The Spiritual Act of Honoring Pain

by Andrea Kolber


"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other." -Mother Theresa

I awoke this morning and the air felt heavy, maybe because sometimes grief can be sensed before it is spoken. I looked at my phone and saw an alert telling me the deadliest shooting in modern history occurred last night.

Is it stranger that this happened, or is it worse that these horrific events don’t seem so unique anymore?

My husband was starting the morning routine with our daughter, and so I stole those five minutes to read my Bible, and I felt, I’m sure like many of you—angry, sad, and confused. Why God? Why?

pic: James Walsh via Unsplash

pic: James Walsh via Unsplash

All morning I’ve been trying to take it slow and articulate in some logical way, what is on my heart. Mostly, this is what comes out: how do we engage, or for some of us--re-engage--the practice of valuing the personhood of others? How do we recognize they too are the image of God (imago dei)? How do we slow down the escalation of hate and fear that seem pervasive and replace it with curiosity and respect?

How do we keep our hearts soft, grieve our sorrows, but maintain a fierce resolve to fight for goodness—for God’s kingdom come here on earth?

Sometimes I think when the pain feels too much; we become hardened to the plight of those around us. We create our own narrative of why they are less valuable or less worthy of human dignity. In my clinical opinion, this is the reason we usually stop valuing the stories of others, it simply feels too much, and we don’t have the resources to process the pain.

But what if God is asking us to care for our hearts, as they are the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23), but also, to never ever, ever, stop believing others matter too.

What if part of the way we begin to change our culture is exactly as what Jesus said, “love your neighbor, as yourself ” (Mark 12:31b, emphasis mine).

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As a counselor, I too often have seen folks become numb and overwhelmed amidst pain and trauma. Always, always this shows up in other ways in their lives. We simply don’t get a pass on reality. If we don’t process the legitimate emotions we experience it will come calling somehow, someway. It shows up as addiction, or panic attacks, or relational issues, or unexpected anger, or complicated grief, or even physical ailments.

We simply can’t pretend something isn’t happening.

Our body tells the truth of the experience. As Bessel Van Der Kolk’s wise book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” attests to, we are whole people and what is not dealt with will always come calling.

And so my hope and challenge for you today is this, what practices do you need in your life to give way to legitimate expressions of grief and emotion? Who do you need to call? Do you need to make an appointment with a counselor or a pastor? 

Where are you stifling these experiences and how has that affected your ability to connect or make space for the Imago Dei in others?

This is what I know to be true: God has made us for connection. And if we choose to numb, to leave, to disconnect, to shame others, so we don’t have to deal with the sorrow—we will always see the consequences in other ways.

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May we care for our hearts and souls, and those around us well today. May we be empowered by the God who loves us to choose the harder, more courageous way of love.

Grace and peace, dear readers.

 


What I Learned This Summer (Or Why I Didn't Blog Much This Year)

by Andrea Kolber


As you may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been scarce on my blog this last year—but especially during the summer.

The truth is, we have been in the middle of high levels of transitions with moving, getting kiddos settled, managing our own emotions around all the upheaval, and simply trying to live. One of my goals in my online sphere is to attempt to practice what I preach. Obviously, I don’t practice it perfectly either (!), but if I had a client who told me they had a baby, were moving to a new town, selling/buying a house, and saying goodbye to beloved friends—I’d likely counsel them to give themselves permission to step back from non-essential responsibilities.

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So here we are; trying to both follow my goal to continue working on writing my book while also allowing myself to go as slow as needed.

It’s exciting to feel inspired by something—but let’s face it—it’s hard work, too. And so with all these things occurring, this little blog space has gone a bit to the wayside.

Recently though, I read Addie Zimmerman’s blog, who also took a note from Emily Freeman, and they were both writing on what they learned this summer. Have you read either one of those lovely blogger’s writings? They both make wide spaces available to people and I am grateful for their work.

And so, I realized I wanted to write out some of my thoughts about what I’ve been learning this summer. Here they are:

1.     Remembering to embrace my limits.

I know, it seems pretty obvious, but I have been learning this one in a new way this summer. As the needs of our family have increased in this season, I saw how much I had to return to the reality that I am finite. Each of us can only do so much at one time, and that’s okay. Plus, my limits look different than your limits—and this is also okay. The beautiful thing I continue to remember is that God meets us in our lack, and this can be a gift if we let it.  

2.     Getting outside is the best thing.

I’ve always adored nature, but this summer I was reminded how much I need to see God’s handiwork. In the midst of feeling overwhelmed and taxed by moving boxes, construction, and so so many jackhammers—I experienced the wonder of getting outside and it was awe inspiring and needed. One of the amazing aspects of this is that God designed it this way. Plus, research supports the reality that getting outside can literally change our moods.

3.     Goals are helpful.

Approximately 7 weeks ago, I realized that if I am actually going to write this book, I better get myself in gear. I had been working on in it in spurts and fits. Between naps and tantrums and outings I had tried to work it in—but I was finding it extremely difficult. So, one day I decided I would write everyday and aim for 400-500 words. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been helping. There have been a few days, especially after sleepless nights with littles, when I have barely been able to squeak out anything of value. But it’s felt encouraging to see even if the process is slow, it’s still going.

4.     Even when we feel untethered, we can still find home.

My most recent post, way back in July, was all about feeling untethered. If you didn’t get to read it, you can catch it here. I’m happy to say, we’re starting to feel grounded once again. It’s certainly been a process, but one I’m grateful for. One of the most humbling aspects about all this, is that it reminds me we will always be a bit untethered on this earth; there won't ever be a time when we are completely settled. This is because as a final destination, we were made for heaven.  It's a paradox that we can feel both at home here in our life and with our people, and yet long for more. With this in mind, I'm reminded to embrace the tension and the bittersweet of loving life right now and longing for the fullness God promises us. 

And so I'm grateful. Grateful for the good and the hard, and the still in process parts of the summer. 

How about you? What did you learn this summer? Tell me below--I'd love to hear!

 

 


First We Say Goodbye {On Feeling Untethered}

by Andrea Kolber


In the last 15 years, I have moved at least ten times. Each move caused me to feel a bit untethered—as though the world wouldn’t know me anymore once I left my address. Almost like the physical place is why people knew me at all, and once I left it, my permanence in the world would be gone and my place in it erased.

There were the times in college when moving felt as simple as throwing my stuff in a bag, grabbing my journal, books, and a few pictures. I sensed the whole world was available to me, and it felt as ripe as a strawberry ready to pick. In those days, I mostly tried to ignore the gaping hole of change and would try to only embrace what lie ahead.

There were the times after college when my heart had been broken; in a way that felt irreparable, and I moved with a sense of hope, but also the weight of sorrow and grief. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew—with certainty—it would be better than where I was currently. By the grace of God, something in me pushed and moved into this truth, and convinced my unadventurous side to move thousands of miles from nearly all the people I knew.

And then once I lived in Denver, after I met my husband, moves didn’t feel quite so scary—until we moved into the house on Flower. Then, I felt excited but also overwhelmed. The house was built in 1954, but had been remodeled sometime in the early 70’s. As we surveyed the market at the time, we knew this house had mounds of potential. But I was also too wary to put my purse on the floor the first time we looked around.

It was that bad.

The green brick was intense. The yard was an almost half an acre jungle. The paneling made me dizzy—and the carpeting in the bathroom nearly made me cry.

Actually, it did make me cry.  

We were also in the midst of parenting a fiery 11 month old, B was switching jobs, I was building my private practice and we were very, very tired.

Tia (11 months) and I while project managing our house (also, notice the Tiki bar in the back corner!) 

Tia (11 months) and I while project managing our house (also, notice the Tiki bar in the back corner!) 

So for all those reasons, it seemed like a good time to take on a major housing project, and the house on Flower became our other baby.

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As we gained footing with our remodel and house eventually became livable, I was faced with the root reason I felt terrified. It wasn’t so much the house, as I had thought (although that would continue to be it’s own thing!), it was having to start over again in a new address—but this time as a mom.

I had to find friends. I had to find mom friends. I had to figure out what to do with my child on the short, dark winter days and the hot, winding summer days too. I had to figure out how to stay calm when the day seemed like it would never end and I all I wanted was to take a nap or run away.

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The long and short of it is I did do those things. God grew me in remarkable ways as I learned to mother. It was hard and awkward, but I made dear friends. B and I learned our rhythm again as a couple. I began to find my people. I learned how to lean in (usually!), even when I felt like it was impossible.

One of my favorite places in our house is to watch the sunset from our kitchen sink. 

One of my favorite places in our house is to watch the sunset from our kitchen sink. 

And this is why, as we pack up our house on Flower, I am feeling a bit untethered again. This house represents a season that was beautiful, good, hard, bittersweet, and fleeting. My baby learned to walk here. We grieved infertility and a miscarriage here. I took a chance on writing here. I have soothed hundreds of tantrums here. I have made friends here. I have said goodbye here. I have welcomed our rainbow baby here.

We have lived here.

I feel certain we will feel rooted once again, and I am excited and hopeful for our coming change. But first, it feels right to say: thanks for the memories Flower Street.


Small: An Update on my #OneWord365

by Andrea Kolber


Back in January, when my eyes were still bleary from sleepless nights with my newborn, I chose a word for the year. It felt ambitious to pick one at all, frankly. I felt infinitely grateful for the new life in front of me, but also insanely tired and even taking out the trash felt like too much.

And so the word that came to me, after prayer and waiting, was this: small.

Now here I am, five months into 2017, and small feels like God’s grace to me in this season. I’ve learned much about myself recently. I’ve learned how hard it can be to respect my own boundaries; how even when I say I’ll give myself permission to do less, I still struggle under the weight of my own expectations. I’ve learned how humbling it is for me to admit how weak I truly am. Not because I’m incapable, but because some seasons require us to admit our frailty so we can grow stronger.

And so this word continues to feel like a gift to me because I am most naturally a big picture person. I often get caught up in the enormity of a dream or a hope and it can either wash me away or cause me to feel tremendous pressure. This journey toward accepting that I am finite and small is a good one because it feels like a continual grounding of my soul. It serves to root me in truth and reality and in the process I remember, again, that while God made me capable and gifted in some things, I am also limited; I need him and others deeply. 

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Often times in therapy or with any change, it seems it follows a framework. Generally, it goes like this:

First, the acceptance of reality as it stands.

Second, gaining resources to support a person in the change.

Third, utilizing the resources so a person can integrate their new way of being into reality and allow their brain to continue to re-wire.

And finally, repeat the steps again and again as we work toward change.

Any of these steps can take days, months, years, or even decades. And so while it seems simple, it’s not. I bring this up though, because in my own process of honoring the word small, I see myself beginning to utilize the resources in my life to actually love my smallness.

Instead of being angry I can’t do more, it’s beginning to feel a bit like a launching pad so I can focus on the details that are important, but I frequently pass over in my haste to accomplish what feels big. I’ve been trying different methods to help myself stay with the small and some of them have been fantastically helpful while others have been an utter failure (Yay, Sacred Ordinary Days planner, boo to post it notes everywhere!) The piece that feels like success however, is being willing to try it differently; to keep moving toward growth.

So today, I’m focusing on practicing what I preach--attempting to set about a short list that needs accomplishing; doing humble but important work in the midst of my ordinary life; focusing on the next right thing.

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I’d love to hear from you. Did you pick a word for 2017? How’s it going so far?