Voice Lessons for Today Blog » Insights from Atlanta therapist Mazi Robinson

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Angels Encamping Round About

My Grandmama and Granddaddy were the quintessential grandparents.  When I was a little girl, I was often surprised when I saw pictures of friends’ grandparents and they did not look like Grandmama and Granddaddy.  Grandmama always wore a dress and was a master cook, seamstress, and hostess.  She used to say she could fill her house from top to bottom with the number of pound cakes she’d made over the years.  It seemed she was always working on an afghan or baby booties for someone she knew.  She was generous, loving yet firm, and unknowingly quite funny.

Granddaddy was a preacher, having been ordained in the Primitive Baptist Church in 1939, and preached up until he left this world in 1999.  I never saw him in anything but a button down shirt, dress pants and dress shoes, and he wore a fedora even in the 1990’s.    When I was very young I often imagined that Santa must be a lot like Granddaddy (except, of course, Santa had a beard, a red velvet hat, and owned reindeer).  Even to this day when I read the verse in Twas the Night Before Christmas about Santa’s twinkling eyes and his jolly laugh that made his belly shake like a bowl full of jelly, I still think of Granddaddy.  Granddaddy was quite jolly, his eyes often twinkled, and he had the most wonderfully hearty laugh.

Granddaddy as Daddy Warbucks to my Annie

 

I have numerous memories of Grandmama and Granddaddy.   I remember our weekly visits at their house on Sunday afternoons.  I remember Grandmama always had a baggie of marshmallows and other little candies in her purse when I went to church with them.  I remember the feel of their sofa and sitting next to Grandmama as her hands rapidly worked the yarn and crochet needle with effortless meticulousness.   I remember Granddaddy sitting in his easy chair studying his Bible and humming hymns.

My most treasured stories involving my grandparents occurred years before I was even born.  Grandmama and Granddaddy were a young married couple raising their children during the Great Depression.  Although I would never want to label or oversimplify anyone, I do feel that this fact alone summarizes so much of who they were.  They were strong, principled, hard working, sacrificing, and faith-filled individuals who loved God, country, and family.   They married in 1928 and in 1931 purchased 14 acres in Conley, Georgia.  Granddaddy immediately began working on the small brick house that would house five children, welcome 17 grandchildren, over 30 great grandchildren, and countless house guests, and host numerous family gatherings over the next 66 years.   Granddaddy had immense faith in God’s provision and care, and it was this faith that carried them through very difficult times.

In the middle of the Depression, work was hard to come by and sometimes Granddaddy would walk seven miles to the nearest streetcar, take the streetcar into town to work at whatever job he’d learned was hiring, and then walk the seven miles home at the end of the day.  During a particularly lean period, Granddaddy learned that the government was giving out flour and other supplies in a town eleven miles away.  He decided to go after giving it much thought, but while walking to Jonesboro, his heart was heavy and unsettled with receiving what he saw as a handout.  After prayer and thought, he decided to turn around and walk home believing that God’s faithfulness was greater and would do more to meet his needs than any government issued flour and lard.

Some years after this incident, someone asked Granddaddy, “Why do you have such a big yard to mow and care for?”  Granddaddy replied, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye and a peace-filled smile on his face, “It’s for the angels encamping round about.”

 

In particularly trying times, I reflect often on this story.  I picture that little house and the spirit of peace and comfort covering it.  I picture that dear man and woman living life and surviving trials and difficulties all the while placing their faith and trust in something Greater, and I remind myself that that is my spiritual DNA.  That strength and faith lies within me and is there for the taking.  I hold onto that image of Granddaddy walking that long road and of him gazing out over his conscientiously cared for acreage, and it gives me encouragement and hope.  It reminds me that I have present help in times of trouble.  It reminds me to lift my eyes and remember from whence cometh my help.

Our memories are powerful.  Images, people, places, and things fill our memories and provide us with hope and courage to face the trials and unknowns in our lives.  These memories become almost like visual mantras that we can call to mind in our downtrodden moments.  We can play these images over and over in our minds gleaning the strength we need to face another day or walk another mile.

What are the memories or stories that give you hope and encouragement?  What is a visual mantra you could create today?

 

 

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34:4-8

Skinny Jeans

Skinny jeans. I have stared at them for a few years. I have eyed them with suspicion and contempt. Can they really be that comfortable? Isn’t it exhausting pulling them on and tugging them off? Don’t you eventually start to lose circulation in your legs with that denim stretched around them? A friend of mine repeatedly tried to convince me of the benefits to a good skinny jean. I told her she must be delusional. She told me that I needed to get over myself and just get some skinny jeans. I told her never.

Fast forward to this past Fall…

I love to read, and I tend to read in themes and seasons. Meaning, I like to take a whole season and read about a particular theme. This past Fall I decided to engross myself in the topics of shame and grace and specifically the work of Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and the author of Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me. In her writing and research, she discusses the seemingly universal struggle with feeling worthy and believing we are enough because we live in a world that floods us with messages that we are not good enough, productive enough, thin enough, successful enough, etc. When we wrestle with feeling not enough, we grow quiet. We leave out parts of our story. We avoid situations that make us feel exposed. We hide in routine and people pleasing and attempted perfectionism. We try to live like an Impressionist painting in art museum- we want people to stay behind the red rope so we look impressive from far away.

The more I read, the more it forced me to come face to face with my own ways of hiding and retreating and the true reason behind them. I started honestly admitting why I avoided certain situations and things in life. I recognized that some of the rituals and routines I have adopted are really ways I was giving into this fear of not being good enough.

Oh and as for my suspicion, contempt, and adamant rejection of skinny jeans? Well that fell under the categories of hiding, retreating, and avoiding, too.

I realized I was caught in a cycle: every time I retreated or avoided a new experience because I felt insecure or unsure, the not good enough feeling won and got stronger. Our actions reinforce our thinking. If we never challenge the beast, then we’ll never believe it can be defeated… and we end up being the ones defeated.

Brené Brown goes on to say that the antidote to feeling not good enough is learning to embrace vulnerability rather than avoid it. What does this mean in practical terms? It means we have to first get really honest with ourselves about all the ways we hide and retreat. We have to admit the things we are waiting to do once we are (fill in the blank) enough. Are you waiting to have people over to your house once it is decorated enough? Are you waiting to share what has really been going on in your life once you are put together enough? Are you waiting to truly enjoy summertime and pool parties and beach vacations once you are thin enough? Are you waiting to finally pursue that calling or hobby or family time you desire once you are financially secure enough? Once we identify the ways we are hiding and what we are hiding from, we can start practicing vulnerability.

Vulnerability defeats the beast.

Practicing vulnerability means opening ourselves up to life and to others, which means opening ourselves up to risk and uncertainty. Practicing vulnerability is a choice. We choose to come out of hiding. We choose to have a voice. Practicing vulnerability means verbalizing the struggles and worries that race through your mind late at night. It means telling the parts of your story you wish weren’t there. It means trying something new despite your self-doubt or nervousness.

It means wearing the skinny jeans.

Practicing vulnerability does not always mean you make some major life change or unload your entire personal history over one lunch date. It may mean making just a slight change in your life that no one may notice but you, but that slight change begins chipping away at that deeply rooted not enough feeling. You then discover how to break the cycle: new actions help reinforce new thinking. One small step creates a ripple effect. I took my small step in a pair of Curvy Skinny Jeans from The Gap.  Each one of us has a “skinny jean” in our life.  Each one of us has something we avoid doing or don’t share with anyone or have stopped doing because we feel too exposed or are worried what people will think.

So what is your “skinny jean”? What is something you could try that you’ve never done before? What is something you could share that you’ve never shared before? Anytime you do something different, whether it is a big or small thing, and you feel that little wave of nervousness, you are showing courage and practicing vulnerability. Pushing yourself out of your rituals and routines builds up your vulnerability “muscle” and frees you from your not enough thinking. Embracing your “skinny jean” could start the revolution that just might change your life.

 

What are you not doing because you are waiting to be _______ enough? What is your “skinny jean”?

Stephanie - Great post Mazi! and so helpful. i enjoy your blog so much!

Friendships: Now and Then

Over the past several years, I have asked anyone I could find whether they thought friendship was more challenging in adulthood or childhood. I wondered why my friendships seemed different in this season of life than previously.  I wondered if I was the only one that sometimes felt like everyone had all these friends and girls nights.  Eventually a friend directed me to a New York Times article on adult friendships, and I let out a sigh of relief- I must be normal, I thought, if the New York Times was writing about my latest worry.  According to my friends, the New York Times, and some researchers in the Mid-West, friendship is more challenging in adulthood.  Great.  Now what?

The evolution of our friendships in adulthood can feel like a shock to our system.  We wonder if we missed the memo or if someone forgot to even send the memo.  We wonder why no one ever mentioned these relational transitions in the volumes of advice we received over the years regarding adulthood.  At some point, we realize friendships are different now.  The landscape has changed.  It feels more challenging to form and sustain friendships.  It is harder to meet people.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is moving on and you are being left behind.

I think the biggest root of this different landscape is:  CHANGE.  Everyone goes through so much CHANGE in adulthood that it impacts our ability to make and sustain close, in person, in touch friendships.

Previously, we saw people on a regular basis, we lived near one another, and we were involved in the same activities. We had mirrors.  But as we grow older, things interfere with establishing these connections because everyone is in a different place:  single, married, married with children, focusing on career, changing jobs, having a job but not a career, going back to school, financially secure, financially insecure, etc.  It is hard to find that “mirror” and as a result we may feel distant from one another or like no one really knows us.  Also, I think (hopefully) as we grow older, we get to know ourselves better, and we may have less tolerance for conformity and nodding along when really we disagree.  When we were younger, we didn’t really know ourselves so it was easy to mesh and conform to the group.  But we’re older now, and we know what we like and don’t like, what we value, and what we need, so it is harder to ignore or mask all of that for the sake of fitting in.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy in forming new friendships because we can’t help but compare our new friends with our old ones.  Will I laugh the way I did with Joanna, Kim and Melissa?  Will someone understand so much about me like Patty?  Will someone make life so fun and full of color like Annie?  I once read that nostalgia is the worst form of comparison, and I think that is particularly true when it comes to friendship.  Our historical friendships have something that our newer relationships can never have- they know our history.  They know our quirks.  They know our families.  They know how far we’ve come, and they know that on the week you open your new practice you will be riding a roller coaster of emotion so they call and send cards to encourage you and check in on you.  They know you.  There is something truly beautiful about history.

But for most of us we don’t live near our historical friends, and so whereas they know our past, they don’t always know our day-to-day news.  This is where our new friends step in.  They know the things that we are currently facing. They know what book we’re reading, or how work is going, or what we decided to do about that issue with our child.  Our new friends are more likely to know us now and this is a wonderful thing as well.   Sometimes, though, we may feel that although our new friends know what we fixed for dinner, they don’t know us on a deeper level.  This is where patience and vulnerability enter the picture.   No matter how instant the connection, a true friendship takes time.  In our instant gratification society we want a best friend now, but searching for true friendship in adulthood means you have to invest time and you have to invest yourself.

Being vulnerable is critical to developing deeper friendships.  For women, especially, the depth of communication dictates closeness- the more communication, the greater the feeling of closeness.  Intimacy is in the details.   If you never share yourself or your story, people are never going to know you.  If you never share your struggles, people won’t know when to comfort you.  If no one ever really knows you, then you are never going to feel known. Without vulnerability and openness, we stay locked behind our walls performance and perfectionism.  We keep people at arms length.  We miss out on the gift of friendship and growing in connection.  Vulnerability is the key that unlocks the door to deeper friendships.

As you navigate this ever-shifting terrain of adult friendship, remember, our historical friends and our newer friends both serve important roles in our lives.  There is nothing like being able to send a one line email with a FRIENDS quote and know that your old friends know exactly what you are referencing and why.  There is also nothing like sharing in day-to-day life with your newer friends.  If we want closer friendships, we have to let people get close.  If we want to take those newer friendships to a deeper level, we have to invest time and ourselves.  Sometimes this can feel like a risk, but it is worth the risk.  It is worth the risk to be vulnerable and let people see the beautiful mess of our lives.  After all, vulnerability is contagious and the person you open up to might very well be searching for a true friend, too.

 

Challenge:  Share a little more of yourself with a friend today.  OR  Let a friend know how thankful you are to have her/him in your life.

 

kristen - You don’t know how happy these posts make me when they arrive in my inbox. I am so proud of you & your new practice! Cannot wait to celebrate in person!

Amy H - Great post! I totally resonate with it. Very few, actually only one, of my HS friends are still friends of mine today because of so much CHANGE. Though we have such fun memories. And speaking of opening up and letting people see the beautiful mess of our lives…that’s basically what I’m doing on Sunday. Having people over to a house that’s pretty much a wreck? Not my idea of fun, but at least they are family and close friends. So glad you get to share in my beautiful mess on Sunday. And so glad to be your friend!

Rebecca Speir Merry - Great post. Two things that I was never told as a child or teen: both friendships and marriage take work. If you don’t work at either, you are going to fail.

Rebecca Speir Merry - I just can’t get enough of this blog!!!!

Diane F - Great job Mazi! I can totally relate to this! Congratulations on your new practice!

Emily - AND, you never know if you will BE friends with people who you might not have been as a child UNLESS you open up!! Let’s share more!

Night Swimming

The 90’s perfectly bookend my youth- I entered middle school at the beginning of the decade and graduated college at the end.  Being a child of the 90’s meant two things:  I owned flannel and I grew up with the gang of Beverly Hills 90210.   Oh the drama of Brandon, Kelly, Dylan, Donna, and the rest!  Recently, the episode where Brandon leaves flashed through my mind.  After nine years of living and working with his group of friends in the cocoon of Beverly Hills, he decides to take a job in Washington DC.  As he wrestles with whether or not to actually move and leave his friends and life behind, Kelly asks him what he is so afraid of.  Towards the end of the episode there is this great scene where Brandon faces his longtime fear of night swimming, and he and Kelly run into the pitch-black ocean.  As they discuss their fears about night swimming and life in general, they remark that it is the unknown, the uncertainty that is so unnerving.  You don’t know, you can’t see what is out there.  It is the fear of the unknown that keeps you beachside.

This past week I felt a little like Brandon.  After six years working with wonderful colleagues at a great counseling center, I decided to run towards the unknown.  This past week I opened my own private counseling practice.  It is something that was always in the back of my mind but the timing never felt right, the thought of being on my own seemed more overwhelming than exciting.  But several weeks ago certain things fell into place and it seemed all signs were pointing in this direction.  As I weighed the pros and cons of this decision, I heard that voice… that voice in my head that speaks every once in a while, but when it does, it is loud and clear and is usually speaking from the deepest recesses of my thoughts.  I heard that voice say you’re staying because you are afraid.  The voice was so clear and was so right.  I knew then I had to go.  I could not stay out of fear… fear of failing, of not being able to make it, of losing all that the previous six years had given me.

I always tell my clients staying in something out of fear is the very worst reason to stay.  Staying out of fear is never going to turn out well.  When we stay in something out of fear, we start to feel controlled and resentment is sure to follow.  Sometimes we have to run towards the fear.  We have to embrace the mystery of uncertainty and the unknown because staying beachside and staying in the cocoon means we never get to become the butterfly.  Running towards the fear is what keeps us emotionally and spiritually alive.

This is not the first time I’ve run into the unknown, but somehow this time it feels bigger, riskier.  I have walked through two other major life changes prior to this one. When I set aside my flair for the dramatic and look at those previous changes logically, I recognize they were much bigger dives into the unknown.  I left music, the only thing I had known or invested in to that point in my life, for a giant question mark.  I left a teaching job that I loved at a school that truly felt like family for the uncertainty of a career change into counseling.  Yes, those were major turns in totally new directions and this is more of a veer to the right, but I suppose the fact that I am older, I have a family, and I know that times of testing and stretching often follow decisions like this one, leave me feeling like this dip into the ocean of the unknown is more significant.

As I look ahead into this new chapter, I am truly excited.  I am excited to continue working with women as they face their fears, overcome their pasts, and find their voices.  I am excited to continue speaking and teaching.  I am excited to simply see what happens next.  The benefit to having two previous major life changes under my belt is that I know the ebb and flow of the incoming tide, so to speak.  I know, as Rebekah Lyons says in her new book Freefall to Fly (adding this to my Worth Reading list… lots of great insights that I can’t wait to share), “sometimes we need a freefall to teach us how to fly.”  I know that not everything is going to be smooth sailing.  But I also know that those previous life-altering decisions led me down paths and gave me experiences I never could have dreamed of.   Leaving music led me into the classroom, and I discovered my love for teaching.  Leaving the classroom led me into the therapy field, and I discovered this world of counseling and speaking that I am truly honored and humbled to be a part of.  I enter this new chapter knowing the risks yet understanding the advantages of running towards your fears… you get more opportunities to face more fears.  Your story grows richer. Your life grows bigger.  Your purpose gets clarified.

So it’s official.  I have hung my shingle, and I stand ready with open hands to embrace what lies ahead.  Running towards the fear has never felt so exciting.  🙂

 

What is your night swimming?  What is one small step you could take today that would move you closer to your fear?  What have you learned from previous life-altering decisions where you have chosen the unknown over the known?

 

P.S.  I want to say a word of thanks to Kristen Bailey.  Kristen designed this blog and my new website, www.mazirobinson.com.  I cannot thank Kristen enough for using her talents and gifts to help me launch into this new venture.  Thank you for your partnership and friendship, Kristen!

 

kristen - i love this post! i am so proud of you for running towards your fear & embracing what’s ahead. i cannot wait to see where this new chapter takes you. and i am SO honored that you chose me to partner with you in bringing your brand to life. thank YOU, dear friend!!

Heather - This spoke volumes to my heart! Wow! I needed this! 🙂

Emily - very good post!! my fear now is how my colleagues may view me. working in an environment where most others strive to publish and WORK MORE, but just wanting to do my job well and connect with my patients makes me feels “less than” sometimes. the fear of NOT being viewed as successful keeps me from making that change. thanks again for this, I am just starting to examine my fears.

The Middle

Have you ever felt like you were in The Middle?  You have some distance from your past or from that life-changing event, but you still can’t fully see the light at the end of the tunnel.  You know you are farther down the road, but you aren’t to the other side yet.  You are in The Middle.

The Middle is an interesting place.  It is the in between.  It’s after the crisis but before the new chapter.  It is the period after the diagnosis but before the healing.  It’s the period after you take the leap of faith but before you land.  The Middle is the aftermath.  It occurs after the broken trust/betrayal but before the reconciliation.  It’s in between the disappointment and the redemption.  It is when we look around, and we feel lost and confused.  How did I get here?  This isn’t where I thought I would be.

The Middle comes after the tragedy but before the triumph.

Lauren Winner, in her book Still, says, Here at what I think is the beginning of the middle of my spiritual life, I begin to notice the middle rarely denotes something good.  Middle School-when girls turn mean, and all kids turn miserable- is that ‘wasteland of our primary and secondary landscape,’ the ‘crack’ between grammar school and high school.  And middles are often defined by what they are not…”

The Middle is often not quick, not easy.  The Middle is not fun.

In some ways, The Middle is much more difficult than the initial loss or crisis because in crisis there usually is a lot movement.  Things are happening.  There are doctors to be seen, funerals to attend, calls to take, emails to return, decisions to make.  Adrenaline kicks in during a crisis and carries us through.  It is human survival at its best.  It is how we do the things we never thought we would have the strength to do.  It’s when we lift the car over our heads and save the women and the children.  Often in the dramatic crises of our lives we don’t think; we survive.

But then weeks pass.  Months pass.  The calls stop.  The emails are less frequent.  The treatment that is supposed to save you feels like it is killing you.  Everyone else has moved on and is no longer asking, but your heart is still breaking.  Enough time has passed that you should be in a different place.  You shouldn’t continue to love him.  You shouldn’t still rehearse what you would like to say.  You shouldn’t still be this angry, this hurt.

See, what is so hard about The Middle is that you have nothing but time.  Everyone else’s life seems to be speeding along.  Yours seems to be stuck, to be in a standstill.  The hardest thing about The Middle is waiting… waiting for it to be over… waiting for the money to come thru, the job to come along, and the test to be positive or to be negative.  The Middle is difficult because you don’t know how long it is going to last.

It is this question of how long that is so agonizing.  Everyone wants to know how to get out of The Middle or make this period move more quickly.  Tell me how to do grief in three months max.  Tell me how to get over a break up in three weeks max. I suppose sometimes there are specific linear steps you can take.  I suppose sometimes there might be a 1-2-3.  But what I have found is that the only way out is through.  Avoiding The Middle, trying to escape, or looking for a quick exit never works.

What we discover, though, when we get to the other side is that The Middle changes us.  There is no going back.  There is only moving forward, and in this moving forward, we learn some of our most valuable lessons.  It is where we learn how to move forward.  We learn that time and faith are not platitudes or the easy way out; time and faith are the hard answers because they’re intangible and out of our control.  But they serve as the walking sticks that help us gain our footing as we move through the mire and muck.  We learn about hope.  We learn we are not alone.  We learn we are much stronger than we ever imagine because we are not alone.

The Middle is the in between.  It is the period after the tragedy but before the triumph.  It is where we keep moving forward even though we don’t see the path or understand the plan.  It is the period where we recall past Faithfulness and we find evidence of continued Faithfulness.  The Middle is where we are given the strength to bear down and say I am pressing onward to the goal for which I am being called and I’m not turning back.

 

Have you ever been in The Middle?  What was it like?  How did you get through it?

 

 

Andrea - You’re so right! I have learned that I can manage the middle when I remember how I’ve overcome other challenges and allow the feelings of the muddle to “be”. Pema Chodron is my favorite teacher on this. And Rumi the poet. 🙂 The middle is a fabulous learning space if we allow ourselves to remain open to the lessons.

Barbara Exley - thanks Mazi! When I was in quite a “middle” I came across a sermon online from a series called “the waiting room”. the one I listened to gave the “GPS” to dealing with waiting, being in the middle, in the valley etc. G: gratitude – remember God’s faithfulness from the past and all He has already done and His promises in Scripture. P: pray – alot! pray pray pray (it is a proactive thing we can all do with it seems there is nothing else we can do – my take) S: submit – at some point, and it will happen, we will no longer be in the middle/valley, waiting room or whatever place of stagnation/dispair/tragedy etc. That’s all. Love you and am wondering what your “change” is!

wendy merry - Such an interesting perspective or observation. We may not choose our tragedies, but we can use the middle to either plan our triumph or defeat. What is it about human nature that makes us crave closure? Sometimes that reconciliation never comes and we have to move onto a new chapter. Leaving that story unfished.

Karen Courcy - WOW.. another great bog post (as I just found your blog and reading some of your articles) ..

I used to think the middle is where the grace was – like a resting place. I have learned that the middle is the stuck place between the pain and the feeling of freedom. I Sometimes get caught in a catch 22 right in the middle and can’t move backwards to heal the past, or move forward to let the past go.

I write about the middle a lot and you gave a great perspective of it ..

Thank you for this writing …

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