Category: Inspiration (Page 1 of 2)

A Letter to My Sister on Motherhood

It was a Monday in September.
“Gym day” at school.
I was in third grade.
Zack and I were dressed in our green sweatsuits that made us look like little lanky string beans.
Mom and dad sent us to the neighbor’s house after school while we waited for the news.
“It’s a girl!”
We jumped up and down and cheered.
We had a little sister!
We drove the hospital and could barely contain our excitement.
We arrived, beaming with joy, and could hardly wait to cradle you in our arms.

Sweet Baby Jane.

I couldn’t get enough of you.
Your tiny fingers and tiny toes.
Your big blue eyes.
You were a special one, a gift, a long-awaited blessing.
About a year before, Zack and I sat dumbfounded at the kitchen table as mom sobbed because she had lost the baby she was carrying.
The little one we’ll never know.
We mourned the loss, not even knowing if the baby was to be a brother or a sister.
And then came you.
A little one whose arrival was an answer to prayer.
I remember singing you to sleep to Colors of the Wind,
Rocking you, holding you, kissing your small round face.
I adored you.
Everyone did.

I look back at gratitude journals from high school.
“I’m grateful for my little sister, Jane” was written on every other page.

You brought so much joy to our lives.
You made us laugh until we cried.
You amazed us with your intellect and maturity.
But you had a secret.
We didn’t know you felt so much pressure to always be funny, always be sweet, always be okay.
We didn’t know you felt so alone, so unknown, and so misunderstood.
We didn’t intend for you to have to hide that pain for so many years.
If only we’d known.
I’m sorry we didn’t know, sweet sister.
I’m sorry you carried that alone.

The Surprise

It’s now 24 years later.
On a Friday night in August.
Bill and I have just finished a game night with you and your boyfriend, Patrick.
We like him. He’s kind. He’s gentle. He’s funny. You suit each other.
We’re sitting on the couch in our basement as you look at us and say,
“Patrick and I have something to share with you guys.”
I pause and glance at your hand.
Engaged?
No ring.

“I’m having a baby in March.”

Time stands still.
I don’t know what to do.
Instead of reacting (my norm), I respond to you with love.
I draw toward you and hug you, holding you tightly, trying to process what you’ve just told us.
You begin to cry.
Both of us do.
“It was a surprise, but we’re excited,” you continue through tears and a smile.
You’ve always been so good with children, so I imagine how you’ll be with one of your own.
You are 10 weeks along but had only known for about three weeks.
Just a few weeks before, you had finished an Ironman triathlon…pregnant.
You are already a fighter, someone who persists in the face of difficulty.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay,” you assure me, as you wipe away tears from your cheeks.

I want to ask you so many questions.
But they would likely have been condemning and shame-inducing.
And I know there is no place for condemnation or shame in this situation.
Because shame and love cannot coexist, and it’s not my role to judge.
Instead, I tell you about grace and love and compassion.
That all life is a gift.
That I’m glad you are keeping the baby.
That we love you, support you, and are here for you.
We hug again.
I don’t want to let you go.
I pray over your belly and the little one inside.
I pray for protection, peace, health, and strength.
For casting off any feelings of shame, guilt or judgment.
For wisdom about how to tell mom and dad.

The Awakening

I wake up the next morning.
I didn’t sleep well.
I reach out to a few friends to begin to process the news.
One is a pastor and a friend of 15 years.
“It’s normal to grieve the unmet expectations of a life…but then you have to let go.”
I lament how you don’t have a strong community of support, a close network of girlfriends who can rally alongside you during this part of your journey.
Tori reassures me.
“She has you.”


Bill and I spend the morning in the car, driving up to Pennsylvania for his alumni soccer game.
I go to the outlets while he relives his glory days.
Maybe some retail therapy will help.
On the way there, something in me breaks open and pours out.
Something painful.
Something raw.
I sob uncontrollably.
I cry the ugliest of cries.
I wail from the depths of my soul.
I cannot remember a time I have felt so intensely.

As I walk from shop to shop, I feel increasingly numb, listless, overcome with sadness.
I try to hold it together and pull myself together, as I always do.
But every few minutes, I start crying again.
I can’t snap out of it.
The sadness won’t lift.
I call Bill through tears.
I’m supposed to meet him and his buddies post-game at a bar.
“I can’t be around anyone right now. I can’t stop crying.”

I meet him at a restaurant for lunch.
He holds my hand.
Just when I think it’s over, another wave of tears and sadness passes over me.
I wipe away my tears and attempt to eat my lunch.
I’m not hungry, but I need a distraction.
As we drive home, I feel sad, broken, emotionally exhausted.

I had just started seeing a therapist a few weeks prior.
I share the news with her at my next appointment.
I don’t spare any details.
I cry some more.
She listens.

At the following appointment, she checks back with me to see how I’m doing.
“When you left last time, I couldn’t help but think, ‘That’s an awfully strong reaction to someone else’s pregnancy.’”
I sat there in stillness,
Feeling the weight of her words.
“Yes, I think you’re right.”

What if I was actually grieving the unmet expectations of my life?

You see, I’ve always been the career-driven woman, climbing the ladder of success.
I’ve defined myself and found my identity and worth at work.
By society’s standards, I’ve been successful.
But I can’t fight the feeling that something is missing.
That all of my efforts to impress and achieve are empty because they are trying to fill a void that no recognition, promotion or word of praise can fill.
For years, I’ve feared what having a kid would do to my future.
How could I handle my career and a baby?
How could I walk away from opportunities to advance, to be known, to build my platform?

I was blind to the possibility that motherhood could be beautiful and wonderful and fulfilling.
Because I was so wrapped up in the fear that it would destroy all that I thought I wanted.
So I suppressed my desire to be a mother.
For my entire adult life.

I recalled mom telling me she never saw herself as a mom before becoming one.
She didn’t see herself as the nurturing type.
“Maybe I’m not meant to be a mom,” I reasoned.
My body gave me plenty of signals that this might be true.
Half a year of missed menstrual cycles and clinical malnourishment a few years ago.
Sacrificing my immune system and being diagnosed with mono last year.
Monthly cramps that were a recurring source of agony,
A reminder that something was wrong with my body.
I braced myself each month, anticipating the debilitating pain they would bring.

But now, in light of your pregnancy, the cramps took on new meaning for me.
Maybe they were a sign that my body was longing for something I refused to give it, that my empty womb was yearning to be filled.
I began to realize I had never truly opened myself up to a desire buried deep down in my soul that was now being stirred and awakened.
The desire to be a mom.

The Gift

On March 11th, he arrived.
7 pounds, 11 ounces.
With a name that means “strength” in Celtic.
Bryce Allen Wood.

You became a mom.

I went to the hospital to see you and hold this precious little life we’d prayed for months ago.
You courageously made it through a challenging and unexpected turn of events with his delivery.
You were beaming, proud to be a mom, enamored by your sweet baby boy.
It made me happy to see you so happy, so full of life and joy.
You were born to be a mother.
I held his tiny hand, kissed his tiny toes, gazed down at his little round face.

What a gift, what a blessing, what a wonderful surprise.

Nearly two weeks later, it’s a chilly Friday morning, and I awaken from a dream.
I rarely remember my dreams, but this one is unforgettable.
I dream that I am pregnant.
With a little bump under a pale pink shirt.
A symbol of a little girl, perhaps?
“It happened on the first try!” I excitedly tell my friends in the dream.

I place my hand on my lower abdomen right where the bump would be.
I call Bill into the room.
“I had a great dream last night. I was pregnant.”
He hugs me and smiles,
“What a happy dream.”

I’m grateful for you, my sweet, brave sister.
I’m grateful for all the lessons I’m learning from your journey to motherhood.
For the unexpected news you shared with us last summer.
For all that it broke open in me that I have worked so hard to suppress.
For the hope and excitement I now feel as I think about motherhood.
For taking me from fear to the possibility of life and love.
For unlocking my heart and its desire to be a mom.

Love,
Sissy

Sharing Our Stories: Our Vulnerabilities Are Fire

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I had the privilege of being part of a special event hosted by lululemon on Monday night.

Ten women from Baltimore’s health and wellness community, were invited to share our stories of courage, bravery, and vulnerability. Each of us connected our journey with a line or phrase from lululemon’s powerful poem, Enough Already.

The room was full of passionate, powerful women committed to making a difference in their communities and in the world around them. They are business owners, athletes, dancers, yogis, mothers, sisters, friends, and teachers.

I knew one friend was going to be sharing a deeply personal part of her story for the first time publicly, and my heart broke but also cheered for her in her moment of courage.

When we create safe, inviting spaces for each other to open up and be human without shame and judgment, we give each other permission to be brave. And so often we find freedom on the other side of vulnerability.

We spoke our truths and bared our souls.

We shared our stories of abuse, bullying, loss, pride, doubt, fear, worthiness, success, setbacks and shame.

We offered each other grace, forgiveness, love, support, and compassion.

We laughed together, cried together, and danced together.

We were courageous, brave and vulnerable.

We were human.

Shout out to the lululemon team, our awesome MC Nick Ehrlich, and the other women who spoke – Mimi Washington, Dani Yarusso, Michelle Stafford, Lola Manekin, Elyza Dolby, Ardyth Hall, Jennifer Lake, Esther Collinetti, and Jessica Klaitman

Sharing our stories is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with each other and shed light on the dark places in our lives we hope no one ever sees.

We are more than what we’ve done, more powerful than our past, and by grace we are renewed, redeemed and remade.

The band Tenth Avenue North sums up what I think all of us were feeling on Monday night in these lyrics from their song, “You Are More.”

What a relief, a message of hope that all of us need to hear and be reminded of regularly.

It’s tempting to allow our past to define us, to continue to judge ourselves for regrettable decisions we’ve made, or to keep going on the same guilt trip over and over again to atone for our mistakes and shortcomings.

But that is not how we are called to live.

We are called to live in boldness and to stand in the truth that we are never too far gone because there is no expiration date on grace. There is no limit on love.

The story I shared was rooted in the phrase, “My vulnerabilities are fire” from the Enough Already poem.

Being vulnerable, honest, and open has been key to my growth and healing, especially over the past year. I know some of you wanted to come but weren’t able to make it, so I uploaded the video to YouTube and included it here!

It was a powerful evening, one that required each of us to show up fully and to be present and real with each other.

I was struck by how unique each woman and her story was yet how similar our shared struggles are.

The overarching messages from that night are ones that many of us struggle to believe and embrace – that we are enough, that we are worthy, that there is enough room at the table for all of us.

That each of our unique gifts, contributions, and stories are needed in this world.

That all of us are called to shine.

That we burn brighter together than we do apart.

It’s time for more collaboration and less competition.
It’s time for us to rally around each other, not talk about each other.
It’s time for us to rise up together, not push each other down on our race to the top.
It’s time to believe the truth that we are worth it.
It’s time to believe that we are enough.

 

An Unexpected Gift: It Pays to Be Kind

Be kind. 
Whenever possible. 
(It’s always possible).

I’m intentional about being kind to people.

The more days I spend on this earth, the more I realize that everyone is struggling with something or hurting in some way. Each of us is doing the best we can with the skills, tools, and support available to us in the moment. Being kind to others is the least I can do to add goodness into the world and to make someone’s day a little brighter.

Recently, I was at a store in the mall buying a few Christmas gifts.  As I went to check out, I did what I always do and asked the cashier, “How is your day going?”

She paused, looked at me with a bit of surprise and responded, “Oh, uh, wow, thanks for asking. It’s going pretty well.”

I couldn’t help but think of how many people had purchased something that day without making eye contact with her or trying to engage with her in some way. I’ve heard stories of how brutal retail can be during the holidays, as stressed out and hurried customers make last-minute purchases. The least we can do is acknowledge another person’s humanity rather than looking at our cell phones as we check out. Make eye contact. Ask how he or she is doing. Be intentional about engaging with them.

Be kind.

You may find that sometimes, in the most unexpected ways, kindness pays you back.

An Unexpected Gift

Each winter, my husband Bill and I spend a few days in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a mini-vacation. We love to walk around the shops, go out to eat and wake up without an alarm. Sometimes we even walk on the beach in our sweats. I look forward to our time there each year.

This year, on our first night there, we decided to check out a new restaurant, Henlopen City Oyster House. I’ve had good experiences using yelp! and this place got 4.5 out of 5 stars from nearly 500 reviews, so I entered into the night optimistically. We were seated at a small, cozy table backing up to the front windows.

Within about ten minutes, an older couple sat down at the table next to us. Bill had ordered a winter mule, and I got my usual hot water and herbal tea. As Bill and I were waiting for our meals to come and enjoying a beet salad, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the couple next to us were both on their phones and not saying much to each other. I was being a bit judgmental, as if I’ve never been in that situation myself…

Our meal arrived, and I could see the couple checking out our plates, so I turned to them, smiled, and said, “He got the scallops, and I got the rockfish.” They appeared a bit flustered, as though I’d caught them in the act of cheating off a neighbor’s paper, but I love engaging with people in conversations about food. I’ve asked my neighbors countless times what they’ve ordered, if it looks good to me. It was my way of connecting to them and being friendly.

We told them it was our first time dining there and asked if they’d been before. It seemed they were regulars, as they knew several people in the restaurant, including the staff. They live in Philadelphia but have a place in Rehoboth. The man told us that they’d just spent a week with family, including a two-year-old and nine-month-old grandchildren, and commented how fun but tiring it can be when kids are that little. We said the same about out our two nieces and nephew. I have no idea how my sister-in-law does it! She’s like superwoman.

The man asked Bill what he did for work, and Bill told him he is an elementary school teacher. “I was, too,” the woman chimed in. “I taught middle school.” She interrupted herself and told us to enjoy our dinner, so we got back to our conversation.

The bulk of our dinner conversation centered on reflections from the year ending and planning for the year to come. I was feeling frustrated with myself for not giving more of my time to other people. I spent so much of this year focusing on myself and recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus that I’ve been feeling selfish and self-centered. I asked several questions over dinner:

  • How do I want to spend my time in service to other people in ways that require me to sacrifice in some way?
  • What do I so deeply care about that I want to devote my time and energy to it?
  • What really stirs my heart?

Bill reminded me that the couples connection and communication workshops we are going to facilitate is one way we’ll serve the people around us in 2018. We talked about being more intentional with our giving and reconsidering some of the causes we donate to financially, so we can feel more connected to what or whom we are supporting.

As we finished up dinner and were waiting for the waiter to bring us our check, he came back to our table empty-handed. He was standing behind Bill, facing me, as he bent down and quietly said, “Your check has been paid for.” 

“What?” I asked incredulously, looking at Bill, who was equally shocked.

Our waiter averted his eyes to the couple sitting next to us, smiled, and walked away. I turned to the couple.

“Seriously?! Thank you so much. That was so kind of you!”

They smiled humbly and said, “Merry Christmas. Pass it along to someone else. Enjoy your time in Rehoboth.”

My eyes welled up with tears, and I asked if I could give the woman a hug. Her eyes were a bit glassy, too, and she hugged me back. Her name was Jean, and her partner, Mike.

In all of our years of dining out together, something like this had never happened to us, especially not for a $100 tab.

We walked out to the car giggling like five-year-olds, still stunned by the generosity of two strangers. I was struggling to rationalize why they would have done what they did because we didn’t need it. We could have paid for our dinner. In his loving and gentle way, Bill reframed the situation for me, “We just spent our whole conversation talking about different ways we can give to other people. That was a reminder that it’s okay to receive sometimes, too.”

Receiving is a gift, too. It gives others the opportunity to bless us and bring us joy. It can be so hard to receive sometimes though, can’t it? Instead of trying to rationalize why someone is being kind or generous to us, what if we were to just receive their kindness as an act of love and simply say, “Thank you”?

Starting Your Day Intentionally

As we close out this year, I encourage you to look for ways in which you can be a blessing to someone else today and every day. It is in giving that we receive. Ask this question as you start your day, so you can begin to be more intentional with your time and resources, no matter how abundant or scarce they are:

How can I be a contribution today? 

And if prayer is part of your life, as it is mine, pray this prayer to start your day:

God, show me who you want me to bless today.
Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear the things you want me to see and hear. Help me to notice people.
Help me to give from what I have.
Help me to be kind.

For more on kindness and paying it forward, check out these past posts:

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to message me!

15 Inspiring Songs that Got Me Through 2017

As many of you know by now, 2017 was a challenging year for me – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I spent the first half of the year recovering from mono and started seeing an amazing counselor this summer, who has been helping me reframe my thoughts and get into a better place emotionally.

During the first half of 2017, in particular, when I was dealing with the worst of being sick, I felt alone, scared, overwhelmed, frustrated, and sad frequently. I would cry almost every day at some point because I didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling well, why I was feeling so low, and when I would feel better.

But there’s a silver lining to sickness and despair.

We realize we can’t power our way through it but need to tap into others and into a higher power in order to come out on the other side feeling a bit more whole and healed.

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5

One of the ways I felt supported, encouraged and loved during this year was through music. Music has always had a special place in my life. I spent hours of my childhood and adolescence belting out the likes of Amy Grant, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Shania Twain. I sang in gospel choir in college, and connected with my now husband over a piano in a church on our college campus. I’ve sung at one of my best friend’s weddings.

Music was a significant source of inspiration that picked up me when I was feeling desperate and alone this year. It inspired me and breathed life into me when I felt hopeless. The right song with the perfect lyrics came at just the moment, and I would often cry as it happened, feeling so seen and covered.

Music is powerful and can bring us through times of trial and tribulation. It has for me this year. Below are a few of the songs broke into my heart this year. They came on the radio (95.1 WRBS) or on Pandora at the exact moment I needed them. They gave me hope, comfort and life. I hope they do the same for you or someone you love. Share them with a friend or family member going through a tough time. You never know what song might touch their soul and bring them hope and healing.

Inspiring Songs that Got Me through 2017

They say it only takes a little faith
To move a mountain
Well good thing
A little faith is all I have, right now
But God, when You choose
To leave mountains unmovable
Oh give me the strength to be able to sing
It is well with my soul

You can’t add a single day by worrying
You’ll worry your life away
Oh don’t worry your life away
You can’t change a single thing by freaking out
It’s just gonna close you in
Oh don’t let the trouble win
You may feel alone
But you’re not on your own

He started something good and I’m gonna believe it
He started something good and He’s gonna complete it
So I’ll celebrate the truth
His work in me ain’t through
I’m just unfinished


Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I’m a mess and so are you
We’ve built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do

Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest


Just because you’re broken
Doesn’t mean you’re hopeless
Go ahead and turn the page
Don’t be afraid of better days
Put the past behind you
Grace has redefined you
You don’t have to stay this way

There’s a brokenness inside of you
There’s a wound that still reminds you
Of the fear, shame and rejection 
You have seen it, you have seen it
You know it’s time to get up
But your heart’s paralyzed, you’re so stuck
You’re past the point of trying again
You’re defeated, you’re defeated
But something inside you can’t deny
You hear the call of your creator
I made you for more, unlocked the door
I wanna restore your glory
So rise
Breaking the dark, piercing the night
You’re made to shine
An army of hope
Bringing the world
A radiant light
A radiant light
You were made to rise, rise

Oh, my soul
Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control
This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming
And no one would blame you, though
If you cried in private
If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows
No one will see, if you stop believing
Oh, my soul
You are not alone

On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain I didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley I know I am not alone

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain?
Did I cry these tears in vain?
I don’t want to live in fear
I want to trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

I know it’s all you’ve got to just, be strong
And it’s a fight just to keep it together, together
I know you think, that you are too far gone
But hope is never lost
Hope is never lost
Hold on, don’t let go
Hold on, don’t let go
Just take, one step, closer 
Put one foot in front of the other
You’ll, get through this 
Just follow the light in the darkness 
You’re gonna be ok   

Where were You?
When I had no one to turn to
You carried me through
On your shoulders, black and blue
I never knew
The footprints in the sand were You
Were You
One set of footprints, on a path I’d been on
Now I know they were Yours all along

Well I called your name a long time ago
And you sprung a well from a heart of stone
But I was careful then what I let you see
Only thought you wanted the best of me
The less I trust you, the less I grow
The more you love me, the more I know
I don’t have to be afraid to show all of me, all of me


But sometimes I still try to take control
Cause I get scared when I can’t see the end
And all You want from me is to let go
You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still


There is a wrestling in my heart and my mind
A disturbance and a tension I cannot seem to drive
And if I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear
To sit here in this silence and really hear You

What will You ask of me?
Will I listen to Your voice when You speak?

Help me to move, help me to see
Help me to do whatever You would ask of me
Help me to go, God help me to stay
I’m feeling so alone here
And I know that You’re faithful
But I can barely breathe
God help me

How about you? Are there any songs that have lifted you up and inspired you in times of difficulty, pain or suffering? I’d love to know! Feel free to share them below.

Nia: Reclaiming the Joy of Movement

We are born with an innate desire to move, to explore, and to find joy and freedom in our bodies.

We move for pleasure, responding to our body’s call to express and release itself through movement. As children, we climb, dance, skip, jump, twirl, and run. When I was younger, I played soccer and softball and loved jumping rope and roller skating.

Yet as we grow older, we become self-conscious, reserved and restricted, and even disconnected from our bodies. The idea of moving our bodies as freely as we once did when we were kids can trigger feelings of anxiety or fear of embarrassment or shame.

We stop moving in ways we enjoy and turn movement into a means to an end, usually so we can lose weight or tone up, especially for women.

Once I entered college, I opted for movement that would be a good calorie burn and keep me in shape. I took part in group exercise classes like spinning and boot camps, spent hours on treadmills and elliptical machines, and lifted weights. I convinced myself that the endorphin rush I felt at the end of the workout made it worthwhile, even if I didn’t look forward to class and was counting down the minutes until it was over..

About a decade ago, I was introduced to a form of movement that made me feel alive – Zumba, a choreographed, Latin-inspired dance class. The music brought me back to my semester abroad in Southern Spain, and the dance steps made me feel free, sexy and playful. Unfortunately, after a few years, my favorite Zumba instructors left my gym, and I found myself going to class less and less over time.

Then, about three years ago, I discovered Nia.

Nia is a sensory-based movement experience that blends 52 moves with movement forms from dance arts, martial arts and healing arts. Flexibility, agility, mobility, stability and strength are the five sensations at the foundation of Nia. The class empowers people of all shapes and sizes by connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit.

Lola Manekin, who married into the family of friends of my parents, tried to expose me to Nia at a time when I had no interest or openness to trying it. She’s from Brazil and learned at a young age to trust her body and its wisdom. Nia was a way for her to share that gift. Each time I saw her, she encouraged me to check out one of her Nia classes. I had no idea what Nia was, but when I looked up a class on YouTube to see what it was all about, I was further dissuaded from trying it.

“What are those people doing? They’re moving in all sorts of weird ways. No thanks. Not for me.”

I have a tendency to be tightly wound and a strong desire to be in control, and what I saw in the video challenged both of those inclinations. It almost seemed as though the people in the videos were too free.

Each time I ran into Lola, she would nudge me again to come to one of her classes…and I would politely decline, hoping she would eventually stop asking.

About three years ago, my friend Dori and I decided to try a Nia class. We’d been taking Zumba together for some time and were curious to see what this Nia thing was all about and if it was as great as Lola had said. We nervously entered the room on the first day of class, and were greeted by Alba, who welcomed us with enthusiasm, love and kindness. She assured us that there was no wrong way to do Nia and encouraged us to move our bodies in ways that felt good.

I don’t remember everything that happened in that class, but I do remember how it made me feel in my body and in my soul.

Open

Playful

Alive

Flowing

Free

Something in me was awakened.

I was invited to move my body without judging myself or worrying about how I looked.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

I was reminded of the joy of movement.

I continued taking classes and eventually found my way to one of Lola’s classes. After all of those years of nudging, I finally responded and realized why she had been so intentional about inviting me for so long.

Over the past three years, Nia has helped me reclaim the joy of movement. I regularly practice Nia at my favorite mind-body studio in Baltimore called Movement Lab.

Nia has given me permission to release, to move freely, and to connect with my body and embrace its desire to dance and play.

Nia is an invitation to shift from confinement to openness, from restriction to freedom, from judgment to joy. It helps me loosen up and not take myself so seriously. It makes me feel like a kid again.

Nia is about reconnecting with and loving my body rather than trying to shame it or fix it. As we find freedom and connection in our bodies, we experience freedom and connection in our minds as well. We open up to whatever it is our body is telling us it needs physically and emotionally in that moment – more flexibility, strength, agility or stability – and we respond.

Nia calls us to balance and embrace both our masculine and feminine energies. The masculine energy leads and gives; it is contracting and tight (think martial arts moves). Feminine energy receives and invites us to soften; it is expansive and fluid (think undulations and twirling).

For me and many others, Nia is the foundation of a community of people who love, support, and encourage each other. We come together in times of celebration and lift each other up in times of struggle.

This past year for my birthday, I invited friends to join me for a Nia class, and Lola was kind enough to put together a custom playlist with some of my favorites 90s hip-hop and pop music. It felt more like a dance party than a workout class. We had so much fun! At the end of class, Lola had everyone form a circle around me and sing Happy Birthday to me. I experienced a profound sense of gratitude and love that day as I joyfully danced my way into my 34th year of life.

What a joy.

What a life-giving gift.

Alba, thank you for creating such an open and inviting initial Nia experience for me, one that helped me overcome my reservations and explore freedom in my body.

Heather and Steph, thank you for the spaces you have created as Nia instructors to invite me to be myself and embrace my femininity.

Lola, thank you for how you lead and love. I’m so grateful to you for bringing Nia to Baltimore and for your vision to create Movement Lab, where we can move our bodies so freely and joyfully and reconnect with ourselves and each other. Thank you for being so intentional and insistent about inviting me to be part of such a special community.

Thank you all for helping me reclaim the joy of movement.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

If you want to join me for a Nia class, let me know, or check out Movement Lab’s schedule here. If you are outside of the Baltimore area, find a Nia class near you here.

Dig Deeper

This is Lola’s TED Talk about the joy of movement and her journey with Nia. She shares how she helps women in her community find balance, be authentic and celebrate themselves and one another through Nia.

My friend, Heather Huddleston, also did a TED Talk about her experience with Nia and how transformative and healing it has been for her. She suffered from painfully paralyzing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that overtook her body. After seeking answers and healing from a number of other modalities, she discovered Nia and has since found freedom from years of pain.

 

Unassigned: On Letting Go of Relationships

A few years ago, I let go of something.

A relationship, a friendship that had lasted 17 years.

But instead of feeling bitter about it, I’m grateful for what that relationship was in my life.

To everything, there is a season.

But why is it so hard for us to let go of relationships that once meant something to us but no longer do?

We often hold on to them when we should let them go.

All of us have been wounded in relationship. We’ve been wounded in childhood, as adolescents, and as adults. We’ve been wounded by relatives, classmates, teachers, and friends. Despite these wounds, sometimes we have trouble letting go of or releasing relationships, even if they are no longer serving us. We allow our fear of disappointing people to override our desire to release relationships that are no longer healthy.

But letting go is difficult.

Being connected is core to our very nature and necessary for our survival. Maybe that’s why the thought of disconnection, of letting go is so frightening and painful.  I love what Brene Brown has to say about the power of connection:

I longed to feel connected from the time I was a young girl, but I struggled. My parents were going through a rough patch in their marriage when I was at the highly malleable age of five. They separated briefly. It affected me. I feared rejection and being a burden or disappointment to people.

As a kid, I was content to spend time alone and loved to read, write and make up my own activities. I did have friends, but I was never one to have a “group” of friends until I was in high school. I was excluded by and emotionally wounded by several of my peers, especially throughout grade school, and those wounds further reinforced my fear of rejection.

Although I didn’t really have groups of friends, I can remember at each point in my life who my “best” friend was, and that really mattered to me; it made me feel special and wanted.

I chose to let go of one of those friendships a few years ago.

The turning point for me happened on my wedding day when a member of the bridal party gave a speech that felt more like a roast than a tribute. I was mortified, humiliated, angry, and sad. I didn’t know what to do but smile through it, masking how I was truly feeling in the moment. Afterwards, the wife of one of our groomsmen said, “If that happened at my wedding, I would have taken the microphone out of her hand.” 

Ouch.

I carried the pain of that moment with me for months but knew that I had to forgive her, so I could move on with my life. We ended up talking a few months later and exchanged tears in the process. She apologized and said she never intended to hurt me. I believed her, but the conversation made me realize how far apart we’d grown and how little we knew each other. Though we tried to resolve what happened, I ultimately made the decision to move on from the friendship.

The truth is, we’d been drifting apart since starting college. We were friends with the history of our friendship but didn’t really know each other as adults. We had taken different paths. Ever since that time, I’ve wrestled with losing that friendship and still think about it from time to time.

About a year ago, I was reading the book A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson and landed on these words:

Relationships are assignments.

Hmmm…assignments?

Yes, relationships are meant to teach us something.

We come together in relationship to teach and learn lessons that will help us grow and become more of who we are meant to be.

Maybe my relationship with that friend was over, and it wasn’t something to mourn but something to celebrate.

The Three Levels of Relationship

Williamson writes that relationships have varying levels of duration – brief, sustained, and life-long.

Some are chance encounters, brief interactions with people we do or don’t know. Think of two strangers who meet in line at the store or on an elevator; your interaction with a waiter at a restaurant; the cashier at Target. How we treat people in those brief encounters matters and is often an indication of how we will treat people in more intense relationships. If we treat strangers with unkindness or impatience, it’s likely that those negative behaviors will be magnified in more long-term relationships. The second level of teaching is where we’re going to camp out today, so I’ll come back to it in just a moment.

The third level of teaching is characterized by life-long relationships. The presence of these people in our lives forces us to grow, but “just because someone has a lot to teach us, doesn’t mean we like them.” We can learn more about our own capacity to love in the midst of discomfort or in the face of seemingly irreconcilable differences than we do when we are comfortable and go unchallenged. Think about relationships that may be a thorn in your side but have taught you lessons about life, growth, other people and yourself.

Williamson describes the second level of teaching as:

A more sustained relationship in which, for a time, two people enter into a fairly intense teaching-learning relationship situation and then appear to separate.

Think of the friendships from different points in your life. Bring to mind the people you have called friends or partners, even family members, who are no longer part of your life. Sometimes we struggle with how to talk about those relationships without bitterness. If we can come to see them as an assignment, perhaps we can appreciate them for what they were, even if they are no longer part of our lives. And, who knows? Maybe they are meant to return to our lives at some point.

What if I could view the relationship I had with that friend differently and appreciate it for all that it taught me and all that it meant to me? As I reflect back on my friend, here’s what I want to remember:

  • She loved my family. She thought my little sister, Jane, was the coolest and funniest kid and appreciated my brother in ways I didn’t. She went on vacations with us and bought my sister her very first Halloween costume. She was one of my few friends who spent time at my house and actually got to know my family.
  • She gave me permission to be playful and to not take myself so seriously. She laughed a lot and loved to make people laugh, and so did her family. We would sometimes tape improv skits at her house, and we played lots of games. Very few people in my life invited me to let loose and have fun the way she and her family did.
  • She welcomed me into her family as one of her own. I felt at home at her house. I got hugs and kisses from her aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins and was invited to family parties and other big events. Her younger cousin had a crush on me and got me a plastic, blue heart-shaped ring as a sign of his affection. He gave me the nickname, “Blue Girl” and that is how my first AOL screen name, Bluegrl834, came to be.
  • She was with me for special moments. She was there for my high school ring day, graduation and birthday parties, and for the not so happy times. She was there the day I found out mom’s mom died and the day my parents called me to tell me that my favorite pet, a guinea pig named Wendy, had passed away. I so vividly remember both of those moments and how she was there.
  • She shared my love of all things sentimental. She would give me homemade gifts, heartfelt letters, and those books from the Hallmark store that most people flip through but never buy. I still have them in my bookcase. She knew that personalized gifts meant a lot to me, and she honored that. I’ve held onto many of those gifts, letters, cards and books.

Shifting my perspective about our friendship from one of bitterness and anger to one of acceptance and appreciation has given me a sense of peace about it.

Williamson closes out her insights about these “level two” relationships in A Return to Love:

During their time together, they will go through whatever experiences provide them with their next lessons to be learned […] what then appears to be the end of the relationship however, is not really an end.

Relationships are eternal.

What a hopeful perspective.

As I sit here and write this, I’m even thinking I may end up reaching out to her to see how she is doing. I’m not sure what will happen, but it’s possible. We may not talk anymore or even see each other again, but the impact of that relationship on my life is eternal regardless of what happens in the future.

Shifting Our Perspective

Here’s my question for you.

What if you were to view your relationships as assignments?

What if the people in our lives are “assigned” to be with us for a certain period of time until we learn what we are meant to learn from them before we can release them for their next assignment?

Are you holding on to a relationship, a person whose assignment is over, but you are refusing to let them go?

Have you considered that, in order for this person to be freed up for their next assignment and for YOU to be freed up to receive future assignments, you may have to release the relationship?

IT’S NOT EASY, but neither is being a relationship that is bringing you down, triggering anxiety or wounding you.

Here are some steps to take to begin this process:

  1. Think of a relationship in your life that you’d like to release, a person whose assignment in your life you think has ended. Some signs of this are: when this person calls, I cringe because all they do is talk about themselves; they’ve hurt you in the past and have refused to ask for forgiveness and just make excuses when you tell them how they hurt you; they make you feel less about yourself; you find yourself making excuses to avoid spending time with them; they constantly one up you out of their own insecurities, and you’re exhausted by it.
  2. Reflect back on the challenges that relationship has presented and consider any lessons learned or gifts it has given you. Make a list of both. A little prayer I like to think to myself in this moment is, “God, help me to see what I’m not seeing. Help me see this person as you do.”
  3. Forgive the person for any wrongdoing. THIS IS THE HARDEST PART. Forgiving them means releasing yourself from the desire to see any harm or ill will come to them. It doesn’t mean you trust or want to talk to or see them again, but it does mean that you have the choice to release yourself from bitterness and resentment.

If this person is still a part of your life, I’d suggest doing a few things. Give it to God and wait for wisdom. “God, I’m not sure what is going in this relationship, but I trust that you do. Show me the next step to take and give me the courage to take action.” You can let the drifting apart continue and not initiate any further conversations or get togethers. If the person does call you and you want to make a move, let them know you’ve spent time reflecting on your relationship and its future. Share with them what you appreciate about the relationship and any lessons you’ve learned but that you see the two of you moving in different directions and wish them well. You can’t control how they respond, and it will likely feel pretty awkward, but for your own well-being and sanity, you may need to take a step like this.

Consider that your fear of how the conversation will go will likely be more dramatic than how it actually does go.

Consider that this person may still have lessons to teach you and “goodbye” may not be forever…or maybe it will be.

Remember, for life-long assignments, you may not like the person but may need to remain open to whatever lessons you may still need to learn from the relationship. We might classify some of these people as EGRs – Extra Grace Required – and part of our growth might come from staying in it with them even when it is uncomfortable.

Relationships are complex, but quality relationships are at the core of a healthy, happy life. The people who are happiest, healthiest and live the longest are the ones with the best quality relationships rooted in vulnerability, honesty, love, care, and kindness.

My hope is that this reflection gives you the courage to take a necessary step in a relationship in your life that has been troubling you. At the very least, I hope it gives you pause to consider that you are worthy of relationships that lift you up, lovingly challenge you to grow and learn, and invite you to become more of who you are meant to be rather than holding you back.

The Gift of Sickness: How EBV Changed My Life

Most people would not think of sickness as a gift.

When we’re sick, we tend to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, confused and irritable. Most people would hardly call those feelings “gifts,” but I’ve learned that some gifts come in unexpected packages. Sometimes we’re given gifts that we would have never asked for that end up being more valuable than the thing we thought we wanted.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been through a journey with sickness that I’ve shared little about with you. I’ve continued posting recipes and tips and tricks all while going through an incredibly challenging time with my body and my spirit.

It’s time to share what I’ve been going through and learning in the process of this time of transformation and growth. My wish is that you find hope for your own situation in the midst of mine. When we are honest and vulnerable about our own struggles, we invite other people to be honest about theirs.

Gift #1: Pain is the body’s way of bringing us back to the present; it grabs our attention.

It was Valentine’s Day 2017.

Instead of enjoying a romantic dinner with my husband, I’d been home sick all day and was at the doctor’s office feeling depleted, exhausted and in pain, so tired I felt like I was going to pass out.

It was the fourth time in four months that I’d been sick for a week at a time with symptoms of fatigue, pain in my throat, swollen lymph nodes, and listlessness. I just didn’t feel like myself. My voice was always one of the first things to go as a result of each bout of illness, which was problematic, considering how much of my time I spend speaking, presenting and consulting. I love to sing, too, and I hadn’t been able to do that joyfully and fully for months. I couldn’t seem to get to the root of why I kept getting sick.

I felt isolated, alone, defeated and scared. 

I sat next to my husband, Bill, and across from Dr. Bill Rollow, an M.D. trained in integrative medicine, who has become my parents’ doctor and mine in recent years. He understands how the body operates as an interconnected system rather than a set of disconnected symptoms. He approaches his patients with an abundance of gentleness, kindness and love and seeks to identify the root cause of why someone isn’t well.

As I was lamenting how awful I felt – sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, low energy, malaise, a cough, congestion – Dr. Rollow asked me:

“Would you say this is the result of pressures from the outside and work, or would you say that it’s more self-inflicted?”

Without hesitation and with a great deal of conviction, I knew the answer:

“Oh, it’s totally self-inflicted. 

I do this to myself.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks, as I sat in a state of sheer desperation, realizing how much of what I was experiencing was brought on by my own demands. It was my relentless drive to achieve, succeed, and be perceived as worthy and valued throughout school and in my career that brought me to this point of exhaustion.

A lifetime of striving, proving, achieving, and performing.

My body and soul were tired.

We talked candidly about how I would have to decide that I wanted my life to look differently if I wanted to feel differently. I would have to change some things if I wanted to start feeling better and heal emotionally and physically. I had to be honest about how much I tend to set my personal needs and health aside for the sake of my career and my desire to get ahead.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rollow said he was going to test me for Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was. I’ve come to learn that EBV is an acute form of mono that many people have in their bodies but that does not often manifest full blown. It tends to be brought on by prolonged stress and other hormonal changes. It’s more likely to occur in an immunocompromised person. I fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve learned that many doctors don’t think to test for EBV right away and often test patients for things like Lyme disease, lupus, and mono when they have symptoms like mine. Fortunately for me, Dr. Rollow knew better. When the lab results came back, it turned out his suspicions where confirmed; all of my EBV antibodies were elevated.

Each month when the virus reactivated, I would get more and more dejected and distressed. I felt like my body was betraying me again, as it had for much of my life with chronic ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, bronchitis, acid reflux, and amenorrhea.

What was going on?

Will I ever feel better or like myself again?

Why was this happening to me?

I’m supposed to be the healthy one.

In the midst of my desperation, I was given the gift of hope.

Within a week or so of receiving the news about Epstein-Barr, I received an email from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who has helped my body heal from years of other dysfunctions and ailments. She is finishing her PhD in Functional Nutrition and sent this email to her email list serve on February 28th.

No way. 

I couldn’t believe it.

She’d picked Epstein-Barr Virus.

“Here’s your sign, Rachel.”

Suddenly, I had hope.

As I’ve shared before, Kasia has been instrumental in my healing journey and has given me hope before. I immediately reached out to her to let her know I had the virus she was studying and had no idea what to do about it. She was eager to help.

As I began working with her, I learned what a nasty virus EBV is and how it ravages your immune system and can wreak havoc on your neurological system as well, left unchecked. In my case, it camped out in my throat, which was a primary cause of losing my voice. I learned that stress and hormonal changes trigger reactivation of the virus, which meant I’d have to make some lifestyle changes and reprioritize sleep, friendships and aspects of my job. I added in even more nutrient-rich foods to my diet and started taking about a dozen different supplements to restore my immune system and fight the virus (I’ll share more about that later!).

Within a week of treatment, I felt like a switch had been flipped and started to feel energized again. It was amazing how quickly my body responded.

Sickness was my body’s way of saying, “Hey, listen up. Something’s not working here. Pay attention.”

Gift #2: We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

The more I reflected on why I’d gotten to this point, the more I realized this virus was a symptom of a deep-seated issue. Growing up, I felt like I had very little social value and worth in my peer groups, so I sought my worth in other places and found it in achievement.

If they wouldn’t embrace me socially, surely they’d find value in what I could bring to the table by being smart. It was hard for me to see how I brought value if I wasn’t being useful to someone in some way. The idea that just being me and not doing anything to earn acceptance was foreign to me. I pushed myself academically and made sure I was always performing at the highest level.

I’d show them I was worthy of attention by achieving. 

As soon as school ended, I sought the same validation in my career. I pushed myself to be a leader in my field, to create and design new initiatives, to build my job from scratch, with little to no model for how to do that. And I did. I’ve won awards and received national accolades for my work. The satisfaction that followed was always temporary and just another opportunity for me to up the ante on myself.

C’mon, Rachel. What’s next?

Don’t settle. Don’t get complacent.

You might be outdone. You’ll be forgotten.

I put work ahead of everything else, partly because I love what I do, but also because I wanted to keep “winning” in my career. I wanted to keep showing everyone how worthy I was of attention, praise and love.

I pushed and achieved my way right into sickness.

But instead of resenting it, I’ve come to embrace what this time of healing is teaching me.

Getting sick in that way made me realize the way I was living wasn’t working. Something had to change.

I had a lot of time to reflect, think, read and write during the weeks I was home sick. That alone was a gift. But, more than anything, this journey is teaching me that I maintaining my former way of living is not sustainable and that I don’t have to do this on my own.

Instead of trying to conquer this challenge by myself, I’ve sought support and help, not only from my nutritionist but also from my workplace, the Baltimore health community, and my church. I’ve had people praying for my health and healing each week and checking in on my regularly. I talked to my boss and explained what was happening, and he supported me in setting healthier boundaries at work and getting support.

I’m spending more time talking and hanging out with my friends and am fostering new relationships. I have more community and a stronger support network around me now than I’ve ever had before. I’ve come to realize how lonely life would be with lots of professional success and no friends to share life with, but that’s the path I was on, blinded by my own ego.

Seeking growth and opportunities to challenge myself are hardwired into who I am, and I know I will continue to pursue excellence in my career, but not at the expense of my health and relationships. I’ve learned two lessons in the midst of this healing time:

Connection is more important than all of our success.

Gift #3: Transformation happens when I’m not in charge.

This has been an incredibly humbling time for me. My EBV journey has reminded me who is in charge of and in control of my life – God, not me. It’s like I was playing God, thinking I could run the show and fix any issues that arose by myself.

I don’t need help.

I’ll hold the world on my shoulders.

I can do it ALL.

But I can’t, and no one ever asked me to.

I remember back in November when I first started experiencing symptoms of fatigue and a recurrence of vocal strain. I was so frustrated. I was talking with my friend, Heather, and she said something so profound that I will never forget:

“Maybe there’s something you need to hear, but you need to be quiet enough to hear it.”

Oh.

In the midst of my constant striving and busyness, I didn’t leave any room for quiet.

Maybe losing my voice had a purpose other than frustrating me. Maybe being forced to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing had a purpose. Maybe there was something I needed to hear; maybe someone was trying desperately to get my attention – God, friends, family, my body – but I was so busy being important that I missed it.

For years, I had ignored the voice beckoning to me to “SLOW DOWN” and “BE STILL.” Just yesterday, I heard the song, “Still” three times on Pandora Radio.

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still

Being quiet and sitting in the unknown is so challenging for me, but I know it’s one of the gifts EBV has given me, and for that I’m grateful. It has given me the time and space to be transformed, initially against my will, but now for what I know is my greater good.

I feel like I’m more supported and loved than ever before. I am not in this alone. All of the frustration, overwhelm and pain were not without a purpose. In fact, I’ve already met several people who have told me they or someone they know is struggling with Epstein-Barr, and they don’t know what to do about it.

At the very least, perhaps I can offer them some of the perspective I’ve gained and the hope I’ve experienced.

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom passed on to me by my friend, Stef, about finding purpose in the midst of the pain:

Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions {And Do This!}

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s Resolutions.

The idea that a simple date change could be a powerful motivator just never made much sense to me. It seemed to be an excuse to “let go” from October through December, only to return to taking care of ourselves in January. And it was clear that most people’s resolutions failed by February anyway, which served to demotivate them to make any further changes and then commit to trying it all over again the following year.

If we don’t make resolutions, what do we do instead?

Two years ago, I was in a bookstore in an eclectic neighborhood in Baltimore and was drawn to the cover on one of the books. I started reading the first few pages and was intrigued.

Instead of making an uninspired (and, often overwhelming) “to do” list at the turn of each new year, the author suggested we identify how we want to FEEL. Then, get curious about what we’d have to do to feel that way and do that more often.

The process of doing this is what Danielle LaPorte, author of The Desire Map, calls declaring our “core desired feelings.”

How do you want to FEEL?

It seemed simple enough and made sense to me, so I decided to give it a try. My husband joined me along the journey.

Over the past two years, I’ve wanted to feel RADIANT, WORTHY, CONNECTED, FLOWINGCLEAR, ABUNDANT, and FREE.

As a result, I started to think about what would make me feel that way. From the incredible communities I’ve joined, I’ve received connection, reminders of my worthiness, and permission to radiate.

I’ve met and aligned with dozens of incredible professionals in my field, and we are collectively bringing kindness, health and wellbeing to the workforce. I’ve been drawn to new friendships and communities of women that make me feel loved and safe. My husband and I found a new small group to join through our church and have made new friendships through that as well. I’ve become part of an incredible community of women and men committed to finding joy and freedom through movement at Movement Lab in Baltimore.

With some of the awesome people from Movement Lab. I am on a trampoline in the back left!

I’ve pursued and have been given countless opportunities to radiate, get in flow, and connect with people by speaking to organizations, human resources professionals, my church community, and the public through presentations, retreats, and cooking demonstrations. I received recognition from a national organization that identified me at the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. from a pool of over 200 of my peers and was invited to speak at a national conference last spring. I’ve become a recognized expert in my field and in my community and am grateful to be in a position of leadership.

I started to feel how I wanted to feel, and what I was hoping would happen did. I received infinitely more than I had imagined was possible. 

My husband, Bill, declared ENERGIZED, MOTIVATED and ACCOMPLISHED as his core desired feelings. He said he wanted to spend more intentional time with a group of guys from our church, who are honest, supportive, fun, and willing to be open. They meet on a monthly basis and get together in between to play and watch sports, grab a beer, or share a meal.

Bill said that training for and completing a triathlon would help him feel how he wanted to feel, too, so, he committed to doing that as well. In July of 2016, he became an Ironman after completing a grueling 140.6-mile course of swimming, biking and running in Lake Placid, New York.

Yesterday, he and I continued our New Year’s Day tradition of reflecting on the moments and memories of the previous year and identify our core desired feelings.

Throughout the year, we write these memories on little pieces of paper and put them in a glass jar that we empty out on New Year’s Day. We write all of them down in a journal and then add any others that we forgot to record. Finishing graduate school, paying off our student loans, Bill completing the Ironman, having my articles published in mindbodygreen, welcoming the births of our friends’ babies, renovating our kitchen, and reminiscing about the trips we took.

We take time to celebrate all that happened and reflect on the memorable moments that were sad as well. We think about what we are leaving behind in 2016 and not taking into 2017, what we are letting go and releasing.

And we identify how we want to feel in the coming year.

Bill wants to feel FREE, SECURE and COURAGEOUS. His desires are getting stronger and more specific. I’m excited to see what the year will bring him and to witness the growth he will experience as a result of shaping the year around generating those feelings.

My feelings have changed a bit this year, but some have remained the same.

I was seeing a therapist earlier this year, and one of the questions she asked me was to think about what I would want to tell my 10-year-old self, if I had the chance to go back and talk to her.

I paused. My lip quivered, as tears began rolling down my cheeks.

“Play,” I answered. “I would tell her to play more.”

For much of my life, I’ve taken things too seriously, been embarrassed by and uncomfortable with silliness, focused too much on striving and doing and not enough on just living and being. I haven’t made playfulness a priority.

But we are not called to take ourselves so seriously or treat ourselves so harshly. We are called to be childlike, to be humble, curious, and dependent on others and on God, a higher power than us. In today’s society, it’s easy to ignore that, to let pride rule, to think we know it all, and to convince ourselves that we can do everything on our own and be self-sufficient. But that is not how we were meant to live.

I feel PLAYFUL when I’m dancing, doing Nia and AntiGravity, playing games, spending time with little kids, being silly with Bill, getting surprise gifts for people, going on travel and food adventures to new places, blowing bubbles, jumping on a trampoline, skipping, walking on the beach, splashing in the water, hanging out with playful people, and laughing until it hurts.

I feel FREE and OPEN when I’m speaking my truth, as I’m doing here. I feel free and open when I dance, speak, present, teach, leave cushion in my schedule, spend time with friends who love and celebrate me, dream about the future, offer grace, forgive, overcome fears, go for a run on a beautiful day, spend time in nature, hike, give of our finances, and declutter my physical space.

I feel RADIANT when I present about a topic that I’m passionate about, write and speak from my soul, dance and twirl like a joyful little girl, wear a brightly colored outfit, serve others, and share my story and invite others to share theirs.

I feel DEEPLY CONNECTED when I spend undistracted (i.e., iPhoneless), quality time with people I love, have phone calls or meet-ups with close friends, go away on retreats and have time to reflect, go on getaways to new places with my husband, grab a meal with a friend, or have a soul-baring conversation with someone who trusts me and feels safe enough to share with me.

That’s how I want to feel this year. PLAYFUL, OPEN, FREE, RADIANT, and DEEPLY CONNECTED.

Now, it’s your turn. Ditch your New Year’s Resolutions, and do this instead.

  1. Ask yourself how you want to feel in 2017. If you need help with ideas, click here.
  2. Decide what you’ll do to generate those feelings. What do you do or can you do to make yourself feel that way? Refer to my lists above for some ideas.
  3. If you want to create one of the cool word picture images like the one you see above, download the free Word Swag app here. If you do, post it in my Facebook page and/or tag @RachelsNourishingKitchen on Instagram! I’d love to see what you create.

I wish you joy, peace, happiness, and love in 2017! Thank you for being a part of this community and for allowing me to be so open. I’m grateful for you!

Want a video summary of our New Year’s tradition? Check out my video below.

Letting Go of the Lies and Finding Freedom

For most of my life, I’ve resisted anything that made me feel free.

Riding a bike.
Swinging on a swing.
Singing in public.
Physical intimacy.
Roller coasters.
Skiing.
Dancing.

Being free meant not having control. It meant releasing and receiving rather than holding on and restraining. Freedom was unpredictable and unsafe. It couldn’t be trusted. It might hurt me, embarrass me, reject me.

I didn’t know how to be free.

I learned at a young age how important it was to be the good girl, to follow the rules, to do as I was told, and to not rock the boat. I grew up in a somewhat tense environment, as my parents were going through what ended up being a brief separation when I was in kindergarten. My brother responded to the tension by becoming the diffusing bomb, trying to distract my parents from their own dysfunction and turning their focus onto him. I found protection in controlling things, so I became The Golden Child. I was good at being good.

But in the process, I found myself being bound by lies about who I was and what I could and couldn’t do throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

It’s easier for us to hold onto the lies we’ve believed for so long rather than embracing the truth about who we are. But the lies are relentless, and they come from everywhere.

Family.
Friends.
Classmates.
Teachers.
Coworkers.
Bosses.
Society.
Ourselves.

Lies that we are not smart, talented, popular, artistic, creative, musical, athletic, sophisticated, funny, coordinated, attractive, or good enough.

Lies that we can’t do something, won’t amount to anything, or will end up a failure.

Lies that no one will love us or want us. Lies that we will be too much.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

These lies limit us, hold us back, keep us small.

“Who do you think you are?” they ask, mocking us and our attempts to do whatever great thing we are meant to do in this world.

For most of my life, I’ve believed these lies. I’ve let them define me, limit me, hold me back, and keep me small. It pains me to admit it, but I know we find healing in sharing our truths, so here are just a few of the lies that have followed me throughout my life. Perhaps you can relate.

“They don’t want to be your friend. That’s why you don’t get invited to parties everyone else gets invited to, Rachel. That’s why they didn’t ask you to go to the movies with them. That’s why they didn’t invite you to lunch on your birthday. They don’t really like you.”

“Be careful, Rachel. You’ll hurt yourself. Don’t you know you can’t trust your body? It’s betrayed you before. It’ll betray you again. It can’t be trusted.”

“What if your voice cracks or doesn’t sound good? Oh, that would be so embarrassing. Don’t even bother singing. It’s not worth the risk.”

“You like him? Forget it. He’s too cool for you. You’re not popular or fun enough. You’ll scare him off or intimidate him. He won’t be interested.”

“Seriously? Purple shoes? Peacock print yoga pants? Magenta, yellow and orange blazers? You can’t pull that off. Stick to your pastels and khakis. Play it safe.”

“Don’t be too successful, Rachel. If you are, people will resent you. They’ll envy you. They’ll be nice to your face but secretly judge you and talk about you behind your back. They’ll be waiting for you to fail.”

I’ve given these lies space in my mind and in my soul and have let them overwhelm and debilitate me under the guise of protection.

“I’m just looking out for you,” they say. “I know what’s best. I just don’t want you to get hurt or make a fool of yourself. Listen to me, and you’ll be safe.”

In keeping us “safe,” these lies also keep us from living fully, speaking our truth, and authentically showing up to be who we are called to be. Yet, we continue to give these lies power and authority over our lives when all we really want is to be free.

Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been challenging my fears, questioning the lies I’ve believed for so long.

What if they’re not true?

What if “they” do want to be my friend? What if they’ve been my friend for years, but I’ve missed it because I keep retelling myself lies from childhood, something that is no longer my reality?

What if I gave myself permission to trust my body and gave it the chance to experience judgment-free, joyful movement?

What if putting my voice out there moves someone and touches a deep part of their soul? What if it is worth the risk?

What if he is interested? What if he loves the very things I don’t love or accept about myself?

What if I can confidently rock the purple peacock pants and hot pink blazers?

What if people want to see me succeed and would be there to lift me up if I failed?

What if those are the truth?

When we challenge the lies, they lose power. But we have to decide to do that. We have two choices.

Letting go means being free and releasing that which is not serving us, even if it scares us to do that.

By “letting go” I don’t mean “giving up” or being reckless and not caring about our decisions. I’m talking about releasing everything you’re trying so desperately to control for fear that something awful will happen if you’re not controlling it.

It’s exhausting to hold on to so much all the time.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but I find that when God wants me to hear a message, anything and anyone can be used to convey that message to me. Throughout 2016, this message has been, “Let go. Release. Be free. Fly.”

About a week or so ago, I was at Marshall’s doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and came across this mug.

I knew I was meant to see it. I bought one for myself and my mom, so we have a constant reminder about the truth that we are meant to be free.

Since the spring, I’ve been bombarded by another symbol of freedom everywhere I go – butterflies.

I was having a rough week at work and found this mug on my desk, unwrapped, with the words in plain sight.

I asked a dozen coworkers if they’d given it to me, but no one owned up to it. I still have no idea who gave it to me. Maybe I never will.

A few months later, while I was walking on a beach in Oregon with my husband, I asked for a sign and waited for a response.

Minutes later, I saw this.

Earlier this year, I was preparing for a presentation about goal setting with my dad, and we were talking about transformation. He explained to me what happens when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

As the lowly caterpillar or larva goes through a process of metamorphosis, something remarkable happens. Most of the tissues and cells that make up the larva are broken down, and that material is rebuilt into the adult version – the butterfly.

As the butterfly approaches its moment of release and freedom, when it will finally be able to fly, its wings are pushing, pushing, pushing against the inside of the pupa. It’s that pushing motion that strengthens the butterfly’s wings, so that when it is ready to emerge, it is able to fly. If we were to take a pair of scissors or a knife and slit open that cocoon prematurely, before the butterfly was ready, it wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.

It is strengthened by its struggle, and then it is free to fly.

And so are we.

Butterflies invite us to be free. To open up. To spread our wings.

“Be free, Rachel,” they beckon. “Let go. Release what is not serving you, especially the lies. They are holding you back, limiting you, and keeping you from the fullness of what is intended for your life.”

Just three days ago, I came across this plaque at a gift shop in Rehoboth Beach and knew in an instant I was meant to see it.

Choosing to be free is an act of courage. 

This is particularly true when it comes to our bodies. One of the lingering lies I’ve been challenging and attempting to overcome is around what my body is capable of doing physically. I’ve never been a risk taker, unlike my husband, who did flips off couches as a four-year-old, has been skydiving, and recreated his own version of Jackass as a teenager. He struggled to find freedom expressing his thoughts and feelings, so he sought it in movement. He let go and found release physically.

The opposite has been true for me. But, over the past year, I’ve been finding more freedom in my body than ever before through Nia, and, most recently, AntiGravity fitness at Movement Lab in Baltimore. Nia calls us to find what feels good in our body and to move freely, playfully and without judgment.

AntiGravity invites us to trust our body and the hammock enough, so we can let go. I took a class in the springtime but had been too scared to take another since. Turning upside down and hanging from the ceiling felt too free to me, and I resisted anything that made me feel free. After talking to the instructor, Heather, who has become a friend, I decided I’d give it another try.

As we were warming up for class, Heather reminded us of the words of AntiGravity founder, Christopher Harrison:

When you open up space in the body, you open up space in the mind.

Open up. Be free

So many times during class today we had to physically let go – hang from the ceiling, fly into the air, flip ourselves out of a seated position.

My hands would get sweaty.
Fear would creep in.
Would I lose my grip?

The lies would rear their ugly little heads.

“See, I told you you can’t do it. It’s too scary, isn’t it? You’re not going to be able to get out of this inversion. You’re going to fall right out of the hammock and hurt yourself. You should’ve stayed home.”

But, in those moments, we can stop fear in its tracks by responding with truth. “NO. You’re a liar. You have no authority over me. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. I trust.

And with that, I released.
Exhaled.
Let go.

Fear only has power if we give it power. And freedom is on the other side of our fears. We are not called to live our lives ruled by fear.

We are called to live in freedom, to experience joy and love and grace.

As we enter into a new year, I invite you on this journey with me, a journey of facing our fears, challenging them, and letting them go. A journey to seek the truth about who we are.

To remind ourselves that we are loved.
Enough.
Free.

If you want to go deeper in this experience with your own life, spend a few minutes thinking about and jotting down the answers to these reflection questions. Allow whatever comes up to come out. Be okay with not knowing the answers, but commit to being open to them when they do come to you.

  1. What lies have you believed about who you are or what you are or aren’t capable of doing?
  2. In what ways have these lies held you back in your life?
  3. How would your life be different if you didn’t believe these lies? What would it look like? What would you feel like? How would this impact the people around you?
  4. What are five to ten things that are TRUE about you? (Try finishing statements like, “I am…” “I can…”)
  5. What is one thing you could do physically to open yourself up emotionally in the next 30 days?

Thank you for giving me this space. A space to be vulnerable. A space to be real. A space to speak my truth. My hope is that it invites you to do the same for yourself and those around you.

Let’s make 2017 the year of finding freedom, letting go, and living fully.

This post is dedicated to my friend Tori, who has always believed in and loved me for who I really am. It was her comment to me several months ago, as I was doubting myself, that prompted me to write this post: “I hope one day you’ll see yourself as the beautiful, bold, courageous woman everyone else knows you to be.”

My Dad, My Hero: 6 Lessons that Have Shaped My Life

While I write mostly about food on this blog, I also recognize the importance of taking a more holistic approach to life. Nourishment isn’t just about food. One of the most important ways we nourish ourselves is by how and what we think.

Being raised by two entrepreneurs who have been married for almost 36 years has given me unique insights into what working, living and loving can look like. They’ve shaped how I think and have encouraged me to think differently, to dream of what is possible.

My dad, in particular, has influenced me and served as one of my greatest mentors. With Father’s Day approaching, I thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate who he is in my life and to share with you lessons I’ve learned from him.  dad-me-kid

He has taught me so much about pursuing work that I love, treating people with kindness, and dreaming big.

I spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned from him, and I want to share those lessons with you – advice from my dad. Dad + advice = DAdvice 🙂

#1 Challenge Yourself

“Do something every year that scares the crap out of you.”

It’s one of the phrases I’ve heard my dad say more times than I can count. He practices what he preaches.

He celebrated his 66th birthday earlier this month by competing in the Raleigh Half Ironman triathlon. That’s a 1.2-mile swim in a lake (that was 81 degrees!) followed by a 56-mile bike ride and finished off with a 13.1-mile run. The very thought of those distances would be enough to discourage and intimidate most people, but my dad embraces races like these. dad-swim-run

As a 5-time Lake Placid Ironman finisher (2.4 miles, 112 miles, 26.2 miles), who is now training for his sixth race with my husband, who will be doing his first, my dad shows me and everyone around him that the greatest roadblock to what we can accomplish is our own limitations.

When he tells people he’s training for another Ironman, Half Ironman, or Olympic-distance triathlon, the first response is often a simple, “WHY??” followed by, “I get exhausted just THINKING about that!” 

He’s not out to prove anything to anyone but himself. He knows that continuing to challenge himself in this way physically and mentally keeps him feeling and looking younger than he is. He learns new lessons with each race.

DAdvice #1: What’s one thing you can do in the next 6 months that excites you (and scares the crap out of you)? Make it happen.

#2 Question What’s “Normal”

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

My dad and I dancing at my wedding!

What is “normal” anyway? Most of us decide that it’s “normal” to feel old and achy as we age, to be in a less than fulfilling job, or to settle for an “okay” relationship instead of an awesome one.

Why do we do this?

Because we don’t question it. We accept it. We assume it’s how things have to be.

It is what it is.

My dad has taught me by how he lives that those things don’t have to be normal. We can, in fact, shape our lives and the lives of those around us not by accepting what is but by thinking about what could be.

I’ve seen by how he lives that we can age and be well and have energy. That we can do what we love, love what we do, and get paid for it. That we can feel even more in love as we grow older instead of drifting apart or putting up with the other person.

My dad notices that most people his age have accepted that losing energy, feeling rundown, and having aches and pains are “normal” just because they’re common. But he refuses to accept that.

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

My dad and I at the summit of a mountain in Upstate New York last summer

Because of his age, people often ask him when he’s going to retire. “From what, to what? I’m already doing what I love” is his response. That mindset has had a significant impact on my life and how I look at and pursue work.

He knows that moving his body and fueling himself with real, whole food are two of the keys to being able to compete in triathlons, spend his leisure time biking, swimming or running, and being so successful with his business. His life is a testament to Satchel Paige’s wise words:

paige-quote

DADvice #2: What’s one thing you’ve accepted as “normal” that might not be? What might the alternative be?

#3 Embrace What Makes You Different

If you’re someone who grew up feeling “different” from other people, you can likely relate to this one. File_000

My dad was always small for his age and maxed out at 5’6″, so he’s never been much of a physical presence. He was once asked whether his family was in the circus because of his size. He’s always told me that he liked being small because he could always make himself bigger. He felt badly for tall people because it was much harder for them to make themselves smaller.

He moved more than a dozen times when he was a kid due to his dad’s job, so he learned to be adaptable. He learned that humor is a great way to make friends, so he used it to his advantage throughout school (and to this day) as a way of disarming and connecting with people.

As a history teacher, he understands the importance of context, processes, and connections and uses what he has learned to help companies function more effectively, communicate better, and just “get along” as he says. I think he is brilliant at what he does, and he has helped thousands of people with his work.

He inspires me to do things differently in my work, just as he does with his. He’s totally comfortable doing things differently than everyone else. He embraces what makes him different and has taught me to do the same.

He and I recently co-presented a keynote session at the Frederick County SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) annual conference and infused the talk with our unique approach to work and life. It was SO MUCH FUN!

dad-fcshrm

DADvice #3: In what ways are you “different” from other people? What makes you unique? If you can’t think of it yourself, ask your friends or someone else who knows you well. 

#4 Pursue Lifelong Learning

If any of us buys my dad a DVD as a gift, we know to buy the “extended” edition that includes the director’s commentary because my dad will want to know the story behind the story…every time. He’s one of the most eager learners and voracious readers I’ve ever met. As a result, he stays relevant, offers new insights to his clients, and is always ready to share the latest and greatest teaching with anyone who will listen.

He describes his business as an “interest-driven” business and incorporates his new knowledge into how he consults with companies and individuals. One cool thing he’s helping companies do now is drive negativity out of the workplace using principles he and my mom have learned through marriage workshops they’ve attended.

Whether he’s reading the paper or a new book, talking to a sought after expert, or learning a new swimming or running technique, he constantly pursues new skills and knowledge, so he can continue to grow and feel alive.

DADvice #4: What’s something that interests you? What would you like to learn more about? This week, order a book, sign up for a class, tell a friend. Make forward progress.

#5 Be Humble and Grateful

In the spring of 2009, I almost lost my job. Health care reform legislation had been passed and the need for a full-time wellness person in a small firm was questioned. I remember when I was called into my boss and CFO’s office and was informed that I could stay on board and take on another position or hang around for a few months while I found another job.

I was stunned.

I remember calling my dad in anger and frustration, “Can you BELIEVE this?” I went off about my boss at the time and how I felt taken advantage of by her. I wasn’t feeling heard. I had even started copping a (noticeable) attitude with her when she asked certain things of me.  At times, I told her “it wasn’t my job” to do what was, in fact, her job. (That phrase is, quite possibly, the LEAST effective thing to say…ever. I’d advise against it unless you have a new job lined up). My negativity began permeating other aspects of my work.

I had become indignant. My pride had gotten the best of me.

With his years of wisdom and a strong knowledge of my heart and how I’m wired, my dad did what he does best and helped me see things differently. He was the only person who could have lovingly told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. “Honey, she’s your boss. If she asks you to get coffee every morning, you do it. You have a pretty good gig there. You get to do a lot that interests you, you have good benefits, good opportunities, and you work for a good person. Take all of that into consideration.”

He was right. I had gotten proud and felt entitled. What I needed was to be humble and grateful.

DADvice #5: How can you shift your mindset to focus on what is working and what you DO like instead of dwelling on what you don’t? What we focus on expands. One idea is to focus on 3 things you are grateful for each night before you go to bed.

#6 Go for It

Perhaps more than anything else, this advice from my dad has shaped my approach to what I do. Whether I’m pursuing an opportunity or a promotion or want to meet someone I admire, I hear my dad’s words over and over again and have shared them with others:

“The worst thing they’ll tell you is ‘no’.”

Most of us are afraid of rejection. It doesn’t feel good. It makes us feel inadequate, insecure, less than. But so does not trying. If we never try, we’ll never know what is possible.

So, why not ask?

Last year I was recognized as the #1 Health Promotion Professional in the U.S. by WELCOA and was in San Diego for their wellness conference and another conference. A renowned expert in the field whom I admired was to be one of the keynote speakers at the second conference. I had read his book and articles, watched him on videos, and was inspired and impressed by what he was doing.

So, I found his email address on his website and emailed him to tell him how much I admired him and how I would love to meet. Not only did he give me his cell phone number, but he spent nearly three hours at dinner with just me one night of the conference! I was incredibly honored. It was something I will never forget.

Simply because I took a risk…and asked.

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

Dr. David Katz and me after dinner in San Diego!

DADvice #6: What is something you want that you’ve been too afraid to ask for? Who’s someone you want to meet or talk to that you think is too “big” for you? Ask. Reach out to them. The worst they’ll say is “no”.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn so much from my dad and his example. I know that his influence has shaped my mindset around work, the body, my marriage and how I treat people. I hope the lessons he’s taught me speak to you today.

Remember to challenge yourself, question what’s “normal”, embrace what makes you different, pursue lifelong learning, be humble and grateful, and go for it!

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