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

Category: My Story (Page 1 of 13)

Embracing the Unexpected: Finding Joy in the Journey

As someone who’s wired to achieve, I’m usually focused on the outcome or impact of whatever I’m doing. I want it to matter. I want it to be significant.

Because of this, I can find myself wishing the process or journey would just hurry up already, so I could arrive at the goal and be rewarded for my efforts. Yet, even when I get there, I rarely do a good job of celebrating what I’ve accomplished. I up the ante and focus on whatever the next mountain is that I want to climb, quickly moving on. I’m often in a state of forward movement and rarely in a state of grateful reflection.

This tendency was challenged this weekend when my husband and I were hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. To give you some context, Adirondack Park is the largest state park within the contiguous U.S., covering about six million acres of land. It’s larger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokies National Parks combined. My mom spent her summers in Upstate New York as a child, and it has become my family’s slice of heaven on earth.

My husband and I spend at least a week there each year, and part of each trip includes a hike. This year we opted to climb the 13th highest peak, a 13.4-mile round trip. We always check the weather forecast a few days prior to deciding which day we will hike and try to pick the clearest day, so we can guarantee the best views at the summit.

Many of these hikes can be quite grueling, filled with open rock scrambles and relentlessly steep grades. We’ve climbed dozens of mountains in the region and about ten High Peaks, so we know what to expect. We pack plenty of water and snacks, and enjoy being surrounded by the smell of cedar and the beauty of ponds, evergreens, and views of other mountains along the way.

The ultimate prize is reaching the summit, where we typically eat our lunch, remove our boots and let our scrunched toes breathe, and take in the breath-taking views of the Adirondack Park. No matter how long or difficult the hike is, the summit views are always worth it and the promise of their respite motivates us to keep moving.

When you’re with someone for an entire day and disconnected from technology, as is the case during hikes like these, you end up with hours of time for conversation. As we hiked, my husband, Bill, and I brainstormed ideas for a couples’ communication series we want to bring to our community. We talked about our vision, our experiences, and what we want to teach as a result of what we’ve learned.

In the 12 years we’ve been together, we’ve learned a lot about how to create a psychologically safe space in our relationship for the other person to feel seen, heard, supported and validated. We’ve been taught skills and given tools to help us communicate and connect deeply, authentically and meaningfully. Each of us has been open to growing and becoming more fully ourselves in the process. We’ve chosen to invest in our marriage because we believe it is the bedrock of all good things to come in each of our lives. We believe we have more to offer the world as a unit than either of us ever could individually.

Distracted by our conversation, a couple of miles into the hike we noticed clouds rolling in, as a fog settled in around us on our ascent.

Uh oh.

The forecast said partly cloudy and promised to be a pleasant day. What was happening?

As we continued to climb, we stopped at lookout points and glanced behind us, only to be met with more fog and clouds. When we were about a mile or so from the summit, we saw other hikers descending.

“I’m guessing the views at the top are everything I’m hoping they will be?!” I jokingly asked a fellow hiker.

He laughed and smiled, “Oh yeah, you can’t see a thing up there!”

Fantastic.

We’d come all that way and were about six miles into the hike, only to find out that we’d been working toward nothing, no views at the top. No prize at the end of the race.

Each time we saw another group of hikers descending, they said the same thing: “No views today. You’re basically in a cloud at the summit.”

There was no turning back at this point. We had no choice but to keep going. Finally, we reached the top, where we had hoped to see beautiful views of the Great Range and find respite from nearly seven miles of hiking.

We found no such thing.

It was windy, chilly, and visibility was zero.

You literally couldn’t see beyond the trees at the top of the mountain down to the side below, much less the vast mountain range we were expecting. It seemed we were floating in the clouds, standing on the precipice of nothingness. We’d never experienced anything like it.

We met a couple from New Jersey at the summit, and all we could do was laugh about the situation. “Well, that was worth it!” we mused. Water droplets clung to our husbands’ facial hair. A faint, grocery-store-type mist filled the air, creating a dampness that none of us could escape. We couldn’t believe our luck in choosing a mountain that was supposed to have such a beautiful view on a day when it was literally sitting in a cloud. We hurried through eating our lunches, eager to descend before any rain came and to escape the windy mist.

Bill and I looked at each other and laughed as we began the four-hour descent down what were now slippery rocks. We were bummed we didn’t get to see the view we were expecting, but we will never forget that hike! We didn’t get the reward we were hoping for at the summit, but we left with a story and a feeling of connection with our fellow hikers, each of whom couldn’t help but laugh about the situation.

The last couple hours of our hike were pretty quiet. By that point, you’re covered in mud, your knees hurt, and your feet are pushed so far to the front of your boots that all you want to do is take them off and sit down.

I took this quiet time as an opportunity to reflect on the day and what we had experienced. I thought to myself:

“What’s the lesson in this?”

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything we do is connected and that we can assign meaning to any situation in our lives. Living life this way is more rewarding than staying in a state of frustration when things don’t go as I planned.

When we finally reached flat ground and emerged from the woods, I could see a glimmer of sunshine breaking through the trees, as the fog began to lift.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

In that moment, I could have chosen to view the entire day as a disappointment. After all, it was the only hike we had planned for the long weekend, and we couldn’t see anything by the time we reached the summit. It was chilly, wet, damp, and we were covered in mud as we finished out the hike.

Because of my focus on outcomes and achievement, I was inclined to see the whole day as a wash.

But it wasn’t.

If I was only focusing on the goal of having views at the summit as a reason for hiking that day, I would have missed out on everything else. I would have overlooked the joy in the journey – one-on-one time with my husband, brainstorming about our vision for the future, laughing and connecting with all of the other hikers, the surreal feeling of sitting in the clouds, our bodies’ ability to hike for nearly eight hours and almost 14 miles, the fact that we climbed the 13th highest mountain in the Adirondack Park, the feeling of accomplishment and relief that awaited us when we finally got back to our car and removed our boots and socks.

The day was full of joy and special time with the person I love most.

If we’re honest, only small slivers of our lives are characterized by mountaintops and spectacular summit views. When we experience these magical moments, we feel alive and accomplished and proud. I’m grateful for all of the mountaintops and summits in my life.

But I’m also grateful for the muddy boots, switchbacks, and all that comes with the hike to the top. The reality is, we spend most of our days putting in the miles, dealing with unpredictable circumstances, connecting with other people over shared experiences, dreaming about what could be, laughing at the unexpected, persisting when we don’t feel motivated, and getting a bit muddy along the way. Life is the climb, full of twists and turns, steep ascents and slippery descents.

Life is made up of millions of moments, many that are seemingly insignificant.

If we only appreciate the summits, then we’ll miss out on the joy of the journey to get there.

Bill and I have hiked dozens of mountains together, but I know this one will stand out as one of the most memorable. We’ll look back on this and think, “Remember that day when we were standing in the clouds?”

Although we didn’t experience the views at the summit that we were hoping for, we were given this beautiful gift as the clouds lifted and we emerged from the trail.

As hard as it is to pause and appreciate the journey en route to our destination, I encourage you to try it. It’s still hard for me to do, because I’m so future-focused, but I know this weekend was a lesson in finding joy in the process and being okay with an unexpected outcome.

Reflect on the progress you’ve made in any area of your life or work. What would happen if you focused more on the journey and less on the outcome? Think back to five years ago:

  • Where were you then (in your career, your relationships, your health)?
  • What has the journey from then until now taught you? How have you grown? What have you learned?
  • Who has been on the journey with you, encouraging you, laughing with you, supporting you?
  • What summits have you celebrated along the way?
  • How have difficult circumstances or unexpected bumps in the road ultimately led to at least one good thing in your life?

If we’re willing to ask ourselves what the lesson is in whatever we’re going through, life will be a lot less frustrating and a lot more rewarding.

Try to shift your mindset from focusing exclusively on outcomes and accomplishments. Instead, intentionally look for meaning in the mundane and joy in the journey.

For more stories like this one about taking a refreshing perspective on life and work, check out some of my previous stories:

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

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.

 

I’m Into It! Grainful, Chickpea Croutons & Yoga with Adriene

I started this “I’m Into It” series back in the summer, and I’ve gotten great feedback from you about it, so thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think! With all the rage about Instant Pot these days (especially post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday), make sure you check out my last post in the series about my favorite Instant Pot recipes.

Today, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite frozen meal options, what I use to add some crunch and protein to just about every salad I make, and take a look at my #1 channel on YouTube for at-home yoga classes. I hope you learn something that inspires you to take action and try one of these!

Grainful

I found out about these guys at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in September. I almost missed their booth because it was off the beaten path, but I’m so glad I stopped by. Grainful puts a savory spin on a breakfast favorite…steel cut oats!

Most of us don’t think that oats can be used for anything but oatmeal, but we’re selling them short when we think that way.

Grainful products are chef-inspired frozen entrees and meal kits made with 100% whole grain steel cut oats. They are certified gluten-free, non-GMO (not genetically modified), high in fiber and protein, and made with REAL ingredients. Many of them are vegan or vegetarian, too.

Most frozen meals have an ingredient list as long as your arm, but what I love about Grainful products is that I recognize everything on the ingredient list. Take my favorite meal they make – Tuscan Bean and Kale. Here’s the ingredient list:

Water, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans, 100% Whole Grain Steel Cut Oats, Tomatoes, Kale, Tomato Paste, Onions, Garlic, Tomato Flakes, Olive Oil, Salt, Spices (Granulated Garlic, Parsley, Oregano, Basil).

That’s what the ingredients would look like if I were to make that dish at home, which is exactly how it should be. We don’t have to sacrifice quality just because we’re not making it ourselves.

Buy It: You can find Grainful products near you by using this store locator. Where I live (Baltimore area), you can find their products (frozen case and in the natural food aisle) at ShopRite, Safeway, Giant and Wegmans.

Biena Snacks

Over the past few years, roasted chickpeas have become a pantry staple for us. They are a good source of fiber and protein, make a great substitute for the crunch of croutons on a salad, and are a filling snack. I’ve even added them to trail mix for a protein boost and a hint of salt.

I love knowing the stories behind the companies I support, and Biena’s is worth sharing!

Biena started with Poorvi Patodia. While pregnant, she was searching for a healthier way to satisfy her snack cravings. Inspired by a favorite childhood snack, she started experimenting with roasted chickpeas in her own kitchen, developing a unique way to roast chickpeas to make them light and crispy, yet still maintain the protein, fiber and nutrients of a whole chickpea. Poorvi launched Biena in 2012, at a time when the trend around plant-protein snacks was still in it’s infancy.

They have a ton of flavors, but I’d say the Sea Salt and Rockin’ Ranch are my favorites. Both are vegan, too!

Buy It: Find Biena Snacks near you by using their store locator. For all of my local peeps in Baltimore, you can find them at Target, Giant, and CVS.

Yoga with Adriene

If I lived in Austin, Texas, I would want to hang out with this woman ALL THE TIME. I’ve been using her yoga videos for the past three years for my at-home practice. She posts hundreds of FREE videos on YouTube, and with 2.8 million subscribers, she clearly has a huge fan club.

My favorite series (so far!) is 30 Days of Yoga, but she has others like Morning Yoga, Yoga for Digestion, Yoga for Beginners, Yoga on the Road, and even Yoga for Anxiety.

If you’re looking for an easy way to move more without having to leave the comfort of your home, you have to check out her videos. You could even go through a series with a friend, so if any of you want to start one of her series and want me to partner with you, so we can hold each other accountable, let me know!

Try It: To subscribe to Adriene’s channel and check out all of her free yoga videos, click here.

There you have it, my friends! Those are just a few of the things I’m “into” at the moment.

What about you? Have you tried any new recipes or products that you think I should know about? Feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

With a whole lot of love and gratitude for YOU,

Rachel

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