The Value of Borrowed Time

The Value of Borrowed Time

December 11, 2018

Think back to a moment in your life when you had a near miss or a miracle save.

I recall getting lost in a big foreign city one winter night and realizing with a heart-dropping plunk that I had wandered down an alley that was wildly unsafe. Somehow the gruff men arguing within earshot did not see me . . . somehow I navigated safely back to a crowded street.

Another whoa moment? I was body surfing solo in Hawaii in a secluded cove and didn’t have time to respond to the swell just feet away. It felt like a linebacker punched my chest, as I went under and got caught in the rip tide. I was hurled into sharp coral, dragged along the bottom and, somehow, tossed up to the surface for air. I emerged with half a dozen nasty bruises and a deep gash in my foot . . . but I survived.

You surely have narrow escapes. Those near miss moments are borrowed time. And, if we accept that we are living every day in borrowed time, doesn’t that change how we act, what we say and who we value?

Borrowed time is a present from God, an eye-opening wonder and something that far too many of us fail to recognize. That extra span of time with loved ones, a fresh start on past misconceptions . . . a chance to act like our lives are the gifts they truly are.

The Forgotten Art Project

The Forgotten Art Project

October 11, 2018

When my friend and creative soul sister Sherah reached out with an invitation to chat, I thought it was merely a how’s it going, mom life, let’s touch base girl kind of moment.

As it turns out, it was a lovely and humbling invitation to be featured on Episode 19 of The Forgotten Art Project podcast!

Before you listen (on iTunes or Spotify—shameless plug), keep in mind that I had two shots of espresso before the call. It’s a windy, wonderful, deep hearted and expansive conversation about how a writer can find herself, lose herself and get inspired to show up for others. I hope you enjoy and, perhaps, take away a few tidbits.

Ready for Renewal

Ready for Renewal?

August 7, 2018

If you hear the word “renew,” what comes to mind?

Perhaps your Amazon membership, your magazine subscription or your passport. You’re not wrong but, like so many words with rich origins, renew has many meanings. In fact, for giggles, peruse Webster (or, if you’re under 30, Google) and scan the multiple definitions.

At a soul level, maybe you answered differently. Perhaps your spirit cried out, “The feeling of having fresh life, greater strength or inner peace.” I know my soul longs for these things and, through continual mediation, I seek them passionately. I encourage you to:

  1. Accept that you are craving a deep, genuine renewal
  2. Vocalize to your heart and mind that you deserve renewal
  3. Seek it within yourself, not in the world

If you can begin to do these things, you’re ready for renewal to take root. Because, honestly friends, as much as I adore a spa day or a vacation getaway (and believe me, I do), the lasting and most beneficial renewal is from the inside out.

Looking at the Old Testament Greek word for renewal, we find anakainosis. What intrigues me is that it means “renovation” or a “complete change for the better.” Consider the power in renovating or actively transforming your mindset. Sink into the promise of a total change . . . that is designed to bring better to your life. That renewal, friends is soul changing!

So, as you pray, meditate or reflect, take in this wondrous renewal with gratitude.

Searchlight Poem

The Soul’s Searchlight

June 28, 2018

I have found myself in a reflective space recently. At first, I assumed it was a survival mechanism for some chaotic waves . . . then, I realized it was a stirring of my creative soul calling me back to my poetic roots. So, indulge me, friends. Here is a piece from my Poet’s Soul series, written almost a decade ago. It’s called “Searchlight:”

Headstrong and heart long
the path of life beckons—
releasing prismatic inspiration
on the canvas of careworn time.

Calling in unsung melodies—
a heart and mind sway rhythmically
to chords of verity and epic depth,
fueled by a masquerading glory.

Cast aside expectation and strife,
burrow into the clarity of “if,”
deny no whim, nor shade no beam—
for a moment, let all fade to balance.

Search in the eyes of an assumed stranger
and find the warmth of ages—
comforting smiles, playful glances—
more reality than myth demands.

Permeating to the core,
distilling the elements never uttered
but always sought from self—
mirroring the best of one as more.

Poetry means many things to many people, and it can change with time. For me, this rings of the unstoppable pull of life experience, the desire to feel and see all that a soul can discover, and the connected little lights that glimmer from inside all of us. I hope you enjoy.

Focus on the Bricks, Not the House

Focus on the Bricks, Not the House

March 17, 2018

In a recent conversation with friends, someone said, “I don’t know how to keep my loved ones from making poor choices.” I took a deep breath and responded, “Focus on the bricks, not the house.”

She stared at me quizzically with the she-has-finally-gone-mad-WTF-did-that-mean look that friends are allowed to dispense to another.

I grinned warmly and explained. Scripting the lives and outcomes of others is neither your calling nor your place. Whether it’s hoping that a family member comes to faith, a friend gives up an unhealthy relationship, a spouse moves past an addiction or a child avoids tough pitfalls, you cannot map out their entire life. You are not building their house, they are.

Instead, you can lay down individual bricks. Each one is an act of love, compassion, respect, comfort, moral fortitude, wisdom . . . bricks that offer a path, if they choose to walk with you. Bricks that they can choose to use in the foundation of their own spiritual house.

If those poor choices lead to harmful behaviors, thoughtfully guide them to seek professional help. But, in most cases, you cannot force them. We each have free will and use it as we will.

Remember to place bricks gently. The most well-intentioned among us, myself included, can desire happiness for our loved ones to such a degree that we may slip into figuratively tossing the bricks at them. That breaks windows in their house and can leave bruised feelings.

Just like you might see at the entrance to a monument or museum, write a little hopeful note on the brick in your mind, like “I pray for your peace and fulfillment” as you graciously offer it. That kind of loving mortar builds a lasting connection.

Healing Broken Relationships

Healing Broken Relationships

February 26, 2018

Harsh words in the heat of anger. Accusations flying with no patience or logic to restrain them. Kindness being overlooked for rightness. So much hurt can be dealt by those we love.

We let them into our intimate, safe spaces. We trust them with our hearts and our realness. In return, every relationship has some risk of pain. That does not mean that it is not worth loving, worth trusting or worth forgiving . . . but it takes healing.

At its core, healing is a process. Particularly where relationships are concerned, there are at least two perspectives and two wounded souls doing battle. Here are some steps to help:

  1. Listen to what you’re saying and what the other person is saying. I didn’t use “hear” because so many of us hear what we want, hear the opening where we can jump in to be right and hear the sound of our own pulse pounding in our heads as we get enraged. Stop. Listen. Really make sure you are understanding the tone, the facts, the motivations.
  2. Empathize with the other person. This is not easy when you’re upset, but come at it from the, “How are they feeling and why?” and “Which of their points are valid?” and “How is their hurt showing?” Be willing to humble yourself, even if you are not in the wrong. Be willing to understand that a perception does not have to be a permanent viewpoint. Care for them.
  3. Tell them what you are feeling in a calm, rational way. Sit down instead of stand over them. Take deep breaths and really desire to make things better. Perhaps, give each person 3 minutes to share their side without interruption. Use language that is not accusatory, mean or disrespectful. They won’t hear you and will shut down. Be patient and honest.
  4. Go toward change. Healing can require a breather of time, space and location. Let them have it and give it to yourself. It can be far better to step away, rather than to lash out or tap out entirely. Use the distance to reflect on the situation without playing the “Here’s why I’m right and s/he’s wrong” reel in your head. Dwelling on hurt and mistakes only leaves us dwelling in pain. When you’re ready, find a neutral space to re-engage thoughtfully.

In essence, “LET Go” of bitterness and bridge gaps with love. Show that you can be your best and believe the other person will do the same. It takes time and genuine effort.

Healing is not restoring, so embrace the fact that you may not get back to who/where you were before. Brokenness does not always rebound to the same form. But, like melting metal to extract the impurities and make it stronger, your relationship may be strengthened too.

A serious and separate matter is abuse. If you are fearful for your body, your spirit or your well-being, please visit the “Is this Abuse?” page from The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Get guidance, get help. You are loved and not alone.

Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.” Jeremiah 33:6 NIV

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Why Share Your Struggles

Why Share Your Struggles?

February 8, 2018

Imagine facing a mountain. You arch your neck to look up and can’t make out the top. All you see is steep, rocky terrain and slippery slopes draped in thick clouds. You stand before it numb, overwhelmed and uncertain how to move forward. 

Then, you feel a hand take yours. Suddenly, you make out a thin, winding path carved into the mountain. You notice the clouds clearing slowly and finally take a deep breath. You see the top!

You turn and there is a close friend, softly smiling in support. You cry and embrace them. You realize you are not alone. Your strength increases gradually, as you hear a still voice gently whisper, “You are loved. You can do this.”

Dear friend, it’s time to #HealLouder.

Do you find yourself repeating painful habits related to grief or past hurts? Are you unsure how to reemerge from the cloud of numbness or apathy you feel around you? Are you afraid of judgment or worried about disappointing others? Have you convinced yourself that keeping it in is the only way to survive?

You are brilliant, exquisite and about to embrace more of what makes you unique.
No more silent suffering.

We are called to empathy. We are calling to gather with others. We are called to humble ourselves—to share our experiences, to discover life lessons and to help one another thrive (not just survive).

Consider this: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NIV

If you happen to be a Christian, you may need to hear this most. Too many “churchgoers” fall into the trap of not sharing their gritty, disappointing struggles. They fear judgment, feel like failures for having issues and don’t want the spotlight turned on their lives. I’ve been there. But it’s nowhere to live and it denies the healing power of Jesus. To you, I say this:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 2:2 NIV

Hold on to that “renewing of your mind.” Is not the Spirit a gift for instruction, support and healing? See how “test” is built into this verse, as God knows we will stumble to learn. Are you craving transformation? I encourage you to trust that a past choice, a present moment, a lingering hurt does not dictate your future. Open your mind to hope and your arms to support. In fact, by sharing your struggles, you may inspire others to do the same.

Embark on a nurturing journey from hurt to hope that helps you see the infinite beauty you possess, hear the remarkable voice within and achieve a revival of hope.

How do you begin? Share your burden by sharing your story. Don’t carry it one more day.

The weight will lessen when you reach for a hand. The sting of pain will begin to dull when you keep it from festering inside you. The light of hope will shine brighter when you open your heart to the loving support of trusted friends.

Please share your burden below, tag it on Instagram with #HealLouder or email me (worldneedshope @ gmail .com). I would love to pray for and support you.

Accountable to Joy World Needs Hope

Accountable to Joy

January 16, 2018

When you were a child, your folks probably taught you to be accountable (don’t run screaming, it gets good). Pick up after yourself. Take responsibility for your actions. Most of us would consider these universal truths for being good humans.

But who do you hold yourself accountable to now? Your parents, Your Creator, your friends, yourself . . . no one. Perhaps the thought of accountability is way too much adulting for you. It rings of liability and drudgery.

Let’s flip accountability on its tail, so to speak. Embrace this: you are free—in thought, heart and spirit. It’s also a universal truth. So being accountable is less about obligation and more about selection.

Instead of only being accountable for not f’ing up or for keeping your chaos to a respectful minimum . . . what if you select something greater and hold yourself accountable to joy?

You are accountable for smelling the flowers. You are accountable for deep breaths. You are accountable for kind words. You are accountable for love. You are accountable for giving your best to life.

No shackles, no expectations, no annual review. Just make it a priority to be and share joy.

Bold Year Ahead and Values for World Needs Hope

Word of the Year

December 30, 2017

One of my best friends loves to have a power word for each coming year. She agonizes over it, journals about it and, after months of contemplation, embraces it with immense gusto. And I love the anticipation of being one of the first to hear her linguistic verdict. I devour it, examine it, applaud it and marvel at her.

She will sagely tell you that “release” is not a word you want to choose and that “fear” has surprisingly positive, albeit uncomfortable, outcomes. She’s a gem, an inspiration and a quirky curiosity. I love the process and her.

If you are a long-time reader, you will know that I pluck a word at the last minute and stand by it all year. That process is quintessentially me. My word feels instantly woven into my coat pocket, cinched around my wrist and stitched onto my heart. What is this new year’s word, you ask? I honestly don’t know yet. It comes like a surprise blast of confetti between December 31 and January 1, when it’s ready to knock my holiday trimmed socks off.

When I began thinking about my friend’s word dilemma a few weeks ago, I briefly entertained my own introspection. But it was fleeting. What did happen, instead, was profound internal banter about my core values for The World Needs Hope. Here they are for transparency, so that you know what I stand for (if you’re new here) and what I embody as we move into 2018:

  1. Honor Individuals (respect)
  2. Give Empathy (compassion)
  3. Lighten Lives (joy)
  4. Share Hope (renewal)

You matter. Your story matters. Your soul matters. Your journey forward matters.

If you choose a word of your own for 2018, please share below! I’ll do the same, once it makes itself known.

World Needs Hope for the Holidays

Hope for the Holidays

December 10, 2017

‘Tis the season to feel like a snowflake—either floating on air or somewhere adrift. Don’t be surprised if you shift between Bill Murray in “Scrooged” and Will Ferrell in “Elf,” depending on the holiday shopping list, family obligations and year-end work deadlines. Give yourself some holiday grace.

However, if “I’m fine” is the track you have on repeat this holiday season, I want to speak to your heart. It’s ok not to be fine or merry. It’s ok to dread aspects of the holidays because they remind you of a loved one who passed, a partner who moved on or a time since passed. In fact, the holidays can feel downright uncomfortable, even painful, to someone in grief.

You’re not alone. You’re still healing. You’re human.

Please keep a few things in mind:

  1. Surrounding yourself with support is important. Shutting yourself in, pulling away from all events and closing the blinds to the world will only exacerbate your hurt. Perhaps, whittle down your social calendar and take it slow. Certainly you can step out of the hustle and bustle for a breather. But please lean on family and friends (or even a grief support group) to offer buoyancy through the holiday season.
  2. Expecting too much of yourself is draining. Sure you used to decorate the house, do all the shopping, have 20 people over and throw the best NYE party . . . before your spouse died. Now, choose the things that feel manageable and begin there. It’s the partridge in the “pared down” tree approach and it works to limit unnecessary stress.
  3. Putting on a happy face is not a gift to anyone. Despite the pressure of society , you don’t have to paste on a smile and pretend to be ok during the holidays. So many grieving souls feel the expectation to “get better” or “move on.” That’s not healing, it’s acting. I’m not saying you should play on the sympathies of others or wear black to every holiday party. What I am saying is that responding with “I’m taking it a day at a time” or “I have my ups and downs” (perhaps include a “thank you for asking”) is an honest alternative to “I’m fine.”

Remember, if you need support in your grief journey, please access GriefShare.org. And if you ever need immediate help or consider taking your own life, please reach out for your Lifeline.

The holidays are not easy for everyone—believe me, I’ve been there several times. However, being real with yourself and trusting others enough to be real with them is two gifts in one.

The Poverty of Hope

Someone You Know is Living in Poverty

October 1, 2017

What does poverty look like? Tattered clothes, unwashed hair, a gaunt reflection or, maybe, dirty drinking water. Yes, it is all of these things. But what about the poverty right next door, in the row of cubicles you sit in every day . . . or your own home?

When we think of poverty, our minds often turn to economics. We think of food, shelter and the amenities of what we deem to be physically necessary to life. I was reminded today, as I sat on a comfy chair, sipped my latte and looked around me, that poverty is more than being poor in material goods . . . there is a poverty of hope. It hit me like a punch in the gut and brought me to tears to really tune into the level of hope in those around me.

Insufficient, deficit, scarce—whatever you call it, a lack of hope can create a poverty of the soul. Sullen shoulders, a vacant stare, a distracted longing. It should make you ache to think about it. Look up from your cell phone and really see the people around you. Is someone struggling under the burdens of despair, past choices or a feeling of unworthiness? That hurt needs hope.

Just like you give your spare change to help others in need or donate warm clothes to those in need this fall, give of your hopeful energy and share warm hugs of support. Even as one of the richest nations in the world, we suffer from a great epidemic of the poverty of hope. It’s easy to believe that “me is enough,” that you “don’t want to interfere” or that you have “too much on my plate already.” I call bullshit.

No one was created to be lonely or go it alone. Love and kindness are never interfering (we both know that’s an excuse for inaction). And yes, we all have a ton of distracting tasks and weighty to-dos, but giving to others is the best way to get right in your own life.

The poverty of hope is not something that I, you or any of us can tackle solo—we must turn to each other in humility, care and mercy to share the hope we have and reverse this trend of poverty in our neighbors, families and communities.

Start by showing up for the next person you see . . . a smile, a bright hello, an offer of assistance, a prayer . . . every little act is an investment in their life and your own.

Worthy of Reflection

Worth a Thousand Words

September 17, 2017

Do you feel worthy? Of your blessings, of your life, of love. Worthy of compliments from others. Worthy of feeling confident in your own skin. Worthy of praise for your actions. Worthy of celebration for your personal triumphs. Worthy of happiness.

Worthy is a tricky, funny word that trips many of us up. It begs for recognition . . . but that recognition may not always feel like roses and rays of light. Sometimes our ability to feel worthy is influenced by the world, our hurts, our hangups and our fears. Worthy becomes a distant cause and may seem a far cry from your present existence.

However, worthy is not about looking the best or performing the best. Worthy is about feeling a glimmer of care within yourself. It begins with a deep inkling of hope and grows with patterns of nurture. Worthy is whispering, “I believe in the goodness in me.” and “I feel love washing over me.” and “I am worthy of realizing my dreams.”

I challenge you: speak a 1,000 words of worthiness to yourself. Begin with things like, “I love myself.” and “I am beautiful.” and “I delight in my existence.” and “I rock!”

Worthy is worth daily reflection. Whether it’s tallying your finer points or simply owning the here-and-now you, it takes practice.

When you give into thoughts of what you lack, how you don’t matter or why you don’t deserve something, you devalue yourself. You are worthy. You are remarkable. You are you for a reason.

You are exactly where you need to be but not where you will always remain. You are worthy, my friend. Hear me and repeat this as often as you need to make it real.

Oh, and when you feel stronger, freer and more hopeful . . . pass it on by sharing 1,000 words of worthiness to those around you. Strangers, friends, strange friends. You feel me.

Notes to My Sisters

January 19, 2017

Spiritual sisters, career sisters, traveling sisters, biological sisters, sisters I have yet to meet . . . to the ladies I love, respect, appreciate and admire, I have a few words for you.

Deepest gratitude for the off-hours texts and just-because calls. You never cease to amaze me with your heart, your wit and your ways of knowing where my heart drifts. Every prayer and every sweet hug are fathomless in my book of life.

Never, ever, ever give anyone the power to degrade you. Your joy, your trajectory and your very breath are for you and the Lord to command. Knock down the harsh words, judgmental stares and doubting intentions that may mar your path. Sweep it away swiftly.

Embrace your roots, smile forward and be present now. The past is a lingering lesson not a tether. The future is a glimmer of hope not a destination. Now is your gift and everything it should be. Love it, celebrate it, learn it and sink into it fully.

Resist measurement. Your eyes will break you down, piece by piece. Your worries will hold you captive. Your presumed obligations and expectations will throw you off balance. Accept the glory of you and the gift of exactly how you are wired, created and forged in faith.

Laugh as much as your cheeks and belly allow. Humor is grace let out. It lightens heavy burdens. It quells arguments. It puts thoughts into perspective. When paired with compassion, childlike curiosity and bubbly effervescence, it is the answer to oogley moments.

I welcome your wisdom below in the comments. May hope, love and light be yours today!

What If We Stopped Asking Why?

September 5, 2016

Here is a guest post from the phenomenal Sherri Martin of LiveWonderstuck.com. Enjoy:

What if, just for today, we didn’t worry about why we are here? What if, just for today, we stopped asking, “God, why?” What if, just for today, we said, “I am open to Your wonder.” Then, what if, just for today, we paid attention to only what is right in front of us. What might we see, hear, and feel?

We might see how the light shines through the window like a spotlight, how it highlights the gentle curve of the couch arm. How have we never noticed this thing that we use every day? This thing that is both soft and sturdy. This thing that holds us when we are weary, that holds our loved ones.

We might see the mess of shoes by the door. Rather than fretting over tidiness, we might notice how each pair represents someone we love, how some lean on others and some laces intertwine. But isn’t that what family is? A mess of different styles, of different fits, jumbled together, being okay with showing their wear and tear.

Outside, we might see the flowers standing tall, boldly declaring their colors. And if we get closer, we will see how their petals are imperfect, asymmetric, dappled with holes, frayed at the edges, and still these flowers have the audacity to be seen. Do you?

What if, just for today, you stopped asking God why you are here and instead said, “I am here, God. Give me the audacity to see and be seen. Not at some future point when I think I am perfect and ready, but now, God, when you know that I am imperfect and that I am ready anyway.”

What might today look like?

Seeking Transformation

January 19, 2016

So often, we find ourselves looking for information, answers and basic yes/no confirmation. There is nothing wrong with wanting simplicity or closure but, sometimes, there is more to be learned in the seeking than the solution.

As 2016 unfolds, I find myself celebrating a blessed birthday for the first time as a shepherd to my little girl, for the first time as the final year to my third decade and for the first time as a soul completely aware that I will always be a beautiful work in progress. These firsts are blessings. These firsts generate emotions I am navigating with vulnerability. These firsts bring a mix of excitement, humility, joy and solemnity.

What I know more now than ever is that I need my faith, need to grow in my wisdom and need to welcome the transformation that God offers freely every day. Whether it is a softening of my spirit to show more tolerance or a hardening of my resolve to face the tough conversations, I am constantly and utterly transformed by powers much greater than myself.

I am not a linear thinker and lean on whimsical tangents more than most, so shaping me must take more love and grace than I can fathom. I am grateful for that effort—that unending promise to keep working on me and keep working in me.

What I share in this moment is the knowledge that you can be both “enough” and completely whole as you are and, yet, be “transformed” every second of every day. In fact, it will happen without you having an ounce of control or say in the matter. In that way, it is reassuring to know that despite the moments of exhaustion, confusion or stress, you will still be transformed.

Ah, and the true miracle happens when you seek out that transformation, graciously hoping and accepting it in your life. That, friends, unlocks deeper truth, greater joy and more profound understanding than you may have ever thought possible. I wish that for you and look forward to transforming along side you.

When God Calls, It’s Not a Misdial

August 26, 2015

So, I took an e-hiatus for the birth of my baby girl, Calia, who entered the world in early June. She is an immense blessing and a humbling gift.

My recent transformation into momhood came with delivery trauma, breastfeeding woes, postpartum anxiety and a surge of can-never-do-enough motherly guilt. Every new mom seems socially compelled to blanketly say, “All worth it,” to avoid judgment over their humanity and a feeling of, “I’m doing this wrong if I don’t feel blissful.”

I love my daughter endlessly. In fact, I was inspired to invent our own little ILY testimony: “Do you know how much momma loves you? Around the whole wide universe and back + the space in between (opening arms to demonstrate this space and welcome her in for cuddles).” I soak in the precious coos, big baby stretches, expressive faces, simultaneous hand-feet motions and new capabilities (this week was blowing raspberries and folding hands in a prayer-like pose). I’m all in with my baby girl.

However, I would not be a truth teller if I didn’t admit that the last three months came with lots of tears, sleepless nights, painful body aches and a feeling of being adrift. I prayed a lot. Micro prayers, help me cries, gratitude shout outs, watch-over-my-sweet-baby pleas and lots of show-me-the-way requests. Those prayers showed me that, as a mom and an individual, my knees was the best place to show up.

At times, I felt like the Lord was sitting quietly in wait for me to suck it up or rise to the occasion of motherhood. I felt moments of distance from God in a time that I was sure would bring me closer to Him. I even wondered if I was just so fractured from giving birth that I was no longer worthy of hearing the Spirit. The deceiver knows how to plant doubts and foster fear in times of weakness.

The key for me was to remember that I can call on Him at all times but that does not necessarily mean I will get more than His voicemail, until He is ready to reveal Himself or His plan. What God was doing for me—although I was too exhausted to see it at the moment—was remind me that He was in charge, that my well-being needed nurturing too and that His gift of my daughter was “enough” for that period of time. He was there in her. He was there in me. He was there in my husband’s support. He was there in my friends. He was there in each new dawn. He was there when I kneeled. He was there when I broke down in tears. He was there listening and loving through it all.

As I returned to work last month, my hybrid life of new mom and bold freelancer collided into an internal conflict of where to focus and how to function. Again, I called out to the Lord, asked for clarity and direction, begged for wisdom and hoped beyond hope that I would do right by my daughter. I waited for an answer. I waited some more. I checked my spiritual inbox and felt like all I was hearing was silence. I felt depleted and uncertain how to achieve the dream I had envisioned—holding my baby as she drifted peacefully off for long naps, as I typed in a sunlit room and streamed classical music to enhance her learning slumber . . . or taking calls as I played on the floor with her, immersing her in shapes, colors, textures and smiles. Instead, my intuitive little girl stirs for every call, has food intolerances that trigger gassy distress and bats away technology with her knowing little hands. She’s smart, quirky and perfect exactly as she is. And, as God often works, she is helping me paint an entirely new reality, where I optimize my 2-5 a.m. work time, put away technology while I’m breastfeeding or playing with her, and set boundaries. This allows me to show her that momma works, momma cooks, momma talks to others . . . but, most of all, momma is there to comfort, feed and laugh when I need her.

With the threads of enlightenment slowly emerging and some small pattern in place for now, I took time to reflect on my purpose and path. My giftings (hope, wisdom, mercy and faith) were stirring in new ways, calling me out to do more. But how could I do more if I was already struggling to parent, work and sleep? Ah, but in that vulnerability, God called. I was sure for a moment that it was a wrong number, that He was pranking me or that I just imagined it. Nope. When God calls, it’s not a misdial.

Why is He calling me now? Well, that’s oddly simple. He wanted me to be at a humble place, ready for His direction. He knew I needed to truly be hungry for His guidance. He had to show me that at no time in life within this fractured world will everything move out of the way to fall comfortably into place. He had to let it sink in that Calia is His child first. He helped me to see, by calling me now, that His grace is sufficient. The Spirit is always there breathing and pushing me toward His greater purpose, not based on my calls or timeline but His.

What is He calling me to do? Well, that’s between us. But I can say that it’s not so much do as embrace. I hear the call to be a light worker, to find new ways to share hope, to help the grieving to heal and to share Spirit-driven insight. Like any good parent, He’s calling me to be still and truly listen . . . because He said so and knows best.

Bumps on the Journey

April 14, 2015

Every road in life, at some unknown juncture, has the potential for bumps. As I sit here literally bumping from pregnancy on the morn of my 33rd week, I can honestly say that life has given me a bunch of blessings and a few more bumps in the last year than I saw coming.

Now, I love cliffhangers, surprise twists and new experiences, so it’s safe to say that God loads me up on such things. I also know that being Scottish, tinged with reddish locks and an eldest makes my approach to life direct, independent and often feisty. Admissions aside, I’m finding that calm, spiritualism, support, understanding and joy are far more of what I seek to cultivate now than anything else.

I look at all the ways I express love to others—cooking, long listening sessions, playful banter, coffee or wine delivery, little notes of encouragement, concierge style question answering at odd hours, funny faces, virtual hugs, supportive advice (when requested), prayers, and trying every day to be a better me who is more Christ like.

This ride is not easy, nor is it filled with ticker tape parades, bouquets of flowers or constant attagirls. It’s rough, messy, painful and often draining . . . but it’s a gift. I need to chant that to myself every night and every morning, through marriage struggles, distance from loved ones and the physical trials of pregnancy.

Humbly, as you face your bumps, remember the following:

  1. What you say, do, show and share sets the tone for what you get back
  2. Starting from a place of love always leads to a better destination
  3. Hurtful words are often a cry for support from others, but don’t accept abuse
  4. You deserve a break, a quiet bath, a coffee escape, a movie or a moment away
  5. Surround yourself with those tuned to God, to love and to hope

I’m bumping with you, friends. For me, finding solid ground is as much about looking up in surrender as planting my feet firmly down.

Anchor Yourself in Light

February 13, 2015

One afternoon last week, I found myself exhausted and foggy. As sometimes happens, I had let my energetic tank dip past E. So, I decided that a bath would be necessary to unwind and try to salvage the remaining productivity of the day.

If you have a bustling existence, like mine, then you know that doing anything in the self-love category often comes with a time trade-off. Somehow, I managed to get the kids situated and leave my husband to his studies long enough to sneak into our master bathroom. I adjusted the blinds to let the outside, natural, soothing light stream in and started drawing a bath.

As I waited for it to fill, I recalled that I had a lovely bag of lively colored bath bombs from a local artisan. When I dropped half of the crumbly ball into the tub, something magical happened . . . I smiled like a little child playing with paints.

Bath Bomb Rainbow

In true “bomb” fashion, it was a fizzy explosion of color and scent. I watched it morph and glow and take over the tub. As I slid my foot in, I even tried not to disturb the rainbow dancing on the surface. However, my glee overcame me and I began using the bubbles as clown hair, funny shapes and towers of color.

Sinking into the warm water, I angled my head to look up and out the window above the tub. There, more magic unveiled itself. For a moment, I was this beautifully majestic tree swaying in the breeze and flirting with the sunlight. It seemed to be draped in a halo of calming, bright hope.

Sunlight Through Branches

What all of the bubbles and beaming reminded me is that we must (you and me) make time to anchor ourselves in light. The light never fades, moves or abandons us. We simply must reach for it, bathe in it and remember that it has the power to cleanse our spirits.

Burn No More

December 3, 2014

I’m heartbroken over the senseless and unending “news” coverage about Ferguson. Shame on you media mongers for hiding behind free speech with your contempt, malicious ways and ill motives. May God have mercy on you.

I’m heartbroken for the grieving family who tragically lost their son, for the officer and his family, for the townspeople who lost homes and businesses to a wave of fiery rage, for the staggeringly high intraracial violence that occurs every day, and for those who would let perceived injustice fuel the flames of hatred and looting and pain and hurt on others.

1 John 2:9-11 NIV
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

Burn no more in your souls. Burn no more with words that act like accelerants. Burn no more into the cameras or crowds to cultivate harm. Burn no more for attention’s sake. Burn no more with selfish anger. Burn no more into the hearts of impressionable children. Burn no more to feed the gangs and thieves.

May healing begin. May grace fall on every spirit. May wisdom prevail. May compassion take root. May we all learn how to love again.

John 16:33 NIV
“‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'”

I pray this, Jesus. Amen.

Keeping a Promise

December 2, 2014

In January of this year, I made a promise. I committed that ALL of my earnings from sales of “The World Needs Hope” this year would be given to support a cause that, in a word, humbles me to my core. If you missed my post, you can recap by visiting “Giving It All for Hope.”

Now, as I sit here on #GivingTuesday, I approach this topic with a deeper reverence and an even more intense passion. As a mom-to-be and stepmom to two awesome kiddos, my heart aches for any parent who feels hopeless, helpless and desperate enough to leave their child on the street to the fates. No judgment, only compassion.

So, I honor Pastor Lee’s efforts and remind you (yes, with a nudge and much emotion) that you too can help. Visit kindredimage.org to learn more, to donate and to show the world that every life matters.

And yes, I’m absolutely giving every penny I make through the close of the year to this cause. If you choose to make my book a gift or pick up a copy for yourself, you’ll be supporting children and sharing hope. Here’s the link to Amazon.

Unselfie Giving Tuesday

The Ebb and Flow of Hope

September 15, 2014

Oh, how I have missed you, friends! Somehow my life had a lot (understatement) to unfold over the last five months. During that time, I took an unplanned hiatus from the blog and much of social media. So, at the risk of being self-interested, I want to share the inspiring moments of ebb and flow since April.

Ebb
Such an intriguing concept . . . the waning of certain areas or, as I like to think of it, the pulling of life from your point of comfort into an ocean of change and challenge. In late March, I chose to set my heart free. No former attachments, no lingering what-ifs and no more seeking to find a someone. It was scary, it came with a clearing of energy, and it took all my courage to let go and give it fully to God.

Around April, I started noticing a reduction in freelance work and a shift in my network to a period of pause. That pause came with a frenzy of wrapping up projects, seeking new clients and praying the Lord would provide for my needs as bills mounted. I’m sure you know the stress and pressure of such times. Can I pay my rent in a month? What cavernous maze of steps must I take with credit cards? What am I doing wrong?

Simultaneously, several friends drifted into injury, illness, loss and trial. As I closed out the final weeks of the GriefShare class I love, I shifted immediately to be present and find the sunshine needed to bolster their spirits. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I simply didn’t realize my own candle was flickering.

Flow
To flow, to let life move as it will and to be pushed toward your greater self.

In mid-April, God richly blessed and challenged me all at once. He sent me David. Someone full of the spirit, a servant at heart and a playful personality with well-disguised redhead tendencies. On Easter, we had our first date. Imagine me sitting in the car before I walked up to the restaurant, praying to God that whatever He had in store would be my path. No expectations, no void to fill, no second guessing my outfit and nothing more than an honest glimmer of hope. David and I were instantly comfortable, immediately wrapped up in conversations that flitted from superheroes and action movies, to great books and helping others . . . even a sprinkle of goofy humor about our main courses (Chicken Bryan & Chicken Marsala, which we dubbed our double date Bryan & Marsala—at least until we scarfed them up). Yes, I scarfed on a first date. Don’t judge. He murmured on about baseball after a dizzying first kiss, so we’re even.

Fast forward (literally, it went so fast) to May when I met his kiddos (Joshua and Madelynne). Within a month of meeting, we were engaged. Crazy? Yep. Perfect? Yep. Predictable? Nope. We still stand silently and stare at each other sometimes and say, “Wow, this is real. I feel like the rollercoaster is still going.”

In June, we consolidated homes, in blessed time to combine both of our temporarily diminished finances. At the same time, I became a full-time step-mom in training. What a whirlwind of emotion, routine, questions and oops-my-bad. As David started his summer university term toward his doctorate in psychology, along with work for the Army Reserve, I set about reaching out to over three dozen job openings, clients and leads. But it wasn’t the Lord’s timing.

In July, we were married. I had spoken to the pastor once via phone, emailed the photographer, never met the hairstylist, never seen the flowers, never seen the winery in person and never met David’s family until the 24 hours before. It was like jumping out of a plane, into the ocean, looking for a star to guide you and seeing a hand reaching out. I wouldn’t change one ebb for all of the flow or one stressful moment for every priceless smile.

I humbly invite you to share our wedding day . . . the blessed culmination of surprises revealed, hope fulfilled and a new journey unleashed: View Our Video (one of the fabulous creations of the talented Tamara from Every Emotion Photography).

Also that month, I was given the opportunity to work on creative projects with a couple of brands I admire and the amazing blessing to begin building a brand with some visionary friends. It has God at its core, promoting good works to the world (can’t wait to share more in the coming months).

Every day has bumps and learnings, but my hope is wrapped in a glow of immense gratitude.

Crossroads and Detours

April 12, 2014

Ok, show of hands, who feels like life is pulling you in too many directions? Everyone? Thought so.

Sure, some of you may wish that life was linear with a well-lit, clearly defined road to follow without debris, bumps or fog. Something perhaps like this:

Driving on empty towards the sun

While certain moments may go by smoothly, like cruise control on new pavement, most of life is about twists, turns and detours. And, that’s alright. It may not be your preference or even comfortable, but it affords you the chance to learn lessons, explore new directions and challenge perceptions.

However, how do you feel when the bumps keep coming, the road stops being labeled and the turns get tighter? Perhaps you can relate to these common reactions:

  1. I feel like I’m stuck in a life that is always “under construction”
  2. I feel like I’m racing through life without any rest stops
  3. I feel like I’m driving at night with dim headlights in a fog
  4. I feel like I’m always on E and stopping constantly to fuel up
  5. I feel like I’m continually at a crossroads with no clue where to turn

If you answered all of the above, don’t worry. I have honestly experienced each one of these feelings at one time or another . . . sometimes several at once. It doesn’t mean life is hopeless or that you need to pull off the road and give up.

Detours and crossroads are manageable, if you know how to navigate them. Let’s rephrase the five feelings above into more tangible (tackleable) concepts:

  1. Construction is change. Embrace that every plan, appointment and expectation may change. It can be liberating. Surrender controlling the outcome in favor of celebrating that life is not boring and you are evolving into your best self.
  2. Renewal is crucial. If you feel anxious or frenzied, set priorities for your time, whether it means trimming commitments or dedicating a day a week to true relaxation. After all, there is no way to win a race if you are too drained to reach the finish line.
  3. Fog is lack of light. This may come from an impact event like grief or it may be some degree of depression. In these moments, it helps to talk to a counselor, facilitator or friend. Often, the light is present (like sun behind blinds) but we need a helping hand to acknowledge it.
  4. Empty is depleted. The body is an electrical, chemical and physical masterpiece. Food must be rich in nutrients, full of color and fresh from nature to sustain a healthy system. When you feel empty, remember food is fuel and that fuel needs to be from quality sources.
  5. Crossroads are clarifying. They give you a chance to redefine your journey, align with your principles, embrace a new dream or shift your destiny. Yes, you may feel overwhelmed and there will likely be contemplation. Pray, journal, turn to wise friends and trust yourself.

It’s not easy, friends. It takes practice and self-awareness. Even today, I coach myself into turning detours into crossroads. I have scoured resources, like maps to others’ life experiences, to show me the quick route or the best way. Ultimately, though, my landmarks and my journey are my own.

It’s good to research and ask for input . . . but you are the driver and need to make the final decision how to proceed. Have faith, hold on to hope and buckle up for the exciting things life has in store for you.

Reciprocal Compassion

April 3, 2014

I was scrolling my social media feed this morning and saw a post by one of the special needs organizations I follow. Unlike some of the images I have seen from them before, they were poking fun at how individuals outside the autism community ask questions that they feel are ignorant. I had to pause. Three things unsettled me:

  1. This organization’s mission is acceptance, yet the tone of the post was exclusionary.
  2. The page asks the world to be more understanding of disorders, yet they were criticizing someone for asking a question and also implying a level of ignorance in the asker.
  3. The group often celebrates individuality and touts open-mindedness, yet they were so quick to set up an us (we get it) vs. them (they don’t get it) scenario.

My only thought is . . . such a pity. Compassion is meant to be unconditional. That means that despite misunderstanding, difference or even naiveté, we are called to respond with tolerance.

As I have said before, tolerance is not setting yourself up to be a silent punching bag. However, it is definitely not compassionate to respond to people with something akin to, “Duh, I can’t believe you didn’t know that. How stupid are you?”

Instead of assuming, which gets everyone into trouble, try reaching out with love. For instance, here are some questions you can ask when you feel compelled to strike out to justify your position or retaliate with a snarky comment:

  • What was my interpretation of their view? Our reactions (e.g., wow that was silly, I can’t believe they said that, what a mean statement) are based on life-conditioned interpretations and it is important to recognize our own patterns. The trick is then to wipe away your emotional bias and see the statement as if it were on a page.
  • How can I see this person with loving eyes? Even when someone hurts us unknowingly, we tend to strike out to combat the pain. Before you act, think of what you could do to stop that wicked cycle in its tracks. Try looking at this individual as if they were a child and imagining how adorable, precocious, goofy or vulnerable they would be. Our adult selves are not far from those children.
  • What can you do to improve their understanding? Tolerance begins with you. Instead of assuming someone is ignorant or despicable, consider that they simply may not have good information and may be feeling awkward about the topic. Try humbling yourself, validating the individual and offering help, “That is one way to see it. Would you like to know more about what makes my child so amazing?”

Not everyone will be open, comfortable, ready or capable of accepting your compassion. That does not mean you should not offer it. More so, instead of the hurtful cycle of reciprocal criticism, you can shift into sparking cycles of reciprocal compassion. Imagine opening the eyes, minds and hearts of others . . . that’s a hopeful gift you can give the world.

One final thought. If you carry the burden of angry victim, you will be setting up a courtroom of judgment in your mind. In that room, you may play the role of judge (presiding), the prosecutor (accusing), the court reporter (rehashing), the bailiff (barricading) and the jury (dwelling). If you play all or even one, imagine the diverted energy you are investing.

Let go of the need to make the world see it your way or walk in your shoes. Each soul is busy enough just trying to walk in their own. The best you can do is enlighten with respect, respond with gentleness and offer abundant compassion.

Angels and Diamonds

March 20, 2014

This post is going to pour forth, so hold on.

It’s the story of angels among us and diamonds forged through pain. The last week has taken me the full gamut of emotions, from freefalling surrender literally 13,000 feet above the earth to the depths of spiritual depletion. But this is ultimately a story of hope and gratitude.

It’s funny how life presents us mirrors to clearly see the actions of others as well as our environment, if we are present in the moment and honest with ourselves. Mirrors that shake our intuition and expose our raw desires. They may push us to pause and look around a room, to sink into our heart and ask the painfully tough questions, and to shine a revealing light on the recesses of relationships. That happened twice in the last week. Something broke through the ground I was standing on and gleamed . . . a gem of truth about what serves my soul.

Amidst this reflection, I said this on my personal Facebook page and meant it:

Beauty of friendship: unconditional love, tactful honesty, immense support, open forgiveness, belly laughter, picking up the phone and connecting like no time has passed, hugs sweeter than candy, prioritizing time, humbling oneself. No ego. No competition. No judgment. No guilt. No games. Just spiritual kinship.

It’s rare. It’s precious. It’s bright. It’s strong. It has many facets. It’s a diamond in the rough landscape of life. And when you see it, you know it’s something special. No need to keep entertaining imitations like cubic zirconia camaraderie.

Those diamonds are especially brilliant in times of trial. They are the people who will rush to your bedside, send a sweet text just because they feel you need it, assume only the best, say nice things behind your back, rush to be of assistance, pray for your well-being, and put all personal interests aside to simply offer a servant’s heart or hand.

And among those diamonds you will find angels. Angels like my dear, inspiring friend Angela. In a matter of 48 hours I experienced, witnessed and stood in awe of the power of angels. You see, this particular noble spirit was involved in a tragic car accident. In her words, “It felt like being hit by a Mac truck,” but she told us that with a smile so bright and irresistible that the entire ICU staff, all of her friends and even her surgical team marveled at her positive glow.

Angela is, indeed, a rare being. She is one of God’s great blessings to this earthly existence. I’m not trumpeting her perfection or her invincibility. No, I’m saying that her feisty, stubborn, beautiful, surprising, endearing, witty, giving, amazing soul is a stunning balance of humanity and heavenly. I love this lady so much that words have escaped me for days. Thank the Lord that she, her son and cousins survived the crash. And Jesus watch over her mother, who was called up to heaven.

When everything finally sank in Wednesday, I had nothing left. No energy, no focus, no strength. My spiritual well was depleted and I had no clue how to fill it. I tried brief physical rest but it went deeper, like a vein of ore tucked far into a mountain. I tried food to replenish my senses but I barely noticed the taste. I tried exercise, thinking I could burn off or rekindle any adrenaline in my system, but I only felt numb and dizzy. No, not even a double shot of espresso did it. So, I sat down, prayed and hoped God would invigorate my spirit.

That night, I pulled myself into GriefShare to teach class for those experiencing the loss of a loved one. I had no clue how I was going to do it . . . be present, be helpful, be a good shepherd. I did the only thing I could, I kept hoping and going through the motions. Then, something phenomenal happened. I imagined Angela’s smile, I felt the light of the Holy Spirit and I stopped trying. In that moment, I had a very real exchange with the group and saw waves of empathy rush into the space. I saw a gift of healing begin to emerge for us all.

So, recognize the diamonds of truth and friendship. And cherish the angels who grace your life. Nothing is so eternal or so valuable as those who show you the power of faith, hope and love.

faith, hope and love typography God bless my gorgeous and giving friend. I love you, Angela.

Hope for Healthy Body Wellness

March 4, 2014

What do you hope for your body? Perhaps, you crave fitness, weight loss, better immunity or overall wellness. Nurturing hope in your life means nourishing hope through your body.

Much like a complex food strainer, our body filters and accepts what we consume based on its needs and its experiences. Yes, your body has food memory, which you may recognize as sensory reactions on your palate (mmmm or yuck), learned cravings (even addictions) and possibly resistance.

About a year ago, I wrote a post on “The Sensitivity Spiral,” if you want to know more about what chemicals, stress and allergies can do to disrupt the body’s relationship with food, as well as tips for lessening the impact, give it a read.

Today, though, I want to shine a light of hope on the complex workings of food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. My humble disclaimer is that I am not an allergist or nutritionist, both of which I recommend speaking with. However, I was tasked by an allergist to take a deep dive into food mapping, reaction logging and personal testing. I have been poked, scanned, examined, interviewed and tested more than I prefer to recall. So, I have seen firsthand what food choices (even well-intentioned ones) can do to interfere with having a hopeful outlook and healthy body.

For instance, consider if your body does not respond well to a food, it may result in behavioral problems, increased anxiety, panic attacks, digestive sluggishness or rapidity, depression, bloating, diminished energy, an inability to sleep soundly, joint aches and muscle pains, migraines, notable weight gain or loss, irrational outbursts, breathing issues, impaired immunity, food dependence, itching, tingling extremities, swelling and a general feeling that something is not right. Listen to it.

Ok, so you may know some or all of the above from increased media awareness. But did you know that seasonal allergies can cross react with foods, triggering a response 1-3 days after ingesting them?

Example: If you are allergic to grass, you may have a seasonal sensitivity to tomato, melons, orange, peanut, peas and potatoes. Don’t believe it? Access The Cross-Reactors chart to educate yourself. Oral intake of related allergens can exacerbate the sniffly, funky feeling you get when things are in bloom. The challenge is that your reaction may be delayed or recurring, so you don’t think of the food you had for lunch two days ago.

For perspective not drama, I am chart-toppingly allergic to all of these items (and most everything else). So, for my well-being, I recently took them all off my safe foods list. I don’t advise this for you nor to intend for it to be a permanent choice. But I do see noticeable improvements in my body when I am discerning about such foods. The result: I am more hopeful, upbeat and energetic.

Ok, now let’s face the dreaded topic of gluten. It has become the bad guy on the culinary scene in the last few years, much like cholesterol and carbs before it. But do you know the real enemy? It’s inflammation. Regardless of origin or trigger, digestive inflammation is especially impairing to wellness and a hopeful mindset. If your body is feeling constantly attacked, swollen, bloated and achy, it’s difficult for it to accept nutrients, to heal itself and to deliver its best for you.

Here is a summary of the three ways to identify food allergies (source: DrHyman.com):

  1. Get a blood test. Blood testing for IgG food allergens . . . can help you to identify hidden food allergies . . . work with a doctor or nutritionist trained in dealing with food allergies.
  2. Go dairy- and gluten-free for six weeks . . . allows the inflamed gut to heal. This one move may be the single most important thing most you can do to lose weight.
  3. Avoid the top food allergens . . . gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and eggplant), citrus and yeast (baker’s, brewer’s yeast and fermented products like vinegar). Try this for a full six weeks . . . When you reintroduce a top food allergen, eat it at least 2-3 times a day for 3 days to see if you notice a reaction.

Don’t even get me started on preservatives, dyes, fake sugars, binding agents and biosynthetics like GMOs. I would never drink from a beaker in chemistry class, so I’m absolutely not going to put these digestive grenades in my body.

In my case (again, I’m not saying this is for you), I am now grain-free, dairy-free, corn-free, bean-free, soy-free, mammalian meat-free, whole nut-free (too dense for my system to process right now) and a variety of other restrictions. My focus is organic green vegetables, a few select fruits, wild caught low-mercury fish, coconut oil and certain seeds. Why meat restrictions? Well, that adage, “You are what you eat,” applies to animals too. I find, funny enough, that what they eat can lead to reactions in me. Interesting how life is so connected, if we think about it.

If you are a brainiac who loves knowing all the scientific details like I do, here is something to make your head spin: “Food Allergies and Other Food Sensitivities.” It is remarkable reading and breaks down the many levels to reactions.

I am hopeful and know, with awareness, I will achieve the balance my body deserves. It may not look like anything anyone else eats and yours may not either. The key is to pay attention to your body, know what feels good, log what you eat for a while and honor its best interest above your urges. Be hopeful and be proactive, friends.

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Serve You

March 2, 2014

Who do you serve? Perhaps, it’s your family, country, God, community, pets or work. But do you know what truly serves you?

Hope is one of the greatest acts of service to oneself. It reflects a deep belief in good, a passion for positive change and a willingness to take action to shape this world in helpful ways. So, hope serves to enhance your well-being. It gives us something other than static worry or recurring fear on which to focus. Since hope is contagious, it also serves others. Win win.

Hope is nourishment, fearlessness, laughter and so many other things addressed in my book. Therefore, it stands to reason that what serves to uplift you is living a full life crafted around love, giving, optimism and gratitude. In essence, it’s important to know what serves your mind, body and spirit in enriching ways.

To that end, do you fill your life with people and opportunities that serve you? People who cheer you on, challenge you to achieve your dreams, love you unconditionally, open your eyes to new possibilities and stand fast when you need to lean. Opportunities that expand your worldview, lift your spirits, raise your empathy, attune your awareness and leave you feeling lit from within. I ask because it’s important to know when to let go of what doesn’t serve you.

If you are struggling against potential guilt, foggy confusion or rising angst related to people or options in your life, think about where to let go. Let me help:

  1. How does this relationship or opportunity serve you? If you struggle to find redeeming value or feel like it is draining you beyond balance, it’s time to assess.
  2. How eager are you to make time for this person or take this step? If you dread an interaction or keep putting off action, consider what is holding you back.
  3. What words would you use to describe this relationship or opportunity? If you find yourself using negative lexicon or feeling anxious, lean into your feelings to identify the triggers.

The point is not to avoid all challenging people and moments. No. The key is to know that, even while you are forging a new path or overcoming a fear, you feel this person or opportunity serves to make your life better. Likewise, you have to be willing to take action either in mutual support for them or to embrace whatever the opportunity brings into your reality.

Now, there is another version of letting go that is vital to mention. It’s much more intimate, more difficult and more crucial to serving your best interests. Here is a thought cue:

“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” – Kahlil Gibran

This is probably one of the most difficult things in life. As a people, we struggle with change, we struggle with rejection, we struggle with comfort and we struggle with the fear of letting go of someone. I was reminded of this truth this week. And here is what I realized:

You can want to know, to support, to serve and to cherish another. However, if that person is holding you at arm’s length and unwilling to invest in the same way . . . the timing isn’t right. Let them go with no ill will, no judgment and no tethers. Let go with a loving heart.

This doesn’t have to be romance alone but involves all interpersonal dynamics. We fear letting go because we often get stuck in a cycle of, “I could have done more . . . maybe if I tried harder . . . if only I say it in a different way . . . or, if I stick it out this may change.” Trust me, dear one, people who honor your mind, body and spirit will be people who reach out to serve you too. Besides:

A true spark never fades but can reignite the candle between you when the time is right for you to share its glow.

So, let go of the anchors of your mind. Let go of whatever doesn’t serve you. For you to be of true service to yourself and others with the brightest light possible, you must be free to welcome the people and opportunities life has waiting just around the corner.

The Year to Engage

February 28, 2014

Each year, my bestie Sherri (a.k.a. S.M. Hutchins) spends an intense amount of pondering and brainstorming in December to figure out her word for the year to come. Read what she chose this year—it’s bold and may inspire you.

In true sisterhood, I also get roped into (kidding) a lot of pondering and brainstorming. In fact, I have happily “played along” the last few years and selected a word of my own. 2012 was (wait for it) hope, hence the unveiling of “The World Needs Hope” in print and this blog. If you have been part of this journey since the beginning, you know that hope is also my life word.

In 2013, I chose transform. And I lived up to it in a big way, transforming my living situation by selling my home of seven years, dispersing virtually all of my worldly possessions, venturing to several countries abroad and truly owning my space as a freelance writer. I manifested amazing things in my life, my consciousness and my social circles.

This year, I could have posted my word and my intentions in January. However, that was a time of reflection related to my father, as you likely know. So, I “kicked the tires” on my word through February and can emerge on the other side totally committed to it. Drum roll . . . my word for 2014 is engage.

This is the year to engage. I want to do so in at least the following ways:

  • Engage in optimal physical conditioning, so that my body reflects my strong spirit
  • Engage in mindful nutrition that honors my being, especially with sensitivities in mind
  • Engage in closer friendships in an intimate circle, making time for meaningful connection
  • Engage in further developing my empathy and intuition, which serve me and others well
  • Engage in greater service to my fellow human beings, from church to grief to mentoring
  • Engage in opening fully and freely to the possibility of love, and the reality of a true partner
  • Engage in new adventures locally, nationally and globally, focusing on experiential presence
  • Engage in more consistent family time, especially with my adorable niece and nephews
  • Engage in writing that inspires, challenges and guides me and you to higher wisdom
  • Engage in giving spontaneously without expectation, so that I may spark others by example

Of course, I also intend to engage in quality ways with my clients, engage in enhancing money management skills and, most importantly, engage in noticing life in more detail (see photo below taken outside one of my favorite healthy restaurants . . . I paused and saw so much vibrance, clarity and balance that it made me smile). The key is to pick a word that you can truly embrace, one that you can use to gauge progress and push you to break boundaries.

So, what word will you choose? I would love to know and “engage” with you in discussion.

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It Ain’t Always Easy

February 23, 2014

While my fifth grade grammar teacher will be displeased with this title, “ain’t” is exactly the right word to emphasize the unruly nature of life. Being hopeful, being upbeat and being productive are fabulous . . . but along the way, give yourself some slack for being human.

I honestly love how God gives me lessons wrapped in trial and frosted with “ah ha, got it.” This week was certainly a not so easy week and, no, that is not a cry for pity or outreach. It’s purely an acknowledgment that even the hopeful have frustrating days. After all, it’s these murky moments that help us appreciate the gleaming glow of the good times.

So, life humbled me. It turns out that striving for greater physical stamina, tone and balance comes with an initial oh-man-the-scale-hates-me-and-my-body-aches-in-weird-places feeling. Unexpected food intolerances, waves of stress, the usual smattering of work and life obligations, dehydration from poor planning, and pesky hormones (yes, I said the dreaded word . . . run, run screaming) all add to the mix.

I’m being honest, people. It’s rarely just one challenge that keeps us from pushing through to our greater self. Sometimes the universe likes to test our resolve on multiple levels and make us really work for it. Bingo, that’s my week. I prayed, I hoped, I reset, I muscled through, I whined, I cried, I laughed, I wrote and, finally, I accepted.

Not an acceptance of status quo, not this Scottish lass. It’s acceptance of the journey. Like muscle fiber, we have to break down our former selves to rebuild stronger and more aware. Seeing your confidence ebb away on the treadmill, check. Feeling every bit of allure and appeal dripping away, check. Wondering why the woman in the mirror feels so beaten, check. Letting go of all resistance to asking and accepting help . . . ok, still working on this one.

Then, there are the expectations of others that we dwell on. Perhaps, you long for more responsiveness, more compassion, more assistance or more of a connection. And what are you doing to foster that outcome? And are you being open with yourself and others about your needs? For instance, I have high standards of others and, likewise, have to hold myself to the same high standards. This means not being a hypocrite, not merely hinting at what you desire and not avoiding direct dialogue.

When it ain’t easy, we overanalyze, we doubt, we let the gloom linger, we beat ourselves up and we get angry at the world. Let it go. Forgive yourself and forgive others. Would you rather hold on to a smelly old sponge of bitterness or refresh your spirit with the cleansing waters of hopeful acceptance?

As a matter of fact, a warm bath sounds good right now.

Open Heart, Clear Head

February 19, 2014

Do your greatest hopes ever scare you?

It’s an honest question. One I was called to ponder over the last 10 days or so. Hopes are beautifully diverse, varying in intensity and impact.

Some hopes are like happy sprinkles on the cupcake of life (yes, mine would be gluten-free, dairy-free and oh so chocolatey, but that’s beside the point) such as hoping it doesn’t rain, hoping for a call back on a key question or hoping for a sale at your favorite store. There is nothing at all wrong with hoping for these tidbits of delight and comfort. These are the hopes that simply make me smile.

Other hopes seem aspirational and may be related to career growth, an opportunity to experience something or, perhaps, resculpting your physical body. These have definite merit, and are tied more to progressive concepts or positive changes. Many times, they have an associated timeline, an expectation of completion or a destination. These are the hopes that call me to act as your cheerleader.

Our next set of hopes is related to more intimate interactions like the hope for the recovery of a loved one, the hope to be a parent, the hope of lasting partnership or the hope to regain spiritual balance. This category of hopes is often more reverent, strikes deeper chords and, for some, comes with self-imposed pressure or angst. These are the hopes I pray are answered for you.

Then, ah yes, there are the hopes that are woven into our very core. The hopes that bubble up from a few inches outside the heart, race to the mind, bounce around our consciousness and bring a flush to the skin. Hopes like this can jog loose past hurts, unspoken longings and our most raw energies. These hopes may have been carefully submerged under the pull and push of our everyday lives, only to reveal themselves boldly when we encounter a person, awareness or opportunity beyond our expectations.

So, what then? Your hope bursts forth like fireworks, an onslaught to your senses and a dizzying jolt to your entire system. Do you let doubt rush in? Do you fortify your walls to keep yourself from potential harm? Do you embrace it fully? Do you absolutely let go?

For me, I was blessed to encounter two deeply spiritual people who fit instantly. One a teacher and friend across time, with a heart of gold and a graceful energy truly beyond words. I could not decide whether to laugh, cry or rejoice in song. So, I did all of that. Wow. Such encounters are amazing. It opened my heart entirely and inspired a solace that passes explanation.

The second knocked me right into a weightless spin. This person embodied a hope that I had all but abandoned . . . believed could not ever manifest. God likes to show me I’m wrong. This driven individual challenges me, makes me belly laugh, somehow seems to “get” my quirky ways and has a heart that has been bounced around like mine—only to keep beating strong and loud. By entering my life, this amazing spirit shook loose my defenses, uncovered my hesitations and made me reflect at length about whether a hope can be “too good to be true.” Mind you, all of this is blessing enough. But, as a truly experiential being, I look forward to further discovery.

Does it freak me out? Actually, yes. But the best things often do at first. I’m not used to being seen. What do I hope for now? The grace to simply be present, the clarity to let all my walls crumble and the passion to show the world what the full glory of hopeful sunshine looks like.

No matter what transpires or how long this journey lasts, I surrender. Thank you, God, for keeping me guessing.

Little Princess Sophia

February 3, 2014

This past December, my inspiring friend, Jessica, reached out to a group of us with a gracious idea . . .

“Hello friends – I’m working on a special project and I wonder if I can ask for your help? As some of you know, our 4-year-old niece, Sophia, was born with a rare condition called Infant Glaucoma, which caused her to be almost entirely without sight from birth. Due to complications from many unsuccessful procedures to try to enhance her vision, Sophia underwent surgery to have her left eye removed the day after Thanksgiving. While the surgery and recovery are intense, Sophia is now out of the hospital and on the road to recovery . . . looking very forward to finally being pain-free for the first time in her sweet little life . . . She’s truly a special little girl who possesses such an incredible little spirit . . . In fact, on the day after her surgery, as she lay there recovering, Sophia said, ‘Mom, I love my life!’ . . . let’s shower Sophia and her parents with love and kindness from near and far.”

Here is a photo of their Wall of Love, with all of the cards and well wishes sent their way:

WallofLove_Sophia

So, when I heard that several friends never received Christmas cards from me, I perused the picture closely. Sure enough, my offering had not made it through the postal system. Ah, but that only gives me an exceptional reason to honor Sophia here and to share some love now:

Oh Sophia, sweet little princess,
Delicate yet incredibly strong.
You are remarkable, nothing less.
You truly inspire me all day long.

May angels watch over your life’s dreams,
Bringing smiles to you every hour.
For bright hope from you certainly beams.
In your spirit is graceful power.

God bless you, beautiful Sophia.

So, friends, think of those around you who have a presence or light beyond your understanding, and send a little love note today. Don’t delay.

xoxo,
Sara

10 Posts for 10 Years: #10

January 31, 2014

Today, only a few words are needed. Words like . . .

I miss you. I honor you. I realize you are proud of me. I will see you again. I am so lucky to know you. I respect all you gave. I could not ask for a better father. I love you. I hope to be like you.

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God bless and keep you.

Always your Ace,
Sara

10 Posts for 10 Years: #9

January 30, 2014

Oh a smile has so many stories to tell. My dad’s grin was, by far, full of tales and light.

My father’s smile . . . remarkable but humble. His teeth were oddly strong, but weathered by time and chewing tobacco. His eyes always twinkled in unison with his grin—a mischievous, dancing smirk. When more serene, he merely let the creases gather at the edges and cast a friendly glow of inviting grace.

In league with his smile was his wit. It ebbed forth like the steady percussion of feet on a hardwood floor. It lashed in banter—never too harsh or too scathing. It elicited groans of, “Ooooh dad,” and playful eye rolls from us kids more times than I can count. In awe at the stealthy backdoor approaches and barrage of jest, I listened. I laughed. I often replayed it in my mind . . . as I do now.

Look around to your friends, family and even yourself. Make note of that smile, and see how you can make it do somersaults with giggles and witty exercise.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #8

January 29, 2014

If you know my quirky nature, you have probably seen one of my haikus. I love the 5-7-5 rhythm and simplicity. It forces you to find the essence and clear away the flowery debris.

With that in mind, here is haiku inspired by both my Heavenly Father and my dear dad:

Father, do you know
what my spirit craves from life?
Purpose and passion

Honestly, the essence of surviving the loss of a loved one is simple: honor them by living your life. We are here in this earthly training ground to explore our positive passions such as love, creativity, humor, giving and selflessness.

And to know your purpose or, as I call it, “your word” is to take a leap toward leading a fulfilling and rich life of experiences. My word is, you guessed it: hope. Yes, I love deeply. Yes, I like to be witty. Yes, I adore giving. All of that is grounded in my mission of hope. I weigh every decision, every opportunity and every relationship against that purpose to ensure my energy is devoted to hopeful pursuits.

So, friends, I will ask it again . . . what is your purpose word? Set your passions loose on it and you will be honoring your loved ones through the actions of your life.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #7

January 28, 2014

In the world of grief recovery and the journey to healing, there is an awareness: the loss of one person is not a singular loss but the loss of many roles one person plays in your life.

Now, I do not want to frame this as a melancholy or morose statement. Instead, I prefer to celebrate the many facets and blessings that one person can shine on your life.

For instance, when I think of my dad, here are just a dozen of the “hats” he wore:

  1. Highly competitive Yahtzee champion with a knack for rolling the perfect dice
  2. Small engine aircraft pilot who took me flying in my carseat . . . in a doorless plane
  3. Car whisperer who could decipher clangs, thunks, whirs and screeches
  4. One-handed baseball hitting machine who helped me practice my outfield skills
  5. Dollhouse master architect with floor plans, wall angles and space for vehicles
  6. Swoop and cast fishing dynamo with the ability to bait fish . . . and me with jokes
  7. Smorgasbord master chef with an art for crafting dinner from random ingredients
  8. Spiritual seeker who welcomed questions, challenges and Biblical banter
  9. Last-minute Christmas shopping faux Scrooge who pretended to despise holidays
  10. Copy and laminating crafter who shrank, sealed and created memorable tokens
  11. Bestest and most timely voicemail offender with hilarious messages
  12. Loudest and proudest cheering section in both small and large venues

I invite you to write down the roles of those you love, or loved and lost. And if you knew Big Mike (my father), feel free to share other memories of him in the Comments below.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #6

January 27, 2014

Today, I feel called to share a deep and flowing tribute that I wrote not long after my father’s passing. See if you can find the heart and hope tucked in between the words.

A Titan of Humble Scale

My father is the summer breeze
warmly cradling my cheek,
brushing back my hair.

My dad is my humble confidant
keeping me racing forward,
readying a dreamsicle parachute.

My daddy is beyond compare
offering airplane rides,
stealing good-night kisses.

My friend is keeper of smiles
teasing me into smirks,
laughing at his own jokes.

My mentor is a steady rock
guiding me on an upward climb,
holding me as I search for stability.

My world is built from him
meshing man with hero,
giving all to his princess.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #5

January 26, 2014

Two arms to hold. Two arms to lift. Two arms to swing from as a child.

For many years, arms have been a fascination of mine, for reasons of versatility and diversity. I would wager (if I was a betting woman) that the jungle gym we called dad was the origin for this. I remember fondly having him reach down to let us (two at a time) latch our fingers around each of his triceps, only to squeal as he lifted us into the air. His strength, even then, was a wonder.

My father’s arms . . . solid and scarred by use. Some freckles dotted the forearms, as if to frolic in and out of the hair with impish spontaneity. They hoisted me off the ground when I was two or three, clinging to him like a young chimp testing a branch and giggling at the exhilaration of new heights.

They clenched, twisted and applied force to tools on mechanical parts. They worked often as a pair but sometimes covertly solo when administering tickles or arm hair burns. And, when needed, they wrapped around me in a secure and warm bear hug. Ah yes, they opened doors, toyed with my mother and rested across his chest in slumber.

Security, stability, capability . . . arms can be a connecting point from one to another.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #4

January 25, 2014

What is a legacy? Some might say money, property or customs handed down. I prefer to think of legacy as the indelible mark an influential person makes on their family, their friends, their community and their world. So, here is my father’s legacy, may it be fuel for hope for generations to come:

  • Giving with selfless abandon. Whether it was help with auto repairs, a few extra bucks, sound advice or a willing hand, my father was a profound giver. He often gave to, what some might call, a fault. However, it is this example of giving that showed me how richly the spirit receives by looking beyond itself to the needs of others. I am still in awe.
  • A quirky and playful sense of humor. Always having a joke, a witty reply or a funny story at the ready, my dad could certainly amuse anyone who walked through his office door. I have seen the transformation from grumble to giggle of many of his customers over the years, several returning to the seat across his desk purely for the joy of his company. And, as close friends know, being awarded a funny nickname by Big Mike was like gold—it meant you achieved “in” status . . . although it also came with heaps of extra sarcasm.
  • Family first and always. The eldest of his siblings and a man of the Word, he put an immense value on family. I recall many instances of helping family, loving family unconditionally and guiding family through tough obstacles. I know how much his folks meant to him and am proud to keep that tradition going strong.
  • A work ethic that rivals Atlas. It was only as I grew up that I truly understood how much of the world he carried on his shoulders. Still, dawn to sunset (or later), he worked diligently to provide for his family, keep his commitments to customers and show us that work is only a bother if you don’t bother to put your all into it. Not a perfectionist but certainly a details man, I marveled at his thorough nature and integrity.
  • A big kid at heart. My dear mom has been in the front row for many of my dad’s goofy voices, whimsical adventures and silly games. He loved to laugh and felt it his mission to make others do the same. Belly laughs, guffaws, chuckles and mischievous snickers (one of my favorites) all echoed from the deep lungs of this big kid. He enlightened us and lightened our days.

So, as you consider the legacy you wish to maintain for your loved ones or the one you intend to build within your life’s journey, know that the impact is not always monetary or material . . . the most valuable legacy is time, love and the ability to hope.

10 Posts for 10 Years: #3

January 24, 2014

Hands clap, they hold, they pull, they reach. My father’s hands were one of his signature traits. I could rely on those hands for mechanical miracles, challenged them to creative building projects and watched them sign one of the most picturesque signatures I have ever seen.

My father’s hands . . . a larger than life, careworn pair. Calluses aplenty dotted his hands, with little grease-marred tendrils flowing from his palms up to his cuticles. Lava soap, Gojo and pumice stones all failed to work complete magical feats, yet small gaps of unreal youth wedged themselves into the mix.

The tops of his hands hand a trace, nearly imperceptible scattering of blond hair and a permanent watch imprint at the intersection of his left wrist. They found a way to peel apples in one continuous swoop—a tradition I now proudly uphold.

They moderated sibling confrontation, wielded a twisted old strip of leather, and ever-so-playfully clicked back and forth on the mouse to play Spider Solitaire. His nails were always cut painstakingly short.

When striking up a conversation or consulting with a client at his desk, he always leaned forward and crossed his arms—looping his hands over each forearm like an ancient guardian.

When sleeping in his chair in front of the TV at night, he would have them resting at first on his chest . . . and then later they would slip to the sides as he snored like a hibernating grizzly through the details of PBS, Discover or History, which I swear he absorbed in his sleep.

I will miss them walking me down the aisle someday. However, I smile at the memory of them playing banjo or cradling a rambunctious harmonica. This is for you, dad:

10 Posts for 10 Years: #2

January 23, 2014

If the eyes are windows to the soul, then my father’s eyes told epic tales.

I “focus” on the eyes now because of the pivotal importance eyes play in empathy, in hope, in knowing a person and in loving unconditionally. The eyes show purity of emotion, they reveal attention, they help us to connect and they transform experiences into memories.

Dad's EyesMy father’s eyes . . . although damaged by pressure and the bombardment of strenuous work, still gleamed when he spoke. No, they danced.

By some uncanny knowledge (or, perhaps, a kindred innocence), his eyes caught us kids in our hijinks. It’s all about the way he knew to raise a brow, sneak in a wink, pinch them shut during allergy season or roll them at one of my notoriously bad jokes.

No eyes will ever see me for exactly who/what I am or love his family just the same. His eyes were accepting, stern, playful, tired and ever watchful. They were hazel, like mine, but with different stars circling the center . . . more feisty brown flecks. The crinkly creases at the edge deepened but never aged him.

I miss how his eyes looked to me with the responsibility of being his eldest child, to me as his goofy sarcastic buddy and to me as his spiritual student.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

10 Posts for 10 Years: #1

January 22, 2014

On January 31, my father will have been gone for 10 years. Gone but not absent. Gone but not forgotten. Gone but not a day goes by that I don’t miss his hands, his hugs and his humor.

I will spend the next 10 days sharing thoughts, demonstrating hope in the grief journey and celebrating a man—Michael Dean McClellan. To many “Big Mike” and to six lucky kids, dad.

There will be tears, laughs, ah ha’s, pauses and reflections. Honoring someone is never one dimensional. So, I hope to successfully reveal the dimensions that keep his memory vivid in my mind and cross over the dimensions of time.

My father was, is and will always be the best man in my life. He was a remarkable human being. Imperfect? Undeniably. Loving? Nearly to a fault. Funny? Heck yeah! Best of all, he was my friend, one of the truest and most forthright I will ever be lucky enough to know. If faced with a choice to have more time but lose the memories I have, I would decline. I wouldn’t trade a moment, a smile, a tear or a contradiction.

I look forward to telling you more tomorrow, my friends.

With hope,
Sara (Ace to him)

Friendly Surprises and Staches

January 21, 2014

Meet Manuel and his owl pal, Pete. They make me gleeful.Manuel and Pete

This adorable duo brings a smile to my face and is the creation of my charming friend, Michelle. Both of the boys like rockin’ their staches and seem to hold their own in a fashionable office flooded with women.

I could not resist sharing the pure childlike whimsy and, let’s face it, goofy gusto of these two. It’s a simple, playful reminder that hope is not just philosophical quotes, intense reflection and tough climbs. Hope is also innocence, laughter and creativity.

Look around you today. Pick out something completely silly, belly-laugh-out-loud funny and even slightly embarrassing to lift your spirits. It does the soul good.

Manuel is tech savvy with a great eye, so he likes to peruse Pinterest for a chuckle. Pete is a hoot with his addiction to jokes and good-natured pranks. Go forward, friends, and have a blast . . . staches optional.

Metamorphosis

January 20, 2014

Yesterday was my birthday. Birthdays are their own contradictions—reminders of time and encouragement to be playfully timeless. They can be reflective, peaceful, chaotic, hopeful or all of the above. For me, this weekend was a period of metamorphosis.

Now, let’s pause for clarity. Metamorphosis in its literal form can mean a transition from immature to mature. Uh, not the meaning I’m getting at (I refuse to claim maturity, as my inner goofball usually prevails) . . . I prefer “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person.” So, in this coaxed transformation, what did I find?

  1. Having friends in a time zone 14+ hours ahead will trigger a premature birthday onslaught among friends in this time zone. Chuckle.
  2. I am loved. I say this not as a gloating mechanism but a humble realization of how blessed I am by the people in my life. My mom brought me to tears with, “Happy Birthday!! Hope you have a great day . . . You are the first ‘spark’ that keeps me going. . . . Light of my life.” My heart melted.
  3. Activity, not necessarily age, causes exhaustion. Therefore, birthday naps are totally permissible.
  4. Sometimes the wishes and wants we most desire are elusive because we pursue them so fiercely. Letting go to the natural energy of the universe can be liberating and rewarding.
  5. No one can dictate what “happy” means on your birthday (or any other day) but you.
  6. I no longer view numbers as a reflection of a person’s state of being or well-being.
  7. Intimate connections, where you can focus on the individual before you, are far richer than a melee of faces (at least to me).
  8. Missing someone, like my dear dad, never gets easier . . . it just gets more familiar.
  9. Giving to others on your special day is the best gift possible.
  10. Forgetting to take photos during a celebration means you were actually present. The memories are far more vivid too.
  11. Facebook has replaced birthday cards with a large segment of the population. Not the end of the world, but I openly admit that I am more lax about committing dates to memory.
  12. Hearing the happy birthday song in multiple languages cracks me up. Multiple silly voices add giggling to the power of 10.
  13. I’m aiming for 19 items on this list because it’s my lucky number. How am I doing?
  14. I want everyone in the world to feel valued, recognized and cherished.
  15. Resisting social convention for your age bracket means truly not buying into the “you should have, be or achieve this” by now, including the dreaded “settling down.”
  16. A smile and a youthful spirit will get you carded. Woot.
  17. You don’t have to drink excessively to have an amazing time. And you may actually remember the finite details. Shocker.
  18. Birthday hugs are awesome.
  19. I’m thankful for my experiences and the woman I am today because of them.

Where did the metamorphosis come in? Well, I gave myself leave to let go of obligation, embrace the subtle sensations of each moment and not focus beyond that minute. There, in that presence, I unwrapped a surprising gift . . . a greater sense of contentment with life and myself.

Birthday Candle

 

 

Giving It All for Hope

January 9, 2014

As I sit typing this post, tears are streaming down my face. I’m unashamed. You see, when the soul is moved to such a level, action must follow. Direct, immediate action.

I just finished watching this video:

I cry not just for the beautiful, innocent faces of these forgotten children. I cry for the plight of their parents and the pressures, fears and desperation that must have lead to this decision. I do not judge, not one ounce. And I do not ignore the issue because it happens to be thousands of miles around the globe.

I am thankful for this amazing man, Pastor Lee, and the simplest mission: hope.

Hope that other little angels are not left for dead on a cold street, overlooked by so many where abandonment has become so commonplace. Hope that ALL human life is considered precious, worthy and welcome. Hope that other kind souls will step up to voice, to share and to support orphans everywhere.

So many people feel lost, like orphans from God. He has not forgotten us, He simply gave us free will . . . and we use it for both good and evil. Our heavenly Father is always there, with infinite love, with the offer of grace and with the spirit of hope. We are, as the site alludes, kindred to one another in every way. We simply choose to forget that truth.

Yesterday, as I meditated, the word “kindred” came to mind. I didn’t know then why it was calling to me. I most definitely do now. Here is a bold, moving and raw reminder of what being kindred truly means.

Another reason it hits home with such emotional force is that my dear, loving mom was adopted. She has spent her entire life building a path for her children to follow, a home to keep us safe and a set of values that says NO ONE will ever be overlooked.

For my mom, for every orphan, for our very well-being as a human race, I shout, “Help others with hope!” How? I don’t have much to offer but I will give all I have, every penny I receive from every book sold this year (paperback and Kindle) will go to this mission.

buy-now

If you choose not to buy, then donate. At least share and, no matter what, pray for these and orphans everywhere. For hope should be the legacy we give every child.

Freedom from False Guilt

January 8, 2014

Guilt does not serve the soul. Over lunch today, after overthinking and overexplaining something, I was faced with a firm countenance—the visage of a long-time friend letting me know, even without words, that guilt clouds growth. More importantly, it overshadows hope and well-being.

Guilt is a trickster. It sneaks in and makes you second guess, doubt, dwell and overthink. For most everyday situations, guilt is not productive. It should be reserved for true offenses and wrongs. However, so often, overactive guilt flirts with the conscience. This “false guilt” is a burden and a self-imposed limitation. It leads us, through our own willingness, down paths of “if I had only” or “what will others think” or “I would hate to be judged.”

Some of my life’s inheritance has been guilt, having come from a well-intentioned but unsustainable upbringing of percussive “sorry” speak. Perhaps you know this . . . “I’m sorry” being spoken for every little real, perceived, imagined or possible instance. I even recall saying I’m sorry once for breathing too loud.

Thanks to friends who pointed it out and helped me see the difference between empathy and responsibility, I started breaking that cycle years ago . . . and amen to its demise. Today was simply a healthy reminder that assuming offense and jumping to excessive remorse is just, well, silly.

So, channel the energy you spend in false guilt. Save yourself from the burden. Spare others the messy texts and day after remorse, and keep your apologetic words for moments that truly call for them. For, then, the meaning is intact and your heart is free to nurture hopeful growth.

The New New Year

January 6, 2014

With virtually the whole world focused on January 1 and the countdown to a fresh page on the Gregorian calendar, it was intriguing to hear about the “resets” intended in the lifestyles, Facebook profiles and choices of so many. I simply tilted my head at the thought that a day full of hangovers, house cleaning and sports could so influence the psyche of such a broad people. Hmmm.

Perplexed, I tried to get onboard and consider January 1 a fresh start. I attempted to schedule more gym time, let go of past relationships and focus more on wellness-motivated endeavors. Ok, that was so so. Then, I tried January 2 and 3, but meetings, work, laundry, bills and grocery shopping claimed my time. Plus, admittedly, a little sleep to catch up from all of the holiday revelry of the prior two weeks. I considered January 4 but it was the close of the week, a friend’s birthday party and a day of errands. When January 5 came around, I was too exhausted to even think about resetting anything but the channel on Pandora. Well, huh. I meditated and sought inner guidance. The clear answer: January 6 is the beginning of a hopeful new year. Obviously.

It’s about clearing that which does not serve us, disposing of the debris of holiday indulgence (as well as crispy Christmas trees) and remembering what the rhythm of life feels like. Then, I saw this article, “January 6 is most depressing day of year, study says.” Ouch.

Let’s pause for a moment. No offense to the U.K., but their studies are notoriously skewed in a somber direction with such past gems as “Happiness study finds that UK is passing point of peak life satisfaction.” Way to be a bucket full of rainbows, Brits. God love ya.

If you sense sarcasm in my voice, ding ding. Being hopeful doesn’t mean that you have to be sickeningly sweet or unrealistically buoyant. Every breath of every minute of every hour of every day is a chance to reset, my friends.

I persisted. Post meditation and with an open heart, I saw a post from an inspiring Italian friend who shared a story like this: “The night before Epiphany in Italy . . . ” It’s an interesting notion and made me think about how one individual can recognize the goodness in others. Moreover, Wikipedia notes that Befana, “will sweep the floor before she leaves . . . sweeping away . . . problems of the year.” Sweeping away the problems of the year? I love it. That’s a hopeful act, indeed.

So, instead of giving into the mass media hysteria of when you are supposed to be a new you, when you are expected to be depressed and how many ways life is falling short, try sweeping. Sweep away the woes, sweep away the worries, sweep away the relationships that abuse, sweep away the idea that you aren’t worth it, sweep away the obstacles to your hopeful new year.

Much love and abundant hope to Lilli Peter at Quantum Neter for this “epiphany.”

‘Twas the Hope Before Christmas

December 23, 2013

‘Twas the hope before Christmas
When across the world
One tiny child was stirring
Oh, how her heart swirled.

Her mom asleep on the floor
By the fire so small
In hopes that a company
With some job would call.

The little girl was nestled
Next to her dear mom
Counting cracks in the ceiling
Trying to stay calm.

Clutching the tattered blanket
A single tear fell
As she heard something outside
What, she couldn’t tell.

The girl prayed with all her might
But the clatter grew
Her mother woke with a start
It was dark, she knew.

She crept to the small window
And saw such a flash
That made her heart skip a beat
‘Twas too late to dash.

Knowing they were trespassing
She feared for them both
The thought of being apart
She did deeply loathe.

When what to her frightened eyes
Should appear but bags
Filled with food and fresh linen
Their names on the tags!

Held by the kind bearded man
From the church mission
She recalled his rosy face
‘Twas Nick and his son.

The little girl grinned widely
Her mom relieved now
It was not fear at her door
Grace found them, somehow.

Nick lit candles and gave hugs
His belly jiggled
Shadows danced in the lit room
And the girl giggled.

Now have light
Now have faith
Now have food
Now have peace.

On past tears
On past hurt
On past fears
Hope is here.

“I bring you good news,” Nick said
“For just down the street
Thursday a job awaits you
They’re eager to meet.”

The woman wept tears of joy
Her daughter clung tight
Her quiet prayer was granted
This Christmas Eve night.

Remember, hold on to hope
Help those who have less
Give freely from your spirit
That’s true happiness.

Merry Christmas from my heart
Hopeful tidings to you all!

Seeing Hope in the Face of Suicide

December 18, 2013

Some say the true worth of writing is how deeply you stir the soul. What if the soul you need to stir feels helpless, lost or depressed to the point of taking his/her own life? If this is you or you know someone who is struggling, please read on.

Know this: you are not alone and help exists. I urge you to call the number below immediately . . . not later or maybe, right now.

Suicide Prevention

Facing these computer keys, I long to inspire real hope. I long to “make it all better” . . . but I can’t promise that. Instead, I hope with every shred of my being that each soul who sees these words feels wanted, feels connected and feels value in continuing to live.

  1. You deserve to live. I’m not telling you that you have to, not guilting you, not judging you, not demeaning your feelings, not listing all the things that could or should be, and not arguing with your perception. I’m saying that your journey is unique. Yes, it is (not “may be” or “could be” but “is”) immensely painful at times, yet you are not worthless or worth less than anyone else.
  2. Your choices are your own. Life likes to spin us, trick us and distract us from feeling stable. Still, every choice is truly your own. Deciding to face a challenge, addiction or change is not easy, but you don’t have to face it alone or tackle everything all at once. Small steps keep us from feeling overwhelmed and help us recognize progress.

The holidays may seem shiny and jingling with joy, but that is not the case for everyone. The pressure to feel happy, to be ok and to mask pain at parties can be draining. Again, whatever you are facing or feeling, it is valid. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Let me share a story:

Someone very close to me struggled with thoughts of suicide for years. More nights than I can count, we had late chats about how “life isn’t worth living” or “it’s too much to bear” or, the most heartbreaking to me, “no one loves me anymore” coupled with “no one will miss me.” I remember pleading for him to reconsider and to see the bright side. I remember promising to never give up and always be there, so he never felt alone. I remember debating about his drinking and how he was choosing to destroy himself. I remember forcing myself to stay awake long enough to ensure he was in a deep sleep. I remember praying fiercely that he would be alive in the morning, often falling asleep crouched by my bed. Most of all, I remember keeping it to myself so no one would judge him.

Looking back, no one told me the “right way” to speak to someone contemplating suicide. No one said not to argue, not to keep it secret, not to carry the weight. My hope had to flicker quietly behind my breastbone, fearful of being snuffed out by sudden loss. I thank God for the days we had together, particularly the ones where he later chose sobriety and life. I now know that his life and the decision to live it was always his own. I was a hand, a shoulder, a friend, a compassionate companion but not a savior. That’s Jesus.

Now, those nights roll back in as sparks when I need to summon embers of empathy or when everyday trials cast emotional shadows. They give me perspective, they define my character and they remind me of how fleeting and precious, I believe, life truly is.

As a grief facilitator, I am now called to be a steady hand that reaches out when the dark fog of loss seems suffocating. I am not the light (that is within you) nor will I “fix” you. Despite my training, I want to be clear that my degree is not in psychiatry or psychology. For the best care, seek out a licensed professional whom you feel comfortable speaking with and who demonstrates genuine interest in your well-being.

Suicide is not necessarily about weakness, selfishness or mental instability. Forget about the labels. What’s important is that help exists for your hurt. There is no shame in asking for help; in fact, it’s you walking through the door toward greater hope. That door is always open.

Just Keep Chuckling

December 17, 2013

Hope is laughter. I say it often, even to my reflection in the mirror when I’m scowling over a chaotic day or realizing that the white hair sticking straight up off my head is not just bleached by the sun . . . or that it has friends hiding elsewhere in my locks. Yep, hardy har nature.

So, for sanity and humility, I have been keeping track of silly moments and how they can be transformed into fuel for hope. Here is the most recent highlight reel:

  • Pulling my laptop case out of my luggage and realizing that it freed every scrap of note paper I used on the plane, which all go sailing into the chilly wind . . . Hopeful part: seeing my dear friend (preggers, mind you) was swift enough to catch them with her foot. Brava!
  • Calling my bestie out of habit one night and remembering that it’s two hours ahead there . . . Hopeful part: she picked up anyway and had great news to share. Yeah synchronicity!
  • Reaching up to click the garage door opener on my car visor and remembering I don’t have one . . . Hopeful part: my old house has a new family celebrating their first Christmas in it.
  • Typing my password into WordPress to write this blog and realizing I was using credentials for another site entirely . . . Hopeful part: it reminded me to be present in the moment.
  • Writing a Madlib for my niece while explaining that “pink,” “princess” and “fly” can only be used once for each story . . . Hopeful part: she knew how to play with language well enough to make me giggle with “purply pink,” “prince” and “flying.” I can’t argue with creativity.
  • For the thousandth time, mistakenly telling the theatre ticket taker, “You too” after he said, “Enjoy the show” . . . Hopeful part: He said, “I absolutely will but you let me know how it is.”
  • Entering a conference call number and wondering why no one was calling in, only to recall that I was the host . . . Hopeful part: Technology allows for a speedy recovery.
  • Zipping to the coffee shop a few miles north of me without checking directions for my meeting, only to realize it was a mile south of my casa . . . Hopeful part: I got to hear my fave song on the radio.
  • Putting on a shirt inside out and walking out the door . . . Hopeful part: apparently I’m so out of touch with teen fashion that I’m, like, way trendy (purely by accident).

Pretty much, every day presents a chance to laugh at yourself, roll your eyes playfully at life or stop taking the little bumps too seriously. I welcome comments on your moments of laughter that inspired hope.

And, in honor of my wee nephew’s first birthday, here is a funny stache his sister “helped” him with that I pray makes him laugh . . . hopefully, someday.

Hope is Laughter - Stache

Spokes and Spinning Wheels

December 13, 2013

I felt dizzily fragmented recently. I exist in three realms, all blessings: advisor, author and advocate.

  1. I advise brands on communications strategy and engagement (I love supporting the hope of achievement, as amazing ideas come to life).
  2. I am an author in the literal sense and via this blog (I get jazzed about sharing a hopeful outlook and offering insights).
  3. I am also an advocate (I offer grief facilitation and mentoring on the pursuit of purpose, one-one-one by referral or as God calls me).

All are rewarding, all require time and all call for spiritual stamina. I was struggling to feel rooted, to be focused and to balance all directions. Then, I prayed, I paused and I smiled.

All of us are hubs, with many spokes streaming outward. Each spoke is valid. Each ties into our core beliefs, our spiritual gifts and our unique talents.

Hope WheelThat hub may spin but it remains constant. It is the source and the stability of all outward efforts. It may be forged of faith, fortitude, inspiration, creativity or passion. It radiates the true essence of who we are and determines how we express ourselves.

So, taking away the frame of worldly things like finances, esteem and obligation, trust your hub. Believe in your core. Acknowledge your callings. Celebrate your spokes and know that when life gets dizzy, it simply means you are experiencing one fantastic ride.

Cause I Said, So . . .

December 12, 2013

Ok, I would bet dollars to donuts (Krispy Kreme is my preference) that you remember one of your folks saying, “Because I said so.” If you are a parent, the fateful day that you say the same thing to your offspring has already come or, most likely, will creep into conversation someday. It’s ok. It happens. Of course, you know me, I have a little twist to make it better . . .

What if we leverage the spirit of the season and a little linguistic wizardry? Instead of “because” we can use “cause” and flip the meaning. It’s a three-part plan:

  1. Cause (a purpose, driving force or charitable endeavor)
  2. Said (as in tell people about it, with passion)
  3. So (implying the expectation of action)

So, dear friends, I encourage you to lift yourself and lift up others. Here are just a few precious causes that found their way to my line of sight. Each reminds me of the importance of amazing acts, finding fulfillment and the gift of grace:

  • Reece’s Rainbow – Adoption grant foundation for orphans with special needs (I dare you to read their stories and discover their tremendous gifts)
  • Compassion International – Releasing children from poverty (referred by Ann Voskamp, whom I truly love and admire)
  • Global Giving – The perfect way to find a cause, donate or inspire giving in others (there is still time to send gift cards to friends and family)

Reece's Rainbow Christmas Tree

Pick special causes or be open to them picking you. Why? Most importantly, giving is the best way to gain a sense of purpose and interpersonal connection (wards off depression, assuages loneliness, battles boredom, reinforces faith and eases grief). Also, haha, because I said so!

Suddenly Sighted

December 8, 2013

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Interesting, isn’t it, how being lost and being blind can feel so similar? Each of us will likely feel lost at some point. And, during this assumedly wonderful time of year, two things happen:

  1. Hearts, pocketbooks and homes open to the needs of others (yeah, amazing grace)
  2. Some of those who are in pain feel forgotten and even more lost (boo, aching grief)

Hang in there with me, as I will close on a hopeful note as always. But before I get to that, have you ever had a moment when you suddenly looked around, paused or really settled into a moment? It may have been like seeing a person, a place or the world with new sight.

Well, this is the ideal time of year (not that every day isn’t just as superb) to shift your perspective. Look around and truly see who is putting on a happy face, who is withdrawing from social events, who is physically in pain or who is spiritually adrift. Be suddenly sighted.

See without judgment or guilt. Feel without pity or frustration. For being suddenly sighted is being immediately blessed. Appreciate the plate of cookies, the lingering hug, the extra few minutes on the phone, the fact that someone opened up to you, the chance to love thy neighbor, and the moment when your child or grandchild looked at you with eyes that see how amazing you are.

Finally, I challenge you: create a Hopeful Sights Journal on December 13, 2013.

  1. You need 365 pages or sections.
  2. Each day, write down a sight that inspires hope (anything uplifting, surprising, endearing).
  3. On 12/13/14, read it back to yourself and your family.
  4. Then for the holidays, give it to someone who really needs a light of hope in their life.

Here is the one I plan to use. It was given to me by a sweet friend and is already brimming with positive energy. The quote says, “Close your eyes and dream a dream . . . and seek the courage to make it real. Reflect on the past, envision the future, and embrace today with an open heart and soul.”

Hopeful Sights JournalSo, I invite you to join me. What a way to inspire hopeful sight and share amazing grace.

Rope of Hope

December 6, 2013

Who ties you to your values? Who encourages you to try . . . and try again? Who inspires you to love yourself? Who links you to your optimism?

With the passing of Nelson Mandela this week, I spent some time reviewing his remarkable words with care. This is one of many quotes that spoke to my heart:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” – Nelson Mandela

Heaven has a place for such souls, that’s for certain. So, I add him to my Rope of Hope. Simply put, it’s the interwoven people who uplift, positively challenge and support me. Those people include my amazing friends, my devoted family, Jesus and my church community, some public figures (like Mr. Mandela, Ally of The Crumb Diaries and Audrey Hepburn) and my loved ones who have passed from this world.

Each is a precious strand, binding me carefully to my faith, tugging me back to reality in times of trial and keeping me stable when I leap to new heights. Instead of tying my hands or constraining me from happiness, they help me see the light side and extend the rope to others who need hope. They never fray or sway, and I aspire to be the same for them.

So, who makes up your rope of hope?

A Humble Heart

December 5, 2013

Humility is defined as a modest view of one’s own importance. It also seems like a natural blend of the words human and ability. It has been floating around my mind a lot recently, after having a thought-provoking conversation with someone close to me about confident vs. cocky and humble vs. insecure.

I believe confidence is a highly attractive quality, so long as you can back it up with action. It inspires a sense that someone has things covered, is not codependent and can be trusted with key tasks. However, I also believe that humility is the true path to greatness, so long as you don’t volunteer to be trampled on.

I find men are labeled cocky more often than women. Likewise, women are often deemed insecure in lieu of humble. I think the assumptions made of both sexes are flawed. And, in an ironic twist, if a woman displays confidence, she is often perceived as overbearing . . . similarly, if a man shows human insecurity, he is considered weak. What a silly mess. Time to clear the slate.

hand heart

Here’s how it all ties into hope . . . if you are an egoist or overly assured, you likely don’t see the need for hope as a daily exercise. And, if you are insecure and withdrawn, you may not feel yourself worthy of hope. Such an odd line between balance and imbalance.

So, what I recommend is simple (and trust me, I’m taking this to heart for myself too):

  • Acknowledge your skills and talents without downplaying or inflating
  • Recognize your tendencies to boast or to put yourself down, and correct as needed
  • Honor the confidence in yourself and others in simple, genuine ways
  • Encourage the humility in yourself and others in nurturing, kind ways

I believe that having a humble heart and a confident spirit is the goal. It’s possible to be real, gracious, helpful, warm and inviting, while also being capable, likable, steady and persuasive. So, proceed with confidence and guard against cockiness, as you put aside insecurities and share a humble love of life. Hope lives in that sweet spot.

Honor Your Essence

December 3, 2013

If every act in your life were contingent on the reaction of someone else, would you ever be happy?

I ask this question because I realize how much impact peers, society and loved ones can have on your sense of bliss. We are connected, true. We also each have free will, independent emotions and a unique heartbeat. So, doesn’t it stand to reason that actions should be based first on what you feel true to you, and second based on the reaction or potential outcome?

When you think of your essence, the beautifully individual way that you think, feel and behave, I hope you celebrate it. For instance, you may be a serial giver. What’s that? Someone who cannot resist the opportunity to give, to share and to help. If someone doesn’t appreciate it or doesn’t reciprocate, it makes the act of giving no less meaningful.

Or, perhaps, you are an expressionist. This is someone who feels like they will burst at the seams if they don’t communicate a thought, share a compliment or ponder the creative imprint of life as we know it.

Hmmm, or maybe you are a sassy pants. This is someone who is confident, a hair feisty, passionate and quick of wit. Such a soul will thrive on exchange, boldly strive to keep people guessing and soak up every inkling of experience.

Sure, there are likely hundreds of possible “types” that could define your essence as well as overlapping combinations. I, with both huzzah and humility, own up to being all three at times. The key is to honor your essence and accept that you are exactly who you are—others may revel in it or reel from it, the point is that you cannot stop being you to fit expectations.

Now, causing harm or hurt through action or expression is not at all what I am condoning. I am simply reinforcing that you should embrace yourself fully, so that you know exactly where you stand when your hope or your heart are challenged.

This Little Light of Mine

December 2, 2013

If the title inspires humming or the phrase, “I’m going to let it shine,” awesome.

As we continue our journey into December, it’s clear that winter comes with longer nights and overcast days. That does not have to be a bad thing but it may sap some of your shine. Ponder this:

To know darkness is to know thyself. To embrace the light is to embrace your potential.

Now, darkness is not a verdict and doesn’t have to be a burden. After all, shadows are only cast when there is a light source. So, shadows are both proof that light exists and evidence that our inner light reaches as far as we let it.

If all of this seems a bit metaphysical or paradoxical, hang in there. In several decades of life, I have seen the darkness, felt the depth of it and known the presence of shadows. In fact, my strength, my hope and my perseverance are all what they are today because of my paths in and out of those dark recesses. I know, with certainty, that light is my calling. For that, I am thankful.

However, the light will be challenged. Not may, not could, not might . . . it will. In fact, the brighter you shine and the more you glow, the more you can anticipate hurdles. Each hurdle you overcome, though, will give you momentum and resilience. And I’m here to tell you that you can overcome them.

I have been struggling recently. You see, sometimes people you love linger in darkness and pull to have you join them—it’s not intentional or even malicious, it’s a sense of loneliness and desperation. I understand it but I also see that the pull can deplete the light. It can dim your shine.

A dear and insightful friend told me today that, “God gave you a light. It lives within you and it is your job to protect it.” A wise woman, that one. She went on to say that it is meant to be shared with people who want to be pulled out not pull you into darkness.

I pondered that at length and in prayer. I am far more capable of choosing my well-being and setting healthy boundaries when I understand that I have something to cherish within me. As a fixer, a giver and a caretaker, I wouldn’t choose to safeguard myself . . . but I can choose to protect this gift of light.

So, as you face the darkness in yourself and others, do not fear. Instead, remember that you have a light to protect. That light is hope, it is love, it is forgiveness, it is you . . . and it is absolutely worth nurturing.

Dear December

December 1, 2013

Sunrise Snow

As you make your way onto the scene, I have a few small requests.

Please let hope shine in every light, twinkle from every tree and sparkle in the eyes of every child. Let it be a light of heavenly glory and deepest gratitude. Let it be the hope that glows from each heart and inspires playful celebration.

Please watch over the grieving, the lonely and the hurting. Let the depressed discover God’s grace and feel the support of the universe. Let it be a hope that heals, a hope that comforts and a hope that transforms pain into strength.

Please safeguard the unwell, the addicted and the homeless. Let the vices and crutches fall away against the resilience of hope. Let each precious soul be protected and cherished as the invaluable being that it is. Let their families be held in hopeful prayer.

Please deliver hope to the hungry, the orphaned and the jobless. Let them be able to hope for more than survival and the essential love that we all crave. Let them find nourishment, safe shelter and the light of a hopeful hearth to warm them into the new year.

December, the icy chill of winter need not fill our hearts. Snowflakes, like people, are unique and sometimes fall . . . may we all focus on the blessings around us, the beautiful journey and the hopeful knowledge that we are united in a global community of infinite love.

As we close 2013, gently remind us that giving without expectation is the greatest exercise of hope and that loving without exception is the greatest testimony to joy.

God bless one and all,

Sara

How Many Clouds Are in Your Sky?

November 20, 2013

Clouds in the SkyI was joking with my dear friend yesterday about there being a single scary cloud in the sky and, since that meant it might rain, I decided not to go running. This was funny to her for three reasons: 1) I am not scared of much, least of all fluffy puffy clouds; 2 ) I love love love rain and cloud shapes; and 3) I am not in any way or by any remote desire a runner (exceptions will be made for hungry jungle cats and menacing honey badgers).

As I am prone to do, this got me thinking. How many clouds are in your sky?

Consider the “what if” or “oh I can’t” perceptions you keep floating around. How many fill your sky? Perhaps, you are tethered like a balloon anchor to doubts about your appearance, worries about finances, hesitations about taking a career leap or intimidation over being bold.

Mental clouds are funny things. They can merely distract us or they can consume the light we need to thrive. They can be fluffs of white with wisps of stress or dark masses with thundering fear. Our clouds are what we forecast them to be and ride the stream of consciousness that we choose to entertain.

Here’s your chance to change them. Apply imagination and gusto (like wind clearing your mind) to transform them into your favorite things . . . your friends, your pets, your dreams, your purpose, your loved ones, your travel aspirations. Clouds can be anything you wish them to be. Take a second to lay your worries on the grass and look up to a sky dotted with happy little clouds, like Bob Ross did.

 

Hope for Insecurities

November 8, 2013

Insecurities are funny little critters. They like to rain on parades; sneak into thoughts; say “wait, wait now;” and chisel away at our confidence. On occasion, they are even devious enough to keep replaying the “highlight reel” of our past failures to consume our mind with worry about what may be in the future. Still, I encourage you to hope for insecurities.

How could you say that, Sara? Who in their right mind would want insecurities let alone hope for them? Well, there are two meanings here. Let’s chat about the first. Simply put, you have hope to overcome your insecurities by implementing the following steps:

  1. Take time to reflect on the true nature of your insecurity. For instance, if you are insecure about love, consider what you truly fear about opening your heart (e.g., being hurt, not measuring up, choosing poorly, being used). Emotion is valid, so be authentic and vulnerable as you reflect.
  2. Write down the worst case scenario—every what if, fear and worry. You read that right. See how deep the insecurity goes and where it is rooted in your psyche. By doing so, you disarm it from being a looming, invisible thing to a more grounded challenge.
  3. Go on to apply logic. Now that you cleared the path for reason, write down what this insecurity is depriving you of such as fulfillment, confidence, open expression, deep experiences. Then, identify why this insecurity no longer serves a purpose for you.
  4. Forgive yourself. This is crucial. Cease berating yourself over what you did or didn’t do, how you perceive you wasted time or any urges to label yourself foolish. That was the past, and you are more complex and capable now because of this journey.
  5. Celebrate the lesson. Every insecurity is both a stumbling block and a potential tool. In the case of our love example, past heartbreak is actually proof that you are capable of love.

Now, let’s tackle the second meaning of “hope for insecurities.” It’s a riddle of sorts. You see, when we hope for something like wisdom, success, charisma or confidence, we feel justified. Ah, but life has a funny way of building those characteristics out of our most humble, embarrassing and human moments.

Take this allegorical example:

If I told you I could give you the confidence to face a large crowd of people and deliver an amazing speech, you might be intrigued to know how. So, my experience tells me it is going to take a genuine, comfortable smile and a calm, inviting tone to your voice. Sounds easy but perhaps not. This comfort may only come through the enlightening process of facing stage fright, being put “on the spot” in social situations or learning to be at home in your own skin. So, to ensure you are good to go for your speech, I would want to test your resolve, try your patience and nip away at your weakness. I would need to reveal your insecurity—the fire through which your true mettle (pun intended) is forged. For, it is the insecurity that humbles us enough to grow, to accept change and to build the self we want to be.

Besides, every insecurity accepted and overcome is one less shadow dimming the light of hope.

 

Accepting the Need for Hope

November 3, 2013

Some of you may remember a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” featuring the unfiltered responses of children to everyday questions. This popped into my head the other day as I was speaking with my nephew about why he shouldn’t run ahead towards streets, traffic and crowded stores. His response, “(giggle) I don’t need hands, I have light up shoes.”

Even as adults, how many times do we take the same approach? I don’t need to exercise, I’m having a diet soda. Or, I don’t need to say excuse me, I was there first. Or, I don’t need help, I have this covered. Well, perhaps that may work for a time and, with the gift of free will, it is up to you. But consider this: have you ever seen what happens to someone who no longer believes they need or have hope?

Now, as an eldest child, recovering perfectionist and do-it-all-myself stubborn lass, I can tell you that “needing” anything is a stretch for some people. However, life has a funny (interesting not haha) way of presenting challenges, losses and changes that test how much we can do alone. I have spoken repeated about surrender and the power of not taking the world on your shoulders, but what is the state of your heart? Have you accepted hope?

I frequently hear how adults believe life moves faster and more frantically as we age. This is a trick of the mind; we are actually just so preoccupied with a routine, with our worries and with the future (or sometimes the past) that we feel overwhelmed and stop noticing the moment-to-moment passage of time. Why do so many kids seem oblivious to time and have “endless summers?” It’s because they are living right now, with an innocent hope for simple things and still willing to lean for their needs.

What guidance can I offer? Simple. Believe that hope is not a fanciful illusion, an off-and-on whimsy or a waste of time. Believe fully that hope offers strength, optimism and peace. Accept that you need hope to navigate this imperfect world and that by sharing a hopeful outlook you can build a rich foundation for hope in your family. In short, embrace hope and accept your need for hope. That’s when the truest and richest change occurs.

What’s Your Love List?

October 7, 2013

Love is our greatest capacity and our most precious gift. Whenever I am asked why “Hope is Love” was not a chapter in “The World Needs Hope,” I simply say that love stands on its own. It is such a personal, intimate, sweeping concept that a chapter could not have done it justice. So, why do I write about it now?

Well, having seen the grieving and afflicted struggle with hope, I have found that a deep awareness of love helps to set a foundation for healing. The truth of love is that we must first know love within ourselves. So, I was joyfully surprised by a recent email from a dear friend, whom challenged me to write a Love List.

I have seen many forms of this list but the one I share now is focused on what you love. Think of it like a tuning fork for a piano—you have to set your vibration to be in tune with your heart, so that love will ring true inward to outward. Hold nothing back and, perhaps, chuckle during the process. Here is an excerpt from my Love List to amuse and inspire:

I love walking along the grass at night after the sprinklers go off, when mist is still clinging to the air; diving into a pool right as the sun blazes from behind a tree; burying everything but my head in blankets on a cold night, so I can hibernate; dancing around the house and letting my body flow unhindered; singing “Part of Your World” in the shower; open intellectual and spiritual conversations that make me think with my mind and my heart; meditation to find the silence within the silence; energetic practice that cultivates enlightenment; our heavenly Creator; seeing a child run joyfully to your embrace; jumping 13,000 feet from a plane into 90 blessed seconds of weightless free fall to know what being present really means; giving to others with an open heart; seeing hope twinkle to life in the eyes of someone battling the darkness; my stuffed lamb from childhood; laughter in every form, especially body shaking belly laughter; angel armies watching over us; hugs that turn into nuzzles; the tickle of a beard; intimate moments that require no words but say worlds; cooking and sharing nourishment with friends; getting lost in someone’s eyes; driving fast and hearing the engine growl; feeling victorious after accomplishing a task; sea salt; sitting by the ocean with the sand and the wind as company; the smell of pine against the snow; making snow angels; watching in awe as someone realizes their true purpose; being wanted; my hair color and its quirky character; crawling into fresh sheets right out of the dryer; rock climbing to push my body and focus my mind; sketching on napkins; haikus that have funny messages; meeting new people that feel like old friends; feeling seen for all I am; playful little puppies; holding a new baby so delicately; fireworks fireworks fireworks; bursting into spontaneous expression; witty banter; being connected to every soul in the world; macaroni and cheese; tea ceremony; learning new things and new ways of thinking; being inspired by the Spirit; surrendering to my empathy to hold space for another; being present and savoring a moment; traveling the world; getting to know local people and cultures; firm, heartfelt hugs; making love; embracing my inner child; knowing that loved ones who have passed are still part of me; amazing theatre, symphony and movies that catch the emotion in my throat; flying; dreaming; irresistible chemistry; cool tile under my feet; turning to see a partner drinking in my presence; charcoals, pastels, pencils and thumbs to smear and create art; losing track of time in a Japanese zen garden; having an ah ha moment that makes me smile; discovering more about nutrition and the value of true food; water; eating whole lemons, sans seeds; dark chocolate; good news; balanced, interesting people who lead by example; candlelight, starlight, firelight, sunrise and sunset; moon prayer; being a writer; train rides; owning my inner goofball; a fresh start each day . . .

As you can see, what you love is up to you. It is a mélange of feelings, sensations, experiences, desires and appreciation. Your Love List is what you make it. Knowing what you love inspires immense gratitude, tunes your “frequency” to pulling those things further into your life and reminds you that with this vast ability to love . . . hope and all things are possible.

Screw with Someone’s Day

September 24, 2013

Think back to a time, perhaps in the not-so-distant past, when you found your day in unexpected upheaval due to what seemed like such a trivial cause—a faulty brake light, an important piece of mail that never arrived or a flat tire. Now, what if you could save someone else from that frustration?

Let me introduce Exhibit A, otherwise known as a common screw.

Turn the Screw

You see, this screw has a story. He won’t tell me all of it (secretive fellow) but I do know for certain that he ended up in a parking space at the mall a couple of days ago, just down the aisle from the bookstore I was visiting. I saw him glinting mischievously in the Arizona sun from behind an SUV.

At first, I thought to myself, “If someone dropped it, they may be back for it.” But then, as logic seeped into my vivid imagination, I realized that this screw had the potential to truly “screw up” someone’s day, namely the owner of the SUV if they backed over it and punctured a tire. So, all shiny and sunny warm, I picked him up and decided to avoid a potential roadside assistance scenario for this family.

Yes, we could get into a long discussion about causality and recognizing lessons for others (another time). For this post, I want to “point” out that we each have the power to intervene in fairly obvious disruptions and keep others from calamity. Consider these situations:

  • You see a coworker with food stuck in her teeth before a big presentation
  • You notice a child reaching dangerously over the edge of a shopping cart
  • You catch sight of something falling from someone’s wallet
  • You receive mail for someone previously at your address not labeled “or current resident”
  • You see a brake light out in the car next to you at your favorite restaurant
  • You watch someone holding a cutting implement or tool the wrong way
  • You realize the woman leaving the bathroom has an issue with her skirt’s direction
  • You notice a nail, broken glass or other sharp item near a playground
  • You realize the bathroom stall is now out of toilet paper

In other words, you perceive something that (with just a small comment, tip or bend to pick it up) could save harm, hassle and headaches for others. The idea that we just say “c’est la vie” to everything and fend for ourselves is not what grace, love or humanity are about.

And yes, the person you tell may be resistant, embarrassed, rude or ignore you. Respectfully, get over it. Doing good for pats on the back is filtering your potential; do good because it’s the right thing to do and sets a worthy example.

So, what I’m asking of you is to find ways to “turn the screw” around and keep others from unnecessary pain. Who knows how many times God, a friend, a loved one or a stranger may be doing the same for you.

 

Letter to My Niece on Her Birthday

September 20, 2013

Hey there sweet girl,

Do you know how proud of you I am? Try to count the stars in the sky and it will still be higher than that. Do you know how much I adore you? Feel the glow of the sun and know my heart glows at least that brightly for you. You are my princess, my cutie pie.

Baby J

You are growing into such a caring, beautiful and funny young lady. You remind me of myself at your age (but more adorable). I watch you learning to be the oldest—I know it’s a lot of pressure and not always easy, but it is a gift to have siblings. I see how determined you are to have things just so—no one is perfect, so don’t spend time in worry or stress. I notice you finding your witty voice—use this power for good. You make me laugh, challenge me and inspire me. Thank you.

Toddler J

Seven full years, God has blessed me with you in my life. Seven full years I have felt the joyful responsibility of being your Aunt Sawa and the joy of being your buddy. You astonish me with your reading skills, your attention to the needs of others and your funny faces. Keep working on all of them; they will serve you well. Goofy voices will be next and, I know, “silly Sawa.”

Young J

Remember that there is only one of you and you are precious. Anyone (and I mean anyone) who ever tries to make you feel unwanted, less than pretty or stupid is not worth your time. Pay them no attention and have faith in yourself. I will always have faith in you. I will also be here to defend you and offer support.

Sleeping JI realize that I cannot take you to play every day and I, too, miss movie nights at Sawa’s house. We will find new, exciting adventures. Keep an open mind, be kind to others and watch your words. Words can lift up people or hurt them . . . lifting is what we do. If you see someone hurting, make sure they feel loved. Tears are not weakness, simply feelings trickling from our souls.

Playful JNever look at others and feel jealous. Things are just things. Everyone has different gifts, different possessions and different ways of looking at the world. The images you see in magazines are like cartoons—people use pens and lights and tricks to make them seem real. Real beauty lives in the heart, is expressed through the spirit and shines in your eyes.

Smiley JDon’t listen to people who try to tempt you, trick you or make you do things you feel you shouldn’t—those people are not your friends. You just be the best you. Love God with all your heart. Whether you know it or not, He is always there helping to steer you the right way.

Steer J

Ask me anything and know I will not judge. Also know that if I sense you being mean, I will call you out. I am here to guide and to help, and sometimes you may not like me for it. Still, I will never stop loving you.

Creative J

Learn as much as you can, give your all to what you do and make time to be creative. Most of all, trust and believe that I could not wish for a better niece than you, my darling.

xoxo,
Aunt Sawa

Anger is a Barrier to Hope

September 8, 2013

Ok, those of you who know me well may chuckle, for you know that my feisty side, passion for honesty and inability to tolerate meanies can, on rare occasions, bubble up into me “going Scottish” in a redheaded blur. I laugh a bit, as 90+% of the time, I am calm and affable.

I heard a great comment today that helped me find peace with this facet of my personality. Many people believe it to be a contradiction that God is loving and yet also noted as a God to be feared. The point is not that any being has one side but, in our rich tapestry of existence, we all have giving and beautiful parts as well as vehement and furious parts. It’s where we choose to focus our energy that truly matters.

So, I have a story to share. This past week has twice found me in the throes of blinding anger. I am not proud of this; in fact, I felt sick to my stomach and momentarily powerless. I was faced suddenly with both of the things I find unacceptable: disrespect and dishonesty.

  • In instance one, I was taken aback at the verbal flurry of words, excess of scathing emotion and blatant finger-pointing—there were even moments of not-so-veiled innuendo and accusations. Mind you, my logical brain allowed me to remain fairly stoic and analytical, knowing this attack was not a result of me but the other person’s immaturity and fear. And, no, I am not laying blame—not my style. I was simply in the heart of peace, watching as if from outside myself. After the call, however, I felt all the buried frustration well up in a rush of heat, adrenaline and offense. I shared a bit with friends but tried my utmost to shed the burden of anger and enjoy the remainder of my night.
  • In instance two, with the same individual mind you, I realized that the former slight had not completely ebbed away. This person chose to become petty, presented poorly framed facts and looped in others. That was a big mistake. My heart of peace was not enough to overcome the rage, the absolute flame of “how dare they” and the need for retribution. With breathing, more than a bit of venting and a heap of physical exercise, I refrained from responding and, instead, chose to move into a quietly strategic and eerily focused space. As Mr. T would say, “I pity the fool.”

With prayer, meditation and time, I realized several very valuable things I want to share with you. I believe these tips will help you accept your emotions, assist you in managing such attacks and position you to maintain a level of respectful integrity. Here you go, friends:

  1. Never be baited to respond in anger. Your reactive, primitive mind (no offense, we all have it) will want so so much to correct and lash out. Do not surrender your power.
  2. Remember that all attacks are based in the attacker’s fear, insecurity and weakened emotional maturity. Consider each moment of calm and restraint a compliment to yourself.
  3. Look to a physical outlet, like working out, running or intense dance to hit the release valve on your overflowing frustration. You have to clear the excess energy and drain your angst.
  4. Never type, message or post until you’ve had a few hours, a night’s sleep or a full mental break to let the details settle. Words cannot be taken back and esteem is tough to regain.
  5. Spare your friends the blaze of fury. I didn’t do this and should have. No one deserves to be used as a venting outlet. Cherish them and ask for a clear perspective after you calm slightly.
  6. Organize your facts in a journal entry. Remove the emotional intensity with a stream of consciousness outpouring in your notebook. You can tear it up later—no one the wiser.
  7. As much as possible, turn it into laughter. This may surprise you, but when we have time to look back we often find amusement in the folly of such situations. Humor is relieving.
  8. When you are ready to approach the individual, use direct language but not a bunch of “you” statements that seem like accusations to them. Correct but don’t condemn. You may even find that, with enlightenment, the individual sees the light and apologizes.
  9. Pray, meditate, reflect and center your emotions. Transition the aggression and hurt into a request for wisdom and patience. Think of the experience as growth not punishment.
  10. Finally, be ready to truly forgive and let go. This is the hardest but the most liberating. To let the poison of others sink in is to cling to injury and snub the glow of your hopeful spirit.

While none of us are perfect, there are ways to manage difficult situations (and people) with grace. Most of all, try not to let it become personal and take a moment to exercise empathy, after you let the smoke clear. Take it from one truly feisty Scottish lass whose ancestry preferred to burn and pillage. 🙂

Shore to Shore Self-Discovery

September 1, 2013

Ever felt like the winds of change were blowing head on in your direction?

Take a cue from sailing. Odd as it may seem when we’re kicking around dry land, ships seek out gusty winds. A Mississippi boat captain once explained it to me as a “sorta zig zag” course up the river to “dance with the wind” and make steady progress.

Shore to ShoreIn other words, direct (like playing chicken with the wind) may not be the proper course for life, even if your stubborn nature and icy resolve tell you to try it. Indirect is the way to sway and, as they say in sailing, “beat” the course from here to your upwind destination.

Why the sailing metaphors? Well, we are all afloat on the river of life and some strategies force us to battle, strain and fret. Try a shore to shore approach to go from one stable point to the other.

Consider that we adopt different perspectives, opinions and goals continually through life. Shouldn’t we, then, spend time pausing on one shore before meandering to the next? Maybe that extra beat of reflection will give us the energy, clarity and motivation to continue our journey successfully.

In addition, as you zig to one shore and zag to the next, you may find little pebbles of hope that help you slowly value yourself, recognize your skills and honor your needs. Facing down the winds of change equals blurry vision and a stressed body. However, swaying and giving yourself time to enjoy the journey may introduce you to a lifelong dance partner.

 

Complaining About Blessings

August 25, 2013

I realized the last few years of my life have been focused on transformation. And let’s face it, transformation is simply a fancy word for change—rough struggles, sharp bumps and sudden pitfalls as well as shining epiphanies, glorious catharsis and peaceful surrender. Life is transformation, friends. Some periods are merely more apparent and more pivotal in defining our forward journey.

As the waters of transformation receded to a manageable level, in flowed abundance. I give all the praise to God for the blessings, opportunities, fulfillment and relationships that blossomed from those energetic waters. That’s why I was shocked the other day when I realized I was complaining to myself about so much work to do, all the areas demanding my attention and so many people wanting my time. It was a jolt to process this mental chatter and discover that, in essence, I was complaining about blessings.

I was transported back to times when I asked for more doors to open, when I prayed that my voice be heard and that I wondered if others ever saw me. It’s interesting how our whiny, frail, unsatisfied selves like to try to overshadow the glow of grace. It’s intriguing how we want, beg and hope for things, then the dawn comes with those very blessings and we feel unprepared or unwilling to embrace them.

Hope is language. I’ve said it before and further believe it is the language we speak to our innermost selves, not just the world at large. Hope is the language of acceptance, willingness, clarity, perspective and gratitude. Think of how many people would stand up on their tippy toes with arms raised high just to have a portion of the blessings you have. It’s humbling.

The first step is to acknowledge appreciation. Think of the wealth of “too much” this or that in your life, and feel thankful for the chance to have, hold, experience and be.

The second step is to shift your gaze from burden to benefit. Feel the rich ways each seeming burden is a blessing and smile knowing that every moment has a benefit.

The third step is to share your joy. Outwardly express your humble gratitude, highlight the good things in your life (without bragging) and do a little shimmy-shake happy dance.

I’m going to work on this and hope you do too. In order to manifest your bliss, you have to recognize the sound of its footsteps at your door.

Ugly Beautiful

August 19, 2013

Somewhere along the way,
my kind of beautiful became ugly.

It was lesser, rounder, taller, spottier . . .
I believed it.

I nodded in the mirror at each chip in my reflection.

Is one tooth smaller?
Where could I have lost that piece? Surely I would remember losing a piece of myself.

Is that eyebrow higher?
I can’t believe I never noticed it. Or perhaps the other one is drooping. Oh no, age is setting in.

Are my toes knobby?
That must be what the nail artist was talking about in her native tongue. I’m a freak.

Where are all these freckles and moles coming from?
Surely I’m not in the sun that much. It’s as if they want to shout my insecurities.

Is that another five pounds?
It must be the salt, or that extra bit of chocolate or starch. No tight clothes now.

Is my nose crooked?
Sports morphed me into this mess. I hope a house doesn’t fall on me. No profile shots; in fact, no more photos.

Too ugly. Too worn. Too flawed.

Or, maybe, too critical! Maybe too worried about measuring up to a model, a mold, a myth. Maybe certainly gave me something to ponder.

We all begin beautiful. Every one of us is perfect until we are told, and accept, we are not. As time passes, the very markers of beauty change.

My ugly mindset was masking my beauty-full possibilities. I am beautiful. I am lovable. I am hopeful. I am bold. I am wicked smart. I am a real woman and want to inspire girls to be the same. It’s time to make the Ugly Beautiful transformation, starting from within.

Sight Unseen

July 28, 2013

Having spent a couple of weeks scouring vehicle ads for a diamond in the rough, I can now report that the expression “sight unseen” takes on a whole new meaning. But, really, we all operate on a sight unseen mentality sometimes. How do you look at the world—its blessings and its bumps?

Embracing the intangible, noticing the little things and being aware of the emotions emanating from others . . . all of these are about choiceful presence. For instance, I recall vividly when a bus driver in New Zealand announced that we were passing over the southern 45th parallel. For most of the passengers, it was a blip at best. For me, it was the first time anyone had ever mentioned such a marker—proof that my travels had taken me to the other side of the globe that I liked to spin as a child. I let myself slip into a state of awe and watched the countryside a little closer as we whirred by.

This past weekend, a handful of people crossed my path. They could have gone sight unseen but something tugged at me to be present. Each had a unique story of loss, triumph and grace. I saw myself reflected in aspects of their journeys. I found my heart drawn to offering empathetic support. And, most notably, I discovered that what I noticed with my eyes was only a meager percentage of what I was hearing with my spirit.

Oh the true, deep, meaningful things you can experience when you pause to see people. Have you ever seen how transfixed some toddlers can be on a particular person? I can only imagine what their innocent little eyes are taking in. What about the gaze of an elderly woman? The ebb and flow of life she must have seen, and the experienced way she perceives the world now.

Take this week to consider: what are you surprised you didn’t notice sooner? And, as you turn in for bed each evening, look inward to your needs and your hopes. See where it takes you.

How to Keep from Driving Off the Ledge

July 21, 2013

You feel that sense of worry, foreboding or doubt. Your mind slips into negative self talk, “Life is against me,” “Why me?” or “I really don’t need this right now!” Then, your fight-or-flight response increases. Anxiety. Stress. Panic. You are having a full-blown “Good grief, Charlie Brown” moment.

My least favorite thing to hear is, “Calm down.” Most of us, particularly those who despise being scrutinized, rail against the prescriptive notion of being told how to respond. Worse yet, introverts least want to be noticed when they are most out of control. Then, the same well-meaning friend says, “Just breathe.” I have seen this scenario play out poorly despite every selfless intention. Why?

Well, consider that we have our logical brain (a.k.a. analytic brain) and our emotional brain (a.k.a. animal brain) centers. Each is like a car on a shared one-lane road. Let’s say the logical brain is using the road for processing a problem, language or creating a strategy. The emotional brain may be running but is pulled off to the side of the road.

Driving with LogicOn the other hand, if the emotional brain is using the road (perhaps speeding and swerving), then the logical brain may have difficulty speeding up enough to make the next onramp. In tough situations, it is crucial to get the logical brain on that road without making the emotional brain fishtail.

Here are fabulous tips my friend’s husband, who has a degree in psychology, offered for their son:

  1. Acknowledge the meltdown – know the signs of someone slipping into an emotional state
  2. Remain calm yourself – assess by listening and being present before saying anything
  3. Offer comfort and security – if the individual is willing, initiate supportive physical contact
  4. Focus on logic not instruction – simply get the person counting or validating rational points

Now, nothing is foolproof. Keep in mind that the emotional brain operates like a souped up, turbo-charged, sports car with NOS and racing tires. The logical brain is more like a sedan—sensible, great handling and room for thought. So, what do you do when you see a winding road and your own cruise control is set to, “I’m freaking out?”

Some of the same techniques can be used internally without anyone knowing otherwise. For example, when you feel your blood boiling or your panic growing, try the following:

  1. Recognize your signals – shaking hands, tense jaw, tears welling up . . . whatever applies
  2. Be conscious of your breathing – while being told to breathe may seem condescending when you are frustrated, it is crucial to pull air in through your nose down into your abdomen (not just your lungs) and out slowly through your mouth; you should see your belly push out
  3. Honor yourself – if tears flow, if you blush or if you need to leave the room, that is totally okay
  4. Count, recite a memorized verse or spell your full name slowly to yourself – the key is to shift the situation from speeding emotion to accelerating logic
  5. Visualize your happy place – it’s helpful to build a space in your heart that only you know about where you can retreat in your thoughts for a moment of zen, comfort and reflection

Another tip worth mentioning, particularly for couples, is also brought to you by my friend’s husband. When they disagree and both begin to raise their voices, one of them has to be the first person to make a goofy, can’t-help-but-laugh face to let the air out of the tires and slow the emotional speedster.

Years of my career have been spent in crisis communications, problem resolution and interpersonal negotiation. I still constantly practice the above and have not mastered composure 100 percent of the time. It’s a road we travel our entire lives. I simply hope to see more of us pulling off to scenic spots than veering toward ledges.

Music for a Tired Soul

July 17, 2013

Depleted. Drained. Tired. Foggy. Exhausted. We all feel like this sometimes. In Arizona, those words can occur at 10 a.m. as the 100+ degree heat saps every pore. I chuckle and think of the Wicked Witch after Dorothy threw water on her, “I’m melting.”

As I pulled open the coffee shop door this afternoon, I felt the hot breath of summer at my back and the cool nip of air conditioning at my brow. In that doorway, my energy seemed to slip away. Yes, coffee might charge me up for a bit or even the lively chatter of other patrons. However, it took plugging into my iTunes library to really get me on track.

I realized, like an echo of a previous awareness, that music is made for the soul. Certainly, it incites love, pumps up weight lifters, calms elevator passengers and makes teenagers scream. What I adore most about music is how the notes are like drops of hopeful motivation. How creativity, laughter, excitement and renewed focus all flow from the chords.

Likely, each of you can think of a stressful, emotional or challenging encounter that made your energy fizzle. If faced with a similar situation in the future, perhaps you could turn to a favorite song to give you a boost (and a happy buffer from the world).

Time for you to be the DJ.
What bands, ballads or beats would you choose to amp up your hope on a pick-me-up playlist?

My List of NON-Regrets

July 11, 2013

To quote a portion of Edith Piaf’s famous song, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien:”

No! No regrets
No! I will have no regrets
All the things
That went wrong
For at last I have learned to be strong

I am acutely aware of living. Hugging longer, looking closer, praying harder and leaping farther. Because of that awareness, I make choices that confuse others and I frame my life in ways that are, at best, unconventional. No is just missing the “t yet” and why becomes “why not?”

Living with awareness was the greatest blessing I found in my father’s passing. At the time, it was a sharply new, jagged truth. It stung to think of and lingered in the shadow of night. Then, clarity.

A new friend recently shared the tragically beautiful story of her father succumbing to brain cancer. It was a humbling gift to hold space for her—a privilege to hear the purity of emotion. This encounter quieted my busy thoughts and reminded me of a list I have been meaning to share with my siblings . . . and will now present to all of you.

My List of NON-Regrets

  1. I will never regret an I love you, spoken or received.
  2. I will never regret a tear, as I no longer see it as weakness.
  3. I will never regret a harsh word left unspoken.
  4. I will never regret giving to help raise up others.
  5. I will never regret a thank you, acknowledged or not.
  6. I will never regret being a goofball to amuse a baby.
  7. I will never regret dancing to a song no one else hears.
  8. I will never regret risking rejection.
  9. I will never regret listening to the Holy Spirit.
  10. I will never regret watching cartoons on Saturday morning.
  11. I will never regret catching snowflakes on my tongue.
  12. I will never regret being empathetic.
  13. I will never regret traveling beyond my comfort zone.
  14. I will never regret moments with my family.
  15. I will never regret seeing my sister married.
  16. I will never regret sitting with my dad playing Spider Solitaire.
  17. I will never regret being still in meditative reflection.
  18. I will never regret smiling.
  19. I will never regret being silly Aunt Sawa.
  20. I will never regret hoping.

Having sat with those nearing end of life and worked with grief-stricken families during the healing process, I can tell you about the fears and regrets. In fact, I recently received this link to “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” I can tell you with assurance that the essence of a good life is not defined by what we didn’t do or wish had gone differently, but by the moments we soaked up and the love we shared.

I have close friends facing tough journeys with their immediate loved ones. I pray nightly, at least, for their comfort, quality of life and support from God. For those who are called to shepherd their family member through a life-threatening or terminal illness, grief begins at the moment of diagnosis. The weight of that “moment of impact” is overwhelming enough without regrets.

The grieving heart is a truth teller and an ever-present mirror. With that in mind, I have found this song by Brad Paisley, with Dolly Parton, to be a challenge and a comfort at different milestones on my own grief journey. “When I Get Where I’m Going” invites us to explore the afterlife, to remember what is worth living for now and to see beyond the linear timeline.

So, what are your non-regrets?

Love ThySelf

July 9, 2013

It has been an inflated modicum of time since I last tip-typed a post. In other words, I took a pause.

Rest assured that I have been thinking of each of you, hoping for growing joy in the world, praying for those in duress and reflecting on the tune of my heart. It chirps, it bellows, it sings and it sighs. The heart is symbolically represented in so many visual and lyrical ways, yet we rarely pause to think of each ba-beat as a testament to living or to our hopes. Humbly, I would surmise that we also get busy and forget, innocently, to truly listen to our hearts.

Ok, right now, what is your heart saying? It’s ok to cry, to belly laugh, to curl up or to dance.

In an uncommon instance, I popped on the local radio station while driving. Strumming over the airwaves came this wonderful song by Phillip Phillips, called “Gone Gone Gone.” The percussion, the caesuras, the breathy delivery . . . all what an upbeat love song should be. I wept.

Defenses aside, excuses locked down . . . let’s be vulnerable together and admit that at least once in your life, a song made you cry—likely related to a profound emotion entwined with love. We all hope to feel love, to be loved and to hold on to love. If you want to disagree with me, go ahead. I will battle with angel armies to champion hope and safeguard love. Few emotions have the impact that love has—unsettling butterflies, seemingly irrational emotion, giddy bliss, intense desire, selfless protectiveness, and a need to extinguish the air between you and your partner with heat.

I have felt ugly, unworthy, drained and haven’t always loved myself. Likely, you can relate to one or more of those sentiments, past or present. Imagine me peering through this computer (or mobile) screen and hugging you with a refusal to let go. I love you. You desire and must fight to always honor, celebrate and love thyself. This is a sincere and lasting hope that I pray for you.

The arguments, the rouses, the tricks and the distractions will seep into your mind. Shut them down! You are beautiful. You do deserve it. You are a precious gift. You are lovable and must start by loving yourself—freckles, lines, curves, smile, laugh, everything. God crafted you with His hand and cherishes you in every way. Now I’m weeping again (in the middle of Barnes and Noble, mind you) at the thought of such unconditional love.

Teary eyed and unashamed, I tell you that my deepest hope for myself is to have a partner who sees the amazing things I see, adores the quirks and verbose tangents, revels in the sight of me and loves me with an unswayable vigor that would impress the titans of mythology. I am worth it and I hope you feel that way about yourself.

I know the stabbing ache of loss, I understand the pang of walking away from a relationship that doesn’t fulfill you, I stand strong after recognizing abuse, and I have bent beneath the suffocating weight of unrequited love. I continue to love every soul I have said those three little words to (and some I never told). I am blessed to call most my friends to this day. I even lingered on the words and floated on the looks of love—drank deeply of the small sips and sporadic texts—until I woke alone to realize that my heart was not nurtured the way I knew it should be.

Without a wedded partner, I have been passed up as a godmother, denied event invitations and told I would never have kids . . . and still, I love myself. Still, I believe fearlessly in the possibility (nay, the assurance) that love will meet me on my journey. I like to say that it’s just waiting for the perfect time to unveil it’s playful scheme, and for me to put the feisty aside and surrender happily to being met by another soul.

Bemoan none, hold bitterness at bay, resist the deceptive comfort of settling and let the arrows of the past fall to the ground. Love, love, love thyself. Keep hoping, keep praying, keep putting yourself out there with wild abandon. Heal the wounds with God’s love, open yourself to the love flowing all around you, and please, let your love beam to the world with a hopeful smile and a giving heart.

Is Sorry Enough?

June 28, 2013

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, sorry isn’t good enough,” or “Say sorry like you mean it?” There comes a time when the one seeking the apology (the presumed victim) may be unwilling or unready to truly accept it, due to deep hurt or perceived harm. Most of us struggle with letting go of our emotional baggage, redefining ourselves after trial and really moving on.

Why is that? Well, imagine your memories are a giant blank canvas, your feelings are its frame and your vulnerabilities are the paintbrush. At first, we come into the world open to experiences and learning, presented as a palette of colors. We innocently hand over the paintbrush without hesitation, seeking shapes, lines and emotions from our family and friends. Inevitably, the world presents us with someone who, possibly through their own past hurts or unintended ignorance, paints with a color that leaves a mark we don’t like to see . . . a swipe across the canvas that unsettles us. So, we paint over it and start anew.

These phases come and go, based on who we allow to have our paintbrush and how much freedom we give them with the palette. Then, the sudden and less controllable things happen: heartbreak, slander and disappointment. We paint over these too, praying for a fresh start; yet, the color sometimes seeps through and tints our present. Worst of all, abuses, physical ailments and grief may not even ask for the paintbrush—they may burn, distress or tear the canvas. We all feel the heat, the harm and the hurt. We carry them, sometimes in invisible ink or buried under layers of cloaking paint, that bubble back to visibility in the revealing light of life.

Sorry, by its very nature, is a tricky thing. However, I believe wholeheartedly that the better statement to seek and embrace is, “I forgive you.” Sorry keeps all the power with the person or thing you believe injured you. It is asking for permission from another for you to heal. While a necessary and appropriate gesture, sorry only works if you are willing to accept it.

Sorry by Tony Albert

For instance, I saw this piece by Tony Albert on display for an Indigenous Australia exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Many of the artists featured had similar sentiments addressing the official apology for the tremendous wrongs done to their people, but unwilling to believe or truly stomach the “sorry.” Some, it was evident, were voicing their hurts in a vindictive and graphic manner. Others were simply waiting for real, sustainable change. It’s a tough road for all.

Here is the question: how long should a hurt, an oppression, a wrong or a weight live on? I’m serious. This is a provocative question, considering the racial, social, political and religious lines we have in the world. Is it really right to pass anger, prejudice and hate down to the next generation? These are learned beliefs not inherent ones. None of us can claim we want equal, fair or balanced treatment if we aren’t living those things with full love, forgiveness and openness.

Take this work, by Bindi Cole from GOMA as a hopeful and moving example.

Seventy Times Seven by Bindi Cole I Forgive You by Bindi Cole

It was the only piece I saw in the exhibit that was focused on the most powerfully liberating emotion: forgiveness. The video brought me to tears, seeing the apparent struggle to let go within each soul over repeating the simple phrase, “I forgive you.”

I LOVE this quote by Bindi Cole:

I had to go through a process of healing

and a huge part of that healing was around forgiveness . . .

As I forgave I was able to take my power back.

Imagine the paintbrushes you need to reclaim, think of the priceless forgiveness you can “give” yourself by restoring the canvas (like washing away old watercolors) and think of the liberation you can empower the next generation with by merely being an example of hope’s healing power over hate. I challenge you, myself and the world.

Spark Up the Passion

June 22, 2013

I blushed and chuckled a little writing that headline, as I considered how it might trigger your email spam filter and pique your interest. Since I have your attention (hee hee), I will share what is in my heart.

Hope is passion. I devoted an entire chapter to it in “The World Needs Hope” and for good reason. It is not limited to the kind of passion that ignites the silver screen or the cliffhanger embraces of daytime television. Passion does, indeed, emotionally entwine people through interactions with couples, friends and families. It is crucial to have zeal and good old-fashioned chemistry, yes. If timing is right and hearts are willing, such passion could even be kindled by a grin, a goofy faux accent and the word, “Hello.”

But what about the passion of conversation, the passion of common interests, the passion of discovery and the passion of hope?

The stacked words below sent my heart and mind swimming, after I found them beaming from the shelf of a cute vintage shop in an eclectic Brisbane neighborhood.

Creative passion

I have seen similar ensembles before. However, after having a lovely brunch with phenomenal friends and walking a sunlit street on a bustling Sunday, I was thinking of all the passions that life holds. Those passions begin with a spark of hope.

Hope for surprisingly rich connections. Hope for daily fulfillment. Hope for years of deep, romantic love. Hope for a stellar jam session. Hope for a way to serve. Hope for spiritual awakenings. Hope for that butterfly-in-the-stomach, welling-up-in-the-throat, tingly-as-a-sudden-breeze, happy-as-a-hummingbird feeling of being alive.

Seeker. We are all seekers. Whether we are seeking consistency or spontaneity, we hope passionately to achieve the things that define our bliss. Some of us spend our entire lives seeking and, so long as we feel gratitude and presence along the way, that’s great. Others seek, pause, seek, pause. It’s like sonar passionately reaching, pulling and registering.

Lover. This word is dear to me in so many ways. My dad (God rest him) called me “lover” because I was an affection, sensitive and empathetic child. It also could have been because, like him, I was a lover of all things . . . to the point of playful distraction and constant activity. Lovers come in all shapes and sizes. You can be a passionate lover in the physical sense, a passionate lover of life, a passionate lover of the environment or simply a passionate lover of quiet personal space. Those passions feed how you hope and express yourself.

Keeper. This has a long history in my lexicon. It started as a word for Tupperware in my family, which still makes me chuckle since we could rarely “keep” the lids with the containers. Later, keeper was tied to relationships, as in that guy or gal you take home to the folks. Now, I see an expanded and hopeful meaning for keeper—it is hope keeper. The individual who tucks hope away in their heart, who passionately hopes and sees the light of life. A hope keeper is someone who choses, despite the tides or the trials, to inspire and exude hope.

I know some outstanding hope keepers, who may not always see themselves that way. In particular, I will callout one who seeks balanced solutions, who passionately stands up for family, who faces each day with fresh hope, who recognizes the good in others, who perseveres despite fierce setbacks, who jumps up to defend the hopeless and who uses “hope” in conversation in ways that make you believe it’s possible. His hopeful passion inspires me.

In return, I passionately hope you choose to be a seeker, a lover and a keeper of hope.

When We Live in Awe

June 17, 2013

A sunrise over the ocean. A star-filled sky over a campfire. A giggle from a fussy baby. A speech to one, or one million, that moves you to action. A hand holding yours through a trial. A tear-filled farewell to a loved one. A puppy chasing a ball across a polished wood floor. A majestic bird taking flight. The truth is, awe is everywhere.

In fact, awe is within you. It’s the feeling of wonder, the spirit of curiosity, the sense of hope and the remarkable inspiration that drives you to live this moment with passion. When we allow ourselves to fall into stagnancy, succumb to criticism and “settle” for less from our existence, we slip from awe to awful.

So, I took a quiet week away from blogging to really stand in awe of my surroundings, to be in awe of the people I meet and to see where awe lives within my spirit.

What I found is that I am in complete awe of nature. The unaltered beauty, the majesty of creation, the impact of time, the power of the elements and the way it plays with the light. Even a rocky terrain has awe carved into its very form.

Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road

Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road

I am in awe of people. Birth announcements, wedding anniversaries, overcoming depression, starting a new career, standing up for the underdog, opening a door, laughing from belly to crown and connecting with strangers. Individuals awe me constantly, with their unique talents and views.

Aboriginal portrait at National Gallery of Victoria

Aboriginal portrait at National Gallery of Victoria

I am in awe of birds. The chuckling song of a cocobarra, the zealous scavenging of a seagull, the flapping frenzy of a cockatoo, the dance of a fantail and the constant twitter of song from the trees. Few marvels equal the melodies and instinctual music of birds being birds.

Crimson Rosella in southern Australia

Crimson Rosella in southern Australia

I am in awe of the sun. From breathtaking sunrise to magnificent sunset, from cloud-strewn skies of lit gray to cloudless skies blazing bright, I soak up the warmth, I feel the kinship and I know the impact on all living things. I speak to this traveling friend in play and awe.

Facing sunrise

Facing sunrise

I find awe in every day; therefore, I hold unbridled hope for everyone and every thing. During my week of awe exploration, I even discovered awe in myself, including my buoyant maneuverability while snorkeling, the landscape of my creative musings, the joy of my company and the depth of my heart. Be in awe, friends. It’s liberating, humbling and a natural companion to hope.

Awe drawn in the sand

Conquering the Obligation Monster

June 10, 2013

Have to, need to, must . . . for the rebellious hearts of the world (like me), those words ring with a sense of doom that may rival the journey to return the ring to Mordor. What? Sigh, my fellow LOTR fans got it.

My point is that the obligation monster exists. He’s a gnarly, whiny, dusty, troublesome fellow who likes to steal our sunshine and, surprisingly, we allow it. There is hope. The trick is to turn the tables on your perspective and determine clear boundaries for the expectations you set with others. Hope appreciates breathing room to flourish and, trust me, so does your sanity.

Certainly, being dependable, responsible, loyal and someone others can count on is outstanding. Nurture those qualities as you take care not to swing the pendulum too far in the apathetic direction. Simply be mindful if a pattern of, “I will enjoy life once this is done” or “I need to do x, y or z before I can relax” or “I will be able to breathe as soon as . . .” starts to surface. Now is all we have for certain, friends.

If, when and right after are phrases we use as crutches to keep from really prioritizing. They are hurdles to transforming what we feel we have to do into a privilege.

A privilege? Yes, I can feel you reeling from the thought of cleaning the house, finishing that report or catching up on tax paperwork as privileges. Not everything is rosy or laced with sugar bows; however, if you view your task or time as a monstrous obligation, you are far more likely to procrastinate, resent it, be moody, take it out on others or carry it as a burden throughout your day(s). Monster wins.

No, shake off the beast. Honestly, most of our woes and problems are first-world issues. What do I mean? Needing to clean out the garage, getting anxious over not having 4G wifi everywhere (guilty) or picking up after a pet in the yard . . . all “civilized” problems. Reframe it: you have a garage, which is likely attached to a house with a roof over your head and the necessities of life; you will survive without a text or email for an hour and might even, shocker, experience the world in 3D real life; and you have a pet who probably loves you and helps you de-stress, most days.

The obligation monster is no match for perspective. His kryptonite is also found in setting healthy boundaries with family, friends, work and your partner. Your computer needs to reboot once in a while and so do you. Always being a fix it, counsel it, and handle it gal or guy is likely based on noble intentions. Still, remember not to steal the lessons of others or take on so much that you are defined by everything but your inner voice.

Best advice: hopeful moderation + take a walk to clear your head. Whatever list, email or challenge that is waiting for you can take a momentary backseat to nature, a nice stroll and that deep breathe you actually do “need.”

I Spy With My Hopeful Eye

June 5, 2013

Some of us wear glasses to see better. Others brighten a room or open a window. I find that I see best when I walk around, turn down the volume on my frenzied thoughts and really look at the details of life. In fact, that seems to be when my hopeful eye lands on the most interesting things.

So, instead of posting photos from all of the sights I took in yesterday, I want to describe some of them to you and determine if, perhaps, you can see them with the same hopeful eye.

  1. An older gentleman paused behind his wife mid-walkway in the zoo, fingers scratching her sweater gently, looking for the itch in the middle of her back, and smiling to himself as she shifted and chuckled at the elusiveness of it—I smiled to myself
  2. A dainty little girl with a spunky spirit, dressed in her school uniform amidst a sea of other children in similar garb, waiting (as patiently as she could) to see the rare bird show . . . when suddenly she reached her sit-still tolerance and hopped up right in front of me to shake her arms and body in a little dance to amuse her friends—it amused me too
  3. A female koala I was able to meet up close and personal as she delicately selected eucalyptus leaves from a branch, knowing by smell which ones were fresh (all of the leaves are poisonous though, at varying levels; koalas have simply adapted to a niche in nature that allows them to digest these leaves)—I was in awwww, then awe
  4. A mime dressed like Charlie Chaplin, dancing around a street lamp with a sign that said “feed the statue” and a spark of whimsical hijinks in his eye—the idea of a Brit, made famous by American movies, idolized here in jest by an Aussie had me spinning in playful thought
  5. The expansive Sydney shoreline, with ferries, taxies, ships, speedboats and tourists dotting the harbors and filling the air with a din of activity—I see something new and intriguing every minute
  6. A pair of young Japanese tourists who appeared to be on their honeymoon, with him pulling her in for a bold kiss and she looking around with a blush to see who might have noticed . . . then ever so gently taking his hand and swinging it lightly as they walked to see the Opera House—a sweet sight
  7. A six-month-old baby girl on the ferry who seemed to find me fascinating and smiled or gurgled every time I looked over—I tried to set her up with available little American boys I know (my dear nephew, my best friend’s son) but she was already taken LOL
  8. A weathered, older man with a hauntingly beautiful voice singing for his supper along the docks as he strummed his little, careworn guitar, and pulling out all the stops with Dylan, Cash, CCR and Clapton—he was such an authentic soul
  9. A bustling throng of workers streaming from the train at Newtown, heading like pinballs to grocery marts, homes, bars and dry cleaners, all on their own trajectory with their own stories and desires—I found each a little ballad for humanity and watched in rapt attention
  10. The scent of loose leaf jasmine tea brewing slowing to its steamy precipice after I had woven in and out of cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and kiosks asking for a proper pot of tea—I had to sip in wonder as wine, water and soda flowed around me in varying degrees of bubbles and intentions

These are merely a few hope-filled moments from a humble writer’s mind. I imagine your vantage point is equally glorious, if you perch there for a while. Savor the view.

 

Culinary Adventures with Hope

June 3, 2013

It’s time to give you another taste of nourishing meals. So, grab a snack, your beverage of choice and pull up a comfy chair.

Not the best opening for my tale but my first night in Wellington was, well, sketchy. My recommendation for putting such things behind you is to embrace the beauty, hope and joy of life even more fully the next day. And, whatever you do, don’t carry the ooglies with you.

So, after an outrageously great start at Memphis Belle the next morning (thank you so much to everyone there, especially my friend in the Iron Maiden tee), I was ready to explore the city and surrounding areas.

As mentioned in a previous post, I found my way to Zealandia (more available in Photo Galleries). There, I spent hours hiking hills, rainforests and reservoirs over several kilometers. When I finally stopped, it was to take a seat at Zealandia’s Rata Cafe. I must admit that I went in with mediocre expectations for a dining establishment in an animal sanctuary. I was superbly surprised. Not only was it gluten-free but it was a collection of local, seasonal flavors that warmed the spirit and the body.

Rata Cafe at Zealandia

Bleu cheese, harvest vegetable risotto

With a busy agenda and many things still to see in a few hours, I didn’t get a chance to nourish myself again until later that evening. On my way to my new accommodation, I stumbled across a politically irreverent, totally fun and top-notch restaurant called The Backbencher Gastropub. I treated myself to three delectable courses and some chit-chat with the wonderful staff.

Starter at Backbencher Wellington

Pistachio tomatoes, haloumi, balsamic

Salmon carpaccio

Citrus salmon, dill, peppercorn, pecorino

Venison linguine

Venison linguine, chilli, shallots, BBQ, boconccini, spinach, herb crème fraiche

The next day took me via ferry (more like cruise ship) to the South Island. On the way, I met a fantastic, gifted new friend from India. She and I connected immediately, and it made the journey that much more remarkable. Once ashore, I grabbed brunch at Seabreeze Cafe. This healthy twist on fish and chips was gluten-free, not greasy at all and super fresh.

Healthy fish and chips

Pan-fried fish with lemon, tartare, chips, salad

Later the same day, I was further blessed with a late afternoon stop in Kaikoura—known for crawdads, tourism and delightful cafes. Groper Garage called me in with its glowing fireplaces, mix of metal and wood decor, and the smell of grilled seafood.

Groper Garage in Kaikoura

Mix of wood, metal, fire and irresistible

This gluten-free pizza was called Lord of the Squid Rings and was unbelievably awesome. I was in a rush to catch my bus, so I offered the few remaining slices to a young backpacking couple at a nearby table.

Lord of the squid rings

Garlic olive fish, mussels, calamari pizza

The following day, I took the TransAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. I highly recommend KiwiRail, the onboard staff, the breathtaking views and the whole experience. It’s hard to fathom but even the food on the train was pretty good. However, what I will share next is The Landing Restaurant in Franz Josef, just around the corner from my motel.

Shanks for the memory

Lamb braised in ale, potato cake, veg, jus

With a glacier hike ahead of me the next day and a strong desire to linger near the warm wood stove next to my table, it was easy for one of the managers to “talk me into” a comforting dessert.

Dessert splurge

Apple strudel puff pastry, ice cream, crème anglaise

After rain, snow, ice, hiking, walking and dodging rockslides, I didn’t hold back on dinner the following night. I walked over to Canavans at the Scenic Hotel. I think the hotel staff thought I fell off the mountain with my layers of clothes, windblown hair and ravenous look. Still, they served me a nice meal.

Kicked up calamari

Chilli salt squid, mesculin, feta mayo

Curried cheese pie

Curried cottage cheese pie with cheese fried rice

Admittedly, it took me a couple of days to rebound from the grains, gluten and fried food. I sustained myself on tea, soup and eggs (ok, one fig and walnut chocolate trouffle). Then, on my second day in Queenstown, I found Avanti Restaurant. The server was sweet and skillfully handling the lunch crowd solo. Still, she took time to coach me on their allergy-conscious menu options. This gluten-free penne was tasty beyond words.

Pasta at Avanti Cafe

Chicken, sundried tomato, pesto penne

Next, I was thrilled to arrive in Dunedin. Despite a long walk from the relocated bus terminal in the industrial district to the Octagon in the city center, I was full of hope for my time there. The city has a strong Scottish influence, lots of architectural character and a bustling culinary scene. Potpourri Vegetarian Cafe was a little gem that popped out immediately. In fact, with gluten- and dairy-free options, I visited it on two separate days for lunch and breakfast.

Mixing up the veg

Potato, beans, pico, Moroccan chickpeas

Pre-travel breakfast

Porridge with cranberry, banana, honey

Ah, but going too long without a snack is a dangerous gamble. For the sake of food intolerances, I should have been more mindful about my dinner selection. But this sign and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective playing on the bar television was too hilarious to resist.

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Witty sign in front of Alibi

Alibi was a hopping spot and offered a remarkable menu of flavor combinations.

Gourmet pate

Chicken liver pate with brandy and pistachio

Duck wraps

Spiced up duck wonton wraps with micro greens

In lieu of jumping the bus to see the castle, trekking to the university or rambling along the harbor, I took it easy the following day. I started at the award-winning Nova Café Dunedin. I wanted to be extra cautious about my selection, so the chef and server were gracious enough to turn three gluten-free, dairy-free sides into one phenomenal breakfast. I could not give higher praise for the taste, the presentation, the service or the ambience.

Creation of sides

Smoked salmon, spinach, potato cake

Fueled with nutrients and hope, I visited the free Dunedin Public Art Gallery next door. Taking a momentary artistic tangent from my culinary report, my favorite piece was “Hope” by Edward Burne-Jones (view it). I highly recommend investing time in the outstanding collection on the ground floor.

A few hours later, I headed to the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Sitting amidst a zen space of tradition, tea and scholarly inspiration was exactly the reset my travel-weary spirit needed.

Dunedin Chinese Garden

Winter warmer afternoon tea

For dinner, I chose to sample the treasures of Cambodia. All I can say about San Restaurant is “wow.” Had I not veered onto a new path walking back from the Chinese Garden, I would have never found it. I was so intrigued that I walked in at 5:30 p.m., right as they were opening for the night.

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

San Cambodian cuisine in Dunedin

The restaurant is owned by a family of female refugees, who have gracious spirits and a love for inventing new spice combinations. The San dressing (their signature accompaniment) is addictive. I took my server’s recommendation and added chilli flakes . . . yummmm. Gluten-free was a bonus, as the light dishes, Halal chicken and fresh veg danced on the palate. If you are ever in Dunedin, not stopping here would be tragic.

Khmer rice rolls

Prawn and veg rolls with amazing sauce

Bring on the ban chow

Chicken pancake, bean sprout, San dressing

Making my way north again, I have to give a nod to this snack in a little cafe in a little town on the east side of the South Island. They were in such a bustle to close up at 3 p.m., and I was in such a flurry to reboard my bus, that I failed to catch the name. Regardless, the break and bite were appreciated.

Tea and snack break

Sencha green tea and veg frittata

On to my final day in New Zealand . . . just down from the ferry terminal in Auckland, I found Ebisu. It was the day before Queen’s Birthday (a Kiwi holiday) and there were just a few patrons in for early dinner.

Ebisu in Auckland

Interior of Ebisu, Auckland waterfront

I researched and deliberately chose this restaurant as a last hurrah. All of the airport food, bus stop snacks and hours without a substantial meal left me craving my favorite thing: sushi. I was anything but disappointed, as I savored, sampled and sipped my way through a five-course meal.

Oysters on the half shell

Bluff oysters with tosazu, jalapeño salsa

Sushi at Ebisu

Sashimi, cucumber, tobiko, ginger, sesame dressing

Salmon sashimi

New Zealand salmon with gold leaf, seasonal blossom

Seared duck breast

Duck breast, soy and ginger pickled nashi pear, shichimi pepper, green tea salt

Final New Zealand treat

Red bean ice cream, handmade truffle

So, having explored the nourishment of New Zealand and tried some incredibly tantalizing dishes, I am returning to the smaller portions and mindful eating that works best for my sensitive system. I’m not looking at it as deprivation, as some of my choices (although delicious) were pretty tough on me.

Upon arrival in Sydney yesterday, I stopped for the lunch special at Bar 100. I chose a salad and side combo that is gluten-free and full of flavor. Oh, and the staff was increasingly friendly during my patio dining experience.

Winter salad and potatoes

Chicken, radicchio, rocket, fennel, tomato, feta and smashed rosemary potatoes

Right this moment, I’m sitting in a Bohemian-inspired apartment in Newtown, sipping my green tea, and nibbling sweet orange and ginger hazels (hazelnuts) from a farmers’ market. I hope that being present with my food choices will honor my body, enabling me to feel and act with a lighter state of being. Everything in hopeful moderation.

Beauty is Everywhere

June 1, 2013

Hope is beauty. It manifests in unique, wild, natural and wonderful ways. Here are sights that intrigue and inspire with little explanation. Some, like life, are witnessed in a blur of movement.

Follow the Birdie

May 28, 2013

The signs in life can be subtle, like an intuitive nudge to go down one road versus the other; fairly apparent, like a flyer for a new gallery opening down the street; or incredibly obvious, like a placard that says “you must be this tall to ride this ride.” When it comes to animal sanctuaries, it seems they take a whole new approach to hopeful signs.

But first, let me set the stage. I visited the remarkable animal sanctuary of Zealandia (photos below) to take in native birds and “the bush” in its rainforest glory.

As you can see, the hike was well worth the effort. The 360-degree view of the valley from atop the looking tower was fabulous and so inspiring. I saw and heard birds of all colors and sizes, watched small children marvel at the bird feeders (ok, I did too), and gained reverence for the natural beauty of quiet spaces.

After walking several kilometers, I refueled in the cafe upstairs and went to stand by the shuttle stop. A kind gentleman walked by (I assume a staff member for the facility, based on the items he was carrying) and told me to look down for the signs. “What?” I thought with amusement. As I stared at the ground, I saw this little fellow:

Kiwi painted on the sidewalk

A kiwi painted on the sidewalk? I chuckled. Turns out my hope for finding my way to the botanic gardens, in lieu of waiting an hour for the next shuttle, meant following these little birdies. What fun! I made it a hopeful, fun-filled game. Wanna play?

As one of my dear friend’s would say, “Huzzah!” Thanks to a playful spirit, a sense of adventure and a few helpful little painted birdies, I made it to the garden. And the landscaping was fantastic:

I met some wonderful locals, tourists and even a sweet dog on the way. Hope offers up signs of the wonders ahead. Watch for yours, in whatever form they may take. Oh, time to catch the train!

Painted sign for train

Painted sign for train

Slippery Slopes Call For Hope

May 27, 2013

Majestic. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Staggeringly Beautiful. All of these things describe the landscapes and scenic views of New Zealand. To them, I add rugged, icy, steep, intimidating, chilling, formidable, untamed and unpredictable. For some, these words may deter or even frighten. However, I propose that such descriptors are authentic and just as remarkable. It’s all about the hope you pack on your adventure.

For instance, 4 hours can seem like a blip on the universal radar, until you are 20 minutes into a vertical climb up a steep hill against cold, drizzling rain. Without hope of reaching the summit, hope that your legs will hold out and hope for the views you anticipate ahead, such a hike could tempt you to turn back. But, like life, it’s your choice to push ahead or fold.

The hike into Fox Glacier

The hike into Fox Glacier

In my case, the trek in to meet the Fox Glacier face to face was the most arduous part of the journey. Feeling the shift in elevation from the sea level I am accustomed to, seeing the potential drop off to my immediate right and sensing the burn for air in my chest, there was a moment of anxiousness and a fleeting question, “Can I do this?” Deep breaths, calm thoughts and hopeful concentration won out.

Dizzy with excitement

Dizzy with excitement

Knowing that the steepest climb was over sparked further hope and glee within me. Just seeing this amazing force of nature offered a priceless perspective to the seemingly immense setbacks in life. How could anything be monumental next to this?

First glimpse of the icy giant

First glimpse of the icy giant

On any challenging course, it never hurts to band together. And, of course, it’s best to pack hope (and perhaps hot cocoa).

Half of our glacier party

Half of our glacier party

Winds, snow, wet terrain, icy pools and sharp slopes could make the heart skip a beat. Ok, maybe once or twice it did. Still, it’s the willpower to keep moving, the faith that your footing will be right, and the knowledge that you must trust yourself and your guide. Again, I’m hiding no parallels to everyday life.

A close up of the glacier

A close up of the glacier

There are even times that will surprise and stun you in the same instant. Reaching the clouds, for example, yet not knowing what is over that icy horizon line . . . it means that you need to have hope to dance on the edge between stability and possibility.

Clouds meet frigid earth

Clouds meet frigid earth

Tumbling rocks (yes, we heard several landslides rumbling from heights far above), like the bumps you face in work, life or personal relationships, may try to jar you from holding on to hope. They may even threaten your sense of comfort. Let the fear fall, not your spirits.

Hopeful and invigorated

Hopeful and invigorated

The way you climb to your dreams may require carving a path unlike others and may even mean working each moment to keep your footing, but it will pay off in stunning ways.

Steps carved into the glacier

Steps carved into the glacier

Remember, slopes only appear slippery without the right gear (character, talent, perspective) and can be conquered with an indomitable feeling of hope.

Tucked into a moulin

Tucked into a moulin

Enjoy every step you take and freeze every positive memory in your mind to draw from later.

P.S. I hope wherever my scarf ended up that it brings a spark of warm joy to its new owner.

The Wheels on the Bus

May 24, 2013

Go round and round. Round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round. All through the town.

Don’t you love the songs of childhood, when honesty, innocence and discovery were the classes of life, and the smallest encounters meant the grandest of stories?

Presently, as I type this, I am spinning along the eastern coast of New Zealand on a bus driven by a wonderful driver named Steve. Steve is talented. How do I know? I’m on the side closest to the ocean and he hasn’t nudged a guardrail yet. (wink) Plus, he’s teaching us about the local language and scenic spots along the way. So many stories woven into the land.

That takes me to mine. You see, the bus has taught me a few things as I travel all over this epic countryside. Like those spinning wheels carrying passengers to new ports of call, our lives and our exchanges with one another spin into new conversations and new connections. When “trapped” on a bus together over a long distance, you see the sleep patterns, restlessness, scenic interests and snacking habits of others. It’s a fun exploration, if you welcome it.

Spinning deeper, you also find out a lot about your comfort zone, your humming voice of judgment and your ability to (pardon me) “roll with it.” Now, this can either take you into a tail spin of increasing frustration, which I witnessed. Or, it can spin you toward personal growth. Let me share an example:

The only seat on a city bus was next to a man who looked quite haggard, with unwashed hair, the permeating smell of old cigarettes and an overstuffed grocery bag. If I chose to remain standing that would have been, in my mind at least, shunning this man unnecessarily. I’m glad I sat down. Turns out that he was very nice, and I learned about cycling and his family. And that was just our brief exchange before he hopped off the bus. I had to ask myself, “What in me made me hesitate?” Petty self-righteousness, fear of cooties or, perhaps, a lack of willingness to shut my eyes and open my heart. Good lesson.

From that moment on, I made it a point to do an empathy scan on the people around me. When a woman recoiled at a man who smelled like wet cats on a very rainy day, I wondered if he was caring for orphan kittens, visiting his mom’s place to help out or heading into the city for promise of a new job. (Sidebar: I ran into him later. Turns out he was going from place to place and hard-pressed to buy a cup of coffee.)

It’s not always the people who seem to be having a rough financial go of it. I saw a well-put-together young woman who held up the bus (as I myself had done on several occasions figuring out where I needed to go) and got a few glares from passengers. I imagined she may be excited about her first job out of college, feeling a bit frazzled after a troubling conversation with her partner or simply overslept after cleaning the house to prepare for a surprise visit from brother on leave from the military. (Sidebar: Turns out she left her wallet at home, her bus pass expired and she just needed a few of these coins they call dollars.)

Empathy is the great equalizer. It calms our judgmental side, exercises our compassion and lets us use this funny thing called an imagination. It also pushes us to grow.

Restoring Hope After Adversity

May 23, 2013

There are days; there are always days. You know, the ones where you wake up and swear you do everything right but everything seems to be slipping quickly into wrong. Now, this is not my hall pass for you to throw a pity party, take it out on others, or apathetically throw your hands up in the air and bemoan, “Why me?” Nope. I’m about to share a recent trial I faced, with the hope that you will see the light (although it may seem faint at times) is always there, if you look hard enough.

So, I was blessed to visit a charming little town called Hahei in the Coromandel Peninsula and stay with a truly splendid woman. This is my “once upon a time” lead into the story but the reality is no fairy tale. On my scheduled day of departure, I went out early to the bus stop (location verified via Google Maps street view) and waited for the next leg of my journey to begin.

I saw a procession of seniors heading to the library, the charming townsfolk out doing their daily tasks and a few camper vans cruise by to the beach. Around 12:02 p.m. (bus reserved for noon), I felt a bit of anticipation but not anxious. At around 12:05 p.m. I saw a tour coach (that’s what they call buses) go by with a different name on it. It stopped at the gas station right next door. Something told me to walk over but, being a woman solo in a foreign country, I hesitated. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I saw the coach drive back by heading out of town that I noticed a very small insignia for the company I had hired. “Ugh, wait! Come back!” I shouted as I started off the curb after the bus, waving my arms in astonishment.

Let’s pause and have some fun with this image. A tall, fluffy-haired American running down a small rural street after a tiny bus and attracting attention. It’s really funny, if you think about it. At the time, I was hard pressed to see the humor. I drifted into a minor panic, as that was the only bus out of town that day and I was set to be elsewhere by that night + I didn’t want to lose $60 in booking, while incurring new expenses for housing and transit. I’ll spare you the poor customer service, the fact that the driver refused to turn around and the draining Internet searches that ensued for 30 minutes. Deep breath, I told myself.

Remember my splendid host? Well, with grace, compassion and calm, she came home over lunch and selflessly hopped on calls to help me reroute my plans. She was a ray of hope in a stressful situation, even offering up her home for another night. A special sense of gratitude filled me. As an extra kind gesture, she and her pal drove me the 8.2 km to the ferry landing, so I could get to a bigger town with a tourist site to sort it all out. Thank you so much, Kym (you rock).

Across the ferry I went, having informed my next host that I wasn’t going to make it that day and booked a bus for $80 more the following morning (with a different company). Once in Whitianga, I thought I would grab lunch at a cafe, reset my thoughts and figure out where to secure a room for the night. The tourist site was very pleasant, equipping me with a map and the knowledge that b&bs in the area would be $120+/night. Ouch. I decided to walk around and see what else I could find.

Here is a funny turn. I saw a sign for a hotel just down from tomorrow’s bus stop. Perfect, I thought. Walking in, it was a bar . . . wait for it, with gaming room attached . . wait again, with a rich history showcased on the wall. It used to be the blacksmith’s shop. Intriguing tales here.

Showcasing history

The barkeep was a super helpful young man who had been on for three days and was doing his utmost to call and determine how to book a room. “But,” I thought, “where were the rooms?” I was given keys for 8 and 9. I was then lead through the kitchen, around the back and to a staircase leading up to the rooms—above the bar! Ok, every spaghetti western came to mind. I was stressed but chuckled (this is a good thing to do when you don’t know what else to do). The rooms were simple, included bunkbeds (yep, you read that right) and shared bathroom facilities. And, lo and behold, there was someone living in 10 next door. As a writer, I thought this story was too interesting not to see through. “I can do this,” I coached myself.

Ok, $60 for the room and key in hand. Now, time to brace the misty day and find a cafe. I was famished. Like many people, I don’t function as efficiently or hopefully without nourishment. However, it was not to be. I found a plethora of these signs mocking my tummy’s mission:

Nice special but closed

Tasty but closed

Closed for summer

Best of all (hint of sarcasm), today was the first day of winter break. Yeah, I came to town just in time! Groan, the ache of my belly was eating away at my patience. “Hold on to hope. Think positive. All will be ok.” I thought to myself. And, so I tried my luck with a cafe owner who was pulling in tables. He was incredibly sweet and was still able to get me a large hot chocolate (extra strong = extra chocolate). Oh, amen. If you ever make it to Whitianga. Tip the gentleman at Tides Cafe extra for me.

Fortified enough to keep the peace within, I decided to spend the few hours before the three remaining restaurants in town opened for dinner around 5 p.m. So, with perfect timing, the sun came out for an afternoon jaunt and I spent time getting to know the harbor and a very friendly seagull that I lovingly dubbed, Pretty Bird.

Whitianga harbor

Looking to the ferry

Pretty bird

I think he was after my cocoa cup but the company was appreciated, as was the sound of kids playing at the playground next to this lovely old tree.

Tree at the kids' park

After pacing the front door like a jungle cat for 20 minutes, this restaurant welcomed me in for seafood. It was referred to me by two locals who said it had the best seafood around. Between the Coromandel Oysters and fish of the day over twice-baked potatoes with paprika aioli, I was regaining life.

Squids seafood restaurant

As the rain settled in for a drenching evening, I walked back to my tavern loft, pausing to chat with some locals about netball, travel and my passion for hopeful inspiration.

Foggy morning walk

The neighboring room was entertaining a party of some sort for a while, so I settled into the bottom bunk and counted off the blessings of the day. It’s a far better exercise to catalog the good than to simmer over the bad. I was thankful for helpful townspeople, my new pal Pretty Bird, that hot cocoa, food in my belly, a slightly worse-for-the-wear heater, great staff at the hotel, the sunlight in the afternoon, a place to rest my head, a ferry ride (I love being on the water, even if for a moment), the bus tomorrow, the perseverance I earned, Internet to update my mom (she, in her words, “worries”), the sound of rain and all of you.

 

Morning Walk in Narnia

May 20, 2013

Yesterday, I discovered a portal. It was cut in along the sea, slippery with mud from the evening’s rain and overgrown with plants playing shadow puppets.

HaHei Beach

The sun was barely able to peek through at first, making the path nearly indiscernible. So, I followed the shreds of light with hope of learning the secret of this land.Ascending from Hahei Beach

Atop the hills, I found the sun cresting the horizon and illuminating my perspective.
Sunrise May 20

Sun cresting the horizon

Then, the light became so bright that shapes began to shift, and I found myself racing down a rocky path toward the voice of the surf and the call of Tui birds.

Cathedral Cove Beach

To my amazement and delight, I had crossed over into the Land of Narnia.

Early light on the cove

I was walking, running and soaking in the very places I had seen in a dream.

Cathedral Cover

Rock face jutting into the sea

In front of Cathedral Cove

Even the waters seemed magical, filled with hope and whirling toward me like they were dancing.

Tide dancing at the cove

But the spinning was replaced by a dim fog and the outline of familiar things.

Misty morning walk

I asked a tree which way to go and he pointed me back through the blurry portal from Narnia to reality.

Tree points the way

As I blinked and got my bearings, I saw the houses of Hahei in the distance, bright with morning and waking from their own dreams. They had no idea the adventure I had just been on.

Lush vegetation atop Hahei

Here’s hoping each day you see where your dreams take you. You may be happily surprised.

I Found Soul in Auckland

May 19, 2013

I’m a foodie. With that in mind, there is a special bond between my chapter “Hope is nourishment” and my everyday life. Friends, I reiterate gently that what you consume matters to your well-being.

This wall of confections did in my willpower at Honolulu Airport. Aloha melty, indulgent happiness.

Hawaiian confections

A plethora of Hawaiian confections

Normally, I don’t care much for ultra sweet treats; however, if it involves dark chocolate, roasted nuts and sea salt . . . forgettaboutit. This box stood zero chance of leaving the country intact.

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

Even the airplane food (thumbs up Hawaiian Airlines) was good: fresh fruit, cheese and tea were all pleasant surprises. Entering New Zealand, I felt comfortably nourished, which was especially nice at the exhausting hour of 10 p.m. local time.

One of my first Kiwi culinary “wow” moments was at an eclectic little bistro in Devonport. Correlli’s Cafe was my safe haven from the rainy streets, with the promise of a hot pot of tea and this outrageously good lamb burger. (I opted for bunless and they graciously gave me extra veg.) The service was exceptional.

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Bleu cheese lamb burger and field salad

Next, came a pleasant encounter with a vegan, gluten-free restaurant in Auckland Central called Raw Power Cafe. It took me a moment to get used to grilled tomatoes but the eggs were awesome. Breakfast foods are hard to beat on the get-the-day-off-to-a-hopeful-start scale.

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Vegan breakfast at Raw Power

Being a foodie means I have spent countless hours watching cooking shows, culinary competitions and chef tastings. It also means losing myself in the kitchen after a busy day and being inventive. So, I ventured up the street to a local market. The selection was truly impressive.

Amazingly fresh produce

Amazingly fresh produce

With supplies in hand and a sense of hopeful creativity, I opted to let New Zealand cold smoked salmon be the star of this show. Below are rice crackers topped with lightly aged goat’s milk brie, a hint of evoo, green leaf lettuce, avocado, the salmon, a squeeze of lime and a dash of sea salt. Mmmmm.

My spontaneous salmon creation

My spontaneous salmon creation

Ok, when I decided to journey to the Shire in Matamata, I loaded up on snacks, unsure of what menu options I would have to choose from. Lo and behold, I found a cafe called Eat. Urban Foodstuffs with this all-vegetable pizza (even the crust is dehydrated veggies).

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Super colorful vegetable pizza

Next up is the Ponsonby district in Auckland, full of boutique shops, little cafes, a cute Lululemon store and a bunch of culture. Landreth & Co. has one of the best menus I have seen and, as an added bonus, put up with me working online for around 90 minutes (a bit long by New Zealand standards). This is the Waikanae crab, paprika and spring onion omelette with fresh lime. I added their fabulous dill potatoes. It was perfect and didn’t even need cheese or any extra seasoning. No wonder they have won awards.

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

Crab omelette and dill potatoes

I wish I had taken a picture of the stellar vegetable risotto that I had at Mecca Chancery in Auckland. The server was a sweetheart and the patio dining was the ideal way to recharge my hopeful outlook midday.

My next ferry excursion took me to Waiheke Island, where the hiking, fresh air and waves resulted in a profound appetite. I refueled with this corned beef, potato, poached eggs and herb specialty at Wai Kitchen. I’m not much of a red meat gal but their corned beef was prepared without a flaw. The view from the glass patio overlooking Oneroa Bay didn’t hurt either.

Housemade corned beef

Housemade corned beef

Let me pause for a moment to advise you that New Zealand dining is relatively pricey. So, when I found a $13 Thai lunch special, including soup, I was skeptical. The ambience at Sukhothai was open and inviting, so I sat down. I ordered the deep fried monk fish cakes (one of two gluten-free starter options) and the green curry chicken. Loved the soup, liked the spices in the fish and enjoyed the bright heat of the curry. It had some vegetables I wasn’t used to seeing in curry in the States as well as a thinner sauce but, overall, was nice. Word to the wise: Kiwi hot is plenty.

Green curry Thai lunch special

Green curry Thai lunch special

My playful side cannot help but mention this fun place, which happened to be closed as I passed by. The concept is delightful and, should I venture back through Auckland, I sense I will need to get my milk and cookie mustache on.

Milk and cookie bar

Milk and cookie bar

As I learned the area and met outstanding contacts around town, my hope for fabulous dining experiences grew. I was not disappointed by this lucky find or, as I refer to it, the soul of my culinary journey. Soul is across from the docks and just down from the ferry building; therefore, I walked up expecting a selection of seafood. I could not have been happier with their menu or their personable service. Both the hostess and my server were truly wonderful women. They accommodated me without a reservation (shhh, don’t tell) despite a busy Friday evening crowd and even followed up as I left to ensure I had a superior time. The food shined. From the oysters with ponzu, chive and caviar, to the salt + pepper calamari with saffron and mint . . . seriously, blew my tastebuds away.

Oysters and calamari

Oysters and calamari

And, just when I thought my night could not get any better, they delivered this pièce de résistance: lightly smoked Gameford Lodge duck breast with mandarin puree + autumn beets and grilled haloumi. Holy heaven, Scrooge McDuck. (Forgive the lighting; it was all candles and street lamps.)

Duck, beets and haloumi

Duck, beets and haloumi

Last, but in no way least, was the culmination of my sushi reconnaissance. I could not believe how many so-so, takeaway, preprepared sushi joints there were in the city. So, I had to really work to find an authentic sushi bar. I definitely hit the jackpot with Sharaku.

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

Entrance to Sharaku sushi bar

I was going to post the New Zealand salmon sashimi (light, delicate and fabulous), the tamago, the kanpyo roll, the shinko roll (Japanese pickles) or the red snapper. Instead, I will highlight this tummy-warming wonder: chawan mushi, or steamed egg custard with chicken and prawn. The broth, the lightness and the decorative presentation made for a savory finale to the meal. My compliments to the cheerful staff.

Chicken and prawn custard

Chicken and prawn custard

To close, hope is a lifestyle. If that lifestyle involves healthy choices, food explorations and a balance of nourishment, then you are on your way. That’s why so many cultures toast meals “to your health.” Treat your greatest tangible gift (your body) with the greatest of care.

Hope is Where the Heart is

May 16, 2013

I had someone at a cafe ask (challenge) me the other day, “Why does the world ‘need’ hope? Isn’t that a negative perspective?” I tilted my head, replied with heartfelt tales of hope and dabbled in a few hopeful examples from my own life. Still, as this blog grows, the question bears answering here.

Why need? Well, imagine a world of apathy, a world of numb souls who have given up, a world where no one thinks of the sunrise to come or the rainbow about to peek out from behind a cloud. Some of you may feel it’s that way already. I passionately resist that notion with every shred of my being. I am not alone in this belief, this knowledge of the power of hope and what it takes to choose hope over darkness. Needing something is not bad—we need air, we need love (deny it, if you wish) and we need water. Hope is fuel for the soul.

“The World Needs Hope” is not an indicting statement of the state of things, like a trite or linear solution to a perplexing problem. It is a testament to the awareness that we cannot thrive, dream or persevere without choosing to hope. If you live by three things, I pray they are faith, love and hope.

Want me to tell you a secret? I felt adrift recently. I held on to my hope but still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, inspiring enough or giving enough to others. It’s a funny thing, how we are programmed. At least in the culture I have known for 30+ years, you undermine your own needs, you work until you get blurry vision and you push yourself to succeed. So, when I found myself breathing without checking in, walking on a beach with zero idea what my next hour held and not tied to the electronic expectations pulsing through my email . . . I was, well, a little lost as to how to measure my worth.

I’m even hesitant to post the following photos because (as far as I’ve always been told), this isn’t work, especially working hard.

Stairway to Oneroa Bay

Stairway to Oneroa Bay

IMG_5865

Reflecting on the journey so far

IMG_5864

My seaside office

It’s as if we want to see others toiling, suffering and having a rough go of things in order to value their contributions. Where in the universe did that mixed up notion come from? Is it based on a feeling of commiseration, envy, judgment? For instance, studies have shown that people won’t value anything “free,” but you ask them to pay $1 and it suddenly jumps in value. Is our worth really tied to a financial tag? Is our output truly metered by the hours ticked away on a clock? I’m rebelling against this insanity.

Wisdom. Mercy. Empathy. Compassion. Grace. None of these have price tags, hours or metrics to analyze. They exist in their own sphere of value. Your life and its efforts should be the same. I’m waking up and I’m shaking you, friends. There is hope for more than the punch in, punch out pattern we’ve been taught.

Let’s applaud those who live. Let’s support the beauty in acts of humility. Let’s exchange a currency of hope.

I find that my clarity flows in when I volunteer. So, I went to the Waiheke Red Cross and explored their facility. It was dappled with all ages and all walks of life—all people of worth.

Waiheke Red Cross

Waiheke Red Cross

Outreach to those in need

“Change is possible. It takes courage . . .”

So, as I wandered the island. Yes, wandered. I met more amazing people. It’s funny how that keeps happening, when I smile, pay attention and live in the moment. I believe God puts them in my path, or vice versa, for a hopeful exchange.

Two delightful women in particular became my afternoon companions and, now, friends. Carol and Miriam (daughter and mother) were on vacation visiting wineries. I decided to see one myself, to take in the rolling hills and renowned New Zealand vines. Spiritually and physically beautiful . . .

Vines creeping up the hill

Vines creeping up the hill

The winery I hiked up to see

The winery I hiked up to see

A nook of peaceful trees

A nook of peaceful trees

The tasting room

The tasting room

A view from the patio

A view from the patio

I tried a wonderful local red

I tried a wonderful local red

Nature woven overhead

Nature woven overhead

“Was this a selfish indulgence?” I asked myself. The answer came to me as I stood arm to arm with charming Miriam. You see, this spunky, inspiring woman next to me was battling cancer. She shared her story and her boundless love of family. Figuratively, she kicked me into a state of appreciation and certainty. Hope is living not stagnating. Hope is choosing to keep fighting, to keep being true to yourself. I hope to see her and Carol again. They are now happily tucked into my prayers.

Hope is where the heart is. It is a choice. It can be an act. It is how we face (or embrace) every moment. It is the hand of a loved one at your bedside. It is a photo from your sister of your niece’s recent accomplishment. It is the sound of a toddler saying your name. It is a bus ride with new friends. It is seeing Aurora on a ship at the harbor and smiling to yourself. It is a big pink semi truck that makes you think of a big pink hat your best friend wore at a shop on the East Coast. It is letting your wishes wander to your dear soon-to-be-a-mom friend. It is being authentic to your needs and the needs of others. It is setting a righteous example. It is the joy you put in and, hopefully, the reward you take away.

Embrace Your Fantasies Anew

May 15, 2013

Tourist trap. Fun but just fantasy. I heard plenty of reasons not to go. I didn’t listen. Honestly, I had to stand in front of the door at Bag End and see how tall I was. Silly? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely.

Yes, The Shire (“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” for those not down with the Middle Earth lingo) called me to come play. I’ll admit that several hours there and back from Auckland had the withering remnants of my type A personality shifting in my bus seat. However, being likened to Galadriel (generous indeed) when I stepped off the bus didn’t hurt my thirst for adventure.

Tempted to leave a postcard

Tempted to leave a postcard

Hobbit holes, tiny gardens, sweeping landscapes without the mar of civilization (e.g., telephone poles, roads, airplanes) creeping in was like being transported back into the books and the innocent discovery of my childhood. I sized up the doors, marveled at the craftsmanship and pretended for a bit that I was a player in the story. Ok, no big ears, hairy feet or second breakfast, but I did sit for a spell at the Green Dragon, stand at the foot of Bag End and examine the tree meticulously glued together leaf by leaf just for a few seconds of film.

This tree is completely manmade

This tree is completely manmade

What did this journey teach me? Enjoy the thrill of fantasy. It inspires dreams, gives life to hope and helps us remember that the business of life is not always as serious as we believe it to be. For instance, our firsts (i.e., first swim, first plane ride, first time jumping out of a plane . . . ok, maybe that’s me) can be rekindled with delight anew as we embrace the splendor over and over again, if we let go of the perception of it being commonplace and soak it into our senses. I still cry at the sight of the sea—moves me every time.

Exchange fret for fantasy here and there. You may discover that your path has more turns than the Shire and more magic than you realized.

For my full trip to the Shire, visit the Photo Galleries page and scroll down.

Mallows, Parachutes and Sailboats

May 13, 2013

“It’s so fluffy!” If you recognize this line, you may be a fan of “Despicable Me” or simply have spent time in my playful company. What inspired this outburst? Marshmallows. Fluffy, pink, flavored like soft berries and included with every frothy latte, steaming cappuccino and oh so chocolatey hot cocoa. It’s delightful . . . uh, and addictive. Fluffy, happy goodness. (I owe you a photo, if only they lasted long enough to snap.) Cheers, Auckland!

Next on my list of hope boosters and uplifting moments is the parachute game. I visited a lovely little church, St. Heliers Centre, for service this past Sunday.

Early morning light on St. Heliers Centre

As I sat in the entry area waiting for the next service, I found myself suddenly surrounded by about two dozen wee ones gathering around a brightly adorned parachute. I’ve seen it played in the States but not with this level of zeal. Each child virtually went into orbit trying to be selected as the “cat” or the “mouse.” The mice hide under the circular chute, while the cats try to wrap their arms around them and catch them. Meanwhile, not to be left out, the other children around the circle flap the chute to create waves. The giggles, cheers of victory and fun interaction were splendid.

One of the dads, a foster father to two remarkable Māori kids, welcomed me and took me through the flow of the church. Then, everyone spilled out of the hall and in for a fellowship of tea, coffee and light snacks. It was a warm, delightful exchange where several folks came by to see who I was and tell me their story. I even met a fantastic gal from Wisconsin who had since settled in the area. What I enjoyed most, though, was the hopeful glow of this amazing woman, Mona—a beautiful soul celebrating her 95th birthday!

Celebrating 95 years of life’s blessings

On a more solemn note, during the service that followed, I was blessed with a discourse by a returning missionary who visited a medical center in Ethiopia for women suffering the extreme pain and long-term health consequences of fistula (prolonged, obstructed labor). While we may criticize the medical programs in our developed nations, consider the life-threatening challenges a young woman (and her unborn child) might face if she goes into labor and cannot reach a physician. I will not outline the details here but encourage you to explore the courageous work of Hamlin Fistula International. Bless her efforts.

Ah, now the sailboats—my third lofty sight of hope for this post. Auckland is, after all, the City of Sails. I could wax on for hours about the sailing vessels, the outboard boats, the ships, the marinas and the lure of the sea air. What I rediscovered is hope floats. Seeing the smiles of children learning about sailing, feeling their growing empowerment as they navigate a ship and watching kids press their faces against the glass of the ferry made me grin. Oh the sea, how it inspires and renews.

Next, I found out how hope can sail in with a happy surprise meeting. I was lucky enough to visit the Auckland Art Gallery and meet a charming, young docent who shared my first name (ok, with an “h”). She enlightened me to the city’s art scene, the gallery’s offerings and gave me a tip that later served me well about the Auckland Museum. I wish her the utmost success in her blossoming art career and world travels.

Auckland Art Gallery is a must-see

Auckland Art Gallery is a must-see

"Genoa From the New Terrace"

“Genoa From the New Terrace”

Then, I saw how the hope of discovery has buoyancy over time. Continuing on my adventures, I sailed via bus to the Auckland Museum, with its charming staff and expansive three floors of historical wonder. In particular, I was humbled by the power and presence of the native woodworking, clothing, weapons, musical instruments and sailing vessels.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Sailing vessel on illuminated display

Now that's a canoe

Now that’s a canoe

The experience reminded me that we must explore the reaches of our world and make efforts to reach out further than our simple shoreline. In addition, the time wandering halls and speaking with visitors filled my well of hope with the possibility that we are all sailing the same course to a brighter horizon. Bon voyage, one and all.

 

Moms Teach Us How to Hope

May 12, 2013

As I walked along the coast from Mission Bay to Saint Heliers on Mother’s Day, everything reminded me of the hope my mother brings to my life. So, let me share my sights and thoughts with you:

She encourages me to reach higher and soar.

Man waiting for the wind to lift his kite

Man waiting for the wind to lift his kite

She sees beauty reflected in the everyday.

The sand speckled with broken shells sparkling in the sun

The sand speckled with broken shells sparkling in the sun

She is a rock for our family through rough times.

A weathered marker of the volcanic history of the area

A weathered marker of the volcanic history of the area

She sheds light on every situation and offers a bright presence. 

The sun shining brightly across the bay and tide pools

The sun shining brightly across the bay and tide pools

She grows deeper in patience and wisdom with time.

Beautiful erosion as the tide ebbs and flows

Beautiful erosion as the tide ebbs and flows

She appreciates the value of comfort and shelter found in family.

A gorgeous shade tree offered the perfect vantage point

A gorgeous shade tree offered the perfect vantage point

Bouncing back from trials, investing in family, making the most of the little you sometimes have, treating people with care and respect, being a strong woman . . . all of these things I learned from my mom. Even through her worries and protective ways (God love her), she inspires me to keep choosing hope, to keep dreaming and to live fully. For her and that, I am truly blessed.

If you agree with the above, share this post with your mom. Happy Mother’s Day to every mom, stepmom, spiritual mom and grand mom.

Realigning Priorities

May 10, 2013

I have a challenge for you: Limit your total personal Internet use (cell, computer and tablet) to one hour tomorrow. Think it’s easy? I’ve got one more caveat for you: You only get that hour in one location (home, cafe, whatever). That’s every text, every call and every poke on Facebook. Let me know the result by commenting here. And . . . go.

Why? Well, I am seeing an amazing thing in New Zealand . . . people talking, people playing with their kids, people looking up at the sky, people eating without a device sitting on the table, people not plugged in at every moment. I’ll prove it. Here is a photo of the mirrored cafe ceiling:

Like Where's Waldo? Bonus points if you can find me.

Like Where’s Waldo? Bonus points if you can find me.

In addition, I counted a few minutes worth of drivers and not one was texting while barely looking up. Yes, I have observed people walking around talking on their phones but it’s the minority. I even made eye contact (remember that) with over a dozen people in the last five minutes. I’m baffled. It’s like life exists for these Kiwis. Huh.

I’ll call myself out first. I’m a text, talk, walk and “multitask” offender. My dear brother can testify. In fact, momentary panic set in last night when I saw, “59 minutes and 50 seconds of your daily wifi allowance remains” as I logged in at my accommodation. “What?! Daily?” I thought. No ding, brrrring, vvvvrrrrr, notification-a-palooza? I felt alone, I felt jolted and I even felt a hint of judgment.

Why? I have become oddly accustomed to seeing my world through a four-inch screen. I was constantly looking down not ahead. I was looking to a device to gauge things not my inner processor (a.k.a. intuition). And here’s the thing, I’m still adjusting. I posted, pinged and messaged like a mad woman for the hour I was allotted.

Now, I’m typing and watching the rain fall. Instead of headphones, I hear birds and laughter. Gotta say, as a writer, umbrellas are fun little microcosms to watch and, attention Phoenix friends, people don’t actually melt in the rain. Funnier still, the cafe is filled with books, conversation and sipping. I’m the only soul on a laptop. Again, huh.

I suspect our “civilized” priorities are askew. Remember the principle of want vs. need? It’s a childhood tool we learn to help us retain awareness. In order to help the world hope, it seems I need to refresh us all, myself included, on how and where to focus. You have to have a shred of attention in order to exercise empathy, be present with those who are hurting and seek your bliss. I can tell you that technology is amazing, useful and a blessing. I can also tell you that digitized reality can distract us from the heart of humanity.

Here are a few photos of life unplugged:

Park on Devonport coastline

Park on Devonport coastline

My furry companion at the cafe

My furry companion at the cafe

Reflecting on the beauty of life

Reflecting on the beauty of life

I know dialing down instead of up is tough. I’m here for you. Perhaps wifi can begin to stand for “we invest fully in” living with presence. Here’s hoping.

The Journey of Hope

May 9, 2013

Deep breath. Pray. Let go. Believe.

I declared, “The World Needs Hope,” and I have been called to inspire it. So, May 8 (my nephew’s birthday, of all days), I departed Arizona for, literally, the other side of the world.

Leave home, sell your possessions, shift to freelance and let the only plan be to go where your spirit tells you. Sounds crazy, right? Apparently because I heard everything and, yes, some of it hurt. “You need to get this out of your system” (actually, my system welcomes this sense of purpose). “With all the stress, there’s no shame in a midlife crisis” (um, I’m not even to midlife LOL). “What are you running away from?” (ouch, but I did reflect on this statement and pray about my direction). “It’s nice to want to change the world but what can one person really do?” (one person can spark many people, can light a flame of hope and can ignite positive change).

I’m glad I packed my humility. It opens doors, puts people at ease, makes my silly questions seem ok and lets me experience who people are beyond their facades. I’m also glad I packed my hope. This is no easy venture and it takes a lot of energy to see the openings, start the conversations and share a sense of possibility with others.

Part of this journey, in total honesty, is to let my body reset too. After more than three decades of being “on” for every bump, every crisis and every rough patch, my physical and spiritual self crave renewal. Filling the well is important, friends. Being empathetic and being hopeful takes effort every day. If you aren’t cognizant, your well starts to run dry. It’s a tough thing to admit but it’s the key to understanding the balance of giving.

I hope you feel the love I’m sending your way and it fills your well.

My Hope Flies to You

May 8, 2013

As I prepare to embark on the next chapter of this journey, I wanted to pause and share the essence of my heart in a note to each of you:

I wish you comfort and strength, wisdom and mercy. Know that hope exists. How do I know? I see each of you and feel it, electric, pulsing back and forth. You have to choose hope each day to let it take root. Sisters, love everything about yourselves and show that remarkable love to others, especially your little ones—it is through this example that we shape the hearts of the next generation. Brothers, work at what you love and what fills the well, not drains it—your talents and strength are gifts. When you find that special someone, lock shields with your person, which may mean learning to let go of expectations and trust fully. Never stop trying to rediscover the people in your life. Always hug longer, hold tighter and forgive faster. Family is our greatest education and our most lasting blessing. Should anything separate us, understand that I have no regrets. Most importantly, I don’t just believe in God . . . I know He is real and dwells within you, all you have to do is surrender to discover a peace that passes all understanding.

And to close, a prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you for your guidance and many gifts. Gracious Father, thank you for bringing so many amazing people into my life and showing me, every day, that hope is real. Please continue to bless, protect and comfort them, as you help them to grow and embody their potential. I pray for the health, happiness and well-being of each precious one. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

With hope,

Sara

The Leap from Judgment to Joy

May 1, 2013

When you were a kid, did you ever pick dandelions? Bright and yellow, puffy and soft—I adored collecting them in bouquets, making Barbie® hair accessories, using them to draw on the sidewalk and (to my chagrin now) popping the tops off. When I later learned that dandelions are “weeds,” that news was perplexing to me. How could something that brought me so much joy be judged?

To be fair, many lovely things have a hazardous side (e.g., the prettiest berries can be poisonous). However, in the case of dandelions, we now know their nutritional and therapeutic value. Why in the world am I going on about this plant? It will make complete sense in a moment.

Last evening, I heard the ominous grind of my rear brakes and, reluctantly, opted to postpone a creative gathering scheduled for today. At first, I felt put out; then I realized that the early morning walk from the auto shop to the natural grocery store was a blessing—air, exercise, nature, time to unplug and promise of a healthy breakfast. This week has been crazy, prepping for trip departure, sorting through 30+ years of memories and running all over a smoldering hot desert. When I saw a dandelion fighting for it’s three square inches of existence, I thought of how we choose joy or we choose judgment.

For instance, children learn to like or dislike certain vegetables, to compliment or ridicule others, and to dream of possibilities or worry about problems by the examples they find in the people around them. Reflect on what you carried up with you as you grew to adulthood. When you think of the joy in your life presently, do you think of it brimming over or running low?

Now, compare how much time and energy you spend in judgment. Think it’s a small amount? Well, do you groan about your weight in the mirror, unload verbal onslaughts in traffic, find yourself saying how others can’t do their jobs based on some perceived incompetence, or repeatedly look at the flaws and falls happening in the world?

Awareness is crucial. I openly admit that it’s a struggle for me too. I have made progress, but it took empathy, presence and letting go of ego. Most judgment is us reflecting our shortcomings, fears, personal frustrations, unspoken expectations or disappointments on the world. In other words, judgment comes from you and can be filtered by you.

Ready for something that will rock your perception? Consider this:

“If we can accept that we are the sum total of all past thoughts, emotions, words, deeds and actions and that our present lives and choices are colored or shaded by this memory bank of the past, then we begin to see how a process of correcting or setting aright can change our lives, our families and our society.” – Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona

It’s up to you how your internal self sees the external world: bothersome . . . or beautiful.

Forward is not Forgetting

April 22, 2013

It would be foolish to overlook the painful events of the last week. Two that climb top of mind are the Boston bombings and Texas plant explosion. In a few days time, I have watched the faces of many turn grief-stricken, troubled and guarded.

Still, through it all, hope is ever-present. Through the smoke, the pain and the excessive media, there remains a core of goodness in this world. It is within you and I pray you cling to it tightly. For the worst result of any tragedy is when hope is stolen (or forfeited), allowing fear, anger and apathy to take root. I resist that outlook with every shred of my being. I resist it for you, for your children and for the world.

In time, as you feel it right, I urge you to take a baby step forward. A cautious smile, a gracious gesture, an honorable remembrance, a solid embrace or a bold expression of joy. Those most closely impacted by loss and tragedy need our compassion, our strength, and our help to gradually renew themselves.

Moving forward is not forgetting. Forgetting is casting aside, losing focus, returning to status quo and slipping the blinders back on. No, remain vigilant in your hope and stalwart in your love. Those are the very things that will keep our humanity in tune. If anything, forget the vengeance, the retaliation, the bitterness. Move forward to offer help and display qualities that lift us all by example.

Hope for Hurt Souls

April 15, 2013

The media is a megaphone for all voices. And right now, the voice we most need to hear is one of hope. Each instance of violence reminds us of the uncertainty in this world. The tragedy, the shock and the hurt all shake us to the core . . . for a while.

I pray for each soul, each family and, yes, even those who act to harm. Most of all, I pray for us to wake up and see that we are all connected. We spend so much time in blame, in bitterness and in disbelief that we only process the surface of the event. We’re looking at the outcome not the origin.

This past weekend, I heard something that I will never forget, “Every harm begins with a past hurt.” Think about it. Being teased, abused, neglected, ignored, abandoned, degraded . . . they all hurt our hearts and leave an imprint on our spirit. And, if left unresolved, they leave us vulnerable and vengeful. For those who carry unspoken scars and bury the pain deep deep down, that hurt wells up and lashes out.

But when we stand up, forgive, let go, ask for help, move forward and seek grace, we find the hurt gradually ebbs with time. That leaves room for love and communication.

So, I tell you that instead of talking about the weapons, the ways and the whys of horrendous acts after the fact, focus on extending care, compassion and love to others right now. Do not turn a blind eye. Do not say it’s none of my business how a child is treated at home. Do not overlook animal abuse and where it leads. Do not live in fear. Do not let yourself believe that you need any more of feeling like less.

Do offer unconditional love. Do notice how others are feeling and behaving. Do choose your words with care. Do have faith. Do let the ego go and the enlightenment flourish. Do build strong families. Do set a righteous example. Do share hope.

Let’s look with eyes wide open to the source and keep the erosion of society as well as the explosion of malice from continuing. What we do to help others ultimately helps us all.

The Sensitivity Spiral

April 14, 2013

This is probably one of the toughest posts to write. Why? Because it’s my story—the vulnerabilities I don’t share, the trials I don’t trumpet and the moments I almost lost myself. It has a hopeful conclusion, so open your heart and let me tell you about the sensitivity spiral.

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t walk through the detergent aisle in the grocery store without itching, sneezing and feeling suffocated. And every summer as an adolescent, I avoided cut grass like it was cut glass. Then, feeling bold and invincible (a.k.a. a teenager), I took a job baling hay on a friend’s farm. I wanted to prove I was as capable as any boy, was resilient and, well, just earn some cash for movies. I layered up in a flannel shirt, gloves and jeans, praying that the hay wouldn’t actually touch my skin. A few strands got in and made my arm look like it was scratched by a feral cat. But I was able to hide it and put on the, “I’m not having trouble breathing face,” as I walked calmly behind the barn and tried to recover. You see, my body is acutely sensitive.

It took lunch with a beautiful friend recently to remind me that we all struggle and many of us have some health challenge. For instance, I now know that I score five in skin tests for most allergens—grass, dust, cats, pollen, weeds, mites and (sadly) some dogs. By the way, the scale goes up to four. I like being an overachiever, but really?! In a quirky addition, they believe I lack sufficient enzymes to properly process pork, so having an “oops” with bacon on a salad is anything but a funsie.

But I only suspected these things when I moved to Arizona and, like most kids, I overlooked the side aches, dizziness, sniffles, wheezing and itching. I just thought you lived with it. I tried every over-the-counter allergy medication and even a few prescription ones that doctors assured me would, “take care of it in no time.” Nothing every really worked long or well. I managed through avoidance—running from cats, walking around lawns and never taking my shoes off, religiously replacing air filters and avoiding anything in bloom . . . despite a sincere love of flowers and trees.

However, in stubborn Sara fashion, I suddenly decided I wouldn’t live that way. I took a job with a florist, signed up for softball, decided to start hiking and went horseback riding. It wasn’t easy. There were many reactions. Still, I refused to live in fear and not experience life fully. For years, I thought I could get by.

Other unexplained events happened along the way that, now, I look back and realize were connected. I went numb and lightheaded in my first apartment because of the new carpet. I sprayed weeds for an afternoon and ended up sick to my stomach with a burning sensation in my limbs. I blacked out a few times after eating out or drinking an artificial drink. I would sit at a freshly cleaned desk and accidentally touch my face, resulting in a welt. I wore dry cleaned pants and my legs would itch fiercely. I ate chips (unaware of the MSG) and had to go home with a feeling of food poisoning. I fixed irrigation leaks in my yard and ended up with days of anxiety and nausea. I drank a holiday latte with spice and my throat felt like closing. The list goes on.

I pause here to say that this is not a woe-is-me post. I resist pity and have no use for special treatment. In fact, I wouldn’t even give myself special treatment . . . I kept living, kept ignoring it and kept making choices that were normal by social standards. I even went through a barrage of tests—everything from blood work to MRIs. Nothing explained the reactions beyond, “I’m just sensitive, I guess.”

It took nearly losing my life to awaken greater self-awareness and the power of choiceful living based on your body. You see, after 30+ years (who’s counting?), I went on a multi-day camping trip into remote Arizona. Offroading, trekking, crawling through brush to see animals and helping to scout. While I was there, I felt “off” and foggy as I popped antihistamines like candy. I started to sense my body was overstimulated. That evening, I bolted up in the middle of the night and felt like death was lingering near the bed. Unknown to me, I was in full systemic allergy overload.

By the time I got home, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. I was having recurring panic attacks every few hours (something I only experienced once before when I lost my father), I was unable to keep food in my system, my heart was racing up to near arrest levels, I was experiencing intense fear and my entire body felt like it was on fire. It was an all-out attack on my well-being . . . and it lasted for weeks. Emergency rooms; tissue mineral analysis; more blood work; ultrasounds; so many doctor visits; and no relief from the cycle, no answers and no solid rest.

Yet, I had to function, to work and to hide the out-of-control spiral I was experiencing. I prayed fiercely, I cried often and I probably scared the $%#* out of the few friends in whom I confided. What do you do, after all, with a friend who can’t explain why she is feeling the darkness creeping in and her body shutting down? Some implied it was “all in my head” or “just stress.” Others supported as best they could, but I could hear the fear and helplessness in their voices. So, I pulled away from everyone.

After more than six months of symptoms off and on, I decided to try a vacation to Spain. I thought perhaps stress and my environment were causing it. Thanks to processed food the evening before departure and airline food enroute, I had one of my worst reactions in the garden patio of my friend’s home, as guests gathered downstairs for a feast to graciously welcome us to the country. I was lost. The me I had known was a shadow. I was up nearly 30 pounds, despite being unable to keep food down, felt like every nerve ending in my body was exploding and was facing unpredictable emotions that I couldn’t even fathom. I did my best to survive and not show my angst, but I knew I had to find an answer somehow.

Upon returning home, I dove into naturopathy, energy healing and weeks of research. There were small glimmers of hope, but nothing more than a day or two. Then, one of my best friends gave me a copy of The Clean Program and I figured, “Why not?” So, I prayed that night, and asked God to save me or take me.

When I woke up, I went shopping and followed every single food recommendation to the letter. Simultaneously, I got a chlorine shower filter, switched body products, changed to a coconut organic detergent and shifted to alkaline drinking water. After a couple of days, my body kept its first meal down. After a week, my heart started slowly coming down to one or two attacks a day instead of every few hours. By two weeks, the fear started to drift away, and I could feel my fingers and toes again. By the one-month mark, I was carrying a sense of hope that was true to my core. At the two-month mark, my weight was back down and my outlook was way up.

Through intense documentation (e.g., grids, three-day food challenges, cross-reaction lists), my world slowly became clearer. I thank God, Dr. Radha G. Rishi and Alicia Benjamin, among others. You see, my environmental allergies were pushed into a state of excessive activity. My body was so overwrought that it literally turned on itself. Any food I introduced with even a slight reactive quality became an enemy and was rejected. Any chemical I encountered, even at low levels, was a threat.

So, the only way to regain balance was to eliminate all of the offenders, until my body could build up antihistamines and purge toxins. I had to convince it that food was not the enemy and that I would safeguard it from unnecessary chemicals. If you look up “multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome” online, you will find a disparaging array of links talking about how it’s a psychiatric issue, unexplained and unsubstantiated, and nothing more than some people wanting special treatment. I cringe at this indictment and, until now, shrank away from sharing my experiences. I didn’t want to be viewed as freak, fragile, faulty or forsaken. I also didn’t want attention, as it’s hard enough to navigate life without having every spoonful, every sniffle and every choice examined by well-intentioned folks who wonder, “Will you be ok?” or “Are you sure you should have that?”

My view now: chemical sensitivity is real. How it manifests, the factors of hormones and stress, the genetic and environmental background of individuals, and the patterns of exposure all play a part. There is no pill to fix it; in fact, ironically, pills with binding agents, chemical fillers and preservatives are one of the issues. It was the moment I saw my dear nephew’s face go blotchy after eating his first birthday cake, which contained common food coloring, that I knew I had to be his voice too. I had to let people know that reactions are not imagined. I had to start to educate all of you on the many unknown chemicals we have come to accept in our food, water and lives as “normal.”

Riddle me this: if four people don’t react to an artificial substance and it gets released to the public, but a fifth person does, is that the fifth person’s fault? Maybe that fifth person is your canary. It’s hard to admit now but miners used to send canaries down mine shafts to test air quality. As long as a canary kept chirping, it was safe. If it stopped, the air was poisoned and the miners should avoid entering. What if I, and others like me, are merely your canaries? I’m chirping now, and I won’t be silenced.

Tips for surviving the sensitivity spiral:

  1. If possible, go organic for your food, body care and cleaning products
  2. If you can’t pronounce it, for heaven’s sake don’t eat it
  3. If something contains preservatives, additives, fillers, binders and undisclosed “natural flavors,” steer clear
  4. If you feel “off” or have recurring symptoms you can’t explain, try a food journal (remember that reactions can occur up to three days after you ingest something)
  5. If you repeatedly yearn for a food or substance, it may be an unhealthy addiction to the reaction (an unsettled system becomes like an addict, craving what actually harms it)
  6. If you have environmental allergies and want to build resistance, consider a small daily dose of local honey, immunotherapy shots and/or careful exposure to the offending substance over a gradual time (consult your doctor)
  7. If you need guidance, don’t hesitate to seek out an allergist, and never settle for a physician who doesn’t listen or take you seriously

Where am I today? Honestly, I relapsed to a degree. I let my busy lifestyle and excuses about my schedule derail me. I also slipped into a false sense of security because the symptoms were only “occasional” for a while. I’m paying for it with pounds and reactions. My choices are my own. I cannot ignore my body chemistry. The changing seasons, my increase in cortisol due to life transitions and my slip from proper eating are trying to pull me down the spiral. So, it’s time to shift back on course and nourish myself in hopeful, helpful, healthy ways. I am just starting to read, but already loving, The Beauty Detox Foods by Kimberly Snyder, C.N. I heart the Glowing Green Smoothie.

One final request: be sensitive to the sensitivities of others without making them feel broken. Allergies can shift with time and exposure. You never know what they, or you, may be presented with in life. We’re all unique. Let’s celebrate it and support it, not judge it.

Where’s the Love?

April 8, 2013

As I encounter fans of the book, one question tends to surface now and again, “Where’s the love?” Specifically, some people want to know why I did not include a “Hope is love” chapter. The short answer is that love is woven throughout the book. The more provocative answer is that love is so powerful, so personal and so expansive that one chapter would not do.

Ah, now I want to turn this question around on you, “Where’s the love?” So many people seek love, fantasize about love, pour over books and movies about love . . . yet so few actually love themselves fully from within. Where is the love for yourself?

Hope for true love and hope for lasting love is a deeply intimate and outwardly focused emotion. If you take even a small percentage of that fervor and channel it inward to your heart, imagine the glorious confidence, fulfillment and outlook you might achieve. Such love is a mirror of the divine, of the connection between us all and of the grand gift that your existence truly is. I love you. I mean it. God loves you. I hope you love you.

From there, your ability to love others, to show love and (here’s the clincher) to accept love will be stronger. I’m asking you to make an investment in yourself, thereby making an investment in us all as a global community.

Think of the TLC, the patience, the forgiveness and the time you show others (I hope). You are equally important and worthy of this respectful affinity. Try owning the following statements:

  • I am a blessing.
  • I am unique.
  • I am beautiful.
  • I am gifted.
  • I am worthy.
  • I am loved.
  • I love myself.

Love isn’t about perfection. I always say that loving someone, including yourself, even more because of the flaws (not in spite of them) is the glory of love. One more tidbit to soak into your senses: you can love selflessly and still love yourself. Loving others selflessly merely means having a bearing in empathy, so that you can be attuned to their needs, emotions and dreams.

So, the next time I ask, “Where’s the love?” I pray you point to your chest and say, “Here!” I’ll have a loving hug of support waiting in return.

XO

Hope for Spiritual Weight Loss

April 1, 2013

Likely all of us have seen an ad for “lose 10 pounds this week,” “one pill does it all,” or (my favorite) the before and after photos that look like a Shrinky Dinks demo. In fact, it’s so prevalent that I pray this post doesn’t make it into your spam filter.

Because weight is tied to self-image in our society, it’s no wonder that companies play on the fear of being rejected, the frustration of not being good enough and the unrealistic association of beauty as a single-digit dress size. As someone who used to eat to assuage stress or to reward myself for overcoming a challenge, I can relate to the angst associated with the climbing digital numbers on a scale.

See, I come from a robust Scottish German background where every guest was encouraged to “eat up” and multiple servings showed appreciation for the cook. Food was a celebration, a competition, a connection and a comfort. Until college, I did pretty well balancing my activity level with my eating habits. It was then that I fell into the university cycle many of you know so well: work multiple jobs, study late into the night, eat whatever is handy and indulge with friends during your precious free time. Stress was rising, rest was declining, food was shoveled in instead of thought through and life was throwing me painful curve balls.

At my lowest emotional point, my weight crept to its highest—gaining over 50 pounds. Two years of my life went by in a blur of graduation, relationship adjustments, personal identity struggles and deep hurt. I did my best to hide my loathing for myself with larger clothes, a resistance to photos of anything below my shoulders, declined social opportunities, lots of work and rollercoaster eating. Looking back, I am grateful for this sharp memory. It gives me empathy as I work with others and, more so, it reminds me that physical weight is a manifestation of our spiritual health.

How did I lose the weight? It started with a tearful and honest conversation that my dad initiated. “Ace, I don’t want to hurt you, but I can tell something’s wrong and your weight reflects that. I’m gonna work harder at this and I hope you will too.” While it hurt momentarily to have my father be my mirror, it was a blessing. He struggled with stress eating, overindulgence and weight most of his life. So, it was that respectful love that helped me ask myself how much I respected and loved myself.

But it takes more than a push, a hug or a cheerleader to overcome the darkness we allow to consume us. It takes fortifying your hope through these things:

  1. A tough look at your crutches and coping mechanisms (self-assessment)
  2. An awareness that you deserve and are more (self-love)
  3. A willingness to really work toward change (self-motivation)
  4. An ability to let go of negative thinking (self-talk)

Your mind, body and spirit are connected. It’s a beautiful chemistry that determines how we face each day and how we live to our fullest potential. The unseen weight we carry comes from fear, disappointment, worry, bitterness and guilt. To release it, we must do spiritual exercise in love, giving, gratitude, forgiveness and hope. After all, hope is nourishment.

If you want to tip the scales in your favor, you have to choose to let go of those thoughts and feelings that undermine your happiness. Visualize yourself casting off the burdens you accepted from others and tucked away within yourself. We are literally energetic beings with the amazing ability to rejuvenate and sculpt our reality. Try prayer, meditation, cleansing in the shower or ocean (if one is handy), and nurturing the Holy Spirit guiding you past your troubles.

This world will challenge you with temptations and trials. So, as further support in your journey, be watchful of these internal triggers—they are not coming from a loving source:

  • “You already splurged today, what’s one more thing? You can do better tomorrow.” No, each choice is an instant and unique. Don’t get caught up in a day, a week or any period dictating your “right time.” This moment is new.
  • “Everyone else is drinking, eating or doing that. Why should I be denied?” No, everyone else is accountable for their own happiness, and may be hiding their pain or stress. Listen to your spirit and do what will lighten not laden you.
  • “This takes the pain away for a while or helps me wind down after a long day.” Masking the root of the concern only perpetuates it and keeps you from processing your feelings. Do this, feel rotten, regret and repeat? No, break the cycle.

You will hit bumps, as life is ever-changing. It’s ok. Go easy on yourself and reset when you realize what’s happening. Spiritual weight loss is not a quick fix, but a long-term shift in self-image and lifestyle. If you could see the spiritual burdens you are lugging around, you would be astonished. Let go, forgive, breath and filter. Temptation, doubt, fear and anxious thinking are all companions you don’t need. It’s time to lighten the load and live.

Transforming Trial into Triumph

March 25, 2013

You will face trials in your life. Notice I didn’t say “may” or “could,” but “will.” You will be tested, emotionally and spiritually. You will question the world, your choices and yourself. Whether you are ready to believe it or not, these things are all gifts.

Like the brightest metals and gems, you will discover your radiant light by polishing your perseverance. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Trials are part of living in this world and, I believe, sometimes just the nudge we need to grow in character. For it is through trials that we test, define and expand our character. Like a muscle, perseverance takes flexing.

Now, knowing there will be trials does not mean that we have to apathetically face illness, loss or change. Constructive trials, while they may not appear so at the time, provide a “moment of impact” when we are acutely awake to what we want, deserve and desire to be. That’s where the gifts come in—clarity of values, shaking off complacency and a deep passion to discover your true purpose, to name a few.

At first, you may see a trial as a hurdle, a wall or a fog. That’s alright. Here are a few suggestions for transforming trial into triumph:

  1. Lean into the emotion, journal about it, and look to friends or a group for support (there is no shame in needing help . . . we all do)
  2. Shift your focus toward all that you have to offer this world (your talents, your dreams, your spiritual gifts and your light)
  3. Any time a negative, bitter or doubting thought enters, swap it for gratitude (you have the ability to steer your perspective from degrading to upgrading)
  4. Stay active in productive tasks, like resume updates, networking, reading about new opportunities, working out (even the smallest steps can be celebrated)
  5. Give to others (volunteering and acts of kindness enrich your confidence, sense of worth and optimism as much as they do the people you help)
  6. As the emotion settles, revisit the trial to recognize the blessings in it (list the ways it frees you and motivates you)
  7. Share your story of triumph with others, using positive language and values that reflect your new outlook (it will solidify it in your mind and, perhaps, spark others)

If you just thought to yourself, “That sounds great for someone else, but I can’t just let go of my trial.” then it’s time to have a tough conversation with yourself. It may feel easier to secretly hold onto the trial than to work at transforming your life from within. It’s actually not. Imagine trying to hold back the flood of a waterfall with a sieve.

Taken while hiking just outside Portland, OR

When you surrender to that which you cannot change and let the positive transformation wash over you, it can be as refreshing and invigorating as this waterfall. Having hope and embracing change can move you from self-pity to self-confidence and your journey from worry to wonder. A fresh start awaits you.

When You Feel Depleted

March 10, 2013

We all feel depleted sometimes. That is not a pessimistic statement. Actually, recognizing depletion is one tool for maintaining a higher level of hope in your life.

My candle often burns at both ends, and sometimes in the middle. My guess is many of you feel exactly the same way. Periods in life are like that: crunch time at work, extracurricular activities for your kids, even joyful events like holidays and wedding planning. It’s part of growing, prioritizing and living with purpose.

I call that the Dedicated state. You want to achieve your goals, you are willing to be a support to others and you see the promise of balance in the near future. Being dedicated to career, family and self are respectable motivations. In fact, dedicated choices fuel our sense of worth, develop perseverance through pressure and strengthen connections with others.

Now, here’s where being mindful of your energy, stress level and focus is crucial. When you sense your frustration is flaring up, your patience is waning low and your ability to focus on what truly matters is diminished, you are in a Depleted state. Being aware of your depletion and the cause(s) fueling this state gives you a chance to pull things back and restore the integrity of your spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Consider this scale:

As you can see, allowing the Depleted state to linger unchecked builds downward momentum that could pull you into the Defeated state. There, you feel the intensity of one side of being or the other:

  • Apathetic or anxious
  • Numb or hypersensitive
  • Unworthy or egocentric
  • Fearful or reckless
  • Powerless or controlling

Your pendulum swings unique to you. A setback for some could be a defeat for others; likewise, a fear for some could be a motivator for others. The key to mastering this scale is to know when you are depleted. Then, you will quickly recognize what fuels your dedication and what feeds the embers of defeat. You will be more equipped to safeguard your spirit, rest your mind and nurture your body.

The climb to return from Defeated to Dedicated is not immediate or without its trials, which is why I urge you to keep watch over your Depleted moments. You likely focus on the needs of others and would gladly assist a friend with the climb . . . you are worth the same care and effort.

You are in control of your happiness and your state of being. I, for one, believe in you and cannot wait to see how the Dedicated you will inspire and embrace hope.

Strength in Comfort

March 3, 2013

What does comfort mean to you? Is it tangible or intangible? Is it elevated on your hierarchy of needs or an elusive afterthought when it’s convenient?

Obviously I esteem comfort, as it is one of the chapters in “The World Needs Hope.” Like huggers to hand shakers or sunbathers to spf blockers, everyone slides on the comfort scale to their precise spot at their preferred time. While by no means universal, a mini-poll did result in top comforts among those I know:

  • Having your hair gently brushed or scalp massaged
  • Fluffy blankets fresh from the dryer on a rainy day
  • Favorite foods, aptly dubbed “comfort foods”
  • A worn in but not worn out pair of jeans
  • Floating in a swimming pool on a warm afternoon

During this exploration, a close friend plunged me into a beautiful pool of reflection on comfort. You see, she holds comfort at the very core of her life. Being one of the more hopeful people I know, I wanted to better understand how comfort took up this honored residence in her wonderstruck world.

What came out of the dialogue enlightened me. As I dug deeper, it became clear that comfort was an anchor. What she, and so many of us, truly wanted from comfort was facilitation—a pause from the melee of concerns, a haven from the so-much-to-do distractions and a sense of the freedom to focus on living well. Ah, comfort as freedom made total sense.

After all, a greater sense of comfort inspires us to relax, to be our true selves, to release burdens, lower stress levels and to hope for a brighter future. So, give yourself permission to embrace comfort, suspend judgment of those who see comfort in different forms, offer comforting reassurance as a beacon of hope to others and don’t throw out that childhood teddy bear (or, in my case, lullaby lamb) just yet. Comfort can be a strong ally.

Free your spirit to shift worrisome energy to hopeful action in pursuit of your dreams. I invite you to share what comforts you in the comments below.

Hope in Times of Loss

February 24, 2013

The past month has seen the waves of grief crashing ashore for several friends. It is in these times I feel both powerless to hold back the tide of their pain and, yet, called forward to wade into the surf with a steady, compassionate hand.

Grief is an island no one wants to visit, but we all, inevitably, do. While difficult to believe when emotions drown out the world, hope does not disappear during these shadowed hours—it remains tucked behind the horizon, waiting to slowly emerge as the fog begins to dissipate.

When I facilitate grief support groups, the hardest question to answer is “why.” Before I can address that here, I must say that I believe in God with all my being. Some of you may be inching toward the x in the corner of your browser, but know this: this blog is about enlightenment and hope, not exclusion and hype. If you are still deterred, I wholeheartedly bid you peace and welcome you back at any time.

So, returning to why. My answer begins with a question: have you ever held back details with a child, a friend or a family member because you did not wish to cause further pain? Or, perhaps, you knew it was not the time or place to share every element of a story, since the person before you was not in the state of mind or heart to fully acknowledge such details. I have found, through many losses and trials, that the truth I desire, the answers I crave and the path I seek are all revealed at exactly the right time . . . when God knows I am most ready for them mentally and spiritually.

No loss is greater or lesser than another. Bidding farewell to dear grandparents, close friends, even family acquaintances all have an impact. In this moment, I reflect on one particular friend—a gloriously beautiful angel, creative partner and inspiring mother—who is facing a tremendous loss. Her father just passed in the same manner my dear dad did nine years ago. A sudden heart attack called him home, and the lives of those who knew him changed in a dizzying instant.

The news strikes like a tidal wave of numbingly cold water to every pore of your body. If you think this is an exaggeration, I pray you never face such an ache that drifts to your bones and submerges your vision. And no, the pain never dissolves entirely. It does, though, become more of a river than a vast ocean.

ocean reflection

If you read “The World Needs Hope,” you know my father is woven lovingly into my dedication. If you know me, you feel the fingerprint of his legacy in the words on the page. If you were lucky enough to know my dad, you will see his smile, feel his warmth and recall his strong hand reaching out to help any one at any time. Big Mike with the big heart (pictured below in high school).

dadhighschool

Thinking again of my friend’s grief journey, I can relate to the pang of losing a mentor, a best friend, an ally, a father and a rock. One person takes many roles in your life and, therefore, you face many losses all at once—the car fixer, family mediator, problem solver, rule enforcer, Yahtzee champion, billiard buddy, spiritual leader, joke instigator, movie chauffeur, coffee companion, humble sacrificer, smorgasbord preparer and inventive gift giver. As you feel up to it, lean into the emotion. Honor each tear, own each longing and embrace each memory. We would not grieve if we did not love.

Every loss transforms you from the inside out. The blessings of enhanced compassion, enriched empathy and heightened awareness may be granted in their own time, as you are able to slowly heal and accept them. There is no magic wand and, I implore you, no earthly drug to escape the journey.

A grief support group can offer great comfort. I encourage you to visit GriefShare.org for locations near you. You are not alone. You are never alone. God is reaching out through His words and graceful presence to comfort you. I pray you reach back. And I hope this message floats past the rocks of worry, around the cliffs of sorrow and leads you to safe harbor.

Mindful. Heartful. Hopeful.

February 17, 2013

Have you ever had someone tell you, “Please be mindful of your words,” or “Mind your p’s and q’s?” In short, they were asking you to think through what you say and do. It’s a simple thing, being mindful. Yet, with the pace of this world and the rigor of our responsibilities, being mindful requires us to allow a precious few seconds to pass in reflection before words come streaming across our lips. It is possible, with a conscious pause for patience. The benefit is holding back harsh words, protecting relationships and, honestly, not looking like a babbling buffoon (personal experience speaking here) in front of others.

So, if being mindful means making time to think. What does it take to be heartful? Well, first of all, we need to recognize the difference between a thought and a feeling. People, myself included, tend to shift statements interchangeably between, “I think,” and “I feel.” However, there is a difference. For example, “I think this is the right road,” versus “I feel the impact of that conversation.” Both are valid; both are valuable. “I feel” sentiments should be a genuine reflection of your heart, passed through your unique filter of conscience. To be heartful, we must honor, consider and express ourselves in a way that respects the thoughts and feelings of others. It’s empathy in action.

Ok then, how do these two concepts contribute to your greater purpose? Ah, that’s the best part. When you are mindful of your thoughts and heartful with your feelings, you are more receptive to being hopeful and sharing that hopeful energy with the world. For instance, if I want to make the most of my spare time, I am mindful and focus thoughts on ways I might mentor or volunteer. In parallel, I am heartful and recognize the uplifted feelings that helping inspires within me, as it supports the emotional needs of others. Finally, I am hopeful my time or resources will empower others to have a restored sense of purpose and hope.

To bring it round to a deeper level, living in a mindful, heartful, hopeful way does not have to be outwardly directed at all times. Try to face individual challenges, tense situations and new endeavors with thought, feeling and hope. Work through the intentions and outcomes in a journal, or share your findings in comments below. May you discover, accept and realize your greater purpose more each day.

Have You H.O.P.E.D. Today?

February 10, 2013

We all have barriers to hope. We may linger with them temporarily or cling to them because it’s all we know. There is no need to beat yourself up over them. Merely acknowledge that they exist, journal about what triggers them and recognize when you are dwelling in the company of doubt or worry. You have the power to swap those thoughts for what you truly wish to pull into your life—happiness, fulfillment, success and, of course, hope.

Time and life have shown me, over and over again, that helping others can help crumble our barriers, amp up our self-confidence and dissolve the perceived bricks that make up our emotional walls. Helping others brings us full circle to help ourselves.

Knowing that the troubled mind, the grief-stricken spirit and the stressed consciousness may not process concepts as quickly, I chose to create a mnemonic device to help you remember this principle: H.O.P.E.D.

Humbly
Offer
Personal
Empathy
Daily

Why Humbly, you ask? First, humility is not the same as doormat. Humility is honor in a simple form. Being humble transcends the barriers of others to encourage them to share, to be vulnerable and to seek your gifts. Humbly means you don’t have to have all the answers, rush to fix or do more than be your glorious self. Simply stated, “Put your pride aside.”

To Offer is to present an opportunity with the mindset that you are ready to engage that person or provide assistance. It takes a multitude of forms, from offering to hold space for a lost stranger to offering to walk a cart back for a fellow store patron. The key with the verb offer is that two paths are built in—accept or decline. By offering, it does not guarantee the recipient will take you up on the idea, time or help. In fact, be prepared to return to step one and “humbly” walk away. It’s ok. Offers are not obligations, nor are they requirements of others. It is not an assessment of your value or the merit of the offer; it’s timing.

Moving to Personal, this is a crucial piece. To feel the full glow of giving, helping or transforming, you must make a personal effort. It has to have quality, depth and authenticity behind it. To humbly offer but not really mean it, or to be distracted and not actively listen, is merely going through the motions. Chiseling away at your barriers and gaining spiritual maturity call for personal investment beyond the pleasantries of social convention and the facades of public expectation. Just one word of clarification, personal does not mean that you have to spill your life story or go beyond your intuitive comfort zone. Just be real.

Ah, next is Empathy. This characteristic is near and dear to me. It is both innate and learned. Yes, it can be learned. Empathy is not sympathy or pity. It is choosing to understand the motivations, feelings, experiences and desires of another without taking those emotions into your being. And unlike sympathy, empathy does not have to be sparked by misfortune or sorrow. Empathy is so much more powerful. It is also the most challenging aspect of the H.O.P.E.D. acronym. In fact, the first three concepts (Humbly, Offer, Personal) build you up to this step. To grow in empathy, you must exercise it. You must humble yourself to be receptive to others, offering a willing ear and open heart, personally expanding your way of seeing the world to embrace the individual before you without judgment. In turn, it helps us evolve in emotional wisdom.

Finally, we find Daily. As someone who is not a fan of repetition, boredom, stagnation or routine, I can tell you that I chose daily very thoughtfully. So, let me shoot straight: the H.O.P.E.D. principle requires activity to deliver its full benefit. It, like you, needs a loving investment daily. And, like all good life habits, it will feel more natural with time.

In essence, the goal is to Help One Person Every Day without seeking notoriety, reward or even acknowledgment. There is something deep and lasting in doing good. The enhanced sense of worth, joy and connection that results may be all you H.O.P.E.D. for and more.

The Light of Hope

February 3, 2013

Have you ever been in a dim room, reaching . . . trying to find your way?

A dear friend, David, once told me the story of how he used the light from his cell phone screen to maneuver a dark room, so as not to wake his infant daughter. He said, in that moment, he was immediately wrapped up in the power of a tiny light—virtually imperceptible in the daylight—to cut through the darkness and guide his path.

This conversation came swimming back to me today as I listened to a discourse on “illumination.” Light is, in a word, hope. Yes, many of us enjoy turning down the lights to watch a movie, rest peacefully or let the lilt of music cascade into our senses. Still, consider the night lights coveted by children, candles at a wake or the first ray of sunshine after a storm. Light is the visible herald for hope.

Since light is responsible for our sense of sight, then light also contributes to our sense of hope. Moments of trial and uncertainty are often referred to as “dark times,” as we may strain to see the glow of hope in our lives. It’s there, like a lamp behind a curtain. We must choose to pull back the barrier and let the light of hope stream forth.

Like the visible, and seemingly invisible, spectrum of light in our world, hope has an array of intensities, tints and patterns. When we focus on the light, it shows us the path to hope. Such light radiates from us and between us; it warms our spirit and helps us better perceive the majesty all around us. You possess the light of hope. I hope you share it.

DAButler

In closing, I invite you to be enlightened by David Butler’s understanding of light: dabutler.com. (Oh, and his work is showcased on the cover of “The World Needs Hope.”)

Smile High

January 27, 2013

With the recent addition of my youngest nephew, I have seen a resurrection of focus in my family. Everyone is transfixed on under 10 pounds of delightful, wriggling baby. Every sound, every pose and definitely every smile.

Seeing the innocent curve of his lips, I realized in a skipped heartbeat how much lift a smile can have in the buoyancy of hope. So, I spent the last week paying close attention to people’s smiles. From rows of gleaming white to scattered toddler chompers (potentially the sharpest objects on the planet in the presence of fingers), I witnessed light flash and burst forth. I also saw the tired, this-is-my-last-ounce-of-energy grief smile doing its best to cloak pain. And, I glimpsed the nervous, you-make-my-pulse-race smile between a sweet couple a few seats over.

The smile that caught my breath and made me feel simultaneously blessed and concerned was the brief smile of gratitude from a spiritually troubled sister who craved one moment of comfort amidst a world of struggle.

When words fail to evoke the heart’s sentiment, when pain clouds your path and when darkness flirts at your door, hope stands nearby with a smile just for you. A smile, simple and natural, given freely to a stranger can transform a day. A smile, crinkly or broad, given suddenly to a coworker can diffuse a meeting. A smile, heartfelt and fun, given directly to a friend can inspire a grand smile in return.

Not every day is easy. Not every day is jubilant. But there is a hopeful high that comes from sharing a smile and receiving one in return. So, smile because you can. Smile as often as possible. Smile from your heart to your eyes. Hope is a smile away.

The Face of Hope

January 20, 2013

Look around you. Who do you see?

In this moment, I see coffee patrons, Sunday brunchers, a bustling barista, readers, surfers . . . oops, the studious gentleman just walked out (have a great day, sir). Ah, but true to the circle of life, in comes a new addition with a vibrant red handbag and a beeline precision for the bar. Hmm, large 2 percent latte, welcome to the room.

The man with the ginseng green tea in the careworn hoodie offers his table by the window for two frenetic female companions. They choose the couch and an ornate chair.

Looking is fun. Seeing is far more remarkable.

Peering a layer deeper, I see a troubled hand on a forehead, the cautiously open body language of a woman in the corner grasping her book and secretly looking around for conversation, the bubbly exuberance of the friend of our 2 percent latte with red handbag, a bookishly charming yet seemingly stressed girl who reminds me of a young Lisa Loeb, and a mature woman near the window with a very concentrative gaze and deeply rich scarf.

Their faces tell so many tales: excitement, worry, exhaustion, craving, numbness and passion. Their faces speak to me of hope. A jumble of words all spinning through the air, bouncing off the walls and seeking acceptance, happiness and relief. They may not see it or even feel it as I do, but it’s there—palpable and quietly present.

Thanks to some digital wizardry from The New York Times, I was able to challenge their massive archives to build a Word Cloud Portrait and show us the face of hope. Below are the words the publication pulled from its Arts section that have been linked to “hope.”

Word cloud portrait

Like the many expressions and thoughts of our coffee patrons, hope is not only about glee, possibility and the young; although, all are represented. It’s also about the boundaries, the reviled, the storms and the outsider. The face of hope is many things, of many shades and weights. The face of hope exists in each of us, with a uniquely poignant and profound clarity.

For me, I smiled to see scrappily, lightning, books and character tucked into the picture. We each choose how hope comes to light in our lives and collect the menagerie of words that makes up our experience in this world.

To the coffee patrons, the fellow drivers on the roadways, the tired barista and those of you wondering what hope looks like . . . close your eyes and open your heart. Your precious canvas is the face of hope.

The Hopeful Beginning

January 13, 2013

Since publishing “The World Needs Hope” in November 2012, people love to ask me about the process and, specifically, how the idea came to me.

“Hope?” I often smile and playfully reply. “My hope came with me into this world . . . the book, on the other hand, came to me over more than a decade, as I gradually selected the right words and surrendered to the right time to breathe it to life.”

Hope has always been a part of my life. My dear mother could tell you stories about my grand dreams and my resilient optimism. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, which I will likely pull into this blog from time to time, meant that ice forts in snowbanks and riverside forest adventures were my first classrooms. My perspective on life is a simple one: Hope is all around us.

Like an old painting exposed to time, light and air, people take on wear and show traces of their trials. I, too, have faced the dark climb back into the light and know the personal stamina, faith and hope it takes to seek out a glimmer of happiness. Loss of friends and loved ones, including my father and grandparents, impacted my life story.

Years later, I answered the call to serve others as a grief recovery facilitator, mentor and speaker. Still, every single day is a choice. And every single day, I choose hope. Why? Because hope is a boundless gift—a chance to believe in yourself and take action for positive change. Hope is as simple as word choice and as dynamic as jumping from a plane to transcend fear.

So, how did the idea come to me? From within. Now, my mission is to share it with you.

With hope,
Sara

Hope is Here

November 30, 2012

Hope exists because it is needed. Hope exists to lift us above strife, fulfill us beyond neglect, inspire us past doubt and support us through pain. While it may seem hard to see in times of trial, evidence of hope is all around us and within us.

Genuine gratitude to all of the artistic contributors who put their talents, their spirit and their hope into bringing this book to life.

With hope,
Sara

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