Monthly Archives: February 2023

“Those Aren’t the Right Words”


One of my sons, Clay, who is 13, knows every word to every song that he’s ever heard. It’s honestly quite amazing. He only needs to hear a song once, and he will have the lyrics locked away in his brain forever. Clay is a human jukebox. On the other hand, my youngest son, Alex, who is 10, does not know the lyrics to many songs and so proceeds to make them up. Often, his lyrics contain words that do not appear anywhere in the actual song. 

Recently, Alex adapted the lyrics of a new, popular song called “Unholy.” When the chorus soars, he belts out, “It’s the opposite, it’s the opposite. Unholy.” If you know the song, you know that’s not what it says. At all. When I realized that I didn’t really want Alex to understand the meaning of that song, I told the family to just let him sing it the way he wants. And the funny part is when I hear the song, I often end up using Alex’s words too. But Alex’s general tendency to substitute his own lyrics seems to bug Clay. He regularly says, “those aren’t the right words” with an edge to his voice.  

We’ve all heard it said that all of us have a soundtrack for our lives. For example, songs from the mid-1990s usually transport me to fun dorm life with my besties. To this day, we text when we hear a throwback song on the radio. Sometimes though a song can trigger my memories of being lonely during that period as well. I remember crying to Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” when she sang, “we both know I’m not what you need” because I wondered if anyone would ever need me. That sounds a bit pathetic now, but at the time, I felt completely sincere in my young adult angst. 

But this “conflict” between Alex and Clay reminded me that we hear, see, and remember things in different ways. That may sound obvious, but I think we often assume that the way we experience events is how everyone experiences them. A love song can bring back happy memories of early courtship for a long-term couple. The same song can make someone else sad and bring back painful memories of love lost. We perceive things differently because of our age, our upbringings, the struggles we’ve endured, the state of our minds and emotions. 

When Ben and I were dating, we saw a movie that was not intended to produce strong emotions. As we walked back to his apartment, I was obviously in my feelings. He asked what was wrong. I said, “I don’t want to end up like that woman in the movie!” She was a mean workaholic who was detached from her family. I didn’t even have a family of my own yet, but my fear of turning into a person like that shook me up. The key to that conversation though was Ben asking me why I’d had that reaction. He didn’t make assumptions about why I was suddenly distraught. He didn’t substitute his version of events or his perceptions. He asked. He wanted to know how I’d filtered the story so he could understand. 

That’s a lesson we can all stand to learn over and over. The only way we can even come close to understanding what another person is thinking or feeling is to ask them to tell us. To be open to their answer even if it’s not part of our experience. And to take their words and emotions seriously. If we dismiss them because we don’t think their experience is valid, we damage the relationship. We can’t tell another person that “those aren’t the right words” when they reveal what is true for them. So, the next time we hear someone “singing” a song with lyrics we don’t recognize, let’s ask them to share the meaning of their words so we can forge a stronger connection between us. 

Out of the Loop


Last week, I was locked out of the account I use for my online classes. At first, I thought it was a problem with the school’s server, so I gave up after a few tries. The next day I tried again but was rebuffed by the technology once more. The site asked me to reset my password and when I attempted to do so, it said I couldn’t do so without administration approval. I was caught in a technology loop that I couldn’t escape.   

I realized that I hadn’t paid my invoice and wondered if that was the reason. I called and paid my bill and then asked the woman on the phone if the school was experiencing server problems. She wasn’t aware of any but said she would send a message to the program director. Over the next two days, the program director and I emailed and then she called to walk me through a series of steps to fix it. That didn’t work, so she told me to email the IT department. When I didn’t hear back from them, I emailed the program director again and she noticed that I’d emailed the wrong address using .com instead of .edu. I couldn’t seem to catch a break. Finally, late on Friday – day four of this process – the IT department reset my password, and I was able to get back into my account to do my work on Saturday. 

I was so exhausted by the whole process. I found myself frustrated because I was unable to watch the lecture videos and do what I needed to do. Instead, I ran in circles for a week. Thankfully, the problem was easily solved once I reached the people who knew how to fix it. Unfortunately, many of life’s problems are not so easily solved. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m caught in a loop in my head. I fret and stew about an issue that’s bothering me. I spiral down the rabbit hole of anxiety. I can get caught in a mental maze so that I can’t find my way out. And I can’t turn my attention to things that need to be done because so much of my energy is drained by my incessant worrying. 

So how in the world do we stop the worry loop or at least loosen its grip on us? While no solution works every time, I find that when I talk about my concerns, I start to feel better. Recently, I’ve been procrastinating. I needed to make a phone call but had been avoiding it. I just couldn’t make myself do it even though I knew I would feel better once I called. Then this week, I talked to my best friends at lunch and my therapist as well, and they reminded me that underneath my procrastination was legitimate concern and fear. That it was reasonable for me to hesitate. That my avoidance was not laziness. Finally, I was able to get out of my head and make the call. But if I hadn’t talked it out with others, I would probably still be spinning around the same thought pattern. 

When we find ourselves running on the same thought track over and over, we can help ourselves by discussing our concerns with people we trust. They may not be able to fix our problems, but they may help us break out of our repetitious thinking and allow us to take action instead. Sometimes, being out of the loop is exactly where we want to be.  

A Rose By Any Other Name…


I’ve always loved the television show The Golden Girls. I watched it with my parents as a kid when it originally aired on NBC. When I was in law school, I would watch it late at night after I got back to my apartment from studying at the library. Ben even gave me the first season on DVD early on in our relationship. The Hallmark channel now shows reruns early in the mornings and late in the evenings. Recently, I bought all seven seasons and watched all episodes in order. The show was ground breaking at the time because it showed mature women living together as roommates in Miami, supporting one another as they worked, dated, talked, and ate lots of cheesecake. It also tackled subjects like aging, fixed incomes, homelessness, AIDS, healthcare for women, LGBTQ concerns, and politics. For the most part, the show still holds up today. 

Blanche (Rue McClanahan) was the beautiful, sexy one; Sophia (Estelle Getty) was the oldest one, who was both wise and wise cracking; Dorothy (Bea Arthur) was the smart, sarcastic one who suffered others’ ridicule about her looks and dating life; and Rose (Betty White) was the innocent, sweet one from St. Olaf, a fictional town in Minnesota. One day a couple of friends and I were talking about our love of The Golden Girls when one asked, “which one are you?” Immediately upon being asked, my friend and I both responded, “Dorothy.” I was convinced I was most like Dorothy. I wanted to be Dorothy. And then one day, I was watching an episode and thought, “Oh no, I’m Rose!” 

Now, let me be clear – they called Rose stupid on a regular basis, and I’m not stupid. But naïve at different times in my life about certain subjects, yes. Maybe even today I fall into the naïve category at times because people’s actions still surprise me. I find myself baffled at the news and social media. Just the other day, I tried to read a series of twitter comments by a group of teenagers, and I hardly understood a word they were saying. I like to think that I’m pretty open-minded, but my eyes are still opened on a regular basis – in both good and bad ways. Rose always tried to learn when she was presented with new information, and I hope I do the same. 

I told myself I didn’t act like Rose. She told tales beginning with “back in St. Olaf” in order to make a point. But then I realized I tell a story every single week on my blog that starts with a small moment I observed or experienced that led to a larger life lesson. I also grew up in a small town. Not in Minnesota, but in Arkansas. Plenty of people make fun of me because of my hometown just like they did Rose. And I know that I’ve always had a reputation for being a goodie-two-shoes just like Rose. Although Rose can be edgy, as can I. I still laugh when Rose delivers the line to Dorothy, “Wow, with only three hours of sleep, I can be as bitchy as you!” 

After my initial disappointment at recognizing myself in Rose, I realized that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Rose is kind and friendly. She cares deeply about her friends and family. She is earnest and authentic. She likes to laugh and tries to be happy. I try to embody all of those positive qualities. I don’t always succeed, but I make the effort most of the time. 

After all these years, I’m still adjusting to this newfound kinship with Rose. I’ll watch the show as usual but with a new view to appreciating Rose. I’ll look for the qualities that make her character special and embrace them as my own. There’s something special about living with our hearts open to wonder. Maybe we could all use a little more Rose in our lives. 

Anticipating the Worst


After church one Sunday, I looked at my daughter Riley and said, “you were having some trouble reading the screen this morning.” I was teasing her about messing up a few words when we were reading the prayers off the big screen at the front of the sanctuary. My oldest son Jed said, “she does that all the time.” Riley responded, “I was having trouble with the words of the prayers and the songs today.” Jed said, “yeah, it was special.” We all laughed. Then Riley explained that she thinks she knows what the next word should be so she says what she thinks is coming before the slide on the screen changes. This I understood. I don’t necessarily jump ahead when reading the screen, but trying to anticipate what comes next is a common cause of stress for me. 

Last year when Riley was a senior in high school, I worried about pretty much everything. I worried about her choosing a college. I feared how I would feel when she performed her last dance performance with the studio she’d been with since she was four-years-old. I felt anxious about getting through her graduation. I feared about how I would make it through her college move-in day. I was scared of her living so far away from us. 

I created a lot of heart ache for myself by thinking of all the things that could happen and assuming they would all be negative. I believed I couldn’t handle the future unfolding before me, and I carried that burden around with me constantly. The anticipation of those events was so much worse for me than the events themselves. Even though I cried plenty of tears during those events as they occurred, we survived and even thrived. Instead of being interminably sad, I felt so proud of Riley for all of she’d done and who she’d become that I felt happiness through the tears. 

Sometimes anticipation is joyous and full of excitement. Sometimes anticipation is helpful and necessary as it was this week when we prepared for an incoming ice storm. But anticipation as defined in the Oxford Languages website involves “expectation or prediction,” and if we assume our expectations will be disappointing or if our predictions are negative, we end up dreading the future. Fearing failure. Consumed with apprehension. 

Turns out, I may come by this fraught relationship with anticipation naturally. The Enneagram is a personality typing system that for me, is eerily accurate. I am an Enneagram 6, and this is a description of my type: “Sixes are defined by their desire for safety and security. They seek to anticipate and avoid risk… Sixes are alert and vigilant, always thinking several steps ahead to anticipate and prepare for what could go wrong.” ( Even knowing this about myself, I still get caught in the trap of negative anticipation. I have a hard time remembering my tendencies curbing them before they consume me.

We can all benefit from taking a step back when we find ourselves focused on negative expectations and predictions. We can take a deep breath and recognize that focusing only on fear of the future creates anxiety and unnecessary stress and usually solves nothing. Let us care for ourselves in the present by limiting our anticipation of what may go wrong in the future.