All posts by Valerie

In Case You Need Some Encouragement…

I have not hidden the fact that I struggle in the comparison department.  One of the biggest shame traps for me is comparing myself to others and to myself (my own typically unrealistic expectations for myself).  Because I recognize this and truly want to just stop doing it, I have been working hard to overcome this unhealthy habit.

I also have not hidden my faith in God and how He has walked alongside me throughout this journey to fight shame and be kinder to myself.  Well, in true God fashion, He keeps showing up to speak to me, encourage me, and help me grow.  He is faithful like that.  Case in point:  this message in my email inbox this morning.  If you can relate to my struggle and could stand a little encouragement today, take a few minutes to read what Rénee Swope has to say about feeling like you don’t measure up.  Her message spoke to me, and I pray it will speak to you as well.

friday fluff

Things get pretty heavy around here.  All of this shame talk is important – so important – but not exactly light reading.  So I have decided to start a new series called Friday Fluff.  I don’t know if I will post every Friday, but these posts will basically be fun things I have come across throughout the week… stories, recipes, photos, quotes, etc., because we all need a little fluff in our lives, amiright???

I have been cooking from this new book and oh wow, I am LOVING it!  Made the prosciutto-wrapped stuffed chicken breasts and cauliflower mash with roasted garlic and ricotta a couple of weeks ago (SERIOUS YUM), and this weekend it’s zucchini “lasagna” bolognese.  I did NOT need another cookbook, but would absolutely make every recipe in this one, and Chrissy Teigen is hilarious, so it’s also a fun read.

Getting ready to dig into this book with a friend.  This is an area of struggle for me, so I’m excited to read and discuss with a trusted confidante.

And because I rarely read just one book at a time, I am working my way through this.  I’m really enjoying it so far and highly recommend it.

Also loving this daily devotional site (ok, so lots of reading recommendations today!).  Today’s email was especially meaningful to me as I know first-hand how God does this in our lives.  You can sign up to receive the daily emails (I did so after receiving one from a friend), which I highly recommend.  They are short, too – a great quick read to start the day off on a positive and encouraging note.

This completely cracks me up.  I have had it open on my laptop for weeks now and when I want to laugh, I go back and scroll through the photos.

The weather is finally getting and staying nice around here, so this weekend and the next include lots of garden prep.  My husband is a master raised-bed-garden builder, and we now have four to fill.  Deciding what to plant is going to be difficult – so many excellent options!  Zucchini is on my must-plant list, as is spinach, and at least one bed will be wholly devoted to peppers.  I also grow about 10 different herbs each year.   What do you grow and what has been successful for you?

Speaking of playing in the dirt… we are going to start composting this year!  We purchased a double-barrel compost bin from Costco and as soon as it is built we’ll be in business.  Anyone have experience with composting?  Tips?  Please?

I can’t let this post end without mentioning the death of Prince (not fluff, I know), a true musical icon.  I always loved his music, but have been learning just how incredibly talented he was.  His music was really a soundtrack for the majority of my life and it saddens me to know he will no longer be creating and sharing with us.  So to honor him and his legacy, here’s one of my faves.

Happy Friday everyone!

how He sees me

I have to confess…  I spend a lot of time thinking about what others think of me – comparing myself against them and feeling inadequate.  I am insecure.  I don’t often think too highly of myself, and many times I am downright mean to me – I berate myself for not eating enough vegetables, for eating too much chocolate, for having two cocktails instead of stopping after one, and for aging (like THAT is something I can control).

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time with a dear friend.  Our conversation turned to the topic of shame, and when I mentioned to her that I have really struggled with shame throughout my life, she said she didn’t want to think about me feeling that way about myself.  I told her about the work I have been doing to fight my shame battle, but that it is a daily practice to stay out of the shame pit, and I don’t always succeed.

She asked me how shame affects how I feel about God.   We talk a lot about God and our faith.  We met more than ten years ago when she led a bible study I participated in and I was drawn to her sweet spirit and warmth that exuded from her.  So I wasn’t really surprised when she asked me this question, and it was definitely not the first time I have thought about it.  My answer:  I don’t doubt God’s love for me.  I have no problem showing my flawed self to God – after all, He sees everything I do, anyway.  Letting myself be known by God is not my problem… my problem is believing what He says about me.  My problem is that I see myself as a deeply flawed screw-up who just cannot seem to overcome my junk.   And that’s on a good day.  My friend had a pained expression on her face when I told her this, and she encouraged me to believe what He says about who I am.  After I left her company, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation, and I knew I needed to figure out how to get to the point of being able to consistently view myself the way God does.

So I have been facing this head-on for the past couple of weeks…thinking about it, processing why I feel the way I do about myself, getting really real with myself.  Then this past Sunday I was watching our church service from my laptop and wouldn’t you know it, the message seemed like it was written just for me.  As I listened to our minister teach about how God sees us, His children, it hit me:  this was exactly what I needed to hear.  Tears started streaming down my cheeks and I was overwhelmed with emotion.  You see, I had been praying about this, asking God to help me see myself the way He sees me.  Asking Him to help me stop being so hard on myself.  And there it was:  His answer to my prayers – reassurance through the words of my pastor:

You are His child (John 1:12)

You are not condemned (Romans 8:1)

You are an heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)

You have wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You can be confident (Ephesians 3:12)

You are forgiven (Isaiah 43:25)

You are loved (Romans 8:35-39)

Wow.  To say I was overwhelmed with gratitude and awe would be an understatement.  As I continued to listen to my pastor, I thanked God for His message to me and something inside of me started to shift.  I started to accept these truths and hold onto them.

Shame may not prevent me from baring my soul to my Creator.  Shame may not cause me to try hide who I am and what I have done. But shame does its best to keep me from believing I am who He says I am.  Is my perspective going to change overnight?  No.  Of course not.  But what I received Sunday was a direct answer to a direct prayer, and that is something I neither take lightly, nor choose to ignore.  I could fill a book with the direct answers I have received to direct prayer since I started to truly trust that God is listening to me – that He wants to hear what I have to say – and every single time it happens, I am blown away.  Who am I that He would not only hear me, but respond.  And that right there should be all I really need to know.  The fact that He hears me and answers me tells me exactly how He sees me.  And if my Creator sees me that way, why shouldn’t I?

just a season

I recently embarked on a new career journey – an addition to my day-to-day work.  Actually taking the step to do this took a tremendous amount of courage, and I had to fight off the familiar voices that told me I shouldn’t bother – I probably wouldn’t get what I wanted.  So I felt proud of myself and super happy when I took the chance and was granted the awesome opportunity to do something I have been wanting to do for several years now.

The problem is that this new venture takes time to develop and grow, and I am having a difficult time being patient.

So I have found myself really struggling.  Despite the fact that I know I need to be patient, I am having a hard time not feeling like I am failing already.  It’s silly.  I know this.  But it’s how I feel, and instead of trying to stuff or ignore what is going on inside of me, I have been letting myself feel it – even though it doesn’t feel great.

It isn’t lost on me how easily I went from “I’m proud of myself” to “I am failing at this and I have barely even started.”  I’m not exactly kind to myself, as evidenced by a self-compassion assessment I took a few weeks ago.  I am currently enrolled in a class taught by my favorite shame researcher, Brené Brown, and as part of one of our lessons, we were instructed to visit Kristen Neff’s website and take her Self-Compassion test.  I knew I would not do well (translation: I am not compassionate with myself, at all), and the test confirmed the same.

A few weeks ago a dear friend came over to my home for an after-work glass of wine, snacks, and catch-up time.  During our chat, I shared with her a bit of what I have been feeling.  While we were talking, she said something that truly stuck with me.  She said that this is just a season of my life.  It will not last forever.

Summer is my least favorite season.  I know, I know – that probably puts me squarely in the minority, but it’s true!  I don’t like hot weather (unless I am vacationing somewhere tropical), and I love nearly everything about spring, fall, and winter (yes, even snow and bitter cold!).  So just like I do in the summer when I tell myself that summer is just a season and the extreme heat and humidity will not last forever, I am remembering my friend’s words and choosing to tell myself – and believe – that what I am going through right now is just a season.  It will not last forever.

And while I remind myself that this season is just that, I am also working on improving my score on that Self-Compassion test, starting with reminding myself that I was courageous and got the dang job and all of those negative voices can take a hike!!!

Have you found yourself in a difficult season that you have had to learn to embrace or even just tolerate?  How have you helped yourself or been helped through the season?  I would love to know about your difficult seasons and how you have worked through and/or embraced them.

vulnerability is hard

What is it about being real that scares us so much?  Why is it so difficult to be vulnerable with others (and sometimes even with ourselves)?

A few days ago I had coffee with a friend who is incredibly near and dear to my heart.  From the very beginning of our friendship, many many years ago, we connected on a deeper level.  The ensuing years brought life changes, life upheavals, challenges, and triumphs, and through the majority of it all, we have remained as close as sisters.  This friend is one to whom I can tell ANYTHING.  She has never judged me (at least if she has, she has remained silent!), she has never shamed me, and she has never questioned my value or character.  This, dear readers, is a true gift.

Our coffee date was typical for us:  spend some time catching up on life since the last date, then delve into what is new, exciting, troublesome, annoying, bothersome, etc.  During this particular conversation, my friend was incredibly vulnerable with me about some things going on in her life, and despite our years of being vulnerable with each other and always being accepted by the other, I could tell it was difficult for her to tell me what was on her mind.  But tell me she did, and listen I did, and I know we both left that conversation feeling heard, valued, accepted, and full.  You know, the kind of full you feel when you have been cared for emotionally.  I don’t know if it is possible to feel that kind of fullness absent vulnerability, because if you think about it, it takes being vulnerable to allow others to see what we need emotionally.  If we hide that, we will never experience the fullness that comes from being absolutely heard.

Yet despite knowing this, I find myself facing a very real vulnerability struggle of which I have only very recently become aware, and that is only because I dug deep into the issue with my therapist.  I have to admit that my shame almost kept me from opening up about this in our most recent appointment, but thankfully by now I know enough to realize NOT raising this issue and working through it would only keep me stuck.  Stuck and in denial.  I felt shame about this because I am struggling to be vulnerable with an individual in my life who I believe I “should” be vulnerable with.  But it’s hard.  And I am not entirely sure why.  But I do know that there is a degree of fear lurking around that is keeping me from being vulnerable with this person, and I think it boils down to one simple thing that is not so simple after all:  I care what this person thinks about me and I am afraid of being judged and ultimately not liked.

We all care, to some degree, what others think of us.  This is a life-long issue.  When we are young, it is typically our peers.  But that does not always change as we grow older.  I think what does change as we grow older is that we may be surprised by who it is and why.

When I was in elementary school I was diagnosed with scoliosis.  My spine curvature was severe enough to require medical treatment, and the immediate recommendation was a brace.  Think Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles.  Admit it, you laughed at her.  So did I.  And that is precisely why I decided that my parents could go ahead and get that back brace for me, but there was no way in heck I was going to wear it to school.  My plan was to ditch it in the bushes lining the front of our home when I left to walk to the bus stop each morning (thinking, as 10-year olds do, that I would never be caught).  I was most certainly not going to be seen by my friends – or anyone else – wearing such a contraption. I was NOT going to be that vulnerable.  I would have been mortified.  Even now, so many years later, when I tell that story, I can feel what I felt back then.  Shame.  If I wear that brace, what will people think of me?  They won’t like me anymore.  They will make fun of me.  I will hate my life.  Powerful stuff.

Thankfully, I never had to wear a brace.  The day of the appointment to be fitted, my parents received excellent advice to seek the second opinion of a physician using a new non-brace treatment for scoliosis.  The advice was taken, I began seeing the doctor, and the ensuing treatment which took place only at night, worked to stop the progression of my curve.

The point of my story is that vulnerability shows itself in so many different ways throughout our lives, but it comes down to the same thing:  the desire to be accepted and the fear that opening up and showing our true selves will crush that desire.

Knowing this, it is not a big surprise to me that so many people choose to live their lives hiding from vulnerability.  It is so scary to open up and show ourselves, even to those who love us dearly, that at times it feels so much safer to keep our thoughts and feelings, fears and struggles, to ourselves.  But we are missing out on connection when we keep these things to ourselves.  As I said before, when I left my coffee date with my dear friend, I felt so full.  I immediately prayed and thanked God for the wonderful friendship He has allowed me to participate in for so many years.   I also felt normal – no small feat for me sometimes! – because my friend and I share so many of the same struggles.  During our chat, we empathized with one another and as we so often do, laughed about the craziness taking place in each of our lives.  Yes, the struggles are real, but we found a way to lighten one another’s loads, if only for a short, but beautiful, time.

I know this message of mine is not new.  I have written about vulnerability before, and I will again.  You see, it is so important to me.  I used to be someone who kept everything inside, so I know firsthand how difficult and scary it is to open up.  It’s a huge risk, and I have been burned.  But as a result of being burned, I have learned who I can trust with my true self, and who I cannot.  And even though I am struggling with a specific vulnerability issue right now, I have also learned that I don’t care as much about what others think of me as I used to.  Progress.

The fear of being rejected will probably never entirely go away, but courage builds with every true connection.  Take a chance and truly connect with someone today.  Experience how full you can feel.