Category Archives: Self identity

Survival Stories

Looking at the list of shows on cable TV, there is quite a trend nowadays for survival stories.  “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” is one program; “Storm Chasers” and “Deadliest Catch” follow people through death-defying situations to show how wild work and research can be.  “Man, Woman, Wild” is another one that puts a married couple (who are survival experts) in a remote location for a week to see how they stay alive.  Survival stories are dramatic and they sell quite well.

What you may not know is that you have your own survival story.  Maybe you haven’t gone on a reality tv-show with it, but you have faced threats in your life that you did, indeed, survive.  Dangers to your body, to your self-esteem, to your reputation, to your feelings, to your soul.  Harm done may have been acute (like in a car accident) or chronic (like recovering from a car accident, and getting in a car again).  A lot of survival stories center around the break-up of relationships.

Whatever it is, each person creates a story about how they survived.  That story tells about their own personhood, about the way they view the world, and about the relationships that helped them or hurt them.  Think of a book you’ve read recently or a movie you’ve watched – what is the survival story of that character?  I think of Rapunzel; she had her survival story that kept her alive and waiting, and after her prince came she had another survival story.  But should she always rely on the prince?  Can she write a new survival story for herself?

This is deep stuff.  Often, you can imagine how once someone has a survival story, they keep living it out – the same conflict, the same result.  What saved them once becomes their main understanding of how to receive love and care and hope and influence over what happens in life.

Spiritually, I wonder if the survival story we craft from our life and the way of being saved/kept safe in it becomes the primary way we look for God.  For Rapunzel, maybe God comes from ‘out there’ and does not ask her to change; yet what if after her rescue she meets a mother- or sister-figure who can teach her to look for love – human love and divine – through the ordinary, the local, the ever-present?  How can our God story adapt so that it keeps on saving us, into our future?  I think that the story of Christ, coming into the world that already had its survival story decided (to survive, keep the law with diligence & precision) and of Christ changing the way that people can not only survive but together thrive and live.  From survival to renewal.   A new story, new connections.

As I read more of NLP, it always turns toward practical application, especially by frequently asking the questions: “Is it useful?  Does it work?”  These questions apply to little daily things (like how we put our kids to bed) as well as big things (like our personal survival stories).  Often the stories that *did* work once do not work so well anymore.  Our hearts, minds, spirits, souls, and bodies need to come up with new stories.

Here is an opportunity to reflect on your survival story.  Where did it come from?  How did it help?  What are you surviving now, and what story can you imagine crafting?  Where is God in your stories?  What does love look like?  You may find that your story begs to be shared – perhaps with a friend, a counsellor, or a pastor.  Protect your story but also let it continue to protect you; and of course allow for new scripts to be created!

A Theory and a Theology

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

Greetings, friends.  I have been away from this blog for awhile – family visitors to Malaysia, intensive language study in Kuala Lumpur, getting life back on track with the start of the Western school year.  Also, the heat has wiped me out – somehow it took a year for it to affect me?  Who knows.

The good news is that I am finding more time now for writing, research, reflection, and conversation about the idea I’ve had for 3 years now for a book.

The premise of the book is the different ways we use the words “but” and “and.”  We treat them as interchangeable, but (ha – but! Watch how you use it!) if we look at the meaning behind the words, we learn about behaviour, attitude, and communication.

When Caedmon was about a year old, he hated to be put to bed.  He would cry for hours.  I read every book, asked every mom, tried things for weeks at a time.  One book on discipline talked about “and” and “but” and this got me thinking.  One night, as I put Cade down after our bedtime routine, I began to say my usual – “I love you, but it’s time for sleep.”  I stopped myself just in time, and instead I said, “I love you, and that’s why I’m helping get you to your bed and your sleep.  Good night” – and, for the first time, his fists let go of my shirt, he went calmly into his crib, and off to dreamland.

I’ve learned that there is a field of psychology called “NLP” – neuro-linguistic programming – that looks at how the words we use (linguistic) actually program how the neurons in our brain will handle information.  For many people, “But” triggers the neurons for “problem! separation! get defensive!”  “And” on the other hand is a word that links things together.  NLP is a really intriguing field for me, in large part because of how it has helped me in my own attitude, relationships, and life.

So I am studying the theory of NLP – though the leaders in this field will tell you that the theories – the patterns that they have named and shared – are not enough, that it is a practical field.  I agree!  And as a Christian woman,  a mom, a missionary, when I take in information, I don’t stop at theory.  I often don’t stop at practice.  I want also to look for theology – for what this tells us about God.

Where does God use “but” and “and”?  How do we hear messages from God – with our Neurons (mental chemistry & structures for thinking), or with our Language (remembering that Christ is “the Word of God”), or with the ways we Program our life according to patterns?  I have been having a great time exploring how NLP can relate to the Christian faith, to our understanding and devotion to God, and to how we actually live our daily life.

So – from theories to theology – I will share some of my reflections on this blog and invite your contributions as well!

Randomness and Coping Skills

Today was an odd day for a missionary; it was a standard day for a housewife. I have to admit, I am stumbling over how to understand who I am and what I am here for – pretty deep questions! I know, intellectually, that I am here to support Eric as he learns a language and as he becomes a full-time lecturer, and as he ministers through teaching theology at the Seminary and in workshops throughout Sabah and Malaysia (and perhaps beyond that as well). When I was a pastor, I emphasized that every profession is a way to minister to others. Every job can be a vocation – a holy calling. Since we used to live in a town with a lot of housewives, I was very clear that that role is a precious one. That even if it is a luxury afforded to few, it is a way to make a difference in the family, in the community, and by extension, in the world.

Now that I’m a housewife, and I spent my day leading the PTA Walkathon (a huge event), getting hot lunch for my kids (a special treat), and taking them to a playground and then a birthday party – I have to admit, I look at my day and think, “ministry?” But I don’t want to shoot myself down, so I do my best with today, and tonight I will pray for wisdom and perspective, and I will trust that God will direct and provide and give some hints to that deepest of questions, “Why am I here?”

And, because being a homemaker is an essential calling, I’ll share two tidbit images that might support others in their callings to care for families.

#1: a cleaning schedule, from Do not do all of these in one assigned day. But some Wednesdays (for example), do schedule in 15 minutes to try one of these tasks, and as you do that 2-3 times a week, you will find your house becoming a more welcoming place (and your soul a little less stressed, if you value having a home that has at least a few flat surfaces not piled with “stuff”).

And #2: from the “is that really happening?” file… At the birthday party today, it was a pool party, but it turn out here that just a pool isn’t enough… you have to have some of these:

yes… it’s clown cars. Two cars pulled up, driven by clowns in full get-up (how do they drive in those shoes????). They made hundreds of balloon animals and then had a magic show which produced a live bunny. The Korean mum hosting the party was horrified, as she had to keep the bunny in a box for the rest of the little show, and she clearly did not want to be near this rodent. (My mom brought a live snake to my school as a kid, so my boundaries for animals are a little more wide open!)

I thought it ironic that they didn’t arrive together – I mean, Malaysia is famous for its small cars, so why not at least put two clowns together in one? Instead they arrived separately in the slightly larger Myvi’s (pronounced “my vee” as in my vehicle). In this picture the mum is insisting that they take the bunny in the green box back NOW.

And here is a picture of me with the clown …. They apparently aren’t considered scary here. But notice that the clown seems to have made a machine gun out of balloons? Maybe clowns are, indeed, creepy. Maybe Malaysia just needs a few more cheesy horror films in order to realize this.

At any rate, my day is done. I am going to sleep and pray heartily, and tomorrow I am going to learn to make porridge with a friend from the seminary. If I am to be a homemaker, I am going to do it with friends who can cook!


Today we found the seminary sign moved from the site of a landslide (it barely survived; now they are fixing the road by the landslide, so I guess the seminary is holding on to the sign for awhile.  Incidentally, the … Continue reading

Day 20 of 20 *Questions*: Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?

Wow, day 20.  My last day with this series, and I have alternated between internal whining (ugh, another day already?  Waaaah) and really REALLY enjoying the process of writing – and of writing *on a schedule*.   And to have gotten to communicate with people who are all engaging their powers of thinking-feeling-doing…  this has been a great adventure, and I am so glad to have taken it on.  Really truly, it turns out, this is what I’ve been both wanting and needing to do.

In the time of writing this, I have also begun an essay on mountains in Scripture – a research project, a creative writing venture, and probably my first time being published.  This writing gave me a foundation for writing that essay – the schedule, the time thinking before writing, the considering of the audience.  And essay-writing is preparation for what I’ve been wanting to do for almost two years – work on writing a book I outlined almost exactly two years ago.  It will involve a lot of research (in the field of NLP psychology – neuro-linguistic programming) as well as a great deal of creativity (which is both creative energy, and actual creative output, yes, on a schedule).  In these 20+ days, I’ve moved closer to becoming a writer – a whole new identity and set of practices for me.  Yes, this is what I want to be doing.

So, for you, scroll back through these 20 questions and see which ring truest in your life – which ones did you need to ask yourself the most?  Which ones will you keep asking yourself?  Which ones helped you articulate some of the things you assume about life?  Which ones could you write an essay on?

Because this has been an effort in integration and in communication, I would love it if you could post below which question gave you greatest pause, or which question you still think should be added to the list?  I’ll post the list below, or you can scroll back through the fb posts here.

May you be blessed by the questions, and may answers not come too easily.

Day 19 of 20 *Questions*: Are my thoughts hurting or healing?

Thoughts are important.  They can also feel as though they are beyond our control.  It’s hard, after all, to “make” yourself think something.  Thoughts also get bundled closely together with our feelings, so that the two become indistinguishable, especially in the heat of the moment (or as we re-live encounters when we can’t get to sleep….)

As I’ve learned to deal with the competing needs that happen in a relationships (family, household, or other), one of the things we’ve been practicing, in our goal of “slowing things down” (the Second Commandment for our family) is asking, “What was the thought before the feeling?”

With kids, when conflict arises, from whining to slugging, it does no good to ask what started the fight – that just starts a cycle of blame, and puts peace and solutions farther out of reach.  That probably describes how many adults approach a problem – by seeking blame/self-righteousness (win/lose), and by making peace less of an option.

Another option, in the midst of conflict, is to let people speak their feelings (without the words “he made me…”) AND then to ponder, what was the thought before that feeling?  Often the thought assumes blame so subtly that when the feeling is blame-centered, it feels like it came out of nowhere.  For instance, when I try to read with Dante, if he comes across a difficult word he immediately demands that I read it; if I suggest he try, then he shuts down and refuses to speak or read.  When I ask him for his feeling, it’s often anger at me, and sometimes that makes* me angry too. (remember how we’re not supposed to blame right away? Look what I just did… “that makes me mad”…)

But if I can hear his feelings and hold them carefully, we have time to ask, “What was the thought before the feeling?”  And then Dante can be honest, that he thinks I won’t help him when he really needs it.  A-ha.  He thought something that he didn’t have time to say, or that he was afraid of saying, and it got plowed into his feelings.  As Dante once explained, “The moment went by so quick!”

And that’s true for us as adults, too.  When we have a thought that we don’t know what to do with, we may think we’re burying it or hiding it, but in just a moment that thought wraps itself into a feeling, and we are left wondering why we reacted so strongly.

I think that we often do this with the people we love most, and we do it with God too.  Despite their past love and all of the reasons we have to trust them with our thoughts & feelings, yet when a moment arises, we think the worst of them – then hide that thought – then cry out because we feel unloved.

The question for today is “are my thoughts hurting or healing?”  When your feelings are hurting, especially when things feel out of control, see if you can ask yourself, “what was the thought before the feeling?”  Naming the thought lets you deal with the root of the feeling so that you can heal in body, mind, and spirit.  I saw the relief in Dante’s face when he could address the thought, and it helped he and I to heal our relationship from that point onward.  Today’s question gives us the opportunity to look at our thoughts courageously.

A = thinking
B = feeling
C = doing
Where are you most comfortable?
In general, the closer to the center of the diagram,
the healthier a person is (physically, mentally, & emotionally)

Day 18 of 20 *Questions*: So say I lived in that fabulous house in Tuscany, with untold wealth, a gorgeous, adoring mate, and a full staff of servants… then what?

So… now what?  The biggest discovery is: I’m still me.  The things that really challenged me over the past few years?  Still here.  Still a part of both my world and my core identity.  I still want to eat less sugar and get better abs; I still want to snap at my kids less; I still create arguments over little things; it still takes me 20 minutes to get out the door once I’ve got my keys in hand.

Now, living in paradise makes it easier to accept all of those things.  Living the dream life is great, and I really encourage you to write down your top 10 dreams, and see which ones call to you the loudest, and see what concrete things you can do for 10 minutes most days to reach out towards those dreams.  But don’t pretend that your dream life will make you any less yourself.  You have to love yourself, who you are, right now, because otherwise getting closer to your dreams won’t bring you joy or pleasure.  Start with loving the you that came up with big dreams, and then give that You what s/he needs to come alive.  That way, if the dreams don’t pan out, you will still have lived those days/months/years in love rather than in lusting after something that didn’t turn out to be yours.

I am definitely still me.  And I think, that is a blessing – that in meeting up with my dreams, I didn’t lose myself.


Day 16 of 20 *Questions*: How can I keep myself absolutely safe?

I can’t (and of course, part of the answer there is “duh!”)  Let today’s question count, though, as a full category of Continuum Questions.  CQ’s, as we’ll call them, are questions that let us acknowledge that everything we do is far from absolute.  Everything falls on a continuum.

Take the safety question.  I was asking a mom here if we could carpool, and she asked if I had a carseat for each boy.  Well, we were told not to bother bringing carseats, and it’s true that they are used mostly by foreigners.  When I said, “nope, we don’t have carseats, we just use seatbelts.”  Her face fell.  It looked like, by her reaction, I was about as safe as the many parents here who let little kids ride in the front seat, unbuckled, with the window down and their head peering out.  Like there was no continuum – it was either extreme high-end safety, or nothing.  There was no step-down, no in-between.

I encountered the same thing while pregnant.  I wanted a doctor who wanted to avoid c-sections (in NJ the c-section rate was between 37-45% – the World Health Organization says anything over 15% is excessive and increases risks).  But to the OB I first saw, everything was a crisis, and she said to me, “If I see any sign of distress, or if labor slows too much, you *will* have a c-section.   Don’t you want the best for your baby?”  Again, an absolute – as though if I want to consider options, I don’t love my baby.  Honestly.

I talked before about target markets, and the developed world is a target market for FEAR!  Anything that seems dangerous is worth spending infinite amounts on.  There are no acceptable risks.  I think that to those in 2/3 nations, where really bad things happen all the time (how many families have lost someone to starvation or malaria, totally preventable deaths, just while I wrote this article?) – people face their fear in a different way.  Instead of being paralyzed, they try to get their kids to school, try to make a difference for their future – they try to inch over on their safety continuum.  They don’t pretend that life is all-or-nothing; they do their best with what they can.

This question is meant to free us from the paralysis that comes from demanding total safety.  And as a CQ, it invites us to look at other continuums in life – of health, of greatness, of learning, of hospitality, of so many things.  If you demand the tip-top of everything, you’ll exhaust yourself.  Accept that you’re on a continuum, and that what you do matters, but you’ll never get to the absolute.   That means that the world can still surprise you.  And that is the beginning of a whole other conversation… (the surprises of grace and mercy and hope and love.)

Day 15 of 20 *Questions*: Where could I work more and achieve less?

Shoot.  I actually mis-typed that.  But it’s all good.  We gotta roll with these things.

I read a suggestion that to learn better time-management, a first step is to have a day where you work at 60% of your potential.

Let that sink in for a moment.  60%.

I love it.

And why?  Because when we try to work at 110% every day, we lose track of what we’re doing right.  We’re too busy doing it all.  When we work at 110%, sure, everything might get done, but most likely priorities were not lived out, processes were not tended well for completing those tasks in the future, and the people most pleased are probably not the people in your life who most matter.  Working at 110% means we probably haven’t made the hard choices.  For me, when I have a reasoned list of top priorities and I’ve done them well enough, I give myself a 15-minute break.  It’s a reward, sure, but the effect is also that I catch my breath and can decide what direction I want/need to go in next.  Maybe it’s returning to the things done “well enough” to make them better; maybe it’s something new that came up during the day; maybe it’s going back to my to-do list to pick out one more thing that will really ice the cake for a productive day.

Working at 60% for a day would probably be hard for most of us.  We have jobs that matter, whether they matter because of their concrete impact or because they bring home a paycheck.  But the theory behind this is sound: one day at 60% will teach us that we won’t die if we do less than the 110% that’s killing us.  It’ll also teach us to choose priorities – we know that some % of what we do is fluff/padding/not essential/not urgent, but we usually don’t know how much.  So see what makes the cut in doing 60%.  Also, doing the 60% lets you look around, see what might really help your workplace but nobody has time to notice.  Maybe it’ll help you answer the original question for today:  “Where could I work less and achieve more?”

And under all of it, I bet if you have a day at 60%, you’ll have a hard time restraining yourself to do just that much, and you will give yourself credit for how much you are already doing and how hard you work.

The question is, do you tell your boss or co-workers that “today is 60% day for me”?  I’ll leave that answer up to you!!!

Day 14 of 20 *Questions*: What do I love to practice?

This question is another goodie.  If you answer it, you thereby admit to probably “should be doing more of it.”  For me, I’m teaching Dante guitar so we’re practicing together (he’s just building up his fingertip calluses), trying to run more than 15 minutes without wanting a walking break, and this blog series is practice daily writing.  And of course I try to practice my faith – mostly in prayer and listening to Christian music – which doubles as language practice when I listen to music in Bahasa Malaysia.

When Dante and I are feeling down, or just antsy, or frustrated, we each have a go-to list entitled “Things that I feel better after doing.”  We made the list when we were in a *good* mood.  And you know, the hardest thing when we’re down is mustering the strength to just look at the list.  Because we know if we look at it we will find things we want to do, and we won’t be down anymore, and we don’t think we have the energy for that.  It’s nonsensical, but very real.

Practicing is hard.  It means commitment, focus, energy, time management, and knowledge of self.  Practicing is really hard.  But this question reminds us that we are often doing what we love.  It takes the sting or the delay out of starting what we’re practicing.

It is said that in our world, where many people work at jobs that don’t create a finished project, we need to do something each day with a tangible outcome.  Woodworking, sketching, and cooking are options.  I also include things that are tangible if not lasting – giving a massage, playing an instrument, having a 30-second dance party.  Whatever lets you create something wonderful without demanding that that thing be perfect.  Find something that you love to practice, and know what you will feel better after doing.  Those are your “start” buttons.