I Choose Us

I recently got married to my college sweetheart and have been experiencing the wonderful and overwhelming transition that is the #newlywedlife. Learning how to navigate new experiences, roles, and responsibilities together has been both rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Something that has grounded us in this transition has been the “three identities” of marriage, adopted from Scott Stanley.

The three identities consist of You, Me, and Us. As you can see in the diagram, You and Me continue to have their own unique identities in marriage, but the Us fully consists of You and Me while also being a unique entity of its own. The three identities remind us to not become too enmeshed or too detached in marriage.

This conceptualization has practical implications that have been so helpful for us, and I hope that you will find some of them helpful for you too!

Every marriage is unique. In the same way that you and your spouse have different personalities and interests, your marriage (Us) will form a unique personality and interests. Give your marriage the space to become what God intended your special relationship to be.

Cultivate oneness, not sameness. Oneness is not achieved when you try to control or change your spouse to become more like you. Oneness is achieved when you embrace “I choose Us” more often than “I choose Me” or “I choose You.” The beautiful thing is that when you choose what’s best for Us, you are also choosing what’s best for You and Me.

Continue to care for yourself. Keeping in mind what is best for the marriage, continue to pursue the things that bring life and joy to you, such as interests or ministries. Regularly meditate on the truths that you are loved, significant, and valued. As you care for yourself, you can more readily care for your spouse and your marriage.

If you and your partner would like more guidance at any stage in your relationship, please feel free to reach out to our team. You are not alone on this journey. We are here for you and would love to help in whatever way we can. 


How Trauma effects the brain

Trauma is a complex experience that can have a profound impact on the brain. In fact, trauma can alter both the structure and function of your brain.

Hippocampus — Trauma can lead to a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is considered the learning center of the brain and is primarily responsible for memory and learning. The hippocampus has been shown to be smaller and less active in those who have experienced trauma. This makes it tricky to problem-solve and to distinguish between the past and the present, keeping you in a constant state of hypervigilance (or strong emotional reactivity).

Amygdala – The amygdala is the “emotional brain” and is the part of the brain that starts the fight-or-flight response.  If you’ve experienced trauma, sometimes the amygdala doesn’t recognize the difference between a past threat and a present threat (or an imagined threat and a real threat). Your body may respond to an imagined or perceived threat as if you are in real danger.

Prefrontal Cortex – The prefrontal cortex is the “rational brain”. If you’ve experienced trauma, chances are that the prefrontal cortex may be less active. This may impede the learning of new information. A less active prefrontal cortex, along with an overactive amygdala, can lead to difficulties in controlling your fear response or struggles with logical thinking.

Physical symptoms – Not the brain, but I think it’s important to mention. Trauma can also result in physical symptoms, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and chronic pain, as the brain responds to the stress of the traumatic event.

Trauma can have a significant impact on the brain, affecting not just our emotions and thoughts, but also our brain anatomy and physiology. It is important for individuals who have experienced trauma to seek professional help to manage its various effects and promote healing and recovery. It is equally important to practice self-care that include a nutrient-dense diet, sleeping 8-10 hours per night, exercising 4-5 times per week, and practicing mindfulness.


Fun in the Sun

At last, summer 2021 is here! Let’s face it, we have all encountered challenges related to stress, fear, anxiety, and so much more over the past year. Adapting to working from home, kids adjusting to online learning, and social life turned into virtual life – it has been a challenge. It’s time to take a break, relax, and recharge our minds, hearts, and spirits. We may not fully be back to our “normal”, but there are still ways to enjoy the summer, stress-free.

Here are 3 tips to having a stress-less summer:

Go Outside!
One of the most common health benefits of going outside is sunlight. Sunlight provides our bodies with valuable Vitamin D, which helps boost our immune systems and gives us energy. But what about our mental health? Being outdoors also has a positive effect on individuals mentally and emotionally. The great outdoors also improves stress and anxiety levels, self-esteem, sleep and focus.

In Japan there is a therapeutic practice called “shinrin-yoku”, which translates to “Forest Bathing”. Now I know what you may be thinking, but no worries, it has nothing to do with taking a bubble bath in the forest! This practice is about unplugging from daily distractions and clearing our minds, by connecting with nature through our senses, such as sight, sound, smell, touch, and possibly for some taste. Inhaling fresh clean air, listening to the sounds of the wind, laying under a huge tree while watching the sun’s rays play peek-a-boo through the leaves, feeling the gentle breeze flowing against your skin, and smelling the natural scents of earth – this is shinrin-yoku. Take time this summer to relax, meditate, and rejuvenate yourself while embracing the beauty of God’s creation.

Make a Plan!
Planning is key. Summer is the time to socialize – we tend to stay up later than usual, hang out longer, and gather even on the weekdays! Our schedules can easily become full of parties, graduations, playdates, cookouts, weddings and more. It can seem like there is always an event to attend. Scheduling summer means endless possibilities for fun. It could also mean increased stress trying to manage it all. We can overcommit and feel pressure to say yes to every invitation. Organizing your time through scheduling helps eliminate potential stress, and allows you to enjoy the moments of fun, laughter, and excitement at ease.

Unplug and Escape!
We have all be stuck at home — quarantining, and social distancing. As the country is opening back up, let’s safely put the fun back in summer, disconnect from technology, and get away. Give yourself, your devices, and fingertips a break.

It has been proven that the excitement of going on a trip can boost one’s happiness up to 8 weeks prior to the big day! I don’t know about you, but I get a rush of every happy emotions when I plan a getaway. Inside I feel like a giant emoji, the one with the huge smile and star eyes! And that excitement builds everyday as the trip approaches.

Vacations are meant to better our mental health and emotions, clear our minds, improve our relationships, decrease burnout, and overall recharge us. Why take a vacation if we are going to bring our work with us, right? Taking a break from technology helps to reduce stress and allows you to be present in the moment. Being present allows you to take advantage of the time you get to relax and unwind. Checking emails, responding to text, taking phone calls, and scrolling through social media all become distractions and redirect our thoughts to daily task, job duties, to-do list, stress, and drama.

So treat yourself this summer. Disconnect, get away, and absorb the time you get to spend with nature, yourself, friends, and loved ones, and enjoy a stress-free summer.


Unlock Your True Potential

In my work as a coach, I see women shrinking instead of shining, and suppressing themselves instead of and showing up authentically.


Because of something someone (or some people) said to them years ago. And though the years have passed and the seasons changed, those words have stayed with them till the present.

That young girl is now a mother of her own children, and as much as she wants the best for her own children, if she doesn’t deal with her own mindset, the cycle will likely continue.

I often wish I could go back to that moment in time when her self-love was snatched away from her, and erase that moment altogether. But I can’t.

What I can do is walk her back to the time those memories happened, albeit a painful journey for a brief moment. Then we begin the work of healing and affirmation.

Here are some truths:

If you’re tall, God made you that way.

If you’re short, God made you that way.

If you’re brown-skinned, God made you that way.

If you’re white, God made you that way.

If you’re quiet, God made you that way.

And if you’re loud, yep, God made you that way.

However you are, He designed you specifically that way. As cliché as it may sound, God does not make mistakes.

He doesn’t expect you to stay stuck in that place of a damaged self esteem. And it’s not enough to just be functional, when you can be fulfilled. A big part of your journey to fulfillment requires that you overcome that mindset of not being enough…of not measuring up.

Here’s the good news: When you fully accept your uniqueness, God can open doors in your life that cause even those same naysayers to wonder, “How did that happen?”

Are you ready to unlock your true potential? It requires effort, but it’s as simple as accepting who you are, while doing the work to keep growing and blossoming.

You don’t have to do it alone. With the help of a counselor or a coach (or both), you can start your journey to a fully alive life, showing up as the authentic you, no matter who is in the room.

Here’s to you. I hope you shine. I hope you push past your past and thrive.


Don’t Give up

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, please dial 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

Help is available 24/7.

I was in 6th grade when I first understood the severity of depression and suicide, and it seemed like every year someone else I knew was affected in some way by mental illness. I felt too young, so incapable, and so at a loss for answers—both for myself and for them.

It turns out 6th grade isn’t “too young” to be faced with this topic and the hardship that comes with it. The effects of suicide are everywhere and steadily growing. Especially in regard to social media, the topic almost seems to be trending. But this “trend” in awareness is not leading to a downward trend in the actual suicide rate. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States for ages 10-34.

If you weren’t already aware, this month is National Suicide Prevention Month, a month in which we can remind ourselves of what’s important and focus our attention on an issue that may slip through our notice otherwise. But one month is not enough to really create change in a world plagued by suicide, depression, and mental illness. What can we do to stay on a trajectory of awareness that leads to change beyond one month of the year?

You’ve surely seen the posts on social media and links to websites with all the suicide statistics, warning signs, tips in how to handle difficult situations. These are incredibly important and helpful as we consider how to best care for people affected by suicide. But in the next few months, you might forget the “Top 10 Warning Signs” or another list of helpful tips. What I want to challenge you toward is authenticity. One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is ourselves. Being one that truly seeks to know another person, to allow ourselves to be known, and to show up with courage and vulnerability, even when the space we’re entering into is big and dark and scary and we feel like a small child as we enter. This might be especially nerve-wracking if you aren’t sure you have anything to offer. If you’re struggling yourself with believing that you have worth or something to offer your friends in pain, hear me when I say, you do.

While I’ve surely grown in my understanding of people and how to respond to these issues since being a middle schooler, I’m not sure I’ll ever completely be rid of that feeling, “I am too young for this.” Because no matter our age or expertise, these ideas are heavy, and there is always more to learn in both awareness and practical steps. But the most helpful thing I’ve learned (so far) is to get comfortable with the discomfort. To learn to be okay with not always knowing the right answers, not having control, not being able to fix it all. So much of what’s important as a counselor or a friend is having the courage to be authentic and willing to sit with someone in their pain. To say, “It’s okay to not be okay.” If that is all you can do, you’re doing a great job, my friend.


Singleness in Times of Coronavirus

I’ll never forget being at the wedding of a dear friend from college about four years ago. Another friend’s mom asked me if it was hard to be single at these weddings, as this friend was one of the last remaining “single people” with me. I smiled and answered politely, and then carefully made my way to the bathroom where I sat and cried for… well, long enough.

As I was sitting on a bench in the lovely bathroom of the wedding venue, the groom’s mom walked in. I was the first thing she saw when she walked in. She looked like royalty in her long, flowing mother of the groom dress. She sat down next to me and patted my back as I cried. I’m not sure that we ever discussed why I was crying, and to this day, I wonder if she thinks it was because I was in love with her son who was now a husband. (I was not.)

Being single at any phase of life is strange. If you’re anything like me, this is how it goes:

In high school, it’s weird because your friends are starting to date. And you either date with them and you’re all in the same boat, or you’re the single one while everyone else has the cute baseball player boyfriends.

Then comes college, where you meet guys who are (hopefully) more mature than high school boys. Some of my friends dated guys they ended up marrying, and some had unrequited crushes that lasted our whole four years of school. I think you learn a lot about what you’re looking for in these years, and you learn a lot about what you don’t want.

Then, post-college years, the pals start getting married. I had a season where I went to a wedding almost every weekend for months. I would go to these weddings with friends and always had a great time. Until most of my friends were married, and I’d tag along with a couple or fly solo for the night. After a few years of this, the second the first few beats of “Single Ladies” by Beyonce came on… you better believe you could find me conveniently making my way to the bathroom. I did not want to be singled out. I didn’t want to catch a bouquet anymore. I loathed being pushed from behind by all my married friends out onto the dance floor. So I just hid instead. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And here we are. It’s 2020. We’re alive in a time of a global pandemic. We hear a lot of phrases like “these unprecedented times” and “when things return to normal.” But if you’re single, this time can serve as a magnifying glass for the things you don’t have:

  • A spouse to quarantine with
  • Kids to entertain and be entertained by
  • Meals to cook for more than one person
  • Vacations to take with your family

Now, I know marriage and kids don’t solve everything. I do. But I also think now is a great time to know that just because your stage of life might look different but it doesn’t mean it’s bad. What if our perspective could shift? From looking at all the things we don’t have to being grateful for the things we do have.

Single friends: It’s weird. It just is. Most especially if you live alone. How your life is different than your friends doesn’t define you. Reach out to your people. Schedule FaceTime dates. Have a small crew that you quarantine with and see regularly. Make plans the best you can right now.

Married friends: Don’t forget your single friends. Check on them. Ask how they’re doing. Invite them to come have dinner if you’re bringing a few people in. They want to be part of your world, even if they don’t know how to ask.

Singleness in times of Coronavirus. We weren’t made to be alone. Wherever you find yourself today, you’re not alone, friends. If you need help, reach out and ask.


Know The Lyrics

I was listening to the radio when the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police came on. Of course I sang along with the radio because it’s such a catchy song. As I was singing, I actually began to pay attention to the words and freaked out a little. Just in case you don’t remember, here are the words:

“Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.”

A little stalker-ish right? So I researched the lyrics to check my hypothesis and I indeed was right. Sting did not mean for this song to be a love song frequently played at weddings. He actually wrote this song after separating from his wife and it is about a possessive lover! Yikes!

Of course it is meant to be sinister. Who would perceive it otherwise? Well I did, along with many others judging from how many times this is played on love song stations and in weddings. Just goes to show how we sometimes fail to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. The words are the same, the tune in the same, but our perception is based on observation, awareness and insight.

If it’s hard for us to recognize healthy versus unhealthy song lyrics, then it’s probably extremely difficult to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, especially when those relationships are family relationships or friendships.

So what makes a healthy relationship? Lots of things including good communication, mutual respect, trust, and honesty. You are in a healthy relationship if that relationship brings about more joy and happiness than tension and sadness. If that statement doesn’t ring true in one of your relationships then it is unhealthy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • You often put yourself on the back burner for someone else. You neglect your dreams, passions or even just basic self-care for the sake of another
  • You feel forced to be or act differently
  • Your relationship causes you to have low self-esteem
  • You are not free to express your true thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions; you find yourself walking on eggshells
  • You build walls of defensiveness to protect yourself
  • You are discouraged from growing other relationships with friends or family
  • You do not trust the person you are in relationship with
  • You experience abuse – verbal, physical, mental or emotional abuse

Seek help for your relationship when:

  • You know you need help but you are embarrassed or fearful to ask for help
  • You are unhappy in the relationship and you are having difficulty getting out
  • You realize you are staying in the relationship because of fear of being alone or because of guilt
  • You consistently find yourself in unhealthy relationships

The key to a healthy relationship is to stop singing along with the music just because you are familiar with the words. Pay close attention to the words; assess your relationships often. Stop and listen, listen to your gut. Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you free? If the answer is no, then seek help an change your tune.


Work-Life Balance

As I was flipping through channels on a lazy afternoon, I happened across one of the movies that I can watch over and over and over again: Devil Wears Prada. I’m not sure what it is about this movie that sucks me into watching it but I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Ok, so spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you weren’t going to anyway so I’m going to spoil it for you. The movie is about a girl who lands a job that she hates. That’s basically the plot, but in between the storyline are a lot of great clothes, shoes and purses. Of course, some of my favorite scenes are the ones that showcase the high fashion clothes. Hey, I’m a girl, I can’t help it!

This time watching it, there was one scene that I’ve never really noticed that stuck out to me. The scene where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, confides in her co-worker that her private life was suffering. The coworker said “Let me know when your life is going up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.” Depressing to think about, but a reality for many. That balance between work and life can seem impossible.

Work-life balance. Ugh. It sounds like one of those aspirations that we all hope for yet in the back of our minds, we don’t believe that we can actually achieve it. How can I be a great dad but still put in the 80hrs/week? How can I climb up the corporate ladder and still maintain my marriage? How can I have a social life and continue to be an excellent employee?

Easy, do what Andy did. After realizing that her job was infiltrating every aspect in her life in a negative way, she decided to quit. It’s just that easy. Actually, it wasn’t easy for her to walk away; it took the whole movie before she decided to do so! And it won’t be that easy for you to walk away, or do something different, other than what you’re doing now. But if something needs to change then it has to start with you.

Disclaimer: I am not advising that you quit your job! However, I am aspiring to help you see that you don’t have to be stuck in a situation or environment that is bad for you. Maybe you can’t quit your job, and that’s your reality. Maybe you can quit your job but you don’t believe you can. Maybe you have no clue how to change your current situation.

The first step is believing that you can do something different, then being intentional about doing something different. Also, seek out help. This is actually a common reason to seek out counseling. Whether it’s getting help with achieving your goals, or help with figuring out what your goals are and how your goals match up with your value set, a counselor can be a great resource for you in this area.

In doing so, you could end up like Andy: relationship with boyfriend restored and getting a great job doing exactly what she wants to do. If Andy can do it, why not you?


Beauty in Vulnerability

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.”
– Brené Brown

There is one thing that I am definitely not good at — being vulnerable. I’ve always been taught that vulnerability was a sign of weakness; that people will take advantage of you if you show weakness. The fear is that if I reveal my true self that I may be misunderstood or rejected.

What I have learned is, being vulnerable isn’t just about being okay with showing parts of yourself to others, it’s more about being okay with all of yourself. When you love all of yourself, it matters little what others think.

What I am also learning is that vulnerability is a choice. It doesn’t always come easy and I haven’t mastered it yet. There are still many moments when I remain guarded and less willing to be truly open. It takes a conscious effort to look for the opportunities in which to be vulnerable. However, the rewards are much greater than the risks. There is a level of connection that cannot be met if you tend to hold part of yourself back.

Here are a few practicals on being vulnerable:

1. Be honest. If you are going through a difficult time, tell someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response.

2. Ask for help. Contrary to popular belief, this is also a sign of strength. You don’t need to struggle in silence, there are people willing to help.

3. Learn to say no. Sometimes being vulnerable is letting others know that you are not a superhero. By saying yes to everyone, you are saying no to yourself. Let people know when you have too much on your plate.

4. Stop comparing yourself to others. In actuality, their lives aren’t better than yours. You really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

5. Be wise. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean telling everyone everything about you. Be wise is whom you choose to be open with.


The Mind-Body Connection

If you suffer from symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain or weight gain, your initial thought is probably not “I should evaluate my emotional health”. But in fact, our emotions have significant effect on our physical body. Psychological studies prove that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Therefore, good mental health can improve physical health and poor emotional health can cause a decline in physical health.

As a family physician, I would estimate that about two-thirds of my office visits are partly due to stress-related symptoms. What has been interesting in seeing my patients with physical symptoms caused by stress-related issues, is that almost universally, they have an extremely difficult time accepting that the root cause is mentally related.

For example, I have had numerous patients experience chest pain that despite multiple tests, no physical identifiable cause is found. Even with multiple visits to the emergency room, EKG’s, lab work and other testing, no cause for the chest pain is found. When I ask them about stress, 99% of the time, they are anxious, depressed, or going through an extremely difficult time in their life. Yet, undoubtedly, these patients were reluctant to accept that the stress, worry and anxiety in their life is causing their physical symptoms. It takes multiple visits, numerous tests and a lot time in discussion to convince them that mental health can cause real physical symptoms. This relationship is called somatization – an unconscious process through which psychological distress is converted to physical symptoms.

What we don’t hear very much of is that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: 1) heart disease 2) cancer 3) lung disease 4) strokes 5) accidents and 6) Alzheimer’s. This is partly because the body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress. Research shows that those who repress their emotions suffer more physically. One specific study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that cancer patients who chronically avoid expressing their feelings die sooner and in greater numbers than those who freely express their emotions. The ways in which emotions are managed is one of the most relevant but least examined issues in medicine today. Despite all the evidence, unfortunately what is lacking in an annual physical exam is spending adequate time assessing emotional and mental health.

But, there is good news! You can take control of both your mental and physical wellbeing. The first step is to recognize the warning signs in order to prevent poor emotional and physical health. Symptoms such as memory problems, diarrhea or constipation, frequent colds, loss of sex drive, inability to concentrate and others could be a warning sign of poor mental health. Once you recognize these symptoms, spend time reflecting on whether your emotional state could be contributing to these symptoms. Then, seek help from a medical professional, either a counselor or your physician. It is important that you express to your healthcare professional all of your symptoms including your emotional state. With ample insight into your overall health, you will assist your healthcare professional in adequately diagnosing and treating you.