Is Happy New Year Happy for You?

Navigating Post Holiday Blues with
Stop Breathe Believe to a More Intentional Way of Being — Questions for Reflection

What are you feeling today?  As we are driving home from our holiday vacation with our family, I am contemplating getting back to the “real world” tomorrow.  What feelings do the end of the holiday season stir up for you?

In looking at our new year through a holistic perspective, what do things look like for you emotionally, relationally, spiritually, financially, physically, intellectually, organizationally?

Emotionally there can be such a wide range of feelings that are stirred up during the holidays.  Maybe you are grateful for a time of deep connection with family and friends, or maybe you are drained from being a quiet person in a rowdy, loud, game-playing, crazy-fun kind of family, or maybe you live alone and are dreading going back to a quiet home and struggling with a sense of impending loneliness, or maybe you are sad that everyone seemed pre-occupied with their own world and didn’t give family time priority, or maybe you’ve focused on the holiday preparation and orchestration so much that you are relieved it’s all over and looking forward to the quiet of the winter season, or maybe you’re sad that your family didn’t get together this year.  Regardless of where you are emotionally today, it is healthy to be aware of what you are feeling and give some time and attention to those emotions.  The beauty of being mindful to our feelings is a depth of understanding that can guide us into the new year of living life abundantly.  Giving attention to both the highs and the lows of the season is a gift that can last all year long.  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe that whatever you are feeling, your feelings are important and valid. 

Relationally we may be grateful for deep, satisfying, healthy relationships—or we may be starving for some connection with others.  Often the holidays are a time that magnifies our realization of the emptiness or disappointment within various relational dynamics.   Possibly we are made aware of the consequences of our busy lifestyle that has drained some quality from our friendships—one leaky, busy day at a time as we review the year and look forward to a new year.  How do we want to choose to be intentional with our friendships and relationships in this new year?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the value and “worth the struggle” of connection with others.

Spiritually we may be peace-filled with times of significant joyful worship and time with God through the holiday season…or we may be recognizing there is something missing.  What is all of this about Christmas and Hanukkah being a spiritual holiday when it seems so commercialized?  Were we able to allow time with God or did the “business of Christmas” or the “busyness of Christmas” take over?  What is our intention for the life of our spirit in the new days, weeks, months, and year?  I ask that question because we can become big dreamers in looking ahead with our dreams and desires…but what will we do today?  How can I honor the spiritual interior landscape within me this next year? Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the beauty of the mystery of spiritual depth within each of us.

Financially we may be startled into reality as we reluctantly open the credit card bill and see the effects of great advertising and the pressure to buy the perfect gift. Maybe we’re wishing we’d stuck with last year’s goal of creating a holiday budget before we went shopping, and experiencing the regret of getting caught in the moment of buying and buying and buying.  At what point do we slow down?  When is enough?  Often clients in my counseling office share frustration with the financial costs of the Norman Rockwell portrait of the perfect holiday gift giving and entertaining expenses.  How can I as an individual or we as a couple reflect and become more intentional in how to keep our values aligned with our actions during this frantic financial frenzy?  The principle of small steps to a secure financial portfolio is an integral part of any successful financial plan.  Planning may be the key, as it is often said, “We do not plan to fail, we simply fail to plan.”  Financial health takes time, energy, planning and intention.  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in small steps to get us where we want to be…and sometimes, small steps in getting us out of where we do not want to be.

Physically we may be stuffed!  Stuffed full of cookies, wonderful home cooking, catered office party fare, fast food grabbed on the road. And maybe this stuffed feeling is exacerbated by living in a part of the country where the season of the holidays is also the season of extreme cold, which interrupts your normal plans of being active outdoors.  This is the time when many of us want to do something different in the new year regarding our physical fitness. New year, new resolutions – there is no secret this is the time of year of full exercise classes and internet searches for the latest trend in diets and cleanses to get us “back on track”.   What would be the “fit bit” to get you started off to a healthier week, month or year?  I love the concept of the fit bit.  The consistency of a “bit” of “fit” is the key to healthy living.  Movement is important.  How can we be encouraged to increase our movement?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the power of a healthy start—we can always begin again.  One of my favorite new beginning statements is, “From this day forward I will….”

Intellectually, where do we want to be this time next year?  What do we want to learn more about?  How can we stimulate our brain in a new way?  I am excited to be going to a week-long workshop this month to delve into a topic that holds great curiosity for me.  Could it be that we could take small steps to challenge ourselves intellectually?  What would that look like for you?  Learning a new method of cooking?  Completing a Sudoku puzzle regularly?  Taking a course online or at a community college?  Exploring the library for a book in an area we know nothing about?  The opportunities are endless—but how do we get there?  Again, small steps in accomplishing a goal are the answer.  Goals that are realistic and measurable are most likely to be accomplished. How can I challenge and fill my mind with the adventure of learning?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe that our minds are capable of expanding.

Organizationally our lives can easily slip into a conundrum— one stack at a time, one drawer at a time, one closet at a time. 

How is it that we organize our drawers, our closets, our desk, our computer, our time? The name “January” is derived from Janus, the god of gates and doorways, the god of beginnings and transitions, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, one forward and one back. As you step through the gateway into this fresh and shiny new year, keep a note of what makes you happy, and endeavor to seek out more of it in the months ahead.   Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in small steps—small steps of choosing how we will utilize our time and resources.

As we reflect on our patterns and ways of the last year and look ahead and contemplate the year to come, it can feel overwhelming to want to make multiple changes and create a more authentic lifestyle versus the hustle for worthiness that we can so easily get caught in. I come back to the small step principle.  Choose an area you would like to make changes in and be intentional in taking those small steps, one at a time, to reach your goal.

One practice that can be helpful in looking at designing your year to be the year you desire is Stop Breathe Believe, a simple process I created to facilitate the journey into mindful, wholehearted living. 

We all long to live wholeheartedly—with authenticity and joy, in a way that honors our true selves and brings our gifts into being.  But often, unhealthy thinking can get in the way.  Stop Breathe Believe helps us stop the stream of thoughts flowing through our minds and become aware of one thought that needs replacing, breathe our way to a state of calm openness, and then believe a compassionate truth statement.

You are invited to reflect on how you too can revolutionize your reactions and responses in relationship to yourself and to others. One step, one breath, one intention at a time.

Stop Breathe Believe can help you become healthier in your thinking, more intentional in your thoughts and behaviors, more aware of your feelings, and thus more mindful of the beauty of the present moment.  For 2015, let’s start becoming the wholehearted, joyful people we’re meant to be.


A Bouquet of Dandelions

What does Mother’s Day look like for you?  For some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day to be a Mother and that is exhilarating, and maybe even a little exhausting after a short night with the baby’s feedings.  For some, the days leading up to this weekend are painful—maybe we are unable to have children, so we only hold in our hearts the child we so yearn to hold in our arms.  For some of us the weekend is exciting and full of celebration—children coming home or taking Mom out to dinner.  For some of us, the weekend is a time of fear that hits hard because of our Mother’s recent diagnosis.  For some, we just realized it’s Mother’s Day and are wondering if the store has any cards left. Some of us have made a special card or gift for our moms and can’t wait to present our token of love to her.  For some of us, it is a day of great laughter and fun and for some of us, this is the first Mother’s Day since our Mother’s death.

For others, this time of year is about just being together and celebrating family.  For some of us the only way we are “together” is through the internet and we yearn for more “real life” times of togetherness. For some of us, Mother’s Day is another work day.  For some of us, it is a reminder of the ache in our heart we feel as a Mother because of the death of our precious, beautiful child. For some of us, Mother’s Day as a single Mom doesn’t look much different than any other day.  For some, the emphasis on mothering is a reminder that our Mom was not there for us—maybe we are still waiting for our Mother’s approval, or maybe our Mother watched us being abused, never able to stand up for us, and we are deeply hurt by her silence. Maybe we are in a current struggle of communication with our Mom. Maybe we are celebrating the beauty of the value of the relationship and what we have learned from our Mothers—often our first teachers about life and laundry and love and Legos and laughter and lots of other lessons. Maybe we are in tears because our son just presented us with our first dandelion bouquet.

Oh, what a beautiful thing, that first dandelion bouquet.  The simple, heart-felt gesture of an innocent child with the idea of an extravagant gift for Mom.  The child brings all that he has to give in that moment. An allergy-inducing invasive weed to most, but a gorgeous offering of love and relationship in the eyes of the mother.

One of the reasons Mother’s Day is so wide in the array of experiences is because whether it’s mother/daughter, mother/son, or mother/father, these are all relationships, and relationships can be messy.  Because of the reality of the imperfections in our relating, we are often hurt or we hurt others.  Even in a relationship that is often idealized there can be very difficult and very trying times.

Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics specializing in sociolinguistics in her book, You’re Wearing That?, Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, says “Words exchanged between [young] daughters and mothers – in the moment or in memory – can carry enormous weight.  The same is true for conversations between mothers and grown daughters, even though both are women and in many ways speak the same language – indeed, partly because both are women and in many ways speak the same language:  a language in which intimacy and closeness as well as power and distance are constantly negotiated. Improving communication between mothers and daughters, much like breaking down barriers to communication between women and men, requires, above all, understanding:  seeing the situation from the other’s point of view.”  I recommend the book as a catalyst for discovering the value of the words in the mother/daughter relationship.  Even if you do not have a daughter, you have a mother and this book promotes deeper reflection and understanding of a significant relationship.  

May our celebration this Mother’s Day be in the small steps that we take towards our mothers and children, our fellow human beings. May it be in the working to improve our communication, the extending and accepting of dandelion bouquets.


As yesterday was the first day of spring and there is still snow on the ground in Des Moines, we are longing for some beauty and color.  The Des Moines Botanical Center was the site of my photo expedition for the week. What beauty there is in creation!  What creation there is in beauty! 

What beauty there is in you!  The plaque in my counseling office that reads “be.YOU.tiful” is a favorite to many of my clients.  Why do we find it so difficult to be ourselves? 

Is there some end-expectation we have in mind?  Is it when we’re thin enough?  Smart enough?  Good enough?  Together enough?  Caught up enough?  Beautiful enough?  Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening, says, “Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve learned, and still struggle with, is that I don’t have to be finished in order to be whole.”

Transformation.  Change.  Process.  It is the process of being ourselves that is the struggle.  My email signature line features varying perceptions, and yesterday’s was: “Looking at life through a ‘struggling is a strength’ perspective…”.  I know that I am not alone “struggling with struggling”.

So often we compare ourselves with others.  “Comparison is the seed of discontentment.”  -Anonymous. It is through the lens of our perspective that the seed of discontentment can grow or we can re-wire our thinking to value the beauty of who we are. 

As we take off the comparison glasses, we can choose to put on the lens of gratitude for who we are made to be.  A new lens and creativity is unleashed, anxiety is calmed, the “musts” and “shoulds” become “maybes” and “coulds.”

Can we value the “be” of be.YOU.tiful?  Notice that it reads, “be,” not “do,” as in dutiful.  We are often more comfortable with the “doing” than the “being.” 

Being ourselves requires courage and vulnerability.  And yet when we are able to be ourselves we are most radiant.  Seems like a bit of a juxtaposition, doesn’t it?  As with the flower, it is in the process of opening up and being vulnerable that we become real.  Then, we are be.YOU.tiful.

In the beloved children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit are having a discussion.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”  “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”  “Does it hurt?”  “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”  “Does it happen all at once,” He asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once, “ said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

May you be encouraged to struggle against what is mechanical and sharp and struggle towards that which is lovely, what is true, what is be.YOU.tiful within you.

Layers of Letting Go

I am simply fascinated by the beauty of the shedding bark of the river birch trees in our yard, especially on a snowy day like today.  Often I find a graceful scattering of authentic river birch paper fanned out beneath the trees.  I have even written a letter to my Dad, a lover of nature, on one of these paper-thin pieces of bark.  A quick bit of Google research reveals that one of the reasons a river birch tree sheds is to allow rapid growth. 

Yes, I can agree with that, growth is a letting go, a shedding experience.  And yes, often there is pain involved in the growing.

Recently I had a dermatologist-recommended facial peel.  I probably include “dermatologist recommended” so that you will not think I am vain!  The peel happened to be quite painful at times.  I experienced facial swelling, a blotchy red rash, and intense itching.  I slept in a recliner for three nights to help reduce the swelling.  Hmmm…what a metaphor as I was thinking of writing this blog about peeling layers and the pain that can occur!  I chuckle at the timing of things.  So, my skin is now better.  I do not plan any more peels…at least of the “dermatologist-recommended” variety.

As a mom, I have often wanted our children to have a smooth road…no bumps, no hurdles, no hurts. And yet, I know in my own life that it isn’t on the smooth road that I grow and develop. What a joy to watch them grow now as adults amidst struggle, to lean on each other amidst times of pain and to experience life richly as they grow--not as measured by the chart attached to the doorway that recorded their annual growth, but as they grow by living authentically in the depth of their souls.

As part of a couple, my husband and I love and cherish the smooth times, but we have also learned to embrace the difficult times.  We want to know and experience the deeper growth that can occur in struggle—in adjusting to a new city, in learning to communicate more clearly, in praying through the night for the health of a child, in sitting with a parent who is struggling for his last breath or in taking on a new challenge together. 

As a woman, I often wrestle with the concept of wanting it all perfect.  However, the “letting go” of being perfect is a concept I want to accept.  Of course, any of you who know me know that being perfect is not true.  The struggle and desire for doing things perfectly and wanting things perfect has been true.  I am learning the value of letting go.  It seems that I have been learning this concept for a while now, and that the beauty of letting go is now appealing to me more than the mirage of perfection.  The freedom and beauty of accepting myself for who I am is enough.

What is it that you desire to let go of?  Just as the birch tree says goodbye to its bark, what is it that you would like to bid farewell?  What is it that leaves you feeling vulnerable?  What if you chose to look at vulnerability through a new lens?  What layers are you aware of that you could label—and shed?  What pieces of brokenness do you wish to hide?  What beauty is waiting to be seen within you as you let go of the unnecessary layers? 

May our journey go deep to an inner peace as we shed an outer layer or two.