Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stay the Course

As we reflect on this year's choices and outcomes, many of us will make plans for 2014. December 31 seems to naturally encourage us to pursue change. Everywhere we look and listen people are writing and discussing resolutions. However, every year isn't one of correction or redirection. The passage of time or a life season can indicate a need for resolve more than a need for change. There are phases of our lives when we are required to firmly continue with the plan(s) we have set.

My year has been filled with repeated tests of healthy boundaries. Occasions presented themselves and I had a choice to make—I could relent and weaken my resolve or I could stand by my decision and grow. The greatest lesson I learned this year was to stand by my choices, even when others didn't understand, even when others didn't approve, and even when others resorted to using guilt as a tactic. Negative reactions and conflict are not cause to jump ship or justification for an alternate plan. The reactions I received externally, both positive and negative, forced me to seek clarity internally. What I discovered was that my life track was indeed the best one for me. The road to greatness will have moments of doubt, disappointment, and solitude, but I learned that I would always have what and who I needed as long as I remained on the right course.

Life is filled with changes. At times change is not necessarily an actionable one, but a mindset. As this year comes to a close, think about your life path. You may need to redirect your focus and make better choices. However, if you have made positive changes, stand by them. If you have connected with people who appreciate who you are and support where you are going, stand by them. If your life is already on the path to professional fulfillment and personal triumph then I implore and encourage you to remain strong and committed to stay the course.

Read the last post, Space to Walk.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Space to Walk

On a snowy day, I was walking to my apartment building. It was 25 degrees so I was in a hurry to get inside, but a man and what I assumed were his sons caught my eye. The father and oldest son walked on the shoveled sidewalk. Their path was easy and clear. The youngest son, while going in the same direction, took a different path at his own pace. This little guy choose to walk in the grass. He had to step up higher to get through so he was slightly behind. He ran at times as he kicked through the fluffy snow. It was as if there was no other place he would rather be than on his whimsical walk.

I have this incessant desire to be supportive. If those I love need a word of encouragement or a shoulder to cry on, I want to be "Johnny on the spot." At times, that's appropriate. There are other times, though, when people need space to sift through their feelings. They need to process and listen inwardly in order to develop. At those moments, as much as I want to be right there, I have to love them enough to let them walk in their own space. I have to put my needs—and really, my insecurities and fears—aside and allow them to walk on their own even when I would prefer to walk with them.

We walk through life with others, but even when we're together emotionally, we're not always supposed to be directly side-by-side. We have to give those we love the space to walk. It can be difficult because we fear separation or we want to provide up close and personal support. However, just as the father gave his little boy the joy of walking through the snow, we can give our loved ones the satisfaction of self-reliance just by providing a little bit of space.

Read last week's post, The Spirituality of Natural Gifts.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Spirituality of Natural Gifts

As a kid I developed a love affair with stories. I was fascinated with the idea that people, events, and places could be created from someone's imagination. Over time my fascination evolved and I began writing my own plays, poems, novels, and short stories. My love for writing makes it easy to consider that I'd pursue publishing. I would take what I already love and share it for public consumption. What would be surprising is if I expressed myself utilizing a method that I'm not naturally inclined to do. Using my talent where I feel most comfortable and safe—creating fiction—is not nearly as impressive as tapping into something greater.

The space outside of your natural comfort zone is where spirituality patiently waits. It is where your skill becomes larger than you and any pleasure you receive from engaging with or producing it. This is where your gift becomes more than a source of inspiration and encouragement for others, it is when your gift inspires you.

My gift began to inspire me when I gave myself permission to not just write stories but to tell my story. I felt a tug of responsibility to shift from writing for entertainment to sharing a story that would invoke change. That internal tug led me directly to a place that I feared. I wrote stories so that I could mask my emotions. Openly expressing what I felt and not hiding behind a character or situation was terrifying. It demanded that I use my natural talent in a manner that I never intended. At that point I wasn't just writing, I was sharing my soul.

Take your natural talent to another height. Stretch yourself and acknowledge that your life absolutely matters. Your gifts matter. They are to be nurtured, strengthened, surrendered, and shared. When you extend your talents outward you welcome internal fulfillment. Your internal dialogue stops discouraging, doubting, and crushing your confidence. You become less focused on natural, short-term elements and more aware of spiritual, lifelong development. Be brave and committed enough to fully foster your gifts. When you thoroughly exercise the range of your natural talents you position yourself to thoroughly experience life as your story has always been written, through the lens of security and spirituality.

Read last week's post, A Life of Gratitude.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Life of Gratitude

Every November gratitude becomes front and center of life. There is increased conversation about gratitude journals and other ways to express appreciation for 30 days. I see the value, but I also recognize that the start of the holiday season doesn't usher in the same feelings for everyone. It may make sense to some to designate the month of November as the time to be extra thankful for family, love, and life, but for others, including me, the winter holidays are difficult and heartbreaking.

Two years ago, I was rocked by the unexpected death of my father. Losing a parent is difficult regardless of circumstances, but my father was not a figurehead in my life. He was present, consistent, and concerned. He was there for every event and performance. He was supportive and not just of my brother and me—he was a source of support for his siblings, niece and nephews. His absence has been deeply felt not only during holidays but also on the most mundane days.

I find a way to tap into gratitude most of the time. I am grateful that he was in my life as long as he was. I am grateful that he was so kind and thoughtful. I am grateful to have such wonderful memories of him. I am grateful that the last words he heard me speak were, "I love you." Those are good days. However, I have days when I wish I had more time, more memories, and more opportunities to say I love you. There are days when others mention their 60- or 70-year-old fathers, how they celebrated Father's Day, or that they did something as simple as call their fathers and I feel extremely cheated. There are days when I question if holidays or any days will ever be the same. There are days when I miss him and no amount of encouraging words or quotes diminish the longing.

Even prior to his death my holiday seasons have been problematic. Family gatherings are attached to painful complications making it difficult to latch onto the idea of a season of appreciation or to view it as more than the latest fad or "it" thing. What's beautiful about gratitude, though, is that it extends far beyond the typical, limited use. Gratitude also means to praise, grace, and honor. On difficult days I have the option to praise those who have added to my life. When I'm annoyed by declarations of gratitude from those who complain or speak negatively the other 335 days of the year I can extend grace to them—and to myself for being judgmental. When I am overwhelmed with feelings of loss I can choose to honor memories and imprints.

Today, on the second anniversary of my father's funeral, I am grateful for all that he was to my family and me. I am grateful that I can empathize with those who have painful memories attached to this time of year or who may not have a family gathering to attend. Mostly, though, I am grateful that I don't need a calendar to nudge me to praise, grace, or honor those I love because in spite of the loss and heartache—and in some instances, because of it—I am able to live a life of gratitude.

Read last week's post, The Walkway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Walkway

Walkway in Roatan, Honduras
On a recent trip to the airport I witnessed a toddler less than excited about his day. He cried as the family received boarding passes. He cried as the family went through security. He cried as the family walked between concourses. His last fit amused me as it was a representation of the way that many go through life. He stood on a moving walkway, facing the opposite direction while repeatedly screaming, "I don't want to go!"

Life can be difficult, but in the difficulty exists opportunities to grow into larger, fuller versions of ourselves. At the time that these types of situations arrive it's not comfortable or desired. We feel that life is conspiring against us and go through periods of denial, anger, grief, confusion, and sadness. However, we always have a choice. We can choose to focus on classifying situations as fair or unfair, consequence or punishment, or we can choose to invest in our lives and use challenges to extend into more than we imagined. We can stretch ourselves, trust our inner circle, discover the source of our peace, and learn just how strong we are when we need strength most.

Maybe you are in the middle of one of those situations, one leading you to question everything and trust nothing. Maybe you feel like you are being tested in every area of your life or you are facing difficulty in one area with such intensity that you can't imagine an end or even relief. Whether you decide to turn your attention toward growth or turn your back on it and scream all the way, life will react much like that moving walkway the unhappy toddler was on—life will guide you toward the best version of yourself. You can turn away, close your eyes, scream, or even run in the opposite direction, but life will continue to take you toward achieving your best self. Use your energy to walk in the direction of your best self, not against it.

Read last week's post, Need Evolution.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Need Evolution

As children we are told what we need. Parents/guardians tell us what we need to eat in order to grow. Teachers tell us what we need to read, practice, and study in order to develop intellectually. Over time, though, we are introduced to the concept of choice. We still need food to grow, but we choose what we consume. To develop intellectually, we must continue to read, but our choices expand beyond what's offered in a classroom. What we select may differ drastically from what we've been taught, but we are all responsible for choosing what we need.

More than likely, your parents/guardians made choices based on the same choices their parents/guardians made for them. From food brands to career paths to religion, you may be living out decisions made long ago by someone else. One day, though, you may not be satisfied doing what's always been done. One day you may find yourself drawn in a radically different direction. One day you may find yourself driven by what's possible instead of what's expected. When you opt to blaze trails someone might have a problem with it. And not just anyone, but someone you care for deeply. Someone you respect. Someone you love.

In recent years the need for me to create boundaries became more important than people pleasing. The boundaries went up, the fallout came down. Motivated by habit and their own comfort level, people expressed their displeasure. People I care about. People I love. I had to ask some tough questions. Should I risk my well-being so others could hold onto a false sense of security? Should I stop being honest so others will not have to? Should I choose the comfort of others over my peace of mind?

As you evolve so do your needs. What sustained you at one time will no longer suffice. What was once acceptable will become intolerable. What others want for you may no longer be big enough for where you are going. If what you need conflicts with what others want trust your judgment. Trust that you will have support. The evolution of your needs is a sign of growth which will lead you to step into greater and fulfill your purpose.

Read last week's post, Becoming.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Between the ages of fifteen and twenty-three we are bombarded with future-focused questions. Well-intentioned family and friends ask what we would like to study, what universities we’re applying to, and what we would like to do for the rest of our lives. These questions are appropriate and can help young people place some attention on the next phase of life. The problem is we are conditioned to focus on acquiring. We want to acquire a degree, a job, and/or a career. We want these things because they lead to more things—clothes, jewelry, a house, cars, vacations, etc. However, fulfillment is not in acquiring, fulfillment is in becoming.

Financial gain and status can enhance quality of life. Liberty can be found in having. Its greatest benefit is the freedom to make choices instead of having them made for you. Excess provides access. Yet there are also trappings found in having and without a proper foundation, the stressors choke the freedom. Our goal should not be to acquire. Our goal should be to become.

There is nothing wrong with niceties. There is nothing wrong with wanting material things. Yet when the majority of our energy is spent chasing a status and stuff we open ourselves up to disappointment, frustration, and discontent because we are chasing a moving target, one that will never bring satisfaction, no matter how much we amass. Our primary goal is externally focused so we are internally disconnected. The good news is that we don't have to remain disconnected. The moment we decide we prefer fulfillment over fillers, we can shift our attention from acquiring to becoming—becoming better, becoming fulfilled, and becoming authentic. When we focus on becoming we can't help but attract and attach ourselves to the benefits associated with being our best.

Read last week's post, Work Through Your Fears.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Work Through Your Fears

Fight fear instead of running from it.
Every October there is an abundance of movies, activities, and products designed to elicit fear. For nearly a month we are treated with countless opportunities to be scared. We can sit in a theater and test our nerves for 120 minutes. We can nervously walk through haunted houses, laughing at our friends for screaming like children and hoping they don't hear us when we do the same. Fear is a multibillion dollar industry.

Outside of entertainment, fear is most often a deterrent. When we're afraid we run. We create as much distance as possible between ourselves and whatever is causing us to be scared. However, there are times when what we fear most is exactly what we need to embrace.

I spent a significant amount of energy investing in an unrestrained lifestyle. I took pride in having the ability to travel—and at times relocate—whenever I wanted. My understanding of living liberated was limited. Freedom is complex, though. It is not simply the ability to have choices. It is not merely the absence of commitment. While I was able to hop on planes and rack up passport stamps, I was also avoiding, hoarding, and hiding.

What I needed most was what I feared most. I needed to stop avoiding setting healthy boundaries. I needed to stop hoarding my hurt. I needed to stop hiding behind my smiles. Before I could be free I had to experience safety, something I lost long ago. Feeling safe required me to expose all that I had been avoiding, hoarding, and hiding. My freedom was directly tied to my greatest fear. I needed to trust so that I could learn to feel safe because without feeling safe I couldn't be free.

What do you desire most for your life? Happiness? Love? Peace? Freedom? Your greatest desire is connected to your greatest fear. It will stretch your mental strength, test your emotional intelligence, and challenge everything you know. When you work through your fear—and it is work—you will discover a better, stronger, and fuller you. You will find yourself as you were created and intended to be, living the life you desire most.

Read last week's post, Change the Message.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Change the Message

Sort through the message clutter.
We constantly receive messages. We hear them, see them, and experience them. They come from people who know us well and those who don't. They also come from within. We are bombarded with messages and have to choose how to interpret them and live with those interpretations.

My childhood was filled with inconsistent and conflicting messages. I heard encouragement. I experienced joy. I felt included and like part of something much larger than me. However, my voice was silenced, I experienced abuse for years, and I felt isolated and like my life was not my own. I was left to take all of those messages, as extreme and differing as they were, and interpret them. The encouragement was as true as the silence. The joy was as real as the abuse. The inclusion was as authentic as the isolation. None of the messages negated the others. All of them whispered and roared to me for years.

The messages I received from both the love and the heartache did not match. It was up to me to interpret and make choices. What was I going to believe? How would I make sense of the range? The words and actions of others delivered messages, but it was up to me, ultimately, to be the messenger for my life. It was up to me to use the messages to heal what was broken, water what was healthy, and create a message of my own. One that was true. One that I could trust more than the fluctuation of others. One that would usher in growth. One that would direct me to wholeness. While I cannot control other people and some of the experiences that life delivers, I can control the messages I choose to repeat to myself.

Someone may have said that you couldn't be more than who you've always been. Maybe you heard that your life was as good as it would ever be. Perhaps you were told that you were worthless and had little to offer. Change the message.

Maybe you were neglected, abused, cheated on, or passed over. Those experiences may have led you to assume that you deserve neglect, abuse, infidelity, and to be overlooked. Change the message.

You cannot change what has already been said. You cannot change what has already occurred. You can, however, change how you interpret those words and experiences. Someone else's refusal to be encouraging and kind is not an indication of what you deserve. Your past is not the sole determinant of your future. You determine where you go, how far you reach, and how hard you work, but it starts with what you tell yourself. It begins in your mind. For a moment, forget what he said and what she told you. Forget what he did and what she didn't do. For a moment, consider how you feel about yourself, without the external influences. It may simply be time for you to change the message.

Read last week's post, Focus Your Energy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Focus Your Energy

Do you see the rain or the calm in the distance?
Both are true, but which caught your eye?
I asked two people about a vacation they shared. The first told a story filled with disappointment, mishaps, and borderline misery. The second gave an animated story that centered on her gratitude for being able to take a vacation. Even though they were on the same trip, they gave differing accounts because their experiences were painted by their perceptions.

Life is filled with a variety of experiences. There are things we plan for, occasions we can't plan for, times for a plan b, high highs, low lows, and everything in between. We overcome hardships, create new realities for ourselves, adjust to new normals, love, laugh, lose, and learn to fully live. What differs between us is how we interpret life and live within the framework that it provides.

When I kayaked for the first time I was in Honduras. I expected gorgeous sun rays to warm my face. I expected gentle waves to lap the side of the kayak. I expected peace. What I got was a tropical deluge. What I got was drenched. What I got was a totally unexpected story, one far more enjoyable to tell and remember than what I envisioned. Just as with the kayaking experience, I could focus on the times when I expected sunshine, peace, and ease yet received cloudiness, downpours, and hard work. Instead, I prefer to focus my energy on being grateful, strengthened, and learning to use wisdom.

Listen to your conversation. Reflect on your thoughts. Do you focus your attention on the mishaps, delays, downpours, and disappointments? Or do you share and remember the beauty, the time spent with those you love, the outcomes that were better than you expected, and appreciate that you are able to influence the quality of your life?

You already use energy, whether purposefully or not, to interpret your life and what happens in it. Why not use that energy to your benefit? Why not use that energy to live better? This does not equate to being delusional or irresponsible with your reality. Life does deliver difficulty. However, the way that you cope with hardship and express gratitude for fortune is greatly impacted by how you focus your energy. Invest in yourself and the quality of your life by taking the time to be more purposeful in focusing your thoughts.

Read last week's post, Give Back the Burden.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Give Back the Burden

I chuckle as I hear the children in my life saying the same things I once said. An adult would tell me to pick up a toy or dirty dish and my response would be, "But that's not mine." I believed that whoever left their toy or dirty dish should be the one to pick it up. There are occasions when I wish I had kept that simple, childlike logic.

As we become adults we develop an unhealthy tendency to take other people's stuff—stuff that doesn't belong to us—as our own. Someone hurts us and we pick up that hurt—and the assumptions of why we were chosen for it—and lug all of that around like our favorite accessory. We take other people's negativity, sadness, guilt, shame, and dysfunction. We not only take it, we own it. We carry the baggage for so long that it becomes a part of us. We don't even recognize that the tension we clutch can be released as soon as we set it free—as soon as we decide to set ourselves free.

Someone's choice to mistreat you says nothing about your worth and everything about his/her inability to value it. Someone's abusive actions may be shameful, but that shame is not yours. That negativity, put it down. That sadness, relinquish it. That guilt, let it go. That shame, give it back. You were never required to pick up and lug the heaviness of others as your own. Let go of the weight that was never intended for you to carry. Give back the burden. Give it all back. It's not yours. It never was.

Read last week's post, Clarity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I recently made a tough decision. One that I knew would be questioned, misunderstood, and cause conflict. It was one of those choices where I drew a line in the sand and accepted that life as I knew it would no longer exist. Despite the threat of causing turmoil, I was not only certain, I was strengthened. After years of emotional work and confirming my sources of support I had to trust in the outcome of my process—clarity.
We all have at least one life challenge that has shoved us to both edges of our sanity spectrum. It is that issue that the mere thought of can cause us to doubt our sense of worth or encourage us into believing in our own power. It can reek havoc on all of our relationships or draw us in closer to those who love us. It can demonstrate all that is wrong with the randomness of life yet illustrate grace in its purest form. If we commit to connecting to our power, drawing closer to our loved ones, and choosing grace over grievances then we can trust in the outcome of our process and walk in the clarity we inherently seek and need.
When presented with this latest situation I had to look beyond that decision. On the surface, I was making a complex choice, but as I weighed my options I discovered that ultimately, what I needed to choose was clarity. Once I looked through the lens of clarity, my choice became undeniably clear. There were no other options. I wanted clarity more than I wanted to people-please. I wanted clarity more than I wanted to do the "right" thing. I wanted clarity more than I wanted to be justified, understood, or validated.
Life constantly presents you with tests in the form of choices. Your choices reflect the outcome of your process. Can you trust in the outcome of your process?

Read last week's post, Power of a Selfie.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Power of a Selfie

Technology has altered how we connect, even down to our language. Just a few years ago the word selfie would have conjured up confusion, but now it's a fairly common term. There are countless pictures on social media sites of self-portrait photos and they have an added entertainment value because many of them unintentionally capture something humorous in the background. When the subject of a picture is also the one performing the action of taking the picture, the focus is not on the background. In a selfie, the full setting appears in the end product—the image—even if that isn't the intent. When we focus our attention on ourselves, the impact extends far beyond what we intend and what we can see.

Over the last few years I made a commitment to live honestly. I knew that this commitment would be challenging. When I decided to take a serious look in the mirror my focus was self-improvement so every aspect of my life came into view. It wasn't enough for me to live honestly when it was comfortable and convenient to live honestly. I had to look at the whole setting—the totality of my life. Once I made the appropriate and necessary changes to the areas requiring my immediate attention, my focus extended and I was faced with increasingly difficult choices and many of them involved my relationships.

When I committed to authenticity, my truth impacted those around me. I knew some relationships would be strengthened and others would falter. Instead of placing my attention on the relationships that would not grow as I did, I made a conscious decision to reinforce relationships with those who would support me throughout. After I shifted my focus I felt strong enough to stand with those who would unconditionally stand with me. My decision to live my truth meant recognizing the truth about those around me.

When we improve, we require those around us to make a choice—accept and encourage our growth or long for what was. The mirror we place in front of ourselves also reflects those closest to us. As we pay close attention to what is shown in our reflection, we also see the people around us with improved clarity. Some will live in the truth with us and others will step out of the frame.

Read last week's post, Extend Grace.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Extend Grace

People are flawed and wear their wounds like undergarments. That's why we have to grace those we love with forgiveness when their disappointments, misconceptions, and hurts overshadow their ability to be considerate, understanding, and loving. However, we need to recognize the difference between extending grace and overextending ourselves.

I used to live a lie. I put a smile on my face, forced myself to be in the company of people I shouldn't, and convinced others that my smile reflected how I felt. This lie stemmed from another—I believed that no one could or would want to care for me if they knew the depth of my brokenness. Who wants to be around the girl with such a troubled start?

I tried to hide not only the influence of my childhood, but that it even happened. Part of the problem was I'd been taught that offenses were to be forgiven rather than worked through. While I know its value, forgiveness should not be used as a means to ignore the truth and perpetuate hurt. My focus to forgive offenses rather than work through them limited my growth. Instead of pursuing peace I pursued "proof" of forgiveness—my smile and the ability to be in the company of those who hurt me. Fortunately, I don't live that lie anymore. While I extend grace to those who have hurt me in deed or by encouraging my silence, I no longer overextend myself by proving my level of forgiveness with unhealthy tests or by remaining in the company of those who inflicted such pain.

All of us carry remnants of our pasts that cloud our judgment. All of us are capable of making mistakes, even with those we love. We are not to seek perfection from others. We are to seek consideration, authenticity, kindness, and understanding and be considerate, authentic, kind, and understanding to ourselves. Just as we extend grace to others, we need to extend grace to ourselves by not giving so much that we lose sight of who we are and forfeit the essence within us all in the name of forgiveness.

Read last week's post, It's Your Choice.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's Your Choice

As children, our lives were largely shaped by the decisions of our parents and guardians. We couldn't dictate where we lived, who we were around, what types of foods we ate or the clothing we wore. As adults, we gained the gift of choice. Sadly, too many of us are locked in the same mentality that we held as children and willingly relinquish our ability to choose.

My childhood wasn't without challenges. I was around less than desirable people and put in some hazardous situations. As a result, in my adulthood, peace has become extremely important to me. I intentionally maintain a peaceful life. It has become so obvious that it's almost comical how quickly I will exit a situation or relationship when I feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

I wasn't always so decisive. I had to learn to make choices and make them wisely. There was a time when I felt very much like that little girl who did not have the ability to choose where she lived or with whom. For many years I remained in the company of those who brought on stress and anxiety. I did not believe I had a choice and that erroneous belief convinced me that I was powerless. However, my decision not to choose peace was still a decision. I was not powerless. I was choosing stress and anxiety by remaining in stressful and anxiety-producing situations. Being still does not always equate to being indecisive nor patient. At times being still is simply choosing where you are instead of choosing where you desire to be.

Failure or refusal to act is still very much a choice. It is a choice to remain. Most remain where they are because it feels safe and involves low or less risk. Where have you made a choice to remain? Unhappy? Unsettled? Overworked? Underemployed? Unappreciated? Depressed? Exhausted? Unfulfilled? You are not powerless. You are not required to live a life that someone else determined for you. You do not have to live out the expectations of others, no matter how lofty or lowly. This is your time. This is your life, but before you can exert your power, you must choose to acknowledge it and walk in it. It's your choice.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spanish 101

Arriving in Santander, Cantabria, Spain
Traveling has been incorporated in many of my decisions as it is one of the most influencial aspects of my development. Even still, until recently, I never made the commitment to learn a new language. I knew that understanding language would make my travel experiences richer, but I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the thought of learning to communicate in a new way instead of being inspired by it.

In both my personal and professional life I am a communicator. I pride myself on using words to express sentiment, provide others with an experience, and build connectivity. It has taken years to develop my vocabulary and voice in the only language I know. Learning a new language would require that I take the one thing I excel in most and release it. Learning a new language would force me to let go of a major part of my identity. Yet if I wanted to grow, I needed to release what was familiar and take on a new and richer identity.

This year I decided to do more than add stamps and pages to my passport. I decided to experience a culture through more than its cuisine and famous landmarks. The best way to ensure that I would grow was to travel in a new way. It was time to invest in studying language. I began taking Spanish classes in January and making the commitment to learn Spanish has not only started to add a language dimension to my life, but it also provided me with another opportunity to do what I love—travel—as I just finished a two-week language and culture class at the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain.

Everything we are attached to and depend on provides comfort. When we force ourselves to grow, we force ourselves out of familiarity. Growth lessens attachments and dependencies. Growth demands reflection and innovation. Growth also requires taking risks of feeling foolish and failing. While in my Spanish classes and out enjoying Spain, I have had many moments where I had to release my attachments and dependencies. My strength—being able to communicate—was gone. Suddenly, I only had the vocabulary of a six-year-old. It has been humbling and frustrating. However, it has also been amazingly wonderful. I challenge you to force yourself to grow. Let go of your attachments and dependencies. Learn something new. My lessons took me to Spain. Where will your lessons take you?

Visit the photo album from my trip!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Limited Sight

I recently enjoyed a perfect day on the beach in Santander, a coastal city in northern Spain. While there, I noticed a more meaningful sight that will remain with me much longer than the finely-grained sand, transparent water, comfortable sun rays, and gentle breezes I felt. After enjoying the relaxing waves of the bay, I noticed an elderly woman experiencing the beach and appreciating its beauty just as much as I was. The only difference was that as she stood in the refreshing water, she had a cane in each of her hands.

The older we get the more we are presented with challenges. Each challenge presents us with a valid excuse to stop fully living. After leaving the beach I rode a bus through town and noticed two young girls fixated on me and my obvious skin discoloration. One whispered to the other, as they kept their gaze on me, and then burst into laughter. I told myself not to be concerned, but there was a moment when I felt they were discounting me. It felt like an injury to my soul. How could someone who didn't know my name, my history, my story, or anything about my character find my skin condition, something I have no control over, laughable and amusing? How could someone take one minute part of me and decide that it was the only defining part of me? Sadly, I told myself that I was done riding the bus in Spain. I was convinced that I did not have to subject myself to the ridicule of someone else's laughter while having to watch. I could walk wherever I needed to go. 

You may not be the "right" age, race, ethnicity, religion, or weight by someone else's standards. You may have a health condition, physical disability, or unique appearance. As much as it may be a part of who you are, none of that defines you in your totality because none of it is your only characteristic. You are still a person with dreams, kindness, laughter, and worth. You still have a heart that can give and receive love. You are made up of more than your challenges, heartaches, mistakes, and physical attributes. You are a total being, comprised of more than what can be seen. You are someone whose totality can only be felt after numerous transparent and open interactions. You are not defined solely by any one characteristic.

If an elderly woman can take her walking canes to a beach and allow the refreshing water to cleanse her soul, I can go out and get on a bus in an unfamiliar country. The elderly woman may have been told or even felt that she was too old, too needy, or too weak to experience all that the beach had to offer. However, she did not let that stop her from feeling all the benefits of the sun, sand, and water. Those girls on the bus may have hurt my feelings, but I cannot let their youthful insensitivity stop me from feeling all of the benefits that exploring the beautiful and rich culture that Spain has to offer. I challenge you to get back on your bus or force yourself in your ocean, even if you have to take your walking sticks with you. Life is much fuller and richer if you experience it completely, just as you have to accet that you are much fuller and richer than what others can see.

Read next week's post, Spanish 101.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tell Yourself

Friday morning I got in a cab and headed to the airport. Once I arrived, my cab driver didn't have enough cash to give me change nor could he process a credit card payment. I ran into the airport only to discover that the ATM was out of money. I would have to find another ATM in order to pay my fare, but that meant I could be charged extra for the mileage and time. Still, I walked out thinking, "It doesn't matter. You're going to Spain today."

After finding an ATM and paying the taxi driver, I checked in for my flight. It was delayed, and continued to be delayed, for two hours. I am pretty good at passing time, but the airport I flew out of had less activity than I have in my apartment. Plus, I was facing an eight-hour flight so I didn't want to waste my reading and writing on the ground. Instead of grunting I told myself, "It doesn't matter. You're going to Spain today."

While it is great that I didn't get frazzled by the elongated cab ride, flight delays, or nearly missing my flight from Madrid to Santander--another blog for another time--what if I wasn't going to Spain that day? What if on a typical Friday I was met with challenges and delays out of my control? Did I need something as big and unusual as a 4,000 mile trip to help me keep life in perspective?

Life often presents us with detours and speed bumps. Even when we have done all we can to prepare and anticipate challenges, circumstances out of our control jerk us into back-up plans and at times, we need to create a back-up for our back-up. What mantra do you tell yourself to get you through the uncertain times? How do you encourage yourself through challenges and maintain proper perspective?

On Friday I was able to get through 24-hours of traveling hiccups and changes by telling myself I was going to Spain, but on a normal day, when I am simply planning to go to work, buy groceries, cook dinner, and pay bills, it is even more important for me to have a mantra to get through issues in the office, the sad phone call, unexpected expenses, health concerns, or rejection. In order to keep challenges in perspective I need to keep what is more important in my life at the forefront of my mind. While I spent more time in a cab and more money on the outbound trip than I expected, I still had the ability to travel. Although my flight didn't leave at the time it was scheduled, I was still going to have an amazing experience in country I'd never visited. Even though my day did not go exactly as planned, the end result was the same--I was going to embark upon a life-changing journey. How wasteful and sad would it have been if I allowed my journey to be hindered before it fully began?

Your journey is filled with a range of experiences. There will be excited times when you greatly anticipate what life has in store. There will be times when you are thankfully reaping the benefits of good decisions and hard work. There will also be times when you gracefully live out greatness when your choices could have warranted less. Just as often there will be moments when you are unsure, thrown off course, confused, and upset. Difficulty and relentless struggle can seem to follow you more closely than your shadow. You may feel stagnant and like you cannot make progress no matter what you do. During these challenging periods it is more important than ever that you remember not to lose focus or faith. You cannot spend more energy on 200 difficult miles of your journey when there's 4,000 miles in total. Do not get caught up in the preliminary pieces and uncertain moments when greatness lies just beyond your fears. Tell yourself, it doesn't matter. You are intended for more joy, fulfillment and love today, and it all begins with the messages you tell yourself and believe.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Highlight Experiences

Fourteen years ago I walked up a gangway and ventured out for a 100-day trip around the world. I viewed this unique study abroad program as a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I didn’t think that someone like me—from my neighborhood, with my history, with my financial situation, with no personal example to mirror where I was headed—could live “this way” for life. In fact, at the start of the journey I flirted with feeling like I didn’t deserve to be there and as a result, I didn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that I could achieve such greatness again.

Far too many of us don’t allow ourselves to dream in variations of greatness. That’s why we hear remember-when stories so often. Get a group of people together and suddenly, we are ear-deep in stories that begin with, “Remember that one time...” Trips down memory lane can be entertaining and fun, but they are detrimental if those trips are the only time we feel accomplished, satisfied, or fulfilled.

You may have had a phenomenal childhood and life hasn’t been as kind to you since. It’s possible that your childhood was challenging and your adult life has not been much better. No matter the circumstances please know that you are not limited to one highlight experience. You do not live for that "one time" during high school or college. Living with the belief that your best years have already passed constrains your behavior because it has already constrained your mind. Once you believe that you can’t have better you surrender the will to hope for and to do better.

I will always fondly think back on my study abroad experience. It generously provided me with a comparative look at nine cultures, gifted me with beautiful friendship, helped me discover some truths about myself, opened my mind to the possibility of greatness, and taught me the greatness that exists in the concept of possibility. Even still, when I stepped off of that ship at the end of that voyage, I never conceded that I had reached my quota for highlight experiences. With that greatness fresh in my mind, I carried the desire and hope to create and be open to many more highlight experiences for the rest of my life.

You can still have highlight experiences, but each one of them starts with your thoughts. Discover your self truths. Open your mind to the possibility of greatness. Welcome the greatness that exists in the concept of possibility. Hope is not to be feared.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Big Enough

Amusement parks are filled with energy. Kids and kids-at-heart are excited as they play games, eat confections, and of course, ride roller coasters. Amusement parks also breed anxiety, disappointment, and tears. Many of the kids are at the awkward stage of not being tall enough for certain rides. Adults know that the child who is just inches too short will get to experience terrified bliss soon enough, but all that child cares about is that moment. Safety reasons or not, all that child wants is to be big enough right now! As we get older, we grow taller, but we have the same mentality. Even when it's for our own good, we never want to hear that we aren't big enough—mentally or emotionally—for anything.

As a teenager, I was well aware that I was expected to go to college, earn a living, get married, and have children. I also knew that there were levels to achieving each goal. Aspects of that plan would reveal themselves in their proper time. Much like at an amusement park, I needed to grow before I could experience certain facets of life. I needed to create a pattern of wise decisions so that I could learn to trust myself. I needed to discover the difference between those committed to walk with me and those who would simply walk. I needed to understand what kind of person I wanted to grow into and focus my energy working in that direction. Having awareness of expectations or desired outcomes is not the same as being ready for those expectations or outcomes. Awareness is not an indication of a timetable—it is intended to give guidance and focus. 

You may feel that you've been standing in line, waiting to be measured or prepared to prove that you are big enough for the ride. Perhaps you feel ready to start that business or handle the responsibilities of a promotion. Maybe you wonder why you're not someone's spouse by now or not living in that dream home or in the life you envisioned years ago. You might have developed frustration and impatience as you look at others enjoying the park and riding everything that you've been waiting to experience. Don't get lost in comparisons and watching others. Your life will unfold in a time that is most appropriate and best for you. Tomorrow's outcome will be a reflection of choices and decisions you've made today so create a pattern of wise decisions to help you learn to trust yourself, discover who walks with you, and understand who you are growing into so your actions reflect your direction. When the time comes for you to stand up and be measured, you'll be confident that you are indeed big enough for the ride designed specifically for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Love You Through

I’m not a mother, but there are quite a few children in my life. There are moments when a simple gesture or phrase melts my heart and times when they have emotional meltdowns that send me hiding in my own quiet corner. In both cases—and every situation in between—my love doesn’t waiver. What I feel for them is not dependent on their best or worst. I love them through it.

All of us have struggles and some require years of emotional work and determination to overcome. Few of us feel confident to be genuine with others because we don’t trust that they will love us through the emotional work. We hide behind what we think they want to see or hear. We hide behind smiles and ideas. We live isolated and contrived lives. My challenge to you is to discover those who will love you through and then let them!

The first part of that challenge is not easy. For years I struggled to learn who was going to love me through hardship and who was simply waiting until I crossed the finish line to love me in celebration. I made some mistakes. I trusted words over actions. I gave more weight to what I wanted instead of what I needed. Although I made errors on whom to depend on, I compounded my own difficulty by then loving fearfully instead of freely. I instituted a blanket method of relationship. No matter what individuals had proven, everyone was treated the same. Everyone heard the same response. Everyone received the same smile. I threw everyone at the finish line and pushed myself into running the race alone.

Loving freely requires trust. Trust means being vulnerable, placing your confidence in someone else, and giving up control. Yes, all of that is extremely difficult, but it is no less emotionally taxing than forced loneliness. Maybe you’ve had this vision of who would be standing by your side, loving you through and the ones who have proven themselves aren’t the ones you pictured. Maybe you’ve been so busy chasing who isn’t there that you can’t see who has been standing beside you. Don’t allow the absence of someone cause you to miss the presence of anyone.

I think about the little people in my life. They can have a catastrophic, emotional outburst or get the disciplinary action of their young lives in front of me. Even still, just moments later, no shame nor guilt nor doubt prevents them from jumping in my face, asking me to take them for ice cream, or begging me to play some game. They have the confidence to know that I’ll love them through their outbursts and lapses in judgment. I challenge you to exercise the same level of wisdom by trusting those who have been purposed and have chosen to love you through your doubts, fears, heartaches, and difficulties.