Monday, December 29, 2014

Obligatory Year in Review Post- 2014

It's that time of year. It's time to reflect and set goals and intentions for the New Year. Since this month marks my one year anniversary of blogging, it seems only appropriate to make my final blog post of 2014 a reflection post. So, ladies and gentlemen, here's my year in review.

In January, I hired a personal trainer. I didn't really have an aesthetic or weight-related goal in mind. It was more about becoming a better me. I knew I wanted to take up running and possibly run my first race. Prior to January, I hadn't as much as run around the block. But, I wanted to stretch myself to do something I didn't think I could do. Well, it turns out I ran not one but two races this year, and have two others in mind for the first quarter of 2015. I'm still not sure I'd call myself a runner, but I definitely run, and that's a really cool aspect of the new me.
Also, in early 2014, I became a Zumba instructor. I figured I was already a class regular and dance was my happy place. Why not make a part time living at it? In fact, I left my full time salaried position and ventured into freelance work in order to make room for a life of movement and exercise. I won't lie. It wasn't easy. There were many meltdowns and moments of second guessing. But I can honestly say that it was a sound decision. I'm happier and more fulfilled in my work life. Sure, revisions will continue to be made, but I'm undoubtedly more aligned with my passion than ever before.
 
My personal life in 2014 has been...er...interesting. I witnessed single girlfriends who had nearly thrown in the towel, meet and marry men they love within a period of months. Another friend got pregnant and happily welcomed her first child. Other friends have dated quite a bit and enjoyed every minute of it. My life, on the other hand, has been crickets on the relational front. Even after reluctantly delving into online dating, it's still been crickets. I'd love to say I handled this gracefully. No. It frustrated me and a few more meltdowns ensued. But then, I decided to embrace it. I intentionally reached out and rebuilt my social network from the ground up. I cultivated new connections and deepened old ones. I opened my home and hosted parties. It was all for the purpose of establishing community. I wanted to feel like I could have an active social life and a sense of family, with or without a mate. In reflecting on this year, I can say I have that. I wanted the walls of my home filled with laughter and fellowship, so I created it. I think that’s pretty awesome if I do say so myself.
All in all, it's been a good year. Even with the emotional turns at each point, I can honestly say that I accomplished everything I set out to do. I was intentional and I generally got the results I wanted. This encourages me as I prepare myself for a new year. I'm not huge on resolutions but I do set goals. And if I set goals and a game plan to achieve them, I'm confident I will. So stay tuned folks. With all that's happened in 2014, there's no telling what's in store for 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Faith like a child

I remember one year in grade school we were making Christmas lists. It must have been one of those fun, non-academic activities you do right before holiday break. I remember distinctly informing my teacher, "I might need a second sheet of paper please." To be as shy as I was, I had no qualms about listing all my wants, no matter how grand. For me, it wasn't even about whether or not I'd get everything on my list. I just knew if I asked to my heart's content, I was bound to get something I wanted.



Fast forward to today. Usually when people ask what I want for Christmas I’m like, “Um, an ink cartridge for my printer, AA batteries, and a Starbucks gift card.” In fact, over Thanksgiving my friend asked me what I want before the end of the year- not just what I wanted for Christmas, but what did my soul want to happen in my life. What was my expectation for the future? She told me to be specific and take my time with the answer. I reflected a few moments. Then I felt my chest tighten and a lump form in my throat. I was frozen. I couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't, allow my mind to visualize anything. I realized I was afraid of desire. Gone was that confident little third grader. Somewhere along the way I had become a jaded adult. Why didn’t I believe anymore?
 
You know why kids are so optimistic? Because for most kids, life hasn't beaten the crap out of them yet. They are 100% sure of their lovability and worth and there's no question of good things in store for them. But then a shift takes place as it does in all of us. Innocence is lost once your heart is broken and your hope is disappointed. It can't help but change you. Sure, your mind rationalizes that everything happens for a reason. You tell yourself you probably dodged a bullet and were spared from something you didn't know about. Your heart, however, concludes that desire is dangerous. It hurts to want something so badly and not have it work out. You learn you can avoid that hurt if you have low or no expectations. It seems like the only sensible way to cope in a world where stuff happens and you don’t always get the outcome you expect.

The problem with this “sensible” approach is that while it keeps you from major disappointments, it also keeps you from truly amazing experiences too. Let’s face it. You become incredibly vulnerable when you open up your heart to possibility. The stakes are high and you could plummet to the ground. You could also soar when you realize you got what you always wanted and more. Of course, it would be great to get something you weren’t expecting. But what if you made your intention known and believed for it? How much more complete would your joy be, had you been waiting in hope rather than shrinking from hurt?


Christmas is all about miracles. It’s about believing. It’s about light coming into a dark world and restoring hope. We don’t just have the promise of eternal hope. We can lay hold of hope now. We can fully expect positive change in our present circumstances. We can ask freely for each and every desire of our heart knowing that the Giver is able and willing to give us all good things. This Christmas season I want to return to the faith I had as a child. Whether or not I get everything I want, I will ask boldly like I did before. It’s scary. But when you think about it, what’s the harm in believing?

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Made to fly

I finally saw the Broadway hit Wicked. It was amazing. All the acclaim is well deserved. Like many people, I was moved the most by the piece, "Defying Gravity." If by chance, you haven't seen or heard it, here it is.


The background story of the number is that Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West, dreamed of meeting The Great Oz. After suffering years of pain and rejection for being different, she believed she finally had a greater purpose. Her life would now have meaning because she’d use her previously misunderstood gifts to join forces with the most powerful man in all the land. When she realized that things were not as they seemed, she had to face the pain of letting go of a dream.

Have you ever been there? Have you had to let go of a dream? Have you had to walk away? Have you had to tell yourself, “I don’t want it…I can’t want it anymore”? Well, you can conclude dreaming isn’t for you and decide not to dream anymore. Or you can decide, hey, it’s time for a new dream. I need a dream that’s not dependent on what anyone else can be for me. I need a dream that allows me to be myself, maximize my potential, and fly higher than I ever knew I could.

The reason we get chills at the climax of this song is because we align with Elphaba. We root for her. We see ourselves in her. We believe right along with her that everyone deserves a chance to fly. No, everyone was made to fly. In order to fly, you must let go of what pulls you down and set your mind to soar above it. Flight requires defying gravity. To overcome the law of gravity, you must first accept that something greater exists. Sometimes it’s not until you’re stripped of the dream you thought you wanted that you realize how much more you were created for.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finally home

Different friends who have visited in the last few years comment on how sparse my walls are. My place is nicely furnished, but there’s nothing hanging on the walls- no pictures, no artwork, no decorative mirrors, nada. I wasn’t making it a point not to decorate. I just wasn’t prioritizing it either. When I considered why I realized I hadn’t really felt at home yet.

Life up to this point has been pretty transient since I left for college. Each year of undergrad I moved in and out of various dorms and home for the summer. For grad school, I moved about every one to three years. Then once I finished school, I moved every year for three years in a row. After all that moving, it’s hard to feel settled in anywhere. Without consciously realizing it, I think I told myself that no place is permanent. It’s easier to move when the time comes when you don’t have a lot of entrapments. The byproduct of that self-talk wasn’t a sense of freedom as you might expect, it was anxiety. I felt more unsettled the less rooted I was.
So, this year I made the decision that I’m home- the apartment I live in, the region I live in, the skin I live in, it’s all my home. And if I’m home, it’s time to take off my shoes, leave my hat at the door, and stay a while. As a symbol of settling in, I got my first Christmas tree. For this year and every year to come, it signifies that I’m home…I’m finally home.
 

Monday, October 13, 2014

To all those who got what they always wanted only to wish it were better

It’s been two months since I left the security of my full time university job to venture into the freelance life- one of private practice and fitness. Since I was so open about my journey to this place, I feel obliged to share how it’s been for me…that is, how it’s really been. In a word, it’s been hard, and as I reflect, here is the main reason why.

Like lots of people, I idealize what I don’t have…you know, the whole grass is greener idea. When I was at my previous job, I longed for freedom and flexibility. For a number of reasons, my role just didn’t afford it and I often fantasized about counseling clients on my terms and coming and going as I pleased. I do have that now and I relish every moment of it. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the lack of connection with other therapists on the new job. If everyone comes and goes as they please, it doesn’t really create the opportunity to get to know each other. I had the team feeling before and I miss it. Missing a regular salary is an honorable mention as well. Regarding fitness, it was always my happy place. It was my stress relief and my escape from the madness. I suppose it still is. But going from doing something a few times a week just for me, to now teaching several fitness classes a week for others, is a totally different thing. Sure, I enjoy it. It requires a lot of preparation and energy though. And very similar to counseling, the fitness world requires just as much boundary setting and self-care practice; otherwise, it’s very possible to burnout. Who knew wellness professionals needed a break from promoting wellness?

 

Why am I sharing this? Because it’s honest and we all do it. As much as we feign contentment, we all, at different points, think the next thing in our lives will be perfect and will be the secret to our fulfillment, only to realize that it’s not. It simply is what it is. It’s another step. It’s another experience from which to learn. It’s another context in which to serve others. It’s another chance to stretch and grow. This doesn’t just apply to job transitions, although that’s my most recent life change. It applies to marriage. You find the love of your life and say I do, only to secretly wish you had the house to yourself again…just for the evening, of course. You have the baby that you hoped and prayed for, only to be less than amused by the sheer volume of care required to keep a completely dependent human being alive. It’s not about wanting to go back to what you had necessarily. It’s not even about not appreciating where you are. It’s just the ever so slight feeling of deflation when the reality doesn’t measure up to the fantasy. It rarely does.

Going back to how hard it’s been, I think much of the difficulty could’ve been avoided by having an open mind…a neutral stance, if you will. What if I had entered in neither expecting my new life to totally suck, nor expecting it to be the most awesome experience of my life? What if I just viewed my next step as an assignment, a new work to be done, a new opportunity to learn, and another venue to connect with people? What if I approached it with curiosity to discover why I landed where I did versus any of the other places I could’ve ended up? What if I viewed it as another puzzle piece to the picture of my life and actively sought out how it fits in with the greater whole? It seems like a perspective like that allows for both the eager expectation of good in your life and the sober lens to keep from excessively idealizing something only to be disappointed. I think an important reminder in life is this: If nothing else changed about your life, it would still be a good one. You are exactly where you're supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to do. And if by chance you’re not, get to where you need to be…but not out of desperation to be rescued from where you are. No, get desperate about uncovering your assignment and accomplishing the work you were created to do.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Second time around

In a couple of weeks I will run my second race ever. It’s hard to believe it’s been half a year since my very first one and amazingly I’m still running. This training experience has been a lot different than my first. It’s been much more solitary, which is one reason why I’m just now sharing it. I don’t say solitary to be self-pitying. In a way, it’s actually been freeing not to have to keep pace with someone. I’ve been able to focus 100% on running my own race, the metaphor of my life these days. In my usual fashion, I’ve spent time in reflection and then compiled this list of a few lessons learned this second time around.

There’s power in doing things in secret
My first experience with running was so completely new to me that I often sought feedback from others. I reported every miniscule insight to my veteran running friends. I wrote about fitness or running nearly every other post. That was fine for then because I was new. But this time around has afforded me some much needed perspective. There is absolutely no reason to broadcast every little thing I do. I’m just not that important and no one is that interested. Period. Besides, there’s something to be said about working toward a goal in secret. When you consistently hit the trail and put in the work without thinking about the cute selfie you want to take at the end of the workout, you build your character. It’s not about anyone else. The goal is about you. A basic life principal is this: whatever is done in secret will eventually be revealed. Don’t waste time boasting when you’re in the process. It undermines your effort.

You must learn to encourage yourself
My first time out I had more consistent support. I had a personal trainer who did many of my runs with me. This time, I might run with a friend every once and a while, but it’s mainly been me. Interestingly enough, no matter how good I’m feeling when I start my run, I almost immediately start talking myself out of going as far as I intended. If I planned to do four laps around the lake, I want to let myself off easy and just do two. The thoughts of quitting occur right away and come in such a rapid fire manner that I lose count how many times I hear, “Just stop. You don’t have to go all the way. You’ve gone far enough.” It’s obviously much easier to push through them when you have a running buddy. But sometimes in life, you don’t always have someone else there to push you through. You must learn to encourage yourself just the way a coach or trainer might encourage you. You have to tell yourself, “Don’t quit. Come on, you got this. Keep breathing. You’re doing great. Almost there. Finish strong.” When those persevering thoughts finally drown out the quitting thoughts, then I get a second wind and run even faster than before.
 

Maintain motivation between the monumental moments
Let’s face it. Every runner feels like a rock star on race day. It’s exhilarating. You get your bib. You chit chat with other runners. You feel the anticipation as people wait at the starting line. You feel energized when strangers call you by name (they’re just reading your bib, mind you, but still) and cheer you on. You usually get your fill of food and beer or wine at the end. And of course, you get a medal of completion and bragging rights for the rest of the day. All of that combined almost makes you forget the $50, $60, $70 or more that you paid for the experience. Nevertheless, race day produces a high and it keeps folks coming back. That’s all fine and well, but what happens between races? Can you lace up and consistently hit the trail when no one is cheering you on, when the weather conditions aren’t perfect, when your time is slower than your record because your body just isn’t feeling it? Can you be diligent, faithful, and committed when it’s boring? The test of character isn’t in how you meet the monumental challenges of a moment but how you conduct yourself between moments. Anyone can perform on command. It’s the pattern of conduct, the habits of person’s lifestyle that reveals who you really are.

Those are just some of my thoughts from training this time around. I imagine each training period will hold new revelations and each race will be different from the previous. I kind of like that. Each training period has its own story and its own theme. The theme for this time around is that if I ever have to go at something alone, I can do it. It’s not necessarily my preference and it’s not always necessary for each season of life. But if ever it’s called for me to run my race solo, I can do it because I have what it takes to endure.

Monday, September 29, 2014

More than the Mondays

As I poured my coffee in my tumbler this morning and prepared to head out to work, I felt an all too familiar feeling of dread. It was Monday again and I was not ready. I immediately felt guilty. Was I just a discontent person who can’t be happy at any job? Was I an ungrateful person? Then I remembered my weekend and neither of those questions were true at all. I am just tired and didn't have any recovery time. I am simply an introverted soul forced into extroversion for the last seven days. Let me explain.

My weekend started by teaching a Saturday morning Zumba class, something I do on a rotating, semi-regular basis. That’s not the sort of thing you just show up and do. It takes energy and intensity to get people excited about moving. After class, I went to the new Apple store in the mall to get my phone fixed. If you’ve never been to an Apple store, it’s packed. Techies and their children are all packed in there waiting for assistance with their various gadgets. While I do commend the workers for their efficiency, it’s still a long wait at times. So, I had to kill time walking around a crowded mall on a Saturday, something I don’t think I’ve done since I was sixteen. After the Apple store, I went to visit with friends. That was a nice recharge. But after a couple of hours, I was feeling the itch to pull away and get some alone time. I did get the rest of the evening to myself, but only to be followed by a full Sunday. I’m on the worship team at church, which means singing on stage for three services, under lights, for a 1,000 some odd member church. I did get to nap when it was all said and done, but I needed more than that to recover from a busy weekend.

Enter in this morning’s sentinment of dread. If my weekend sounded full, you should hear about my weeks. My weeks are filled with counseling people. That’s not as easy as you might think. It isn’t passive listening. I have to listen to a person’s story actively enough to accurately reflect back what I hear, draw out themes and help them make connections, pick up on what they’re not saying, and ask questions that probe them deeper. After doing that about five or six times a day, I then go and I teach fitness, lead workshops, teach online…I think you’re starting to get the picture.



For some people, they have this and even more on their schedule. This post isn’t about getting sympathy for how busy I am. Everyone is busy in their own way. It’s not about complaining about my work either. I really do enjoy most of what I do. It just requires me to pour out. Every single role in my life right now requires all of me. I am never able to go to work or even church and be on autopilot. I am a leader. I am an example. I am the “expert,” despite how much I run from that label. I am truly honored to do everything I do and I genuinely have a heart for people. It can just be exhausting, especially as an introvert.

What’s a girl to do? What does an introvert by nature do when each and every life role requires her to be extroverted? I say run away. Not really. I’m kidding (kind of). I think there does need to be a continual evaluation of personal needs though. There should be the ongoing assessment of what matters most, what can be let go, and how can I recharge myself on a daily basis. Time alone is important for all of us, but especially important for introverts. It’s not about indulging in oneself and being selfish. It’s quite literally about survival. Without that time away to recharge, we burnout and have nothing to give. Next time you’re inclined to judge yourself for having “A Case of the Mondays,” ask yourself what you need the most. Maybe it’s just another day to yourself to regain strength for what’s required next.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Soul mates

Soul mate is an emotionally provocative term. It's a term that most of us, regardless of relationship status or desire, have wrestled to define. When we hear it most of us immediately conjure images of love’s ideal. A soul mate is a person who knows you completely, accepts your flaws and shortcomings, loves you unconditionally, and is committed to you 100%. Your soul mate completes you. Sure. I suppose there’s that. I used to hold the same idealized views and part of me still does. I just wonder if a soul mate is  that and more. What if a soul mate is a person who serves to help you grow and become who you’re supposed to be? Perhaps that sounds like it goes under the same lovey-dovey umbrella, but I’m not so sure it does. Let me explain.

My philosophy of love is informed by lots of different theories about relationships and attachment. The basic idea I subscribe to is that we subconsciously choose our mates because we believe they can heal and emotionally correct our childhood wounds. I can personally attest to this fact. In the early stages of love, we’re euphoric. We’ve finally found someone who will love us the way we always wanted and needed to be loved. He or she is perfect (although our rational selves would never admit this belief, because ‘no one is perfect’) and life will finally be okay because we’ve found him/her. Here’s the thing though. Along with the subconscious selection of the “perfect” partner to heal us, we also have a subconscious mechanism at work that recreates our original family dynamic. That’s right- the very one that wounded us in the first place.

 
What does this mean exactly and how does it play out? It might look something like the woman with an absent father choosing an active duty military spouse. While her mate initially serves as the hero and protector she never had, he also triggers her abandonment issues when the call of duty requires him to travel on tours. Maybe for him, he picks a mate with traditional values who enjoys cooking, cleaning and keeping up the house. He feels nurtured and cared for, until her tendency to nag and berate him makes him feel inadequate and not good enough, just like he felt growing up. Now, if you toss in childhood maladaptive ways of coping into the mix (shutting down, getting defensive, stonewalling, lashing out, etc.), then you have a recipe for disaster. Are you starting to get the picture? It doesn’t seem so warm and fuzzy anymore, does it?
This is what I believe to be true of any relationship but especially intimate ones. We all have a dark side and our soul mate serves to illuminate it. To use another analogy, we’re emotional minefields and our soul mates are sent to trigger us in exactly the right way, dare I say perfect way, to bring all our unfinished business to the surface. We are never more naked and vulnerable in life as we are in intimate relationship to someone else. Our natural inclination to exposure, as seen in the Garden of Eden, is to run, hide, and cover up. But what if we didn’t? What if we moved toward the pain so it could be healed once and for all, rather than retreat further into it?
I don’t mean to make relationships sound torturous. They certainly don’t have to be brutal daily battles. But I think that’s the “work” that long term couples speak about. You not only need a mutual commitment to making the relationship last, but also an individual commitment to being whole. What if a soul mate is the person who helps you get there by any means necessary? Kinda changes your view on what soul mates are all about, huh?

Friday, August 29, 2014

True beauty


I’ve recently been pondering what it means to be beautiful. As usual, I find myself caught between worlds with vastly divergent perspectives on a topic. I like to think I’m a pretty eclectic gal and can’t be boxed into one way of thinking. That said I do want to take a moment to review each perspective because they each inform my ultimate view on the issue of beauty.

In the fitness world, the tag line we’re most familiar with is “No excuses.” The “fitspiration” images all over the internet are about striving toward a goal and not giving up. The ideal is attainable through hard work and discipline and people proudly take nearly nude selfies to demonstrate this proof. As you might imagine, one’s self-esteem can easily take a nosedive if too many of these images pop up in your feed. Now, what I will say is that the fitness world has freed me from the need to wear make-up daily. It’s just not practical or necessary when you move and sweat so regularly. I also really appreciate movements like, “Pretty girls sweat” and “Black girls run” that encourage girls and women to prioritize their physical health. There’s a lot of good to the health and wellness industry. It’s just that the pressure to run X amount of miles, lift or squat X number of pounds, and be swimsuit ready at all times is definitely felt, even by someone as comfortable with themselves as me.
 

In the seemingly polar opposite world of feminism, the message is quite literally, “Eff your beauty standards.” There’s a grassroots movement to embrace plus size body types, all body types really, and totally reject narrow standards of beauty. The belief is that these standards aren’t realistic or attainable and women put their health in danger when they believe they are. Rather than change our bodies, women are invited to change the world through activism and advocacy. The gospel is one of self-acceptance and that should occur at any body mass index.
 

In the mental health world, there really isn't a strong stance on beauty one way or the other. The commentary is more about the negative consequences of trying to attain one single ideal for beauty, namely eating disordered behavior. Having worked at an eating disorder clinic I’ve seen absolutely model gorgeous clients of mine who could not see how beautiful they were. Instead, they were knowingly destroying their body, yet didn’t know how to stop, all because they desperately longed to be ____________ enough.

At this point, you might be wondering how such different views might come together. What do we take and what do we throw away? Well, I definitely believe a lifestyle of fitness is essentially a lifestyle of self-care. If you love yourself, you’ll properly steward your temple. You only get one body in this lifetime, so take care of it. Just don’t overemphasize its importance and in doing so, compromise your mental or physical health. It’s just one piece of who we are. I believe feminism and mental health remind us to maintain a proper perspective and challenge us to consider why beauty is even a meaningful construct to begin with. While it certainly isn’t everything, I also believe that there’s nothing wrong with wanting people to delight in us and find pleasure in us. That’s why we make ourselves attractive for one another. It facilitates connection. We just don’t want to lead with looks as if that’s the only thing we have going for us.

In conclusion, I’d say my favorite quotation regarding beauty is this: Beauty is a heart at rest (Staci Eldredge). It comes from a secure identity. When you know who you are and you accept yourself (at any size, relationship status, or age) you have a smile that radiates, a laugh that comes from your soul, and openness and warmth that invite people to seek out what you possess inside. These qualities are constant whether your hair and make-up are done or not. They’re internal. Believing this whole heartedly doesn’t preclude me from secretly wanting to emulate the "it girl" celebrity of the day, nor does it keep me from taking the occasional sultry selfie. For me, it’s just a grounding truth to return to as often as needed. When I’m tempted to compare myself or question how attractive I am, I remember my preferred definition of beauty and all the women in my life (just a few pictured here) who model the kind of beautiful I want to be.

 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What's your aroma

I just attended a training for work and one of the modules related to customer service. The activity was about nonverbal communication and we played a game of charades to try to pick what emotion the team was conveying. As many of us know, over 90% of communication is not in spoken language but in body language. As the saying goes, it’s not what we say; it’s how we say it. But for me, I think our communication goes even beyond tone of voice, amount of eye contact, posture, and facial expressions. I think we communicate on an even deeper level. We communicate from our soul.

What is soul communication exactly? Well, have you ever heard people use language like, “I love her energy,” or “He had a creepy vibe, or “I don’t know what it was. It was just something about him/her?” It’s as if we all have an intuitive ability to perceive beyond all the verbal and nonverbal data in front of us and somehow sense what a person is about. It’s like that person who always has a sugary sweet smile on her face, but you know she has a mean streak; or the guy who is really guarded and standoffish, but you know he has a sensitive side; or the person who tries too hard to be funny and turns you off completely; or the person who seems just generally awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin. Whatever the case may be, this discernment can either attract or repel us. We relate from this place of knowing all the time whether we realize it or not.
 
So, here’s the reflection: What do you give off? Is it a pleasant fragrance of joy, warmth, confidence, and optimism, or is it a noxious odor of insecurity, negativity, bitterness, or desperation…to name a few? If you aren’t sure, just observe how people respond to you. Generally, most people, especially newer relationships, won’t want to hurt your feelings by giving direct feedback. They’ll just pull away and not be as available to you. Or if they’re in your presence they’ll change the subject or cut the interaction short. Believe me. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of distancing behavior as well as direct feedback from trusted friends. While it doesn’t always feel good, the information you gather about what you emit to others is invaluable. Remember: you always give off what’s inside of you. You emanate who you are. If you’re not giving off the kind of aroma you want to share with the world, then it could be beneficial to tend the garden of your soul. Begin with what’s inside you because what’s inside will eventually come out.
 

 

Life lessons from yoga

I recently returned to my yoga practice after a few years off. It seemed like a good balance to my current exercise regimen. But more importantly, I figured yoga would afford me a contemplative space that I very much need during a time of transition. So, even though it means dragging myself to a 6am class on Mondays, it’s been more than worth it. Here are some things I’ve learned during my practice.

Be intentional
At the beginning of each practice we’re invited to set an intention. It could be a prayer or positive vibe to someone in need. It could be love or a positive affirmation for ourselves. It could also just be to remain mindfully present on the mat for the duration of practice. I can tell a difference when I just go through the motions versus being intentional about what I hope to gain from my practice. If you’re too open and want to receive everything, you probably won’t get anything, so fix your gaze on your true desire.

Focus determines direction
Each week we spend some time on a balancing pose. Crow pose is essentially holding your entire body weight in your arms. You definitely need upper body strength but it’s also about correct positioning and alignment. A tip my teacher gives is to look slightly ahead of you without looking too far ahead because your body will go where your eyes go. Interesting life lesson, huh?

Breathe through difficulty
One thing I love about exercise but especially yoga is that it reminds you to breathe. Generally, the first thing we do in stress or distress is hold our breath. Exercise puts your body under physiological stress and conditions you to keep breathing in spite of the discomfort. Eventually, the discomfort passes and chances are you gained strength.
Find your stability
Again, with balancing poses, most people want to immediately go to the full expression of the pose. But if your foundation is weak, you won’t have the strength or balance to achieve the pose or maintain it if you get there. So, practice getting grounded where you are and once you are secure challenge yourself to go further.
 
Honor where you are today
The final lesson from yoga practice is the importance of accepting yourself right where you are. Human beings are so dynamic that we not only change day by day but moment by moment as well. That’s why each new expression of a pose is an invitation to go deeper. Some days you can and other days you cannot. It takes discipline to remove the “shoulds” from your mindset and accept reality for what it is today. You are where you are today and you’ll get to where you’re going tomorrow with intention, focus, endurance, stability, and radical self-acceptance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Becoming a Zumba Mami

It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since I completed my Zumba instructor training. I started teaching my first class in May and now the summer session has come to an end. It’s amazing how time flies by. Since the year is half over I find myself reflecting on where my fitness journey all began.

My love affair with Zumba started two years ago when I joined a gym for the first time. It was the first class I took and I was quickly hooked. It wasn’t because I was that great at it. In fact, I felt pretty awkward trying to mimic the rhythms at first. Even though I was a dancer I had never danced in that style before. It didn’t discourage me though. While a part of me was unacquainted with the new way of moving another part of me took to it easily, as if I had always done it. Moreover, it freed me. I think if I had resumed the ballet and modern styles I was trained in, I would’ve been too technically focused and missed the bigger purpose in moving. Dance at this time in my life isn’t necessarily about perfect execution or proper alignment and technique. It’s about freedom, expression, and connection- connection to my forgotten self.

You can probably guess where the story went next. I loved it so much I decided to learn how to
teach it. Now, I have a few months of teaching under my belt and a few gigs on the horizon this fall. What excites me is that this return to my first love has taken priority in my life. It won’t just be an extra thing I squeeze in if I have time. I’m intentionally ordering my life so that I can do more of what I love. I’m not na├»ve. This reprioritizing doesn’t come without some sacrifices. I’m also mindful of the need to maintain balance and rest so this outlet remains a joy and not a burden. All in all though, I’m following my bliss, as they say. With each step of doing what I want to do and not just what I think I should do I’m inching toward my true purpose.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A brave new world

Well, now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag I suppose I can finally share a transition that’s been months in the making. No I’m not pregnant, nor am I engaged or buying a home. For some reason, that seems to be women’s big news but not mine at this point. I did quit my job though and I just finished up my last day at work. In some ways it feels surreal not to be signing on for another school year of counseling college students. In other ways, it feels like every decision I’ve made this year has brought me to this point…this place of venturing out into a new land.

If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll see a clear theme to 2014. It seems like every week I took on a new challenge or adventure of one form or another. I learned something about myself or about life. I attained every personal goal, however big or small. None of this is to brag on myself but rather to highlight how hungry I’ve been to attain the life I really want. It just finally clicked for me that if I only have one life to live I want to live it to the fullest and do what makes me happiest. Why should passion only be part time?
So here’s what’s next. I’m going full steam ahead into the fitness and wellness industry. I realized from my own fitness journey that the same things I love about counseling, I also love about exercise. They are both about relationships. You get to know people over time. You connect with them and to some extent do life with them, even if it’s just an hour a week. People enter your presence one way and then hopefully, by the end of your time, they’re feeling better and more hopeful.  I still plan to counsel clients. I feel called to the work of alleviating suffering and believe I’m gifted at it. It’s just that I hope to balance that work by promoting the good, not just fixing the bad.

There are still some internal battles that I fight regarding this transition, specifically in terms of legitimacy. You don’t really need a degree to teach fitness and certainly not a PhD. I wonder what it might say about me that I have zero aspirations to own my own practice and do hardcore clinical work the next 30 years. Is it because I can’t take it? Am I not good enough? If I ventured more into prevention work would I not be seen as a real clinician by those in my field? And if I don’t want to be a full time therapist or a full time professor, why did I incur a six figure loan debt in the first place? These might seem like reasonable questions to ask, but don’t be fooled. No matter how logical they sound, they are fears and doubts, plain and simple. I say that because if I entertained any one of those nagging questions for too long than I might reconsider my decision to leave. My friend gave me a helpful visual for when I started to freak out (a frequent occurrence during this time of transition). She urged me not to feed my fears because they’re always hungry. They always want snacks. Now, when I get scared I think of a creature or gremlin holding his hand out for food and I quickly shift gears.

The facts of my situation are what they are but here’s the truth. I was created in God’s image to do good works which He prepared in advance for me to do. Did it catch Him by surprise that I’d be making this move now? Absolutely not. He sees the end from the beginning and causes me to move and act according to His good pleasure. He knows what will serve the greater good, fulfill me, and bring Him glory and He continually works out those three objectives in every detail of my life. That’s the truth. It’s a truth that encourages and grounds me. I still feel afraid sometimes. When I do I listen to this song that’s become an anthem for me and many others. Courage is feeling afraid and doing what you have to do anyway. So, when fear comes I remind myself that He makes me brave and enables me to do what I think I can’t do.
 

 

 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Adventures in kayaking


I few weeks ago I checked another thing off my growing bucket list. I went river kayaking for the first time. The activity itself was a lot of fun. But what was even better was trying something way outside of my normal Crista box. Like I’ve alluded to before, 2014 has been the year of venturing out of my comfort zone. As I do so in various ways, I find that I learn really valuable life lessons. Here are a few from my kayaking excursion.

1.       It’s okay to have fun

I should mention I took the trip with several 20 somethings who do outdoorsy stuff all the time. At one point, a few of them (my kayak partner included) thought it would be fun to play bumper boats. There was an immediate war between my adventure self and my conventional, orderly self. Once I heard the internal voice of caution that sounded a lot like my mother, I decided to silence it…just this once. I knew we were going to be fine, so why not cut loose a bit and enjoy the ride?

2.       Remember to take in the view

Like anyone else, I wanted to not only do something awesome, but capture myself doing something awesome. Truthfully, I did get in a couple of shameless selfies out on the water. I couldn’t resist. But I didn’t want to trip to be so picture focused that I missed the experience itself. The river was beautiful. We passed an affluent neighborhood of huge houses on the water. We paddled in the early evening, so halfway through we were able to see the sunset. Then, my favorite moment of the trip was when our kayaks spontaneously gravitated toward each another. We were all huddled together, gently bobbing in the waves and taking it all in. It was a good reminder to just stop every once and a while to absorb the scenery.
 

3.       It gets hardest at the end

As with most things, towards the end it wasn’t quite as fun anymore. Exhaustion and a touch of nausea had set in and I was ready to get out of the boat. It felt like it was taking longer to get back than it had to row out and I felt a little annoyed that we hadn’t started to turn back sooner. I could’ve let myself panic and succumb to silly thoughts like, we’re never going to make it back. Instead, I decided to keep paddling, and in fact, I paddled a little faster. That was the only way to shore after all. The group decided to make a race of it, which reignited the sense of fun and adventure. Obviously, we did make it back and I was able to maximize those final moments instead of dread them until the very end.

4.       Be open to new connections

I think one of the coolest things about any new experience is the people you meet. I met a fun group of people I probably wouldn’t have met in any other context- free spirited, adventurers who enjoy life to the fullest.  My kayak partner even said, “Hey, we should be friends.” I thought it was really endearing that for some people the basis for friendship is just that easy. Hey, we shared this experience and it was really cool. Let’s do it again. Who knows if we will, but it really inspired me to see there’s a world full of really awesome people and all I have to do to meet them is be open to trying something new.

 

 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Single moments

I was sitting at home last Saturday night (admittedly this wasn’t the first one) doing chores and watching Dateline. If it were a Redbox rental or something equally interesting it wouldn’t be so bad. But for me, when I have on Dateline in the background with no other plans in place, except maybe peeling open another library book, I feel like a 65 year old and that makes me a little sad.

My mind immediately wandered to all my married friends and the fun they must be having. I decided to fact check and just ask them what they were up to before letting my mind grab hold of something that might not be accurate. When I asked, I learned two did have plans and were enjoying time with their families. Two had the house to themselves while their spouses were out doing one thing or another. Another newlywed friend and her husband had pizza and 24 on their agenda. So basically, their plans weren’t overly thrilling nor were they completely boring. They were just living normal lives. But had I not taken time to check in, my feelings would’ve had me totally misinterpret reality and feel even worse about myself and my life.
I mention this because in addition to boredom I also felt a little loneliness. That’s been an unpleasant but familiar feeling recently, one I hate to even admit. Sure, I have moments of fun and enjoyment with friends. I even have awesome days where I thoroughly enjoy me time. But then that annoying feeling returns. It’s the feeling that I’m not really included or connected or part of the fold. I can recognize that’s not true and I can honor that that’s exactly how it feels some days and that’s a painful and scary place to be.
While this may or may not offer any solace, the reality is that loneliness is part of the human condition. You can be partnered, have a lot of friends, be in a crowd and still feel lonely. You can also live alone, have limited contact with others, and rarely feel lonely. It’s very individual and subjective because it’s based on your internal perception. Evolutionarily speaking loneliness is a helpful warning signal. We’re hardwired for connection, so if we’re veering off into isolation, loneliness prompts us to seek connection for survival’s sake. When those feelings come, don’t be a martyr and isolate further. Reach out and challenge the notion that no one cares. I’m sure you can find a lot who do.
Here’s my vision for the not so distant future. I can see myself home on a Saturday night with my smokin’ hot husband who’s rocking our baby to sleep. I hear the text indicator on my phone and I see it’s a single girlfriend of mine checking in. I’ll immediately discern from the text that she’s having a single moment at home watching Dateline fearing that life is moving ahead without her. I’ll assure her that she is loved and valuable and not even remotely forgotten about. But it won’t the kind of pat response that trivializes her pain. It’ll be a compassionate response that can only come from one who truly gets it. I’ll invite her to hangout to which her pride will make her refuse. She wouldn’t dare interrupt “couples’ time.” I’d understand that too and just say a prayer for her heart- that her tears would only last a night, that her joy would be restored in the morning, that her soul would be satisfied with life giving relationships, and that she would experience love so deep that she would never again question her worth. So, until my future self becomes my present self, I think I’ll borrow tomorrow’s compassion for today. I’ll be patient when the lonely waves come. I’ll remind myself that single moments are just that…moments…and they too shall pass.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I see you

I’ve mentioned before that I’m new to social media. It’s only been in the last 6 months or so that I’ve plunged into various platforms to connect with the world. On one hand, I feel hooked. There are lots of parts that are surprisingly enjoyable. On the other hand, I’m still ambivalent. I wrestle with how much of me to put out there and for what purpose.


As I’m sorting my way through it all it’s been fascinating just to non-judgmentally observe other people’s online behavior. People seem exceptionally witty via a social media platform. They also seem more attractive, more adventurous, more philosophical…just all around more awesome. What’s interesting about it all is what a good friend recently shared: “To everyone else I must look totally narcissistic. But when I post, it’s my way of checking, ‘Am I pretty? Do I look ok?’” That fascinated me and I appreciated her honesty. While we intuitively know there’s more behind the image, I think the image tells such a compelling story that we forget everyone has their insecurities; we all have an internal reality that might look very different than what's projected to others.

But here’s the gift we have in social media. It offers the mirroring and attunement we used to get as babies. What I mean by that is that when we were younger we would put something out there (a facial expression, a word, a thought) and (if our parents were healthy) then it was reflected back. It made us feel safe knowing that we were seen and heard and we could have as much impact on our world as it has on us. It’s the same way with posting. When you post a picture, upload a video, add a status update, or communicate in any way, you generally get immediate feedback- a like, a favorite, a retweet, what have you. That’s incredibly reinforcing depending on the day you’re having.

 

I know personally when I post an image it’s not that I’m necessarily fishing for compliments. It’s more about checking in like my friend shared: I feel confident here. Am I confident? I feel happy here. Am I happy? I feel optimistic about life. Will I have a good life? I think I look good here. Am I lovely? It all goes back to being seen.

Here’s my conclusion. I’m not sure the phenomenon is good or bad…it just is. I think the opportunity we have to mirror one another is an honor. We all need that sometimes. Perhaps before critiquing someone’s representation consider what they might need from you. Maybe it’s a rough day for them. Maybe they’re searching for something or feeling a bit disconnected. Maybe all they’re looking for is someone to witness who they are and reflect back to them, I see you.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bouncing back

I recently saw this clip of an athlete from several years ago who got back up and won her race after literally falling on her face. I went through so many emotions as I viewed the footage. There was immediate shock and concern when she fell. Was she okay? Then once she got back up and started making up the distance, I found myself rooting for her. I got chills as I witnessed her extraordinary ability to get back up and finish…and not just finish, but finish and win.


 
This is the definition of resilience- the ability to rebound and to bend and flex without being broken. I believe we all have this inherent quality inside. We all possess the ability to conquer our challenges of life. Yet, some people realize the gift they have inside and others do not. What makes the difference? I’d say it’s a matter of tenacity.

We all have something we hope we never have to face…something that we think would absolutely destroy us if it came to pass. For me, it was betrayal, rejection, and abandonment by a loved one. And despite my best attempts to safeguard against that deeply feared trinity, they happened anyway when a relationship ended badly a few years ago. I won’t lie. I went to a very low, very dark place. It was the kind of despair that puts you in the fetal position and makes you want to fall asleep and not wake up. But even when the pain was excruciating, something in me kept going. Giving up wasn’t an option. It was like my spirit saw my life beyond the moment and spoke to me to get back up. The steps were wobbly at first, but as I kept moving I gained stability. Then as I stabilized, I felt a fighter rise up inside. I refused to let that moment, that person, that loss knock me down and keep me down. I was going to overcome it because that’s who I am.
That’s what resilience is to me…that, “Oh hell no!” attitude toward obstacles. We all have a fighter in us. Sometimes the fighter lays dormant inside until just the right moment when we have to show ourselves and the world what we’re made of. Now hear me, it’s not about going out and seeking pain and trauma to endure. Truthfully, if you live long enough difficulty will probably find you without you looking for it. What I mean is try to get to a place where you embrace all facets of life- the abundance and the lack, the joy and the sorrow, the love and the loss. Whatever you’re facing today, you already have everything you need to overcome. But you have to keep moving. Even if you’ve fallen down several times, get back up. Get back up and finish your race.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Photo bombers

Yesterday I was catching up with a friend about another friend. I asked about the most recent guy she was talking to because I didn’t know anyone was in the picture. She replied, “Well, he was in the picture but he wasn’t the picture. It was more like he photo bombed.” We busted out laughing and went back and forth another ten minutes or so joking about different guys over the years that had “photo bombed” our lives. It tickled us, but maybe you had to be there. The point is it got me thinking about this relatively recent phenomenon where strangers just insert themselves in your pictures without permission. What is that about?

 

I tried to think of reasons people might do that. For some people, they know it’s wrong and they know they aren’t invited, but it’s part of the thrill to do it anyway. For the majority of others though, it’s probably more about being playful and wanting to be a part of the fun. Either way there’s a subtle but clear understanding that there are some who are actually meant to be in the picture and others who are not.

When you apply this idea to dating or any relationship really, it gets even more interesting. The contenders, as one friend says, are those who have serious intentions in getting to know you. They have expressed genuine interest and corroborated their intent with an honest pursuit. The pretenders, on the other hand, might have a casual, fleeting interest, or perhaps they are genuinely curious about who you are, but they have not taken steps to really know you on any deep level. That might be perfectly okay. Not everyone is marriage material or a BFF. The problem is when pretenders masquerade as contenders and get access to your heart space. Both of the friends above and myself can attest to the crappy feeling of realizing after the fact that someone struck an emotional chord even though they never should’ve been there at all.

So what do you do if your life has been photo bombed? Realize it happens to the best of us. Once you realize someone’s not supposed to be there, wrap it up and move on. Or if they leave first, let them go. Embrace that every detail of your life is divinely appointed, but especially relationships. Some are casual, some are seasonal, and a few are for the long haul. If you misjudged someone’s role in your life, who cares? Live and learn. Give them a funny nickname as my girls and I are in the habit of doing and find those connections that are meant to be in the picture. And next time just be a little more aware of potential photo bombers. It is beach season after all.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Power of You

Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.
-Judy Garland

We all have people we want to emulate. Something about them inspires us- their confidence, their ability, their humor, their energy. Whatever it is, we see something special and different about them and we want it for ourselves. It seems the best way to attain what they have is to study them, rehearse them, and then try to be just like them. That seems like it makes sense at first. The only problem is that it inevitably fails. Why? Because we’re not them.
 
It kind of reminds me of when I first became a counselor. I was so anxious about doing everything right and being just like the professors who taught me, that I struggled to just be with a client and relate like a normal human being. I was stiff and awkward and spent more time acting like a counselor than just being one. I’m not sure when it shifted for me, but eventually I let go and decided to be myself. I related to clients the way I would a friend or family member. I started integrating my style of humor wrought with hyperbole and dry wit. If a client told me something ridiculous, I would laugh at/with them and reply with a loving, smart aleck quip just like I would with a friend. Of course, this would depend on the person and the presenting issue. I would never make light of someone’s pain. But the point is, once I became a real person in the room, once I was me, people responded favorably.

I mention this only because I’m faced with a similar situation as I return to the creative arts. When it comes to music and dance I feel that pull again to mimic people I really admire. If I could just bottle up the best qualities of each of my role models and imbibe a potion of all of their awesomeness, I would be good to go. But if I’ve learned anything about human nature, it’s that people don’t want another copycat. We inherently distrust incongruence. The antennas go up when something about a person doesn’t seem genuine. We want to know you actually are who you say you are. You’ll be hard pressed to convince someone you’re genuine if you’re working overtime to be someone else.
 

What I’m realizing is this. Authenticity reigns supreme. Embrace all your quirks and idiosyncrasies. Wear them like a badge of honor. Embrace your way of connecting and relating in the world. People will appreciate you for it because you’re being yourself. We each have a unique light. It doesn’t matter if someone does that exact same thing we do. When we approach it we breathe a whole new life and energy to it because there is no one else like us. But that only happens when you stop spending your time trying to be someone else and you recognize the power of you.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The secret to single contentment

I recently shared with some friends that I had the awesomely awkward experience of a stranger at the library just smiling and staring at me as I checked out a book called, “Why you’re not married yet.” When it happened I noticed my immediate reaction was embarrassment and shame. It was like I was wearing a scarlet A on my chest…or S as it were. I didn’t want to be caught checking out a self-help book, much less a self-help book on why you can’t get somebody to put a ring on it. A few beats later I felt a little indignant. Yeah, that’s right. I checked it out. Don’t judge me, I thought internally. Then as I walked out of the library I felt humbled. I needed to be honest with myself about a truth nearly every independent, accomplished woman hates to admit. I’m not married and I really want to be. So, if there’s anything I need to know about what might be getting in the way, I want to be open enough to learn.

The book itself, by Tracy McMillan, was an enjoyable read. I’m relieved to know I have no glaring personal defects that might interfere with love- an obvious hatred for men, unabashed promiscuity, tendencies to berate and emasculate at every given turn, things like that. I’m not drowning in debt (unless you count student loans), I’m not overly needy or clingy, and I’m not certifiable. Sure, I have my stuff (we all do). I have my inner Courtney Love, as McMillan calls it, which rears her ugly head from time to time (we all do). I have my moments of self-delusion in which I ignore the flags and indicators because I just don’t want to see what’s glaring me in the face (we all do). But I’m a generally balanced and stable human being.
 

What I really like about her book is that it puts the focus on the reader and not in the sense of here’s a formula to catch true love. The focus is about doing your work, the uncomfortable internal work of healing from past junk. Was it fair that he left like that? No. Work to forgive anyway. Was it okay that she said that? No. Work to release it anyway. Was it your fault that this horrible relational trauma occurred? No. And you still might have played some part in it, even if it was just in allowing things you knew weren’t acceptable…or changing to please someone else…or doing any of the other countless things we do that violate our personal integrity. This is the harsh reality your closest friends might not tell you and your therapist might not tell you until a good year in. Yet, McMillan served up this jagged little pill with humor, compassion, and just enough self-deprecation to make it palatable.

So, what’s my take home? That’s a tough one. I’m noticing that shame creep back up as I vulnerably identify myself as a single woman…a single woman who desires to be partnered. Yet that is my reality. That’s a truth I must first accept if I am to ever expect my situation to change. At the same time, I’m realizing that every single person, every person really, must resolve this within themselves: If I end up alone, I will be okay. My life will be full of joy. I will embrace the love I already have. I will be complete with or without a mate. If you can’t affirm each of those statements today, that’s okay. Those are hard things to say and genuinely mean in our couples' world. That just means you have an invitation to do some soul work. I’m not there 100% but each day I get closer. And you know the secret…my secret to single contentment? Regardless of whatever condition or season of life I find myself in, I can not only tolerate it, but endure it joyfully through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

Friday, May 16, 2014

After pomp and circumstance

I participated in graduation exercises last weekend. It was kind of surreal because I wasn’t a student anymore. I was a faculty member leading the way in full doctoral regalia. A friend of mind had commented that it was crazy to think it had been 10 years to the day we all graduated from college. I had no idea and the thought blew my mind. 10 years since college graduation? Seriously? In some ways, it felt like a lot had happened in my life. In other ways, it felt like I just blinked and I was in my 30s. How did I get here? Where did the time go?



Anyway, in typical commencement address fashion, the message was inspirational and it charged the graduating class to follow their dreams. Be open to possibilities. You never know where life will take you. You have a unique gift to share with the world. Blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good stuff. I’m queen of inspiration, believe me. I just couldn’t help but notice that in addition to 10 years of gaining…uhm…maturity, I also gained a fair dose of cynicism. Life rarely ends up the way you expect.

Personally, I figured I’d be married with at least one kid in tow by now. I haven’t quite sealed the deal in the matrimony department though. Educationally, I knew I would go to grad school but never planned to get my doctorate. Now I have some big girl degrees and credentials behind my name that I only mention to highlight how weird it still is to me. I don’t have the six figure salary a lot of college grads want to make in their 30s. I do have a six figure loan debt, so go figure. I’ve met some awesome people and a whole lot of jerks. I’ve fallen in love and lost love. I’ve had a ton of crappy jobs and some impressive ones. I’d say I’m doing fairly well in life 10 years out of college. I’m thankful for my life thus far. But am I living my dream?



 

As I reflect on this year’s commencement, I feel like I received the same invitation as the class of 2014. I’m invited to consider the following questions: Am I doing what moves me? Am I living on purpose? Do I feel energized and renewed each day? Is my life fueled by passion and joy? Are there pockets of adventure amidst the daily routine? Is my soul truly satisfied or do I thirst for more? And if the pursuit of more (not money or things but soul satisfaction) requires me to deviate from the path of convention, do I have the courage to move anyway? These are the questions on my heart these days…questions that I hope will guide the next 10 years and allow me to say at the end of it, ‘I’m fulfilling my purpose and I’m truly alive.’