Poetic Prayer

My morning began too, too early, walking dogs in the rain, but it took a marked step up after a morning call with a client. I hung up grateful for my work and attentive to the gifts in my life–one of which was a morning retreat creating “Poetic Prayer” with my friend Deb Moyer.

Deb led us in a time of meditation, then offered brief instruction on various forms we might use. She set us free to create and compose with the simple suggestion to notice something, in us or out, then write about the theme of spring.

What leapt out at me was the contrast between the Christmas cactus at the Spiritual Life Center and my own not-so-thriving cactus at home, a generational outgrowth of what began as a wedding gift to my grandparents, or so legend would hold.

This is what came pouring out….offered in dedication to all those who struggle to live luscious and full. Come, share your color.

It is a Christmas cactus, after all
No reason to look for blossoms beyond fall
But the branches, too, look bare–
Less green and shine to share

Generations old, a grandmother’s wedding gift
My branch of the family plant in need of a lift
Is it too far from sun, the water too spare?
Have I taken the time to show it my care?

Oh God, have I, like this plant, settled for less
Tending my soil only at signs of distress?
What would it be to live luscious and full?
Vibrant with color, the opposite of dull?

I’d blossom because it’s Tuesday, or Wednesday, or June
Because the sun shines, the rain pours, because I see the moon
I’d ignore rules and seasons, the way “it’s supposed to be”
I’d call all the others to show color with me

For the women before me life was hard and too brief
Glimpses of heaven from earth a relief
But my branch is unique, growing at its own pace
What would it be, here and now, to know grace?

Mother of cactuses, Christmas, and spring
Help me remember what makes my life sing
Rooted in love that stretches across time
Growing with light, water, breath….it’s divine

© 2017 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Play Small Parts in A Big Way

You would have to follow the UConn women’s basketball team closely to know Briana Pulido. She was the senior guard who got on the floor for only two minutes or so at the close of a blow-out game; more likely, you know her as the cheer captain on the bench who high-fived the line of players and coaches when one of her superstar teammates buried a three-point shot. Our family has become big fans of the Huskies, and Pulido’s been one of our favorites–her energy, commitment, and smile are contagious.

When she buried the final shot of the NCAA championship game as her WNBA-bound teammates roared their approval, it was the highlight of the season for us. (She’s #2, seen from the back as she raced down the court following her game and career-concluding shot.)

UConn cheers

Children like mine dream of moments like this, hearing the applause echo in their ears, but they rarely imagine the game-winning shot comes in a break from the bench.

In high school, college, and early seasons of my career, I was privileged to be “a starter.” I wasn’t an athlete, so read this metaphorically, but I proved myself capable in the classroom and as a musician such that I was given center court-worthy attention and opportunities. I relished the spotlight and praise, and I presumed such roles were my destiny. For quite some time, they were.

As time has passed, however, I’ve discovered that my energy waxes and wanes for such roles. I enjoy taking the professional lead for a season of years, and then I want to focus more fully on family, community, and home. After three to five years in a high-profile context, I find myself looking for a supportive venture. In all contexts I desire influence (and as a pastor, I am privileged to put my thoughts, ideas, and reflections before a community on a weekly basis), but I am less attached to the “big job,” the “big moment,” the “big paycheck.” I am happy to play from the bench.

And yet, just as surely as I have felt the pull away from the public eye, I have also experienced the pull back toward it. I live a cyclical life, and though it can be hard to make sense of this on a resumé, I am grateful to be at home on the floor and on the bench. I am glad for the times I have been invited to be Breanna Stewart and grateful for the Briana Pulido-experiences in my life. In both, it is the quality of my dedication, energy, and contributions that earn notice.

I used to think of myself as a person who influences and shapes systems–systems of education, religious practice, community norms, and so on. Now, I’m more inclined to think of myself as a person who influences and shapes the lives of individuals. Recently, after a particularly poignant exchange, the woman with whom I was in conversation thanked me so earnestly, I felt as though the entire universe had shifted toward the greater good. If this is playing from the bench, count me in.

If you’re presently playing what feels a small part (and trust me, I can relate–today’s greatest accomplishment is having a semi-homemade dinner in the crockpot before the daily round of afterschool sports pick-ups begin), play it in the biggest way you know how. Celebrate others’ accomplishments with gusto, high-five everyone around you, and be ready to relieve those women who are presently on the floor. Your presence still matters in this game of life, and you never know when you might be passed the ball.

© 2016 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

“What do you make?”

I met with our financial advisor on Tuesday. I had avoided her for two years–not easy to do, given that we live in the same town–but I was successful in leaving my job, launching a business, and returning to another institutional position without ever looking her in the eye.

I told the story quickly: “Family needs–big dreams–generous friends–life-saving surgery–remembered I like having money to pay all my bills and, lucky for me, I like working for institutions too!” She high-fived me at the mortgage-only debt we boast, and she suggested a few creative ways to develop a more robust emergency fund for the future. We assured one another there would be no emergencies, of course–that was so last year. And then she asked how I feel about what I make in light of the cost of living in our area, the relative wealth of our neighbors, and my own historic earnings.

With two part-time jobs, I earn about what I did at the age of 25. Ouch. I am far more personally and professionally capable than I was then, and I believe my influence is significant in both settings where I work, but I have become fairly adept at avoiding the “What do you make?” conversation.

The truth is, I make so much more than what you’ll see on my W2. For starters:

  • make a difference. The focus of both my part-time jobs and all my volunteer work is peace and justice, the both-and prospect of a more loving future.
  • make music and art with the time I have carved out for being with creative people in my community.
  • make people cry (in a good way) and feel again and want to be better people….at least this is what one church member said when she walked out of worship last Sunday.
  • make friends who challenge me to be a better person–and through them and because of them, I am.
  • make lunch and dinner most days, avoiding the trap of family dinner by restaurant or drive-thru. When we manage to be together at the table, we say a simple grace, play “question of the night,” and fill our gratitude jar with post-it notes about all the good we’ve witnessed that day.
  • make my health a priority, regularly consulting with doctors and specialists on how best to live long and well on this earth.
  • make the tip-off at almost every basketball game. Both my kids play, and cheering them on as they live their dreams is my first and finest call.
  • make love to the one and only person who has shared my bed for almost twenty years. (Insert children’s eye-rolling here.) I am wildly in love with my husband, a love that we choose and nurture every day. We have taken turns making our family a personal priority. Both of us have taken stop-outs from work to raise our kids while the other raises our income. This give and take has shaped us to be complementary forces in this game of life and love, and I would not have it any other way.
  • make sure I can sleep at night. I engage in ethical work for ethical organizations. Despite the size of my paychecks, I give money and time on a weekly basis to organizations and people I believe are part of the better nature of our world–and I make sure I remember that I live with abundance, wealth, and privilege.

How do I feel about what I make? I’m so glad you asked.

And you? How do you feel about *all* you make? Ask a bigger question, get a better answer.

© 2015 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Mercury is in Retrograde (and other thoughts on healing, progress, and change)

Mercury is in retrograde, or so I’ve heard. I know nothing of astrology; it was only recently that I attempted to learn what friends mean when they declare this cosmic reality with trepidation in their tone. What I took away from my very unscientific research is that there are periods when Mercury appears to move backward in its orbit around the sun, largely due to our earthly position, movement, and vantage point. While some surmise that life enters an unpredictable, chaotic state in this time, I like the image of life appearing to stand still or regress, even as we are making forward progress. It rings as true for me of late.

I had surgery almost six weeks ago–a major operation that left me with an incision from hip to hip and armpit to armpit…and lots of swaps and changes in the body parts in these regions (for a more technical explanation, feel free to look up prophylactic double mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction). A few days ago, right around the time Mercury was appearing to slow down and back up, I began to feel as though I was doing the same. Open wounds had developed in three areas of my incisions, and the short bursts of energy I had exhibited in the week prior had been snuffed out to the point where I was again spending much of my day in a recliner. Clearly I was moving backward, no?

The perception grew and expanded. Suddenly it was not merely my physical state where progress was suspended; I became despondent as I looked forward and could see no real plan or direction for my life. A friend asked about my professional intentions in the years to come, and I answered, dramatically, “I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

There are instances for each of us when life appears to slow down and move backward: the end of a significant relationship or friendship, the death of someone we love, the loss of a job, or, in my case, medical information that led to significant interventional surgery–and stirred up some of all of the above.

I am impatient. When life is difficult or I am struggling, I want the change, the healing, the progress to come quickly. I had to smile when a woman who had just had the same surgery posted to an online support group, “I’m two days out–when am I going to feel better?” (knowing full well that this procedure has an average eight week recovery period).

My exit strategy from this surreal state of being? I pulled out my journal, wrote “April 12, 2015”  (the day before my surgery), and proceeded to record every memory, milestone, obstacle overcome, and accomplishment I could recall since. Wow. After an hour of writing and remembering, my perspective had entirely shifted. I felt super-human, capable of accomplishing miraculous feats of healing. In taking a few moments to look backward, I could see just how far I had come–and how much momentum I have to propel me forward.

If you’re feeling stuck, know that this sense of being suspended is an illusion. Pull out your own journal, take a long walk to sense you are moving forward, and, if you’d like assistance with taking an appreciative look at your past in order to build your future, that’s what I love to do. I’m seeking new clients for the summer months–perhaps you’d like to be one of them.

© 2015 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Help is a four-letter-word

First, a confession–it’s been two months since I’ve written on this blog, two months in which I forgot not only my password but even the website address which consists of little more than my own name. After months of thinking incessantly about business plans and new coaching clients, I took on the most demanding client of all–myself and my family.

In my previous post, I made casual reference to a medical appointment, the results of which turned my world upside-down. Though I willingly and knowingly presented myself for genetic testing based on the history of cancers that claimed my mother, aunt, and grandmother viciously and far too young, it was my hope that I was ruling out the risk through the test. This was not to be, though, and in mid-November I learned I am positive for a mutation that puts me at high risk for cancer of the pancreas (my mother’s cause of death), breasts (my aunt and grandmother’s cause of death), and ovaries. It would have been easy to retreat to fear, curling up in a hole of woe and remaining there until at least the new year.

In truth, the first few hours were all shock. I called my husband and found words to say as he anxiously asked, “What does this mean?” I texted a friend, and I calmly suggested in a message to my sister that she call me when she had a chance. I drove to the grocery store, stopped in at a community food program in the town where I am a pastor, and got the flu shot I had been planning for that afternoon. Eventually, I made it home, and I remember absolutely nothing from that evening. The next morning, though, is crystal clear.

I was supposed to drive to New York to pick up my in-laws for the Thanksgiving holiday. My husband and I were standing in the dining room, red-rimmed eyes blurry from a night of worry and no sleep. He was attempting to leave for work, and I was attempting to figure out how I would put the key in the ignition and start the car. He asked again, and then again, if I needed him to go, to make the drive. The most clear response I could give was, “I don’t know.” Finally I said, “If you’re waiting for me to say it, I just can’t. I need you to offer.”

The “it” of course was “I need help–I can’t do this today,” but such phrases aren’t in my vocabulary. They aren’t allowed, or so I believed that morning. Without saying a word, he picked up his computer, emailed his work colleagues, and went to the car to take over for me. Gratefully, I inched my way to the computer and wailed and wept as I alternated between reading emails from the few family members in-the-know and daunting medical articles about my future. These were giant-sized tears, full of what was and what is and what if. These were the kind of tears prevalent when my mother was dying and then dead; ones that rarely make an appearance now….until this.

I gave myself permission to take those hours given to me by my husband and fall all the way down into the pit of sadness. It’s a place we presume we will never leave if we dare to go in, but of course our instinct as human beings is to survive, to pull ourselves out of the pit, to know joy. So after an hour or so of screaming, catching my breath, and screaming some more, I did what I would advise any client to do. I asked myself what my greatest strength is–my most dependable resource in a situation like this. After my willingness to feel what I feel, a true and valued strength, I am skilled at gathering information and building my team. I set to work.

By the time my husband returned that evening, I had appointments with a breast surgeon, a lead on a gastroenterologist with a speciality in genetic cancers and pancreatic screening, a therapist’s name through my husband’s EAP program, and some promising information on early detection trials for pancreatic cancer. I was still sad. I was still scared. But I was also competent and courageous.

Much has transpired since that November day, and I am grateful almost all the news has been good. My screenings have been normal/benign/negative. My plans for a double mastectomy and reconstruction move forward. I have moved from the place where I wish to “un-know” or “un-learn” this truth about my body to a place where I see what a gift it is to have this powerful information. I am able to take steps to alleviate my risk and survey my body that were never available to the women who came before me, and I believe these steps I am taking are a tribute to them and their memory, as well as to my own children to follow.

Perhaps the most powerful lesson of all has been what happens when I ask for help. I have had to ask for a great deal, even now at what is the start of this lifelong journey. I’ve asked a friend to watch our dog for a day of appointments and tests. I’ve asked another friend to be on-call for my kids on days when I get stuck in Boston beyond my carefully-orchestrated itinerary. I’ve asked my uncle to come along for an appointment my husband couldn’t attend. I’ve asked my sister to walk this journey with me, just as we have the difficult journeys of losing both our parents to death. I’ve asked a friend and colleague to join me in caring for a dying friend; together, we officiated at her funeral the week of Christmas, and I was grateful to not be standing alone but instead in good and loving company. Perhaps the biggest “ask” of all was setting up a GoFundMe site to support us in the significant medical and travel costs we’ve sustained, as well as anticipating the months of recovery when I will be unable to work and contribute financially to our family.

I had been half-joking with a friend in October that I was going to set up a fundraising site to get my family with me to Europe on a fellowship I was seeking. I delayed the fellowship application–something in the timing didn’t feel quite right, but the idea of the site stayed with me. I was intrigued and unsettled by the idea. Who asks for money? For themselves? I have asked many times for money for causes and programs I believe in, but for me? Never. Or so I believed.

In truth, though, we have all asked for financial help. I’ve applied over and over for scholarships that have partially funded what is going on four academic degrees. I had the privilege of asking parents and grandparents for money to travel on study and music programs in my teens and twenties. I’ve asked for increases in my compensation to ensure my gifts are recognized and my salary commensurate with my experience. This past summer, I took a leap, put my name on a company, and asked clients to pay me simply for being me. The money I receive as a coach is the most satisfying I’ve ever earned, largely because it begins with asking people for help–asking them to believe in my gifts, my training, my nature, and my offerings. And of course they must make themselves vulnerable too, seeking out my services as their own request for help, a wish to not be in this life journey without support, encouragement, and wise questions.

Many of us believe we cannot ask for help. We see it as a four-letter-word. As a child, I was so fiercely independent that I refused to let a friend’s mother sew on a popped off button at a sleepover. As an adult, fiercely ill and pregnant, I refused to ask my mother-in-law to bring me a glass of water. I did not want to need anyone. I wanted to rely only on myself. What I’ve come to see in my present journey is that our failure to ask for help is a denial of the interdependent way we were made to live. In truth, we are asking for help all the time, and perhaps believing we do not ask for or need help is just another way we overlook or deny our ever-present privilege. Most of us have people we can ask for help. How much a privilege is that?

When I finally launched the GoFundMe site, I did so at the nudging of my therapist. She said, “Do it as a social experiment. There’s something for you to learn here–why not try it and see?” There were surprises to be had–good ones. I’ve received astounding, generous, heartfelt gifts from people who have known me since birth, people who knew my parents and grandparents, high school friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in decades, former students, colleagues, and more. My story has been a prompt for some friends to think differently about their health. I have given people who are grateful for my help a way to express their thanks. I have received such beautiful, meaningful messages of encouragement. I have been helped, and I feel not weak for it, but strong in it.

Help is indeed a four-letter-word. There are lots of them, some of which I used or dwelt on in the early days of this news–risk, sick, dead. Now, thanks to the help I sought and have gratefully received, I am seeing other four-letter-words: hope, love, life. Thank you, fine friends, for being my teachers and for joining my team. Let’s do this.

(I’ll have a “sabbatical” this spring for surgery, but I am ready, willing, and able to work with interested clients now. My coaching repertoire has only grown from this recent news, and my passion for helping you to help yourself is greater than ever. Let me know!)

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Hope for the Holidays

It struck even earlier this year, the sense of longing for my mother that invariably surfaces somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving. She’s been dead 21 years, yet the holidays still stir in me a feeling of loss. This year, it was the result of a medical appointment and the comprehensive family history I had to provide. “Oh, pancreatic cancer–that’s a bad one.” The words never fail to prompt a reaction, and the nearer I am to my mother’s age at her death, the more my sense of loss looks forward as well as back. Will I live to see my children grow?

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I wiped the unexpected tears from my eyes as my husband and I ate a picnic in the parking lot of the medical complex, and then I did what any sorrow-indulging person would do: I played Christmas music the whole way home. I have a healthy holiday collection on my iPhone, and I might have chosen “Joy to the World” or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” but what I really wanted was a song that matched my mood as I remembered the final season of health and wholeness in which I saw my mom, Christmas. Steven Curtis Chapman songs are ready-made for the occasion with knowing lyrics like these: “While everybody sings their happy Christmas songs tonight, all you want to do is cry.” Cry indeed.

Planning for the holidays is challenging regardless of your circumstances. We toss memories, expectations, and reality into a blender; add a dash of money trouble, a few personality conflicts, and your own secret family ingredient; press “puree” and pray. It’s a powerful recipe for disaster, no?

My husband is naturally patient and kind-hearted, and I expect he’s grown all the more so living with my anticipatory anxiety about how we will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas. We navigate the usual “my traditions/your traditions, my family/your family” questions with the complication that both my parents have died. At least once a year I threaten to abandon the family and spend the time alone at Kripalu or on a deserted island somewhere, and in truly broken-hearted and vulnerable moments I ask why both his parents are alive when I have neither of mine. I’m not proud of the question or asking it of him/God/whoever, but it always comes up. It just does.

There’s hope, though, and I now have many years of practicing the holidays in light of loss. I trust even my all-loving husband would say joy-filled tears now spring to my eyes as often as the ones laced with sadness. This did not happen without intention, effort, and support, and I had to arrive at a place where I leave room for my parents’ absence and celebrate their continuing presence. While their lives–all our lives–are temporal, the values they brought to their living are eternal, and so I acknowledge the holidays by placing these values at the center of our celebration. I give to others, I listen to extraordinary music, I prepare food with care–especially traditional recipes I made with my mom, and, in the example of my father, I preach a message of good news that isn’t afraid of our suffering, a God who is willing to step in with us so that we are not alone.

I have been noticing since starting my coaching practice that all of my clients have experienced or are anticipating a loss–often a person, but sometimes a job or a season in life. Perhaps I notice because this is the lens I bring to my own life. Perhaps it is something about the clients I attract. Regardless, in considering them and the many who seek to live this season with integrity and connection, I decided to offer something special.

“Hope for the Holidays” is a two-session conversation about how those of you living with loss can place your own eternal values (sometimes gifts from your family and sometimes the choices you make in contrast to your family history) at the center of the Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas season. While my own religious identity, Christianity, means I live my losses through the season of Advent and Christmas, I expect the challenges are similar across religious lines, and I am open to serving people within and beyond my tradition. Details are on the “Coaching Sessions” page, and I invite you to pass this post and the opportunity along to people you care about who would benefit from support in shaping a both/and holiday with room for loss and room for those we miss to show up. It is the perfect gift.

Peace to you as you plan how you will remember in the season ahead. I am with you on the journey.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Enough

This post, drafted a month ago, is a work in progress, as is the unpacking it describes. Perhaps sharing with you will move me nearer to my goal of being unburdened, free. Peace to you as you put down the load you are carrying to open your arms for some new delight.

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Inspired by my in-laws’ move this summer, I’ve been peeking into boxes in my basement–boxes moved to shelves in the corner eight years ago and not touched since. Some were labeled (“Jennifer: elementary, high school, awards and accomplishments;” “Jennifer: letters from friends;” and so on), and some were tightly sealed in plastic wrap, our own version of weather-proof archives in a water-prone basement.

On the first day, I opened all the boxes, unearthing my own mini-time capsule. I had report cards from every stage of schooling, certificates of achievement that began when I was a child and traversed all the years to come, musical programs from performances spanning decades in age and ability, and letters, letters, letters. Along with many layers of family memories hidden in each box, I discovered a shift in my need for what was inside.

If I’m honest with you, and I strive to be nothing but, these boxes were not really meant for me. They were indeed a time capsule, packed and put away for my children in the event of my death. I never said this aloud to them or anyone else, but in each of these boxes I had placed the evidence I wanted them to discover. “Oh goodness, our mother was smart–and what a voice she had! All those friends?! I can’t believe the letters she has here, filled with affection and gratitude.”

Our experiences mark and shape us. When I learned my mother was dying, she was sick to the point that she could no longer share the stories that mattered to her. My sister and I were left to forage through old boxes and construct her life from the artifacts that remained. Whether a conscious act or not, I had tried to make my own children’s foraging a little easier, a little more orderly.

So what was I to do with them now that I am less convinced of my impending death–now that I want to live for the present and future rather than the past? As I uncovered the contents of these boxes and my hidden motivation, I was seized with a driving need to let it all go–to get the boxes and all that they contained out of the basement.

The first clean-out stages were simple, and my motivation was high. I scooped fistfuls of letters into a “burn pile,” and after just a moment’s hesitation, I added the report cards, standardized test results, and, yes, every achievement award I had ever been given. I called the kids down to the basement and my sorting piles when there was something particularly poignant or funny to share. Their personal favorite was a childhood diary in which I called my mother, my teacher, and my friend Pam “b*tch,” all on separate dates but with the same amount of vitriol and the absence of an asterisk. When the piles were complete–keep/file (the smallest of the piles), recycle, give away, and burn–I instituted a 24-hour waiting period. Given that I could not possibly read all those old letters or peruse every college paper I had written, I wanted to leave time for the Spirit to compel me back to something, and I wanted to be certain I wasn’t clearing my past on adrenaline alone.

The night of our bonfire was one for the family memory book. We took turns piling pages on a roaring fire, pausing to look at an old yearbook photo or quickly read one last card. I pulled five or so pieces from the pile because I was drawn to them in the moment, and each has its own story since–but most everything went on the fire without hesitation or regret. As the pages burned, I prayed prayers of gratitude for the people, the memories, the accomplishments, the places, and the growing all symbolized in that pile. There were some hurts in those letters too, and, as the night grew dark, we made s’mores over the fire, my home-grown version of turning the bitter into something sweet.

The clearing out since has been more challenging–pictures and memorabilia of my parents, now dead, and their parents, the same. After my initial clearing out and the drafting of this post, I’ll admit I stumbled. I uncovered long-held but rarely-stated family rules: You do not throw away, recycle, or burn the pictures or belongings of people who have died. I’m breaking this rule with what I am doing, of course, and I am remembering how hard it is to shape new rules when generations have lived by the old ones.

When the sorting and the letting go get difficult, I remember our bonfire and the sweet taste of freedom. I remember the tears that flooded my eyes the following week when I turned on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and heard Elizabeth Lesser say, “Our golden, radiant core is enough. This is what people want,” and knew it to be true. I am enough. You are enough. No evidence required.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

When Things Get Too Good

I should have seen it coming–should have predicted it a week or so ago. After a glorious 50th anniversary celebration for my small-sized, big-hearted congregation, and the promise of my favorite singer-songwriter’s CD release concert tomorrow night, I began to feel achy yesterday afternoon. “I think I have the flu,” I announced to my husband over dinner. “Would you feel my forehead? Do I feel hot? Cold? Clammy?”

By morning, the aches were joined by a sore throat, pink eye in my left eye, and a deep desire to stay in bed rather than face the day. As I stumbled downstairs, turned on the coffeepot, and attempted to look out the window through my puffy, red eye, Matt and I turned to one another with a knowing smile. “Hidden upper limit problem,” we said simultaneously. It’s the (seemingly inevitable) crash that comes when life gets just a little too good.

Though the particular movie is eluding me, I can hear in my mind a character who has just been asked out by the date of her dreams say, “I bet I get hit by a bus.” In other words, “Life cannot be sustained with this much joy, satisfaction, and success.” Gay Hendricks, who coined the phrase “hidden upper limit problem” in his book The Big Leap, writes, “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure (20)”.

While I have become fairly skilled at naming and noticing when I reach my hidden upper limit, I am still developing my ability to ward it off. Perhaps you, like me, experience the limit in your body. Maybe sickness sets in on your first day of vacation. Others might pick a fight with a partner or friend–a sure way to dampen your spirits after a success at work. Whatever your particular pattern, learning to identify and work with your limit is vital to continued growth.

How do I manage the free fall when it begins?

First, I name it–I recognize my symptoms for what they are. I actually take a little delight in this, as hitting the limit means I am experiencing an extraordinary amount of love and success in my life.

Second, I cut myself some slack. In addition to cold and flu-like symptoms, my hidden upper limit often manifests as a magnifying glass to very small problems. When I discovered this morning my daughter had neglected to bring her order form for today’s junior high picture day, I went into full-blown over-thinking mode: “Did she forget it on purpose because I’ve been talking about money more and she thinks we can’t afford it?” And so on. I give myself a few minutes to feel the agitation, and then I move on.

Third, I solve the problems I can fix. I drove the picture order form to school, and I ceased considering whether or not I am ruining her life by being overinvolved in picture day dilemmas. Solving the problems for me is about returning to the basics. I clean my desk. I empty the dishwasher. I change the sheets. I give my life some much-needed order.

Fourth, I name the deeper problems I cannot fix, and I feel whatever comes with them. I learned this morning that a former colleague’s husband has died; she herself is suffering from a virulent cancer. I cried, and I prayed for her and all those who are suffering on this day.

Fifth, I remind myself that I do indeed deserve joy, satisfaction, success, and love….always love. We all do. I am privileged as a coach and a pastor to remind people of this all the time.

Need a little reminder? Let me know. The great news is that those thermostats can be reset. (And my eye feels better already.)

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

 

Paying attention

River2

I am in love with water. Oceans, rivers, lakes, bathtubs….just get me to a body of water. Water was often a centerpiece of our vacation destinations when I was growing up. Cousins may remember the lake we named after the friends we visited there or shared beach vacations, from the coldest water we could imagine (Maine) to the warmest sand we could bear (Florida). Regardless of temperature, the challenge was always the same–be the first to dive in, head fully submerged. My father carried the torch for his generation, and I’d like to believe I carried it for mine, but now that role is my daughter’s and, no matter where we are, she proudly runs for the water.

When I was just eleven years old, our family moved to Martha’s Vineyard. The selling point for my bedroom in yet another church parsonage? If I stood on my toes at a small side window, leaning against the old-fashioned (and often bone cold) radiator, I could see the ocean. My parents took time most every day to walk or sit by the water–they had the wisdom to recognize the gift. I was entering adolescence, though, inclined to see only the inside of my eyelids. On the rare occasion that I return to Martha’s Vineyard now, I lament that I was surrounded by so much beauty and paid so little attention to it. It is somehow easier to see the specialness of the vacation spot; it can be hard to see the treasure right beside us.

Isn’t this often true? A week ago, as many of us celebrated children crossing the threshold into a new year of school or college, I suggested that we think of the year ahead as a pilgrimage–a journey begun with intention and purpose. While this focus suggests looking forward, holding in mind the goal of where we are going, one of our pilgrimage intentions might be simply paying attention to where we are. Who is around you as you make this journey? Is there someone new you’d like to know? What is your natural setting? Is there a place of beauty you’d like to visit more regularly?

Last week, as I walked my son to school, I marveled that we were on-foot after years of being in the car for the drop-off en route to work. There’s something unnaturally isolating about automobiles. As with adolescence, we can see little beyond our own sphere, and what we do notice is sometimes seen through the eyes of judgement. (Yoga pants-wearing moms driving silver SUVs were a regular source of my insecure scorn when we first moved to town and I would drive through the preschool line. If I had been honest about my own struggles with going to work full-time while my husband was raising our children, I might have found a friend or two in that car line! Fortunately, youth sports means a continuing cycle of interactions, and I know and value a number of the women I previously dismissed.)

But I digress…. After leaving my son at school last week, I continued walking through the village where we live. I met the caretaker of the Catholic church I pass each day while walking our dog. I took the time to learn the name of the school crossing guard I’ve waved to from my car for years. These are not simply utilitarian workers beautifying my community or keeping my children safe; with a pilgrimage mindset, they are fellow travelers. I was fascinated to learn some of what makes their lives meaningful–simply because I finally had time to pay attention.

Riverbend

Today, my walk took me with intention to the river just down from our road. While it is my long-term hope to live beside a lake, plumbing its depths over seasons and years, my adult years have been spent in communities with rivers. This morning, as I looked up-river and down, I was so struck by the mystery that exists around the bend. I can only see so far, yet I trust that the water continues. At present, I am coaching a number of individuals with serious health concerns. As we focus in these relationships on how to live fully, even with great uncertainty, this image of the ever-flowing water was a gift of perspective and possibility.

And you? What places or people are calling you to pay attention as you move through this day, week, or year? Peace to you as you take the time to truly notice who and what surrounds you.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

Crossing the Threshold

First day of school JH

My Facebook feed is flooded today with pictures of the first day of school–kids beside the bus, carrying signs declaring ages and stages, and, my personal favorite, standing at the doorstep of home. I photographed my own two children separately, as their departures are an hour apart. The older is increasingly aware of life’s audience, so she tolerated a picture only after forbidding me to post it; the younger willingly smiled beside the dog and even stood next to the school sign with a friend. I’m sharing here one of many “first day” pictures of my sister and me–the start of kindergarten and second grade, I would guess. I imagine you can pick out which of us grew up to be the elementary school teacher and which of us is now gazing out the window reflectively, trying to draw wisdom from this first day experience.

First days–of school, or of anything–embody a complementary pair of intention and mystery, purposeful direction and possibility. I am experiencing my own “first” today, the first day in twenty-four years when I have not been on a college or university campus at the start of the academic year. So after waving off my daughter and walking my son to his school, I took some time to walk the streets of our village and really notice this moment. Perhaps it was because I was on foot, or perhaps it’s all those first day pictures taken literally on the threshold of home, but I began to think of this new start for all of us as a pilgrimage.

I associate the word “pilgrimage” with religious traditions, though I am assured by a quick internet search that there are secular versions as well. While I have taken many a pilgrimage in my life, I gave my first careful consideration to the word during a retreat a year ago. One of our leaders took us on a walk to a sacred spot on the property, using this short journey to illustrate the elements of pilgrimage. The step or stage that stands out most in my memory is crossing the threshold–that literal moment of departing the place you have known and beginning the journey to what is ultimately unknown.

On our walk we crossed the threshold twice–departing and returning–and we identified an intention as we set out and then a gift or blessing we were carrying back with us. While the weeklong retreat was filled with meaningful experiences, this one is prominent in my memory because I had to stand, look someone in the eye, and share aloud my intention and my gift. There is something profound about speaking aloud such truths; the words and the hearing create an immediate sense of accountability. This is part of why I love the coaching process–you name where you hope to go, and we always end with thanks for where you have arrived.

As I walked my sweet dog around the village this morning, I started a short list of my own guiding principles for pilgrimage that I plan to share here in the coming weeks, but for today, this first day, let me offer this to those of you who are in the midst of your own transitions, whether chosen by you or chosen for you: Stand and notice yourself on the threshold. Honor where you are starting from and this familiar place you are departing–there is much wisdom you have drawn here, and every new start builds upon every journey before it. Look someone you trust in the eye, and share with them what you intend for this time of change. There will be much that you cannot predict; this is true of every journey. But your life is worth living with intention, regardless of whether you stay on the actual path you set or veer off to something even better.

And if you’re willing, whether you are wearing a new outfit and carrying a backpack or not, take a picture of yourself at the start of this change journey. Send it to me–I’d love to see you and the place from which you are setting out. Happy first day to you and yours!

(If you’d like to invite a coach along as you make a change, book by September 1st and receive the multi-session discount for any number of sessions….see “Coaching Sessions” for more details.)

 © 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.