Selfies

I used to hate, I mean, HATE pictures of myself. Every photo was an opportunity for me to see all the unsightly parts of me. To critique myself. To dislike myself. To remind myself of how much work I needed to do to look acceptable or be “pretty”. I could spot the smallest hint of cellulite or a double chin. My gray hairs were so obvious to me. When I looked frumpy or my butt looked too big. Whatever it was, it was all I saw.

And I didn’t need a photo to see how unattractive I was. I felt it all the time. It defined me. Every person I met, I compared myself to. Skinnier legs, more muscular arms, prettier hair, nicer skin, better put together, more fashionable, stylish, you name it. It was the foundation of my life. How did I measure up to someone else’s outsides?

I never did…..

I never felt sufficient. Ever.

A few years ago, when God began shifting my heart to align with His, I started to see glimpses of my worth. I got a tattoo on my side, the Hebrew word for sufficient, meaning if He is enough, then I am enough. I thought I was beginning to really learn to like myself but I was just finding new ways to mask my disdain. I could lift a lot of weights and post a cool video of that. I could make intentionally silly posts to hide the fact that I was uncomfortable with myself. I could edit and filter things to only present my “best” self.

Or…. I could just be myself and share only who I truly am, and be more than ok with it. I could truly love myself and see all the beauty within me and not focus on my flaws. But that seemed like an impossible feat…..

For a while I would try to shift my thoughts. Whenever I judged myself, I would say nice things in my head to combat the negative. There’s this guy, Gottman, and he did a study about relationships. Apparently, for every 1 negative statement, you need 5 positive ones to balance out. This is true for all relationships, even the one with yourself. If I looked in the mirror and said I was ugly, I would immediately force myself to say something kind. And if I found myself judging others, I would muster up a compliment and hand it out as fast as I could (and it had to be genuine). I would remind myself of how I ran a half marathon or how I loved deeply or served others well. I tried to find ways to convince myself that I was attractive and “good”. As much kind words I said to fight my mean self, it was never enough. I couldn’t convince myself to see anything differently.

My husband is a photographer and I have always forbid him from taking pictures of me. Professional cameras would capture my hideous appearance with even greater detail. I had no interest in seeing all of my skin and body with such great design. That decision always made me feel sad inside but my sorrow was not stronger than my dislike for myself. I don’t know if it’s me approaching my 40’s or the heart shift with my ankle break or just God revealing things to me, but something recently has changed. Maybe you just stop caring so much about this sort of thing at some point. Probably some people never cared much about comparison. Not only do I like the way I look, but I don’t even have to convince myself to approve of my appearance. Somehow, I actually see myself and see the beauty in me. My belly, which often times is fuller than flat, reminds me that I grew a human and it makes me smile. Sometimes it even makes me laugh because it’s so stinking adorable. And my legs, which are softer because of my ankle break, don’t gross me out even with some stretch marks and cellulite. I can’t even explain why it doesn’t matter, but it just doesn’t. My hair is in need of some fixing, my grays are showing through horribly and the fuchsia color has faded to show dry, blonde-ish ends but that’s ok! I genuinely still like myself AND see a deeper elegance than all those things.

I used to think I needed to present myself as perfectly as possible to be ok. In order to be alluring and like myself, I needed to strive for model type, high level athlete, unattainable fashionista, perfection, well groomed, organized super human. Now, I see true beauty in the authentic, sometimes messy, not always put together but always working hard and loving version of me. The one who puts people before things, who accepts and loves others as they are, who encourages and supports friends in their darkest moments and cheers on strangers in the day to day.

I will probably never be someone who constantly is obsessed with myself, posts selfies all the time or even checks the mirror a bunch. I don’t think I’m in any way giving up on caring about my appearance or going to quit working out to improve my physical health. It just doesn’t mean as much to my value anymore and that feels really good. Seeing myself for the first time, as a fascinating and lovely being, is so strange yet freeing.

I can’t believe I wasted so much of my life focused on something so insignificant. Imagine what I could’ve been doing with my time if I hadn’t been so preoccupied. I hope to inspire others to see their true beauty and value

because it’s there…

Dreaming (and my lack of posting)

I haven’t posted in a while. Things have been happening. I’ve felt compelled to write. I’ve had a lot of thoughts run through my mind and at times, I’ve wanted to pour them out, yet I refrain. I want my posts to be well written, to be powerful, to be meaningful, to have proper English. I get nervous as if it matters that much… but I guess it does. People write some pretty awful things at times and have huge effects on large masses of readers. I don’t think my blog is on that level (I mean, I know it’s not) but what if I wrote one thing that wasn’t great? I don’t know why that lingers in the back of my mind and somehow hinders me, but it does, or it has. Like I said before, authenticity is vulnerable and can be messy so I need to just embrace that and see what happens.

On to the second, more important topic: dreams and dreaming. I have had a decent amount of conversations about aspirations and hopes over the past few weeks. All of them have been encouraging ones, me reminding others to not give up or agreements about the value of dreaming and dreaming BIG!

Last night I was watching America’s Got Talent. There was a 71 year old woman competing as a ballroom dancer. As she is telling her story, she said something that struck me and as you can imagine, I began to cry. She said she only started casually dancing 10 years prior but through her dance lessons, she realized it was her dream to be a dancer. And here she is, on television, competing to win a million dollars, as a dancer.

It struck me so deeply, the pursuing of an unknown ambition at such a late stage in life and what was even more impactful was the pending success! I envision all the people who doubted her or told her she was crazy, too old, whatever and the determination and drive she had to continue on. I think of all the younger dancers she was probably surrounded by, that maybe stirred up insecurity or doubt in her heart.

In my life, as I’ve mentioned before, I grew up without dreams. I vaguely remember a time, between three and five years old, where I danced around in my backyard, singing songs and pretending I was on broadway. That was a desire in my heart that was quickly erased by years of abuse and neglect. I was taught early on that not only did I not matter, but my yearnings were unimportant, my thoughts were irrelevant and my sole purpose was to serve others and be whoever I needed to be to survive. Every dream that had been placed inside me was gone. Cravings I never knew, wants I had never unearthed, all obsolete.

When I became an adult and had a son of my own, I reinforced that belief within myself. I didn’t have time to even contemplate what I wanted out of life. I had a child to raise and my whole goal was to help him live out his passions. I needed to work in order to provide for him, to go to school and get an education in whatever field I could and to find a husband to have a family modeled for him.

It wasn’t until maybe five years ago that I began to tap into my buried hopes and what has happened since then is nothing short of miraculous.

My goal setting began slowly, with small things, like a belief that I could run a race or lift a heavy barbell, climb a rope or even get one single pull up (haven’t accomplished that yet, but one day). Things that maybe other people never debate or even consider an objective but to me, were at the top of my list. As I began to find success in those small things, my ambition grew larger and more outlandish. I found myself believing that I could do big things, that everyone around me could accomplish the unthinkable, that nothing was out of reach or impossible. When others would say statements of doubt or negativity, I could confidentially encourage them with my truth. And as I watched others conquer their fears, I grew even more confident in the power of dreaming.

Sometimes I look back (actually often) and feel sad for the little girl who had all those things taken from her. I think about what could have been if I grew up understanding my potential. What if I knew the greatness within me from birth? What would I have attempted? How many more amazing things would I have experienced? And I find myself feeling angry for everyone who has in some way been told that they needed to “just get a good job and make money” or pick a college and career at the young age of 18. I feel like I want to protect everyone who has been fed notions of self doubt and cheer them on to victory. My voice raises and something swells up in me when I hear the lack of belief in our society. When did we decide to just give up and fall in line?

I am not someone inherently greater than anyone else. I firmly believe that we are all amazing, talented individuals capable of unfathomable feats. I am someone who is just figuring out the depths of that ability and in that growth, realizing how desperately so many need to see their own potential.

And let’s be clear, this post is not to say we should all quit our jobs and irresponsibly pursue something. The pursuit of happiness and fulfillment of dreams can be done with intention and intelligence. But if there is no conscious dream in your heart, I’d suggest taking some time to truly listen to that small voice inside you that houses all of the magic implanted within you in your mother’s womb. And then take the wildest dream you can conjure up and run with it! And if anyone tries to tell you that you’re too old, out of shape, not good enough, not smart enough or that it’s not realistic, remember that you were not created on accident. The person you are born to be is on purpose and the dreams you hold within you are there for a reason.

I want to write

I keep thinking of subjects to write about but then don’t put anything down. I wonder if anyone even cares or better yet, if everyone thinks my writing is bad/dumb/some derogatory term. I am not writing a blog to gain friends or notoriety. I just want to share my thoughts and hopefully, inspire or help someone. And honestly, at the end of the day, I have always enjoyed writing, journaling, story telling and even just the English language.

What I have found in creating this blog, is that I aspire to have everything I write be impressive or something greater than just a journal. Because I know people are reading it (even just a handful), I want it to be more meaningful, deeper, motivating. I edit and judge my writings and eventually, convince myself to just wait til I have come up with a more “worthy” piece to share.

I don’t have any thoughts of becoming a famous blogger although maybe that would be fun (it would probably just create more tension and anxiety honestly). I know I’m not Brene Brown or a recognized author but I do genuinely care about the quality of what I put out there.

And then it hit me…..

if I want to be transparent and truly authentic, then my writing, at times, may be messy…..

and that’s ok.

Logistics

Last Friday evening ended our adventures out west and although there are a ton of profound and deep things we experienced, there are also a lot of logistical things we learned from. I wanted to share some of the lessons we found valuable in a stand alone post. Since my husband and I will be traveling at least once a month for a while, I feel some camping/hiking/adventuring tips are in order.

Our trip took us through Colorado where we only stopped for a few hours. It was the first time we saw the mountains not covered in snow which was odd. Granted, we didn’t go hike up into the Rockies but even driving though Aspen and Vail, we found them to be bare. It was also somehow a cloudy day (Denver specifically has the most sunny days per year of any city). To say we were disappointed is an understatement. One of my favorite views is approaching Denver on 70 and seeing an endless sky full of snow capped mountain tops. Unfortunately, we did not get that experience this time.

Moab, Utah is only five-ish hours past Denver, just across the Colorado state line. That was our first stop and our third time visiting. We spent two days there and thanks to the owner of our hotel, we had some amazing hikes that were outside of Arches National Park. Which brings me to tip #1: ask someone local where they like to hike. Most of the area around Moab is public land meaning you can park your car on the side of the road and just trek in any direction. We ended up doing one of our favorite hikes ever which culminated with a beautiful arch on a cliff. To top it off, there were only two other people hiking at that trail. It was incredible!

Enter food…. as we drove along 191 through Moab, my husband declared, “I could really go for the best eggs benedict right now.” That’s his favorite breakfast meal so it’s not surprising he was craving it. Well wouldn’t you know, maybe two blocks after that, I saw a sign outside The Jailhouse Cafe, “Best Eggs Benedict.” I mean, what are the chances?? And just to confirm, my hubby is an eggs benedict connoisseur and he agreed they were in fact the best he’d ever had. I’d say tip #2 is to try the small, old looking local places over your familiar, nationwide chains. On a prior trip to Estes Park, we tried a place named The Egg & I and just like this trip, we quickly fell in love with the food and atmosphere.

Tip #3 is all about the heat. And let me tell you, we messed up big time in this department. We booked a campsite in Page, Arizona for a week. We knew it was the first week of July and that Arizona and Utah are both hot but we also know that the desert cools at night. We’ve camped in Joshua Tree in June before and while the days were scorchers, evenings got down to the 50’s. Page, Arizona is somehow an exception to that rule. The lows were in the 80’s….. We prefer camping over hotels for cost efficiency and also proximity to beautiful views and star lit sky’s. Just make sure you check thoroughly before booking a site or else you will waste money, end up staying in a hotel anyhow and be annoyed.

Last few tips: if you forget something important, live without or buy a replacement. DON’T TRY TO HAVE SOMEONE MAIL IT TO YOU! Our package got lost for a week and by the time it was found, we were already home.

Once you pack your belongings, take 1/3 out. I never wear everything I pack and it’s wasted since really. From a camping and hiking perspective, where showering daily isn’t even always an option, changing all your clothes all the time becomes less important. To be honest, most established campsites have laundry facilities also so rewearing things after washing is way easier than having a full outfit for every day.

Lastly, a decent amount of hikes and adventures require advance planning, special permits or a cash/check payment. If you wanna see The Wave in Arizona, it’s a lottery and only 20 people total are allowed per day. You can only enter the online lottery 4 months in advance. If you wanna hike Half Dome in Yosemite, you need a special permit and similarly, they have limits on how many people can go per day. Make sure you prepare well in advance, have all your ducks in a row and carry small bills at all times.

Hopefully these tips are helpful! Let me know if you have any questions! I will be sharing a lot of tangible tips and emotional growth experiences in the coming months and hopefully even adding a vlog!

Undeniable

It’s 4pm in Moab, Utah and I’ve already hiked almost 9 miles up to a huge arch in the middle of no where, through a sand trail that traversed a stream multiple times. Wait, let’s re-read that sentence…

Didn’t I break my ankle just four months ago? I know, I know, I keep talking about it but seriously, how did I do this crazy slanted slick rock hike? How did I navigate sand and algae covered rocks? And with NO PAIN? No swelling?

We can go over the first part of that sentence also and be in awe… I’m in Moab, adventuring with my husband. A month ago this was not our reality but now we have plans to travel every month for the rest of the year and maybe even longer. Oh, and let’s clarify, we aren’t paying for our trip, it’s all work related and my husband is actually being compensated for these amazing adventures.

Here’s what’s even more crazy: three years ago we wrote this down as a dream we wanted to see fulfilled. My husband aspired to be a full time photographer, traveling the country and working enough to support our family. I aspired to be working less and traveling with him, helping in whatever way possible and having time to write more. And if we travel back in time to when I was 18, I said all I wanted to do as an adult was travel around the country even though I had no idea what that would look like.

The path to get here was full of two broken ankles, a lot of moving around, some really emotional and tough situations and unending trust and faith. We spent a lot of time praying, making decisions that felt guided by our God, attempting to discern our path through the mess. We had so many opportunities to give up but I am so glad we kept going.

This trip is covered in blessing and prophecy. It’s clearly meant to be, undeniably a gift from God. Even up to our departure, we acted out of faith and received confirmation. Ten days ago the bulging discs in my back flared up. I could barely walk. I couldn’t work. I was miserable. I saw a chiropractor, got my back dry needled, was put on steroids and muscle relaxers. I attempted everything I could to heal. I thought for a moment maybe I was going to have to cancel going and send my husband out alone. But I also knew I was supposed to go and so I trusted that somehow, my back would feel better…. and it did. Almost 24 hours in the car, which would normally ruin any a human, was exactly the process my back required to be restored. That makes no sense……

So here I am, living seriously my best life, with my body functioning and feeling amazing against all odds. And while this season is oh so good, I will remain faithful, hopeful and positive whenever this peak becomes a valley knowing that if it’s not good, it’s not God and it’s just not the end yet. I hope those who are also enjoying moments of dreams becoming reality take a second to feel ultimate gratitude for the journey that they took to get there. And for those facing struggles and working hard to stay positive, I pray for the perseverance to keep your head up and the belief in the goodness that surely will come.

Living for the first time

I’ve had a bit over a week to reflect on my time in Daytona Beach and I’ve come to one major conclusion: I needed this more than I realized.

In preparation for a week long camp with 86 high schoolers (actually 5500 high schoolers nationwide) I thought of all the things I was worried about. I felt nervous to have to share a space with teenagers. I was concerned how I would handle the lack of sleep. I had literally no interest in an 18 hour bus ride EACH WAY…

I made a list and gathered all my required snacks, packed my GoPro ready to capture all the amazing moments and got my mind ready for hearts to shift.

I soon came to see that my life was also going to change.

The first night was full of worship and a moving message from Loui Giglio. We quickly found our way out of our seats and onto the floor, jumping up and down, singing at the top of our lungs. Our eyes began to swell and tears started pouring down. I took a moment to look around, to breathe in the atmosphere. I saw a room full of teenagers who were falling deeply in love with Jesus. I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude that God had put me in this place, honored me with this responsibility. As the evening ended, all my lack of sleep was overcome by excitement and joy.

I promptly awoke at 6am without an alarm set. In that moment, I wanted so badly to go back to sleep. I hadn’t slept but five hours and I was coming off of a painfully long bus ride. Little did I know that I had been awakened for a specific reason. I found my way quietly out of the room, down the elevator and onto the beach. I watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and began to cry. In the silence of the morning, I was surrounded by students journaling and praying. There were groups of teenagers without their leaders or adults, who woke up early to praise God and pray over each other. Students gathered with bibles and journals and sat alone, feet in the sand, and just existed in His presence. I imagine that everyone on that beach shared the same emotions I was feeling; indebtedness, awe, delight. I found myself full of expectation for our future, hope for a generation many say are too entitled, selfish, unfocused, lazy etc.

And then came the evening session…. our group had found seats three rows back from the stage. The energy was electric, on fire, lit… all the words you can imagine to describe a volcano about to explode, a rocket about to lift off. The music was blaring, 5500 students were belting out all the emotion and heart ache and praise they could muster. Lights were flashing, we all were jumping up and down, hands raised, completely undone, no restraints, unaware of potential judgements, fully immersed in the moment.

And I looked up. I paused for a minute to breathe it all in and I realized that I was there just as much for myself as I was for my students. I was experiencing life change, freedom, bliss, youth. I wasn’t getting back something I lost. I wasn’t reliving something from my younger years.

I WAS LIVING THIS WAY FOR THE FIRST TIME.

This moment, the laughter, the abandonment, the friendships were all things I had never experienced, not in this way. I was enjoying parts of life and myself that I thought were long gone missed opportunities.

Everyone has them, things they didn’t get growing up. Maybe your parents got a divorce or they traveled too much. Possibly a father who was overly harsh or a mother who critiques everything. A school mate who bullied you or a horribly embarrassing, unforgettable moment that scarred you for life. All situations that can make a person question themselves or create marks on a soul.

Whatever it is, that thing can create a longing for resolution, a desire to feel complete, loved, valued. Some people work their whole life to prove worth to their parents. We enter into relationships hoping to heal some hurt from a past relationship. We can literally choose to live a past life forever.

I had long ago accepted that some of the missed emotions and experiences were just that: lost. I am an adult. If I feel like my parents didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t going to revert back to being five and somehow obtain that love. I have a child of my own and it’s my turn to be the parent. The freedom of my youth that I felt I was missing was never going to be mine. I had found freedom as an adult but I had forced myself to forget any longings from my childhood.

And then camp happened. And I saw the things I had never felt be given to me. Moments I didn’t know I could ever have were mine, and not just hints of them BUT COMPLETE FULLNESS! I was a 38 year old child, experiencing the freedom of youth and it was so sweet. And in the following days, that healing grew greater, the insecurity and old messages became faint and my load became lighter.

I don’t think I will ever love the long bus ride but man, I can’t wait for next year!

What am I even doing?

Tonight I leave for a week long adventure to Daytona Beach. I will embark on an 18ish hour charter bus ride with roughly 85 high school students and 14 or so other leaders. I will forego sleep and alone time and comforts and routine. I will miss out on making money as I can’t work all week. I will be uncomfortable and stretched. Daytona Beach is slated to be hot and sunny and possibly have some thunderstorms which means most likely high humidity. I’m nervous because of my recent reaction to the sun. Will I break out in a rash? Will I be able to apply enough sunscreen to avoid burning myself? I will miss my bed and my husband and my dog. I won’t be able to make my daily frozen protein shake that’s like a coffee milkshake treat. I may not get to workout because no sleep and a pre determined schedule. I mean, really, why am I doing this???

I actually paid to attend this camp. I paid to not make money and to give up my life for a week. I wholeheartedly agreed to this journey. And I will do this four more times, every summer for the next four years.

Three years ago, I was asked to help lead sixth grade girls in my church’s youth program Boom. I felt honored and agreed. I wanted to give back. My son was involved in the youth program and I felt grateful for how it had impacted his life. In our church, you begin leading in sixth grade and as long as you’re willing, you stay with your group every year until they graduate (yes, seven potential years of youth group leadership)! And we’re not talking once a week events. This is daily texts, coffee dates, sleepovers (I’m almost 40 and sleepovers even with adults aren’t really my thing). This means investing money, time, emotion into the lives of teens who are not your own. This includes getting covered in cornstarch during a color war or allowing ice cream to be smeared all over your face during the annual biggest ice cream sundae event. This means being silly, eating baby food, dancing and playing games.

So again, why would I do this? I’m not a naturally selfless person. I’m fairly controlling and definitely an introvert. I get anxious when I anticipate large group settings. While I’m a well spoken person, I dislike all eyes on me. I have great leadership abilities but prefer solo projects.

So seriously, why would anyone do this????

I do this because I know that it matters. It’s important to give to others. My life is amazing even in the darkest moments. I’ve always been taken care of even when my bills aren’t paid and my outlook seems grim.

I show up because my girls matter. They are unique and amazing and beautiful humans and I have grown to love them with all my heart. They are talented and fun and intelligent and kind and I am honored they let me be a part of their life.

I sacrifice of myself because I know that I’m not the only person in this world and caring only about my comforts not only destroys my insides but the world around me suffers greatly.

I stay with my girls because I have watched my sons leaders care for him selflessly. I see how much he looks up to them, how they are some of his greatest friends and how he relies on them when he needs guidance. I have watched them give when it’s hard, drive him around, help him pay for things, mentor him and love him with all of their being.

But mostly, I commit to them because I serve a Creator who has strategically placed people in my life to love me, to listen to me, to lift me up and to pour into me. I see His hand in my life and want to honor Him with my life. I know that I gain so much more by giving than I ever will with the pursuit of personal increase.

And let’s just remove God from the equation for a moment because not everyone who reads this believes He even exists.

All of the reasons to serve or sacrifice are valid regardless of your belief in Jesus. Being a giving human matters. Putting yourself aside for a moment (or a week) is a good thing. Trying to understand where a teenager is coming from is important. They are our future you know? Telling them how much they matter, showing them that their voice deserves to be heard, that’s real. Walking beside them when they struggle and cheering them on through their greatness, it’s invaluable.

So tonight I will load myself on a bus and attempt to sleep (maybe). I will shift my mindset to that of a freshman in high school. I will be as goofy or vulnerable as my girls need. And I am certain I will come home tired but full of joy. I will long for my routine but miss the trip. I will grow and surely cry and create memories with my girls that will hopefully impact us all forever.

In a world full of clearly hurting people, where kids shoot up their school and the suicide rate is over 100 people per day, doesn’t it seem to just make sense to take time to be kind to someone?