Tag: community

Receiving Love: The Gift of Belonging


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.


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:

Charm City Cooks: YumUniverse Potluck {5 Plant-Powered Recipes}

The first potluck I can remember going to was in the large fellowship hall of the Presbyterian Church I attended as a kid. Though there was more food than there were people to eat it, I have such positive memories of coming together with community to share a meal.

Last year, my friend, fellow health coach and culinary nutrition expert, Katie Hussong, and I decided to start a local potluck group called Charm City Cooks. Our goal was to bring people together regularly to share nourishing and delicious meals and create a safe space to build community.

Our first potluck was centered around recipes in The Undiet Cookbook, written by our culinary nutrition instructor, Meghan Telpner.

We had so much fun, we decided to do it again, even though winter weather postponed our plans…twice! On a beautiful, cool and crisp, spring-like Friday evening, we came together to share recipes from the blog, YumUniverse.


I love trying recipes from other bloggers and introducing you to those wonderful people as well, so you can expand your recipe bank and find new sources of cooking inspiration.

YumUniverse invites their readers to do this:

Discover the infinite possibilities for a plant-inspired, gluten-free lifestyle with veggie junkie, author and recipe developer, Heather Crosby

I’ve experienced so much vitality along with health and beauty benefits since boosting my intake of plant-based foods about five years ago. I believe the life in food gives us life and that colorful, vibrant foods help to build vibrant bodies. That’s why I center most of what I eat around plant-based foods.

YumUniverse has hundreds of beautiful and tempting recipes on their site, so it was hard to choose what to make, but these are the recipes we picked for our potluck:


Each of us had a little of everything and commented how delicious it was.

As we sat around the table sharing stories, dreams, smiles and laughter, I reflected on how special it is to connect with food and people in a way that nourishes us on so many levels.

This is how we were meant to experience food to its fullest – in community. 

As someone who hasn’t always felt like I “fit in,” being part of tribes like this one has been so healing for me. I love that I can “be me” and be surrounded by other women who are brave enough to do the same.

We’re already planning the next gathering and look forward to what dish each person will be inspired to bring. If you’re looking for something fun to do with your friends or family and want to try new recipes and build community, plan your own cookbook potluck party!

YumUniverse Group

The Charm City Cooks crew after our YumUniverse meal!

What Nourishes Your Soul? Retreat Reflections Part 2

While so much of what I’m passionate about centers on nutrition and food-based nourishment, I was reminded this past weekend about something I learned in nutrition school – that there is another kind of nourishment, one that isn’t focused on what we eat.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just returned from a women’s retreat and have committed to stop using “busyness” as an excuse to be disconnected and emotionally, mentally and spiritually malnourished.

One of the questions Tracey Meeks, this weekend’s speaker, asked several times during the retreat that stuck with me was this:

“What nourishes your soul?”

When’s the last time you asked yourself that question and really stopped to think about the answer? The food-based nourishment is great, but if it’s delivered to a soul that is malnourished, it will not be nearly as helpful, healing or restorative.

This “non-food nourishment” is so important in our lives…yet it’s often something we overlook and neglect.

During the Sunday morning session, as the weekend was coming to a close and I was reflecting on what I had learned, I thought about what made this retreat time so special, so restful, and so refreshing. I’m thinking next time I’m getting far out of the way, somewhere in England and take advantage of Holgates Holiday Parks, and once again really rest and refresh my self.

The conclusion I reached was this – I can take much of what I learned on the retreat with me and apply it to my life beyond an idyllic weekend away.

My roommates at the women's retreat, including my mom!

My roommates at the women’s retreat, including my mom!

Here are 10 lessons I learned from the retreat about how to nourish our restless, “too busy” souls:

1. Disconnect. No TV. No computers. Minimal, if any, cell phone time. It’s amazing how refreshing it is to take a break from technology.

When we disconnect from technology, we begin to connect to each other.

My dad recently wrote about this topic as it applies to the workplace, and I think he makes some great points worth reading. What can you do to disconnect?

2. Show authentic & focused attention. When we’re unencumbered by all of our gadgets, to do lists and schedules, we can sit down, give each other our undivided attention, looking into each other’s eyes, share our stories, trials and joys and listen. We feel heard when someone takes the time to truly listen to us and to give us his or her genuine attention. What changes can you make to be more authentically attentive?

3. Be vulnerable. So often, we put up walls that keep people away from truly knowing us. We keep ourselves safe by holding our fears, worries, and frustrations inside. When we are intentional about being vulnerable to people we trust, we create opportunities for growth and renewal. Each of us has an innate desire to feel known, heard and validated. What can you do to be vulnerable with the people in your life that you trust?

4. Have fun & laugh. We spent a lot of time laughing and having fun this weekend from doing Zumba and playing games to making jokes about ourselves and our funny tendencies (like the woman who packed 7 pairs of shoes for a day and a half retreat or the fact that there was a recycling bin in the bathroom…think about that one for a second). What is something that makes you laugh? Spend more time doing that thing.

5. Add in physical touch. Touch has always been known to have healing powers, but in this era of being over stimulated, hyper connected, and always “on,” we often miss out on the power of physical touch. Whether we were hugging a friend, putting our arms around each other in prayer, or rubbing someone’s back as encouragement or support, we were nourished by the gift of physical touch. How can you incorporate physical touch in to your life?

6. Be in community. There are many things about being a woman that are unique and worth celebrating. So often, we reject or abandon our uniquely feminine qualities and gifts that make being a woman so fun and fulfilling. I am going to be more intentional about creating these opportunities, whether it is having friends over for dinner, going on walks on the nearby trails, or grabbing tea on a Saturday morning. What can you do to be in community?

7. Listen to music. I’ve always loved to sing. My husband and I first connected over music and singing, and we are on the worship team at our church. Music is also an integral part of the retreat weekend, and we spend at least two hours singing and listening to music together. During our small group sessions, music came up several times, as several of us commented how the perfect song tends to come on the radio just when we need it. A couple of weeks ago, I was having a stressful week, and while I was driving to work (which gives me the opportunity to listen to 2 songs max), this song came on and really encouraged me. Music can help us unwind, relax, and recharge. What can you do to add music in to your day?

8. Spend time in nature. Over the course of the weekend, so many women mentioned how nourished they feel by being out in nature, in the wilderness. Something about us comes alive when we spend an afternoon hiking in the woods, take an evening walk and admire the changing colors of the trees, go for a run along a pier, soak in the warm rays of the sun during a lunch break, or play outside with kids. We spend so much of our time indoors that we often miss out on nature’s nourishment. What can you do to spend more time in nature?

9. Move. Whether it’s taking a Zumba class, trying an interval training session, or upping our heart rate and energy through a boot camp, the retreat weekend gives us lots of opportunities to move our bodies, something most of us don’t do enough. Some of us took advantage of the beautiful weather outside and went for a walk or run. Since many of us sit at work or at home for hours each day, taking time to move our bodies – something we were designed to do – is energizing, restorative and healing. What can you do to incorporate more movement into your day?

10. Rest & relax. This is the hardest thing for me to do. I feel like my mind is always “on.” Getting massages, snuggling with my husband, and soaking away my stress in a relaxing bath are a few ways I relax. One of the verses Tracey shared over the weekend that captured this idea of rest perfectly was from Mark 6:31: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

For me, time away from everything – being physically away from the demands and stresses of my every day life – helps me feel rested. What do you do and where do you go to nourish your soul and find rest?

In which of those areas do you feel adequately nourished? Undernourished?

Consider picking one area to focus on as you make strides to reconnect with people in your life and nourish your mind, body and soul.

This Is Community

Growing up, I preferred being alone more than being with other people.

It’s not because I didn’t like people; I was just super shy and introverted and felt safer and more comfortable in my own company than I did with others.

As I’ve mentioned before, studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college left an indelible mark on me, expanding my palate beyond what I ever thought possible. It also transformed my social tendency to prefer being alone.


The Hispanic culture is a very social one. I was surrounded by people all of the time and rarely had the opportunity to be by myself. When I returned from my semester abroad, instead of spending all of my weekday evenings hunkered down in the library reading, studying or writing, I began to value and enjoy staying up until 2:00 a.m. playing cards, baking, listening to music, and hanging out with my friends.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to be around people more than I wanted to be alone.

Graduating from college and leaving the academic world for the first time two years later was frightening for me. All of my identity was wrapped up in how well I performed as a student and whether I got good grades.

I had just started my first dating relationship, moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with someone I didn’t know, and was working two jobs. In the midst of all of those transitions, I felt alone, lonely, and sad. I lacked community.

My then-boyfriend (now husband!) and I went through some challenging times as individuals and as a couple as we sought to establish new connections and find community.

Over the past seven years, we have been blessed by the generous, loving, supportive community of family, friends, church members, and co-workers that surrounds us.

We have experienced the significance of what it means to be in community.

When a couple in our church has a baby or is going through a challenging time, and dozens of people sign up to bring them dinners for two months…

This is community.


When we sign up for a missions trip to Nicaragua as we are buying our first house and don’t know where the almost $3,000 we need for the trip will come from but end up being fully funded

This is community.

When a kitchen sink pipe starts leaking the day we move into our new house (which we had to get some loans to get in the first place), and our next door neighbor (who happens to be a plumber) offers us his industrial air blower to dry out the floor and replaces the pipe for half of what it would have cost elsewhere…

This is community.

When our bus gets stuck in the mud in an impoverished village in Nicaragua as we are on our way to a feeding center, and the villagers stop what they are doing to find rope to pull us out, dig their heels into the mud to push from behind, and bring whatever precious water they can find to help us clean ourselves up afterwards…

This is community.

When my husband has hand surgery and can’t drive his manual transmission car for a month, and four friends eagerly offer to lend us theirs…


This is community.

And days later, when a snowstorm comes through, and our next-door neighbors take it upon themselves to shovel out our walkway, sidewalk and driveway, as they tell us, “We know your husband can’t use his hand. We take care of you.”

This is community.

This is what happens when we are in community. We were meant to be in community.

So, what does this have to do with food?

As I’ve written before, we believe good health begins in the kitchen. It’s a place of connection, community, and comfort.

Unique communities around the world identified as “Blue Zones” are home to the world’s longest lived people, people living active, fulfilling lives well into their 90s and even 100s. Belonging to some kind of faith-based community, being in a social circle that supports healthy behaviors, and eating a plant-centric diet are three of the nine lessons learned from people who live to be 100+.

The next time you have an opportunity to spend time with friends, family or even a coworker, create community in the kitchen. Make a healthy, nourishing meal together. You don’t have to have a fancy kitchen or be an experienced chef to do this – maybe a pot, a pan and a knife, or some of these inexpensive kitchen staples.

Pick out the menu, go grocery shopping, prepare the meal, and savor the food together. It will be more enjoyable than doing it by yourself. Do that enough times and maybe cooking will become something you get to do instead of something you have to do.

Looking for some healthy recipe inspirations? Check out my Pinterest board or some of the links below for ideas!

  • Kath Eats Real Food: Real food. Nothing processed here. Delicious and simple ingredients and recipes…check them out!
  • Girl Makes Food: Discover how delicious and easy healthy food can be!
  • Clean Food: Terry Walters cooks seasonally and prepares delicious, nourishing recipes. I have her cookbook, Clean Food, and we have made nearly a dozen delicious recipes from it!
  • Healthy Girl’s Kitchen: After struggling with diet obsessions for years, Wendy has lost and kept off over 40 pounds through a plant-based diet. Check out her awesome recipes!
  • The Gracious Pantry: Clean eating recipes for everyday living.
  • oh she glows: In addition to being meat and dairy-free, many of Angela’s recipes are free of gluten, soy, and processed foods…did I mention they are also delicious?

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