Warning: These Words are Not Pretty

In case you haven't deduced from our lengthy absences from writing here, my dear friend Miranda and I have been up to our necks in life. Between her graduate school and work duties and my big move, I think I speak for both of us when I say we've been doing good just keeping our heads above water.

When I started this project, I made a promise to be transparent, so here it is: I've been avoiding coming here to share with you all. I've felt ill-equipped to write anything useful because, well, I'm all the things I hope you're not - stressed, anxious, scared - and if I were an innocent bystander right now stopping by to read this blog, I'd probably have a hard time thinking I could put any of these words to work in my life at the present. I've been completely overwhelmed, lacking balance, and definitely not the voice of positivity I pride myself as - and to echo Miranda's last post - I've been telling myself the lies that I'm not enough.

Writing that feels like a punch to the gut, and I can't even believe I'm admitting it on the Internet.

If you've seen my Instagram account, you probably think I'm living the life. Most recently, it's filled with:

  • photos of our trip to Europe alongside my handsome husband
  • pictures of a fun few days in Nashville with some of my dearest friends
  • posts about my time at the spring Making Things Happen conference and how grateful I am to be a part of such a powerful movement

While all those things are true, what you don't see is: 

  • I had a full on internal meltdown my first day in Germany - between severe jet lag, the reality slapping me in the face that I'm moving to a new place where I know no one, and immense frustration with the language barrier, it was the perfect storm. There was blubbering, moments when all I wanted to do was stay in our hotel room and sleep, and severe anxiety. And I almost cried at our first apartment showing when the landlord told us she doesn't allow dogs (don't worry - we found an even better place where sweet Monty will be able to live with us). Yes - we had some good times, but no, it was definitely not the amazing, relaxing vacation that it may have looked like.
  • Nashville was so much fun, and I wouldn't trade time with my best girls for anything. However, we all have A LOT going on in our lives right now - and that's, like, the understatement of the year. Out of respect for their privacy, I won't go into detail - I'll just say that there were a lot of exhausting, emotionally-charged conversations, packed with high highs and low lows, filling the two days we spent together.
  • Making Things Happen is one of the most rewarding experiences I've had the pleasure to be a part of - I'm incredibly passionate about the mission, I love serving on the Encouragement Crew alongside some of my favorite gals to help create a wonderful experience for everyone, and I love that we get to do the hard work right alongside the attendees. But when I say hard work, I mean hard work. Digging below the surface to cultivate a life filled with purpose means wading through a lot of your own crap - and all those fears and insecurities and lies you've told yourself are hard to face. There were lots of feelings and tears and two days coming home that I could barely muster up the energy to have even a simple conversation.

I don't say all of this in hopes that you'll feel sorry for me (that is so not my jam), just like I don't post on Instagram to try to make anyone think I have some fairytale life. And please, for the love, don't think I'm ungrateful, because I fully realize that relatively speaking, my life is not that difficult. 

I say it to let anyone reading this or looking onto my world through the rose-colored windows of social media know that I am broken. I am imperfect. And sometimes, I throw pity parties for myself. I struggle daily with surrendering control and trying to be perfect and putting on a great face and making too many decisions based on what other people might think. And without my faith and my friends and my incredibly patient husband, I honestly have no clue how I would have gotten through the past three weeks. 

I'd probably be huddled up in a corner somewhere rocking back and forth.

So, if you're having a kind of crummy day or a messed up week or are just on a roll of bad circumstances, I'm here to stand with you and fight for you. I'm here to say it's alright to feel sad or angry or just plain irritated. I'm here to encourage you to feel all the feels, then pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep moving forward, little-by-little. I'm here because I don't think you should have to do it alone - find someone who will listen, someone who will pray with and for you and wade through the mess right beside you. Trust that, just like you, we all need people do life with us. All you need to do is ask - write that email, send that text message, pick up the phone.

I'm here for you. I'm rooting for you. And I know we'll make it through the mess together.

The Good Enough Balancing Act

Balance.  It’s the key to so many things, is it not?  Riding a bike…  tightrope walking… surfing… being a woman in today's world of busyness and relationships and opportunities and priorities.

Exhibit A: Surfing is about balance.  I learned the hard way.

Exhibit A: Surfing is about balance.  I learned the hard way.

For the past few years, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of achieving and maintaining balance.  But finding that blissful balance "sweet spot" is a challenge.  Can I get an amen?  I don’t know about y’all, but I’m an “all or nothin’” kind of gal.  I want to give everything 110% (and more, if possible).  However, if I can’t give my "everything" to a task, do you know what happens?  Well, I begin to hear a little whisper (or maybe a loud shout) about who I am. Whispers like...

 I am useless.

I am unworthy.

I am a failure. 

I am not enough. 

Notice the extremes and absolutes here… definitely not balanced beliefs about myself… and also, these are not true facts about who I am.  (Although, tell that to my brain when I'm in the middle of one of these negative thought patterns...)

Lately, I haven’t written a blog post.  At first, that was because I was trying to do anything and everything all at once and all at 110%.  I have been up to my nose in graduate school life… dissertation stress and postdoctoral job applications and the everyday adventures of being a therapist.  To top it off?  I became sick and was forced to miss work and to simply rest.  I began to hear those absolutes in my head and my heart, telling me that I was failing to be more than enough… I even heard those voices of shame about not posting on this blog. 

And then something shifted. I began to see how unbalanced everything in my life was.  I was sitting on the seesaw, yet my balance was thrown with the absolutes.  The 110% or not at all attitude.  There was too much weight or too little being placed on the balancing scales, depending on the moment.  

I eventually found some balance on the surfboard...

I eventually found some balance on the surfboard...

In the midst of this shift, I remembered when a dear professor told me "Miranda, it's okay to just be good enough."  These words.  Oh how they still bring a peace to my soul. 

So what have I done about it?  I've tried to find grace for the good enough.  And I've reminded myself that I am enough. 

You want to hear the biggest surprise about what happened next??  

Instead of all of a sudden having more time to do EVERYTHING, balance freed up the space within myself to make choices.  I even made a choice to postpone writing on this blog for a little while longer.  In truth,  I thought restoring balance would mean I could do more… and maybe, in some way, I can.  But the more meaningful reality for me was that I could say no to some tasks, all the while meeting myself with grace.

If we are always striving to be more than enough, we are throwing life off balance.   You can't walk a tightrope without understanding how to balance realistically.  Can you imagine how many circuses would be ruined if tightrope walkers tried to take too much extra weight with them onto the rope?  

Lovely one, there is no need for your rope to snap.  Maybe it's time to leave some things behind on the platform.  

Because you are worthy. You are valued.  You are enough.

Quality and Quantity and Getting the Most Out of Community

Last Friday, I ventured with a group of women to a little cabin in the North Carolina woods for a weekend retreat. The intent was to have a chance to relax and prepare ourselves for a year of conquering the goals ahead of each of us. What we were met with instead was a mountain road covered in ice and snow, a cabin with frozen pipes and no running water (read: no showers or flushable toilets), and nine ladies whose idea of roughing it is having anything below 3G service on a cell phone. 

Cabin in Roaring Gap NC

Life is like that though - even our best laid plans are often met with challenges. How we approach those challenges, though, depends a lot on who we have by our side. Adversity feels much less lonely when we have people to hold our hands through the storm.

When I made a snap decision to attend the Making Things Happen Intensive three years ago after randomly stumbling across this blog, I never could have imagined the ways it would turn my world upside down. I never could have fathomed that the girl who walked into that room in March of 2012 would be molded into the one I see in the mirror today. I couldn't have guessed the tremendous community of people that one decision would have brought into my life.

As I've said before, I always been vocal about thinking quality was more important than quantity when it comes to friends. I limited myself to just a handful of close pals who knew all my life secrets, and I held my cards close when it came to anyone else. I said no to hanging out with new people, instead opting to lay on the couch and watch yet another Grey's Anatomy rerun - not because I needed a time of rest and reflection (good), but because I didn't want to put in the effort and energy to have a real relationship with a someone new (bad). Instead of allowing myself to have a community - a tribe of people who would push me to be the best version of myself - I limited myself to a few good people who couldn't possibly carry all that weight on their own. 

What I didn't realize was that quality and quantity can coexist. 

More and more as of late, I'm reminded of the importance of being in community with others. The importance of inviting people into my home and saying yes to their invitations and picking up the phone instead of sending them to voicemail because I'm just too tired/busy/etc. to talk. The importance of being with people who push me, who challenge me, who love me, who tell the truth even when it makes me mad, who make me laugh, who push me into the unknown - people who are molding me into the best version of myself. And then, being there to do the same for them when the tables are turned.

he funny thing about community is that it happens gradually and hits you all at once. One second you're alone and the next you are surrounded by like-minded individuals who you know you can call "your people." 

Community requires work, but meets you with grace.

It forces you to say "yes" even when you know it would be easier to wallow on your own. 

It asks you to contribute when you're strong and gives when you yourself have nothing to give. 

It surrounds you with love and empathy and encouragement.

And we could all use a little more of that.

Sweet Surrender

I've spent the past two days comforted by Kleenex, green tea, Netflix, and one snuggly Scottie dog named Monty, and I've officially become one with the couch. The dreaded winter cold has caught up with me and forced me to surrender my plans for a productive close to the week.

Just a couple of weeks ago in the midst of goal setting, the very word I chose for 2015 was SURRENDER, and boy, did I get what I asked for! In these past 48 hours, I've been forced to give up even the little things I felt like I had control of - my morning Pilates class, appointments scheduled weeks in advance, finishing my taxes, updating my website... the list goes on. In the bigger picture, I'm in the midst of a season of unknowns. Life feels like it's being flipped upside down, so I'm gripping onto anything that still feels within my control. 

Can you relate?

We create awesome plans for the future so that everything unfolds just right. Plans to live in the perfect place and have the perfect business and make lots of perfectly green money and marry the perfect person who agrees with everything we say and have perfect kids born at perfectly convenient times. One year plans... five year plans... ten year plans... we've got 'em. We fight tooth and nail to cling to that vision of perfection. We stress ourselves out, stretch ourselves thin, run to every remedy on the market...

...we work longer hours...

...we read more self-help books...

...we escape to mind-numbing places like Facebook and iPhones...

All for the sake of seeking happiness. Seeking contentment. Seeking answers. 

We run to everything and everyone except the source of those things.

Not that books and hard work aren't great tools that can help us, but they're just tools, not the answer. The truth is - the best things in my life have arrived in the times I've surrendered. When I've given up on worry and given in to prayer and confidence in a plan for my future so much better than the one I've laid out for myself, that's when I can truly experience peace where I am and hope in where I'm headed. Coincidentally, those moments of surrender have typically been the times when I've experienced life's greatest surprises.

I know better than anyone that surrender isn't easy... it's messy and it's ugly and it's a constant struggle. It requires letting go of plans and pride and making yourself vulnerable. But I also know that it's worth it. So this year, starting now, instead of sulking over changed plans, I'm choosing to embrace the moment, look forward to new adventures - whatever they may be, and be grateful for it all.

Related: My 2014 Word

When it snows, it pours.

Having grown up in the South, I developed a view of snow that probably borders on reverence.  Any Southerners out there know what I’m talking about? Snow has always been this magical, gentle, quiet, glorious, wonderland that I have often longed for more than anything.  (Plus, any remote threat of snow meant no school in the South, so there’s that too…) And when it does snow in the South, you have to make the most of it because you know it won’t last long.  You’ve got an hour or two of solid sledding on your cardboard box or plastic lid from a bin (this worked really well in college) in the patchy, thin, wetness that Southerners believe is real snow.

Well, let me tell you, folks… I REALLY know all about snow now (Go ahead and laugh at me, native Northern/Midwestern folk!).  After living in Chicagoland for 5 years, and now living in Maine for about 6 months, I’m going to own the fact that I have an understanding of sorts of the white expanse outside my door.  In fact, this seems like a reasonable time to point out that I am currently in the midst of what appears to be record breaking snowfall in Maine (since January 24th alone, I’ve witnessed over 40 inches of snowfall.)

One thing I’ve noticed in the past two weeks, is that it has snowed A LOT (see aforementioned statistic).  And I don’t mean to be Captain Obvious about it, but it’s kind of surreal.  And it’s made even more surreal to me by the fact that it has somehow become my new normal.  There is quite literally waist deep snow in my backyard, it it’s kind of hard to remember what life was like without all the extra challenges that snow brings. 

And in the past two weeks, when there has been only a day or two between several snowstorms that brought at least a foot or so of snow each (if not far more, right Juno?), I have felt a confusing mix of being overwhelmed and being resigned.  Some days, it feels like the snow will never end.  I wonder if it’s so heavy on my roof that it’s eventually going to cave in on top of me.  Physically when I am in this cold snowiness, there is a literal numbness once the pain from the cold sets in and I begin to lose feeling in my extremities.  And then, there’s a break from snowfall for about 24 hours, and it feels like I hardly have time to come up for air before the snow starts pouring down again.

Lady Darcy of Pemberley greets storm Juno at our door

Lady Darcy of Pemberley greets storm Juno at our door

Ironically, all this snow has been pouring down around me at a time when I’ve also felt a bit overwhelmed and numb and stuck under the heavy weight of life.  I can’t help but smile right now just thinking about how sometimes these seasons of weather can mirror our own seasons of life.  Here are a few things that this metaphor reminded me, about the snow and life, once I opened my eyes and heart to it:

1… In the midst of storms, I often need the anchoring support of others. 

I wake up every morning earlier and earlier, sometimes spending an hour outside simply to uncover my car in the snow and then to attempt to leave my driveway (the ultimate challenge, since it is a snow covered hill).  More often than I would like, I cannot for the life of me get up that hill.  My wheels can't get traction on the slippery slope.  And I am learning how to reach out for help.  I am learning that I really and truly need people.  I am learning that I can hold on to my stubbornness all day long, but that doesn't (always) get me out of my driveway.  Sometimes, the snow is simply too deep.  Honestly, without the help of others, I very often wouldn't make it to work each day. And that's okay.  In this season of deep snow, I just need help.  It makes sense.  And in the middle of life's storms, help makes sense, too.  It's a lovely (yet daunting) thing to reach up to others, and it's even lovelier to feel them reach down to me, supporting me with grace and care.  

2… It’s hard to see what’s ahead when so much is in front of your face.

In the midst of a blizzard, it can be a bit dangerous to go out into it.  When the snow is swirling around you, all you see is white.  It’s easy to get lost, and even easier to be terrified by the fact that you can’t see.  It’s times like this that I can become paralyzed in fear.  I want to know that the ground is still there under my feet.  I want to see if there is anything good and safe and beautiful in front of me.  But when I’m scared, I really can’t look past the whiteness that surrounds me.  In the midst of the chaos, I can’t see or even imagine that the storm will soon fade and that I may be left with something beautiful and pure and refining when the storm is over. Yet, no storm, in snow or in life, can last forever.  The sun will always rise, and the season will thaw.  From the cold winter will come the new warmth and life of spring.  Next time I’m feeling frozen in place and can’t see in front of me, I hope I can remind myself that there is hope. 

3… Beauty and peace exist, even in the eye of a storm, if I can reach for the warmth of gratitude.

Not only is there hope that awaits on the other side of the storm, but it can even be found within the storm.  I don't want to be so frozen in the fear and pain that I become numb to the beauty around me… the beauty that exists even in the hassle and the struggle.  Because when I take time to appreciate and to truly feel grateful, I find the inner warmth that wards off the numbness and clears the pain, if even for a moment.  Gratitude is like a mitten for the heart.  When I can look at the storm swirling around my head, and see the crystalline snowflakes and hear the quietness of it all and feel the sacredness of my stillness in the storm, I can find joy.  

And once the storm has cleared, maybe I can even find that long lost piece of myself that saw the world, and especially snow, as an adventure.  And then I'll hop on my improvised cardboard box sled and ride over the hill into the valley.