What’s Stronger Than a Tormentor

set it free

And I got this love in me.
But it’s not just mine to keep.
Like treasure that’s buried deep.
I come alive when I set it free.
—Judah & the Lion, Love in Me

My daughters and I have been volunteering at a cat shelter for several months now. I knew it would be painful to fall in love with cats we couldn’t take home with us. I knew it would be painful to not be able to rescue them all. But I felt certain that the joy of this experience would outweigh the pain.

I knew this, yet something caught me off guard.

It was an email message from the shelter director to all the volunteers about an obtrusive chain that would be added immediately to the already padlocked cages. Apparently someone was caught in the act of tormenting an animal. The helpless victim was Bob the cat—five-year-old Bob who is already severely depressed because his owner had to give him up. Bob who meows a lot but loves to be free from his cage so he can explore.

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The director’s email went on to list other cruel acts occurring over the past year in this small cat shelter housed in a local Petsmart. I tried to keep reading the email message, but when I got to the part about someone trying to pry a kitten out of the small opening at the bottom of the cage, I could not read anymore.

To be honest, I broke down.

I covered my face in my hands and cried. It may seem ridiculous to some, but my heart for animals is huge. My hope for the world in which my children and future grandchildren will live in is even bigger.

But not then.

Not in that moment.

Suddenly, things looked especially bleak.

[Read more…]

Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

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“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

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Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

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Hold tight; you’re slowly coming back to life.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Birdy

*name has been changed for privacy reasons

Six weeks ago, I was feeling unsteady, depleted, and far away from myself. I was finding it difficult to do my job … to respond or communicate … to do laundry … look presentable … and leave the house. I knew my fragility was a result of extending myself beyond reasonable limits and neglecting to give myself proper time and care after multiple surgeries and an intense book-writing period.

It went against every fiber of my conscientious, people-pleasing nature, but I began declining or flat out ignoring the many requests of my time and energy that kept pouring in despite my vow to create some breathing room. The world is not going to give me permission to stop; I reminded myself. I am the only one who can give myself a reprieve. I decided my family and my emotional wellbeing were going to be my focus during this restoration period I called ‘coming back to life’ … my life … as opposed to accepting a depleted life lived according to other people’s demands and expectations.

I knew it was no coincidence that around the same time I created breathing room to reconnect with my heart and the heart of my family, two volunteer opportunities fell into my lap. Even more convincing was they were on my daughters’ “wish list” when we moved to our new state almost two years ago. To be a volunteer at an animal shelter was Natalie’s wish. To “adopt a cute, elderly person” was Avery’s wish. In the busyness of life over the past two years, I’d nearly forgotten my daughters had once expressed the desire to have these particular opportunities.

And now here they were.

At the same time.

When I was trying to create breathing room.

As you can probably guess, my initial reaction to these opportunities was irritation. Really? I am having trouble getting my own cat’s liter box clean right now. How am I supposed to garner the energy to leave the house and clean twelve of them?

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Being Kindest to the Ones You’re Closest To

kindest

“We are love.
We are one.
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace.
We are war.
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
–The Alternate Routes

Being an author can be a lonely occupation. But most of the time, my introverted self thrives in the solitude. I relish the control I have over work decisions and work environment. But there are times, particularly book deadlines times, when I’d do anything to have a colleague peek over the cubicle and say, “We’re in the home stretch! We got this!” or “You want to take the last few paragraphs of this section, and I’ll run with the conclusion?”

As I neared my recent book deadline, I felt the aloneness, the weight of it all, bearing down squarely on my shoulders. With this being my third book, it was possible most people assumed I had this in the bag. Rachel’s got this—most of my loyal supporters probably thought. But I didn’t. Instead of becoming more energized as I reached the finish line, I became more uncertain, more emotional, and more depleted. I knew I was going to drag myself across the finish line, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I saw the red flags—the urge to speak in short, snippy responses … the lack of patience … the surplus of irritability. Sadly, my discontent was directed at one person—the person I am closest to … the person who loves me at my worst … the person who knows me better than anyone else.

My husband knew the book deadline was looming, but hadn’t noted the exact day it was due. In his mind, he was doing many things to support me during this intense and challenging time. But in my mind, I was alone in my cubicle. My team had deserted me. The momentous March 1st date starred and circled on my calendar for almost a year was just another day at my house. The team high-fives and clinking glasses I’d been hoping for didn’t happen. As you can guess, my fatigued, weary self did not communicate my disappointment to my husband very well.

The good news was there were no slamming doors or tearful meltdowns. There were no squealing tires or smashed coffee pots like the days of old. But there was a severe lack of perspective. I could only see the situation through my eyes. And because of my fragile state of aloneness, it was hard to let go of my disappointment and see it any other way.
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Your Role in a Loved One’s Struggle

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“Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes
Come on and come to me now.
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Let me see you through
’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.”
–The Pretenders

When we moved to a new state almost two years ago, I knew there would be challenging moments for my daughters, then eleven and eight years old. We’d gone from a school where they knew everyone to a school where they knew no one. Even swim team, which my older daughter excelled in for many years, was drastically different. She went from a family-friendly year-round program at the YMCA to a large, competitive program with the area’s most elite swimmers. I can vividly recall two moments during the first year in our new state when I saw my older daughter’s pain and wanted to spare her from it.

The first moment was when her beloved teacher abruptly left the classroom one day and never came back. For personal reasons, the teacher was not able to say goodbye to the students. I can still hear my daughter’s guttural cries wondering why her teacher left them.

The second moment was in the final championship of a divisional swim meet. Earlier that day, my daughter missed the cut off for finals by one spot in the 50-meter breaststroke event. We were informed that she could come back that evening as an alternate. This meant she’d warm up as if she was going to swim and report to the starting blocks when her event was called. When the first whistle sounded, she would quickly scan the blocks. If a block was empty, she was to quickly jump up on the block and swim the race.

Just the thought of this agonizing process made my palms sweat! As a cautious planner with the tendency to worry, I was surprised my daughter wanted to put herself in such an unpredictable situation. But she did. I’ll never forget standing next to her as her eyes frantically scanned the blocks, her hands clasped nervously in hopes of there being an empty spot.

When there wasn’t, I saw her shoulders fall. Her eyelids blinked in rapid succession as she fought back tears of disappointment.
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With Unsteady Hands, I Offer You This Invitation

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“Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady.”

X Ambassadors

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

When it feels too dark to rise, but you gotta get up anyway.

When certain songs make you cry, but you gotta be strong.

When you’re lost and can’t seem to find your way.

When you’re expected to speak but can’t find the words.

When you’re supposed to know what’s next, but you haven’t a clue.

When you try to fall back on what you know, and even that feels unfamiliar.

When you have no idea what the future holds, but people keep asking.

What do you do?

Where do you go from there?

These are the first words of prose I’ve written in seventeen days. They are incomplete. I know. But something important happened since I last wrote to you. And when I think about who I am writing to, I don’t worry so much about what is incomplete. I know you will fill in the blanks and together—together—we will make sense of things.

As I mentioned above, I have not written for seventeen days. This is uncommon for me. Unheard of, really. And a little disconcerting. I’d planned on taking a few days to rest my weary brain after I submitted my third book to my publisher on March 1st. But a few days of respite quickly turned into a week. And even after a week, I couldn’t make sense of the scribbles in my little notebooks that normally become complete sentences and lovely paragraphs in no time.

It felt confusing and scary to not be able to do what comes naturally to me.

I was reminded of how I felt after surgery when I was expected to get up and walk for the first time. My legs didn’t feel like they remembered what to do. They felt weak, uncertain, and unstable.

“Hold on to me,” my nurse instructed. I was afraid I was going to fall, but I held on. I held on with dear life. I begged my legs not to fail me as I stepped away from the security of the bed.

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Your Most Important Role, In Case Someone Forgets

soul changerYou give me life
Life, my dear
You give me strength to beat the odds
And overcome my fears
You make me feel like I belong under the sun.”
—Citizen Cope

It was still early in our relationship when my then-boyfriend (who is now my husband) asked me to accompany him on a two-hour drive to go to a job interview.

Why would a smart, confident guy with so many positive attributes want me to go with him to his job interview? I wondered skeptically.

In my delay to respond, Scott must have sensed the need to explain. What he said shocked me. “I believe in myself more when you’re with me. You remind me of all that I am.”

Really?

I racked my brain wondering what I’d done to evoke this type of strength within him. I immediately thought of the few times we’d studied together and how, as a budding teacher, I always tried to be positive and encouraging. At one point, Scott admitted a few things he was nervous about, including his biggest worry—that he’d have trouble getting a job after college. I simply reminded him of the glowing accolades said about him by former professors, employers, and coaches.

“You will have more than one job offer. Trust me,” I’d say confidently, knowing the voice of doubt could be loud in times of uncertainty—even for the strongest people.

I ended up taking that two-hour drive with Scott. I can’t even remember if he got the job; I only remember the look of gratitude on his face when he dropped me off, saying he would have been way more nervous if he’d gone alone. All I’d done was simply remind him of what he already knew—the good stuff we tend to forget about ourselves in times of doubt, stress, uncertainty, and fear.

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A Question That Reaches Through Fears & Cages

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“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.” -R.J. Palacio, Wonder

For the past two weeks, my younger daughter and I have been reading the book Wonder. Although my third grader is fully capable of reading it to herself, I asked her if I could read it aloud. I’m learning to give my soul what it needs, and holding a book in my hands beneath a heavy quilt next to my girl is what I need right now. I’m two weeks away from my book deadline and my soul is weary. Book writing brings emotions to the surface … mortality to the forefront … doubt to its loudest … and exhaustion to its peak. But knowing I’ll be curling up with my girl and this book at the end of an intense day of writing has carried me through.

August, the main character in Wonder, was born with a facial deformity. He is going to middle school for the first time and is faced with many obstacles. Sometimes I am unable to read August’s painful admissions about being the object of people’s curiosities and hurtful comments. That’s when I pass the book over to Avery. She takes over without missing a beat and after a few minutes, asks, “Are you okay, Mom?” I wipe away my tears and tell her it hurts my heart to see people—especially children—being mistreated, alienated, and excluded. She nods as if she understands completely and then we talk about what we just read. I can’t remember this happening with any other book she’s read, so I go with it, even if it’s time to turn off the lights.

One conversation that stood out was when August’s teacher, Mr. Browne, asked the students to name some really important things. After many great student guesses, he reveals what he believes is the most important thing of all:

“Who we are,” he said, underlining each word as he said it. “Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn’t that the most important thing of all? Isn’t that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? ‘What kind of person am I?’ Learning who you are is what your are here to do.”
-R.J. Palacio, Wonder

I turned to Avery and asked, “What kind of person are you?”

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Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

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From Merely Surviving to Truly Living: A One-Step Plan

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“We’ll never be as young as we are now
The faces in the crowd are thinning out
And I’m not saying stick around, but stick around
And we may never have another like today, tomorrow is brand new start away
And we’ll never be as young as we are now, as we are now.”
–Saint Raymond, As We Are Now

2015 ended with a few words I thought I’d never hear:

“Well, there’s no need to make another appointment today. Hopefully, I won’t see you for a long time.”

I was standing in my doctor’s office when I heard those glorious words. My doctor worked closely with my urologist (one floor down) and my gynecologist (across the street). They all agreed that with my internal pain slowly subsiding, my elevated blood pressure back to normal, and having pristine blood work and kidney ultrasound results, I was free to go on with my life.

It wasn’t until I pushed the elevator button—the one I pushed with shaky hands over and over throughout the past year—that I was overcome with emotion.

“I won’t be back here for a long, long time,” I whispered, both as a promise and a prayer.

I would never be able to un-see what I saw at my impressive collection of hospital stays, CT scans, and medical appointments over the past year. But what I saw at the cardiovascular institute for my recent kidney ultrasound offered the greatest motivation to care for this precious body God gave me.

A long, healthy life doesn’t happen “by accident,” and I knew some of my poor habits would catch up with me eventually. Although I am a daily exerciser and healthy eater, I still had two problem areas that could greatly harm my health. I still hadn’t kicked my on-going Coke Zero addiction and often sacrificed sleep to get work completed.

“It’s time,” I said out loud, knowing the new year was an ideal time to ditch old habits and begin new ones.

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