Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Therapy Session that Wasn't

I am confident that I have a self-confidence problem.

I am also confident that my former therapist would COMPLETELY agree with me on this point. Though she considered it her job to challenge distorted thought patterns in our sessions, I considered it her job to assure me that I was doing it "correctly" when I challenged my own distorted thought patterns. Our sessions often looked something like this:

Me: So.... This is the thing that happened, and this is how I felt, and I realized this is what I was thinking, and I realized that wasn't accurate, so I changed my thinking to this instead, and then I felt better.

Therapist: That's exactly how healthy people confront their thoughts. Therapy is for people who need someone else to challenge their thoughts. WHY ARE YOU PAYING ME WHEN YOU'RE DOING MY JOB FOR ME?

Me: Because it's worth it to me to have the assurance of a trained professional that I'm doing it right?

Therapist: And it's worth the cost to you?

Me: Absolutely.

Therapist: Okay.... If it's really what you want to do, but you do not need my services.

I haven't been to see my therapist in quite some time. Life was plugging along at a good pace and I had nothing going on in my life that made me think seeing my therapist might be necessary to manage distorted thoughts and resulting negative emotions.

Then, I met the most incredible man. And we talked and talked and talked. And then we decided to go on a date. And then he asked me to go on a second date. And then he asked me to be in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship and see where things go. And I said yes. Because when a kind, gracious, brilliant man who makes your brain light up like a Christmas tree clearly states his intentions and is as attracted to you as your are to him and whose relationship interests and life goals are compatible with your own, and when he wants to pursue a relationship with you and you want the same with him, and he's clear, direct, and honest about all of it and asks you to date him, the only answer one can give is, "YES!"

Add to this the fact that he's perfectly beautiful and an excellent cook, and exceptional communicator and willing to have awkward conversations, and he's so unbelievably respectful, puts up with all of my annoying quirks (I talk to my books when I read, I'm not overly fond of music outside of a car - and then low volume, and I ask really awkward questions on a regular basis) and he loves cheese as much as I do, and it was only a matter of time before the freak out started.

I was on the brink of calling my therapist this week. "I can't do this," I thought, a bit panicked. "I'm not made for it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done it before. And it's not as though this kind of thing has ever been modeled for me in healthy ways. I'm going to fail and it will the most terrible thing ever!"

I pulled out my phone, because I could feel the panic rising.

Then, I stopped to consider just what a conversation with my therapist would look like.

Therapist; What brings you in today?

Me: I've started seeing this guy.

Therapist: How's that going?

Me: Amazing! He's fantastic and we're highly compatible, and I enjoy spending time with him. He's kind and smart and funny! What's more, he's super supportive of me and my life goals and encourages me regularly. He asks good questions and invites me to share myself with him. He doesn't shy away from my questions and he's willing to share himself with me. We're both aware that it's new and we're in the early stages which means everything is wonderful, but we're both committed to being open and honest with one another about our needs and expectations and addressing conflict in an open, honest, healthy and respectful way when conflict does eventually come up.

Therapist: That's fantastic. So, why are you here today?

Me: Because I'm dating this amazing guy.

Therapist: So, you came in to tell me that you're dating an amazing man? I'm happy to celebrate this news with you. What do you want to talk about for the next 45 minutes of your 50 minute session?

Me: Ummmm.... You know, that was it. I'm dating this amazing guy. And.... I don't know. You know, I don't know how to be in a relationship. I'm terrible at these things. I've tried before and it's never worked out and so clearly I can't do this.

Therapist: But you ended your relationship with the butcher because he was disrespectful and violated your boundaries despite you telling him in a clear, direct, honest, open and respectful fashion what your boundaries are.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you ended your relationship with the mustache because he wasn't interested in being in a relationship with you and he was simply avoiding talking about it, so you called him out on his lack of interest and ended things.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you have other relationships in your life that are deep and committed and emotionally intimate - with your best friend for instance, and your friends from grad school, and some of your co-workers.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, you clearly know how to engage in intimate relationships. You clearly know how to be clear, direct, honest, open and respectful in communicating your needs to your partner. You clearly know how to respectfully end a relationship that isn't healthy.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And from everything you've said, you're still in the early stages of a relationship, you're cognizant of the realities of the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, you're committed to engaging in this relationship in a healthy way and your partner is on board. He's demonstrated kindness, respect and clear, direct, honest and open communication with you to date?

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, why are you here to see me today?

Me: So you can tell me that I'm doing this right?

I closed my phone and put it back in my pocket. I've decided it's time to trust myself and my skills and my abilities. It's time to affirm my reality for myself and stop relying on a professional to tell me I'm healthy. It's time to stop listening to the voice of self-doubt in my head and trust both in myself and in my partner, that even if I haven't had great role models for healthy romantic relationships, we can work together to figure out how we work together.

And I'm going to trust that I can do this thing, because I've done millions of things before that no one ever modeled for me, things I had to figure out on my own, and it wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always pretty, and I didn't always manage such things with all of the grace I wish I had, but I did them and I learned and I grew and I love the life I have and nothing can change that. And this time, I'm not doing it alone (not that I ever did any of the other things alone, despite what it felt like at the time). I'm doing it with a kind, brilliant, respectful, incredibly sexy man at my side.

I could not be happier to trust in myself and to trust in someone else.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Key Lime Bars

It was a citrus themed weekend.

Key Lime Bars:


For the Crust:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 1 lb key limes
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking. Immediately pour key lime filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

Passionfruit Bars

In line with the most recent recipes I've been working on, this weekend I stopped by the grocery store to pick up eggs in order to make lemon bars and key lime bars and saw that passionfruit was on sale! So, I bought several with the intentions of making passionfruit bars as well.

I love the tartness of passionfruit, but it's quite a delicately flavored fruit otherwise. As such, these are a very mild bar, which I liked less than the key lime, but which one of my hosts favored a great deal. I also altered the crust and cut back on the total sugar in the recipe. It could still be tweaked, but all in all, it was pretty good.

*****

Crust:
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour

Filling:
Pulp (seeds removed) of 10 passionfruit
1 cup sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Combine butter, sugar and flour until it resembled course crumbs. Press into a 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add pulp and eggs. Mix completely.

Pour filling over hot crust and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool. Cut and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry

Having made lemon bars last week which led to some experimentation including Margarita Bars earlier this week. I also felt inspired between making and delivering the lemon bars to make the lemon bars with some herbaceous goodness in the crust.

As such, I present to you the recipe for Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry.



For the Crust;

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)
Leaves of 15-20 thyme stems

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 2 large or 4 small lemons
4 eggs

10 oz  raspberry cake and pastry filling.


Preheat oven to 350*.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking, remove from oven and dot with raspberry cake and pastry filling. Immediately pour lemon filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

*****

I continue to think I may need to bake the crust longer. Maybe 25-30 minutes. I was using a different oven, so it may be a matter of equipment.

I also did not have lemon extract on hand, and this is quite regretful. The extra tsp or two really makes it great.

In the future, I would double the thyme and halve the raspberry filling. More likely, I would double the thyme and fresh raspberries instead of filling. But, as first attempts go, this wasn't terrible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Margarita Bars

Someone I know, who also happens to be quite special to me, loves lemon bars. And because I love to feed people I love, I made a big batch of lemon bars for this individual. While I was in the process of transporting the lemon bars, it occurred to me that there are numerous ways I can alter a basic lemon bar recipe to make it more spectacular.

As a girl who loves lime and tequila and all things margaritas, I decided to adjust the recipe to make margarita bars. And since several people have told me how much they enjoy these bars, I'm including the recipe here for you, my faithful readers.

Margarita Bars

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups gf flour (I like Domata brand)
1 tsp kosher salt

Margarita Topping

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 6 limes
4 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp orange extract
3 oz good silver tequila
6 pkgs True Lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* F.

Line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, whisk sugar and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add the remaineder of th fill ingredients. Mix completely.

Pour over hot crust and return to oven. Bake an additional 20 minutes.

Cool completely. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Cut into squares to serve. If you like a saltier margarita, top each individual bar with a sprinkle of kosher salt.



These bars are super tart, the tequila comes through nicely, and the salt on top adds a delightful contrast to the occasional bitterness brought by the lime zest.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Supernova

The English language is woefully deficient for the purposes of communicating emotions. It is particularly stilted in expressing love. Love comes in so many forms and fashions and ways of being, that a single word could never adequately express the nuance of this emotion.

I mean, I love cheese. I really love cheese.

I also love my dog. While I would run into a burning building to rescue my dog, I would not be willing to run into a burning building to grab a chunk of cheese out of the fridge. I can always buy more cheese. There is only one Liliputian.

I do not love Liliputian more than cheese because she's irreplaceable. I love Liliputian because she's Liliputian. And I would be willing to risk life and limb to save her because I love her.

That's just the way it works.

I love panties. They're my favorite accessory. I don't wear jewelry or make-up. I don't do much with my hair. But I have got a collection of panties that rivals the stock at the local Victoria's Secret. I'm willing to invest a ridiculous amount of money that could better serve the world elsewhere because I love panties. Though they could certainly be replaced, dependent on the degree of conflagration, I might be willing to run into a burning building to save my panties.

I love my best friend. My best friend is amazing. An extraordinary human being who has been by my side through some of the worst shit a person can endure. I love my best friend more than cheese. I love my best friend more than my panty collection. I do not love my best friend more than my dog, if a choice had to be made, I'd drag my best friend from a burning building first and then go back for my dog.

All of these are prioritized differently: cheese, my panty collection, my dog, my best friend.... Yet, I use the same word, love, to express my feelings about them.

This is where the English language falls short.

Greek does a better job.

There are four words in Greek which are translated into English as "love."

Eros - the root word from which we get "erotic" refers to sensual love. Often times, when people discuss the Greek term "eros" they liken it to "lust," but this isn't the case. Eros is about far more than strong sexual desire. It's the creative force of life.

Storge - familial love. Oh, family! How we love our parents, our siblings., our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our children if we have them. In some ways, it might be the (dare I write it?) obligatory of shared genetic material. It's a natural affection born of familiarity.

Philia - friendship! Brotherly love! It is the root of our words for many fetishes or sexual obsessions, though this is a misuse of the term, in my opinion. This is a love typically based on common interests or shared intentions. This type of love is most often symmetrical - reciprocal levels enagement and investment on the parts of all parties involved.

Agape - the divine love. This is a love for which no definition could ever suffice. To understand agape, you have to have experienced agape. It's simply the way it is.

Even with these four do not encompass all ways of loving and experiencing love.

The whole of my adult life, I've been reasonably closed off from others. I do not share myself. I am not vulnerable. I do not engage emotionally outside of very carefully constructed and demonstrably safe relationships. And this is not good.

So, about three months ago, I decide to start exercising my vulnerability muscles. Whoo! Terrifying.

To be emotionally open with myself and others; something I've never done before because being open means being vulnerable and being vulnerable means (gasp) I might get hurt.

I never expected to be someone who could understand different types of love (apart from the rigidly defined and carefully constructed relationships and love explained above). Nor did I ever expect to be someone who could be okay with less structured loves; to feel safe in learning new ways of loving even and especially if everything isn't even-steven.

Yet, in practicing openness and vulnerability, in exploring greater intimacy, I have found that rather than being scary and hard and painful, opening myself has been freeing and expansive and good.

And I've found another type of love that does not fit the aforementioned types.

I call it "Supernova" love.

Supernovae happen when stars explode, are reborn as a new stellar expression of light. The energy they emit is so intense it briefly outshines every other source of light in an entire galaxy. Supernovae are intense.

Supernova love is intense as well. Incredibly shortlived. Full of passion and energy and spark. It's that moment when you meet someone and everything falls into place and the energy is right and you fall in love for an instant. But that kind of energy is not sustainable longterm.

When the moment is over, there are remnants in our soul. If circumstances do not permit that love to grow into another (philia or agape) one might be tempted to pull in upon themselves and shrink away from further vulnerability. Because once you've experienced that power and it's no longer present, what do you do with the space left behind?

Rather than a loss to be mourned, however, when that love has passed, if we permit, it can carry us forward and remind us that for a moment, we touched and were touched by the most powerful force in the universe and we survived. It will have shaped us and changed us and lighted the way for the next encounter.

And the next encounter is sure to come if we open ourselves to that experience and hold it lightly while it's ours.

When the Storms of Life are Raging

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

*****

One of my favorite British comedies is a show called “Rev.
”  This hilarious comedy is about a vicar in the Church of England, Adam Smallbone, who has very successfully served in a large and engaged congregation in the countryside. At the start of the series, he has just been moved to a massive church in significant need of repairs with a tiny congregation of messy and broken people in inner city London. 

It is never made clear in the series whether Adam was sent to this church or if he chose to go, and I’m not familiar enough with the polity of the Church of England to infer how he came to be the vicar at St. Saviour’s. What I can tell you is that watching Adam try to serve God and love people in inner city London is quite painful. Don’t get me wrong, this is the funniest show I have ever seen. But it’s painful! 

Adam seems to have been thrust into circumstances foreign to all he has known before and he’s struggling to figure out how to use his gifts in this new situation while navigating a new place, a lot of very emotionally needy people who lack appropriate boundaries, providing age-appropriate religious education to the parish school, while NOT flirting with the headmistress and attempting to maintain a loving relationship with his wife Alex. 

As the series continues, Adam finds himself in a lot of uncomfortable situations. He has a secretary/liturgist/treasurer who opposes him at every turn, an archdeacon who insults him constantly, an old classmate/rival who’s wildly successful in the church who plagiarizes Adam, St. Saviour's continues to be in constant need of repairs and Adam struggles to know whether he’s been called to this parish to be a priest or an accountant, he rarely sees his wife who resents the fact that Adam is a priest, he receives a bad review in the press, and despite Alex’s frequent complaints in seasons one and two that they don’t share enough intimacy, Adam and Alex finally have a child together in season three, at which point Adam begins to complain about their lack of intimacy. 

Life in ministry has never been so honestly portrayed on the small screen. Forget crime-fighting, mystery-solving Father Dowling of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. From the constant visits from unwelcome visitors at all hours of the night to the lack of sufficient hours in the day to get it all done; from the faithful few individuals who continue to show up at church for services and office hours to the occasional snide remarks by Adam; from the competition with the megachurch to produce more numbers and bring in a bigger collection to the absolutely terrifying theology of the evangelical hip-hop service across town; from the crippling self-doubt and prayers desperately seeking answers, meaning, direction, confirmation to the complete and utter burn out that Adam experiences by the end of the third and purportedly final season, “Rev.” gets it right. 

As Adam struggles to balance the demands of being a pastor/fundraiser/counselor/teacher with his role as a husband and father, he is not particular successful in most of his roles. It feels as though he’s been sold out by the church; or rather sold into ministerial slavery and he’s sinking. He’s absolutely drowning. Adam is fervently seeking to serve the Lord and focus on what’s important. When it comes to it though, at the end of the series, Adam steps down from his position as a pastor and seeks to pursue a career in the secular world. 

His ministry over, the failing parish closes, and his former congregation is scattered. Everyone blames Adam and they make it clear that they believe he is at fault, verbally accosting him whenever they happen to cross paths in public. But his wife, Alex, realizes that some kind of closure is necessary, and as the series ends, she convinces Adam to break into the church with his ragtag group of followers and do a sunrise Easter service as his final act of ministry to this now disbanded congregation. As Adam stands with these people, including the ever-insulting archdeacon and passive-aggressive, undermining secretary/liturgist/treasurer, in this now closed church at 6:00 in the morning, he prays: 

Dear Lord, 

I seem to be back in a cassock again. You won’t let me go, apparently. Is this what resurrection is? Here I am surrounded by the people who believe in me. I’m going to miss them all, Lord. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. I am leaving you but not just yet. 

Amen 

“You won’t let me go, apparently.” You won’t let me go.  

How many times in life have we felt burnt out? At the end of our rope? Tired? Done? Just plain over it? How many times have we, like Joseph, been going about our business, discovered what we needed wasn’t where we expected it to be, met someone who seemed to point us in the direction we needed to go (“They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’”) only to find ourselves feeling as though we’d been cast into a pit? Or worse yet, sold off and living in exile? 

Do you ever wonder who that stranger was, whom Joseph met in Shechem? Who was this man wandering the fields where his brothers were supposed to be pasturing their father’s flock? And how do you suppose Joseph felt about him in that moment that his brothers threw him into a pit while they sat down to eat? How do you suppose he felt when they lifted him out of the pit only to sell him as a slave to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver? 

I know I would have been cursing that interfering stranger to the heavens! Initially. In the coming weeks, the lectionary will take you through the rest of Joseph’s journey, his time in Egypt, his reconciliation with his family. At the end of it all, perhaps he’ll look back and be grateful to that stranger who led him on an adventure he could never have dreamt he’d be on. 

While I often respond with anger at the perceived instigator of my troubles, I think I’d rather be like Peter. I want to walk on water. I want to approach Jesus fearlessly and full of faith. That’s what we see Peter do. “Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” Oh, to have that kind of faith. 

“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 

Oh. I guess Peter’s faith wasn’t so strong after all. Much like Peter, much like Adam Smallbone, we can focus on Jesus, we can take steps in faith, we can even walk on water. For a time. Too often our attention is drawn away from Jesus and as we begin to focus on the strong winds and choppy waters, we forget about who has called us to this time and place, and focus instead on the storms raging in our lives. We get distracted by all that is going wrong and forget to consider what is going right. 

The amazing thing about storms – literal or metaphoric – is that we are actually powerless to do anything about them. We cannot control the actions of others any more than we can control when the winds blow, the lightning strikes, the rains fall. However, we can choose where we invest our energy – mental, emotional, physical . In remaining focused on Jesus, the storms of life will rage on, but we will still strand firm upon the turbulent waters. 

“Lord, save me!” 

“You won’t let go of me, apparently.” 

It’s hard. Sometimes, it feels impossible. When life gets bad, really bad, it can be hard to see Jesus, standing right in front of us, reaching out a hand. Where, then, can we turn? 

The apostle Paul assures us in Romans, that “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” 

Jesus, the Word, is as close to us as the whisper of our breath passing our lips. When we call out to him, he is faithful to answer, for any “who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 

You won’t let me go, apparently. Is this what resurrection is? Here I am surrounded by the people who believe in me. I’m going to miss them all, Lord. For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. I am leaving you but not just yet. Amen.”