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

Category: My Story (Page 1 of 13)

When the Student Is Ready, Breakthrough Appears

I didn’t see it coming. 

I didn’t know I needed it.

But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

The Invitation

I met Rosie Ward over a decade before when I was early in my career and intentionally seeking out people who were saying something different than everyone else.

I was drawn to her honesty and authenticity, her willingness to ask challenging questions, and to speak truth into the hard spots. It would be nearly eight years before we’d meet in person after exchanging emails and phone calls, but what really shifted our relationship was an invitation she gave me in the spring of 2017.

Rosie reached out to me because she was getting trained in something called “immunity to change”. Here’s the premise behind it: just like we have a physical immune system that activates to protect us when it is threatened, we also have a psychological immune system that jumps in to protect us when we feel psychologically threatened. We’re often unaware of this mechanism, but it holds us back and prevents us from moving forward in our lives, in our work, and in relationships.

She asked if I wanted to be one of her guinea pigs and enter into a yearlong coaching relationship with her to work through my own immunity to change. That time of my life was one of particular heaviness and sickness, as I had just been diagnosed with an acute form of mono called Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I was more open than ever because I felt like I had completely bottomed out and had nowhere to go but up.

I was ready for change.

The Goal

As Rosie and I began working together, we identified an improvement goal or commitment that was meaningful to me at that time:

To trust in myself and confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world.

I realized that, although I had much to say and felt compelled to share all that I had experienced, I was holding myself back. I wasn’t showing up fully, even though I was telling other people to do that. Trusting myself is and always has been hard because I’m so prone to being externally defined, allowing others’ judgments of me influence me more than what I think about myself. Though I often present myself as confident, I don’t always feel that way inside.

After identifying my goal of putting myself out there more, Rosie and I explored why it mattered to me. I have a strong desire to make a difference, to live a life that influences other people, and to invest myself in people and causes that will have a lasting impact. I’ve always felt that I’m meant to do something special with my life and know I’m meant to make more of an impact than I currently am. I’ve been given a message of hope and healing to share with people and know that my voice is a powerful force for good. I believe God has given me a unique set of gifts to transform others, and I don’t want to waste them.

We dug a bit deeper, and I had to get honest about what I was doing to move toward my goal or what I was not doing that was sabotaging my goal.

I wasn’t writing or blogging or speaking at conferences as much as I needed and wanted to; I wasn’t putting my message out there. When I did speak, I wasn’t charging what I was worth. I wasn’t seeking opportunities to connect with people who were doing things I wanted to do in order to build my relationships and exposure. I wasn’t seeking partnerships with those people because I feared they would steal my ideas and use them as their own or that they’d do what I wanted to do better than me.

I frequently discounted my value, what I was worth and should charge, and what I can contribute. I would think to myself:

“Who are YOU to speak or write about ‘x’? Others are already doing that. You’re being redundant. It’s already been said before in a similar way. You’re not unique enough.”

Ouch.

YUCK.

It made me uncomfortable to say all of those things aloud, to call out what I was doing to sabotage myself. But what came next was even more difficult, exposing, and vulnerable.

The Fears

Rosie eased me into peeling back the next layer of the onion and explore the fears and worries I was wrestling with at the time.

What was I so afraid would happen if I stopped doing the things that were holding me back and started doing what I knew I needed to do? This is what I feared would happen if I trusted myself to confidently and intentionally put myself out there to share my message with the world:

  • I will look selfish. (Enough “Me! Me! Me!”, Rachel.)
  • I will be disloyal to my employer who’s been really good to me.
  • I will be irrelevant; someone else will outshine me, and I will be yesterday’s news. What if someone else comes along and I become obsolete? Isn’t someone else already talking about this or writing about this in a way that is more interesting or better than me?
  • I will fail. I will put myself out there, and no one will receive it or want what I create. No one will ask me to speak or read what I write.
  • I will be taken advantage of by people. They will steal my ideas and use them as their own or try to pay me less than I’m worth.
  • I will amount to nothing – I will BE nothing if I cannot create what I was called to create, write what I’m meant to write, say what I’m meant to say.

As difficult as it was to admit my fears, especially ones I deemed to be particularly ugly like the one about people “stealing” my ideas, I felt a sense of relief as I released some of their weight onto paper. It felt a bit less scary to know that I wasn’t alone in my fears but that Rosie was there to carry them with me.

Being honest about our deep fears and worries is an incredibly painful process, but it’s necessary if we want to grow and become more of who we are meant to be.

What followed was one of the most eye-opening aspects of the process. I had to take my fears and turn them into “competing commitments”. In other words, I had to identify what I was committing to doing to avoid experiencing those fears. I turned each fear into a commitment statement:

  • I am committed to never appearing selfish or egotistical.
  • I am committed to never appearing disloyal.
  • I am committed to never being seen as incompetent.
  • I am committed to never letting someone else shine.
  • I am committed to always being the best.
  • I am committed to never risking being rejected or failing.
  • I am committed to never having others be the “go-to” person, to never being irrelevant.

As I said each one aloud, I was embarrassed by the ridiculousness of those statements and said to Rosie: “I don’t want to commit to those things! That’s not who I want to be. That’s not what I want to be true of my life.”

I had kept those thoughts and fears and judgments spinning around in my head for years but hadn’t ever thought of them in quite that way before. The new perspective began to unlock something in me. I started to realize that how I was showing up wasn’t aligned with who I saw myself to be inside and who I knew I was meant to become.

I wanted to change, but I had a bit more work to do first.

What came next completely undid me and forced me to face a painful belief I had unconsciously carried with me since childhood. We dug deeper to get to the core of why I was holding myself back.

We identified my Big Assumption.

The “B.A.”

This was the hardest part of the process, to uncover the “big assumption” beneath my fears and behaviors. It took months to come to a conclusion that made my eyes well up with tears, my face burn red, and my lip quiver. It was painful to call out the internalized truths that were at the heart of my competing commitments:

“If I trust in myself and put myself out there, then people won’t accept me, I won’t be ‘enough’ by just being me, and I won’t be good enough to be loved.”

And there it was, staring me back in the face, beckoning me to acknowledge its presence.

I won’t be good enough to be loved.

Who I am is not enough.

For my whole life, I had unconsciously believed that my value and whether I’m worthy of being loved comes from what I do and accomplish, not from who I am. I didn’t believe that who I am was enough or that who I am was what people valued most about me.

My grabbiness and possessiveness came from the assumption that there was only room for one successful person who does what I do and that I have to be “the one” or I won’t have value. I had internalized the belief that, if I’m not the expert or the go-to person, then I’m nothing, no one.

And who would love a nobody?

I was overcome with sadness, as I sat with those thoughts and reflected on what those assumptions meant.

No wonder I had always made it such a priority to be a straight-A student, to win awards and ribbons and trophies, to be impressive.

No wonder I had driven myself to exhaustion and had completely burned out.

I believed that love was on the other side of achievement.

What a shallow and fleeting kind of “love” that is, yet it’s what fueled me.

Admiration and popularity are not the same as love. They’re cheap substitutes for the real thing, stand-ins that will give us temporary satisfaction but always leave us thirsting for more.

We must be more than what we do because if we stop doing, then who the heck are we?

The Transformation

Since then, I’ve been on a reflective journey to get to the truth of who I am regardless of what I do. I still struggle with many of the same fears, but I have moved closer to my goal.

Over the past year, in particular, I have put myself and my message out there on this blog, on LinkedIn, on podcasts, and across the country as I’ve been speaking at conferences reaching thousands of people.

I’m taking on a national role as Director of Wellbeing with our parent company in 2019.

I’ve invested in training to hone the craft of professional speaking.

I’ve befriended other people doing similar work as me, and we are now doing some events together, as collaborators, not competitors.

I’ve been putting myself and my message out there.

I’ve also invested in my relationships and spent more time with people who love me for who I am, not for what I do. I’ve put more time and energy into relationships because I’ve come to realize that they are even more important than anything I achieve.

We must be willing to acknowledge the false beliefs we’ve internalized as truth and how they are sabotaging our growth and forward motion. It is a messy, uncomfortable, vulnerable, and ugly process, but it is also incredibly freeing, transformational and healing.

We won’t arrive at a point in time in which we have no fears or worries (I certainly haven’t), but we can begin to be honest with ourselves about what drives us and what underlies why we do what we do.

We have to be aware of what we are doing to get in our own way before we can change it.

We must be willing to let go of what we think is true of ourselves in order to embrace what is actually true and step into the fullness of who we are called to be.

As you begin a new year, I invite you to experience this process yourself instead of making the traditional New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Identify an improvement goal that is important to you.
  2. Dig deeper: How are you getting in your own way? What fears and worries are holding you back from reaching that goal?
  3. What lies have you internalized that are underlying your stuckness?

This work isn’t easy, but the growth and transformation you can experience make it worthwhile. Believe that change is possible.

To learn more about the Immunity to Change process, leave a message below with questions, click here or buy the book on Amazon.

Receiving Love: The Gift of Belonging

Uninvited

For much of my childhood and young adult years, that’s how I felt.

I’ve kept journals since elementary school, and I’ll never forget one entry from sixth grade around Christmastime: “I was pretty upset today in school because I was the only other girl besides Maureen that didn’t get a present from a classmate. I felt pretty low. I was pretty much unwanted.”

As an introverted kid who went through 12 years of Catholic schooling but wasn’t Catholic, I struggled to feel like I fit in with my peer groups. I was a studious kid who unequivocally followed the rules – like the time I raised my hand in fifth grade to remind the teacher about the quiz she had forgotten to give us that day

I could feel my classmates’ eyes boring holes into the back of my head as the words stumbled out of my mouth. Kids who do stuff like that to (unintentionally) screw over their classmates don’t tend to be the most popular. People aren’t lining up to hang out with them.

The rejection continued when, in eighth grade, every kid in our class of 27 was invited to a party…except for me and one other unpopular girl.

It hurt.

I couldn’t help but think something was wrong with me.

As a result of experiences like these, the belief that people didn’t want to be my friend, that I didn’t belong, and that I wasn’t “cool” enough to be liked took root in my heart at a young age.

Instead of expressing myself, I chose to mute my needs, feelings and fears.I never let them see how deeply wounded I felt when they excluded me or rejected me. 

I just went up to my bedroom and cried and journaled about it.

This is not how we are meant to live.

We are hardwired to connect, to belong, and to be in close community with other people, not to be isolated and alone.

We long to feel seen, heard, known and wanted.

If we are going to connect in meaningful, soul-filling ways, we must be willing to take some risks, to put ourselves and our needs out there, to accept that sometimes we will feel like a burden, and to open ourselves up and be vulnerable. But all of that was hard for me to do.

My fears and insecurities overwhelmed me and held me back from sharing my life with people: “What will they think if they know the real me? Will they like me? Will they want me? Will I be too much?”

I knew how to protect myself more than I knew how to connect.

Getting sick with Epstein-Barr Virus two years ago was the wake-up call I needed to shift my mindset around connection, friendship and community. I was in such a state of neediness and depletion that I had no choice but to reach out, to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people into my life. I chose to admit that whatever I was doing wasn’t working and began to reexamine my life, how I was living it, and what really mattered to me. 

Little by little, as I took risks and let people in to my life and invested more in their lives, I began to change. As a result of the transformational gift of friendship I have received over the past two years, particularly in the past 12 months, I have become more whole and happier.

I have been surrounded by community in a way I never had been before. 

I was finally willing to let my guard down and let people in. 

People checked in on me, prayed for me and my health for months, sent me inspirational and encouraging messages and cards, and gave me a few gut-punching doses of radical love. They spoke truth I needed to hear but would have previously rejected or responded to with defensiveness and denial.

I wasn’t doing anything to earn or deserve their attention or affection.

They wanted to love me through a difficult time because that’s what good friends do, and instead of pushing them away, I let them in.

In the book, Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist speaks to this kind of intentional community: 

“We don’t learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you.”

There weren’t many “easy moments” last year or this past year, yet my friends did what true friends do – they kept showing up no matter what.

True community doesn’t just rally behind you in tough times; it comes alongside you to celebrate the joyful times, to share in moments that matter. 

I’ll never forget how a group of over a dozen friends and a few dozen strangers joined me at Movement Lab in Baltimore to celebrate my 33rd birthday. I decided I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself and wait for people to invite me to something that year; instead, I would invite them to join me for a morning of music, dancing and brunch.  

As the celebratory dance class began, my friend, Lola, the instructor, smiled and asked the group, “Does everyone know why we’re here today??”

My friend, Suzie, shouted out, “To celebrate Rachel’s birthday!”

I beamed

And the dance party began.

We danced our way through 90s pop and hip-hop songs, laughing and smiling and sweating and moving our bodies freely and joyfully. 

As the class came to a close, Lola had everyone form a circle and put me in the middle. When the final song played, I drew in friends from the perimeter to join me in the circle. After a few minutes, everyone was dancing around the room; a deep sense of connection, joy and community was palpable.

At the end of class, Lola put me back in the middle and had everyone form a tight circle around me, as they sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

As I stood there looking around the room and into the faces of my friends and strangers who were there to celebrate my life, my eyes welled up with tears of gratitude. 

In that moment, I could feel a transformation taking place within me, as the lie that I wasn’t wanted or didn’t fit in loosened its grip and released my heart to receive the gift of love and friendship.

I felt like I belonged.

Being in community does something to our soul; it helps us heal.

In the months and year that followed that special day, my friendships have continued to deepen and grow stronger. I have intentionally invited friends into my life in ways I never had before. As a result, so much has changed, and I have been transformed as a result.

I have opened my eyes to realize that many of them were there all along, but I was so protected and guarded that I didn’t let them in.

Now, I let them into my mess, my fears, my insecurities, my quirks, and my struggles, baring my soul in ways I never had before.

I sit with their often-piercing words of wisdom and truth.

I wrestle with their tough, soul-searching questions. 

I reach out to them to schedule phone dates, double dates or girls’ nights. 

I ask about their lives. 

I pray for and celebrated them.

I show up more consistently and more fully.

I have experienced the transformational power of friendship. I have begun to believe I am worthy of the love and kindness they pour out on me, instead of rejecting it for fear that I am unworthy.

The ways my friends have shown me love over the past year, in particular, have softened my heart and filled me with immense gratitude for how well they know me. Each of us desires to feel like someone knows us, deeply.

My friends know my likes and dislikes and that I cherish handwritten notes.

They know that Bill and I are somewhat obsessed with Escape Rooms and find one in every new city we visit.

That herbal tea is my drink of choice no matter what time of day it is or where we are. (In other words, I’m a permanent DD!)

That I love to dance and that 90s hip-hop and pop music is my jam.

That I will rarely order directly off the menu due to my dietary restrictions and will likely throw a bit of a wrinkle into most homemade dinner plans.

That butterflies and peacocks are my spirit animals.

That I’m a big dreamer but often hold myself back more than anyone else does.

That I wish my relationships with my siblings were stronger.

That I struggle with having a scarcity mindset and can get grabby and possessive about people and ideas and question my unique value.

That I leave very little room for margin and am not always the most responsive to their text messages.

That my head is often in the future imagining what could be, so I need their reminders to come back to the present and just be.

That I think I have to impress people and accomplish things to be worthy of love.

That I rarely feel like I am enough.

None of this is terribly easy to admit, but when we invest in community and show up consistently, we can more readily drop the shame we feel and be met with grace, compassion and acceptance.

I’ve come to believe I am worthy of being invited, included and known. I realize I have to take initiative, let my guard down and let people in to receive the love people have wanted to give me. I have deeper and more honest friendships now than I ever have before. I’ve gone from feeling lonely and left out to feeling like I belong and that people want me in their lives.

I feel seen, known and like I matter.

The other night, a group of my friends came together to share a meal, laugh about everything from bodily functions to birth stories, and exchange and make Christmas ornaments to commemorate our friendship and all we’ve been through together in the past year.

I felt filled up as I left, and when I got home, I texted them this:

“You ladies have been the best gift of the year for me! I read Shauna Niequist’s book, Bread and Wine, earlier this year. In it, she wrote about a group of friends that she’s known for years and has regular dinners with. She wrote about how much they have been through together and how deeply they know each other. As I read that book, I remember thinking, ‘It would be so neat to have something like that’, and now I feel like I do.”

What a healing gift it is to experience community, to be loved in spite of ourselves, to feel like we belong, and to be challenged to become all that we are meant to be by people who truly know us.

My hope for you is that you believe you, too, are worthy of love, belonging and friendship and that you will experience the joy of community in the year to come.

You are worthy of being known, worthy of being seen, worthy of belonging, and worthy of being loved.

Reflect

Now, I want to offer you the gift of reflection. Think about friendships in your life (either past friends or current ones):

  • What friendships are you grateful for this year? Have you let them know how much they mean to you?
  • How have you shown up for the friends in your life and how they shown up for you?
  • In what ways have you let fears of unworthiness or rejection dictate your behavior and unwillingness to put yourself out there? What can you do to free yourself from those fears and begin to let people in?
  • What is one step you can take to be an even better, more intentional friend in the new year?

If you’re interested in reading more posts on the topic of friendship and the power of community, here you go:

When the Truth Hurts: The Gift of Courageous Friends

For much of my life, I’ve found it easier to be alone and independent than to be in community, rely on people, or be vulnerable about what I need.

I’ve been burned in friendships multiple times, so I’ve put up walls to protect myself, ensuring that I wouldn’t be hurt, excluded or rejected again. Even when I was devastated by social rejection, I kept my pain between myself and the pages of my journals. I didn’t let other people in, and, as a result, I often felt alone.

When you act like you have it all together, you tend to experience distance in relationships and end up in a vicious cycle of rejection and isolation. If people think you’re “fine” all the time, they’re unlikely to check in on you to see how you’re doing, which further isolates you.

That was my reality for years.

Then, I got sick.

Last year, I completely burned out and was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono. My immune system was wiped out, and I didn’t know when I would feel better or get my energy back.

I had to be honest about how I had gotten to that point. I had to own the fact that I had let my ambition and career supersede all other aspects of my life, especially my relationships. Relationships with coworkers were rocky. I missed important events with family and friends. I felt deeply disconnected and like I was in a downward spiral, while trying to maintain the perception that I could handle all of it by myself.

A few friends began to see past my facade and gradually broke through, prompting a transformation in me.

They offered me the gift of truth.

Warning: Unsolicited Observation Coming

One day, about a month after my diagnosis, I received a sweet text message from my friend, Cara:

“Thinking of you, Rachel.”

I replied back thanking her and telling her how it had been a rough year. I told her how the virus kept knocking me out but said I was beginning to learn lessons I was too busy to notice or appreciate before.

With a great deal of courage, she replied to me with this:

“I can imagine that’s been rough, especially because you strive to take very good care of your body. I’m sorry it’s been recurring, but I’m glad to hear God is working through the circumstances. [Warning: unsolicited observation coming!]

Uh oh.

I’ve never been in a situation like that before, but I can’t exactly say I was excited to read what followed.

Her message continued:

“I’ve noticed so many of your posts on your blog and LinkedIn and Facebook talk about slowing down and worrying less about achievement, etc., but I feel like you yourself actually rarely slow down. You definitely live life to every inch and every minute possible, always exploring new places and activities and people, but you rarely seem…content? Fulfilled? Pardon me saying so, but my prayer for you is to really truly believe the amazing and wonderful things you share with the rest of us. I have learned so much from you, Rachel!”

I reread her message.

My gut reaction was to get defensive (“I know, I know! I’m working on it!!”).

I had never had someone expose me quite like that before, and it felt uncomfortable, but I did what I knew I had to do in that moment.

I thanked her.

When you’re already knocked down and are brought to a place of humility, it’s somehow easier to hear and receive tough truths.

What courage it took for her to send me those words. How loving it was for her to offer me that truth, a truth I would not have voluntarily sought out but that I desperately needed to face. 

Sometimes the truth hurts, but we need to be willing to hear it if we are going to grow.

Since then, I’ve been able to be more honest about how I’m really doing and stepping back to consider what really makes me happy. I had focused so much on achieving and getting ahead – two things I still care about – at the expense of experiences that brought me back to the present like spending time with those I love most. I recognized that work was getting the best of me and everyone else was getting what was left, and I wasn’t content or fulfilled as a result of my priorities.

I’m grateful to have people in my life like Cara who care about me enough to be honest and to speak the truth in love. I’m grateful for her friendship and how much we enjoy just being with each other, sharing our stories, going on walks and laughing together. I’m grateful to have had more moments that matter with people who matter most since that conversation.

Think about It: When we hear truth that hurts, can we be humble and gracious enough to receive it instead of reject it? Can we lower our defenses and be open to growth, even if it’s hard? What is a challenging truth someone has shared with you that you rejected but could see as helpful or supportive of your growth?

Removing Blind Spots

Nearly a year after Cara’s message, I had a conversation with another friend, whom I’ve known for five years. What started as a relaxed, evening catch-up, while our husbands played video games, turned into two hours of the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had.

She challenged me to to face lies I’ve been holding onto about not being loved, wanted or desired. She asked me where those beliefs originated and was puzzled as to why I have believed them for so long, considering how many people around me love me and support me.

What came next rocked me to my core:

“I just don’t know where that comes from. It’s almost like your problems and what you’re going through are a big deal, but other people have stuff going on, too. You’re often so focused on what you’re dealing with that you don’t see it. I don’t want you to hear me say you’re a bad friend because you’re not.

People would do anything for you, Rachel, me included, not because we expect anything in return but because we’re your friends and we love you.

But I bet most people don’t feel the same way about you. It’s like there’s this wall up, ‘I’m really busy. I’ve got a lot going on,’ so people don’t ask you or think you’d be able to help them in their time of need. Their time isn’t any less important than yours. Sometimes it seems like you are very focused on yourself and your own life and what you’re doing that other people may be missed. I don’t want you to hear me say that you’re selfish, but it’s very clear to those around you that you can’t be bothered. I don’t think it’s your fault, just that you’ve been blind to it.”

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.

It hurt to hear that…badly.

I was a wreck. 

I had never had anyone speak to me with such radical candor before, and having what I believed to be my darkness and ugliness exposed was excruciatingly painful. Each of us knows there are parts of ourselves that we hope never see the light of day, that no one ever notices, and that we can deny exist.

But how will we ever grow and change if we keep them in the dark?

Instead of rejecting her words or denying what she said, I stayed with her and listened to what she had to say, even though it pained me to do so. I could hear it because I knew she was speaking out of love…

And that she was right.

I had become so self-absorbed and self-focused that I was blind to my own behavior. More than anything, I needed someone who loved me and knew me to speak into that dark place in my life and expose it for what it was. I needed the truth reflected back to me from someone who knew me, so I could begin the process of changing and growing.

That friend had built up years of relational capital with me, and her bank was pretty full. She had earned the privilege of speaking the truth in love to me because she had demonstrated for years that she loved and cared about me as her friend.

At the end of our conversation, my friend offered me some hope:

“When you recognize there’s an area where you have a blind spot, it’s because it was put there. It’s not you. It can be removed. It will be removed. You’ve been barreling down the highway, not noticing what’s on the periphery. Imagine what will happen when you remove the blind spots.”

I had an emotional hangover the week that followed that conversation, but I could feel a shift begin, as a result of my heightened awareness. I started to be more responsive to friends’ text messages, intentionally planned more friend dates, and dropped off dinners to friends going through a challenging time.

Several months later, that same friend wrote me a note, calling out the heart change she’d witnessed in me since our conversation. Other friends have given me similar feedback. I’m still a work in progress, but I have begun to make changes, little by little.

I’m grateful for the power of tough truths to transform us and for the love and bravery of friends willing to convey them.

Now that I’ve begun transforming my friendships, I know the next step for me is to remove the blind spots I’ve had toward my family relationships, especially my siblings and their kids.

I know it will be a tough journey and that I won’t figure it out overnight, but I’m committed to doing the hard work. I’m committed to checking in and reaching out, anticipating needs without being asked, and being present and listening without trying to fix anyone.

Think about It: Has someone who cares about you ever shared a challenging observation with you about a potential blind spot? How did you respond? If you haven’t had such a conversation, who is one person you could reach out to seek that kind of feedback?

Try this as a conversation starter: “I want to grow and continue to become the best version of myself. Do you notice anything I do, think or say that gets in the way of my growth that I may not be aware of? I welcome your honest opinion because I know you care about me and want what’s best.”

The Healing Power of Truth

While people will encourage us, support us, and listen to us, they will also disappoint us, let us down, and hurt us, and we will do the same to them. Relationships are messy, and people are unpredictable, but all of us need them to thrive and live our best lives

Being in community and in relationship with people means being together as who we really are – sad, broken, joyful and excited.

Being in radical, authentic, transformational relationships requires that we be willing to speak the truth in love for the betterment of another person…and that we have the humility to receive truth when it is offered to us.

I love what visionary leader and author, Ray Dalio, has to say about the role of pain in our lives and think it connects with what I’ve shared today:

Pain + Reflection = Progress.

As hard as it is to sit with the pain and to let difficult truths sink in, when we are willing to receive them and take the time to reflect on them, progress, growth and transformation can follow.

I’d much rather jump on the achievement train and “fix” whatever the pain is, but I’m learning that sitting with it and letting myself feel what I feel, even when it hurts, is part of the process of healing.

Think about It: Are you willing to receive the truth? Who are the truth tellers in your life? If someone has been radically candid with you, how have you transformed as a result of their feedback? What steps do you need to take to continue on that path of growth?

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!

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