Growth

Two Limes on a Rim

The elevator doors opened and I walked out into the tiny corner. I turned left and followed the arrows down the dimly lit hall as my wet boots squeaked with each step.

Removing the tiny key from my purse, I swiped my way in to the first hotel room I’d ever had all to myself.

Zipped off a text to my mother who used to do this all of the time – travel for work.

She shared her routine reminders with me. First you unpack your belongings, then put out the toiletries near the sink, and then call my dad.

I remember the calls as a child – her connecting with us across time zones and space from the uncomfortable chairs in casino hotel rooms. She didn’t gamble – she was an expert in trade shows – the two spaces and industries were inextricably linked. Pre Facetime, before What’s Ap and smart phones – what a treat it was to leave a voicemail on her hotel room phone.

Mostly I remember she’d leave prizes for us – one a night to discover. Sometimes my dad would forget to hide them and we’d wonder if perhaps this trip, we’d grown too old for her treats.

“Thanks for the memories,” she buzzed back, as I put on a sweater to head up to the roof top bar.

He’s with us in spirit, she’s at home, and I’m traveling now. How things have changed.

I took a deep breath, made a mental list of my networking questions, and pressed the up button, pausing to wait for the elevator.

Ding.

The doors opened and I walked into the dark bar decorated for Halloween. Creepy decorations hung in the large windows. The fog outside hovered next to the floating skeletons with gauzy dresses back lit by orange, suspended from string ten floors up.

I met new people, asked questions, and sipped my gin and tonic. Nervously, I squeezed the extra lime on the rim of the heavy tumbler between my thumb and forefinger.

The woman I was speaking with looked up and wiped her forehead.

Is it raining? she asked.

“I’m afraid I just squirted you with my drink” I blushed. She laughed, wiping again at the pulp in her bangs.

A granular burst of fruit brought us closer than I anticipated.

Time passed. We mingled and wrapped up the night. I pushed the down button, rode a few floors, followed the arrows to my room, turned down the covers and slept in the big, white bed.

When I woke to the sun fighting the fog, I saw twinkly lights fighting the approach of a new day.  I stared from behind the dark curtains and pondered the path I’ve been walking. I’ve floated between loss and joy over the last three years. Each room I enter has the haunting remnants of loss near by, like the decorations looming in the enormous window panes. Feelings of fear and ache linger close and heavy fog easily wraps its tentacles around me.

And then in ordinary conversations, the limes of life offer flavor and tartness and sweet bursts. I only need to release the potential between my finger tips.  Joy brings me closer to others and saying yes to the unexpected opportunities helps me grow.

Yes, this week I stayed in a hotel room, got on a plane, forced myself to be brave and network. I walked Lake Shore Drive and took photos of sparkling city lights – all beautiful things.

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Two little slices of lime jolted me to realize I influence others by just showing up. I can turn my attention from the haunting spirits and surroundings to the joy with a simple pinch of my thumb and forefinger.  Let’s choose the bursts rather than the ominous lingerings, shall we? There’s magic in the pulp.

Just a little more sparkly …

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about my experience with my mountain top metaphor. I’m a Colorado girl so the physical overcoming of rocks and stones makes a lot of sense when we connect the image to our challenges in life.

For snobby, Colorado me, the metaphor feels a bit, well, overdone. I get it. The smell of the pines, the crunching stones on a dirt trail – idyllic – but I’ve lived the mountain ups and downs for a long time. I haven’t lived the ‘shouting from rooftops’ metaphor or the ‘view from the top of church staircases’ or ‘tripping on cobblestone’ or ‘lessons found when getting lost in London’s alleys’ metaphors.

I’m not a very big risk taker and the hills and valleys in my backyard were spiritually working for a long time. Until they weren’t.

Deep breath – here it is – I’m tired of mountains. I needed a change of scenery.

This year, the bravest thing I’ve done was plan a two week vacation to places I’ve wanted to go since I was a teenager. I knew I needed respite and took baby steps to see if maybe, magically, we could make a dream come true. I made lists and price comparisons, read blogs about places to see and interviewed seasoned traveler friends for their advice.

I asked my boss for two weeks out of the office. He agreed.

Then, I bought plane tickets.

Then, I waited for weeks.

Dare I take another courageous step? Did I believe I could invest in me and the universe wouldn’t retaliate?

With each planning step my palms would sweat. Every time I clicked purchase on a hotel reservation, or a show I wanted to attend, my heart beat loudly in my nervous chest. I wrote about my fears and my doubts and all the reasons why chasing this dream could be halted. I was sure, if I left, someone else would die or need me back at home. An unhealthy pattern, yes. A pattern that my friends in grief group nod along to when I voice – ‘I’m just scared of who is going to go next.’

Time passed. I prayed. I planned. I clicked purchase. I made an itinerary on Google and copies of our passports. We bought luggage, we packed, and eventually we boarded a plane.

Nine hours later, a conversation with a nice lady at Passport control, and we walked out the airport doors and into the English air.

A dream came true and we made it happen. A beautiful thing.

I have lots of stories about our trip and much like Dylan is editing the 700 photos he took on his DSLR, I’m still processing the lessons I learned over there. I’ve waited to share here because one little post seemed inadequate to capture the joy found in exploring museums, churches, magical places with cones of rose-shaped gelato in our hands.

So here goes.

There are a lot of stairs in Paris. Stairs in the subway stations, in the art galleries, in the lines of the tourist destinations. They seemed to be everywhere. Just like the stairs of life. Sometimes, we fall down them. Then we get back up and keep asking, ‘what can I see at the top?’

On a Thursday night, Dylan and I climbed stairs to the 6th floor of a big building hoping to see some modern art. We went to late night hours and found ourselves gazing out at this view instead. A little different the tops of mountains I’m used to.

The things we’ve overcome to stand on this rooftop! I was moved to tears.

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Beautiful tears for the past, for the new memories made we won’t share with my dad as we debrief at home, for the pure joy that comes from believing my own dreams are worth pursuing. Beauty found in the power of listening to the little voice inside my heart that said, ‘you are worth it, go explore. These people you love will be ok.’

The people I love, they were ok. We were too. More than ok.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

– 1 Peter 5:10

From under the lights of the Paris skyline, to the sides of the Thames river my heart soared in places unfamiliar. I kept saying to Dylan, “I feel so ALIVE here.”

Every time we walked in a plaza, sat in a beautiful garden, slurped onion soup at a sidewalk cafe, I would whisper thanks. In Europe, 7,000 miles from home, I couldn’t believe how far we had come in our restoration journey. God brought us there, at the steps of these famous, picturesque places. With my ability to trust and release my paranoid control of the lives of my loved ones, I stood at the foot of Notre Dame, saw the London Eye, visited Queen Elizabeth’s home, and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle up from the top of a building, dazzling in glow of Parisian light.

Travel was balm to big wounds, the scabby heart ones still grazing my grasping fingers each day. I’ve been home two weeks and continue to integrate these new experiences. I’m realizing all over again I can heal and hurt and delight all at once.

Perspective from any kind of higher ground is a beautiful thing. The metaphor is just a little more sparkly in Paris.

The Smell of Easter Lilies Makes Me Squirm

Right now, the smell of Easter Lilies makes me squirm. What once was such a welcomed fragrance turns my stomach over in memory of this time last year. I realized today, in a flood of grief-like fog, that Dad’s funeral was right at this time a year ago. No, not the actual date, but we had a hard time finding a church for the service because it was Holy Week. Churches are pretty booked in anticipation of the death of Christ. Not many openings for the death of a common man.

With Holy Week comes Easter Lilies. Beautiful flowers emitting a once-a -year scent. Those damn flowers are telling me to run the other way through grocery stores. So many people gave us beautiful lilies last year, but the timing of the gifts tainted my opinion of the blooms. I used to love those elegant flowers. This year, please keep the flowers and their symbolism away.

I wonder this if new revulsion may be similar to pregnancy – tastes and fragrances that once brought comfort are instead instantly turned into something else as we get ready to give birth to something new.

The metaphor is weak, I suppose, but I just keep thinking about how sometimes things we once loved change when you lose a loved one. And how maybe, just maybe, that process is ok. How through death I am being birthed into a new me. I am shedding skin of pre-death and even this first layer of post-death, like a snake, dropping layers and layers of unnecessary preferences. What remains is fresh skin. Raw skin that is a little bit sensitive to the light and indicators of time passing – like frickin’ seasonal Easter Lilies.

As I sat in church this weekend, I kept thinking about the comfort provided by the traditions of Holy Week. My dad was a minister when I was little and my parents used to hold huge Easter brunches in our backyard. Much of his congregation would attend. I remember matching dresses and egg hunts and little hats. I remember palms handed out on Palm Sunday and solemn trips to the Stations of the Cross – the crown of thorns, the smell of vinegar, nailing my sins scrawled on a notecard to a wooden cross. These experiences were so connected to who my dad was in his various roles at the church. They set the foundation for me to explore my own faith.

It has been eighteen years since my dad was in direct ministry, well nineteen now I suppose. As I approach another Holy Week, I find myself clinging to the memories of Dad in the church. Of his excitement as he passed out palms to the kids, the ceremonial seriousness he projected as he instructed the crowd to break bread in remembrance of Jesus. Have you noticed how on Good Friday, right around 2 or 3 pm, it always gets cloudy and dark? Dad would always point this out – the very real reminder that God still feels in his giving of his only son for us on the cross.

I also remember how last year my beautiful friend brought us a ham for Easter dinner, three short days after a funeral. I will never forget how that hunk of meat became a symbol of sustenance, hope, resurrection for our family in its newest, most raw and vulnerable form.

Thanks for hanging with me here – I’m not sure my thoughts are entirely connected. What I can say is there is beauty in the foundation of faith, in the way my father taught me to live through the history and truth of the Holy Week. Beauty in anticipating the death of Christ and the hope in his resurrection. Beauty in taking communion, in yelling “HE IS RISEN INDEED”, and in dwelling in the truth of Christ’s love for me. Beauty in remembering what brought you to this point and beauty in looking forward. Beauty in basking in the power of the cross.

Here – now you can yell it in Greek – just like Dad used to do.

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May Jesus meet you in unexpected ways this week.

Sprinkles and Grit

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I made cupcakes this weekend. Two dozen, delicious yellow cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Homemade from scratch… they were not… but you can’t fault a girl for using boxed cake mix and Pillsbury frosting in a pinch.

I like baking. The combining of ingredients, swirl of egg yolks, whipping of a fork does something for my anxiety, my overactive mind. The end result is always delightful and fun. Cupcakes deserve sprinkles on top. So after frosting the little morsels, I turned each one upside down, and dipped the frosting in a mixture of colorful sprinkles. Yellow and pink pearls graced the top of each little treat, casting a shiny glow across the glass baking pan they rested in.

I eagerly set the little cakes out for my ‘Galentine’s’ Day Party which I hosted on Saturday night. Not one gal ate them. Between a mixture of gluten intolerant and health conscious friends, all of the cupcakes sat untouched.

I had to convince these ladies’ husbands to eat the cakes when they came to pick up their wives. Both my husband and another guy took a bite of the pearly cake and said, “Those little balls on top are too crunchy. These things are hurting my teeth.”

The pretty decor was literally causing discomfort when being ingested.

I wasn’t offended at the lack of consumption; more cake for me and my co-workers at work this week. However, I was just struck by the fact that although the sprinkles were displayed beautifully, no one cared to take a bite.

Rewind just a little further and stop on Saturday morning. The sun was shining and it was in the 60s as I sat a local coffee shop and shared a warm drink with one of my oldest friends with whom I’ve recently reconnected. Think kindergarten (OK WHO KNEW KINDERGARTEN WAS SPELLED WITH A T?) old, we shared lots of time together giggling and dreaming about boys and our futures. Years after high school and college drew us apart. She lived in New York. I stayed here. Both of us lost our fathers along the way.

And as I sat there, with a warm feeling only old friends can create in your heart, this beautiful woman said to me, “Our experiences have given us grit that other’s don’t yet know how to relate to. We can sink into that grit, and let it move us forward. Even when moving forward feels like crawling, and the grit and persistence feels more like sand that is digging into our knees.”

If someone asked me if I wanted sand on my cupcake, I would immediately say no. Glimmering sugar is much more preferred.

But in life, it can be easy to pass on the sprinkles. We are drawn into the beauty and then push aside the glimmer as shiny little orbs that kinda hurt.

Grit, true grit, shapes us into who we are meant to be, giving strength in the most unexpected of places. This abrasive sand is fairly unavoidable.  And those who remind us to keep crawling just are so beautiful.

So here it is this week. The list of beauty: cake, friends, Galentine’s Day, husbands who whine at your baking, the reminder to keep crawling, saying thank you to the painful experiences that give you grit, persistence, and blessed cream cheese frosting.

 

 

P.S. Don’t forget – I want to hear about your Valentine’s Day expressions of love. Don’t forget about the “Where Your Heart is Challenge.” Write a love note or a poem. Send me an email about it. I’ll post it here.

Giving Light – Vanessa A.

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Small Bio: Vanessa A.- a 30-something wife and mom of 2 wild and crazy boys. I consider myself an imperfectly kind and honest person in pursuit of health, happiness, simplicity and meaningful relationships. Feel free to reach out on Facebook or email.
I’m honored to take part in giving light and sharing beauty today. As I reflect on the five beautiful things listed below, I’m incredibly grateful 🙂
1. Growth and Self-Discovery
I learned a while ago that I cannot control people or change them or force them to do things, despite my desire to intervene and be “helpful”. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of observing others grow and come to their own realizations about life and happiness. Lately, I see this growth in those who are closest to me:

– My husband Matt has finally found his groove with consistent exercise. Despite my own, very inspirational (😉😉) health and fitness pursuits over the years, Matt found his niche on his own and he is happier, healthier, and less stressed. It’s a beautiful thing.

– My oldest son Grady is discovering how to be driven and focused through a cool game/task app called Habitica. In fact, the whole family has enjoyed tackling tasks through this app by earning pets and armor and destroying “basi-lists” and other monsters.

– My youngest son Drew is growing his expressions of helpfulness, generosity and empathy. These things come naturally for him but as we have embarked on our annual kindness calendar, he has been able to let loose and really enjoy his giving spirit.

2. Christmas Decorations

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…
Growing up, I really didn’t have Christmas traditions with my family. Now that I have a family of my own, we have developed our holiday rituals and routines, and one of my favorite things to do is enjoy Christmas decor all December long.
…But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be… on your own front door.

3. Meditating

I have intended to implement a meditation practice for years but have had a hard time remaining disciplined. Well, it turns out that finding a helpful app gave me the extra boost I needed. I tried out Headspace and landed on Stop, Breathe, Think . Since I began using Stop, Breathe, Think a couple months ago I have meditated for over 3 1/2 hours total (most of the time it’s around 5 minutes per day). There are a lot of great features including finding the right guided meditation for your current physical/mental state. I’m grateful to see my desire for a grounding meditation practice finally come to fruition!

4. Feeling Better

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My dietitian/nutritionist friend Esther invited me to participate in a 16 week program to replace sugar and fast carbs with more healthful foods. I have been struggling to tackle my chronic migraines since age 17 so I figured this program was worth a try. Right out of the gate I learned some key things that have helped me succeed in limiting added sugars, approaching food in a new way, and in turn reducing my headaches and migraines significantly. Not only do I have fewer headaches, I have more energy and feel a whole heck of a lot better overall. Feeling better for the win!!!

5. Life is imperfect, a sense of humor is required

I often try to catch the occasional beautiful moments that happen between my children so I can post them on Facebook for everyone to see my perfect life. Obviously, I don’t intend to display only the good side, but sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it, perhaps it’s easier than baring the raw, honest self. Rest assured, me nor my life are perfect.
In this short 20 second video, I attempted to capture what I saw as a beautifully perfect moment only to have an imperfect funny surprise.
(tip: turn up your volume to view)
Thank for coming along for the ride as I shared my small pieces of beauty for today.
THE DEADLINE FOR ACCEPTING ENTRIES FOR THE GIVE LIGHT GIVEAWAY HAS PASSED. I AM FINISHING UP POSTING CONTRIBUTIONS. STAY TUNED FOR OTHER CONTESTS AND OPPORTUNITIES TO CONTRIBUTE TO 52 BEAUTIFUL THINGS IN 2017.

Brave

Have you ever heard the advice, or the rather judgement deflecting phrase “You do you”?

I have a friend who says it often when she doesn’t exactly understand another’s choices, or on the opposite side of the spectrum when she is encouraging me to stand in my truth and be brave enough to live my own life.

Example: Wearing a dress that is too short for my taste but happens to look fabulous on my friend.  “You do you.”

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Example: I love seeing my parents twice a week even though I’m a grown woman.  “You do you.”

The concept is similar to Amy Poehler’s phrase, “Good for her, not for me.” Constantly pulled in a thousand directions, it can be challenging to remember that all we can do on this planet is capture “you.” You being me… you are following this right?

But what happens when “you do you” results in the fear of isolation and loneliness? I know that at times I don’t like to make decisions that are going to benefit myself for fear of disappointing others. Personal growth and embracing new opportunities gets thwarted because I much too often let others define how I am going to “do me”. Oh heavens, you don’t want to tag that phrase in a blog post. But do you know what I mean?

Let me try to explain. I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks and am excited about the opportunity to go in a new direction with new prospects and responsibility. I had stomach aches giving notice at my current position when I knew that my leaving would disrupt the flow of things in my current situation. When I gave my news I was met with the most gracious response a boss could provide and support and good luck for my next step.

I am scared about what leaving behind a group of people I have grown to know over the last year will mean. Relationships are hard enough for me to maintain; what happens when I am the one changing course?

And yet, this is something that if I’m being honest with myself, I want. Me being authentically true means learning to live in the wake of the discomfort I am causing others and saying ‘we are all going to be ok’. I think women all over the country struggle with this. The idea of taking care of ourselves goes beyond getting a manicure or taking a nap. I’m learning it is also being beautifully brave in taking the next steps that are going to help me continue to grow. To “Lean In” as Sheryl Sandberg would say, or to embrace all that God has given us so we can develop into who we are meant to be.

In a recent post on Brene Brown’s Facebook page she was encouraging individuals to set healthy boundaries around the holiday season and her quote, “Be willing to choose discomfort over resentment” struck a serious chord in me. How often do we stay quiet, go with the flow, remain comfortable for fear of what others with think, or say, or do and then get angry. Angry at ourselves, angry at our situation, angry at others.

I’m noticing this pattern in myself and I’m wanting to put an end to it. No more anger for allowing myself to put me on the back burner while others glow boldly in the front. Instead, here is what I hope for in the year ahead as I continue to be me.

  • Growth – being ok with being uncomfortable
  • Keeping up this blog. Will you continue to read along? I’m going to write anyway.
  • Camp – the mountains are calling and I must go
  • Find a small group – I’m craving community and want a group of people to walk through life with. I don’t care your religion – let’s find a chance to connect and discuss all that is life over chicken noodle soup.
  • Start a retirement account – financial goals are becoming a reality
  • Continue to read. This year I think I’ve reached 43 books. Next year maybe more.

Being beautifully brave is a conscious choice that requires energy and discipline and self- care. I’m not feeling incredibly brave tonight, so write this as an ode to myself knowing I’ve got what it takes within me to continue to boldly step into the next stages, paying attention to what I need.

What helps you feel beautifully brave as “You do you”?

Essie Nail Polish: Jump in my Jumpsuit

Biscotti: None – but heavens have I eaten enough Christmas Cookies to last me until next year. I did make my dad this Shortbread Recipe

 

All the Tricky Things

I’m a quote gal, what can I say? I came across this one this week, and thought dang Sylvia, you are spot on. “…Doing all the little tricky things it takes to grow up, step by step, into an anxious and unsettling world.” – Sylvia Plath

That is the process, isn’t it, of step-by-step explorations into who you want to be each day. You have to be brave enough to stand in the unsettledness, and accept with an open heart, maybe all this unsettledness is the only thing we can count on. One never is really arriving, but instead is dancing, prancing, grieving, smiling, aching, laughing, loving through each phase. I was talking to Dylan this week about that myth of arrival. I thought you would just, ya know, find a job, meet your co-workers, settle into your role for the next few years, and never imagined that maybe life would throw curve balls, or your friends would move, or your parents would sell your childhood home. That there would be beauty in loss, and the shedding of skin and the ability to stand as you are, letting go of what used to be.  You go through the natural transitions of growing up, coaxed through the programs and the academics, and are launched into the believing in yourself environment. That phase takes a hell of a lot of courage – especially in the fog of all of the fears that our society invites us to participate in.

I never imagined this process of blogging to be so vulnerable. There is something risky, I know, of being myself in cyber space. Of admitting challenges, or insecurities, or tiny victories along the way – oh my heart, you have been kind when you lay it all out there. To those I make uncomfortable, skip ahead to this blog post – “The One Where I Talk About “Friends” To those who can relate, thanks for reading. Let’s connect over coffee for I long to hear “me too.”

This week beauty surrounded me in the celebration of my dad. He had his birthday and invited us to play pool and ping pong and eat snacky junk food in a bar. Pub chips and nachos – yes, please. My brother came along and taught my 82 year old grandmother how to play pool. Both my brother and I were shocked she had never learned how to hit the cue ball across that felted green surface. Growing up, my brother and I spent countless hours playing pool in their muggy basement in Chicago while being “supervised” from my grandfather in the t.v. room above. How could she never have chalked up a stick in all those years?

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Nevertheless, we got to teach her how to play and avoid the eight ball, and break the “ladylike” paradigm to once again be blessed by the beauty of sharing life with the ones you love. Laughter too, so much laughter, as we held my dad across our laps for a photograph. These moments go by quickly, brief, little glimpses across the spectrum of life. Thanks for supporting me as I continue to do all of the little, tricky things.

Essie Nail Polish: Turquoise and Caicos

Biscotti: None

You know what I like? How when you try to load a new post on Word Press it makes robot words… beep booop beep