his wife, 'I’ll do the holding back.'

She laid a quilt on the ground, and there she placed her infant son in the care of her three-year-old, Roy, and five-year-old, Ada. 'Hold little brother ’til papa comes for you,' she said. Then positioning herself behind the wagon, Belle Smith grasped the reins of the horse hitched to the back of the rig. Stanford started the team down the hole. The wagon lurched downward. With the first jolt the rear horse fell. Sister Smith raced after him and the wagon, pulling on the lines with all her strength and courage. She soon fell too, and as she was dragged along with the horse, a jagged rock cut a cruel gash in her leg from heel to hip. That gallant woman, with clothes torn and a grievous wound, hung on to those lines with all her might and faith the full length of the incline all the way to the river’s edge.

On reaching the bottom and almost in disbelief at their accomplishment, Stanford immediately raced the 2,000 feet (607 m) back up to the top of the cliff, fearful for the welfare of the children. When he climbed over the rim, there he saw them literally unmoved from their position. Carrying the baby, with the other two children clinging to him and to each other, he led them down the rocky crack to their anxious mother below. In the distance they saw five men moving toward them carrying chains and ropes. Realizing the plight the Smiths were in, these men were coming to help. Stanford called out, 'Forget it, fellows. We managed fine. Belle here is all the help a fellow needs.(See David E. Miller, Hole-in-the-Rock: An Epic in the Colonization of the Great American West, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1959, pp. 101–18.)

The second story President DeVries told this morning was again related to his recent severe burns.  One of his doctors told him to point and flex his feet as many times as he could each day.  When President DeVries tried this the first time, he felt a deep stab of pain and started bleeding profusely.  He stopped, unsure if the doctor knew what he was talking about.  He did not trust him, and could not bring himself to continue the exercises.   Soon another doctor came to see him.  This doctor is President DeVries' close friend, and one of his counselors in the Stake Presidency.  He asked his friend about the exercises.  His friend agreed with the first doctor that this was vital for the proper healing of his feet and legs.  Because he trusted his friend, President DeVries started to do the exercises and continued them faithfully until they were no longer necessary.   

President DeVries tied these two stories into the theme of the conference, "Press Forward Saints."   He shared with us the scripture 2 Nephi 31:20

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

He said that because of his trust in his friend at the hospital, he had the perfect brightness of hope he needed to press forward in the agonizing exercises.  Sister Arabella Smith was steadfast, firm in purpose, unwavering in her determination to pull back on that rope so that her husband, the team, and the wagon could make it safely to the bottom of the cliff.

He asked us to think of these stories as we sang the closing hymn, asking the Lord to help us see one small step we can take to press forward now.  The step Dan and I took this afternoon was to get out the calendar and schedule together which days we will go to the temple for the last three months of the year.  That felt really good.

I want to be like Belle Smith.  I want to hang on for dear life to the people and principles that matter most, and I want my family and friends to be able to say that I was the help they needed.  I hope I won't forget that story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good Stories

This weekend is our Stake Conference.  I really enjoyed the meeting tonight for the adults.  Here are some of my favorite stories that were told by the speakers:

Our Stake President, Rick DeVries, was severely burned on the lower legs and feet at the end of May.  This was our first conference with him since the accident.  He told us some of the details of how he was burned.  The doctors caring for him at the small local hospital where he was originally taken frankly admitted that they didn't have the expertise to properly care for his burns, and that he should be transferred to the UM Hospital Burn Unit.  He was so grateful for their humility and willingness to admit their limitations.  Shortly thereafter, a colleague whose son had been severely burned, called.  Although President DeVries was on a lot of heavy medication and cannot remember very much clearly from that time, he remembers clearly that this man told him to follow with exactness the instructions of his doctors and nurses so that he would not get an infection and so that he would have the best possible chance to heal.  President DeVries did that.  His recovery has been miraculous.  Not only is he walking without a limp, he is running again (the burns were on his feet and lower legs).  He doesn't even have to wear compression stockings.  He expressed his gratitude for the principle of obedience and how it can protect us.

He told us of one night after he was discharged from the hospital and was at home recovering.  He was sleeping in his hospital bed in the den.  It was the middle of the night and he spilled some kind of fluid all over himself.  He was in agony.  His pain was so severe that he couldn't move a muscle, couldn't raise his head, couldn't even call out.  He whispered a prayer to God, asking if He could hear him.  As he finished those words, the door to the den burst open and his wife Diana was there.  She had been awakened from a deep sleep at 2 a.m. with a sense of urgency and had come running to his aid.  He clung to her, sobbing.  He described her as an angel sent by God in answer to his one-sentence, whispered prayer, "can you hear me?"

Another story I loved was told by our brand new Temple Matron, Sister Pulsipher.  When their daughter Kristen was three years old, she had a beloved bean bag frog that she had received in Primary.  She slept with it every night.  One night it went missing.  Her dad took her on his lap and asked her if Heavenly Father knew where her frog was, and she said, "of course he does!"  Then they prayed for help to find the frog, and her father explained to her how God answers our prayers through thoughts, ideas, feelings, and that we also need to use our best abilities to solve the problem that we have prayed for help with.  They looked everywhere for that frog, with no success.  Then they called the rest of the family together, and an even more thorough search was conducted.  Still no bean bag frog.  Little Kristen went to bed heartbroken.  Her mother couldn't sleep.  She was worrying about her little daughter, wondering where that frog could be.  Wondering too, I imagine, how to make this experience with prayer turn out all right for her.  She finally fell asleep.  In the middle of the night she woke up with a very specific image in her mind of that bean bag frog.  She got a chair from the kitchen, dragged it into Kristen's room, got a box down from the top shelf of her closet, took off the lid, and there was the frog, inside the box, with a few other favorite toys.  The three-year-old, Kristen, is a mother herself now, and the family refers to that incident as the Parable of the Bean Bag Frog. 

President Pulsipher told a beautiful story that made me think of my mom.  A tiny, frail 84-year old woman named Ida came to the temple for the first time.  She was a convert of one year.  She had been hospitalized recently and had not expected to live.  While in the hospital she was given to know that her time on earth was not yet complete.  A woman in her ward (a soul sister of my mom, I believe) helped Ida with her genealogy and then took her to the temple to do the work for her parents and grandparents.  President Pulsipher said that Ida could not have weighed more than 90 pounds.  They made a special place by the altar for her wheelchair so that she could be sealed to her parents.  She told them that she had never expected in her life to feel the way she felt that day.  I thought of my mom the whole time he was telling this story.  Many, many times she has helped someone to find the names of their deceased family members and then helped them go to the temple to be sealed to them.  It is one of countless acts of nearly invisible service that she renders, but I know she is a favorite in heaven to so many people whose lives have been blessed by her diligent work on their behalf.  I was bursting with pride just thinking of my mom while listening to this story of Ida and the unnamed, unsung hero that made her trip to the temple possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Saying No

Today I quit my Thursday gig at the agency where I volunteer.  This was a big step for me, something I may not have done in the past.  Here's the story:

S.O.S. is going through some big changes as of October 1, due to new guidelines from their primary source of funding (the Feds?  I'm not sure, this is just a guess).  In the past, the doors to this agency were open M-F 10 to 6.  People in need of food could come in on Tuesdays, speak to a food counselor, and leave with some food, or a referral to get food elsewhere.  On the other four days of the week, people with housing problems could walk in and speak to a housing counselor.  As of October first, the agency can only facilitate walk-in counseling on Tuesdays for food.  Volunteers from the community who have completed the necessary 21 hours of training can work as food counselors on that day.  On the other days of the week, the door is locked, and people with housing needs must first call a phone number and speak with an intake counselor, who will give them an appointment to come back and speak with someone in person.

In the past, I believe, volunteers could work any day of the week doing either food or housing counseling with walk-ins.  As of October 1, volunteers can only work as greeters (receptionists) on M, W, Th, and F.  This is what I did last week.  Many people came to the door without appointments last week because they didn't know about the policy changes.  Some were looking for food, and had to be told to come back on a Tuesday (actually, before I found out about the hard and fast Tuesdays only rule, I was able to give food to a few hungry people, which made me happy.  Then I got busted and had to be more strict).  To those looking for help with housing I explained the new policy and gave them a card with the phone number on it that they had to call first (even though, secretly, the people who answer those phones are sitting at desks right upstairs).  I was only supposed to let someone in who had an appointment already (luckily, I also didn't know this right away, and I got to let a pregnant mommy in to use the bathroom :).

I was told during training that with a bachelor's degree I would be eligible to do the housing counseling that people without bachelor's degrees were no longer allowed to do, which is why I showed up last Thursday and again this week.  But the housing access coordinator I spoke with last week did not think I would be able to do that, although she promised to ask a higher power about my situation. 

I have been thinking all week about whether or not I still want to go in to the agency on Thursdays if I cannot do any counseling on those days.  I was leaning against going in.  Although it was nice to interact with the various people that showed up at the door last week, it was not a job that really needed to be done, since the door is locked and there is a sign on it explaining that they need to call the phone number first.  When there is no greeter working, things seem to work out just fine.  I do think it is nicer for someone to have a real person meet them at the door and explain the change, but at the same time, I am the mother of four little people and the wife of one tall person and there are many, many things that I could do with my Thursday mornings.  In the end I felt that, although volunteering on Thursdays as a greeter is a way of serving the community, I can do more important work for my own little family by using that time at home.

As I  mentioned in my last post, I am doing the depression group at the church for the next seven Tuesday mornings, but after that, I will be able to volunteer at S.O.S. for food day each week and do one-on-one counseling at that time.  In January I will take part in the 40 hours of training for volunteer crisis counselors at another local agency (Ozone House), and then I plan to work for them on my Thursday mornings. 

I had offered a ride this morning to my friend at S.O.S., an intern from Taiwan named C.C., so I went to see if they were going to let me do intake calls before making my final decision.  When I got in, the coordinator said there were no appointments until 12:30, and they would be in a meeting all morning, and left.  There was an intern in the greeter's office filing papers, one of the only tasks I had to do last week besides answering the door.  I felt awkward interrupting the meeting to speak with the coordinator about my situation, so I took on one last project.  Over a week ago a consumer accidentally left her binder and her bridge card (food stamps) at S.O.S.  When I asked about it last week, I was told to just keep it in the desk to see if she came to get it.  When I saw it still in the desk this morning, I decided to take action.  I opened the binder up to see if I could find any contact information.  I found an address on a prescription from a drug store, but no phone number.  I looked my mystery woman up online, and even called her pharmacy, but still no phone number.  So I took the binder out to my car and drove over to the address.  After knocking a few times on the door, a young woman answered.  It was my mystery woman's granddaughter, and she said her grandmother had been looking for her bridge card and didn't know where she'd left it.  Yay! Mission accomplished

I returned to S.O.S., pulled the coordinator out of her meeting, and let her know that I wouldn't be coming in on Thursdays any more unless I could do counseling.  She had spoken to her supervisor who told her that in spite of my bachelor's degree, they could not let me do phone intakes because they had to save those experiences for their interns.  So I said goodbye, and now I'm here at the library writing this post until it is time to pick up little Tater Tot from preschool.

I feel kind of uncomfortable with what I did today.  It seems a bit harsh, like when I told the graduate students at Eastern that I wouldn't be helping them with their TAT scoring any more.  But at the same time, I feel really good, because I made a decision about how I wanted to use my time, and then I acted on that decision in spite of the fact that I probably put out the person I had been helping.  In the past I would have been more likely to tell the people I was helping that I wasn't sure this was the best thing for me to be doing anymore and try to get them to tell me that I should stop and that they would be fine.  But people don't necessarily do that, and why should they?  They want what is best for them, and if I'm being super wishy-washy about it, why should they give me an easy out?  This time I did not ask for permission, I did not try to get them to give me an out, I just made my decision and let them know what it was.  In each case, the decision I made may have inconvenienced the people I was working with or made their lives a little harder (which is why it feels so uncomfortable to me), but it was the decision that felt best to me.  In each case, if I had continued on for fear of upsetting the other people, I would have felt angry and resentful about how I was using my time.  Now I feel free and happy.

Do you ever do things for other people at the expense of yourself and your little family because it seems too hard to say no to them?  Or have you found a good way of saying no even when it disappoints someone else?  How do you decide what you can do for others, and what you need to say no to?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Depression Group for Mormons, Day One

Yesterday I met at the church for Day One of a special 8-week depression group run by LDS Family Services for the women in our stake.  One of my heroes, Linda J., is leading the group (she works as a therapist for the church), and I am serving as the mentor for the group.  The mentor is someone who has been in group therapy before--a depressed person, not a therapist--that can make the experience a little easier for the other members of the group.  I was very tired in the morning, and had a hard time peeling myself out of bed to go to the church.  I was thinking that I haven't been feeling very depressed lately, and maybe attending this group for 8 weeks would not be the best use of my time.  But after 90 minutes with these women, who were so brave about sharing their private struggles with the rest of us, I felt my heart melted and full of love for each of them.  I also felt inspired to continue working on my own unhealthy thought patterns, and to better prepare myself for my next bout, which will no doubt come in due time.

One project I am really excited about is preparing a first aid kit to use when my mood is low.  It will be something tangible, maybe an actual box, or binder, with inspiring articles, quotes, pictures, et cetera, chosen by me to help me during dark times.  If you have anything like that, or any suggestions for things I might put in my first aid kit, please let me know.  I really appreciate LL's tip about the song she listens to every night before bed, "One Little Corner" by Jon Troast.  That is the kind of thing I'm looking for.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New "Lifestyle Change" (i.e. Diet)

If you have known me for a long time, you know that my weight has fluctuated quite a bit since my teenage days as a professional dancer.  And by fluctuate I mean going  up, up, up the ladder.  No one likes to be overweight, especially not former dancers who were, by training, obsessed with their appearance and constantly comparing their bodies to other bodies in an effort to stay at the top of the game.  Even back then I felt too big, and my body (in retrospect) was pretty much perfect back then.  I remember trying all kinds of fat-restricting diets in an constant effort to weigh as little as possible (without relying on cigarettes or eating disorders).  I also remember feeling like my eating was out of control, and worrying that if I ever stopped exercising 5-6 hours a day I wouldn't be able to eat like that any more.  I remember looking at people I considered "fat" (back then, "fat" meant "not emaciated") and promising myself that I would never, ever look like that.

I quit dancing after high school and promptly gained about 20 pounds.  I was not happy with that, but I still looked fine.  As a missionary in the Philippines, I lost those 20 pounds, probably due to a combination of stress and parasites.  Shortly after my mission, I married Dan and we moved to Michigan.  I got pregnant a few weeks later, and was soon puking my brains out.  But then the little guy was born, and I started nursing him.  Within a few months I had reached a new all time high weight, 20 pounds above my college weight.  That was the first time I really felt like I was "fat".  I had said I felt fat before, but this was different.  Now other people agreed with me.

Okay, blah, blah, blah, fast forward through three more babies, a weight gain of approximately 20 pounds per baby, and now nobody who sees me can imagine that I could have possibly been a professional dancer, unless it was in a ballet company for obese people.  Needless to say, this transformation over the past twenty years from perfect body to lumpy apple body has weighed heavily on me (ha ha).  More than once, someone looking at our wedding photos on the wall has actually asked if that is me with Dan (no, that is Dan's first wife, but I love her so much I like to keep a picture of her with my husband on display right here in my living room).

Recently, my weight has crept up to a new all time high.  One Saturday night a few weeks ago, I was complaining to Dan about this and expressing my sense of despair at ever being able to lose weight.  He mentioned, again, a book he's been reading online about this topic (Why We Get Fat and What to do About it by Gary Taubes), and I asked him to read me the relevant parts.  This is another book that pegs carbohydrates, not fats, and not even calories, as the real enemy to weight loss and maintenance. I actually buy this argument and was happy to hear it again.  For two and a half weeks now, I've been eating significantly fewer carbohydrates, and I'm losing weight. 

The most striking thing about this "lifestyle change", besides the weight loss, is that I don't feel hungry the way I used to, and I no longer feel sick to my stomach if I go more than an hour or two without food.  I can eat breakfast and then wait 4-5 hours without additional food and without feeling hungry or sick before eating again.  I also don't physically crave sugar when I don't eat any.  I think I'm an all-or-nothing girl when it comes to sugar.  If I have a little, it awakens a powerful monster inside that tears the earth apart to get more and more sugar.  If I have no sugar, I can just keep having no sugar, and my body doesn't feel like it needs it (although my brain wants it).

It doesn't hut that every time I get on the scale I weigh a little bit less--that is extremely motivating.  And it is getting easier to bend over and to get up and down from a seat or in and out of the car.  So, yay.  I am haunted by the knowledge that I may fall off this wagon and gain all my weight back and more, but for now I'm feeling stronger,  healthier, and slimmer.  And I feel like such a stud every time I don't eat sugar!!  Or fruit!  Or grains!  Or beans!  Or carrots, corn, potatoes, or peas!  And I also feel like a stud when I have a giant salad for lunch, or a bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts, or a spaghetti squash.  And I love that I get to eat yummy, yummy cheese.  Right now in the fridge I have Extra Sharp Cheddar, Jarlsberg, Queso Fresco, Smoked Gouda, Parmesan, Feta, shredded Mexican Blend, and Mozzarella. So if you're ever in the neighborhood looking for cheese, you know whose door to knock on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

First Real Day at S.O.S.

Yesterday I arrived at S.O.S. at 9 a.m. to start my first morning of real volunteering.  They were understaffed, so I was not able to shadow anyone as an actual counselor, so I tried to find other helpful things to do.  Until 10, everyone who could unpacked boxes of food onto the shelves in the basement, divided up the food equally into paper bags, carried the bags of food upstairs to the kitchen, transferred small frozen pizzas from the freezer in the basement to the freezer in the kitchen.  Then at 10, when food day officially starts, I got kicked out of the kitchen because there was plenty of help there, and sent to try to help with people coming in for food.  In case you are curious, one food bag yesterday contained the following: two cans of veggies, a peanut butter, a jelly, two packages of noodles, a box of mac, a box of baking mix, some fruit cups, and two cans of soup.  Each person that came in for food also got a flat of yogurt and some frozen pepperoni pizzas.  Also, in the entryway there were two tables piled high with fresh produce (farm fresh--still covered with dirt).  Anyone could take as much produce as they wanted. 

A person wanting food comes in the front door.  They are asked by the greeter to present an ID.  The greeter then uses the ID to look the person up in the database.  Then she fills out a half-slip of paper with the person's basic information on it, including how many times they have gotten food from S.O.S. this year (people are only allowed to get food four times a year).  She puts the half slip of paper in a pile and gives the ID back to the person.  Now the person waits in the waiting room until a food counselor calls their name.  There are three offices for food counselors to use.  When a food counselor is done with one "consumer" (this is what S.O.S. calls the people coming in for help--I think it is a somewhat awful term), he/ she gets the next half-slip of paper from the pile and calls that person's name.  They go into one of the three private offices and talk to the person about why they've come in, what other help they might need, et cetera.  When the food counselor is done with that person, he/she gives that person's food card to the helpers in the kitchen, who prepare that person's food.  Some people also need toiletries, diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, et cetera, so if we have any of those things on hand, we give them to those in need along with their food.  When the kitchen crew is ready, they call the person's name, and give them their food and now the person is done.

If you want the produce, you can just come in and get it, without showing ID or speaking with a food counselor.  If you want the other food, you must speak with a food counselor first.  After I get some more training, I will get to be one of the food counselors, but yesterday I just hung out in the lobby helping the greeter and talking to people and organizing the produce and trying to get people to take some of it.  Yesterday's produce delivery included lots of greens, some romaine, green tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, potatoes, onions, baby bok choy, basil, thyme, little dark purple hot peppers, butternut squash, acorn squash, apples.  Most of it was a hard sell.  People seemed intimidated by much of it, unsure how to prepare it.  I tried to talk them through it, but there were still very few takers for anything besides apples, peppers, and greens.

Two of the happiest parts of my morning: Two mothers came in asking for diapers.  They needed sizes 3 and 4.  We only had sizes 1 and 2, so they were told there was nothing for them.  I took them aside and told them we actually did have size 2 diapers, and did either of them think their baby could squeeze into that size.  One mother thought yes, so I went down and got her some diapers and wipes.  The other woman's child was 2 and needed size 4.  Hey, I thought, that is the size Naomi wears, and I've got some in the car.  I asked her if she would like the diapers and wipes from my diaper bag in the car and she said yes.  So I went out and got them and she gratefully accepted.  It felt so good to give someone something that they really needed.  I was so glad I had the diaper bag in the car--so often I forget it!  Another happy part of my morning was when I was leaving to go get Naomi from preschool.  I saw one of the people who had gotten food trying to load his 6 bags onto his bicycle.  He was a young college-aged man who was friends with one of the interns (they were surprised to see each other, but I think it was comforting to him to find her working there).  This was the first time he'd ever come in to get food.  I offered to load his food into my van and meet him at his house so he wouldn't have to try to carry it on his bike.  He accepted, and even offered to pay me for gas.  So after I picked up Naomi, we dropped the stuff off and then went home. 

I enjoyed my time at S.O.S. so much.  I got several people smiling or even laughing with my antics about the produce, and I got to help two or three older people fill out their paperwork because the letters were too small for them to see.  One of the oldest people I helped was an African American in her 70s, homeless, no teeth, and she kept calling me "Baby Girl."  She had a great sense of humor.  When we had to fill out her race on the card, we had a fun joke together about her choosing to be a Pacific Islander and then going "home" to Hawaii.  Tomorrow I go back for Day #2.  Tomorrow is not a food day, so I will tell you about what a non-food day is like.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Empathy Day

Yesterday was my 9 to 5 training at S.O.S. on using the Empathy Model in counseling.  In this model, empathy is the opposite of sympathy.  'Empathy', by this definition, focuses on the client, or 'consumer' as S.O.S. calls them (I can't bear this term), while 'sympathy' focuses on ourselves.  The risk with using 'sympathy' is taking everything the client says and relating it back to one of our own experiences, thus spending a great deal of the conversation talking about ourselves.  In 'empathy', we try to leave ourselves out of it, focusing the conversation entirely on what the client has to say and how they are feeling about things.  When the counselor speaks, it is to clarify what the client has been saying, not to interject her own take on things.

Our training materials list five steps that we should take when speaking with a client in order to properly follow the empathy model:

1) Listen (to verbal and nonverbal statements the client is making)
2) Ask clarifying questions (to help you fill in the gaps of a client's story; to make sure you are understanding them correctly)
3) Give positive strokes (point out things the client has already done to solve his or her problem; help the client see his or her strengths and successes)
4) Make value clarifications (suggest what you think is of greatest importance to the client, based on what he or she has told you)
5) Summarize what the client has said (recap the main points of their story, the feelings they've shared with you, what is important to them, to make sure that you have captured things accurately)

Yesterday there were ten of us in training, with three trainers (all 13 women).  We divided into two groups and spent most of the day with our small group practicing the empathy model.  I was very nervous to take a turn as a counselor, but it went well.  I told myself that instead of trying to follow the empathy model, I would just try to talk to my client (a fellow trainee) the way I normally would.  As it turns out, I used all five steps without consciously thinking about it, so yay.  One weakness I have is asking two or three questions at a time, and asking the questions a bit too abruptly (What do you think caused this v. I'm wondering what you think may have caused this).  Our small group finished the training an hour early, and our trainer said that we picked up on things faster than she's ever seen with previous groups. 

Our last activity before going home was sweet.  Each of us was given a piece of paper and a bunch of small stickers.  We were supposed to use two stickers per person to write the words we thought best described them.  Then we took turns presenting our papers and having our new friends come up and stick the words that they chose for us onto our papers.  In my group were two undergrads studying social work (volunteers) and two MSW students doing internships with S.O.S., plus the two trainers, one of whom is an S.O.S. staff member, and the other a long-time volunteer.

Our last training session is this Monday night.  The topic is Assertiveness.  Tuesday morning I will start shadowing.  I can shadow for as long as I want, and when I feel comfortable, I can start counseling while a more experienced person shadows me.  Once that person thinks I'm ready to go solo, I will be a real, live crisis counselor for S.O.S.

Capturing Susan Piver's "The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life"

The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life by Susan Piver, 2004

I picked this book up at the library because I'm interested in learning to ask better questions. The one hundred questions that Piver poses here (on Family; Friendships; Intimate Relationships; Work; Money; Creativity; Spiritual Life) did not appeal to me nearly as much, however, as what she said in her Introduction and Afterword.

Piver on living an Authentic Life:
-Your inner world (feelings, values, gifts, needs, spirituality, passions) matches your outer world (job, relationships, home, community).
-Three goals: 1) discover what you can offer to others 2) find and follow your unique path 3) maintain an ongoing, honest, reliable connection to your inner wisdom.
-Authentic living comes as a natural result of being present today, and focusing on the moment.
-It comes from an ongoing inner dialogue based on inquiry and a commitment to listen to the answers that arise.
-It is impossible to plan an authentic life It is only possible to be authentic and watch as your authentic life manifests around you. 
Piver on discovering our inner voice by asking questions:
-Piver's life has been driven by this thought:  Tell me what I should do with my life and I will give everything to it.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What are my special gifts?  Often, the last place we look for answers to these questions is within.
-It is difficult to distinguish our own thoughts from the thoughts of others; we are profoundly disconnected from what is real, simple, and true for us.  Tapping into our own inner wisdom is difficult.  We long for it, yet we lack the ability to hear ourselves clearly.  When we try to tune in, often the first thing we encounter is others' voices, telling us what life should look like.  Most of us can't separate these voices from our own.  If we listen carefully and take the time to trace each voice back to its root, we can almost always identify the strands.
-We begin to tune into our real voice by asking questions.
-Asking a question can be a sacred act.  If we can simply ask, wonder, and become curious, an opening for an answer will be created.  Questioning is a spiritual practice.  We come into dialogue with God/ our true nature/ wisdom whenever we stop, look inside, and take the time and effort to really listen to ourselves.
-If our questions are a genuine inquiry, reliable answers will emerge.  Listening requires emptiness and receptivity.
-The only reliable way to cultivate presence (awareness, or the ability to observe our own minds) is through a regular contemplative practice, such as meditation, journaling, walking, yoga.  It doesn't matter which practice you choose, but you must set the intention to take time for contemplation and remain consistent with your chosen practice.  Having a daily contemplative practice is like permanently installing a satellite dish outside your house--our inner voice requires an unmoving target to receive its broadcasts.  Spiritual practice creates a steady, reliable way to receive our own wisdom.
-Ask yourself questions every day to keep fine-tuning your ear to the sound of your inner voice.  Come up with a personalized list of questions to help you stay connected with yourself.  Ask them in the morning to make sure your day is launched with consciousness.  Ask them in the evening to review, learn, and summarize what really happened that day. 
Piver's start of the day questions:
What do I need to say today?  To whom?
With whom do I need to connect today?
What would I like to see unfold in my life today?
What can I contribute today?  To whom?  To what?
What can I focus on today that will bring me closer to my authentic life? 
End of the day:
What did I leave unsaid today?
What did I allow myself to feel?  What didn't I allow myself to feel?
What did I love about myself today?  What did I not love about myself today?
What began to unfold in my life today?
What happened today for which I am grateful?
What happened today that wasn't in accord with my highest values?
What did I say, do, think, or feel today that brought me closer to my authentic life?

PG: If anything in here leaps out at you, perhaps you could comment on it, and I will try to respond.  Do you have any questions that you like to ask yourself?

Gratitude Weekend

An unpublished post, written on May 23, 2011:

This past Saturday I attended a women's conference at the church for the women in the stake (Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Saline, Chelsea, Adrian, Howell, Brighton).  The theme of the conference was strength in every season, symbolized by a tree.  The keynote speaker, Polly Mallory, gave an amazing talk that was very helpful for me to hear.  Then I attended a two-hour seminar on gratitude taught by my brother's new father-in-law, Bob Quinn.  The seminar was also excellent.  I learned so much during the conference.

It is always a bit of a disappointment to return home after an intellectual and/ or spiritual feast.  While I am listening to the speakers and participating in the discussions, I feel so full of hope and energy and excitement to apply what I'm learning to my life.  I want to hurry home and change the world!  Then I walk in the front door and there are the children and the laundry and the dishes and my poor husband who has been alone with the children, laundry and dishes for 6+ hours.  All of a sudden, I need a nap!  Then I'm sort of plunged right back in to the chaos and semi-darkness of my daily life.  The hope and light from the conference seem to vanish, a faint memory.  I almost feel worse now, facing the juxtaposition of my hopes and my reality.

But this does not need to be a sad post!  What can we do when we are filled with a desire to change, and then faced with the difficulties of our present reality?  The answer that comes immediately to mind is this: pick one small thing to start with.  The small thing that I did on Saturday after the conference was to apologize to Dan for hurting him the previous day, and this led to a long, good talk that brought us much closer together and inspired me with an even stronger desire to change.