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Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Uses of Prayer

I often wonder whether God responds to prayers about sports.

I remember watching this football game where Boston College and Notre Dame were playing, and it was really close and dramatic.  I can’t remember what year.  Some time in the ’90’s.  I’m sure there are sports fans out there who remember this game in more detail than I do.  Anyway, they showed the players of both teams on the sidelines, kneeling and holding hands in prayer.  I can’t remember who won, but clearly God could not answer the prayers of both teams.

Most of the time I try to pray for “noble” things when it comes to sports.  For example, before my tennis team plays, I’ll pray that everyone stays injury-free, that we play to the best of our abilities, and that we are kind to ourselves, our partners, and our opponents. 

And when I’m desperate, I pray that we win.  But since I’m ambivalent about whether this is a good use of prayer, it usually goes something like this:

I know you’re busy with more important things and you probably don’t intervene in things like sporting events, but if it’s OK to pray for, please let my team win.  I read that angels can intervene if you let them, so maybe you could just send one angel our way.  If you say no, I totally understand

It’s sort of a neurotic prayer, I know, but I’m a neurotic person, so what did you expect?

Today I really wanted UVA to win.  My prayer was sort of like a conversation with God during our last drive:

God, you must have intervened when Maryland completed that pass on 3rd and 23, so if there’s any way you can keep this drive alive for us, please do so.  Please let us get this one win.  We really need it.  In fact, if we win, I’ll make my blog about prayer today.

And I have to say, there were some pretty miraculous things that happened to give us a chance to win: calls that went our way, unexpected turnovers on Maryland’s part, penalties that helped us complete first downs.  Everything seemed to be poised for an upset.  In the end our 2nd string kicker had a chance to win the game with a field goal, but he didn’t make it, so we lost by 1 point. 

It was a heartbreaking loss, but I do believe my prayer was answered.  I think the most we can ask for is to be given the chance to make something happen for ourselves, and we had that.  The rest is up to us.

So I decided to write a blog on prayer, anyway.

P.S.  My friend who is a hard core ND fan knew what game I was talking about:
Nov. 20, 1993:  ND (#1) vs. BC (#17) in the last regulation game of the season; BC won 41-39.

P.P.S.  They just showed Texas A&M players kneeling and holding hands while Johnny Manziel leads them in prayer.  Their kicker makes a field goal with 4 seconds left, beating Ole Miss 41-38.

Tennis Courtships

Finding a tennis partner is a lot like dating; there’s this nervousness and excitement about asking someone to play with you, whether they like you, and whether they want to enter a tennis marriage.

Once my friend set me up with one of her colleagues who was a really good tennis player.  He was a 4.5 and I am a 3.5 and we were going to play an 8.0 mixed team together.  The first time we practiced I was really nervous about whether he thought my game was any good.  I got hit in the eye pretty badly by our opponent so I wasn’t really able to play my best tennis. 

Afterwards I tried to get the scoop from my friend:  Did he like me?  Did he ask about me?  Did he think I was any good?  Unfortunately, we did not win any matches during the season so I don’t think he had that much fun and he never asked me to play again.  I wasn’t too upset because he really was out of my league.

In many cases, spouses do not make good tennis partners.  Usually the husband has high expectations for how he believes his wife should play, and this tends to get expressed as criticism on the court. Then the wife will get mad and tell the husband to worry about his own game.  In fact, it’s often a useful strategy when playing a married couple to try to get them to fight during the match.

While tennis divorces are not as painful as real divorces, they can cause hurt and angry feelings and potentially end the friendship.  Often tennis marriages end when one player moves up in rating, the pair goes on a long losing streak, or one partner cheats on the other partner by playing in a tournament and/or league with someone else.

I once had a tennis divorce when my partner moved up to 4.0.  While we dominated at 7.0, I was not good enough to hold my own at 8.0.  He started to get frustrated with my game and was asking me to make shots that I didn’t possess at the time.  I told him I thought we should both try to find someone stronger to play with and he was surprised and hurt by this.  After some tense conversations, we were able to part on good terms.

Because I live in a small town, you pretty much know everyone’s game and who is involved in a tennis relationship.  But if you live in a big city, it might be nice to have a tennis dating website that could help you find a partner.  It could be called and the slogan could be: we’ll help you find a winning partnership.

My description might go something like this:

Female 40 and over player with a 3.5 rating looking for a mixed doubles partner to compliment my game.  I’m a lefty with a great backhand and serve and I am crafty with my use of spins and lobs.  I prefer the baseline and play great defense but I am comfortable at the net and will put the ball away when I have the chance.  I like a partner who demonstrates good sportsmanship, has a positive attitude on the court, and never stops fighting for the win.

That makes me sound like an appealing partner, don’t you think?

The Unathletic Athlete

Have I mentioned that I love tennis?

Even though I am a pretty decent player, I don’t consider myself an athlete, which people find confusing.  How can you play tennis and not be an athlete?  That makes no sense.

Well, when you say it out loud it doesn’t!  That’s why you go to therapy.  Because the mere act of saying something out loud helps you realize that some long-held belief has no logical basis whatsoever.

Nevertheless, there are certain things I believe an athlete should be able to do:

  • They should be able to catch a ball with their non-dominant hand.  All of the tennis players who were once softball players can do this. 
  • They should be able throw a tennis ball over the fence and onto the court when they are fetching a ball for a player on the court. 
  • They should have an NTRP rating of at least a 4.0 or higher.
  • They should be able to play multiple sports.
  • As a child, they were chosen early in the team member selection process during gym class. 

However, there is some evidence that disputes the validity of my criteria:

  • Tennis does not require being able to catch or throw the ball without the aid of a racket.
  • There are players at the 2.5, 3.0, and 3.5 levels that win national championships.
  • Michael Jordan was not a very good baseball player.  I don’t think he was that good at golf, either.
  • When Michael Jordan was in high school, he didn’t make the basketball team.
  • Even athletes vary in how “athletic” they are.

The problem is, feelings don’t have to be logical, so reason isn’t always useful in changing my mind (see Positive and Negative Feedback post).  In cases like this, I often tell clients that sometimes believing in yourself requires a leap of faith.

So I’m working on my jumping ability, and it’s getting better.  Maybe I’m an athlete after all.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable

There are several messages that I preach in therapy and in presentations, and one is that vulnerability is a sign of strength and helps us feel connected to others.  That’s a tough sell in a culture where it’s all about cultivating the best image of ourselves as possible. 

Facebook is a good example of this.  We can post pictures just of our face so that no one can see how much weight we’ve gained.  We can even Photoshop the picture if we really want to look good.  We post happy family and friend pictures where we’re doing interesting things and visiting cool places.  We post Happy Anniversary or Happy Birthday messages to our wonderful husband/wife/daughter/son, who we are lucky to have in our lives, and they might not be able to read them because they’re not on FB.  Or aren’t yet able to read.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m guilty of all of these things, too.  I want people to see me in the best light.  I want to hide my mistakes, my flaws, my deep, dark secrets.

It has been my goal to write a book for a long time, but every time I start to write I am paralyzed by that voice in my head that says I suck.  Who do you think you are, thinking you can write?  Like you have anything worthwhile to say.  You’re family is going to be mad at you for talking about them.  People will lose respect for you once they see how crazy you are. 

I am beginning to appreciate how brave it is when writers put themselves out there–their work, their thoughts, their lives–knowing that the world will judge them. But I also have a better understanding of why they do it.  It’s because they want to speak the truth.  They want to be able to say, this is who I am, and I don’t have to apologize for it–even if they’re cringing as they write it.

I started this blog last week because it was time for me to let people read my writing.  At first I was going to write it but not publish it.  Then I decided to publish it but not put it on FB.  Then I decided I was only going to post the funny, light ones on FB.  But that would defeat the purpose of the blog. 

This blog is about learning how to accept all of myself, regardless of what other people might think of me as a result.  In doing so, hopefully it will help other people do the same.  So I’m going to publish this post, too, even though it’s the hardest one I’ve written so far.

P.S.  If you’re interested in the idea of sharing your vulnerability, check out Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly.”  She also has a TED talk on the subject.

You Know You’re Filipino if…


When I was younger, I was embarrassed by all of the things that my family did because we were Filipino; other kids were quick to point out that these things were not “normal.” 

For example, most of my friends took baths.  Based on TV commercials, adults took showers.  In my family, we filled a small basin of water and took a “bath” from that.  Once I became aware of this discrepancy, I told my mom I wanted to take baths.  The conversation would go something like this:

Me:  I want to start taking baths.  All my friends are doing it.

Mom:  No.  That’s a waste of water.

Me:  But you want me to fill the sink with water when I do dishes instead of letting the water run.  Isn’t that like giving the dishes a bath?

Mom:  No.

Me:  What about showers? 

Mom:  No.  Still too much water.

Then one day I realized that she couldn’t stop me from taking a shower so I started doing it anyway.

There were a lot of other things that my family did that made me feel different from my friends.  Little did I know, other Filipino families were doing the exact same things; it wasn’t abnormal at all! 

These days I take pride in these shared experiences.  I’m sure my Filipino friends and family could come up with more items, but this is what came to mind just off the top of my head:

  • multiple variations of the Last Supper, Virgin Mary, Crucifix, Rosary, and Nativity Scene all over the house
  • kitchens with a gigantic spoon and fork for decor
  • food eaten with your fingers or a normal-sized spoon and fork, but no knife
  • rice, garlic, soy sauce, and fish sauce (patis) for every meal
  • fish with body intact, including head
  • roasted pig (lechon) with body intact, including head 
  • a Karaoke machine
  • gigantic straw mats big enough for an entire family to sleep on
  • floor space large enough for line dancing
  • lots of uncles and aunts that you aren’t actually related to

Recently I met up with one of my Filipino friends for our annual get-together and she said that she was looking for a gigantic spoon and fork for her kitchen.  What a great idea!  Instead of comfort food, it’s sort of like comfort decor. 

Maybe I can ask my parents to give me a set for Christmas.

Karaoke Pusher

I love Karaoke.  And it’s not because I’m some great singer.  I just love to sing.  And when it’s done in the privacy of your home in front of the people who know you best, it’s not as scary as you might think.

This Friday we are having our second Decade Karaoke Party.  Not everyone likes Karaoke.  At least that’s what they claim.  So I often have to trick people into singing.  Everyone has an inner rock star, and one of my missions in life is to help people let this part out.  I would have been a great drug dealer, but fortunately I choose to use my powers of influence for good instead of evil.

Here’s how I do it:

  • I start off the party with a hard song and sing it badly.  Not on purpose.  I’m really just not that good.
  • I ask them what kind of song they would sing if they were brave enough to do it.  I have a huge repertoire of songs so there’s a good chance the song will be in there.
  • I suggest that we play the song, just to see what it sounds like.
  • I volunteer to sing it.
  • I have 2 microphones, so I coax them into holding the other mic, or at least touch it, just to see how it feels.
  • I suggest that the whole group sing and that the person hold the mic far away from their mouth and sing quietly.

By the next Karaoke party, they’re usually singing solos.  In fact, one person bought a Karaoke machine and hid it so his wife wouldn’t know that he had become a closet Karaoke singer.  He hosted the first Decade Karaoke Party.

If I could, I would have a Karaoke machine in my office and I would use singing as a therapy technique.  Kind of like what Tracy Ullman did as Ally’s therapist on Ally McBeal.  She made Ally choose a theme song, but I think it’s more important to sing in front of someone.  It’s freeing to know that you can enjoy doing something without worrying about being good at it or looking foolish.

Once you let go of those fears, anything is possible.

Positive and Negative Feedback

Have you ever noticed that when someone says something negative about you it carries much more weight than when someone says something positive about you?

One psychological theory for why this happens is that when something negative happens this is a signal that we need to change something:  be more attentive to our partner, do a better job at work, pick the spinach out of our teeth.  When someone says something positive, everything is status quo and we just go about our business.

In fact, because negativity weighs more than positivity, the magic ratio for happiness is 3 to 1:  three positive occurrences for every negative occurrence.  So whenever someone says something mean to you, find 3 people who like you and ask them to say something nice about you.

For me personally, three positive comments are not sufficient to undo the self-criticism that occurs after one negative comment.  I need a ratio of something like 50:1, so brutal is that voice in my head that tells me that I suck.

When I was teaching online, I would have 50 students in individual tutorials, which is a lot of work, especially on top of my full-time job.  Most students would give me positive feedback.

Here’s how I would treat their feedback as I went through my emails:  I really enjoyed your class!  I signed up for another one next term. (Delete)  I loved the  paper assignments.  I felt like I learned a lot about myself. (Delete)  I really loved the textbook.  I’m going to keep it rather than sell it back. (Delete)

Here’s what would happen when I got negative feedback:  I thought the exams were hard and that you did not give me enough feedback on how to improve my grade.  I’m going to complain about you to my advisor right now.  (Reread 10 times.  Did I do something wrong?  I told her the same thing I tell every student after an exam.  Maybe I just suck as a teacher.  Maybe they’re going to get mad at me and fire me.  Maybe this student is just crazy.  No, it must be my fault.)

And I would obsess about this for, well the rest of my life, really.  I remember every mistake I’ve ever made, even the ones that happened when I was 5 (like stealing that pack of gum from K-Mart).  For obsessive people, there is no statute of limitations.  You can be charged at any time for real or imagined crimes.

But I have learned some strategies that help me balance the scale between positivity and negativity.

  • Whenever I remember a negative comment from a student years ago and start thinking about what a terrible teacher I was, I remind myself that the other 49 students said that they enjoyed the class.
  • When I start beating myself up because I’m obsessing over a negative comment that a student made years ago, I tell myself that I’m not crazy;  I just have a really good memory, and this is one of the downsides of remembering everything.
  • When I get positive feedback I read it over and over again, tell myself to take it in and give myself permission to believe it’s true.  I tell someone about it to make the feeling last.
  • When all else fails, I take an Ativan because my psychiatrist said that’s what I should do.

Today I was looking through the registration form for what I thought was a new client, and there is a section where we ask if they’ve been in therapy before and if they found it helpful.  She wrote that she had seen me in therapy previously for several months and found it extremely helpful, that she hasn’t been able to find a therapist who she trusts since then.

I have read the comment several times so far and am trying to allow myself to believe that I am, in fact, a good therapist.  In this moment, it’s working.