Thank You.

Hello Reader,

Sometimes sporadically, sometimes diligently, I have written on the Neurotic Optimist for the past six and a half years. Our youngest child, Grace had been born a month or two prior to my first post. I was playing on the driveway with the boys and Grace was napping in her crib upstairs and I had the clunky video monitor clipped to my pants when the idea for the blog struck me. 

  “Neurotic” is a term I’ve used to describe myself throughout my life. A significant amount of my life has been ruled by emotions of fear and worry. And yet, I think a naturally occurring state of optimism is what allowed me to prevail, because even in the darkest moments, things ended up working out. 

  My children are no longer babies. All are in school. My role as “mother” is still relevant, but it’s changed. I have more time to myself again and I am redefining who I am. 

  I’ve decided Fear and Worry are boring. I have grown tired of defaulting to neuroticism as a knee-jerk reaction to life changes. Living in that state doesn’t do much good. So even though Fear and Worry will always be along for the voyage, they can no longer steer this ship; they’ve had their permits revoked. They get me into more trouble than it’s worth and I usually end up finding Joy is a far better captain.

  I am officially closing the book on the Neurotic Optimist. I have outgrown it, along with other aspects of my life. I’m really no longer interested in living a life with the expectations of others driving my fate. I have no regrets of my life; without any of the events of my past, I couldn’t be who I am today. 

  And today is beautiful. Today is new and filled with endless possibilities. Thank you for faithfully reading this blog. I have plans for something new down the road. I realize my stories aren’t for everyone. But I will always write for anyone who needs messages of hope and grace and love. If it’s a message that doesn’t resonate with you for any reason, I take no offense and wish you well finding those things from other sources. 

  Thank you again for reading my words. Opening up about my life has brought the most beautiful people into it. Thank you for sharing your light with me. 

Ever Onward,

Christine

Charlie Mac
Illustration by Charlie Mackesy

Float Like a Butterfly

 I really think 2020 is going to be a pretty freaking awesome year. 2019 was a lot of learning for so many people. I can just feel so many good things coming.” Nicole balanced her youngest daughter Amelia on her hip, the sunlight was beaming in through a window next to her. She looked like a lioness with her mass of dark curls framing her flawless face. But this is Nicole, strikingly beautiful and when she speaks, she drops these musings on you and you can’t help but smile and feel emboldened at the optimism in her attitude.

  Does anyone else feel like 2019 resembles a well-studied book, the pages are falling apart and nothing looks very fresh and crisp anymore? 2018 kind of beat the snot out of me, 2019 year was a rebuilding year and I have a feeling that 2020 is going to be a year of establishing a new sense of purpose. That’s what I’m after, anyway. And I know more people who would agree with those sentiments based on discussions I’ve had. I don’t know what it is about 2020…Maybe it’s the idea that “20/20” is another term for perfect eyesight and I love the idea of a year numerically symbolizing Divine Perspective. It feels just a tad prophetic, no?

  Another friend reached out to me recently saying how lonely she feels lately. She’s lost a lot of friends in the past year and she feels very lost and displaced. Immediately, the saying “The higher your vibe, the smaller your tribe,” popped into my head. So I told her that; there is tremendous truth to that!

 When we’re going through the biggest transformations in our lives, we often feel alone because we’re waking up to a new life purpose. It’s not to say we should never lean on friends when we’re going through something, but I believe sometimes God gives us that space in our social lives to allow us to cultivate our new and higher selves, especially when it’s soul work we need to evolve. It’s normal to feel alone during that. Of course that good old ego kicks in and we feel all despondent because we feel removed from “our people”—we’re social creatures, after all— but maybe it happens like that because it’s hard to process really difficult truth about yourself when you’re constantly distracted by friendships and obligations to them! Consider the solitude a gift. Maybe God/the Universe wants you to use that time to focus on yourself. 

  Think of the humble little butterfly. Many of us falsely assume that the caterpillar goes into its chrysalis after gorging itself on leaves and takes a little snooze, then emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Isn’t that what Eric Carle taught us with his whimsical watercolor book?Buttrefly 3

  The truth is, the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly is excruciating! What you don’t see happening inside that pretty shell is the caterpillar basically digesting itself and restructuring its entire being! This is so worth the read if you’re into scientific metaphors. If not, you can skip head to my abbreviated version below: 

Our story begins with a hungry caterpillar who had just hatched from an egg. Soon enough, the little caterpillar…stuffs itself with leaves, growing little by little. When they’ve outgrown their current skin, a hormone called ecdysone is released, instructing the larva to molt. After it molts…the larva stops feeding, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf, and then either spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. This process is driven by the same hormone, ecdysone, but this time it works in conjunction with another hormone called the juvenile hormone. It’s actually the lack of the juvenile hormone that triggers the metamorphosis mechanism.

 “The juvenile hormone acts to delay metamorphosis throughout the whole larva stage.  It works by blocking the genes in the imaginal discs — tiny disc-shaped bags of cells that kick into action when the caterpillar wraps itself in the chrysalis, eventually turning into an antenna, eye, wing or other butterfly bit. As such, the juvenile hormone is essential to the caterpillar’s survival prior to metamorphosis. You see, once the larva reaches its final molt and begins its metamorphosis, strange things happen to its body. Cells in the larva’s muscles, gut and salivary glands are digested and act as spare parts for the soon-to-be butterfly. Each cell is programmed to self-destruct through the activation of enzymes called caspases.

Butterfly 2 “The caspases tear through the cell’s proteins, releasing prime butterfly-making material. Were it not for the juvenile hormone, this could have happened at any time, killing the caterpillar. Instead, nature programmed the hormone to lower its levels at the ideal moment for metamorphosis. With less juvenile hormone around, instead of inducing a regular molt, the ecdysone now drives the caterpillar to pupate. Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup surrounding them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth…

 “Metamorphosis isn’t just some beautiful physical transformation, however. It’s a stunning display of evolutionary mechanism at work. Butterflies and caterpillars don’t just look different — they behave differently, too. One lives in trees, and the other flies. Most importantly, one eats leaves, and the other solely feeds on nectar. There’s plenty of room for both kinds to coexist in the ecosystem since they don’t interfere with each other’s food stocks. It’s brilliant!

  Abbreviated version: Metamorphosis is gruesome work for that little caterpillar, but necessary for its evolution to occur. It is nothing short of a miracle to behold a fully matured butterfly. 

  People are no different! We shed versions of ourselves that we outgrow all the time. We are not only allowed to change our minds about our direction or our life purpose but we must evolve and adapt or we stunt our potential and suffer a life half-lived. 

  We are given a new opportunity to become a better, truer version of ourselves with every second, not just when the ball drops and we’ve slept off our hangovers and overeating from the year prior.

  So I ask you, will 2020 be your year for your metamorphosis? Will you do your work to find your unique purpose? Will you face yourself and ask the question: How am I meant to grow into my truest self? It might mean some solitude, wrapped in a chrysalis of the lessons of your past. Conversely, it might mean admitting some very difficult things to yourself, owning them and asking for help in overcoming them. Whatever your truth is, grab hold of it and do your work! Wherever your purpose is pulling you, allow yourself the grace to let it lead you.
Butterfly

 Don’t let yourself  be distracted from your potential for another year. Don’t worry about the opinions of others telling you you’re incapable of the kind of change you seek. Don’t talk yourself out of it because of the effort required. The time is going to pass anyway, so make it count for something real. Stop being a caterpillar and become a butterfly.

Happy new beginnings to you. 

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**If your New Beginnings are leading you to the path of beginning a new business or rebranding an existing one, I highly recommend the expertise of  photographer Nicole Rall PhotographyYou will benefit from some fabulous outside-the-box headshots and innovative photography that will effectively reflect the details of your trade. She helped me with the banner and other images for this blog, my creative content on other social media platforms, and my images for personal training. She is making a name for herself as a talented artist who captures the essence of  your professional aspirations. She’s booking clients into the new year and will help you brand your offerings to the world.**

 

Not Shaken by Fear, Stirred by Faith.

Once upon a time, I stood in a line at the grocery store with a fruit tray in my hands. It was the only item I had. When I got to the cashier, she asked me, “Fun party today?”

  “Not really,” I said feeling a sudden lump in my throat. “A friend lost her baby and we have a memorial service today.”

  “I’m so sorry,” she said. “My prayers are with your friend.”

  “Thank you,” I said. She rang me up and I slid my card through the credit card machine. As I waited, I saw her hesitate to speak, but then, I guess she decided to go for it.

  “Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to us?” she asked.

  “Sure,” I said. “Who doesn’t?”

  “It’s because God is trying to teach us a lesson. We’ve all done horrible things and he’s showing us through the hurt how far we’ve fallen.”

I remained calm but responded by not looking up at her and snatched back my card. “Ma’am, you are mistaken,” I said. I took my receipt and left the store with the sticky fruit platter.

  Of course I didn’t believe what she’d said! To suggest that somehow the mother of that child or her husband had done something to deserve God’s wrath never sat well with me. But even now, years later, I wish I’d had a better response for that very confused woman. I don’t think I knew enough about my faith, then to tell her.

  Yesterday a friend’s father, who happens to be a Pastor, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his brain. I went to see them in the hospital. One would think that his faith could be faltering now. He could have been asking, “Why would you do this to me, Lord? Haven’t I been your faithful servant? Haven’t I loved you enough?”

  But no. He wore a smile through what he’d described as a “level 8 pain headache” and held my hand and allowed us to pray over him. This man’s faith, and the faith of those who stood around him brought tears to my eyes because he knows the secret:

  God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen, as they have since the beginning of humanity, because Satan tries so hard to break our connection with God. He uses the means of this world to shake us.  

 The very first book of the Bible points to our vulnerability through the story of Adam and Eve. All he had to do was whisper, “Does God really love you? If He loved you, why doesn’t he want you to be like Him? Eat the fruit and you can be like him!” And they folded. They forgot, they already were like God. He created us in his own image after all. Satan wants us to believe that our goodness is somehow performance based. How many times are we shown in life, “Do ______ and you’ll receive  ______.” 

As parents we tell kids, “Get straight As on your report card and we’ll give you a boost in your allowance.”

 As children, we’re told, “Santa only brings presents to well-behaved children.” 

 As individuals, we’ve come to believe,  “If I make no really bad mistakes in life, I’ll go to heaven.”

  It’s a good thing that God doesn’t buy into that policy. Because Mother Theresa, St. Nick and even the Pope Himself, couldn’t earn God’s love. So please listen to this next part because it’s really important: God’s love for us is free. We can do nothing to earn it. 

   I heard it put so beautifully the other day by a pastor called Jim Baker, “Our report card will never be good enough. But it doesn’t matter because we are judged on Jesus’s report card, not our own.” 

  That’s right folks! He took all of our brokenness to the cross with him and paid for our bad grades himself. Then he gave us the credit for all his straight As and perfect scores in his AP classes as well. God did that for us! If he wants to teach us a lesson, he isn’t going to do it with heartache. HE DOES IT WITH LOVE, JUST AS HE DOES ALL THINGS!

  Satan tests us through illness, through our fragile egos, he tests us by natural disasters, he tests us through our relationships with each other. And beware: he tests those of us with the strongest connection to God the most. He knows when the world sees an impactful person lose faith in God, it can make that many more people lose faith as well. 

  A friend of mine lost her husband to pancreatic cancer this year. She has always been so devout in her love of God, and this devastated her. I remember during a playdate years ago, we had the most beautiful conversation about our faith. So I know how hard it was for her to watch her husband fade from this earth in such a horrific way. But she had prayed for a miracle up until his very last breath. Satan has been working on her every second since to loosen her bond with God. But she wakes up every day, looks her children in the eyes and carries on the only way she knows how, with love and grace in her heart. 

  Spiritual warfare is a real thing, friends. We see it every day. 

  If God wanted bad things to happen for us, He would not have sent his son to us, a man born to poverty, who likely knew hunger at times in his life, who had no worldly riches, who lacked a formal education, but still was steeped so richly in his identity of God, that he entered the temples, and boldly claimed Isaiah’s prophecy, healed all the sickness and brokenness he encountered in the world and died a criminal’s death on a cross for doing it. And he begged God to forgive those who persecuted him. This friends, is our ultimate Christmas present. And all our “good behavior” could never earn something that powerful. 

  So here’s the thing, Jesus already defeated Satan. Satan just hasn’t gotten the memo yet. He still thinks he’s going to weasel his way into our hearts and somehow win this war. He’s working on me. He’s working on you. He wants us to fail. But we need to show him our faith in God is bigger. We accept that beautiful gift of grace Jesus bought for us on a cross thousands of years ago. We won’t allow that evil one to ruin that gift, no matter what he throws at us.

  When we understand our identity in God, we will not be shaken by the evil one, only stirred by the Holy Spirit.

  Merry CHRISTmas to all of you, friends. Peace be with you.

 

 

Jesus ... Best. Gift. Ever. Christian Christmas quote / Lettering via @chelceytate