Monday, November 28, 2011

My Path to Serenity & Beyond

You fall apart because you’re growing,
Unfolding slowly towards the light
 - from “A Christmas Carol” by The Neld Sisters

I’m sitting here weeping as I listen to Christmas music. Some of it, I’ve sung since I was a little girl (The Vocal Majority, VinceGuaraldi, Elvis, and John Denver & The Muppets, to name a few). I know the words, the melodies and the harmonies.

But it’s almost as if I’m truly hearing these Christmas songs for the first time.

For those of you not in the know, I became a believer earlier this year. If you haven’t read my most popular blog post, it may be worth checking out. It was a very long journey to reach that point of accepting Jesus as my savior, and it was filled with a lot of judgment, resistance, and over-analysis.

It amazes me where I came from, and where I am now.

One of the keystones in my journey of becoming a Christian (even though I was technically raised as one) was attending the spiritual training Pathways offers—called Step Beyond.

Step Beyond is only offered the first weekend of December each year.

I went through the Pathways Core training in August 2004.

So, that means it took me a whopping five years—until December 2009—to lay down enough judgments about the Step Beyond training to finally walk through those doors.

But, you know—everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that. And I knew that if I waited until I felt open enough to go to Step Beyond and feel receptive to whatever training was there for me, I would get a lot more out of it.

For the record, here are some of the judgments I had:
  • Step Beyond is just for Christians, and I’m not one, nor am I interested in being converted or pursued.
  • There’s nothing for me at Step Beyond. I’m not a religious person.
  • I can do it my own way. I've been doing that for years, and it works just fine. 
  • I don’t need that. I’m spiritual enough on my own.
  • I don’t want anyone to dictate how I should be spiritual.
  • It’s such a big training, with so many people. How could I possibly get anything out of it?
  • I don’t know what kind of people will be there. I won't be able to connect with anyone.
  • I don’t know what we’ll do. How the heck can Pathways training possibly address spirituality?
  • Maybe I'll try it next year, when I'm in a better place.
  • I just can't afford it.

Having grown up in the church, I quickly learned to stop asking questions, because the primary answer I got was to just “have faith”.

Faith in what, exactly?

I kept going to church because my parents dragged me, and I felt like it was the “right” thing to do.

But, I stopped taking communion in high school, and for most of the service, I just sat there staring off into space, or staring at the monstrous stained glass window, wondering who Jesus really was. Wondering who God really was, and wondering why I felt so different from everybody else—not just in typical misfit high schoolish ways, but spiritually, too.

I was taught to believe at all costs. Questions were downplayed or even frowned upon. My questions remained, though, and they turned into a whole lot of judgments about what it meant to be a Christian, to be religious, and even to be spiritual.

Of course, now I realize that the reason so many religious folks avoid answering questions about their faith is because they aren’t entirely certain of the answer, either. Instead of engaging in dialog to ask their own questions or explore the idea together, it’s easier to shut down and claim to rely on faith.

To me, that’s blind faith, and I really didn’t want that.

Although I tried different avenues, I think it’s safe to say that I completely pushed any thought of “God” far out of my mind during my college years and into my 20s. For a considerable time, I thought to myself, “I’ll figure it out someday.”

It didn't help that I went through a span of years where I experienced a lot of heartache, loss, and devastation. I thought that if God was real, then those bad things wouldn't have happened to me. 

In those years, I often found moments of peace when I’d go for a walk in the woods, strolling along the ocean, or camping in the middle of nowhere.

And when I lived in Boston, I’d escape the city for the coast of Maine as often as I could. It was only an hour or so away, after all. A man I briefly dated introduced me to a section of rocky cliffs along the shore of Kennebunkport, Maine, where the winding road separated a mountainous mass of multi-million dollar homes from a lone wooden two-story house rather precariously plopped on a stretch of smooth coastline. The water smashed delightfully against the large rocks surrounding three sides of the house.

My special place, on the shore of Kennebunkport, Maine
A perfect setting, complete with park benches staring out into the deep blue depths of the Atlantic.

Earth revealed her curve to me there, and suddenly she seemed so small, yet also so vast—not unlike my human form, trying to contain the vast love and pain in my heart. The whole seemed inadequate for all the parts.

I found solace in my special place, but I never really thought of God.

In fact, I didn’t give God much more thought until I went through Pathways.

I witnessed miracles when I went through my training, of course, but at the time I didn’t think of what I saw as God.

I didn’t think at all, really. I was mostly shocked and envious and mystified and confused and utterly in awe. Shocked, because I’d never witnessed anything like what I saw in the Pathways training room. Envious, because it seemed like other people “got” something that I was so obviously missing. Mystified because I couldn’t explain it, and confused because with me, being a “head case,” I really needed an explanation.

I discounted that it could be God, or anything supernatural. It just didn’t register. The miracles I saw in the training room were something along the lines of coincidence. Just like the beauty I saw in the woods, on the rocky Kennebunkport shore, and at times in the faces of friends or even strangers— were all just chance. It was all confusing. I didn’t process any of it as spiritual.

That’s how far away I was from feeling any sort of spiritual connection (let alone God) when I went through Pathways.

My spiritual path has been at best—tenuous, long, and slow.

Through my journey volunteering as a TA (training assistant) with Pathways, I started to acknowledge that the miracles I saw happening before me, time and time again, were God. I became more open to the idea of God, and that’s when my path started to change course.

And then, I came to a point in my path in December 2009 where I felt a tap on my heart.

I felt pulled to attend Step Beyond. I didn’t even understand why, but something inside of me recognized that it was time. And for once, I listened.

It was God doing the tapping, of course—sitting patiently, waiting.

Waiting for me.

During Step Beyond, I realized that even though I finally recognized seeing and feeling God all around me, I had never thought to allow God into my heart. I had kept God at bay with all the judgments I had about what it means to believe in God, accept God, trust God, and yes, "have faith".

And realizing that is exactly what helped me break wide open. At the heart of it all, I felt like I’d let God down. I wasn’t sure there was anything truly good inside of me. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to show my own light. I felt like I didn’t have it in me to continue on, trying to find my own way—especially since my spiritual path looked so different from that of a Christian, a Jew, a Pagan, a Buddhist, a Muslim, an Atheist, an Agnostic… my spiritual path had no clear definition to anyone. Especially not me.

At the time, I didn’t realize that was enough.

When the time came during Step Beyond for me to open my heart fully, I did not fold. I moved into the light, and I let that light into my heart for the first time.

At that point in my journey, God was a loosely shaped being represented by warm, yellow light. Light, representing a collection of all that is good, humble, and reverent.

I crawled into the light’s long, warm arms, and I curled up to rest, like a little girl.

That light is God. My light shines from the inside out. And when I let my light shine, I am a being as close to God as I can ever be.

That’s the covenant I made in Step Beyond… I am a Godly woman, letting my light shine.

Even when it’s hard. Even when I don’t think I can. Even when my heart feels weak. Maybe especially when my heart feels weak.

I believe all of us have the capacity to shine brightly, from our hearts out into the world.

Each of us contains light… each of us contains God.

For the first time in my life, God took up residence here, in my heart. And it made me realize how beautiful life really is.

It’s incredibly difficult to describe exactly how my life has changed since attending Step Beyond. But my life started to change in unexpected ways. I took a harder look at who I had really become, who I was becoming, what I had settled for, the direction in which I was moving, and I evaluated all of that (all at once, of course. This is me we’re talking about, after all).

And then I started to see God showing up in my day to day life. I started talking to God more… but more importantly—I started to listen.

I learned what it felt like to receive grace—from people, and from God. I realized that if I allow myself to be vulnerable, I’m never alone. I am always carried… by the love of others, and by the love of God. I learned what serenity really feels like.

One of the many inexplicable moments I’ve had in the last two years occurred in September 2010, when I was in my special place, in Kennebunkport, Maine. I sat on my favorite bench, watching the sunset, and grieving the loss of my grandmother, the loss of my marriage, the loss of everything I was familiar with—and finally, I said out loud, “I’m yours, God. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.”

True surrender.

In that moment, I felt serenity for the first time in my life.

And then I realized I was hungry. I started heading back to the town center, I parked the car, and then I started walking towards a local eatery, when suddenly I felt myself walking left, instead of right. I couldn’t understand why I was walking around the corner. I couldn’t understand why I felt drawn to set foot in a little gift shop I had overlooked so many times before.

I didn’t understand it, until I walked in and without any hesitation, I walked straight to a table and rested my hand on a smooth rock of sea glass. I looked down and read the word etched on that rock: Serenity.

With the goofiest smile and tears streaming down my face, I bought the sea glass stone and then enjoyed the best lobster bisque I’ve ever had.

I could cite so many more moments like that. Numerous. I can’t explain them, but that gives you a tiny peek into the last two years of my life. I don’t think I could do justice here to the way my life has changed in the two years since I went through Step Beyond. I owe this story more than I could possibly address in a blog.

I know—certainly, I know—I would not have made it through the last two years of my life if I hadn’t been to Step Beyond in December 2009. Sometimes, you go to a training experience like Pathways to cleanse you of all you’ve been through and all you’ve done.

Sometimes, though—it’s to prepare you for what’s coming.

And with all the changes I’ve made, and with all that’s happened in my life, I needed to have faith in God. I needed to have a solid foundation on which to lean. I needed to have a light to cling onto, when all I saw around me was darkness, as I fought through the muck of the life I had created and have since worked very hard to shed.

This year, I am taking another step in my spiritual journey by refreshing the Step Beyond training.

I’m a little nervous, a little excited, and I honestly have no idea how it’s going to turn out.

Please believe me when I say that I’m as surprised as anyone to have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. I really never saw that one coming! Step Beyond doesn’t turn people into Christians, by the way. Like any of the other Pathways training experiences, you get whatever it is that you need.

And as far as those judgments I mentioned earlier? Sure, I could have allowed them to get in the way. It's a choice, after all.

But a unique thing happens when you get a room full of people together, when everybody wants something and  is willing to open themselves just enough for judgments, fears, and walls to fall away. What's left are true intentions, deep needs and desires of the soul, and miraculously... a willing spirit.

One thing is for sure. I’ve stretched, grown, and changed so much in the two years that have passed since attending Step Beyond, and although I'm not yet sure how I'm going to pay for it, I cannot imagine a better way to close out 2011 than willingly stepping closer to God, to Jesus, and to my inner light.

If you need "something" but can't quite identify what... Step Beyond might be just the right place for you this weekend. Check it out, here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Three Wishes. No, Four. OK, Maybe Just One...

"Forgiveness is not much of a concept without something for which to forgive and be forgiven. Healing has no meaning in the absence of illness. Peace is no treasure at all to those who have known no war and no strife. Saying hello has no joy in it without the saying of good-bye."
--Robert Benson
I have three wishes for myself.

I would really like to stop being so damned hard on myself. I’m so tired of it, and it’s just not working for me anymore. The payoff I used to get (of getting to be the victim) isn’t something I want anymore, even in the short term. So now, it’s just painful.

You’d think that would be easy to change, right? Well, it’s proving to be a little more challenging than I originally thought. I’m not sure how to work hard and live my life well in an entirely positive way, where I’m not beating myself up at every turn. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll slip into lazy-ville. It’s so easy to do, after all. If I’m not working hard, then I must be lazy.

Extremes… black and white… don’t exist in reality. Life is colorful and yes, there is even gray mixed in as well.

So how do I find the balance?

After all, this is a life-long habit I’m trying to break.

The other thing I’d like to do is directly related to not being so hard on myself. I’d really like to state an intention, and then once I recognize that intention as feeling right and good—follow through with it.

No more balking, no more fear, no more hem-hawing, no more doubting myself, no more trash-talking myself and/or my abilities or worse—my self worth, no more not trusting me.

In other words—I want to cut the drama and just do it.

You might have ascertained by now that I’m what’s referred to as a bit of a “head case”, meaning I spend a lot of time analyzing myself, my actions, my inactions, my thoughts, my feelings, etc.

In fact, and I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but the rather amazing therapist I saw last year during the heat of the divorce said I’m the most self-analytical person she’d ever met.

That… says a lot coming from a therapist.

So, getting out of my own head is not only something I want, it’s something I need. It’s something I absolutely crave.

Yoga helps me with this. If I’m not fully present during a class, then I can’t do any of the poses. I can’t even come close. And the only time I can even attempt yoga at home is when I’m fully present.

What I’m noticing, though, is that I also really limit myself. Yoga practice has really brought that to the forefront of my awareness. I’ll sometimes automatically swear off a pose just because I don’t think I can do it.

So, the third thing I’d like for myself is to kick my self-imposed limits to the curb. I’d like to set myself free from the bondage and chains I’ve put myself in.

I’ve worked really hard on all three things over the past year and a half, in big areas of my life. And I’ve done well with shedding fear, limits, and being overly critical of myself in big, important ways.

It's the day-to-day where I need a little work. What I’ve recognized is that the habits of succumbing to fear, being overly critical of myself, and limiting myself, are well-engrained in me. And, like anything, a lifetime of practice doing something a certain way is not broken with a single monumental action to the counter. After that action, it takes diligence, practice, and effort.

And, one other very important ingredient…


Most of all, I would like to learn how to give myself grace…

“Grace means more than gifts. In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome. Grace happens in spite of something; it happens in spite of separateness and alienation. Grace means that life is once again united with life, self is reconciled with self. Grace means accepting the abandoned one. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful vocation. It transforms guilt to trust and courage. The word grace has something triumphant in it.”
 - Yrjo Kallinen 
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.
 - Saint Francis of Assisi

So, how exactly am I going to do that, you ask?

In the great words of Philip Henslowe, as quoted from one of my favorite movies, Shakespeare in Love: "I don't know. It's a mystery."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dr. Jeff's Holiday Fare Project

I wanted to share an evolving story about a guy named Dr. Jeff. I’ve “known” him for several years now, online-only. I’ve never actually met the man in person.

But, he’s a good guy, and he likes to do things for others, even though he and his fiancée are raising 5 kids and at times, it’s just, well—hard.

This story especially hits home for me, as I am continuing to run out of money with no income in the near and foreseeable future.  

So, what’s he doing? He’s collecting ticket books for Portland’s TriMet (public transportation system) and donating them to those less fortunate in the Portland, Oregon area.

And now, this story is getting some notable press around town, and around the web. Check out the blog for Oregon Live. He’s also been featured on the TriMet Diaries website, and he's getting more press by the day.

For details about Dr. Jeff’s efforts, to find out how to donate, and for updates on where the tickets are going, please go to the blog he set up for this project: Holiday Fare 2011.

I wanted to share it here, too, because this kind of gift giving is something that speaks to me, and to the spirit of my blog, rather directly.

In fact, Dr. Jeff’s efforts even helped me spawn my own idea that I’m currently working on, as a way that I can help others in need. I found myself poking around different services, organizations, and shelters in Dallas to see where there's a need I can help fill, and I found it. I’m keeping my idea under wraps for now, until I need help and the idea is fully developed… so stay tuned for that. I am filled with a ton of inspiration and awe at the moment, and I’m excited to carry out my idea.

How do you typically reach out to help others during this season, or in any season, for that matter? You all know I’m involved with Pathways, which is a special organization near and dear to my heart because it helped me make significant changes in my own life, and I have seen Pathways help thousands of people change their lives for the better.

But I’m curious about the ways you directly contribute to your community.

And if you haven’t thought about it in a while… perhaps this post will give you a little boost of inspiration to snoop around your community to find a good way to help those in need.

And if you’re prone to depression this time of year, like some of us are… then volunteering is a great way to combat that. We can all make a difference. We DO make a difference. Each pair of hands is a pair that wasn’t there before.

I hope you never underestimate the influence you have on those around you.

What you do matters. Who you are matters. And in times like these, it's vital for us to stay connected, to help each other.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Loving Me, Even When It's Hard

With every bit of progress comes the slightest ease into comfort. At that moment, I know I'm about to be stretched again...

I felt angry all day yesterday, and it was actually in a writing session with a client late in the afternoon when I realized why I was angry.

I’ve spent all this time trying to figure out how to let love in… what love really means to me… and what I realized is that fear still has a tight hold on me when it comes to love.

And now I understand why

When I was a little girl, there was a lot of turmoil in my house—some of it caused by my sister and a lot of the behavior she engaged in. My sister, being 8 years older than I am, made a lot of mistakes as a teenager. To compensate for that, I tried to be perfect.

That set a precedent, because then it seemed like my family started to expect me to be perfect.

If I wasn’t perfect, my perception was that I wasn’t loved. But if I did everything just right, if I was perfect—then I would be rewarded with love.

That’s a classic codependent mindset, and I’ve worked hard to shake that. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it, until it hit me that I still do this to myself.

If I am not perfect, if I do not act perfectly, if I don’t do everything I want to do (and everything I “should” do) perfectly, then I don’t get love. I don’t get to love myself… I don’t honor and nurture myself, I don’t get to have the good that comes from allowing love into my heart.

In other words—I don’t actually know how to love myself when it’s hard, like when I screw up, or when I am not perfect.

How often are you not perfect? All the time? Every day? Every moment?


So it goes deeper than that, even… because when I’m spilled open—like I am right now, tears streaming down my face as I write—I realize that I actually do love myself. In the moments when I am vulnerable, honest, and real, how can I not love myself? I know in those moments that I am beautiful, worthy, and accepted.

It’s only when I’m trying to force my own hand, trying to be perfect, trying to do it my way (in Pathways terms, “running my numbers”), that I realize I withhold love from myself, until I do it perfectly, and if I can’t do it perfectly, then I somehow manage to love myself a little less..

In the past couple of years, I feel that God has been teaching me how to accept love—from others. First, I had to accept His love. Then I had to learn how to accept it from family… and then friends…  from myself… and finally—a romantic partner.

The big missing piece is how to love myself when it’s hard. When whatever I’m doing doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, when I’m not happy with my behavior, or when I’m not doing something I know I should be doing—in other words, when I’m absolutely imperfect. I'm so quick to beat myself up, which of course plummets me further down the hole. 

That is my challenge, and tonight, it’s a big one.

But, as they say… awareness is the first step. And I got a big ol’ dose of awareness today, that’s for sure.

Words I heard about a year ago spring to mind right now:
“God made me. God doesn’t make mistakes. I am perfectly imperfect.”

Yes, indeed…

I want to teach myself how to love me, even when it's hard. I want to notice the progress I've made, how much sooner I become aware, and then, for crying out loud... move forward. 

Life is just too damn short to beat myself up all the time...
"I'll never finish, so why begin?
...I must be crazy to beat me
I'm letting it go"
  - from "Speak" by Gary Go

I don't know what it looks like or feels like to give myself grace. But now, I want to find out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

P.S. I Love You

The first time I watched P.S. I Love You, I cried during the whole movie.

At that time my marriage was on the rocks, and I had never known the kind of love that Gerry and Holly had. I had never known what it felt like to be truly, deeply desired. To know that I was adored, loved, and accepted, just for being myself and no one else—I’d never understood what that felt like, and watching that movie the first time was heartbreaking, because it held up a mirror to my own life, to my own marriage, and I felt a deep, gaping hole in my soul. A hole I had created by giving up pieces of myself, by turning myself into someone I thought my then husband wanted me to be, by trying to live up to some invisible standard, some invisible expectation of perfection: fake it till you make it, to the extreme, as if living a perfect life and upholding an empty image for long enough would finally will that perfection into being, and everything would be ok.

Then my life fell apart… and I fell apart.

A couple of months after my ex-husband moved out of our house, I was walking through a used DVD store. I found myself feeling some—I don’t know—instruction, almost, to purchase P.S. I Love You.

I remembered how that movie made me feel. I walked away from it, but kept circling back. The insistence was relentless. I didn’t understand it, but I picked up the movie, set it on the counter, paid for it, and then it proceeded to sit on my shelf for another month or two before finally, one day, I felt myself tearing off the plastic wrapper and signing up for two hours of crying.

But this time it was different.

This time I understood where the gaping hole was—where it had been. I understood the choices I’d made that had led me to settling, and I recognized my accountability in those decisions and the behavior I exhibited that solidified my bad decisions.

And I knew that I had made the right move, by setting myself free, and by setting my ex free, I was really giving both of us permission to be happy.

I cried for that two hours, yes. But that time, I no longer felt the desperation and hopelessness and regret that I’d felt before.

This time, I felt sadness. I watched that movie at just the right time so that it was yet another step in my grieving process.

I didn’t only feel sadness, though.

I also felt hope.

Hope that I could, one day, have a love that ran as deep as the love between Gerry and Holly. I finally realized that I deserve that kind of love. That I’m worthy of it. And I knew that one day soon, I would be ready for it.

Tonight, I felt a calling to watch P.S. I Love You, yet again.

I had tried journaling, and I touched on what I was feeling in my journal. I tried playing piano, and I touched on what I felt while playing. But I knew I needed a good, hard cry to accept my own feelings, and to embrace them.

I wasn’t sure why that particular movie tugged at me, though… I wasn’t sure, until I started watching it. Most of the movie is overflowing with sadness—sadness from grief and also from the depth of love that Gerry has for Holly… And I wasn’t feeling sad.

Then it hit me… and the feelings overwhelmed me, and I spent the next two hours crying.

My favorite letter in the movie is the last one Gerry sends:
Dear Holly, 
I don't have much time. I don't mean literally, I mean you're out buying ice cream and you'll be home soon. But I have a feeling this is the last letter, because there is only one thing left to tell you. It isn't to go down memory lane or make you buy a lamp, you can take care of yourself without any help from me. It's to tell you how much you move me, how you changed me. You made me a man, by loving me Holly. And for that, I am eternally grateful... literally. 
If you can promise me anything, promise me that whenever you're sad, or unsure, or you lose complete faith, that you'll try to see yourself through my eyes. Thank you for the honor of being my wife. I'm a man with no regrets. How lucky am I. You made my life, Holly. But I'm just one chapter in yours. There'll be more. I promise. So here it comes, the big one. 
Don't be afraid to fall in love again. 
Watch out for that signal, when life as you know it ends. 
P.S. I will always love you 

My life, as I’ve always known it, has ended, and a new life has begun.

I knew it the first time David and I kissed.

But I knew it before that.

I knew it when I saw his smile for the first time. I knew it when we started flirting. I knew it when he asked me out, and when he told me I have an intoxicating smile.

And when he first held me, I thought I had never been held before, by anyone, because it had never felt like it feels with him.

It’s unnerving and overwhelming and most definitely more than I bargained for. But I knew, the minute I laid eyes on David, that he would move me.

So, yes…

I am in love.

It’s so much more than that, though.

I trust him.

And most phenomenally—

I have given him my whole heart.

It feels good, and naked, and scary, but honestly, the fear is so pale at this point, and continuing to shrink every single day.

"There are two energies on this planet: fear and love. Fear contracts, love expands. Her Holiness Sai Maa Lakshmi Devi teaches to think of fear and love as two plants—you're always watering one of them with your thoughts. All thoughts fall into one category—fear or love—so which plant are you choosing to water and grow?" - Katharine Sise

I choose love.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nostalgia in a Wine Bottle

I remember drinking this bottle of wine.

It was 1998, and I was living in Philadelphia, with 7 other people in an old house. A couple lived in the basement, I shared a room on the first floor with a guy who was only there for another month, a guy and another girl had their own rooms on the second floor, and two more guys had their own rooms on the top floor.

One of the guys had this bottle of wine that he’d been waiting for an occasion to drink.

It was my first time to have red wine, and my first weekend living in Philadelphia, and that was occasion enough.

I took a sip and liked it immediately. As it turns out, only I and my roommate liked it. So, he and I split the bottle. That was an interesting night, for sure…

I have a lot of stories I could share about that house, that arrangement, and those days in general, but I’m hanging onto those for my memoir.

(You know, the memoir I’ll write some day.)

I’d completely forgotten that I’d kept this bottle until I was unpacking my apartment back in March.

I of course drink red wine on a regular basis, these days. Oddly enough, the type I always gravitate to is… pinot noir from Sonoma. I thought nothing of it when I took up drinking wine a couple of years ago, and I certainly did not recall this bottle from my first taste of red, back in 1998.

Imagine my surprise when I cracked open the box containing this bottle, as I sipped some La Crema pinot noir (which is of course, from Sonoma), and I came across this Quatro bottle.

It’s interesting how we so often forget the origins of the fibers of our being...

Note: The beautiful, handmade leather journals in the background of this photo are from Mind's Eye Journals. Check out Teresa's Facebook page to see her latest designs... you will be amazed with her work!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Worded Edition

This is the organization I volunteer for. More than anything else I have ever done, I have witnessed the Pathways training teach people how to let go of baggage, PTSD, and personal trauma as men and women learn how to heal, love themselves and redeem their souls.

I have written several articles for Pathways news letters, including:

These stories will give you insight to what each family was dealing with before going through the training, and how they have put their lives back together after Pathways.

Pathways isn't only for soldiers. It's for families, individuals, and anyone who wants something better in life! 

(Note: Pathways is not a religious or spiritual training, although they do offer a spirituality training, which is coming up December 3-4.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A New Beginning...

Did any of you wonder why I stopped all of the Adventures in Online Dating posts? 

Standing outside my apartment.
Yes... well, read on, and you'll find out.

I moved to my apartment in Dallas back in March.

Shortly after, I discovered that the fish counter at the Whole Foods near me is pretty darn nice. Not only that, but there was a pretty nice-looking guy working there, too.

It’s important to note that I live in Oak Lawn.

Oak Lawn is affectionately known as the “gayborhood” or the main area of Dallas where gays and lesbians live, work, and hang out.

Parts of Highland Park (usually these residents are Old Money, and definitely upper crust of Dallas society) butt up next to Oak Lawn. Dallas neighborhoods are kind of confusing that way… but while the Whole Foods is technically in Highland Park, the clientele is a pretty even mix between Highland Park residents and Oak Lawn residents.

All this to say, it’s actually a fair assumption to make that if one sees an attractive male in the Oak Lawn area who isn’t wearing a wedding band, there's a good chance he's gay.

So, when I saw this attractive guy at the fish counter, I thought nothing of it, and I assumed he was gay.

I went on about picking up fish a couple of times a week from Whole Foods.

I saw him most evenings I came in… and over time, we started engaging in friendly conversation. He smiled wide each time he saw me, and I smiled back, thinking he must now recognize me as a regular, always ordering fish for one.

He asked me about the Pathways t-shirt I was wearing one time… another time he commented on the necklace I was wearing (and yes, it was one of my own designs)—and yes, I’m a little slow on the uptake, not realizing that he was actually looking for his “in” to get to know me better...

The real connection happened when I went into Whole Foods the night before doing the Run for Heroes in September.

I went in to get some halibut and veggies, so I could have a nice and light but healthy dinner, since I was eating pretty late. I think it was around 9pm when I went into Whole Foods, and the race was at around 8am the next morning.

I mentioned to fish counter guy that I was running my very first 5k.

His eyes lit up…

(He finally had his in!)

He mentioned that he was a runner as well as a weight lifter (and if you think I hadn’t noticed his broad shoulders and his beautifully thick arms, think again), and he was excited for me to run, especially since this was my first race. He wanted a full report on how I did.

I was a little surprised (dare I say, this slow girl was actually confused?) at his enthusiasm, but as our interaction ended, I found myself smiling very wide.

I felt a little giddy inside, too.

The next time I was at the fish counter, I gave him a report on how I did, including my time (which worked out to about a 13 minute mile—not bad for a non-runner).

All right, I’ll cut the crap…

He’s not gay.


He asked me out, and I said yes.

But even before our first date, I found excuses to pop into Whole Foods. Luna bars were on sale, or I was out of almond butter, or I wanted to check, one more time, to see if they had magically started carrying the yogurt I eat…

David. Isn't he handsome?
But mostly, it was just to see his smiling face and to get a chance to chatter with him for a little while.

We went out, and well… we’ve been together ever since.

By the way, his name is David.

I felt drawn to David from the moment I first laid eyes on him, back in March.

And even over time, when we slowly started talking to each other and flirting, I realized that something was different with this guy. I was different—healthier than I’ve ever been… and getting healthier and happier by the day.

David is a different sort of guy than I’ve ever been with before.

He is an amazing man who rocks my world. I’ve hesitated posting anything here about him, because I could gush on and on about what he does for me, and the way he makes my life better just by being in it.

In this moment I remember one of my professors in college, Kate Daniels, who is a talented modern American poet. She only ever liked a few of my poems. The rest? 
If you can imagine, a tiny waifish woman standing barely five feet tall, with short jet black hair with wiry gray hairs sticking out here and there, and huge black plastic-rimmed glasses that took over her entire face, and she often stood with her hand on her hip, the other hand disdainfully dismissing the majority of my poems as “emotional fluff”.  
So, anytime I write something emotionally charged, I end up visualizing Kate Daniels waving off whatever I’ve written as emotional fluff.  
Because, apparently, nobody wants to read emotional fluff. 
Or maybe she just doesn’t want to…

(And so, all of the emotional fluff has been written in other, non-public places. Trust me, you are thankful I am sparing you on those emotionally fluffy details!)

What is both a little scary and very refreshing is that David is everything I’ve ever wanted in a man, and more. I feel like a damned school girl around him—giddy, giggly, silly…

He knows how to deliver a compliment, and he does it so well and so often… and I appreciate that more than he will ever know. Remember my post on learning how to receive love? I am practicing that, or trying to. David gives me lots of practice, which I have to admit I enjoy.

He makes me laugh—which, as anyone who knows me understands… that’s vital.

He’s intuitive, and intelligent, and there are times when I swear he can read my mind.

One thing's for sure. We took each other by surprise. I wasn't expecting to connect with anyone so strongly. I wasn't expecting to meet someone who would become special in my world so quickly.

He wasn't, either.

We were both just going along, working on ourselves, dating here and there (well, I spent my entire summer Turbo Dating, as my friend Michael calls it)... and what brought us together was time and circumstance (and... fish!).

To say I’ve never had a connection or level of chemistry quite like what David and I have is quite the understatement. I didn’t know the type of connection we have was even possible.

But I’m learning, more and more, that it’s so much more than “just” the physical chemistry. There’s a soul connection that I can’t quite articulate. It’s on a deeper level than I understand… and I felt it the moment I met him.

I love his deeply soulful blue eyes. There’s so much there… so much behind those eyes, and I am slowly learning what is there, and savoring every moment of it…

I may post more about him in the future, but suffice it to say—

I am happy.

(And yes, it is possible to meet someone special at the grocery store!)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shedding More Than Just Weight

In searching for the best “before” photo I could find, I discovered this one from June of 2007.

I can’t quite describe what exactly is significant about four years, but I will try.

Maybe it’s that four years ago, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s that four years ago, I was almost completely sedentary. Maybe it’s that four years ago, I was making a ton of money but also incredibly unhappy—and I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.

Four years ago, I had no real clue how to fulfill my own needs. I still relied on others to do it for me, which meant that the majority of the time, I felt more empty than full.

(Do I even need to mention that I tried filling that void with food?)

And of course, four years ago, I had no clue how I was going to begin changing my life—one step at a time, and sometimes, one giant leap at a time.

I didn’t yet know that I would take the trip of a lifetime to Murano, Italy in March of 2008. A trip that would re-awaken the artist within me, a trip that would remind me what happiness feels like, a trip that reminded me just how unhappy I was in my day to day life, a trip that ended up becoming a huge magnifying glass. When I came back home to Texas, I finally realized just how much I didn’t like my life. The life I had chosen, the life I had committed to, the life I had vowed to uphold.

I didn’t realize what a black hole my own home had become, until I came back from Italy in April 2008.

Up until that point, I had refused to acknowledge that my marriage was not in a good place. What’s worse—it hadn’t been, for years.

2008 began the confrontation of all that wasn’t working in my life, starting with why my marriage wasn’t working. He went to Pathways, and we did a little bit of work together to repair the deeply traversed ditches of damage, but after he finished the program, things pretty much went back to the well-established bad habits and patterns that we had practiced as a couple for the entirety of our relationship.

I held out hope that things would get better.

But in 2010… I finally realized that I was continuing to grow and change, and at that point in time, he really wasn’t. We had been moving in different directions, and we really began wanting different things.

But 2010 also marked the beginning of the major transformation that is so evident in me today.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you can probably recall at least a few of the changes. The most obvious is my weight loss. The next obvious is my divorce. Then, there are the less obvious things… grieving for losses from my past that I’d never grieved; allowing God into my life and then in April of this year, becoming a believer; and one of the most important changes of all… finally learning how to fulfill my own needs.

The biggest changes I’ve experienced in 2011 have been:
  • Stepping out of the P-R-V (Persecutor – Rescuer – Victim) triangle in all of my relationships. I always played the Victim role, by the way.
  • Recognizing that I still had codependent relationships, and working very hard to step out of codependency.
  • Finally learning how to fulfill my own needs and fill myself up, without having to rely on someone or something else to do it for me.

These are significant and important changes, and I am proud of the work I’ve done. I’ve come a long, long way… and looking at those two photos side by side brings up so many emotions—of all that I’ve been through, of all the things I’ve willingly faced, of the accountability I’ve finally taken on, of letting go of old baggage and grieving losses so that they no longer weigh me down… and learning how to live on my own without feeling constantly lonely…

It’s so much more than “just” weight loss.

As my friend Carla said, I’ve spent the last year and a half shedding the person who pretended to be me.

It’s so true. I am no longer fighting so hard to maintain some image of perfection, or the life I thought I was supposed to live. I am no longer trying to live a life that was not right for me. I am no longer pretending to be real.

I am real.

It’s taken years to get to this place, and I feel like I’m brand new.

I recently saw this message:
Anyone can give up. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.

I disagree.

Whole heartedly.

To me, falling apart isn’t about giving up. Falling apart is about dropping the mask, dropping the pretense, and letting go of the ever-important “image” of perfection.

It is only because I finally allowed myself to completely fall apart that I realized just how strong I am, how many amazing people love me, and how worthy I am of that love.

It is only because I finally dropped the façade that I was “ok” and I was truly vulnerable that I discovered what realness and authenticity feel like.

It was in those moments when people saw the real me, and much to my own surprise, they rushed towards me—not away. I witnessed true grace, love, and redemption when I finally allowed myself to fall apart and let people in.

I was taken care of, every step of the way.

And today, I stand before you as my real, imperfect self.

And when I look at that photo on the right—for the first time in my life—the first things I see are the positives.

I see a beautiful and happy woman. I see a woman who is secure, confident, and who feels worthy.

I am all of those things, and more…

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Change: The Only Constant

It’s chilly nights like this when I remember so vividly my nightly walks from the Boston Commons area down to South Station, in the financial district of downtown Boston. The wind was fierce, coming off the harbor, and the skyscrapers formed walls on the streets that made each step like attempting to walk in a wind tunnel.

I bundled my dad’s Navy pea coat up as high as it would button, wrapped my scarf around my neck as many times as I could. And my fleece hat, while warm, never could handle the cutting chill of the wind.

I always smiled, though. I loved living there. I adjusted to the terrifically cold winters and the super-humanly humid summers.

And, whenever possible, I escaped to Maine.

I’m feeling a little all over the place tonight… a little nostalgic (see above... *ahem*), a little confident, a little sassy, as I dance around my living room to the newest Florence + The Machine album (please, just get it... it's so worth it!), and I am happily alone on this cold night, although I can think of few other greater pleasures than sharing warm covers with a lover.

This is the relaxed and happy me.
Tonight, I think I could write a whole novel, or at least my entire memoir, in just a matter of hours. Tonight, I think I could read the rest of the book I just started, or I could fill up the paper journal I’m barely a third of the way into.

So many thoughts twirling and swirling around in my mind, so many thoughts escaping through my pores, never to be thought again.

I’ve recently stepped through a significant amount of change in my life, and I smile as I reflect on those changes tonight.

One of the most recent changes?

Leaving my job.

A tiny little part of me (and probably a bigger part of you) thinks I must be crazy, to take a leap like that without having a "secure" and "certain" net to jump into.

All the thousands of people out of work, and I had a great job that I actually chose to leave. Crazy, right?

Believe me. That thought, and many more, scrolled through my head before I made my decision.

The reality is, there's no such thing as "job security" anymore. I'd been thinking about it for a long time, and now was as good a time as any to make the jump.

I’m working on what my business will be. I’m working on what I’m going after and what my aim will be. Don’t worry—you’ll be the first to know, once I get the plans all laid out.

In the mean time… I've been catching up on what feels like two and a half years of sleep deprivation. I am remarkably relaxed, and I'm doing fairly well with letting go of control, taking one day at a time, and I'm actually getting pretty good at living in the present. 

Instead of [indulging my old habits of] facing the potentially daunting near future of finding gainful employment with fear, anxiety, procrastination and reluctance, I am practicing positive thinking and positive action. I am working through books that are helping me create my vision for my business, and eventually a business plan and concrete steps to take to turn those plans into action.

For the first time in my entire life, I feel like I'm finally working towards the career I've spent the entirety of my working years aiming towards.

And in some ways, I feel more grown up right now than I have ever been.

I hope to post some writing soon. I hope to feel like doing some more public writing. I do have a lot to say… a lot to tell.