Confessions of a Former Tomboy

Where I grew up, being a guy had its perks. You could take your shirt off, you had premium dibs on the newest Pokemon card being traded in the neighborhood, you could run faster, jump higher, play football better…the list goes on and on. Being the only girl in my family, plus living in a neighborhood where boys outnumbered girls 4:1, I was a minority. So what’s a girl to do?

Become a tomboy.

Tea parties, doll houses, and playing dress up? How about Nintendo 64, castles, and climbing trees? Being a tomboy was so much fun and taught me some really valuable life lessons: like how to hold my own in SuperSmash Bros. or how to beat up someone Dragon Ball-Z style. Yet there’s one lesson I learned that I’m still trying to reverse…that women are weak.

I looked at my femininity in terms of what I was lacking, how I stacked up in comparison to the guys, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The more I learned about myself though, the more I appreciated my femininity. I think of the women in my life and I see safe harbors where my complex, worried little mind can find support and rest. I’ve found power inside of me that I didn’t have when I was trying to be like the guys. There’s insightfulness about life: an ability to see past the facades of a situation and into the heart of the matter. But more than that…the heart of a woman sees because the heart of a woman can nurture. That softness that I tried to cover up with mud and smack talk is actually my greatest asset.

Don’t get me wrong…that tomboy is still inside me. The ability to beat (some) guys in sports is one of my greatest pleasures in life…along with smack talking. It really is a gift. But I don’t hide behind those things anymore.

Fast forward 15 years and you’ll find a woman who still cringes at the mention of a slumber party, a group hug, a mani/pedi, etc. but whose heart finds freedom in the presence of other women.

You’ll also find new strength that rivals Super Saiyan.

 

super saiyan

But mainly, you’ll find a beautiful mystery that commands respect.

As Fulton Sheen said,

“To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, and goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

Here’s to being a woman!

-Sharon

 

It’s a Love Story, Baby Just Say “I’m scared?”

I found myself in the French Quarter last weekend inviting strangers to come into the Cathedral to pray, light a candle, and just be with God in Adoration. If you know me, you know this is wayyyy out of my comfort zone. On top of that, I was burnt out from a hectic week and just wanted to reunite with my bed, but I sucked it up and went because I already made the plans with my friends.

So there I was, walking back and forth in front of the Cathedral with my friend (Hailey), nervously eyeing our next attempt when I asked her what kind of instrument one of the street performers was playing. She said, “I don’t know, but you should go ask him then tell him about the Cathedral.” Now he was surrounded by other musicians and some others who were talking to them, so my mind screamed “NO! ABORT MISSION! TOO MANY HUMANS!” But being the overly competitive person that I am, I knew I couldn’t turn down this challenge. So instead, I spotted three guys on a bench who were eyeing the lantern I was holding, one with a bottle of liquor. Challenge accepted. We made our way over to them and I gave the usual spiel, “Hey guys, I don’t know if you’re interested, but we have the Cathedral open tonight if you want to light a candle or say some prayers.” Instead, one of them held out his hand for the lantern. Another asked for some food because they were hungry. Everything in me started waving red flags. “Sharon, what are you doing? These are three grown men, it’s dark, and it’s New Orleans. Be smart.” But I couldn’t leave and Hailey wasn’t turning away either.

After talking to them for a little while, the guy with the liquor asked us to pray over him. As we took his hands and started praying, his body started to shake with sobs. Each prayer we said over him resulted in a tear-filled nod. We asked God to remind him of his worth, to be near him, to heal him, to allow him to see himself through God’s eyes. As we finished, he overflowed with fears…he was an evil man, he claimed. He had done terrible things, he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol for 35 years and he knew he was going to die soon…where was he going to go? He feared the answer was hell, but he wanted to be with God. I could see the sincerity in his eyes. My heart ached for this man.

After this, they asked us to pray over the other two guys, and as we were praying, a fourth guy came up and put his hand on mine. When we finished, he began praying over them too, pouring out gratitude to God for this moment. I couldn’t believe that this was my life…I don’t do things like this! I don’t pray over random men in the French Quarter.

But for the rest of the night and every day since then, I’ve come back to this same point: that first man wanted to be with God. I wanted him to be with God. But most of all, the one who ached and wanted this the most was God Himself.

It feels like a bad romantic comedy. The guy and the girl both love each other and want to be together, but they have terrible communication skills, so it never works out. He thinks she hates him because he made some mistakes, but if only he knew how much she forgives him! If only he could see a fraction of the love she has for him. Instead, he keeps looking away, keeps blocking her out.

If only I could tell that man that the only thing standing between him and God is himself. How much would his life change from this simple truth? Maybe he could go to treatment and end his addictions? What if his testimony could save so many other souls? Does he have a family? What if he could reconcile with them? All of these possibilities for his life run through my mind, and suddenly, his fear of God’s mercy seems ridiculous.

If only I could tell myself that the only thing standing between myself and God is myself. How much would my life change from this simple truth? What would my life look like? Where is God calling me?

And suddenly, I realize we’re not that different. We’re both letting fear move our feet. Every day we come up to the two roads diverged in a wood…how long will I let fear stop me from taking the road less traveled?

a

-Sharon

Speaking Anxiety’s Language

A little over a year ago, I had a moment where I realized I didn’t recognize myself. There I was: about to start my master’s degree in Counseling and move back to Hammond (where all my friends lived), but I couldn’t make it through a day without bursting into tears. I had anxiety. In fact, I had been having “anxiety attacks” for the past year prior to this moment. But this time, I happened to look in the mirror and saw swollen eyes that were utterly unhappy. I also saw two choices: start taking medicine or change your life.

I was SICK of anxiety and was getting rid of it one way or another.

I’m so happy to tell you this story has a good ending. I sit here typing a year later with renewed strength because I look in the mirror and see laughter, tears, fear, joy, etc. but behind each of those, I see me. I see peace. How did I do it? I started to speak anxiety’s language. Now that I’m beginning to understand how it speaks, I have power over it. So without further ado, here is what my anxiety taught me:

Before I go on, let me clarify something: I’m writing this from the standpoint of someone who is not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I’m talking about those of us who at some points in our lives experience bouts of anxiety, but who can still function relatively normally. 

What is anxiety?

First, we need to look at what anxiety is…according to the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns.”

When I was in the midst of anxiety, I would’ve circled, highlighted, bolded, and italicized the word “intrusive.” I saw it as an enemy who was infiltrating my mind and showed no mercy. I felt ravaged. Now, I look at this and focus on the words “emotion” “feelings” and “thoughts.” What is something they all have in common? They can be changed (enter Hallelujah chorus). Emotions, feelings, and thoughts are fickle little things. Seriously. Keep an emotion journal and you’d be amazed at how frequently they change, but the good news is we can use this to our advantage. We can affect our anxiety.

Does anxiety have a purpose?

Go on Facebook and you see so many people sharing articles and pictures about anxiety with the caption “My life.” Or talk to people and hear how so many people deal with anxiety on a daily basis and have just accepted it as a part of their life. I can’t be the only one who sees a problem with this… When did we as a society begin to simply accept anxiety as an unwelcome house guest who has overstayed his welcome? “The Guest House” by Rumi comes to mind as I’m writing this.

guest house

One interpretation of this poem could be that whenever we are visited by anxiety, it comes with a purpose. Not just any purpose, but a good purpose! So often though, anxiety is banished to that spare room we never go in. We know it’s there, and although we think it’s tucked away, others notice. It interferes, so we paint anxiety as a negative. But what if it was a positive? What if anxiety could prompt you to make a life change for the better?

During that bout of anxiety I mentioned above, I would have sworn that I had no idea what was causing it. I was a victim to this faceless fear…a hero, if you will, battling to overcome this cross I had to bear. But I was lying to myself. My anxiety had a purpose, but I was ignoring it.  I knew what was causing it…the relationship I was in. I knew it was time to end it, but I didn’t want to. I was contemplating taking medicine rather than give up that person, that relationship.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of us fall in this category: paralyzed by fear. Fear of pain, fear of failure…whatever your fear is. Although I can list reasons why I hate this fear, the fact of the matter is, it refuses to let me live in a state of deception; rather, it relentlessly reminds me that things are not “fine.” Whether it be an external or internal problem, my anxiety’s purpose is to ultimately lead me to deeper healing and growth. As the poem said, “He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” So far, this has proven true 100% of the time.

If you want to see if this is you, start keeping an anxiety journal. Every time you feel anxious, write down why (what triggered it). After one hour of doing this, I stopped because I had enough evidence to tell me what I knew but didn’t want to hear. Even if you’re not ready to make a change, it’s so important to be able to name where that anxiety is coming from. I’d say it’s a crucial step in overcoming the vicious cycle.

Ok, now what?

Assuming you agree with me that anxiety has a purpose, it isn’t some emotion we’re just meant to live with, you’re probably interested to hear what you can do to get back your life. When I was reading up on it, time and time again, people would suggest simple things that centered around one idea: Get out of your head!

Like the definition mentioned above, anxiety consists of intrusive thoughts and concerns. Have you ever tried to tell yourself to stop thinking something? If you’re like me, it led to even more frustration. That’s why we have to go into battle equipped. Instead of focusing on what we shouldn’t be doing (the absence of thought), focus on a positive. Not focusing on anxiety is going to free up a lot of time…make sure you have something else to fill it. What this came down to for me was an overall rediscovering of who I was: what I enjoy, what I’m good at, what fills me with energy.

Rediscovering myself was the main thing that gave me the strength to do that one thing I was avoiding, and it’s something I continually go back to even today. Self care has been my key to a balanced life, and it starts with the questions of  “what do I want to do?” and “what do I need?” Read books, go on a picnic with your friend, kick butt in soccer, paint, walk your dog(s), listen to loud music, volunteer somewhere, go driving, watch birds…really anything that brings you back to the present moment. Anything that reminds you that beauty exists and that you are capable of creating it. In other words, do something that reminds you of your self-worth. You are worth taking care of.

Be Patient with the Process

While I’m sharing what steps I took to control my anxiety, it’s only fair to tell you that this was one of the hardest things I ever did. I started off by saying that I couldn’t recognize myself when I started, so coming back from that was a long road. Months of fighting with myself, of getting it right then falling on my face, and overall, a sense of weakness and disappointment.

However, within that first week after I decided to start taking back my life from anxiety, I remember I happened to look in a mirror (I guess I do that a lot…) and realized that for the first time in a year, I was proud of myself. I wasn’t “damaged goods!” I think it was the first time that year I genuinely smiled at myself. Even though my eyes were still puffy from crying the day before, and I had spent most of that day drowning in my emotions, I could see something deeper. A breath of relief was starting to emerge in my chest. That thick cloth over my eyes was lifted for a moment. I was on my way to healing. It took time to undo those bad brain habits I had adopted…those obsessive thoughts and triggers. But in the midst of those months, I had little moments like the one above to hold onto. The ones that showed me I was growing and reminded me what I was working towards. It’s a painful process to change your life, or really to change your brain, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Anxiety as an Asset

Some of us are more prone to anxiety, and we live much of our lives viewing it as a cross, a burden. But if we approach it from the way I’m suggesting, it can be used for good. Instead of sticking it in a spare room and blocking out its voice, what if we greeted it at the door and listened to what it has to say? Imagine that for a second: You could stop yourself before you get burnt out from work. You could avoid a painful relationship/break-up. You could break out of the fear and begin to see your true capacity. But most importantly, if you stopped fighting your body and instead worked with it, I think you’d find peace.

One way of looking at living with anxiety is to think of our bodies as being sensitive. Others seem to live in monster trucks that can bulldoze past the “Lane Closed” signs and orange cones, whereas we’re in our Prius taking the detour. I don’t know what it feels like to live in a monster truck, but I’ve come to appreciate my little car that stops me from danger (plus it’s great on gas mileage).

Also, I’ve found that those of us who deal with anxiety are also perceptive to other emotions.  Ever since I’ve begun the healing process, I’ve noticed empathy and compassion come naturally to me because I’m so in touch with emotion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been able to use these skills for good. Every area of your life could use someone who is more compassionate…more merciful, but if you’re stuck in your head, you miss so many opportunities to reach out. If you haven’t experienced it yet, there’s nothing like being able to BE THERE for someone else. To have someone tell you, “I’ve never told anyone else this before.” To be able to offer understanding. It’s a gift. And if you have anxiety, I bet you have the potential for that gift.

There is so much more to you outside of your anxiety: so many gifts, so many unique thoughts and words to be shared. Let your anxiety push you past this state of living called “it’s fine.” Past the fear and into a world  much deeper that is eagerly waiting to be explored. I know this is starting to sound like a fairy tale, but that’s how GOOD life can be on the other side of anxiety.

My hope is that after reading this, you feel more fluent in anxiety’s language. I know what worked for me won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s time to start speaking out on anxiety. We all carry a different face,a different dialect of it, and if we share how we’re dealing with it, we can broaden the language. Too many people suffer from anxiety instead of thriving with it, but that can change. Anxiety doesn’t have to be a curse. We are not damaged goods!

-Sharon

 

Lenten Angst

Five days ago, Jesus sent us all a personal invitation to join him in the desert for 40 days. (If you haven’t gotten it, check your spam folder.) 40 days of temptation, fasting, suffering… I said thanks, but no thanks. I like my spot over here on the edge of the desert. However, after five days, I wish I would’ve said yes. 

If I’m honest with myself, I said no because I’m scared of suffering. So imagine my surprise when I realized I was still suffering on the edge of the desert! And this suffering was worse in a way. It was, as St. Paul says, “worldly grief” as opposed to the “godly grief” Jesus was offering.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

In other words, I’m now staring down 40 days of suffering that will leave me worse off than I started, and I can already tell this is true. I gave up something easy and vague so that I could find loopholes and be happier…but I’m not happy. If I’m going to suffer, I want that suffering that leads to salvation. That leaves me better than it found me. I want to join Jesus in the desert.

Here’s the good news: We still can.

So if you find yourself full of angst like me, rethink that invitation. It’s still open. And while you’re doing that, pray for me that I have the strength to say yes this time. I’ll be doing the same for you.

-Sharon

Perks of Being Present

So I had to film myself counseling… which is as terrifying as it sounds. “I wonder what my face looks like.” “That was stupid…why did I say that?” “Oh my gosh, she’s done talking and I have no idea what to say.” All thoughts that ran through my mind while sitting in that counselor chair. Needless to say, it’s easy to get so caught up in your head that you aren’t really listening to someone, which is why our professors drill into our head the importance of living in the moment. But why is that so hard? Maybe it’s because of the countless things we can be doing at any moment thanks to the internet… but I think it runs deeper than that. As humans, we have a hard time living in the present.

If you think about it, a lot of our time is spent somewhere else besides where we are. I may look like I’m driving on the interstate alone in my car, but really I’m entertaining thousands of adoring fans with my new single… which also happens to be Taylor Swift’s new single. Or maybe I’m reminiscing about something. Or maybe I’m thinking about that person I really shouldn’t be thinking about. Really y’all, the possibilities are endless. But as I keep working on my relationship with God, it’s harder to keep convincing myself that these little daydreams are good for me.

Most of the time, when I feel that urge to wander off in my mind, it’s because I can’t handle reality. I’ll start feeling alone or unsure of myself, in other words, some type of discomfort, and there I go, back to that place of comfort where I have control and I feel important… loved. It took me a long time to realize why I did this though! In fact, it wasn’t until I heard Fr. Mike Schmitz (see link below) talk about accepting your reality and inviting God to meet you there that I realized how much I was missing out on every time I took a mini vacation in my head. Daydreaming was my way to escape a reality I didn’t want to face! But guess what? God only exists in the present. So every time I avoid those tough feelings, I’m avoiding Him. I’m avoiding His healing. Because time and time again, whenever I have a big “aha” moment with God, it’s through an area of my life I don’t want to give Him. It’s still a mystery to me, but no matter how many times I try to convince Him to rest in my pretty, presentable parts, He always finds His way back to my wounds.

I want to go back to what Fr. Mike said about accepting your reality. When I hear that, my mind goes to the big picture reality like I mentioned above… you know, those big problems that are never far from my mind like accepting the fact that I have this desire to start a family, but I’m single, or that problem that keeps popping up within my family that I find hard to deal with. Although it’s good to bring those big problems to God, we also miss out on a lot if we just focus on those. When He challenges us to accept reality, it’s more widespread than that. It’s accepting the reality that I have trouble staying awake in my night class, or the reality that after a long day, I don’t feel like cleaning, but have to. Good things too, like being super excited about what I’m eating for lunch that day (because I love food), or finally having a day off with nothing to do but “be.” Those moments are begging to be filled with God’s presence. Those simple, ordinary things are the key to living a Christian life.

ordinary.jpg
photo courtesy of: BlessedIsShe

Anyone can go through the motions to become Christian and do/say all of the right things, but how many are brave enough to invite God into every aspect of their lives… into the present moment? We want to keep Him contained in the past by fixating on past things we did or push Him to the future by waiting for the next thing, but life happens in the present.

Embrace where you are right now, lean into those movements of your heart, and you’ll find His eyes looking back at you. Those eyes that are filled with adventure and love.

— Sharon

Father Mike Schmitz’s “The Secret: Acceptance”