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.

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!

Be a sprouted nut

I cannot stop crying lately. Sometimes it’s just tearing up and some sniffles. Other times it’s a full on downpour til that lump in my throat feels like it’s going to break free and overflow out of my body.

I used to hate crying, especially bawling with no specific reason. I believed I was weak in my emotion and that I was a “typical female” or PMS’ing or some other standard assumption concerning estrogen and tears. I tried as much as I could to refrain, to hide away, to hold everything in and to never really succumb to my feelings. No matter how valid they felt, how strong they were, how much it hurt to hide them, I was not going to be the person who cried in public.

Needless to say, I was not very good at that venture. My decision to pretend I had no sensitivities created the opposite result. I was overly emotional in everything and it was out of control. I would find myself frustrated with a co-worker and begin crying when expressing myself. If I had to engage in any sort of serious or vulnerable conversation, I would immediately breakdown and sob. I watched cookie commercials and began to gush, concocting depth and sorrow in Oreos. The out of control reactions only created a stronger aversion to feelings and a deeper disgust for crying. I felt more shame for my inability to control myself and more frustration within myself.

A few years ago, when some of my most intentional healing began, I listened to a talk by Brene Brown. It was all about feelings and how you cannot selectively acknowledge or block emotions. You either experience every sentiment, positive and negative, or you shut them all out. You cannot avoid sorrow and pain but fully feel joy. I could not expect to walk through all the amazing goodness in life if I wasn’t willing to give in to the grief and disappointment. If I continued to shame myself and try to circumvent the tough stuff, I was destined to be a confused and emotionally bankrupt human. Oof, that’s not at all what I was wanting to hear…..

Slowly, and with a lot of help from a counselor and some amazing friends to love me, I began to allow my tears to fall. I began to appreciate my anguish, the hard parts of life, the things that made me feel “bad” feelings. I started to seek out the parts of me I had tried to avoid, eagerly awaiting that crying until I almost throw up feeling. My deepest desire became to process so much that I became whole. And the crying for no reason started to dissipate. I suddenly began to understand a little bit of why I was crying. I began to connect to my insides, to recognize my heart and to honor what it had experienced. I fell in love with my ebullition. The cleansing of my shame which turned into pride for my life. I am not always 100% certain what is motivating my emotions but I began to welcome them with everything in me.

Once I cleared out so much old hurt and emotion, what Brene spoke about became reality. I had room for all the elation and goodness. When I stopped fighting my feelings, I was able to experience so much more, and man was it good.

Yesterday I woke up with a full day ahead of me. My son graduated high school two weeks ago and today was his graduation party. My mom flew in from Georgia to celebrate and we had so many tasks to accomplish before 1pm. As my mom and I prepped food, I began to play a song for her that my son wrote and recorded. I began to cry. I’ve heard the song before, multiple times. In fact, any performance Matthew has done, I’ve certainly replayed it more times than I’d like to admit. But I begin to cry every time because I feel proud of him. I see hope for his future. I am relieved that maybe I did something right with him. I am honored to be his mom. I feel inspired by his talents. That crying was so good.

An hour later, I had to run to CVS to pick up photos for a picture collage. You know the ones people make for graduation, full of every adorable and embarrassing picture of the graduate? I decided to peruse the card aisle in hopes of finding something to write in for my graduate. Every card I read made my eyes swell. New baby cards, congratulations, with sympathy, blank cards with adorable puppies on the cover. You name it, I could relate to it, empathize with it, connect to it because I’m emotional and I allow myself to feel ALL THE FEELINGS.

And as I taped the pictures together to create my very own pic-collage, those dang eyes began to drip a little. Collecting moments over the past eighteen years and displaying them all on three pieces of poster board, I remembered so many days as a mother. I felt a myriad of emotions and it was ok. I embraced my feelings and then let them subside. I was allowed to process being sad that he has grown up, joy that he is such an amazing human, grief that he is transitioning into a new chapter in life.

The party was a full day of friends at the pool and hanging out at the house. It was hectic and expensive and I was running around navigating details non stop. It was stressful at times, wondering if I prepared enough food, wanting to display things perfectly, ensuring our guests were happy. It was ok to experience those small tinges of anxiety and pressure. It didn’t overwhelm me or take over the day because I was not a pot boiling over with years of old struggles. And in the midst of all of that, I was on the verge of tears but not because of the possible negative outcomes. I was caught up in the awe of our life, the gratitude for so many friends that love us, the kindness of our family members and the pure joy on my sons face as he felt loved and celebrated. I was able to be balanced and sane and experience life in all its fullness. Nothing was dulled, short changed or less than.

As I lay in my bed, reflecting on the day, the past 18 years of Matthews life, my life, I am overcome with tears. As I am writing and editing this blog, I am intermittently crying. I am just constantly crying and I love it.

I pray your day is full of acceptance of your feelings. That you know the value of experiencing sorrow and in turn, receive the rewards that come from exultation. I encourage anyone who is attempting to remove their emotions, to hug them tightly, to soak in them until something new emerges. I envision almonds soaking in water overnight so that the goodness inside can sprout up. That process is my hope for anyone who has a hardened heart. The most digestible nuts are the ones that have been soaked overnight, they shed their outer layer and the true goodness inside is revealed. So go out friend! Be a sprouted nut!