Category Archives: personal growth

How to Solve the Problem of “Shoulding” on Yourself

I recently made a list of every one of my roles, and then wrote down all the shoulds related to each role.  So far, I have discovered 40 different roles. Roles are anything that you could conceivably have embroidered on a hat! We all wear a whole bunch of different hats.

As for the shoulds, I was aghast but curious to observe the pages and pages of shoulds that hang around nonchalantly, shooting darts at me all day every day. As I stared at the pages, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Should is a very heavy word.

Not only that, but each should holds several more  inside, like the maryoshka dolls pictured above.

“I should clean out my car” contains “I SHOULD always have a clean car.” Inside that one: “I SHOULD have a clean car inside AND out.”  Inside: “I SHOULD WANT to have a cleaner car.” Inside that one: “I SHOULD get regular oil changes and other periodic service.” Inside that one: “I SHOULD teach Kepler to take all of his trash out of the car every day.” Each one piles on top of the other.

The tiniest maryoshka doll of should is probably the same for every should and has to do with being afraid to make mistakes, or a need to be perfect, or some other aspect of not being enough.

A common example of a should is “I should exericise (more/daily/at all).” And some of us are able to should ourselves to the gym and get it done. But only for awhile. Tony Robbins has a concept he calls “push motivation vs pull motivation.” As he says,

“There are 2 different kinds of motivation: Push requires willpower, and willpower never lasts. What will last is pull – having something so exciting, so attractive, something you desire so much that you have a hard time going to sleep at night, you get up so early in the morning and take it to the next level. That’s what you’re looking to get.”

Does should make me clean out my car? Or want to do it? Well, no, actually. The shoulds simply sit there, judging me. I feel terrible.

With a vague memory of the push-pull concept, I looked at my list and thought there must be some desire under these shoulds. There must be something that I actually want, something that connecting with would transform the should into a want.


What I actually like is what it feels like when my car is clean, inside and/or outside, free of trash, organized, fueled up, and taken care of.

I transform the should into a want like this:  I love how it feels to be in my car when it’s clean and organized. I love how it feels to take “exquisite care” of our things. I love feeling content as I drive.

And just like that, I’m motivated to take better care of my car. Just like that. Should is a heavy word. The joy of fulfilling a want is sweet and light and anything but heavy.





What I first learned was that I was a steward. A steward of the money God had entrusted to me, a steward of the things and time and body that all belonged to God.

The concept was illustrated by the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. I’m so sorry that anyone would ever have to grow up being taught the things I was taught in the churches I was in as a young child. If you don’t know the parable, some guys were entrusted with some things and they were supposed to invest them. Two of the guys did. One did not, and he was cast into outer darkness by a very angry master (representing God, presumably). You may have a different story about that parable. All I can do is tell you what I learned as a child.

So, yeah, I was taught that I was simply a steward, that everything I had and was belonged to God, not to me. Eventually, that story no longer worked for me.

I still believe I am a steward of the earth, in the sense that all of us are. We do not own the earth. It is something to be respected and cared for. The difference in how I see things now is that I get to take responsibility for my own decisions and reactions, the story I tell and my choices. I own them by taking responsibility for them.

I accept this responsibility. As a matter of fact, I embrace it. I am able to see myself as able to find solutions, ask good questions, explore different possibilities, apply creative thinking, and learn from it all without thinking that there’s some type of puppet master up there pulling strings to “test” me or “teach” me things. Life gives me lots and lots of opportunities to learn. I call it the School of Life. Life is my teacher and I get many lessons presented to me to either learn, or try again to learn.

When Kepler (age 9, born with Down syndrome) was born, we heard a lot of “God talk.” “God only gives special children to special parents.” “God will never take you somewhere where he cannot sustain you.” “God has a plan for you by giving you this child at this time in your life.” What finally ended up making sense to me is that Kepler is a gift, just as our other four children are a gift, but his particular makeup has taught me more than I would have ever expected.

Some might want to attribute those lessons to God. I know that it’s been through a lot of hard work and surrendering to what is. I simply choose to own my choices, decisions, reactions, and growth.

M is for Maintenance




My A to Z blog post theme this year is Acceptance. I am exploring topics which I have come to accept over the course of my life. Thus far, I have written about being wrong, compassion and children, determination, enlightenment, feast or famine, giving advice, humanism, intuition, karma, and literal thinking.

I’ve just finished reading a book called Romancing Opiates, by Theodore Dalrymple. In part, his book is about problems of addiction that arise because

“… [users] do not have actions toward which they might actually work in a constructive fashion, but daydreams, in which everything is solved at once in a magical way, daydreams from which the emergence into reality is always painful.”

The vast majority of humans have mundane tasks of a maintenance nature, toward which we “might actually work in a constructive fashion.” Think of laundry, paperwork, parenting, cleaning, vehicles, taxes. We wash and dry and fold the same clothes, week in and week out. Some of us probably have servants to do the laundry for us, but I do not.

I spent a fair bit of time telling the story that I’m just not good at maintenance, to explain why the clothes tend to wait a skosh longer than they otherwise might to get washed, dried, folded, and put away.

Tony Robbins taught me that there are six basic human needs:

The Six Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure

2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli

3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed

4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something

5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding

6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

For a long time, I overemphasized my need for variety and allowed myself to abandon tasks and projects that required a great deal of maintenance. Finally, I accepted that taking care of myself and my things in a routine, sometimes mundane, manner is part of life, and can be just as satisfying as anything else, depending on my attitude. As a matter of fact, accepting and even embracing maintenance leads to quiet satisfaction in a job well done. 

The Buddha Doodles illustration at the top is by the wonderful artist Molly Hahn. Molly creates a beautiful, life-affirming gift every day with her doodles.  

Literal Thinking and Lateral Thinking

Early in April, I posted a poem about how I welcome being wrong and mistaken after starting out thinking I had to be and always was right.

I don’t know if it’s just a brain-wiring thing or a temperament or a habit, but I tend to think VERY literally, taking things at face value. I have to work pretty hard to remember that taking things too literally is one of the ways I end up misunderstanding someone.

Just as I have realized my strong tendency toward literal thinking, I have also begun to learn to practice lateral thinking. Wikipedia tells me . . .

Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.

Seems like Albert Einstein was onto this idea way before Mr. Edward deBono coined the term lateral thinking, when he said, ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Just today, I had a disappointing experience of literal thinking going awry. Someone I love is headed to jail tomorrow for a five-day stay. I had googled “how to prepare for jail.” One site said inmates are not permitted to take books into the jail, as they can be a place to hide drugs, but that books can be shipped from Amazon. With that, I spent quite a bit of time looking for books that he might like, and then I reserved like 87 books at the library, toted them home, and he went through them and chose five that I was going to buy and ship to the jail. Once I had them in my Amazon cart, I decided to double check the website for the rules and regs. Well. This particular jail does not allow books to be sent to inmates.

Coming to accept my natural way of thinking as being quite literal has allowed me to move beyond it into new methods of solving problems, asking questions, finding solutions, and communicating. That is, as long as I catch the fact of the literal thinking in time! I don’t criticize myself anymore for this; I just understand it’s the way my brain works. And if there’s one thing I’m all about, it’s being creative in my life.

Are you more of a literal thinker or a lateral thinker? Or something else?

This is What the Tropic Thunder Controversy Reminded Me Of

With the opening of the new movie “Tropic Thunder” I am reminded of my own journey with the word “retarded.” It was part of my vocabulary growing up, as in, “Oh, that was so retarded.” I didn’t think about what I was saying, or maybe I did and it just didn’t matter that much to me. Fast forward to January 2, 2006 when a son with Down syndrome blesses my life with his birth and my understanding and use of that word changes drastically. I don’t use the word “retarded” anymore, although I do use the term “mental retardation” pretty much in a clinical way, not in a judging way. I no longer feel that mental retardation is a terrible thing or something to be feared or looked away from, although there are certainly people who have very difficult lives because of the complications of their condition and for whom I have great compassion.

When we were about six months into the adventure of parenting Kepler, I received and accepted an invitation to visit a weekly women’s group consisting of women from my church. I was deep in a time of learning more about becoming authentic, and learning much about being the parent of a special needs child, and dealing with pumping breast milk around the clock for my little son who couldn’t seem to latch on properly, so it was a very emotional time.

The women’s group was a pretty typical group of ladies who brought both pain and love with them to the meeting. Throughout the evening, I found myself feeling very defensive on behalf of one of the women because I felt like the other women were giving her the message, “Just change your mind and get over this stuff.” At some point, I decided to back off and was nursing some hurt feelings. One of the women I was least comfortable with happened to say the following: “I think dogs are like retarded kids. You can only teach them so much.” Since I was still adjusting to the idea of parenting a “retarded kid” I was aghast, stunned, and overcome with grief. Another woman held me as I cried and no one talked about what had happened. The woman who had made the comment did not know about Kepler. I left the group and never went back and never saw her again. Until . . .

Last week in J.C. Penney (two years after the original event), as I shopped, I caught the eye of a woman pushing a stroller and thought I recognized her. I glanced at her again and sure enough, it was the woman who had made the comment. What I was making up about it was that she recognized me but was ignoring me and I had to choose whether or not to acknowledge her. I knew that I wanted to make peace with this woman, so I asked her her name and reminded her of mine and how I knew her. I told her I was so sorry about what had happened that night and I told her about Kepler and how much of a blessing he is and how early it was in our life with him. She told me she knew she had said something wrong but had no idea what it was. I hugged her and again apologized and told her I was so glad I had run into her after all this time. I think it was the perfect time, actually, because I was definitely ready to stop judging her and mend the broken thing between us. She had tears in her eyes and so did I. I love when we get the opportunity to find healing.

And this kid is just such a major blessing.

I Suck Because I Made the Special Speaker Cry*

*thanks to my sister for this title

I’ve been part of a wonderful group of women who have been meeting for nine weeks with the focus on food issues, although we rarely discuss food. Food issues is what brought us together but we are bound together by many commonalities, not the least of which is larning to simply believe we are ok in spite of our myriad problems. I love these women and this group. We have only one more week and then our time together will end.

Last night, we had a special speaker who has overcome an eating disorder of many years duration. She shared her story, which gave all the glory to God for His help in her victory. She gave us several pages of scriptures and expressed her belief that the Bible addresses every one of our issues and that we cannot make changes without God’s truth.

So, it’s not that I disagree, necessarily. But as I grew up in several churches (Baptist and fundy), I took in messages, which may or may not have been explicit, that in general, I was not ok. What I wanted, what I felt, what I needed, what I WAS — none of these things were ok. Verses such as Jeremiah 17:9 (The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?) were reinforcement to me that there was nothing good in me. Never mind that I don’t remember ever hearing about the context of this verse, or if there were other places in the Bible that told a different story about me. And then Paul says, “No, I beat my body and make it my slave . . .” Again, context? Again, can we temper this for someone who has shame at the core?

What I have found over the past year is that, IN SPITE of what I learned in church, I have actually come to understand some pretty important things. And I learned them AFTER I had prayed MANY times to have my mind transformed, to be changed. So, one could say that the things I have learned are the answer to those prayers. But I am deeply convinced that the transforming of our mind is not MAGIC. Unless we learn something new to put in there, the old stuff has a way of staying around.

1. What I thought of as a terrible flaw in myself turns out to be wholly related to self-image. I never understood why I saw myself either as superior to someone else or inferior to them. I just chalked it up to pride and made sure to remind myself several times a day about how bad a person I was. Seems that what is required to avoid the superiority/inferiority thing is to learn how to see eye-to-eye. Probably sounds pretty logical and duh! but wasn’t something I had a clue about.

2. And speaking of pride, I discovered that it can be incredibly prideful and self-centered to think so badly of oneself. To always, in a conversation, be worrying about what the other person thinks of me, to always think I’m offensive just by being around — these are not things that come from true humility and love.

3. It is ok to believe I am ok, that I am more than ok, that perfection is not the goal. (Ah, but what to do with Matthew 5:48: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'”) The way I see it, my former obsession with perfection was all about ME. I was convinced that if I could be perfect, I could be loved. And if I couldn’t be perfect, I couldn’t be loved.

3. I have come to believe that “You make me mad” is incorrect. My response to you is what makes me mad, not your actions or words. This has gone a long way to helping me understand that having boundaries clarified whose problem something is. Not to say that I don’t give a rip if you feel sad, mad, scared or ashamed after an interaction with me. I will always want to apologize or make it right however I can. But your feelings are YOUR feelings. This means that I do not have to carry the responsibility for every person in the world.

4. The bottom line is LOVE.

So, last night as we responded to what the speaker said, I tried to explain my baggage from misinterpreting Scriptures and that I wanted to get rid of the baggage, and for the moment, that means allowing some space and healing to occur around some of the beliefs I internalized. However, the speaker was visibly upset by this and ended up expressing her doubts about really having the ministry she feels called to do. We all gathered around her and prayed for her and it was a really sweet time. I think it was very important for her to realize that not everyone is going to accept her message and for her to see how very responsible she feels for the outcome of giving her testimony. As my sister said, all you can do is hold out the beacon of truth. It is not your responsibility what others do with it.

Before I had the awesome opportunity to learn the truths I listed above, I truly would have felt like I Suck Because I Made the Special Speaker Cry. Instead, I had the opportunity to practice being authentic. I was careful about what I said. I did not set out to hurt her feelings, or discount what she said. In a group such as ours, the point of it is to share ourselves with each other. I shared my resistance to the message and I told why. I know that doesn’t sit well with people who hate to rock the boat. I wasn’t sure I was going to say anything, but someone commented on my silence and asked about it. I took the risk to express myself. I addressed the fact that it seemed like what I had said was hurtful to her and I told her I was sorry for hurting her. But I’m learning that being authentic sometimes means things are uncomfortable for a while, and that often a deeper relationship and more meaningful interaction are the outcome.

So, I don’t really suck. Nor did I make the special speaker cry. But somehow, as God seems to be able to do, He used all the elements to minister to quite a few of us all at once.

One Small Change is Changing My Life

Somehow I came across this book title months ago and put it on reserve at the library. I picked it up this week and read right through this little book. Dr. Maurer takes the concept of “kaizen” (continuous improvement) which is an important part of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing in general, and applies it to non-manufacturing settings.

I suppose we’ve all heard that you eat an elephant one bite at a time, but I have never been able to apply that idea when it comes to the daily issues I face. And most of the “big” issues I have tend to feel overwhelming to me.

Major learning points from this book:

**Our brains are designed to respond with fear when faced with change and the amygdala is the brain part that controls the fight-or-flight response.
**We typically respond to the need for change by using “innovation,” which is the drastic process of change. I don’t know about you, but when I need to start exercising after a period of sedentary inactivity, I do NOT start by walking 16 steps down the street and back (or whatever the doctor tells you about starting slowly). I do a TOUGH WOMAN’S workout and do a two-mile run/walk no matter how long it has been since I have exercised. I ignore the aching feet and muscles and pretend like my heartrate is just fine.
**The alternative to innovation is “kaizen,” which means small continuous changes.

How this works in my life:

I usually have 500-600 (exaggeration maybe) huge things I must make decisions about — anything from what to cook for dinner (very huge issue) to whether or not one of my kids should do a certain activity to how in the world to fit in a date night this week to wondering if I will ever get Kepler off the bedtime ice-water bottle he loves. ETC. My amygdala seems to be PARTICULARLY adept at the “flight” part of fight-or-flight so whenever I am faced with a decision, I almost immediately get overwhelmed and get the heck OUT of there.
(Isn’t she cute?)

I learned TWO things that made this a really FINE week.

1. Tiptoe past fear by contemplating small changes that allow the amygdala to stay in its happy state of hibernation.
2. Ask small questions that also bypass the whole fight-or-flight nightmare.

Examples of #1.

I have six dining room chairs that need to be re-upholstered (backs and seats, separately), and really look pretty dirty and ratty. I believe the idea of reupholstering probably came to me about 1 year ago, and I got the fabric at about the same time. But the thought of all the work involved, and the unknowns of the process, and getting the chairs to my mom’s for her pneumatic stapler, and buying the foam and the right amount of foam, and, well you get the picture. When I contemplate all that, a bag of Lime Chips and a nap usually get me calmed down.

This week I asked myself: What is one step I could take to getting my chairs reupholstered? Answer: Reupholster the back of one chair. Did I do it? Yes. Do I feel like I really accomplished something — I sure do.

Another example was looking at cooking dinner but using the kaizen method. Usually, I experience a doomdart when I remember ain’t nothin’ going to be on the table unless I put it there, and then I realize that I need to go to the grocery, and remember I do not ever feel like I am on top of having a good inventory of food, and oh no, I haven’t given the kids any vegetables for five days unless ketchup counts, and the reason I’m overweight is because I don’t have a meal plan, and well you probably get the picture again. Again, a bag of Lime chips and a nap help, but I usually have to add in a handful of chocolate chips too.

This week I asked myself: What is one dinner that sounds good to me? Answer: chicken cordon bleu, rice, salad, sliced peaches and a nice loaf of bread. Did I cook this for dinner on Thursday? I did. Do I feel like I really accomplished something — I sure do.

And there are many other examples from this week of how I applied and used this idea in my life.

I feel a lot less like this:

and a lot more like this:

Walking Humbly

One of my volunteer jobs is taking care of the group book orders for our homeschool group. This is actually a pretty huge job and I like doing it. But I volunteered this year before I really thought or prayed about it. Now that I am already doing it, I received the first order today and it included a challenge with it!

Last year, people sent me orders any old way — post-it notes, in the memo section of the check, on scraps of paper, etc. I kept track of it all, but realized that this year I wanted to make it simpler.

I created a book order form and asked people to complete it, print it out and mail to me with payment.

The FIRST order I received was via email from someone who told me her printer was broken and wanted me to print it out for her. I know that is not a huge deal in the scheme of things, but I saw it as a time I needed to choose — am I going to take on the responsibility that other people have to deal with their own computer issues and print the form? Or am I going to set a boundary?

I decided to put the responsibility back on her. I am so anxious! It is so much easier to just take the responsibility on myself. But why should I? If this person were needing to print something to get a passport, I doubt she would email the post office and say, hey go ahead and print this yourself. Or if she needed to mail a form to a doctor or dentist, would she send them a website and tell them to download it themselves?

I emailed her and explained that I created the book order form this year to avoid the extra work I did last year without it. And I told her I would only accept completed printed forms by mail or in my hand.

Since she is probably CrazyBusy like all of us, she might not take this well. But I know this is the right thing for me to do.

Eek. Believing it’s the right thing, and living with the anxiety it produces.

I Think I Have the Assignment

While lunching with my good friend, Jean, yesterday, she commented on my dream post. Her sense was that God is asking me to redefine success. Her suggestion was that I begin to ask God if He wants me to do such-and-such and to listen more closely to Him about what to choose.

It JUST SO HAPPENS that I started reading this book called CrazyBusy and I had already begun to realize some ways to slow my pace down.

As I drove Kepler to the doctor yesterday afternoon, I decided to take that driving time to pray and think rather than listen to talk radio, or text (I know, I know). I asked God what the assignment is. A song came into my mind — an old chorus I learned many years ago, based on Micah 6:8.

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

I’ve been thinking I need a “mission statement” or something similar so that as I make decisions I can quickly ask myself “does this activity fulfill my three-point clear mission statement?” and if it doesn’t I can confidently toss it aside and move onto the next thing.

CrazyBusy pointed out that this way of living modern life — tossing things aside so we can get to the next one — leads to the lack of doing the things we really want to do, and sometimes the things we really should do. God knows I have plenty of days where I do alot of stuff, but miss out on some of the things I really love, and some of the things that are really timely and important.

So, when Micah 6:8 came into my mind, I said, “Oh, God, you must be kidding. That is way too nebulous. I would have to actually sit down and think about what justice and mercy and humility would look like in my life.” And I proceeded to put my thinking cap on again to see what God REALLY meant. But, something made me stop and say, OK. Maybe this IS the assignment.

I decided to consider this the assignment and allow my thinking to be overhauled, transformed, as it were. My “formidable intellect” as my friend Jean calls it, is the easiest thing for me to depend on when it comes to making decisions. But maybe said FI has gotten me into this mess. Being lightning-quick when it comes to making decisions is right handy when driving and needing to avoid something in the road, but can be downright inconvenient when my MO is to say yes to everything except the really hard stuff. Hard stuff like working with Kepler, helping another child learn to eat fewer carbs, helping another child learn to deal with strong emotions, another to deal with his love of being on the computer, another to deal with her tendency to see herself in an extremely favorable light and everyone else in an extremely unfavorable light. All those hard things aren’t things I really want to face because they require persistence and patience and don’t give any of those instant payoffs that the easy, urgent stuff gives.

So I’m off to listen some more and see how to fulfill the assignment today.

The Egg is Not Yet Fried

Although we do not have any insurance coverage to fix the Good Egg, we are getting the windshield replaced on Wednesday. That will render said Egg driveable. We then will take the other cracks one at a time, starting with the sunroof. Our neighbors (they of the bashing tree) know a lot of people who do a lot of things and they said they would put out the word that we are needing the sunroof fixed. And they had the tree company come out today and clean up the mess.

The moral of this story for me tonight is “It costs something to see clearly.”