Learning to Celebrate in the Middle of Pain

by Andrea Kolber

Earlier this year, I chose the word ‘celebration’ as my #oneword365 challenge. Essentially, it’s the word I felt led to focus on and cultivate in my life for 2016. Little did I know, just a week after choosing celebration I would be forced to question whether I believe what I wrote in my original post:

“I have become unwilling to sacrifice the beauty of moments for potential pain that may or may not come.”

You see, in those early days of January, I was about 7 weeks pregnant with a baby our family had longed and ached for. Of course, I felt ecstatic but also scared. As anyone who’s wanted anything knows, it’s not easy to wait for something we want and it’s even trickier to trust while we watch our longing come to fruition.

Nearly a week after my declaration of celebration—we learned our baby, our long desired and dreamed of baby, did not have much chance of viability. In an early ultrasound, I heard the dreaded words no momma wants to hear, “this isn’t what we’re supposed to be seeing here according to your dates. We have to wait to know for sure, but it doesn’t look like your baby is developing.”

Click here to keep reading over at the Huffington Post. 

Un-Stuck {We Have Permission to Change}

by Andrea Kolber

The dark sky is swirling above and clouds are forming. Like the weather, I feel gloomy and my soul feels stuck; the sense nothing I do will create movement or change. I wonder whether I will address this issue or that one? Do I put my energy here, here or here? My vision feels blurry and frankly I just want to nap.

Stuck-ness can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not equipped to change it. 

I sigh deeply and I feel disappointment lay heavy like a wet blanket, surrounding me, but not with comfort. And one more time I think, "it’s still not happening."

I wonder if you’ve been there?

Maybe you didn't get recognized or you've had another argument with your spouse. Maybe a person you depend on let you down deeply. 

Maybe it’s a church situation that causes you to question faith. It might even be the exhaustion that comes from parenting small people EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. 

Any of those events can trigger the feeling.

But each of those moments places us at a crossroads. Does this current reality define me or is there a deeper truth to lean into? How do we honor our current pain while also creating momentum to move forward?

And when I say momentum, I mean the curious thing which makes you feel motivated and strangely capable.

I remember, in what seems another lifetime, feeling it on the basketball court. It’s the energy that comes with a steal and a made shot; the look teammates share when they see each other's determination. It’s like someone put fire in your step and precision in your movement and it's palpable. 

That’s momentum.

I’ve felt it in everyday life too. Several good breaks paired with a wise decision-- maybe a job you were aiming for and the house you wanted worked out. It could even look like people in your tribe standing confidently by your side. What an interesting phenomenon momentum creates.

When we break down these two opposites (stuck vs. momentum), it can be easy to dismiss them to luck, or blessing. And truthfully, I do believe there is always an element of blessing each of us experiences in any positive situation. God is gracious to us in that way.

But we have some choice too.

I love the Serenity Prayer as a resource, as it touches on the choices we face:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In the murky places of stuck-ness the Serenity prayer reminds us God is our source and giver of peace for things we cannot change. And, He is the highest resource of courage for things we can. Finally, it's a reminder that we must bring good judgement as we navigate the difference. 

I find much of our stuck-ness is born from missing these principles. We have bought into the lie that we're unable to change anything OR everything is ours to change. Both are oppressive. 

Like shackles holding us down, trying to control what's not ours causes us to feel powerless. And denying the grief from that reality adds more chains. 

When we accept reality, we can begin to embrace the possibility we have power to make good choices and this, dear reader, is where momentum is born:

Doing the next right thing.

Even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential, action can be the next right thing. And when we put our energy into those decisions, they add up.

Like a player who lays her heart on the court building momentum with her team, we have that opportunity too. We may not reap rewards immediately, but we may just become un-stuck. May we remember and own the permission each of us has to change. 

Post adapted and edited from archives.   

Finding Hope in the Restorer {the One Who Will Make Things Right}

by Andrea Kolber

We don’t have to look far to see folks who are discouraged and tired and worn in our country. In my little corner of the universe I’m seeing it a lot. I see protestors who are sick with grief. I see cops who are maxed out and broken. I see mommas who are weary from watching and caring for kiddos, all while seeing the world crumble around them. I see friends who are exhausted from life and too many cares to count. I see a culture that is grieving, over stimulated, and emotionally dysregulated. Most of us have never learned how to feel feelings, so when we are forced to confront deep pain we have no resources to turn to.  

It’s easy, don’t you think, to want to stick your head in a hole when life feels big and sad? Or on the other side, we’re ready to fight like the world is ending. It’s the fight or flight response giving us a big old reminder that it’s alive and kicking.

This week as I sat in church, also weary from a world imploding, I felt so encouraged by the simple remembrance that Jesus is our good shepherd. Right now our church is doing a series on the Psalms, and this week we read Psalm 23 (NRSV).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Although so many pieces of this psalm speak to me, the part that feels like a cold drink of water on a scorching Denver day is this: “He restores my soul” (v. 3a). Because in a way, I think this is what we’re looking for—the one who will restore us. We’re like wanderers, asking again and again—where is the one who will make us whole?

I’m so grateful for this reminder about the truest nature of who the Lord is to each of us. I am constantly tempted to be the person who has the answers, or who knows the stats, or the background, or whatever (as if I could fulfill that role, anyway). And yes, I have a part to play in our culture and in “being the change I want to see.” But you know what changes my actions from striving to living well; to living out of wholeness instead of shame? 

It is the reminder that He is the restorer. He is the one who fills us up when we’re empty and weary.

Out of this posture, out of connecting and knowing the restorer, I become brave and bold to go into the world and lift up the arms of my brothers and sisters. Because I know where the well of life is, I can take a drink and pass it on to others. Better yet, I'll bring them right up to the edge. And maybe this would be the greatest achievement of my life, to be someone who points to the restorer. Because this I know for sure, my well goes dry fast. I so quickly run out of compassion, empathy, and energy-- but I am grateful to be connected to one who loves each of us so well. 

Reader, may we reach for the restorer of our souls. May we find that he is reaching for us too. 

5 Ways to be Kind to Yourself When You're in the Middle of the Storm

by Andrea Kolber

I find my natural tendency when I’m going through intense seasons or events is to push harder. Some part of me has been programed to believe the only way through difficult times is to ‘buck up.’ Ironically, this type of thinking has often led me to soul sucking, dreary places—so much for being helpful.

To be clear, I’m all for resiliency and strength. However, those characteristics are only attained when we know how to care for our soul; they are consequences of caring for ourselves well. What I’ve found is when we live our lives believing we can simply push through all the hard things—we may find one day we are either:

              a)    physically sick from pushing too hard

              b)   self medicating to numb our emotional experience

              c)    emotionally burnt out

Why can I guess these options with some certainty? Great question. For one, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to believe there’s no option other than to try harder. But secondly, because I see it all the time in my counseling practice. Folks who have the best intentions but never learned basic elements of self care and boundaries find themselves depleted, depressed, and frustrated because they can’t simply will themselves out of hard times.

And so as my wise supervisor once told me, I’ll tell you: “You don’t need to try harder. Try softer.”

The essence of this idea is instead of pushing harder, we may actually need to do less. Instead of controlling more, we may need to lay it down in surrender. Instead of looking to please folks around us, we may actually need to allow disappointment. Try softer.  

With that in mind, may I just encourage you to do self-care whether you’re in the storm or not? But, if you are in the storm, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to be kind to yourself right now:

1. Have excellent boundaries

You know the thing that is super draining to you and you’re only there because you feel guilty if you miss it? May I encourage you to step away from it for now? If and when you have the margin and desire to return, go ahead and go back. But do yourself a favor and give yourself permission to say no.

2. Do the life giving thing

What is feeding your soul right now? What causes you to most deeply connect with who God made you? Do that! It might be a hike, a beautiful novel, simply paying attention to the sunset, or connecting with a faith community. I think God gave all of us ability to detect what is actually life giving to us if only we take a risk and trust it.

3. Be with people who get it/Reach out

It is always helpful to have people who cause us to feel known and loved. But the time we need those people the most? Well, that’s now. So make a call, shoot a text, or an email or whatever—let them know you’re struggling. Allow those people to come beside you in the ways they can and encourage you. It’s so tempting to want to isolate ourselves when things are hard—but don’t. This is the time you need your people.

4. Listen to your body

This one is hard, especially in a culture that tells us what our body needs instead of helping us listen to what our body is saying. But hear this: your body is wise and will give you clues if you’ll listen. If we can actually pay attention, your body will tell you a lot. Are you tired? Go to bed early. Hungry? Please, please, eat. Feel cooped up—go out. This is simple in many ways, but learning to give ourselves what we actually need can be life changing.

5. Look Up

If there is ever a time to know we aren’t alone, it’s when we’re hurting. I have the honor of chatting with people who are in many different places in their faith walk. What I’ve come to realize though, is the depth of resource we experience when we realize how loved and cared for we are by our creator. In the midst of this big, beautiful, complicated universe we exist and we are known. You have permission to be awed by that truth, reader. And alternately, if you're having a hard time connecting with that, I hope you'll be gentle with yourself and allow yourself simply to notice the loveliness around you. 

Be well, friends and try softly.