Why I’m a Rock Star (with an Incontinent Dog)

rockstarwordMy ninety-two year-old father calls me almost every day.

He loves hearing what his author-daughter is up to, no matter how dull or boring my life may actually be.

Our conversations are short. I usually talk about my two adult kids (of course, they’re my husband Dan’s too) and our incontinent fifteen-year-old mini-dachsund Beanie (my husband’s, especially right after Beanie’s moments of incontinence).

Somehow, no matter what dull and mundane Life Details I tell my father, he hears Something Else–words that sound like a publicist wrote them. My books are soaring to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. My husband Dan is bearing down on his eighth Ph.D. and is ready to take over as CEO of his company. Somehow my dad refuses to deal in realities and prefers to live in a world of his own creation.

Conversations with Dad used to puzzle me.

Then about a year ago my family figured out that Dad has Asperger’s, and a whole lot of things about my life suddenly made sense.

Like why no matter how much I talked to Dad as a child, I never felt heard. I wish I’d known back then that Dad and I didn’t speak the same language, although we both communicated in English.

I wish five-year-old Shelly had known there was a reason her dad didn’t know how to connect with her. Little Shelly spent a lot of years trying to figure out what she had to do to feel noticed and loved.

But in trauma therapy this year, Little Shelly learned she wasn’t invisible after all, a lie she’d believed for many years. She learned her dad had always tried to listen to her and speak the words he still can’t bring himself to speak out loud.

So here’s the simple truth in a world of parallel truths. No matter how hard he may try, after more than a half-century of parenting, my dad simply can’t choke out the words, “I love you.” But he calls me every day. Why?

Because my dad loves me so much he believes I’m a rock star.

So I’ve learned to hear those three words anyway. And believe them.

Especially because the New York Times may never call, and the dog is going to keep on…well…you know…staining the carpet. And even though my world is imperfect, my father always sees me through the lens of his unique vision for me. It was pure revelation when I figured this out.

My Dad has chosen to see me as a rock star, even on days when the dog stains the carpet. It’s the only way he can see me.

And on carpet-stain, life-kicking-you-in-the-gut days, God’s love for me never changes either. Nothing I do can convince Him to love me one iota more or less. Because my true identity is about who I am IN Him.

I’m a beloved child, whose Heavenly Father hangs on every word from His daughter.

Photo Credit: PolkaDotDivas.com

 

 

When God Changes Your Plans

Guest post by Sue Foster, LMFT

SueFosterI knew for a number of years that the care of my elderly mother would probably fall to me, but I didn’t know what that would look like, and how that might be possible long-distance. My father died in 2004 after 59 years of marriage. Mom eventually seemed to adjust well to living alone and was able to have her needs met. I lived close by if she needed more care.

In 2005, a ministry opportunity was presented and I relocated to Nashville, TN from San Diego. I loved the work I was doing and was quite content to continue that as long as God allowed. I had also started a counseling practice and was becoming known in the community for the kind of work I did. I had friends, a wonderful church, a home I enjoyed, and I loved living in the beautiful “green” South. I missed California, but didn’t have a desire to move back.

As the years progressed, the chronic pain I’d had for years was getting worse and my mobility was becoming more limited. Due to changes in the music ministry, I was no longer able to be involved. I began to sense that “Aslan” was on the move and might be moving me, and that was confirmed in 2012 when my landlady called and said she had sold my home. After much soul searching and confirmation from my doctors that a “warmer” climate might be better for my health, I decided to move back to California and in with my mother for the time being. I also knew that her health was failing and that, as much as she didn’t want to admit it, she needed some help.

Giving up my counseling practice was hard, and establishing a new one in a community I was no longer familiar with has been difficult. After living alone for 30 years, living with a parent, especially when the relationship has never been close, has had its challenges. We have both had to make many concessions and adjustments to make this work. I will admit to being angry at God at times for this new season, even though I know this is exactly where he wants me for now. I have learned to appreciate my mother and to learn greater patience with her health issues, and that her mind is not as clear as it was in the past. I’ve also seen God provide resources for my own health issues, and I’m excited to look forward to returned mobility and less pain in the months to come. We both know that our living arrangement is temporary and that her caregiving will take on a new look when I move on.

Is this the “final” season of my life? I know it’s not. It’s this season. I also know that God is faithful and that, through this season, he’s preparing me for the next.

About Sue:

Sue Foster is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist living and practicing in Hemet, CA.  She specializes in grief counseling, especially with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Sue lost her daughter, Shannon, to suicide in 1991. Her resource book for survivors of suicide, Finding Your Way After the Suicide of Someone You Love, was co-authored with Dr. David Biebel, and was published by Zondervan in 2005. She also wrote several devotions for the recently published Hope in the Mourning Bible (Zondervan, 2013).

She returned to California from Nashville, TN in 2012, to be a caregiver for her elderly mother. However, with Sue’s own health issues, the roles have sometimes been reversed, and both she and her mother have dealt with the challenges of being, at times, both parent and child.

The God Who Leans Across the Table

textingwifeA few days ago I sat at a coffee shop people-watching. A young husband and wife, identifiable by their contemporary, matching wedding rings, came into the shop and chose a table not far from me. The woman, a petite brunette, was glued to her iPhone, texting madly, which she continued to do for the next ten minutes. Her husband sat quietly across from her and leaned forward, his head resting on one hand and his eyes never leaving her face.

For nearly twenty minutes she texted and he waited. Silently and patiently. It broke my heart.

Fast forward to last night at three AM. I was wide awake. Again.

Making plans. Creating lists. Strategizing. Formulating conversations.

(These are my “special words” for worrying and freaking out about life.)

Someone Somewhere had made a decision with the potential to knock my well-ordered world into the stratosphere. At least that’s what I was telling myself. Fear had come a-knockin’ on my door, so I had to DO something about it.

I laid awake staring into the darkness talking to myself as minutes ticked by. Hours, actually, if I’m going to be
honest–all the while my brain spinning in circles.

AND THEN A PICTURE FLASHED THROUGH MY THOUGHTS. 

I was seated at a table in a coffee shop with my cell phone, madly texting. Across the table from me, my Best Friend patiently waited for me to glance up and notice He was there. To realize that He’s always been with me. That He never leaves my side. That His eyes are glued to me day and night out of love bigger than the universe He created. And in those moments when I’m absorbed by my plans to try to control my destiny, He’s as near as a thought.

He waits, leaning in and patiently waiting for the moment I’ll look up and lay down the distractions in my heart and hands and see Him for who He truly is.

 

Trauma Therapy: Five Days to a New Me–For Real

Flower-In-Asphalt

Most people tend of think of people with post-traumatic stress disorder as veterans or Katrina victims. The general population doesn’t know that one in four women will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in her lifetime.

When you’re sitting in a restaurant, ball game, church service, or business meeting, if every eighth person stood up, that’s the number of people who are suffering from PTSD.

One out of eight. Of your friends. Your family members.

I was one of them. And I was in hiding until I went to Intensive Trauma Therapy in Morgantown, West Virginia.

What was life like for me?

Certain experiences, memories, sights, smells, and thoughts triggered intense feelings of abandonment and anxiety.

I lived with guilt because I couldn’t control my fears. I tried counseling, but it didn’t work. I consulted with spiritual advisers and spent time in prayer and meditation, but my symptoms persisted. So I threw myself into my work and pressed into caring for my loved ones, but my symptoms just wouldn’t go away. In fact, they continued to intensify.

But I was stuck in denial. Certainly I didn’t need trauma treatment. I could figure things out. Besides, I couldn’t afford it.

Yeah, right.

After nearly crashing and burning, I was forced to admit that I couldn’t afford NOT to go. My symptoms weren’t going to get better unless I addressed the roots of my problem. And so this past winter, I packed my bags and headed to Intensive Trauma Therapy–uncertain and afraid.

I was sure the therapists couldn’t help me in just five days. I mean, come on now. Five days? It’s taken me longer than five days to beat a case of dandruff.

But I was wrong. So very wrong. And never so glad to be wrong.

The therapy modality used at ITT is simple and effective. And I find it to be consistent with my Christian worldview. Certain parts of me and my brain are “stuck” and can’t get past the lies I believe. This is a biological fact caused by traumatic experiences in my life. The therapeutic approaches used at ITT “rewire” those traumatic experiences  and re-file them in my brain. I also learned how my true, healthy self can speak to the broken places in me and enable the healing process.

My healing began on day one of treatment. I returned to my hotel room that evening freed from anxiety that had gripped me for years.

Does that mean I’m living an anxiety-free life? No. But it means I’m living with a manageable range of anxiety. I now understand where that anxiety originates, how to cope with it, and how it interacts in my life.

So what actually happened in those five days of therapy? I learned writing and other graphic and narrative skills that move my trauma experiences from one side of my brain to the other. I learned how to talk to the “stuck” parts of me and gain clarity and new insight about the fears and anxieties that trapped me so I can move forward. I learned skills that allowed me to come home on day six with new behaviors that have become a part of daily living and healing that has changed my life.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of trauma, find a professional who understands.

There is HOPE.

For more information on trauma and PTSD, visit PTSDPerspectives.org. And looking for my upcoming book, written with co-author Wanda Sanchez, releasing this June: Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life.

Love Letters from the Edge: Hope for the Hopeless

LoveLettersCoverFour years ago, forty-eight year-old Wanda Sanchez was clinging to a life without hope. Every day was a struggle to stay alive. She’d planned her suicide and had every intent to carry out her plan.

For decades she’d struggled with nightmares, flashbacks, addiction, self-abuse, compulsions, and other behaviors she simply couldn’t control.

Rehab was a failure.

Eating disorder clinics were a failure.

Counseling and therapy produced little change.

Year after year, her symptoms grew worse, and her prayers to be healed seemed to go unanswered.

Like most people, Wanda spent years treating symptoms, rather than treating her actual trauma.

The results? Imagine taking pain killers for your brain tumor. The pain might subside–for a time. But the tumor itself only continues to grow and the symptoms worsen. Wanda’s root problem–her trauma–was childhood abuse. repeated and horrific childhood abuse. But she didn’t know about trauma and PTSD. So she tried to relieve the symptoms–addictions, self-abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorders, nightmares, and flashbacks.

Like most people who experience trauma, Wanda struggled with guilt, abandonment, rage, despair, and other self-sabotaging emotions.

She felt ruined, unlovable, and was sure she was the only truly unfixable person in the world.

Until she went for ten days of out-patient trauma treatment that treated the root cause of her symptoms and changed her life forever.

Since leaving Intensive Trauma Therapy in 2011, Wanda and I (Shelly Beach) have dedicated ourselves to sharing our stories of hope and healing from post-traumatic stress disorder. We have both found life-altering healing from trauma symptoms that radically changed our lives. Wanda’s improvement was so profound that in the months following her treatment, therapists and organizations began to ask her to share her story. Our passion grew for helping people gain a practical understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and pointing them to resources for hope and healing.

Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life is our first book together. It is an inspirational book of meditations for people longing to find hope and resources and who will benefit from a foundational understanding of PTSD.

Love Letters from the Edge will encourage those who’ve experienced suffering and who long to sense God’s presence and comfort.

Love Letters from the Edge has been endorsed by counselors and therapists, the directors of mental health centers and mission organizations (Wedgwood Christian Service, Dégagé Ministries, Music for the Soul, Hearts at Home, as well as media personalities and celebrities like Nancy Stafford and Kathie Lee Gifford.

Love Letters from the Edge may not be written for you. But it will touch the heart of someone you know who has experienced deep suffering in life and offer them hope, as well as practical tools for healing.

Who do you know who’s standing on the edge? Who do you know that needs to know they’re not alone?

Dotty’s Ten Tips for Communicating with a Person Living with Dementia

 

elderlymanmentallyill

One of the most difficult things for my father to understand as my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed was how to appropriately communicate with her. It was hard for Dad to recognize that Mom’s abilities to process information and to respond to her environment were changing.

The most important thing for all of us who have loved ones with dementia to remember is to think about life from my their changing perspective.

1. Speak slowly and move deliberately.

2. Moderate your tone.

3. Use fewer words.

4. Don’t ask questions–provide information.

5. Treat your loved one like an elder, not the elderly.

For more information on dementia, subscribe to the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.

For Dotty’s tips on communicating with a person living with dementia, click here.

Healthy and Simple Recipes: Yummy French Toast

french-toast-6-450

Okay, so we’re always looking for something yummy to eat around here without consuming too many calories. In case you haven’t heard, I lived the first fifty years of my life pretty much creating slop in the kitchen.

Then I met my best friend Wanda, and under her tutelage, I have blossomed into a fledgling cook. But a pretty lazy one. If a dish has more than five ingredients, I’ll probably never make it.

So here’s a recipe for low-cal French toast to warm your tummy on a snowy winter morning. (Did I mention we’ve had 100 INCHES of snow here in MIchigan this winter?And it’s almost April and it’s snowing AGAIN today.)

Ingredients:

2 slices of 35 calorie bread (I use whole wheat)
2 large eggs
cinnamon to taste
1/3 C. skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 packet Stevia/Truvia
Mrs. Butterworth’s Sugar Free Syrup (20 calories per 1/4 cup)

Directions:

Whisk eggs. Add all other ingredients except for syrup and mix well. Soak bread on both sides in mixture and grill in non-stick pan sprayed with Pam. Cook until golden brown. Spray with zero calorie I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and serve with warm syrup.

Makes one serving. Total calories 195

Photo credit: realmomkitchen.com