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.

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.

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.

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