FlightAt the gate I hold my French roast, nervous not to spill. My view is short and flooded with detail. People surround me. I observe the curious facts of each – the eccentric and the banal. Pretty, plain, plump. Loud. Bold stripes, baggage. Phones … everywhere phones. Intriguing accents. Details, details, all crowding me. Concrete and current.

The goal: get on flight #2116 from LAX to Mpls.

My emotions are tangled strings of struggles to arrive at this moment. I breath deeply into calm. I ground myself in the present. I shed the moody sequelae of all that is misshapen and confusing in my life. I am here now. It is okay.

Soon I am in window seat 32-A. Taking off, I feel my heart rising up over all of it. The magnified messy reality of the gate and this life become small and remote.

The wing of the plane stretches out, pointing to the expanding Pacific coastline. All is transformed as I climb higher and higher. Far below an expansive view emerges.  It shifts into a pattern of sublime intricacy and order. It’s vastness and beauty become more striking each moment. The design becomes clear. An endless beach, Catalina Island, the sprawling City of Angels, layers and layers of mountains.

My perspective changes in seat 32-A.

I rise higher and higher. A new elevation. The world becomes one gorgeous canvas, each piece carefully holding its place and purpose. A larger scheme develops. I sense its order and submit to its calling. I rest in a new clarity.

The tangles unravel. I am spirit, soul, being. No distractions, demands, or itsy-bitsy things tug on me. Life is large. Everything fits.

Released from the mire of the gate I reach an elevation that feels like freedom.

“See over there a created splendor, made by one individual of things residual.”    -Patrick Cavenaugh, poet

“When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.”   -J. Audubon, Pedagogy and Poems

Grace and Johnny in Paris


I have decided not to call myself an “empty nester.” You see, I have chosen to view my nest as “half-full.” Literally, with two people gone (23 year-old Johnny and 21 year-old Grace) and two remaining (Steve and myself) I can accurately describe my nest as “half-full.”

I choose to see my stage of life from an abundance mentality (half-full) rather than a scarcity mentality (half-empty). This may seem like a matter of semantics, but to me, this distinction makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between feeling that something is lacking to one that appreciates that much is happening.

To be sure, I miss my children with a sweet, hard sorrow. But, I treasure the experience of watching them become – even if it is most often from a distance. Yes, I wish I was more woven into their daily lives and experiences rather than being the landing zone for the holiday/in-between times. Note to children: CALL YOUR MOTHER!

But I appreciate what I have, and choose to focus on it, rather than what I lack. And I will trust that my children are maintaining the distance they need to “differentiate” (a hefty psychological term meaning to become one’s own separate and unique person). I want them to have a core certainty that they have become their own selves – not merely images of their parents design.

How do I accept this separateness from the two beings that emerged from my own body, whom I nursed at my own breast? I have my faith, my trust, my optimism, my memories, and my rituals.

Steve is often traveling or working long hours. Of late, I have enjoyed an end-of-the-day practice. After work, coming home to a vacant house (except for the eternally generous welcome from our Yellow Lab Winston) I pour myself a glass of wine. I climb the newly carpeted stairs, walk down the hallway, and sit for a bit in Johnny’s room and then Grace’s room.

The rooms are now cleaner, sparer, clutter-free, and lacking the lively chaos and material signs of the mercurial moods of adolescence. But to me, these rooms are alive with memories. I celebrate this through pictures and amulets from Johnny and Grace’s many activities and accomplishments. Some might call them shrines, but as a mother, I feel entitled to my sentimentality.

I sit in each room, decorated by pictures commemorating their lives. Each one tells a story and generates lovely memories. These pictures showcase highlights of our years together and their emerging selves. For each child I have selected a poem that speaks to my feelings for them as they grow into adulthood. I look at the pictures, and re-read the poem chosen for Johnny and Grace.

I sit a while, tired from the day’s work. I am glad to be in a quiet, serene, and clean house. I sip my wine. I look around the room and remember the often wonderful and sometimes difficult times we had as they grew up, and I read the poem celebrating each of them.

I cry a bit and smile a bit. I feel gratitude and love. And lots of hope … for who they are and what they bring to the world. Alive, free, loved, and out on their own. And I feel, in my half-fullness: resolute, expectant, proud, and most of all, curious …

I wonder, what’s next?


A Poem for Grace:

THE GROWNUP  by Rainer Maria Rilke

Grace at “World Youth Day” in Rio De Janeiro

All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.

As she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly

over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once-in you.


A poem for Johnny:


As the boys bones lengthened,
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed


Johnny in Argentina

to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.

His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,

it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could

she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom

of his own will?



I try to view my parents as eccentric – not weird. You know, unique individuals. The beautiful part is they couldn’t care less what their children or the neighbors think. Maybe they are free spirits (or perhaps they are just denture refusing old hippies).

My husband says my folks moving into the high class, country club-esque retirement center is like a geriatric episode of the Beverly Hillbillies!

Yes, it’s true, but I love them. I can’t help it Dad turned his room into an airplane hanger – he adores his model planes so let him play! And the real deal hobby shop he convinced admin to approve (complete with drill presses, band saws, a kiln, welding gear, and a full size weaving loom) has helped the residents build crafts a bit more compelling than cutting up old greeting cards.

And so what if Mom won’t get her hair done because she thinks the devil resides in the beauty shop. The natural look is in! She’s full of love and smiles, especially when she cleans up at Bingo and wins all the candy bars. And she’s no slouch at Scrabble either.

Let them be themselves – they always have been, so who am I to judge? Live and let live.

If Dad tears around the halls in his noisy, souped up scooter, tricked out with a swap meet snowmobile engine, that’s his business. He’s not one to ride off into the sunset quietly.

And if those bureaucrats running the place get perturbed by his rabble rousing ways – what can I do?

He has discovered a terrible injustice to his elderly comrades in that this fancy pants place has doors too heavy for the residents to push open. So, he has researched the MN state regulations for nursing home doors and this expensive place is WAY out of compliance!

He knows because he tested every door in the facility with his fishing scale. He even had to buy a bigger one because the 15 pound scale was insufficient for some of these mammoth doors. Then he threatened to call in the inspectors if they didn’t fix the problem. It makes my social worker heart proud (and only slightly embarrassed).

I refuse to expect my parents to be anything they are not. I will not be ashamed! As their 49 year old daughter I only regret that I have been so slow to learn this lesson.

At 86, haven’t they earned the right to be themselves – even if that is something far outside of the norm? I am a McGillivray. We are a strange but winsome clan. For all you normals I have three words: Deal with it.

Author’s note: This trip home to Minnesota has brought me further along my journey toward “Becoming Wholehearted.” As T.S. Elliot wrote, “After all of our wandering we will arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

Gardening Picture

Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.

Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.

Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.

I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.

Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.

First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.

That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.

I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.

I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.

The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.

I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.

Then came the planting.

The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.

I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.

The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.

Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.

My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.

Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.

Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.

Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.



Heart2, Hands

The holiday season is over, the last decoration is packed away, and my officially “adult” children have gone off to faraway places. The house is quiet. At the moment, this suits me.

I have some thinking to do – envisioning the year that is well underway, and reflecting on the last one.

My thoughts hover around a noble idea – to become more wholehearted.

Webster defines wholehearted as “completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic” and “marked by complete earnest commitment; free from all reserve or hesitation.”

In this confusing and ephemeral world – so filled with ambiguity and uncertainty – it seems to me that wholeheartedness is something to strive for. To put my best effort into all that I do – in work, marriage, parenting, friendship, faith, wellness, writing, sports, learning … all of my pursuits.

The biggest challenge I faced last year shows me that I have a terrific capacity for wholeheartedness, but I also can be woefully self-limited by its opposite: half-heartedness. The latter functions rather like a skeptical older sibling, always whispering some seemingly prudent words of caution: Watch out! Be careful. Prepare for the worst. Don’t let yourself get hurt. Don’t expect too much.

Here is the situation: I applied for a job. A really big job. One that requires a great deal of experience, talent, and leadership ability. One with an opportunity to have a broad impact on a large community. One that is far more complex and difficult than the program director job I have enjoyed for nearly ten years. One that pays a lot of money! Spoiler alert: I didn’t get it.

But looking back over the process I went through as I prepared for the challenge and waited for the outcome, I recognize that there is a valuable lesson for me. It is about the importance of maximizing my strength of wholeheartedness, and managing my tendency to become half-hearted and self-doubting.

When I was first encouraged to apply, I dismissed the idea as ridiculous. But as I learned more about the position and began to consider what I may have to offer, I changed my mind. I began getting energized and excited about the possibilities. I was determined to give it my absolute best effort, even though I admitted that it was a long shot.

I was filled with love.

As I studied and practiced for the interview I felt entirely focused and bolstered by vision and courage. I even called upon my “Scottish Warrior” (that part of myself that can fight a great battle and prevail). I pictured my past, present, and future and began to detect a red ribbon that was woven through it. Therein I found a spiritual meaning and direction – an essential purpose for so much of what had happened in my life, both joys and sorrows. I saw it all leading up to this imminent challenge. I prayed that God would equip me and trusted that he would.

And he did. I got through the interview with confidence and grace. I quickly recovered from what was a grueling but pretty decent interview. I waited weeks for an answer. A litany of questions soon surrounded my mind.

Then the fear crept in.

No longer full of love, I was full of fear. This was unsettling and unpleasant. It left me feeling uninspired and riddled with self-doubt. I began asking: Who am I to think I can take this on? How grandiose and reckless of me. I allowed the tedium of waiting to generate troubling questions like: What if? What if I get a second interview and it is a flop? What if I get the job and I am not smart enough? What if it is too hard? What if it is too stressful? What if I fail miserably? What if it sends me over the edge? I pictured the jeers of my critics. Of course this left me feeling less capable, less courageous, and more cynical.

I decided I needed to block out that negative energy. I needed to “guard my gates” and not invite in self-limiting messages. But they came so innocently – masquerading as armor and self-protection.

The deception goes like this: I can’t set myself up for a fall. Don’t invest too much. I must regulate my enthusiasm. It makes me too vulnerable. I won’t let myself be disappointed.

Yet this defensive stance becomes incredibly self-limiting. It prevents me from applying my best energy and chokes out what might otherwise be one of my greatest strengths – my wholeheartedness.

I decided to reject the fear-based mentality of self-protection. It causes me to hold back, be too cautious, and ultimately makes me half-hearted.

The logic goes like this: If I give my whole heart and lose, it will be too devastating. I must prepare myself for the big NO or I will be caught off guard when it comes. Don’t invest too much or expect too much and I won’t be disappointed.

But in doing this, I became smaller. Passion was replaced with protectionism. Love was replaced by fear. I trudged through my days barely able to lead myself through my next task much less lead others to inspired work.

ENOUGH! I said to myself. That self-protective instinct is not serving me well. It only resulted in diminished energy, limited joy, and an absence of vision for my life’s possibilities.

I recalled the advice of my dear friend and mentor Yvette. She said, “Lisa, you need to let it go and let it flow. Do not sell yourself short.”

As I remembered her loving words I decided that I would prevail. Regardless of the outcome, I would win the battle. I would be wholehearted.

Guess what? I didn’t get a second interview. But as far as the battle went, I triumphed.


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot


Yesterday I ran the Fontana Half-Marathon …

Lisa finishing Fontana Half-Marathon

… and I’m feeling a wonderful post-race confidence and well being that running always brings me. Back in March, I wrote the below article to be published in the Chino Hills Life Magazine. But before it went to print, they went out of business! Since running is my favorite wellness activity, what better place to post it than on beingwellstayingwell.com ? This story is dedicated to my amazing running friends at the Inland Empire Running Club.


Nobody Walks in LA -They RUN! 

IERC Members Conquer the LA Marathon

March 8 was a big day for running in Los Angeles. Twenty-five thousand people ran the 29th Annual Los Angeles Marathon. The Inland Empire Running Club (IERC) had a strong showing with 190 members finishing. The following Saturday the club met at Butterfield Ranch Park in Chino Hills for a short “victory run” and post race celebration. They ate, laughed, showed off their medals, and shared some astounding stories.

Jim, an experienced runner, describes how he stood at the starting line filled with adrenaline and determination. He was boxed in among 25,000 runners – each psyching themselves up to accomplish one of the great challenges of life: running a 26.2 mile marathon.

The song “I love LA” boomed from gargantuan speakers as the announcer began the countdown. The crowd emitted an unquenchable energy to conquer the goal for which they had each spent long months preparing.

Like every other runner, Jim would fight battles of both body and mind. Like every successful runner, he would rely on his inner resources to overcome them.

That day, every runner contended with fatigue, muscle soreness, cramps, and lactic acid build-up, not to mention the effects of the temperature soaring to 85 degrees. The mental battlefield was equally grueling: self-doubt, negative thoughts, and what-ifs.

Perhaps the most heinous obstacle of all is what the marathon is famous for: “the wall.” Runners hit the wall, (or “bonk”) when around mile 20, the mind and body challenges converge … all the body’s reserves have been used up, and the runner continues by sheer force of will.

For Jim, mile 9 started to feel like the wall as he forged up the hill near Veteran’s Hospital under the blazing sun.

Suddenly he saw a giant screen flashing a larger-than-life photo of him with the words, “Run like Jim!” He laughed, recognizing it as a pre-planned loving gesture by his sister-in-law and fellow runner, Angela.

Jim and Angela pic

Angela and Jim

“Going up that hill, I was struggling and in pain; that sign kept me going. It motivated me.”

Michelle, another IERC member, beams with a mother’s pride as she tells her story of running the LA Marathon with her entire family. For six months, Michelle, her husband Scott, their 21 year-old son Zac, and their 20 year-old daughter Amanda trained for this event. She explains – with a spunky joy – what running together has meant to her family.

Applegate pic

The Applegate family

Parents often find it hard to get kids to commit to anything for more than a day. But my kids showed up every week to complete the long training run. They did the weekday sessions too. We’ve always been a close family. Now we have so many great running stories to share.”

Jackie, another IERC member, relates how running has been a means of transforming her life and health. She posts pictures of her three LA Marathons on Facebook to illustrate the emergence of her healthiest self.

Sometimes you get so busy thinking about how far you have to go, that you forget about how far you have come. It was not until I compared my photos and race times that I recognized my success.”

For this race, her third LA Marathon, she was 20 pounds lighter and one hour faster than she was for her first.

Jacky pic

Jacky as IERC pace leader

“The most I did in high school was marching band. I weighed 210 pounds. Then I heard I could run through Disneyland and get a medal! I decided at that point to run a half-marathon. My mom brought me to IERC three years ago, and I’m still making progress.”

Jackie looks fit and fantastic, and more importantly, she feels unstoppable. She now volunteers as a pace leader in the club, assisting other runners in accomplishing their goals.

With plucky conviction, Jackie shares what she has learned along her running journey. “Losing weight makes me go faster … and going faster makes me lose weight. Running helps me eat healthy because food is my fuel, and I want to feel good on my runs. Food is not the reward – the finish line is the reward.” Lowering her voice, she confesses, “But after the LA Marathon, I let myself have a burger and fries.”

“One more thing,” she says, eager to be an effective role model, “If you don’t change your habits you will never see changes in your body.”

Perhaps IERC member Victoria’s comments best sum it up: “This was my first marathon. It was so hard and it hurt. But my confidence was through the roof this week. I plan to do it again.”

Julesha, another IERC member adds, “Pain is temporary … pride is forever.”

Standing before the diverse and invigorated group – who have become like family to each other – IERC President David concludes the storytelling session with a probing question, “So … what’s next?”

IERC LA Marathon Logo


Everyone experiences some level of anxiety.  But it’s so unpleasant. Wouldn’t it be nice to always feel calm, cool, and collected?

Interestingly, research suggests that the only people who never feel anxious are those with sociopathic tendencies. The worry-free life may not be available to folks with a conscience.

Although it is one of the less popular emotions, anxiety actually serves a very useful purpose. You may be asking, “Are you serious?  What good is something that makes me feel nervous, sick in my stomach, shaky all over, sweaty, obsessive, and like my heart is going to jump out of my chest?”

Consider this: without a certain amount of anxiety we would never get our paperwork done, do the taxes, or schedule that mammogram. And in an emergency, without huge doses of it, we wouldn’t have the adrenaline rush needed for the “fight, flight, or freeze” response that may save our life!

The problem with anxiety is that it doesn’t often come in the right dose at the right time. It can come on like a flood and overwhelm our capacity to cope. The trick is to maximize its benefits, and develop the ability to regulate it so that it doesn’t interfere with our performance or, in its worst extreme, diminish our quality of life.

                       Fear sharpens the senses. Anxiety paralyzes them. (Scott Stossel quoting Kurt Goldstein).

A multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry is founded on our incapacity to regulate it naturally. Medication may be beneficial for the worst variety, but first consider what is possible with your “internal pharmacy” (i.e. the dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin elevating benefits of things like exercise, hobbies, or even sex).

I thought I knew a great deal about anxiety as an experienced licensed clinical social worker, who also, ten years ago, overcame an extreme form of depression with anxiety. But having just finished My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel, I discovered there was so much more to understand, integrate, and apply to my life.


Stossel, who happens to be the highly respected editor of The Atlantic, is an incredible writer – witty, intelligent, clear, and absolutely thorough. He also suffers from the most oppressive case of lifelong anxiety I have ever known. It was his heroic effort to solve his own troubles with anxiety that led him to chronicle it in his self-revelatory book. My Age of Anxiety is refreshingly unique and hard to categorize: it is a 400 page encyclopedic montage of memoir, historical analysis, cultural commentary, philosophical exploration, and medical examination of anxiety from the beginning of recorded history to the present time.

Stossel’s determination to always get it just right makes for comically embarrassing personal stories and extreme psycho-educational learning. The man never took a short cut in his life. A self-described neurotic – and perfectionist to the core – he is not given to approximations nor willing to withhold a single nuance. Nothing is easy. Nothing is black or white. And nothing is explained from a single perspective or theory. It is all very complicated and subject to interpretation – not unlike the neurological mystery of our brains, the worldview of an anxious mind, or life itself. Never simple … but infinitely interesting.

I filled up the white space on so many pages as I recorded my own reactions to Stossel’s thought-provoking discussion of anxiety. Stossel examines the source of anxiety (the proverbial nature versus nurture question) by mining the writings of Plato, Epictetus, Darwin, Kierkegaard, and Freud, to name just a few. Despite the aggregate wisdom of this great pantheon of thinkers, we continue to be flummoxed by anxiety. National Institute of Mental Health data indicates that 18% of individuals suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder. This is an issue central to our nation’s health and well-being.

I found myself interacting with this book deeply and without restraint, because frankly, I feel that I am a bit of an expert on the subject. I present as evidence the fact that, as a junior high student, when my peers were enthralled with John Hughes movies and Star Wars mania, my favorites were of the Woody Allen variety.  Annie Hall was my role model. Need I say more?

There is hope for those suffering with mild and even extreme anxiety. I have had more than my share of anxiety and have found some effective methods of managing it. The concept of neuroplasticity suggests that new ways of being can strengthen one’s capacity for anxiety-busting qualities like resilience and self-efficacy.

Extensive research on veterans has demonstrated that certain characteristics such as resilience and acceptance are what have allowed some people to maintain or reclaim mental health. These qualities may be in-born, but can also be learned.  As Stossel describes, “These include optimism, altruism, having a moral compass or set of beliefs that cannot be shattered, faith and spirituality, humor, having a role model, social supports, facing fear (or leaving one’s comfort zone), having a mission or meaning in life, and practice in meeting and overcoming challenges.”

Another important concept for preventing and overcoming anxiety is “self-efficacy.” Cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura wrote brilliantly on this subject. Stossel reports, “… repeatedly proving to oneself one’s competence and ability to master situations, and doing so in spite of feelings of anxiety, depression, or vulnerability, builds up self-confidence and psychological strength that can provide a bulwark against anxiety and depression.”

YES! I know this through my experience as a runner. I find that each run is a lesson in self-efficacy. Yesterday, preparing for the Fontana half-marathon, my running club had an 8-mile, race-pace training run to get through. When I woke up, I was tired, still stressed from a difficult work week, and not sure that I was up for the challenge.

But getting into my routine, putting on my gear without any thought of having another option, enjoying my morning coffee … I set off at 7 am to meet my running group. And sure enough, surrounded by the support and camaraderie of others with a shared goal, I was able to rise to a higher purpose and not be dragged down by my weakest impulses (e.g. parking myself in my cozy reading chair all morning). The anxiety receded. As it churned a bit during the run (Can I do it? Do I have the energy?) being part of the group and putting one foot in front of the other helped me remain focused on the goal. Before I knew it, my self-doubt was eliminated; the 8-mile run was finished. And, the beautiful end product was a feeling of accomplishment and calm. My internal pharmacy was well stocked.

You are not your anxiety. You can find methods to regulate it and have your best possible life. I recommend The Age of Anxiety as a means of understanding anxiety and exploring the many avenues for hope and healing. And, might I suggest running (or any other form of exercise)? It has been a lifesaver for me, and has left me – if only for brief periods – calm, cool, and collected.







After the worst drought Southern California has had on record, our elusive wet friend has finally arrived. The precious rain came with a stormy ferocity – thrilling the farmers, confounding the commuters, and inciting the news teams.

I personally welcomed it by taking a four-mile run in the morning downpour with my yellow Lab Winston. Even though I was getting soaked to the bone I felt exhilarated … strengthened … refreshed. Judging by Winston’s jaunty gait and wagging tail, he also found it heavenly. For me, running has always been a source of replenishment; the rain was not going to stop me. And Winston? He was born for the water.

But, regardless of whether we take pleasure in the precipitation or consider it a nuisance, there is no denying one fact: rain is essential for renewing life.

As spring arrives, we think not only of April showers, we think of growth, rebirth, and restoration. As the rains enriched our parched land, I encourage you to ask yourself a few key questions: Has my life become a little dry? Could I use a fresh source of nourishment? What might I do this season to promote personal renewal?


There is no better time than Spring for growth. Consider the many aspects of yourself that may need recharging: the social, physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Try focusing on one key domain that could use some revitalization. (To explore further see my October, 2013 post Keeping Your Balance with a Wellness Wheel). Write down a few steps you can take to bolster that area. Start today. 

One area that most of us would benefit from stimulating is our physical health. How about focusing on getting more exercise, or even just incorporating more movement into your day? This will also have a reviving impact on other life areas.

In his new book Eat, Move, Sleep, author Tom Rath suggests, with research to back it up, that increasing the amount you move each day will have a powerful effect on your mood, risk of disease, cognitive functioning, and energy level. It will even make you live longer.

He describes how our ancestors had a physical way of life that supported greater health. Daily survival required them to expend a body-enriching amount of energy. They spent most of every day moving about on foot, without the “benefit” of state-of-the-art conveniences and technology. But us moderns spend more time sitting down than sleeping. This is terribly damaging to the human body. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are but a few of the consequences. Isn’t it a sad paradox that our “advancements” have inadvertently set us back?

You can make changes today to counteract this problem of a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. Start moving more. Expend more energy to have more energy.

Rath offers a number of helpful ideas. During your workday – about every 30 minutes – get up and stretch, walk around, and perhaps step outside. If you find it helpful, set your smart phone timer to prompt you. This movement will enhance your productivity, brighten your mood, and help your body deal with the demands of hours of sitting in an office.

I have incorporated Rath’s advice into my workday in the last few weeks. Getting up from my desk and walking around the office, as well as taking a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon to do some stretches has made me more relaxed and efficient. I have felt less fatigued and more energetic when I leave work. This new habit, among others, has been like a delightful spring shower – just the kind of renewal I needed.


“I want to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  (John O’Donahue, Irish Poet)



Jeannine and Reggie

Jeannine and Reggie

Starting at the Finish Line:

One woman’s triumphant journey from disabling illness to half-marathon runner

If you met my friend Jeannine, you would like her. She is one of those gracious people that seems naturally friendly, naturally smart, naturally kind, naturally strong. If you met her at the Inland Empire Running Club (IERC), you would also guess that she was a natural born runner. During the workweek, she fastidiously follows the training plan set forth by Reggie, her Boston Marathon runner-husband. This is after teaching science to junior high students all day.

In the last two years she has run seven half-marathons and has achieved a “PR” (personal record) every time. You may be starting to think, “Well, it’s easy for people like that.” Well, let me tell you something about Jeannine you would never guess if you met her. Just three years ago, she suffered from an illness that nearly destroyed her life.

What started as sore muscles and joint pain soon turned into an illness that left her bedridden, burning with fever, unable to eat, frightfully thin, dehydrated, with barely the energy to speak. In her words, “I was literally molting; my hair fell out and my skin fell off!”

She had to take a leave from her teaching job, let her husband take care of the kids and the house, and allow her mother to move in to care for her. At one point, her daughter asked, “Is Mama going to die?” Day after day, leaning on her husband’s arm, she hobbled into dozens of doctor’s appointments seeking a diagnosis for her ailment. It took months for the team of specialists to determine that it was “Stills Disease,” an autoimmune disorder that is often life-long and permanently disabling.

When the mysterious malady was finally labeled, the proper treatment could be administered.  This led to slow but steady progress. Before long Jeannine could leave the house and do short errands. Mustering up her strength, she pushed herself toward a small goal: to greet Reggie at the finish line when he ran the San Diego Marathon.

She explains, “I was in so much pain that day – as I approached him, I nearly stumbled. I had only left the hospital two weeks prior.”

Then she saw something that changed her life: the San Diego sun beaming on a throng of people: black, brown, yellow, white; they were young and old, thick and thin, male and female, perfect form and pitiable form – every one of them finishing the race. As she moved through the dizzying mob of fatigued but ebullient runners, each drenched in sweat and smiles as they approached the finish … Jeannine had an epiphany:

“In one year I will complete the half-marathon race – running, walking, or crawling … I will cross this finish line.”

Preparing for that half-marathon became the cornerstone of her recovery. It took five months for her to be able to walk even a mile. But, one step at a time, she worked her way up to several miles. It hurt and she was tired, but she kept on going. She was determined to get healthy enough to accomplish her goal. Over a period of months she strengthened, eventually able to walk 5, then 7, and finally 9 miles through her Chino Hills community.

Jeannine explains, “Pretty soon walking 9 miles got boring, so I started jogging – just a little bit.” It was February – the race was only four months away. She had never entered races before, and certainly never considered herself “a runner.” Her husband asked her repeatedly to come join him at IERC. When he explained that they have walkers who complete races, Jeannine reluctantly agreed.

Reggie reports, “I knew she would finish the race. And I also knew she would not walk; she would run.”

Jeannine showed up at IERC the next Saturday morning and found herself amongst kind and helpful people, all eager to support her success. She was embraced by her walk/run pace leader, Lizette, now a dear friend. With her new group of allies, Jeannine painstakingly prepared for victory – over the wretched illness and over the 13.1 mile race.

On race day there was no surprise. Jeannine completed the distance, finishing strong. She not only ran it, she crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with Reggie.

Two years later Jeannine and I are sipping coffee at Starbucks. We discuss the pain and the pleasure of running and what it has done to enhance our lives. Her smile is wide and she radiates health. Looking gorgeously fit, she may be in the best shape of her life (certainly the best shape of anyone in that Starbucks). Grasping for the right words to describe her process, she makes a teacherly gesture with her thumb and forefinger. Thoughtfully, she tells me,

“When I first start each run, I don’t want to move – my muscles are tight and my knees ache. Eventually my legs warm up, the pain is gone, and I can pick up my speed. What keeps me going? Knowing the pain is temporary. It won’t keep feeling like this. Even though it is intense and you don’t think you can endure, if you keep going, you get through it. And then somehow, it’s an important and meaningful part of you.  I guess now, I can call myself a runner. That’s how life is.”

If you like the support of a group, you can visit IERC on a Saturday morning in Chino Hills at Butterfield Ranch Elementary School at 7:00 am. For more information regarding IERC, check out our website at ierunningclub.com , visit our Facebook page, or write to us at info@ierunningclub.com .

*This article was first published in Chino Hills Life Magazine (Hibu company).

Lisa & Jeannine

Jeannine and Lisa after the Surf-City Half-Marathon

Reggie, Jeannine, Lisa

Lisa, Reggie, and Jeannine after running the Surf City Half-Marathon


Although I have been a mental health professional for 28 years, I learned most about my own stigma through having lived experience with mental illness. This was 12 years ago … when I developed severe major depression.

My family had moved to Southern California from the Seattle area only 9 months before, when my husband accepted a new pastoral call. I was 36, had two elementary age children, went through a stressful re-location, and then landed the worst job of my life after arriving in California.

I had always been a goal-focused person: able to take on challenges and, in most instances, succeed.  But it seemed there were too many challenges happening all at once. I was rapidly developing anxiety problems, losing my focus and confidence, and, worst of all, finding myself unable to sleep. Combine all this with a genetic vulnerability toward mental illness … and swiftly, it became too much for me.

Although it had rarely been discussed openly, I had long been aware of  the mental illness on my mother’s side of the family. Early in life, I developed a steely determination to avoid such a fate. One of my deepest drives was to never have problems like my mother.

My grandmother had an unnamed mental illness. Nobody talked about Grandma’s ailment, and I’m not sure they knew what it was. But my father told me one day, in a rare moment of openness, that one time Grandma was psychiatrically hospitalized. It seemed she tried to jump off the roof of the house – she thought she could fly.

When I was a child, we had to be very quiet around her because of her “nerves.” Although grandma was gentle and loving, she could not tolerate lights, noise, television, or active children.

My mother is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While I was growing up she had to be hospitalized a number of times for what was then called “nervous breakdowns.” She was treated with Electro Convulsive Shock Therapy (ECT), and took medication that made her seem less lively, detached, and kind of dull. She hid the bottles of medication in her bedroom dresser, tucked between her nightgowns. She never let us four kids see her take it.

As an observant young girl, I got the impression this medicine was something to be ashamed of because it must be hidden from others. I also learned early on that the kind of hospital she went to was not something to tell people about. Not if you want them to like you. I sure wanted to be normal and accepted, so I learned the rules quickly.

Rules we learn from our families aren’t easily changed. So, as an adult, even though I was a therapist myself, when I began having symptoms, I felt too ashamed and overwhelmed to seek help until it was too late. I plunged into the most devastating depression imaginable. Seemingly overnight, I went from being the treatment provider to being the treated patient. I no longer knew myself. I felt like I had shattered into a million pieces.

Why take the risk to share this story publicly? Why violate the rules and beliefs that I learned as a child? Especially that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, and that it is not something nice people talk about? Why? Because I have come to believe that those are lies.

In recovering from my own depression, I learned how profoundly I was affected by stigma – both external (which came from the culture surrounding me) and internal (which came from within me).

The stigma I held – about my mother’s mental illness, and eventually my own, kept me from properly addressing my symptoms as they arose.  This was not a recipe for healing. Instead, it was the key ingredient for disaster.

When I finally got treatment, my stigma was a gargantuan wall I had to break down to fully accept treatment for my life-threatening case of depression. It’s not an exaggeration then, to suggest to you this: My stigma almost killed me.

Am I a little scared to write about this? Yes. But stories need to be told. And … I spent enough years being ashamed. All it did was contribute to me getting sick and staying sick. It compromised my humanity and robbed me of my joy. My wise mother had a good reason for giving me the middle name Joy. I intend to live up to it!

The great American writer Maya Angelou said this, “You may not control all of the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

It is critical to do everything we can to combat stigma in all its forms. It was stigma that kept my mother from ever properly managing her mental illness. It was stigma that made me wait dangerously long before seeking therapy. It was stigma that prevented me from benefitting from treatment for many long months. I consider it a miracle that I even survived those terrible days.

But, fortunately, I have not only recovered, I have pro-covered. In short, to me that means I came out of it an upgraded edition of myself – Lisa 2.0 if you will. My life is fuller, more joyful and abundant than ever. I now have a better understanding of myself – both my strengths and my vulnerabilities.  I am acutely aware of the many holistic and healthy practices that are necessary for sustained wellness. My effectiveness as a social worker has been deeply enhanced. I have even worked through most of my stigma.

Overcoming my stigma allows me to share a bit of my story. I hope it may give you some understanding and help you overcome any stigma that you have toward those living with mental illness.

10 Recovery Lessons I learned the Hard Way:

  1. The pathway to joy is gratitude.
  2. What other people think of me is none of my business.
  3. Mental illness can strike anyone, at any time.
  4. It is no one’s fault.
  5. I can choose to forgive myself and others for not knowing or doing what was best in times of trouble.
  6. People recover, and often develop lives that are more purposeful and satisfying than the ones they had before their illness.
  7. Wellness requires a holistic approach – supporting all aspects of the human being.
  8. Wellness is a lifelong commitment and a daily lifestyle.
  9. Getting well and staying well isn’t possible without “grit.” (Definition of grit: “the tendency to work strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failures, adversity, and plateaus in progress”).
  10. Resources, education, and support are extremely important. Here are a few I recommend:

NAMI (link)

Pacific Clinics (link)

Each Mind Matters (link)

Bring Change 2 Mind (link)


“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”                -Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams