Today's episode of The Best of You Podcast is in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the holiday season in general. If you're dealing with a mixture of emotions today, this episode is for you.
Holidays are complicated, and in today’s episode, I walk you through how to honor what’s hard, even as you give thanks for what’s good.
1. Why it's normal for mixed emotions to show up on a holiday
2. How old ways of managing kick in—and leave us exhausted
3. How to take brave steps to honor vs. manage hard emotions
4. The myth of the perfect family, the perfect holiday, or the perfect experience of gratitude
5. What we can learn from 5 characters in my favorite children's book
Thanks to our sponsors:
Organifi —Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today!
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp —Go to www.betterhelp.com/bestofyou and use code BESTOFYOU for 10% off your first month!
Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Episode Thirty The Best of You Podcast 24th November 2022
Thanksgiving Special With Dr. Alison Cook
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Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone. Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to this special episode of The Best of You Podcast in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday and really the entire holiday season. I've thought about this episode for a while, and I really wanted to speak directly to you today because I think holidays bring up such a myriad of emotions.
Holidays are complicated, and I wanted to address all that you might be experiencing on this day. I also wanted to tell a story, a bit of a parable. It's not my story, it's written by another author, but it's a story that illustrates some of the hard, some of the good, some of the messy, and some of the grace of a day like today. Jesus told stories to illustrate the points that He wanted to make. He told stories to illustrate deeper truths.
And, so, today I'm going to share a story with you. It's not from the Bible. It's one of my favorites from childhood, and I appreciate your indulging me as I think about what stories have meant something to me on a day like Thanksgiving.
But before we get there, just some thoughts for all of you who are listening. Not just today on Thanksgiving, but all of you who are anticipating the holidays with a mixture of emotions. Parts of us get excited this time of year, parts of us get excited about the holidays.
It might mean time off work. It might mean spending time with people you love that you don't get to see very often. We want to feel the joy that a day like Thanksgiving symbolizes.
It symbolizes the hope of a happy family gathering, of a celebration, of the many blessings we've received. It symbolizes this idea of contentment, gratitude, and joy as we pause to recognize and celebrate the good things God has given us. The good things that are in our lives.
And it's important to do this. It's a beautiful, hopeful, day that encourages us to pause and pay attention. To notice. But here's the problem, as we pause to notice the good things, on a day like today, we often also notice what's hard. It's just the way we are designed. With every joy that we recognize, there's almost always a sorrow.
And if you're feeling a mixture of emotions on a day like today, I just want you to know you're not alone. In fact, you're incredibly normal. So there are several ways that a day like Thanksgiving can take us off track. Cannot be that day we imagined or hoped it would be in our mind.
First of all, it can end up being a day of stress, if we're not careful. The day can end up being a flurry of activity. As we move into those perfecting, pleasing, performing, producing modes we've been talking about in this series.
Those parts of us that try to get all the things together that tense our bodies. Trying to make everything perfect, everybody happy, everything beautiful, and we haven't even gotten to the mayhem that can be Christmas. Thanksgiving can end up being a day where there is a lot of stress. As we work over time to put the day together.
Sometimes we end up at the end of the day exhausted and spent, and not really feeling all that joy and gratitude that we had hoped to experience. For many of us, another reason the day can be hard, is that for many of us pausing to notice the gratitude also means noticing hard emotions.
For example, some of you have had to think, really hard, about, "Who do I spend this day with?"
Maybe your family lives far away and you can't get to them.
Maybe your family is complicated and spending a lot of time with them is hard for you.
Maybe you're estranged from a family member, maybe even your own parent or your own child.
Maybe this day brings up memories of a beloved friend or family member, who is no longer with us. The day is complicated.
I don't know anyone who doesn't experience a myriad of emotions, when we arrive at this morning of Thanksgiving. Gratitude is complicated. It's not the absence of what's hard. It's not the absence of grief. It's not the absence of grit of the reality that, sometimes, we're just getting by.
And, so, I want to honor that complexity in this episode today. I want to honor the different emotions you might be feeling. The emotions that you might not be able to name at your Thanksgiving table later today.
There might be some anxiety or worry that is present with you. There might be sadness, grief, longing. There might be some loneliness. You might be alone today. You might be struggling financially and can't afford the type of meal or celebration you wish you could provide. You might be sitting at a table full of people, and still feeling unseen or invisible.
You might be sitting at a table, where the absence of someone you love or someone you've had to move away from brings up painful memories for you. You might be working so hard today, for everybody else, that by the end of the day you're exhausted and even a touch resentful.
All of these emotions are welcome, and I don't want you to sideline any one of them. Instead, I want you to pause, right now, as you're listening, wherever you are, and notice each of these emotions. Whichever ones are present for you, and give thanks for every single one of them.
I know that sounds crazy but I mean it. On this day of Thanksgiving, I want you to give thanks even for those hard emotions. They're there for a reason. And as you notice even the hard emotions and give thanks for them.
I want you to check in with yourself and notice; "How can I care for myself in this specific feeling I'm having?" This is how we move into authentic gratitude, and it's how we move toward authentic connection.
Instead of sidelining what we really feel in order to manage the perceptions of other people. We start to pay attention to these emotions. We start to give thanks for them, and we start to get more connected.
As you give thanks for these emotions you are feeling, invite God to be present there with you. Let Him know that you see the angst, the worry, the fear, or the sadness, and guess what God sees how you feel too. You're no longer alone with those feelings.
And then turn your attention toward how you will be tempted to manage throughout this day. How will a part of you try to please others?
How will a part of you work to keep the peace?
How will your inner perfectionist step in and try to take over?
How will you try to cover over some of this pain?
For those of you who are peacekeepers. Your body may go tense as you anticipate all of the ways conflict will surface, and work overtime, trying to make sure to ward off any possibility of it.
You'll work to direct conversation, redirect conversation, explain away somebody's inappropriate comment. You'll work to protect your sister from your parents. Your father from your mother. Your mother from your father. You'll revert back into that younger version of you that didn't know any other way.
For those of you who perform, or please, or produce, you may be tempted to work overtime to make sure everyone else is happy. Inside you may be tired, but you'll ignore that. You'll shove it aside, and by the end of the day you'll feel completely out of gas and running on empty.
For those of you who are grieving, you don't know what to do. Grief can be so painful to face, especially, at the holidays when you feel like you shouldn't feel that way. Holidays are complicated, and I want you to give yourself permission in this moment. You do not have to hide your pain. Hide what's hard to go through the motions.
Again, pause, take a minute, and give thanks for these parts of you that have worked so hard in the past to manage these hard emotions. And then ask yourself, what if it's not my job, primarily, to take care of everybody else today?
What if it's also my job, just as importantly, to take good care of myself?
What is the anxious, worried, sad, grieving, lonely, or weary part of me need on this day?
Take a moment and connect to that feeling inside. Imagine an inner table, an inner Thanksgiving gathering inside your own soul. And what if you could create a space for that hard feeling on this day? And what if God wants to be with you there too?
What is something you can do for yourself on this day, to honor this feeling?
You don't have to let your sadness, your worry, or your loneliness take you over. But as you notice what you feel and name it, you can care for yourself in a specific, special, only-you-can-quite-know-exactly-how way.
Maybe it's music, maybe it's nature, maybe it's movement. Maybe it's telling a friend that you are struggling. But as you honor what you feel and create a place for all those different emotions. You, paradoxically, also set gentle boundaries with them. You show up with more capacity. You show up more authentically. You show up holding what's hard and holding the gratitude, one in each of your hands.
Holidays are messy. Family is messy. And when I think about the holidays like today, I think about that old sage, Ramona Quimby. Brought to life by the wonderful author, Beverly Cleary.
I loved these books when I was a kid. I devoured them, read every single one multiple times, all the time. And as an adult, several moments from those books have stayed with me.
There's something Beverly Cleary did in capturing some of the angst, even the depression, even the melancholy. Even the fear of being a kid, and she brought to life these feelings.
In ways that made them safe for so many of us to feel, in an era when we didn't really talk about those feelings.
And, so, those books became a place for me to honor those feelings all of us have. That many of us didn't have a place to bring to our family gathering. And while so much of what you might be feeling, on this day, relates to your present circumstances.
The way that you cope with those feelings, often, goes all the way back to the way you learned to cope as a child. The way you learned to stuff, or to numb, or to speak out too, harshly, or to set your own feelings aside.
And, so, for you, today, I offer you this parable, this story. These characters that are so beloved, so well-known, that are playful and light. But also represent some of the ways we can feel on this day. And some of the ways we might hold both what's hard and what's good, together, side by side.[00:15:15] < Commercial Break >
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All right, so if you're not familiar with the Quimby Family, brought to Life by the amazing Beverly Cleary. In a series of books that focus on Ramona. I want to give you an overview of some of the key characters. As you listen, think about who you resonate with or who you relate to in this story.
There's Mrs. Quimby, who is the stalwart holding the family together. The family struggles financially. She's got a job. She's always worried about money. She's always trying to keep the girls together.
She can be a little bit stern, and she's focused on getting things done. Keeping everybody together, getting the rooms clean, getting the chores done. She loves her family, but she's definitely, sort of, that stalwart, trying to keep the train moving.
Then there's Mr. Quimby who is loving and kind. He's also a little anxious, again, that's my 2022 read on his character. He doesn't like his job, initially, as a grocery store checkout clerk. So he leaves it to go back to school. He later gets a different job, which he then gets laid off.
There's a lot of angst around Mr. Quimby. He even takes up smoking at one point, in one book, and Ramona's really worried about him and always trying to get him to stop smoking. There's the melancholy, sort of, angst around this character of Mr. Quimby, and he's also kind and loves his family.
Then there's the older sister Beezus, and Beezus we see through the eyes of Ramona, is a little bit self-absorbed. She is, sometimes, cranky. She loves her family, but would really rather be with her friends or at her own party than with the family oftentimes, and then there's Ramona.
Ramona is honest to a fault. She gets herself in trouble. She's curious. She's calls a spade a spade. She speaks out the truth that she sees. She's often reforming others, she's curious. She's lively, she's playful, she's lovable, and she can often get herself in trouble.
So in this particular story, it's from a chapter in the book called Ramona Quimby, age eight, and the chapter is called Rainy Sunday. And this scene, this story, just lives in my memory. It just like, literally, I can recreate it in my mind to this day. And I thought about that because I always say there's a reason we remember. Our memories are powerful.
And, so, there's something about this story that captured my memory when I was young. So I went back and reread it, and revisited it. And here's what's happening, and I think it's in part because it captures both the melancholy, the hard, these different ways we manage through a day.
The different ways we're managing other people, and what's beautiful, and good, and grace-filled about any family. About any collection of people, it doesn't even have to be a family. Because in this case, a stranger comes in to the story.
So I think that's what captured me. Is that it gave us space for there to be both hard, melancholy, struggles, and beauty. Glimpses of joy, glimpses of good in any given day.
On this particular day, Ramona and her family are not getting along. Again, it's rainy, it's miserable, it's melancholy. You feel the just angstness of the day in the house.
Mrs. Quimby is barking out orders, trying to get the girls to do their chores, and Mr. Quimby is checked out. Beezus is cranky and mad that she's not allowed to go to her friend's party. And Ramona is sort of bouncing around, complaining with antsy energy, trying to get out of her chores.
Every single one of them, you get this sense, is just operating at their worst. They're each just trying to make it through the day, cope, survive, and they're really at each other constantly. In an effort to salvage the day, toward the end of the chapter, Mr. Quimby says, "We're going to Whopper Burger, which is their local diner food chain.
And you can tell the way that she tells the story through gritted teeth. He's like, "And we are going to enjoy it." There's this sense of, "By, golly, we're going to just enjoy each other on this day." Even though none of them is really happy.
And at that table, they're at a dinner table and you can picture it. It's just a diner, it's not a fancy restaurant. They're sitting at the table. But there's something about gathering around that table, making a decision to leave the gloomy house behind. And just, brilliantly, what Beverly Cleary does is she shows us, how they each start to move toward a, slightly, better version of themselves.
Mrs. Quimby stops herself from reprimanding Ramona about her manner. She kind of pulls in that little perfectionist part of her and just smiles instead. Beezus stops herself from complaining. She just pulls in that cranky teenage part of her and is present at the table.
Mr. Quimby smiles, there's a sense of a softening, a sense of the worry leaving him. And Ramona stops herself from commenting on everybody else. And you just get this feeling that slowly, just with these micro decisions, each one of them is shifting into a better version of themselves.
Well, the whole time there's this stranger, at the table over, watching them. And he had an interaction with Ramona when they entered into the restaurant, and she's annoyed by the fact that he's noticed them, that he's observed them.
And we don't really know what to make of the stranger. He's described as lonely. He's eating by himself. He's dressed in a way that might suggest he's been to the Goodwill, and he's just by himself.
And, so, we don't really know much about him other than that. He's annoying Ramona because she's aware that he's noticed them. And she notices the waitress talking to him, and then he leaves the restaurant. And what happens next is what always stood out to me, is the waitress comes over.
Mr. Quimby is getting ready to pay. And the waitress says, "This stranger, this man over here has paid for your dinner." And this is no small thing for the Quimbys. They struggle financially and they're confused. They don't know this man. They've never seen him before.
The waitress says, "Yes, he just said he thought you were such a nice family and he misses his own kids, his own family, and he wanted to pay for your dinner." And they're all just stunned, by this, because they don't feel like they've been a nice family. They feel like they've been a cranky, anxious, angst, stern, complaining family all day, and this stranger has seen a nice family. He's seen a group of people trying to be together, and it stuns them.
And you realize, in that moment, that sometimes when we're in it. When we're in the angst, when we're in the emotions, we don't see the good. We miss those little micro moments where our parent or a family member, our child, or our sister, or our mom, or our dad, or our grandparent, is actually trying to make a step toward just doing it a little bit differently. We miss those moments.
And, so, when that stranger sees them in a different light, it brings out even more of the best of them. And as they're driving home, each of them is even more kind, even more present, even more grateful, and it's just a beautiful story. And reading it again, I get why it stayed with me there's so much to it. It really hits us.
This is all of our families, in many ways, or even our friend groups. It doesn't have to be your literal family. This might be your group of friends. This might be your group of relatives, your community. We can feel broken, busted up, we are not getting along, nobody is getting us.
Even in the best of us, even in the best of our families or our friend groups. We can feel more of the melancholy, more of the angst, more of the misses than we feel the joy and the connections. We humans are messy.
I think there's a reason that memory stuck with me all these years. It's such a picture of family and, man, there are hard days. There are days where the melancholy feels deeper than the joy. And even on Thanksgiving, that is true, especially, I would say, during the holidays that is true. Everything is magnified. We feel the grief, we feel the melancholy, we feel the angst.
Here's the thing, even as you feel those things, even as you welcome those feelings. I also don't want you to miss small moments of joy, and that's what that parable is really about. It's not about a happy ending in the sense of, "Oh, yay, and now we were all happy for the rest of our lives, and all treated each other well every day from here to the eternity." That's not what happens.
But there's a moment where they notice. They notice themselves pulling back the sharp barb. They, each, notice themselves pulling back on the criticisms. They each have a moment of showing up a little bit more like the best version of themselves.
They each have a moment. And even the lonely man, in the story, if you look at this as a parable, he's lonely. He's missing his family. We don't know why he's not with his kids or his grandkids. Maybe they live far away. Maybe he's ostracized from them, we don't know.
I know some of you feel ostracized from your family. I hear from you. You write to me. You'll say things to me, "I'm the toxic one. I'm the one whose kids have set the boundaries with." You feel like the one who's been ostracized.
You're lonely. You're facing hard things about yourself and I want to say a special note to you, if you're feeling that way this holiday. "I'm the one that my kids said, 'I can't be with you this holiday.'"
Think of that old man and that parable. What's a kindness you could do for somebody else? That's part of your healing. You are starting to heal too. And part of what you do to love them is not to beg, or plead, or control, or manipulate, or guilt trip them into showing up for you.
Part of what you're doing is granting them the space that they've requested. Honoring what they've asked for from you, and that's painful. And that's causing you to have to look at yourself in all new ways and face shame, and that's hard. And my prayer goes out to you this Thanksgiving, as you honor these hard things that you're facing.
What if you could do something nice for someone else, for someone else's family? What if you could turn toward healing in a new way? What if you could find a way to give thanks for that moment, even amidst a lot of pain that you're facing?
Maybe you are Ramona in this story. You feel like you're the one that's pointing out all the hard things. You're the namer. You're the one who is honest. You're the one who's like, "We're not always nice. We're actually not doing a very good job today." If that's who you are. If that's who you are, what if today you could just take a step back, and look for the good. Look for what is working in your family today.
You might be like Mrs. Quimby the one trying to hold all things together, you've got a fistful of bills. You're worried about everyone. And as a result, you're barking out orders, trying to get everybody else to just get along. What if you could take a deep breath and just notice what's going well? What to give thanks for today?
And maybe you're like, Mr. Quimby, you've just made some hard decisions. You've moved away from some old ways to pursue something better. It's scary, it's foreign, it's uncomfortable, it's new, you're a little wobbly. You're not sure what's next for you.
What if you could just take a deep breath today, and pause, and notice what's going right. What can you give thanks for? And what if you are Beezus, cranky, a little grumpy, a little tired of your family, not sure you really want to be with them. Give yourself grace, take a little space and then notice one thing, you can give thanks for.
Each of us is represented by a member of this parable. The one who is lonely. The one who is anxious. The one who is melancholy. The one who is irritable. The one who is facing hard changes. And maybe for you, you need to minimize the togetherness today in order to be thankful.
Maybe you're someone who needs to take a deep breath, in order to notice what's good alongside what's hard.
So today, and over the coming month, as you consider the holidays:
What if you could acknowledge one good thing about this gathering, this day, this family, these people, yourself?
And what if you could also honor one thing that's hard?
This Thanksgiving, I want you to consider creating space for what's hard, for what's good, and for what's messy today. Give thanks for what you can and give grace for what feels hard. And no matter where you find yourself in this story, today, I'm with you in prayer.
I am sending love to each of you today. I'm so grateful that you're here. Give thanks, today, for what you can and give grace, today, for what feels hard.[00:32:02] < Outro >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you'd go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out.
I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.[00:32:40]