28. Grace

Grace.

I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about the word that brings me comfort.

Maybe it’s the way it sounds, the implied beauty and elegance. The promise of God’s love despite the shortcomings and mistakes you may make.

There really is just something about that word that brings me peace in challenging times. Allows me to see the light during the darkest hour. Reminds me that I am worthy.

But if you think about it, grace doesn’t just extend to God’s love. It can’t.

What about our own grace? The compassion we need to bestow upon ourselves? The self-love that is essential to genuine happiness.

I have to be honest and say that this something I struggle with wholeheartedly.  I have compassion flowing through my veins, outwardly pouring towards others. When it comes to myself, I’m armed with guilt, shame, and critical words. The magnifying glass is always focused on my glaring mistakes.

But you know what? This human thing–it’s hard. I mean, it’s probably the most difficult task we’ve been assigned with. You and I both know we are going to stumble, we’ll fall down, make mistakes, hurt other people’s feelings, do the wrong thing, say less-than-kind words, and come up short. That’s just human nature.

As humans, we are imperfectly flawed. Because of this, we owe ourselves compassion. We need to treat ourselves the way we’d treat someone else in our position. Just as He loves us despite ourselves, we need to love ourselves because of who we are.

Our flaws, mistakes made, slip-ups, rough patches, and challenges need to be embraced. These shape us into who we are today.

We’ve got to be more kind. Not just to others, but especially to ourselves. Let’s remember that although times may be tough, our track record as of right now for making it through obstacles is 100%.

Grace. Let’s remember to love ourselves–I mean ALL of ourselves. Own your story, embrace it, and use it to shape the beautiful person you are becoming.

Each of us deserve and need unrelenting love and grace. Let your kindness, forgiveness, and compassion extend to you in the days to come.

It’s going to be difficult but it’s going to be worth it. Who’s with me?

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27. letter to self

Dear Self,

For the next five minutes while you read this, can you put everything aside? Set aside your cell phone, your tablet, and the remote. Your homework, laundry, and the dishes can wait. But I don’t mean just objects. Really put everything aside. Take off your mask you wear, your inner and outer armor, set down the burdens you carry, and place your shame aside. For just a couple minutes, read this and let it soak in.

Mark my words, you are doing the best you can. Go ahead, get out your laundry list of evidence as proof that you could be doing better. Start to formulate an argument about how there’s always always room to grow. You hear time and time again that self-reflection is key, how it’s important to be “better than yesterday”, and fixate on the idea of creating a better you. While those things may be true…in this very moment YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Remember those mistakes you’ve made? The appointments you’ve missed, the plans you forgot you had, or the things you bought when you didn’t quite have enough money? It’s okay. Did you learn something? Could you see the lesson in each experience? Did some sort of reflection take place? If your answer is yes, then smile to yourself. Pat yourself on the back. You’re doing better than you think.

Those people you’ve made mad? Yes, think of every. single. one. Relive each experience and really see it for what it was. Was it a lesson for you to discover? Could it have just been the end of one of life’s many seasons? Was it a reflection of that person’s issues projected onto you? It could have simply been time for them to exit your life. Most of the time, it’s not personal (although it feels like it is). If it is personal, pick yourself up, learn from it, and focus on the ones who love you.

If there’s just one thing you need to know, it’s that you are imperfectly whole, complete, and enough. Who you are in this present moment is who you are supposed to be. Yes, there is ALWAYS room to grow, things to change, and instances in which you can do better. But that cannot be the focus of each moment or even each day.

Celebrate life for what it is. Love the ones around you who love you back, who see you for who you really are. Forgive yourself for your mistakes and thank yourself for lessons learned. Be unapologetically you, treasure the seasons of life you may pass through, and offer gratitude in each moment.

Because really, in this moment, you are doing the absolute best you can. And that is something for which you should be proud.

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26. credible sources

If you want to read the truest account of what’s going on in the world, you are likely to pick up the newspaper or go to CNN’s (insert credible news station here) website. You may even turn on the news. From experience, you know these to be trustworthy sources of information. For the most part, what’s reported is not fabricated. There may be slight embellishments but not in such a way that the stories are drastically changed.

It is extremely unlikely that you would pick up one of those cheap “magazines” made of newsprint to be filled in on the events of the world. You know what I’m talking about. Those eye-roll inducing gossip magazines filled with headlines such as, “Woman births 50 lb baby!” or “Aliens Take Over Chicago!”. Common sense tells us that the information in those publications is not very high on the validity scale. What is reported is most likely skewed in such a way that it is on the opposite end of the truth. A small, easily overlooked detail suddenly turns into a “breaking news” headline with zero regard for the truth. The information communicated is more about the shock value and less about the real story.

Why am I choosing to write about credible sources? Why am I bringing up gossip magazines, world news, and newspapers? Because. You’ll see.

Conversations and experiences in the past year have caused me to have a HUGE realization.

In regards to who I am as a person, my trust has been in those “not-so-credible” sources. I’ve completely disregarded the facts presented by those that truly KNOW me and taken to heart the information from those that just say they do.

The past year has been a whirlwind of emotion. Everything I thought to be true about myself was challenged by people who I’d only known for a short amount of time. They’d offer up their opinion and support it with weak evidence, throwing in a few embellishments here or there. Was some of it somewhat true? Yes, I’m human. I make mistakes. But because this information was shocking, negative, and gossip inducing…I took it to heart. My thought process was that if people thought this then it MUST be true.

While I struggled to sift through these new “facts”, the more credible sources in my life tried to offer up honest information. I heard things such as:

“You are such a positive, inspiring person!”
“You have a wonderful heart.”
“We are lucky to have you in our life.”
“Sure you may be anxious and emotional, but you make our life brighter.”

Every piece of tirelessly researched evidence came from someone who has been in my life for over 10 years. People who have known me through countless situations, stages of life, and emotions. People who have been by my side and will continue to know and love me through it all. The majority of the people I’m lucky enough to have in my life.

Even with understanding all this, do you know what I did?

I quickly dismissed each thing they said and continued to buy into the more shocking, weaker evidence. As I started to believe what this small amount of people said, I started to lose grip on the knowledge of who I truly was.

I would take their evidence-based facts and hold up the shock value, embellished opinions of those who barely knew me and use that as proof of who I was.

It got to the point where my best friend started to tell me that she refused to believe the things I would say about myself. Who I truly was as a person was NOT what these few people claimed to be true.

Just rereading what I’ve typed shocks me. I can’t believe I allowed myself to do that.

Today, my eyes were opened. I had allowed false information to start to change the truth. I was allowing myself to believe things I knew were not true. What I do know though, is that I am sure of who I am.

I know that I may encounter struggles, heartbreak, and challenges…but they do not define me.

I can take the opinion of others, look to see if it is consistent with those that truly know me, and either dismiss or learn from what is being said. That last part is crucial. Reflection is key.

Authenticity is hard, let me tell you. While it sounds great in theory…it takes courage. It takes determination. It takes speaking from your heart. It takes faith and trust.

Here’s to being picky with what sources I choose to believe. To celebrating those that are “credible.”

Here’s to happiness, authenticity, and originality.

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25. take off your cape

NEWS FLASH: You are NOT a superhero. You do not have superhuman powers. You cannot fly, see through walls, read minds, or lift buildings with your pinky finger. As helpful (and cool) as any of those powers would be, you just don’t have them. I hate to be the bearer of bad news…but you are, in fact, a human being.

My guess is your reading this and starting to form the completely wrong idea about this post. You might be angry. You may even be confused as to why it seems that I am discrediting you, telling you that are you not capable of these extraordinary things.

But the truth is, if I asked you to do any of those things…especially fly, you’d end up as a pancake on the ground.

Would you ever sit there and belittle yourself at your inability to fly? Would you have an overwhelming feeling of failure if your attempt to move a huge skyscraper fell short? No. (unless you really think your secret identity is a superhero. Then we have a whole different story on our hands).

So why do we put such unrealistic, superhuman expectations on ourselves to be perfect?

Why do we become angry when we make a small mistake? Why do we place such an emphasis on always presenting ourselves as “I’m always happy and everything’s fine!”? Why does it feel like we’ve failed if we forget to do something? WE ARE HUMAN. That’s what we do. We make mistakes, come up short, forget to do things, let people down, let ourselves down, fail, cry, and get angry. It’s in our nature. That’s who we are and what we do.

Just the other day, I had unintentionally made someone mad by not doing something correctly. That same day, I underperformed at the gym, falling short on my times/weights that I had previously achieved. I started to silently yell at myself. The dialogue within my head sounded a little like this, “You are so irresponsible! How could you mess up so much today!? Why didn’t you do everything in your power to be perfect? Don’t you know that you have to make EVERYONE happy at ALL times?”

No sooner than those words popped into my head, I decided to shut myself up. Did I have on a cape, a sparkly sports bra, and superhero girl shorts? Nope. Do I have extraordinary powers? I wish! So guess what? I’m not superwoman. There was NO reason for me to place unrealistic expectations of perfection on myself. I am not physically able to read minds. Sometimes my best that day is not what my best was the other day. As soon as I accepted that I’m only human, I instantly felt better.

Just because we are human doesn’t mean we aren’t extraordinary.

Quite opposite in fact. Thank goodness I’m human. This means I can live, breathe, laugh, love, learn, create relationships, overcome obstacles, feel emotions (yes, even the negative ones), inspire, change, challenge, achieve goals, act with integrity, exceed expectations, and be myself. I don’t know about you, but being able to experience life far outweighs being perfect.

So please, take off your cape. You wouldn’t make it your goal to have superpowers, just as it shouldn’t be your goal to be perfect.

It’s in those painstakingly human moments that we learn our true value, worth, and tenacity if we just embrace them.

Wonder Woman looking on to remind me that I don't need to try and do her job--she's got it! A great gift (and reminder) from a genuine friend.
Wonder Woman looking on to remind me that I don’t need to try and do her job–she’s got it! A great gift (and reminder) from a genuine friend.

24. living vs surviving

I can guarantee that if I asked you right now if you were living, you’d look at me like I had lost my mind. In order to prove that you’re living, you’d probably list all the things you are doing. You’re breathing. You’re moving around. You’re talking. You’re thinking. Obviously you are living. Right?

Wrong. Sounds to me like what is being described is survival. You are surviving. You are doing what is absolutely necessary to exist in this world. Is it a conscious choice to breathe each morning? Do you have to make up your mind to think? My guess is that the answer to those seemingly ridiculous questions is no. The tasks above are done with such automaticity that they are executed without a second thought.

One of my favorite quotes comes to mind when I think of living vs. surviving.

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” –Henry Miller

This piece of wisdom has been my driving force the past few years. Look at the key words in that quote: aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely. Now think back to the proof you theoretically gave me for living. Are you truly AWARE you are breathing? Does it bring you great JOY to know you are talking? Unless either of them are new for you, my guess is probably not.

This concept was huge for me when deciding which path to take in recovery. Did I want to make my way through life just going through the motions? Was it enough for me to do the bare minimum just to get by? Those were questions that I seriously asked myself when I was faced with an obstacle or challenging decision. I know I’d never really truly live until I was healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Now that I’m healthy and have been for a solid five years, this has taken on a completely different meaning. I’m constantly reflecting on my life in the present moment. Do the majority of my actions throughout the day bring me joy and happiness? Am I choosing to surround myself with people who inspire/motivate me? Do I LOVE how I spend my days? Am I excited to approach each morning? Have I felt that absolutely intoxicatingly “drunk” feeling from an interaction with a person, place, or moment? If my answer to any of those questions is no (which it is sometimes!), I look at what needs to change.

These changes can be small. Maybe I’ll rediscover my favorite food. Go to my favorite coffee shop, get lost in a book, and slowly sip my coffee. Occasionally, I’ll re-evaluate the relationships I have with people. Often times, we’ll have a dance party in my classroom. Having an authentic conversation with someone about REAL topics is an amazing feeling. If I’m feeling slightly burnt out, I’ll remember why I’m doing the things I do. Sometimes that passion isn’t able to be reawakened. At that time, I know that the activity, person, or place is not essential to my life anymore.

That’s the beauty of genuinely living. You have permission to create opportunities to experience all that life has to offer you. If you want to change something, you can. Be loud. Be crazy. Take too many pictures. Act goofy in public. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Be aware and present in each and every moment of you life.

So next time things feel boring, not quite right, or sadness finds its way in, ask yourself: Am I LIVING or am I surviving? The answer may surprise you.

It is 100% better to live and not just survive. When you actually experience life instead of taking a back seat, incredible things start to happen. Just live.

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23. success

I feel like every time I write a blog post, it’s because I’ve learned a lesson. Some realization has been reached, I’ve applied a piece of wisdom to my life, or I’ve been successful in achieving a goal.

I have to be honest though.  This post is not like anything I listed above. It’s actually quite the opposite.  Before you close the page in fear of negativity, I can promise you one thing.  It will not be pessimistic.  This post will serve as almost a dialogue; a lesson I’m trying to learn in my own life.  My hope in sharing this truth and making myself vulnerable is that someone, somewhere can relate, offer words of wisdom, or just smile in knowing they aren’t alone in the struggle.

Even though I’ve written before on the dangers of comparison, that’s a slope I still slide down, a thief who STILL steals from my joy.  No matter how many inspirational quotes I hang in my classroom and bedroom, I still look to my left and right, noticing what others have and maybe feeling “less than” when I take inventory of my own lot.

I always joke that I did not sign up for this grown up business.  Money struggles, frustrations in almost every aspect of life, and being in a COMPLETELY different place than I ever imagined I would be at 27.  Seriously–this was a dotted line I did NOT sign on.

It wasn’t until this last week though, that I realized my mindset is completely wrong.  I was fortunate enough to have a few extra days off last week to binge watch my new favorite show “Call the Midwife.”  I was watching an episode before bed, starting dozing off, but woke up RIGHT before one of the characters reminded another that success is not defined by what one lacks. 

Woah. Talk about a divine message right there.

This whole time, especially when things feel overly stressful, I have been defining my success as a person by the things I lack. No boyfriend or husband? Obviously a failure. Still renting instead of buying? LOSER. My savings account is low? Oh goodness, I better admit defeat RIGHT NOW.

Why is it so easy to do that? Even writing this right now, I’m shaking my head because part of me is still feeling this way. But in order to recreate my mindset and shift it to one that is healthier, taking inventory of what I’m in abundance of is absolutely essential.

I’ve got a crazy, loving family who would move mountains for each other. My best friends will NEVER be beat.  I mean seriously, I don’t know how I became so lucky to have close friends who listen (really listen–not just hear me), understand my imperfections, and can sit and laugh with me for hours over things that don’t make sense to others. I’m working in a career that’s not just a job–it’s my true calling and passion. I’m healthy, enjoy working out at 5am, and can make a pretty mean cupcake. And as far as money goes? I’ve got enough to make sure ends are met and I can treat myself once in awhile.

I’ve stopped and read through that paragraph I just typed at least three times.  WHY IS IT SO HARD TO DEFINE SUCCESS BY THE GOOD STUFF!?

I can feel my mindset slowly start to shift.  And when I say slowly, I mean kind of like the speed glaciers move. But any change, even small change, is a great thing.

So here’s my public goal for 2015:

I WILL start defining my success by the abundance I clearly have in my life. My lot was given to me for a reason and it is absolutely essential to give thanks for it in ALL circumstances because it is unique to me.

Please, hold me accountable for this one. Challenge me. I will be forever grateful. And if you do, you just may get a hug or some cupcakes.

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22. why

The message of this post has been on my mind for the past month constantly. For those who know me well, when I say constantly…it means it’s all I can think about. It’s something that consumes my thoughts a good majority of my day. I feel that it’s a concept many of us may struggle with without even knowing we’re doing it. Of course, my perfectionism has gotten the best of me and I’ve sat down quite a few times to write it and I instantly have writer’s block.

The past eight weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve experienced the death of my grandma who was not only my grandmother, but my best friend, confidant, voice of reason, summer lunch date, and source of hugs all wrapped up into one pretty darn remarkable woman. Started a new part-time job that is exhausting. Made the decision to start a master’s degree program in January. Tackled report cards, parent-teacher conferences, and difficult situations at school. I think the list could go on, but it’s not about the past eight weeks.

Throughout my day, I find myself becoming frustrated and anxious by the little things. Exhaustion, 16 hour work days, missing CrossFit for the third time in a row, educational hoops to jump through, parent emails, legislation that makes no sense, data to sift through, etc. The fact that I feel like this is maddening in itself because I normally am overwhelmingly optimistic so then starts the guilt about feeling this way–creating quite the vicious circle.

Everyone always says that focusing on the big picture is overwhelming and it’s best to take each day as it comes. But I think I need to challenge that. Maybe it’s the ridiculously sharp focus we all have on the little things in front of us that make us lose sight of the big picture. The why. The reason we do the things we do. The flame that ignited the fire inside us all.

Asking myself, “Why?” has been monumental. It has brought what matters back into view. I’m starting to no longer be hyperfocused on what’s wrong with education, guilt from missing workouts, or the drama of working retail. Sure, those things still line the background of what’s in front of me but it’s not what makes up my entire perspective.

Why am I a teacher? To inspire, motivate, and ignite a passion for learning. To challenge and love each child I’m lucky enough to get the chance to teach. To build the child up, not only academically, but emotionally. I want each child to walk away from my classroom knowing that I believed in and loved him/her.

Why am I working a second job? To save money for my future–more specifically, my master’s degree. My goal of being financially responsible is one that I am constantly striving to meet. The discount also can’t be beat, given my functional shopaholic status.

Why do I do CrossFit? Because it changed my life. It erased my body image issues. It continues to keep me healthy and happy. It’s not about how many times per week I go, what weights I use, where I’m at on the whiteboard, the guilt I feel for straying from my 5x per week routine, or what time I get on a “benchmark.” It’s about how I feel after I’ve achieved what I thought I couldn’t. It’s about the wonderfully genuine people I choose to spend my 5am with.

I’ve realized how easy it is to get caught up in the little things. So many people emphasize the little things…but I think that slope is quite the slippery one. Appreciating the unexpected is necessary to happiness, focusing on frustrations is damaging.

Here’s to making sure the big picture is always what shapes your landscape. Notice all the little things, let them fade into the background. Remembering the “why”, the passion behind why you choose to live the way you do.

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