Summer Beautification Program: Final Assignment– Let Love In.

 I cannot tell you how many of my friends have approached me in the last few months and told me they feel drained of energy, that they are “over parenting.” It’s summer vacation and we really don’t care if our kids eat an applesauce, a squeezy yogurt and a granola bar call it a “meal.” 

  I also have friends who don’t have kids and are a bit tired of life as it is. They feel unmotivated, uninspired, stressed or burnt out whether from work, or lack of connection with other people. 

   Too many people feel somehow disconnected or in a funk. I think a lot of people who signed up to do this Summer Beautification Program have been feeling this way. They are hoping for a little inspiration to start feeling life again. 

  I don’t know if it’s been working for everyone reading these blog posts each week. Maybe you’ve been able to try a few of the assignments, maybe not. But I am hoping you feel your soul starting to wake up if you have. And for anyone just jumping in, you are welcome to start right here at Week 8 or loop back around to Week 1. The nice thing is, any of these activities can be done at any time. 

   This will be my final week posting prompts but I want to delve into one of the closest relationships we have in our lives: our relationship with our partners. In the past few months, Scott and I have been on a journey of reconnection. A year ago, we were very disconnected. So much so, in fact, that I was considering a divorce. 

   God, it hurts to type that here… I am immediately sweating just admitting that on my blog. A lot of my close friends and family read this. But I am going for transparency here. I want you to understand how human I am and if there is hope for me, I know there is hope for you.

  It’s true though, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be married anymore. I was unhappy with Scott. I was unhappy with the life we’d created, but most importantly, I was unhappy with who I had become. My anxiety and depression were at an all-time high. I was allowing my fear and sadness to rule my mind and my heart. Our son Luke had just been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know how to handle it even though I was going to his therapy sessions with him. It was debilitating at times, he was scared to do a lot of things and I was scared to make him try. Scott’s general attitude was, “Everyone just needs to suck it up and deal with it. We all are going through something. Just get through it.” He was also burying his unhappiness in his work. We were both resentful toward each other. I was angry with how apathetic he’d become toward me and the kids. He was angry at how emotionally needy we all were. He was raised as an only child for most of his life and had learned very young how to survive by suppressing his emotions. His rationale was: “If I could do that as a kid, why can’t all of you?”

  Similarly, I was in survival mode. I barely had enough energy to take care of myself and then my kids demanded even more of me. I felt little purpose outside of making meals, keeping the house tidy, and driving each kid to where they needed to go.  As a stay at home mom, there is often little acknowledgement of our efforts, and since I am a words of affirmation junkie, I was starving for love and affection. 

  My next assumption was that our family was broken. Scott and I, as a couple, were broken. It was more harmful to our kids to see us together in a loveless marriage than to just admit defeat and go our separate ways. I waited though, hoping Scott would tune in with some telepathic ability to see how unhappy I was. Oh sure, I’d break down crying now and again, but he couldn’t really hear me with his mind as closed as it was, and my words only sounded selfish and needy. The ironic thing is, usually when we feel disconnected from our partner, the real problem is that we are disconnected from ourselves. But I didn’t understand that then.

  By the fall, in a glorious, hellacious burst of flames I crashed hard against the ground. Scott and I were forced to decide what we were going to do.

Divorce seemed like a very real possibility to both of us. We talked about a separation just to see what that would be like. Our conversations went late into the night for weeks. We laid everything out on the table to each other, the ugliest parts of who we are and the most hideous lies we’d been believing about each other and ourselves. 

  Then something unexpected happened. When the reality of taking those steps to end our marriage seemed so real, we decided to give it one last ditch effort, our strongest try yet, to see if there wasn’t something worth saving. 

  Spoiler Alert: There was. But initially we weren’t sure how to find the parts worth saving. 

  We began with couples counseling, which I highly recommend especially if you feel like you don’t know where to start having those hard conversations. We talked to someone who was an unbiased third party and would give her insight about what kind of questions we should ask each other and appropriate ways to respond. She also encouraged us to get back to our friendship with each other; we had to learn how to be friends again. 

  So we scheduled a weekly date night which felt extremely awkward at first. I remember getting ready before our first night out, putting on make up and doing my hair and feeling kind of ridiculous. Scott had seen me looking pretty awful the last few weeks. I was skin and bones from barely eating so my clothes all hung off me like a pillow case, my cheeks were sunken in and I had dark circles under my eyes. I was constantly shaking so attempting to apply eyeliner felt like a joke because I knew I’d be crying it off in a matter of hours. I’d lost wads of hair from stress, so much in fact, that even my hairdresser commented on how thin my hair was. Scott and I drove to dinner in relative silence besides the sound of traffic and whatever was on the radio. 

  We got to the restaurant and to our surprise, there was so much more to talk about once we sat across that table from each other. We looked at one another as people who had survived some kind of war. It made us both laugh at how beat up we both looked. After everything we’d been going through, we had gotten dressed up, driven to a fancy restaurant and were trying to reignite this flame that looked more like ashes from where we sat. 

  Scott looked so tired, but his eyes were soft staring back at me over that table with a very teary smile. It was like all the walls were down. All we could be in this moment was ourselves, vulnerable and real. We pretended it was a first date. We didn’t talk about the kids. We talked about things we remembered from childhood. Some of the things we said we’d told each other many times before, but listening to Scott tell his stories now, I really tried to hear with new ears. The details we share in stories give clues about what means the most to us in those memories; the way his grandma would cut up apples into tiny triangles…swimming with his cousin Michael in Green Lake…dribbling that basketball for hours at a time by himself because he wanted to be the best at it. I listened to everything carefully and tried to be in those memories with him seeing things from his vantage point.

  And so began the journey to saving our marriage. We kept a steady date night scheduled for once a week those first few months. We still go out regularly, but sometimes it’s more like every other week.

  We made some major life changes to allow us to reprioritize our marriage. He scaled back his work hours. He encouraged me to go back to work, I began teaching a creative writing course in the winter (I’m teaching it again starting in September!) and I am working to get my personal training certification, as well as running the child watch program at my gym three mornings a week so other moms can get their time to feel strong. I want to help other women to rediscover their strength not only mentally, but also physically. When we align body, mind and spirit so that all the pieces of ourselves are working together we allow ourselves to be whole human beings. 

  I am taking steps in my life to encourage others (especially women) to reconnect with themselves. I don’t want anyone to be where I was last year. I don’t want anyone hurting the way I was or hurting others as a result of who they have become. I feel this calling from a voice greater than my own. God is using my brokenness to heal not only myself, but others. My mess is now my message.

39D18567-A716-4835-B11D-0358D2429760.jpg
 Often in life, you have to knock your walls down and let love work miracles.

  I’ve said many times, God cannot be seen physically on earth, so He relies on us to perform His work through each other. He needs us to be the beauty in the world to one another. When you think you have no purpose left here, I beg you to look deeper. There is a reason you opened your eyes this morning. There is still work to be done. 

  Don’t give up. Don’t believe the lies or the fear that try to come into your heart. Fight for your spirit, for God’s purpose in your life. Act with grace and love. Allow that beautiful energy to flow through you and to direct your life. When you are acting out of obligation, you feel drained. But when you are acting with love, serving others revitalizes you.

The assignment this week is two-fold and there is a bonus assignment if you have a partner: 

  1. Make it a point to get active. Go for bike rides or walks, alone or with your crew. Shoot for two or three days a week, just get moving in a way that is fun and motivates you. And fuel your body with healthy food. Treat your body the way it deserves to be treated. 
  2. Make time to meditate/pray/reflect. For me, this often means writing. For my mom, it sometimes includes painting. I have friends who love yoga first thing in the morning. Whatever your spirit needs to feel alive, make time for that. You’re not being selfish by needing this time for yourself. You MUST take care of your own soul before you can be effective at caring for anyone else.
  3. *Bonus–If you have a partner: Schedule time for you and your partner to reconnect. Go on a date alone, no other couples. Go to a nice restaurant, or wine tasting, kayaking, picnicking, anything where you can be alone together. Maybe not axe-throwing or a shooting range… save that for date night two or three…During your time out, don’t talk about work or kids. Talk about your childhood. Talk about a place you have visited or hope to visit someday. Talk about things that give some insight into who you are and what you are about, outside of being a mom or dad or a __(insert profession here)__. 

Thank you for signing up for the Summer Beautification program. Thank you for opening your heart to love and self-reflection. Thank you for reading my words each week and trying these ideas which may have been out of your comfort zone at times. I know everyone is capable of great and beautiful things. We just need to tap into our inner self to discover what our gifts are calling us to do with them. Often, it’s the thing that scares us most. But I encourage you to hold on to that thread of hope and see where it will lead you. 

  Every single choice we make is either going to enhance our spirit or drain it. Every day, we are giving ourselves power or taking it away.”—Carolyn Myss.

Much love,

Christine

Summer Beautification Assignment Week 7: “I Don’t Got This.”

Did you know, every time I post anything to this blog, I have a few moments of panic and negative thoughts about what I’m writing? 

  Here is my internal monologue: “You are such a fake. Nothing you say can be taken with any credibility because of who you are and how flawed you are. You’re pretending to be an authority on matters of the soul, but what do you know? You’re so full of sh*t. People would be smarter to unfollow you and listen to someone who knows something about being a decent human being.” I’m really hard on myself. I even have nicknames for myself that I won’t share here but they’d probably make you laugh because of how awful they are.

  I’m really nervous today because I want to talk about something that talks a lot about faith. But the take-away is for anyone to hear whether you’re faith-filled, Christian or not. And I’m nervous because of the Christian followers I have reading who might not feel I’m doing this thing justice. But I am inspired to write it, so here it is. And to be honest, if it doesn’t speak to you, I’m ok with the idea that maybe it isn’t meant for you this week; I still love you!

  So, today Scott and I went to church and the sermon was about St. Paul who used to be one of the Pharisees, named Saul at that time, who persecuted, imprisoned, and was responsible for deaths of Jesus’ early followers. He was doing it because he believed in Jewish law. He didn’t understand who Jesus was yet, or what he stood for. He had a dramatic conversion one day when Jesus came to him (from heaven) on the road to Damascus and asked Saul why he was persecuting him. Saul quickly came to believe in Jesus after that encounter and changed his whole life around (and his name to Paul) to proclaim the good news of Jesus. 

  I never knew how much I loved Paul until the last few weeks. According to our pastor today, Paul cried a lot (Acts 20:17-38). Like every time he went into a city to share the story of Jesus, he was so overwhelmed with emotion and love for God that he wept. Paul cried about everything because he was so humbled by God’s grace, that God would choose someone as lowly and broken as him to proclaim the good news. God’s love filled him to the brim. Crying at that time (and even now) was considered weakness. But Paul couldn’t help it. That’s kind of what grace does…As our pastor pointed out, grace shows you the worst things about yourself. It humbles you and you realize just how broken and screwed up you are. But if we understand the meaning of grace in our lives, we see that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is what God did for us so that all of our sins would be forgiven. What other faith is there on earth where God manifested in human form and died just to show us how much he loves us? His last words were, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” 

   The only thing God asks of us in that moment, and every moment since, is for us to accept the sacrifice of his son and by extension, his forgiveness and grace of our sin. That’s all he wants us to do to make up for our faults! He wants that sacrifice to count for something. But we still find ourselves sinning over and over. We think somehow our way is going to work out better. 

  We’re kind of slow about it, aren’t we? I used to think I was a smart person. Now I understand how much I still am learning.  Sometimes, I just don’t have it. I have to throw my hands up and say, “I don’t got this. I need help. Please come into my heart and show me what to do next.” 

  Here’s the best analogy I can think of at the moment. I like to crochet. I have made a few really big afghans for the boys. I’m about to start Grace’s soon. Sometimes the spool of yarn gets a huge knot in it and I’m stuck. I try to undo the knot and I actually make it worse. Then Scott comes into the room and hears me swearing and somehow he always gets the knot out because he’s magic like that. God’s grace is like Scott’s magic yarn untangling abilities. We have to ask for help when we hit a knot. We have to allow grace into our lives to help us keep moving on.

   I do feel I can write this blog with authority because I have been there. And I don’t only mean snags while crocheting. I mean hard, horrible, life situations that I actually brought on myself many times. And I have to stop trying to control and start trusting, kind of like Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” song. 

  I have also heard God’s voice in my heart asking me to help others who are struggling with things by using my failures to lead the way. I don’t encourage you to become better because I think I am better than you. The only way I could ever be genuine in my message to anyone reading this is by humbling myself and telling you how broken I am. I am truly screwed up. The only thing that makes me worthy of sharing this message with you is grace. 

  I  feel inspired when I’m in the car or at the grocery store all the time. This voice in my heart is constantly telling me to take the things that happen to me and write them down to help others see that it’s not our flaws that define us. It’s the way we love, the way we forgive each other and ourselves. It’s the way we pick up ourselves off the floor and try over and over to be better than we were yesterday.

  No one gets out of life alive. And no one gets out of it without messing up. But we have to keep going until it’s time for us to leave this world.   There have been days I hoped I wouldn’t see the sun rise. I thought those knots in my life were so bad that I didn’t want to keep going. But time keeps going, dragging us along with it. So I think we have an obligation to make it count for something.

  I know I got a little preachy this week, especially for any non-Christian followers. And if you’re still reading, I thank you for hanging in there.    

  This week’s Summer Beautification Assignment is to take a hard look at your life. Focus on something that is really troubling you and call a close friend or family member, someone you really trust and tell them, “I am struggling/hurting/ confused/angry/ sad/__(insert emotion here)__ and I need you to listen to me. I need to talk to you, and I need you to just be here with me for a minute.”

  It’s an assignment of humility. It’s humbling ourselves to someone we love and allowing grace into your heart to begin healing. I promise you, if you are opening yourself up, healing will start to come to you. We don’t always have it on our own. And it’s okay to admit that. You are not weak. You are not wrong for asking for help. You’re human. You’re not perfect. But you don’t have to be stuck in a knot either.

c1d9add84dd3efdd5b84bd62c9f0f250

Summer Beautification Program Week 6: Stay in Your Lane

 Yasmine Bleeth was my standard of physical beauty in the 90’s. I thought she had the most gorgeous eyes, heart shaped face, other “voluptuous assets” which I would never have, but the feature I coveted most was her hair. Everyone back then wanted Jennifer Aniston’s sleek honey blonde locks. I wanted Yasmine Bleeth’s dark, layered, beachy waves. 

  When I was in high school, I found a picture of Yasmine in a magazine with her bangs cut long to her chin and I thought, “I can do that!” So I grabbed a pair of scissors and chopped wide chunks of my hair off right at my chin. Now, please bear in mind, I was fifteen, not five, in this impulsive decision. I was at the peak of social awkwardness and a bad haircut could actually ruin your life at that age. But I’d gone and done it.

Yasmine-Bleeth
The lovely Yasmine Bleeth. That hair though…sigh.

  I immediately felt light-headed and nauseous. When I went to my mom to show her what I’d done, she gasped, “What did you do to your hair?” I burst into tears and tried to explain how I’d basically ended my life in two snips. 

  Again, this is one of those stories that has been told in my family many times over and now has the stamp of “ridiculously hilarious” attached to it. But I share it here to explain to you a deeper lesson besides, “never cut your own hair unless you are a professional.” The other wisdom I hope to impart on you is, don’t ever try to achieve someone else’s standard of  outward or inner beauty. 

  Going back to the theme of building yourself up by surrounding yourself with positivity, this means realizing that your life is only yours to live. The idealistic images you are constantly being exposed to are not the template for your life. When we look through People magazine or browse Facebook or Instagram or any other form of social media, we are flooded with images of people living lives of glamour and perfection. And while each tries to somehow have you believe their lives are so happy and carefree, please know they are probably carrying as much junk around in their hearts as you are, maybe more. 

  Conversely, it’s not really about comparing yourself in such a way that makes you feel like you’re winning by having your proverbial poop-in-a-group more than Hot-Mess-Hilda next-door. It’s about staying in your lane, focusing on yourself and not worrying about what everyone else has going on. It’s about hoping the best for others, while not allowing their situations to affect your own. It’s about not passing judgement on others or trying to make yourself feel better by telling yourself, “At least I’m not as screwed up as _______.” Because the truth is, we’re all succeeding and failing at the same time. No one has life figured out completely. We’re all just waking up hoping to understand it a little better each day.

  ***

c247997de7005a93697f8c437753615b

  This week, for our Summer Beautification Program, I would like you to take ten minutes to reflect, meditate or pray. Make a list of three to five people who you find you’re often comparing yourself to. Think about each one in turn for a few minutes and examine the relationship they have to you. Offer a quiet intention of acceptance and gratitude for them, wish them well and allow yourself to let go of the expectations that they cause you to feel about yourself, good or bad.

  Now take another five minutes (set a timer if you need to) and zero in on your own life. Remove any measurements of comparison… 

  Thank God (or the universe or whatever it is you believe in) that you have the life you have. Give thanks for your challenges, because they make you stronger in who you are becoming. Give thanks for the failures you’ve experienced because failure is the best teacher. Give thanks for your triumphs and successes, because those things are not only born from your hard work and talent, they are also divine gifts that are being presented to you so you understand that there is goodness to be achieved if you act with love. 

  We often underestimate the importance of prayer and/or meditation. This is how we connect our body, mind, and soul. This is how we honor everything we are. We get so busy in our everyday “doing,” that we forget to allow ourselves time to be still to just exist contentedly. We are enough being exactly who we are in this moment, without trying to be more in the next. 

448d7a2ccd79597de853079833748471  I have learned, I will never be Yasmine Bleeth or my new modern heroine, Joanna Gaines. And that’s ok. I can still admire successful people without being envious of them. I can be happy for them and realize that their success doesn’t detract from my own. I am exactly who I need to be. God is giving me my own lessons. God is giving me my own path to walk that doesn’t look like anyone else’s. And he’s doing the same for you.