Nourish Your Body. Feed Your Soul. Shine Your Light.

Category: Inspired (Page 1 of 6)

Strangers on a Plane: Be Willing to Be Bothered

To be seen.

To be heard.

To be valued.

These are three things all human beings desire.

Yet, we can get so caught up in our own lives that we miss opportunities to connect with other human beings in a meaningful, authentic way. All of us have things to do and hate to think we’ve wasted any of our precious time.

After speaking at a conference in Vegas earlier this year, I prepared for a long day of travel back to the East Coast. The first leg of my trip brought me to Denver for a brief layover before the final three hours back to Baltimore. On the full flight to Denver, I sat at a window seat, and a middle-aged man in glasses sat between me and the aisle passenger who was en route to Albany, New York, my mother’s hometown.

I noticed he didn’t have much regard for personal space and was a bit more in my bubble than I would’ve preferred, but I didn’t let it get to me. After he ordered two screwdrivers on an empty stomach for a 90-minute flight, I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up having a lovely conversation.

He told me about his concerns about his daughter going away to college next year to play soccer and shared his fears around her safety and wellbeing. She grew up in a protected and guarded environment and hasn’t learned how to cook or do her laundry, even though he and his wife love to cook and his wife used to own a cleaning company. But she’s a smart girl, a talented athlete, he assured me; she has a good head on her shoulders and strong values.

He talked about his wife and how he doesn’t deserve her. He told me how fantastic she is and how she takes care of their grandson, cleans and landscapes her son’s home, and shares his joy of food and cooking. He said he doesn’t know how his kids turned out as well as they did, despite how much he messed up as a dad. He said they are who they are in spite of him. He shared that his wife owned her own cleaning business and recently retired. He talked about his kids and his grandchildren. His 2-year-old grandson, Albert, that he couldn’t wait to see upon his arrival in Denver.

I could sense his discomfort with seriousness and authentic emotion, as he frequently made side remarks that seemed to be a cover for his discomfort with talking about deeper, personal topics.

I told him about my work, my family, nieces and nephews, journey with overdoing it. He asked me where my overachieving comes from. I told him I’m afraid of being worthless or being nothing and knew how ridiculous it sounded. “You are smart and communicate well. You’ll be fine.” He said I should have three kids and make it my mission to have a significant impact on their lives as my legacy. We’ll see about the three kiddos part, though the idea of having my legacy run through my family was one that resonated.

We landed in Denver and deplaned. I waited for him at the gate to shake his hand and say goodbye. He insisted on giving me a hug, and with that, we went our separate ways.

I had other things I could have been doing on that flight. I had emails to respond to, books I could have been reading, and conference summaries I could have been writing.

But the stranger next to me wanted to engage, to connect, and to be seen, and fortunately, for that 90-minute flight, I was willing to connect.

What would have happened if I hadn’t let myself be “bothered”?

Very likely, nothing significant would have changed in either of our lives as a result of not connecting, but why not take a moment to have a shared experience with another human being if it’s possible to do so?

I was grateful for my time with the stranger on the plane, and I’m glad I was able to get over some of my initial judgments of him and connect over conversation.

As I boarded my connecting flight to my final destination of Baltimore, I saw two empty seats near the front of the plane next to grey-haired woman with glasses wearing a red fleece jacket. I scooted by her to sit at the window seat, and we started talking almost immediately, hoping it would deter someone from sitting between us.

She was quite chatty and so full of life that I couldn’t help but engage with her. Her name was Valerie, and she was flying to Baltimore to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Fredericksburg. She told me she had always been “a religious person” but had a one-night stand that ended up in pregnancy. Not knowing what else to do, she married the father and ended up in an abusive relationship that she ultimately left. Out of it came a blessing – three children that she clearly adores.

She lost her fortune in the 2008 economic recession and has been living modestly ever since. She suffers from a great deal of pain due to numerous injuries and accidents throughout her life and spends 90 minutes moving each morning so she can feel good enough to engage in the day. She said her mind is still very active, but her body is a bit limited because of the amount of pain she experiences on a daily basis. Nevertheless, she has maintained an optimistic attitude:

“I can either sit around and wallow in my pain and do nothing, or I can go out and do things and hopefully forget about the pain!”

A retired graphic designer and associate professor, Valerie is nearly 70 years old. “I got my second Master’s degree when I was 50,” she told me proudly. As a young girl, she always loved coloring, but there was a boy in one of her classes who was so artistically talented that she didn’t feel like she measured up, so she dropped art and didn’t pick it up again until her mid-50s.

With a passion for learning, she took up painting – acrylic and digital – about 15 years ago. Painting is now a source of great joy for her. She paints scenery inspired by the vegetation, landscape, cafes, wine and coffee, and people of her hometown in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

I asked her if she had any pictures of her artwork, and she excitedly pulled out her phone to show me. One, in particular, was of a scene from her favorite cafe, Bakery by the Lake at Parkside.

She showed me pictures of digital artwork she created of horses and dogs and friends. One was a painting she created of her friend, who is nearly blind, that was a rendering of a photograph from a trip he took to Italy. She included his wife and seeing eye dog in the picture and when he saw the picture through whatever limited vision remains, he wept. She touches people with her paintings, bringing them to life on the canvas and giving them a sense of belonging.

Her blue eyes sparkled, as she continued sharing more of her story and life with me.

She told me about her best friend, Andy, who is nearly two decades her junior but whom she delights in and vice versa. He told her he thinks one of the reasons they met was for her to show him what it was like to be young.

She loves spending time with her friends at coffee shops where they are regular patrons, and being with her sweet little granddaughter, Alexandra.

“’Simplify and laugh every day,’ that’s my motto,” she told me as she smiled playfully.

Valerie asked me what I do and I told her I help rehumanize the workplace with compassion, gratitude, caring, and kindness. Her face lit up. “What a wonderful thing to do! Your work is so needed in our country right now. People are so unkind to each other.”

As our plane made its final descent, she thanked me for listening and for taking so much time to look at the pictures of her family, hometown and paintings. She apologized for being a bother and keeping me from other things I could be doing.

As I write this, it saddens me that we feel like we have to apologize for “wasting” people’s time when all we are trying to do is connect with another human being, to be seen, to be heard, to feel like we matter.

It’s like each of us is still five years old, hoping mom or dad will notice what we’ve created, built, drawn, or painted and tell us it’s beautiful and that we are important. We are hardwired to connect and we long to be seen.

So many people feel alone and like no one really cares about what they think or feel or have to say. So they don’t “bother” people to have conversations and instead keep their earbuds in, their heads down, and watch yet another movie on their phone.

Sometimes, our fear of rejection overrides our deep longing for connection.

Perhaps all of us could be a bit more selfless and not be so quick to try to protect ourselves from conversations with strangers. It has become entirely too common to outright ignore people in our increasingly digital age.

Even if the person seems to be a bit of a jerk, why not give them a chance? I’ve found that the most disgruntled and unkind people are the ones who need love and attention the most but are too stubborn or hurt to ask for it.

You might be the only person who makes them feel heard all day.

You might be the only person who truly sees them.

You might be the only person who makes them feel like they matter.

The next time you’re on a plane, on the train, in line at the store or standing in an elevator and you have an opportunity to interact with another human being, let it happen.

Take your ear buds out and put your phone down. Notice the people around you. Initiate connection.

All of us deeply long to be seen, heard and valued. We want to feel like we belong, like we matter, like we are worth talking to and interacting with, like we have something worthwhile to say.

Think about what you can do to be more intentional in your interactions.

Be willing to be bothered.

Who knows, you might make a new friend.

Me and Valerie Scott!

For another powerful experience I had after meeting a stranger on a plane, check out this story about how to Be Somebody’s Mary.

Picture Not So Perfect: Real Life Behind the Highlight Reel

We take pictures to preserve memories, so we can look back on them in the future and reminisce about those moments. I have dozens of photo albums full of pictures from childhood through today. I still print off digital pictures and put them in frames and albums because there’s something special about holding a picture in your hand and not just looking at it on your phone.

Before the digital age, taking pictures was marked by surprise and spontaneity. We had to wait until the entire roll was full before turning it in to get all of our images developed. We’d pick up the envelope and eagerly flip through and see which ones were worth keeping. We didn’t have the option of editing them or curating a collection of only the best images.

I still love pictures today, but in recent years, I’ve let how I look in them impact me and how I think of myself more than I’d like to admit.

Around this time last year, Bill and I were on a trip to Colorado to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary and his cousin’s wedding. I was feeling more energized than I had felt in months after spending the better part of last year recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus. I was ready for the hours of dancing that was sure to follow the outdoor ceremony because Bill and I love to dance.

It was a beautiful day, and we were taking pictures with a backdrop of the Colorado mountains behind us. The scenery was picturesque and looked like something out of a magazine.

As we prepared to snap some pictures, I remember feeling pretty good about myself. The lack of humidity meant a great hair day, and I was wearing a dress I’d bought the year before at Marshall’s that was comfy (and had pockets). We smiled as someone took a few photos, photos I hoped would be picture perfect, capturing the essence of that moment and the beauty of the day.

I waited until just Bill and I remained.

Then, I looked at the photo.

“YIKES!” I remember thinking, as a feeling of disgust crept up inside of me.

“My arms and legs look so BIG! That dress is TOO short. Rachel, what happened??”

I thought back to three years prior when I was about 20 pounds lighter and satisfied with nearly every picture I took. This picture was not the same person.

I proceeded to crop the photo from the waste down, so no one could see my thunder thighs (yes, we are each our own harshest critic). That way, no one else could judge or critique my not-so-toned body. I posted an image I was sort of okay with on social media.

I remembered not too long ago – only about four years or so – when just about every picture taken of me was worthy of sharing.

No filters or cropping needed.

I was thrilled with how I looked.

What most people didn’t know about those pictures was that I was coming out of a defining part of my health journey, restoring my health after being clinically malnourished. As I’ve shared before, I was concerned about my body and my ability to have kids because I had lost my menstrual cycle for seven months in the midst of my weight loss. That’s the truth about what was behind my smile and that sassy blue dress.

I hadn’t had my big career breakthrough yet. I had barely dipped my toe into the personal and relational growth that I’ve experienced since then.

But, man, did I like how I looked in pictures.

Fast forward to 2017 to the Colorado photo. In all honesty, I hadn’t exercised consistently for over a year, primarily because I was recovering from an acute form of mono and had completely burned out. I was just trying to rebuild enough energy to go about my daily activities, so looking toned and fit wasn’t at the top of my priority list. It wasn’t even on my radar.

Having all of my insecurities shoved into my face as a result of looking at one picture made me feel like I’d been blindsided.

As women, we can feel so insecure when we look at certain pictures of ourselves. We berate ourselves when our face or legs or arms or butt or tummy doesn’t look slim enough. Body shaming is a universal struggle for many of us, yet our perceptions are rarely based in reality.

I’m sure some of you looked at the picture above and did not see anything remotely like what I saw. Maybe you thought, “What is she talking about? She looks fine. She’s just being really hard on herself.”

And you’d be right.

Because our perception is not reality.

I’ve heard women who weigh 125 pounds and women who weigh 185 pounds look at pictures of themselves and say the exact same thing, “Ew, I look fat.”

Instead of living our lives, we spend more time than we’d like to admit cropping, curating, editing and perfecting an image of ourselves and our lives to share on social media.

Do you know what this body shaming does?

It causes us to miss the moment, the joy, the love, the happiness, the people, the experience itself.

I was talking to my husband, Bill, about this over lunch, and he commented that we used to wait and see pictures because it took time for them to develop. Now we can see them immediately, and we can edit them to look more attractive in seconds.

That’s not real life. 

Bill is a teacher and commented that his young teacher friends are especially image conscious. When they take group photos, everyone looks at and comments on themselves and how they look in the picture. With all of the pressure from social media and online dating, our images are more carefully curated than ever before. We only want to put forth images of ourselves and our families that look flattering.

Granted, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look good in a picture. It’s totally normal to want physically flattering pictures of ourselves, but our degree of obsession around it is unprecedented.

We let our perspective ruin our pictures and special moments in our lives. We let how we think we look interfere with how we want to live.

Around this time last year, I was talking to a friend who was going through a divorce and had gained a noticeable amount of weight. She doesn’t like to be in pictures with her kids, knowing that other people might see her and judge her.

Do you think her kids cared what their mom looked like, or do you think it mattered more that they were in the pictures with her? When it’s her time to go, do you think her kids will wish they had a more attractive mom or more photos of their mom?

I don’t say this to shame and judge anyone in a similar situation, but I know firsthand what this kind of body shame does to us and to our lives.

When we constantly live out of a place of insecurity, we rob ourselves of living. We shine a little less brightly, love a little less deeply and live a little less fully. The pain of living less fully will eventually surpass the pain of being insecure in our bodies.

Here’s the truth.

The body you have in this moment is yours.

It is a gift from God.

Maybe you’ve neglected it, “let it go”, or forgotten about the importance of loving and honoring it by nourishing it and taking care of it. Maybe you just had a kid or have three kids or lost a loved one or went through a bad breakup or hate your job. Maybe your body is taking the brunt of all of your emotional pain. Maybe you are as harsh as or even harsher than I’ve been in this post when you judge yourself in pictures.

Whatever you are dealing with, you are worthy of living fully and being loved – regardless of how you look.

Regardless of whether we see an extra wrinkle, skin fold, double chin, cellulite, or varicose vein, can we be a little kinder to ourselves and not allow our pictures to define our worth?

The reality is, we can still experience so much love and joy in our bodies, even if they don’t resemble the ideal standard we have in our minds. God can use us and our bodies regardless of what we perceive to be limitations – physical or otherwise.

I want to leave you with one more story about the power of perception and the truth about our bodies.

At the end of last summer, I was seeing a massage therapist who practices “visceral massage.” In other words, she uses her hands to move and release fascial restrictions in my abdomen and pelvis to encourage the normal movement and function of my internal organs. She helped me release some physical stuckness and shared insightful nuggets of wisdom every time we met.

During one session, I had to lay on my side, so she could do work on my back. I noticed my shirt come up a bit and could see my belly generously taking up its space on the massage table. For most of my life, my stomach had always been flat, but now it wasn’t. I felt sad, ashamed and embarrassed.

I shared how I was feeling with her and, at the end of our time together, I showed her a picture of me from an event four years prior, when I was about 25 pounds lighter. I told her how I liked that face more than how my face is now. It was thinner and more attractive, I thought.

She said she liked the “now” me better, and when I made the comment about my face being fuller, she responded in her kind and gentle way with a beaming smile and these words:

“Isn’t that radiant?”

Radiant.

Did she know that “radiant” is one of my words and that it perfectly captured how I want to show up in this world?

She said I was radiant.

I had never thought about it that way, that I may have looked better and more alive, with a fuller face.

I was moved to tears as I let her words lift my broken spirit.

Yes, I am radiant.

I have a fire flowing through my veins and a light burning bright in my soul. It’s who I was made to be. I wasn’t meant to hide it.

What would happen if we stopped critiquing our (and other’s) worth by our pictures?

What if we chose to see the whole person behind the image in the photo instead of just what society has brainwashed us to notice?

What if we could offer ourselves a little more grace and compassion and a little less shame and judgment?

As much as I loved the way I looked in that electric blue dress, I love who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, and a friend more in the less physically flattering photo.

One year later, as I look back at that same photograph, I don’t have the same emotional reaction to it. I have more grace for the woman in that photo, knowing how far she has come in the past year and in this lifetime.

Instead of pasty thighs and not-so-toned arms, I see a women who has come a long way, a woman who has grown and transformed, a woman who has been strengthened and anointed, a woman who loves and who is loved more deeply than ever before. I see a beautiful, beaming woman who is becoming more comfortable with and less apologetic about who she is.

I hope that reading this invites you to shift your mindset.

I hope it gives you a new, more life-giving perspective to consider about your body.

I hope it gives you the courage to see the whole person, not just the perfectly edited, cropped and curated version of yourself that shows up in photos.

Writing posts like this takes a lot out of me because, in them, I am exposed. I’m not hiding behind success, accomplishments or a pretty smile.

I’m sharing anything but the highlight reel because it matters more to me to be real.

If this resonated with you, I’d love to hear from you below or by email. Send me a photo from your journey that has a story behind it even if you don’t love the picture itself (connect (at) rachelsnourishingkitchen.com). I’m honored to walk alongside you on this journey of discovery, acceptance and grace. 

It’s OK to Be in the Middle of the Mess

A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation about how to build a thriving culture at work. As a result of how busy I’ve been over the past few months, and the month of May in particular, I was wired the night before the presentation. My brain wouldn’t shut off, and I barely slept. I know how important a good night’s sleep is to performing well, so I was a bit concerned about how the presentation would go.

In the moments before I began, I prayed that whatever strength I was lacking would be poured out on me, so that my words would have power beyond what I was capable of in that moment.

And that’s exactly what happened; the presentation went great.

People were engaged, connecting with each other, and sharing their own experiences with the rest of the group. I was able to offer compelling stories of companies that care, personal stories about my own work journey, and enough data to keep the skeptics happy. I wouldn’t have changed a thing and received positive feedback from clients and coworkers.

At the end of the session, a woman I’ve known for a few years approached me to tell me how wonderful it has been to watch me blossom and how much she has enjoyed following my work. She told me how inspiring it has been and how much she looks forward to hearing me speak. I was grateful for her kind words and thanked her.

But I wasn’t expecting what she said next.

“Are you happy?”

I paused, caught off guard by the directness of her question.

If I’d been 100% unfiltered in that moment, here’s what I would have said:

“No! I’m not. How could you tell? I barely slept at all last night, and I’m running on fumes. I’m exhausted. I really did enjoy giving that presentation, and it did light me up and recharge me but not in a sustainable way. I’m rarely present for my own life. I’m more likely to be six months into the future in my head than wherever I am in a given moment. I feel stuck and overwhelmed and frustrated and don’t know how to turn off the constant wheel of thoughts and worries spinning in my mind. And the irony of it all is that I’ve been giving presentations about the secrets to happiness and thriving cultures for the past few months and have not been thriving myself.”

But I didn’t say that.

I said what was easy.

Because, in that moment, being diplomatic was easier than telling the truth.

“Well, I’m kind of going through a bit of a transition and rebranding what I’m doing, so you know, that’s been challenging. I’m doing okay; I’ve just been really busy lately.”

I knew it was a BS answer, but it’s all I had to offer her. I couldn’t really get into the truth about how I was feeling. But I couldn’t let go of her question that day either, and it’s still floating in my mind weeks later.

You see, I’ve always been really good at appearing like I have it all together.

Even when I don’t.

It’s much easier to share our struggles once we’re on the other side of them than when we’re smack dab in the middle of them. I’ve had a tendency to do just that; to share my stories of victory, so everyone around me could be inspired.

I shared the story of my weight journey after I’d lost the weight and kept it off for a few years.

I shared the story of gaining that weight back after I had another positive spin to tie it to, like restoring my physical health and getting beyond being clinically malnourished.

I shared the story of recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono, after I had been through a grueling seven months of sickness and healing.

I shared the years of mixed emotions I’ve had around having children after my younger sister shared the news that she was expecting a baby last summer.

I never shared my stories when I was in the middle of them, only once I had reached the other side and could tie them up neatly with a bow and hand them over to you to offer the gift of hope.

This time is different.

This time I’m in the middle of the mess.

And that’s exactly why I have to write about it.

So that in those moments when you, too, feel stuck or frustrated in whatever you’re facing, you have a voice telling you it’s okay to be in the middle of the mess, to not know how it will all turn out. That you are still okay, even if everything around you and inside you feels like it’s not.

Remember how last summer I wrote about all of the lessons I learned from getting mono and how I was going to slow down and not overcommit?

Well, that didn’t last long.

I’ve sped up again because it’s the state that’s most familiar to me. I’ve been overcommitting myself because busyness excites me. I get bored easily, so I fill every inch of my schedule to ensure that I will feel valuable and needed and wanted and like I’m “doing” something important. Once again, the vast majority of my current state of exhaustion has been self-inflicted.

And I’ve allowed it to steal my joy.

But I’ve been learning from it, too. I’m learning that the first step toward growth and transformation is recognizing the truth about where we are and where we want to go.

I want to be happy.

I’ve chosen not to be.

Ouch.

That’s a hard truth to acknowledge.

I have no one to blame for my mindset except myself. I haven’t set healthy boundaries in my life and haven’t given my body all that it needs to feel its best, including regular exercise and time to shut off. It’s so easy for me to fall into a state of condemning, shaming and judging myself:

“I thought we weren’t going to do this anymore, Rachel. I thought we’d gotten through this hurdle. Aren’t you ‘enough’ yet? Didn’t you learn your lesson last year? What’s the matter with you?”

Yup, that’s what my self-talk looks like more often than I’d like to admit.

But condemnation and shame rarely lead to anything good, and there is no place for condemnation in a full life. Condemnation is loaded with criticism and rejection and blame. Feeling badly about ourselves isn’t how we were meant to live.

So, I’m choosing conviction instead. Feeling convicted is helpful and with conviction, shame disappears. Motivation emerges. A desire to be better, to get beyond where we are follows.

I’ve started making small changes.

I began writing this blog post on a Sunday night and slept on it a bit. Before going to bed, I decided to put what I have learned into practice and jotted down five good things that happened that day in my journal to give myself perspective. I felt better within minutes and fell asleep.

I signed up for the gym for the first time in two years. My motivation is different than it was eight years ago when I first went on a journey to lose weight. This time, I’m not trying to “fix” myself.

I’ve just realized that not consistently exercising negatively impacts me emotionally, physically and mentally. I know I’m called to honor my body and its need to move more than I have been. After getting mono last year, I pretty much bowed out of anything that challenged me physically because I just wanted to have enough energy to function normally. Now, I have my energy back, and I want to use it.

I’m carrying excess weight and don’t feel my best in my body right now, and I’m convicted that something needs to change. I know I need to get out of my head and back into my body. Sometimes holding on to extra physical weight can be a sign we are holding onto something emotional that we need to release or let go of. Once we address the deeper emotional or spiritual need, we may find that our body naturally releases physical weight we’ve been carrying.

It’s really difficult to share thoughts like these with people who admire me and see me as an example of how to live. I value being seen a certain way (i.e., having it together and being on top of it), which is all the more reason for me to share stories like these – stories about being in the middle of our challenges, not on the other side.

I do it to show that none of us is perfect, that each of us is on a journey, and that we rarely “arrive” at a new way of living or being and stay there forever.

That’s why it’s important to stay open, to continue to notice what’s best for us in a given moment, to let go of what has worked in the past because our future may require us to do something differently.

It’s as though life is a series of seasons.

Some seasons are full of sunshine, clear blue skies and balmy breezes. Other seasons are marked by bone-chilling temperatures, snowstorms, and sheets of ice. Still others are full of blooming buds or falling leaves.

We do the best we can to adjust and adapt to whatever season we’re in, recognizing that a new one is coming in a matter of months.

If you’re reading this, you’ve weathered every season thus far, so your track record is pretty good.

If you’re feeling ashamed, condemned or guilty about where you are in your life, job, relationships, or body at this moment, I invite you to release the weight of those thoughts and feelings. They are weighing you down. I encourage you to hold onto hope and follow your conviction. Have the courage to make a change if one is warranted.

Just be a little gentler with yourself. Show yourself some grace and compassion. You’re doing the best you can in any given moment.

You don’t have to be on the other side of your struggle before you can start talking about it or inspiring other people with it. It’s okay to be in the middle of the mess.

Start where you are with what you have.

I’m right here with you.

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

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.

My Food Philosophy: What Matters Most

Are you paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? What diet are you on?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked questions about what “diet” I follow. I get it. It can be tempting to categorize ourselves and to label the way we eat.

We have a desire to know “the way” and what the right answer is when it comes to what we “should” be eating. But I’m not a huge fan of labels. They can be limiting, restrictive, and isolating.

If I had to describe the type of food I eat, I would say it is colorful, mostly plant-based, with a focus on whole, real ingredients that I can pronounce. I eat to feel good, not just for the next five minutes, but for as long as possible. I’ve found that gluten and dairy-based foods don’t make my body feel good, so I don’t eat them. I prioritize the quality of my food and want to know where it comes from and whom my purchase impacts.

But I’m not “on a diet,” and I don’t eat this way to prove anything to anyone.

A few years ago, I interviewed a local naturopathic doctor, Dr. Kristapps Paddock, and I’ll never forget what he said.

Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that’s accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

Isn’t that true of most diets?

We don’t question them. We accept them as truth because some celebrity, health expert, or friend told us so.

Unfortunately, this has brought us to a place of not questioning things, not asking why, not getting curious. We don’t stop to notice if they are working for us. One of the most helpful and transformational things we can do when it comes to what we eat is to question everything. To get curious. To pay attention to our body’s signals.

We know more than we’ve ever known about food and nutrition, but there is still so much more to learn that it doesn’t make sense for us to be polarizing when it comes to eating. It drives a lot of people away from conversations about nutrition. While the same general principles are universal (i.e., eat food, not too much, lots of plants), the nuances may not be. Everybody is different, so what’s most important is that we get curious about what works for US (not our neighbor, co-worker, friend or family member).

So, instead of adopting a dogmatic attitude toward eating, I have a food philosophy. It captures my approach to eating, the mindset I have around food, and what I believe to be true. It communicates what I’m about and how I want to think and feel when it comes to food.

It’s not irrefutable. It’s not scientific. It’s not the only way.

It’s empowering. It’s clarifying. It reminds me of what is true for me and my body. It’s what I’ve come to learn works best for me.

As you read it, I invite you think about which parts resonate with you. If anything does, try to hold on to that idea and let it guide the eating choices you make this week. If you want to take it to another level, try coming up with your own version of a food philosophy!

My Food Philosophy

I believe food matters.
I believe my body matters.
I believe I matter.
I believe I’m more than a number.
More than a dress size, calorie count, or scale reading.
I believe in being curious about what I eat and noticing, without judging, how food affects me.
I believe in connecting with my food, how it makes me feel, where it comes from and the impact it has beyond my plate.
I believe food is a way to connect with my body, my community, and my purpose.
I believe in slowing down and savoring food, noticing its textures, aromas, and beauty; pausing to express gratitude for the beauty on my plate.
I believe in enjoying food without anxiety, guilt, shame or judgment.
I believe in elevating the quality of my food and eating the highest quality available.
I believe in upgrading my diet to crowd out whatever is not working for me.
I believe in eating food that tastes good AND makes me feel good.
I believe in being open to exploring and trying new foods.
I believe food is inherently amoral (neither “good” nor “bad”).
I believe I am responsible for my eating choices.
If I’m going to eat it, I own it (I’m not “cheating”).
I believe having energy, glowing skin, a strong immune system and a positive mood are signs that I’m giving my body what it needs.
I believe in fueling and nourishing my body with whole, vibrant, healing food, so I can feel alive and energized and fulfill my purpose here on earth.
But I believe food is only part of the puzzle when it comes to being our best selves.
Food matters, but there is more to living well than eating well.
Friendships, community, connection.
Peace, patience, kindness.
Faith, grace, joy.
Love.

Be Free: A Tribute to My Grandmother

Yesterday, we celebrated the life of my last biological grandparent, Anne Bryant, who passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 90.

She was a delicate, graceful Southern woman with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh who touched the lives of more people than I will ever know.

She was the closest thing to a matriarch at her church in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was fondly known as “Miss Anne.” She loved to sing, was a member of the choir for nearly a decade and served as an integral part of the children’s ministry. Her former pastor, my relatives, and her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members had such wonderful things to say about her life during her service, which she insisted be a joyful celebration of her life.

My grandmother is in the middle of the picture just above me.

She raised three children, including my dad, and was a schoolteacher. She loved children.

She loved to garden.

She loved to ride her bike.

She loved to sing.

She was incredibly creative and gifted with her hands. She made dresses for me and my dolls, Christmas ornaments and my Christmas stocking. Both of us collected Willow Tree figurines and loved to sing, read, write, and travel.

She had a strong faith that she carried with her until her last day. She wanted to “go home” and be with my grandfather in heaven and was at peace with that transition.

Of all of the grandparents I had, she’s the one who knew me the best. I remember phone calls with her and my grandfather when I was a kid. I was very studious and committed to doing well in the classroom. After winning spelling bees and other academic competitions at school or sharing a report card, they would send me letters, sometimes with a special memento inside like a Bible verse on a wallet card or a bookmark she made at church.

They always told me how excited they were for me and were so supportive of me throughout my life. I can still hear my grandmother saying these words:

“Oh, Rachel, granddaddy and I are so proud of you.”

In the final years of her life, there was some tension in my family that created a bit of distance in our relationship. Looking back, I regret not spending more time with her in her last years; it saddens me, and I feel a sense of loss. I have many happy memories about her, but I know I could have had more.

If you have a family member that you can’t seem to “get right” with, I encourage you to be open. Be open to grace and seek forgiveness. Love them. Be kind. Set aside your pride and try again. It might not look the way you expect, but at least you’ll know you tried the best you could and offered that person all you had.

Bill and I visited my grandmother and spent time with her on a trip to North Carolina last spring. I had a final phone call with her in the week before her passing to tell her how much I appreciate who she was to me and how much her support and love meant to me.

When I think back to the times we spent together, the conversations we had, and the letters we exchanged, I smile. I know she’s proud of me and who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a Christian, a sister, an aunt, and a friend.

As I was sifting through my bins of mementos (I’m a bit of a sentimental packrat), I stumbled upon a book called Grandmother Remembers that she filled out for me as a gift for my high school graduation.

I had given it to her as a gift when I was little, and she took the time to complete every single page with facts about our family, pictures of relatives, and memories and stories about herself, me, and the rest of our family.

It’s such a treasure and a special piece of history for our family.

What makes it even more symbolic for me right now is the image of the butterfly on the front cover. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you’ve read about my connection to butterflies and how prevalent and symbolic they’ve been in my life.

One of the final pages of the Grandmother Remembers book is dedicated to her wish to the future for me. She wrote, “Since Gramdaddy’s death, I have experienced ‘being given wings’ and my prayer is that this will continue.”

And it has.

She has been given wings and is looking down on all of us now. She is happy, at peace, and flying free.

Once someone is gone, they don’t have an opportunity to say what is on their heart and mind to comfort those of us who are left behind. What I’m about to share is what I think grandmother would say to all of us here now. I wrote this poem and read it at my grandmother’s memorial service. I hope it gives you peace, comfort, and hope when you think of someone special that you’ve lost.

Be Free

As I look down on all of you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Each of you holds a special place along my journey.
Thank you for being here to celebrate my life.

I know that you’re missing me.
Maybe you’re feeling sad, mourning, hurting, angry that I’m no longer with you.
I understand.
It’s hard to let go of people we love.

But I want you to know that I’m okay.
I’m finally free.

I prayed to the Lord and He freed me from all my fears.

Free from sadness.
Free from discomfort.
Free from pain.

Full of love.
Full of joy.
Full of light.

As you sit there remembering me, I want each of you to do something to honor me and my life.

Don’t wait for death to free you.

Choose to be free now.

Free from grudges.
Free from judgment.
Free from resentment.
Free from hostility.
Free from anger.

Open up.
Release.
Let go.

Be free. Live fully.

We are called to be free.
Free to dance.
Free to sing.
Free to laugh.
Free to play.
Free to love.

I give you my wings, so you can soar and fly freely, releasing anything that holds you down and embracing that which lifts you up.

Savor the sunny days, and spend time in your garden.
Appreciate the beauty all around you.
Notice the birds chirping, the flowers blooming, the smiles of children.
Pause and notice what a beautiful world we live in.

Be kind to and gentle with one another.
Give each other permission to make mistakes, especially those closest to you.
Be quick to offer forgiveness and grace when that happens.
Even when it’s hard.
Even if you’re angry.
Forgiveness frees you as much as it frees them.

Be free. Live fully.

Speak the truth in love.
Not just to prove a point, but with the intention of loving the other person.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up more instead of staying silent when I felt unheard.
Unmute your voice, and set yourself free from what you’ve kept locked up in your mind or in your heart.
The Lord calls us to love and serve one another, to be bold and courageous with our lives.
Use your voice for good and your words and actions to love.

Never stop learning, and remember to make time for play.
As a schoolteacher, I embraced a love of learning and dedicated my life to sharing that with my students and my family.
Approach the world with childlike curiosity.
Ask questions, look for the good in people, share, play, laugh, dance, sing, read, travel, be silly.
Spend more time playing and less time working.

I once gave my granddaughter a bookmark for her Bible that she has since passed along to another friend who needed the message on it more than she did.
It had this scripture on it from the book of Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

No matter what you’re dealing with right now, the Lord knows about it and can use it.
To grow you, to strengthen you, or to equip you to serve in some way.
Trust His timing.
Trust His plans.

Heaven is a beautiful place. We are having the best time up here!
Seeing all of my old friends and loved ones again has been such a joy for me.
I feel alive, renewed, whole, and free.
So, don’t be sad.
Celebrate my life and all that it was. Remember all of the happy times we had. Thank God for giving you another day on this beautiful earth, until we are reunited some day.

Until that day comes, be kind and gentle.
Savor the sunny days.
Spend time in your garden.
Find your voice.
Forgive each other.
Never stop learning.
Dance, play, travel and sing.
Live fully.

I’ve given you wings.
Be free.

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.

An Accidental Gift: Lessons from a Body Shop

It had been a good day.

Everything had gone according to my plan.

Meeting in the morning, lunchtime Nia class at Movement Lab, work remotely for a few hours, and have a late lunch at my new favorite spot in Baltimore, R. House.

I was in the car getting ready to head back to the office to pick up a few things. I was backing out of the parking spot, checking my rearview mirror to make sure all was clear.

And then I heard it…and felt it.

Scraaaaaape.

No, no, no, no, no!

I remember pulling into the spot when I arrived and thinking how close the pole was to my car, as I carefully navigated around it to park. Unfortunately, I forgot it was there as I was leaving. It was too late before I realized what I had done, so I pulled back into the spot, got out of my car and braced myself for the damage.

At first, it looked like just a few gashes of white paint from the pole. But then I saw it. The gaping hole in the driver’s side door.

Seriously?

WHY?!

I’ve had this car for over 10 years and have never had to have body work done on it. Not once. It was 5:00 p.m. Where could I go? I knew my friend and our pastor, Ryan, would have a body shop recommendation from a buddy of his who works in the industry, so I called him first. The place he suggested was –like most other shops at that hour – closed.

I searched for body shops on Yelp! and saw that Ed’s Body & Paint Shop was a quarter-mile away.

In the first review, I saw the word “honest” and a closing time of 5:30, so off I went. I called the shop to give them a heads up, and when I arrived, Ed, who turned out to be the owner of the shop, came out to assess the damage. I was still shaken up at this point and in a reactive crying mode, so I rambled a bit and told him what had happened.

And then I paused for a second.

I’m okay though,” I said. At least I was okay. It could have been worse.

Ed walked me into his office to get my information and sat me down. Trying to calm my frazzled state, he told me how common this situation was. So often he has people come to him in a state of stress, frustration, fear, and worry. They go on and on about how awful it is that their cars are damaged. He said his kids did the same thing when they were growing up. “Oh dad, I can’t believe what happened. The car…”

He’d respond with, “How about you? Are you okay? We’ll fix the car. It’s just a car.”

He told me the story of a young girl came to his shop the other day in hysterics. She had damaged her car badly in an accident, and, then, while she was backing into the driveway, she popped a tire. “This is the worst day. What did I do to deserve this??” she lamented to Ed.

Ed paused and replied with compassion but a different perspective, “I have an idea. You know all those good days when the sun was shining and life was good? I bet you took them for granted.” It was a risky comment to make to an already agitated person.

The risk was worth it. He said it was as though he’d flipped a switch. Her entire demeanor changed.

He continued. “You wake up and expect every day to be perfect, and when it’s not, it’s the worst day.”

“You know, you’re right,” she said. “I don’t stop to smell the roses. I do expect the day to go perfectly. I don’t appreciate the good days.” With a lifted mood, she gave Ed a hug before she left, and walked out with a new perspective on life.

He brought the conversation back to my situation, seeing that I was still upset about what had happened to my car. “If you think you’re having a bad day, I’ve got something to show you.” Ed pulled up a message on his phone about his uncle’s wife Janet. And then he told me this story.

She came home from the hospital at 4:00 a.m. and asked her husband to lie down with her. ‘Hon, would you rub my back?’ So he did. ‘Oh that feels so good,’ she said.”

By 5:00 a.m., Janet had passed away.

“This will be his first Christmas without her in 53 years. He saw the same face and held the same hands for 53 years, and now she’s gone. That’s a bad day.”

Yes, yes it is. It made my situation at the time seem trivial. Talk about perspective.

Ed apologized for being preachy, but I told him it was fine. I appreciate when people speak their truth, and I knew his intention was nothing but pure. I wanted him to say what he had to say. I just had to stay open to hearing the message. He went on to tell me why he has the perspective he does.

“Each day when I wake up, I thank God for another day. When I go to bed at night, I ask Him to look out for my family and the people I love. You know, I just try to live each day like it’s my last. And if the people you love have their health, you’re good. That’s what matters.”

He talked about wanting his four granddaughters (“my grandbabies”) to grow up in a world like he did, a world where people looked out for each other. “When you saw a kid with a scraped up knee on the sidewalk, you stopped to help him. You didn’t ignore him, stop to take pictures, or put it up on YouTube.”

Neighbors were neighbors and people took care of each other.

Ed told me several stories about how he takes care of the people who come to see him at the shop.

He told me about the single mom with two kids whose husband had just left her. She came to him in a panic because she’d gotten an estimate for $800 to replace her brakes. He looked at her car and the estimate, realized she was being scammed, and discovered all she needed were new brake pads. About 40 minutes and $56 later, she left with her car and her kids, feeling immensely grateful.

“I’m not in it for the money,” he said. “People seem to do everything for the money these days. Sure, I’ve got to charge enough to pay the people here, but I want to be able to go to bed at night knowing that I did right by people.”

We ended up chatting for an hour and a half. I left feeling about as peaceful as I had before the incident happened.

Even though it wasn’t part of my plan.

Even though it’s not how I anticipated my day would go.

Even though I have no idea how much money it’s going to cost to repair it.

But it’s just a car. It can be fixed. And I’m okay.

I feel like the whole thing was meant to be, like it had to happen.

I needed to hear that perspective and those stories. I needed to take a moment to pause and be grateful for all of the good days I have. And I have a lot of good days. So often, I stress about things that don’t really matter. I get worked up about things that will likely never happen five to ten years into the future. I focus on everything I didn’t start or finish or make time for and leave myself in a state of feeling guilty and inadequate more than I’d like to admit.

But, at the end of the day, I get to go home to my husband, spend time with my family, do work that I love, be surrounded by amazing community and friends, and have my health.

Sometimes we need moments like these to interrupt our lives and our plans, to shake us up a bit, and to remind us of the privilege it is to be alive and to be given another day on this beautiful earth.

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