No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

I am a person who when working out, wants NO ONE else around. I don’t dress cute, style my hair or wear make up. My shoes and outfit don’t match or even coordinate for that matter. I wear loose, over-sized shirts, whatever pair of clean bottoms I can find, and strap myself down under three sports bras so I don’t knock myself out while jumping or moving. Some days are better than others, but usually I have to drag myself there, and I try to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

The past few months, I’ve been boxing. Which is completely empowering and makes me feel like an all around bad ass. Until I see myself in the mirror that is. In my head I’m much faster and more agile than I am in real life. Cue why I don’t like anyone else around while I’m practicing.

But for the past few weeks, it seemed anytime I frequented the gym, so did this middle-aged gentleman. He almost always attended with his two young daughters, neither looking to be over the age of five. Put out that other humans besides my husband and best friend could witness my total lack of skill and athleticism, I cringed every time they walked through the door. Not to mention that the young girls were full of energy and very talkative. My initial thought was “why would you bring these two kids with you while you work out? They’ll just get in the way.” But to my surprise, this stranger was exceptionally considerate and went out of his way to ensure neither he nor his daughters interfered with anyone else’s workouts.

One day, the man and his daughters were in the gym before us. Immediately after walking in, the man offered to leave if his daughters presence would be a distraction to us. I reassured him that they were not and we each went about our separate workouts. And in trying to avoid the mirror while doing some squat jump things, I observed the man interact with his two daughters. He was seated on a bench set up at an incline while doing some shoulder press moves. All the while, one daughter was propped on each knee. Giggling, smiling and interacting with each other and their father. It was an extremely touching encounter to witness.

It was apparent these girls adored their father. And he clearly reciprocated. Never seeming irritated or frustrated at the modifications he was forced into utilizing while trying to entertain his two young girls. Never scolding if they needed to be redirected. Keeping them close while making it appear they were getting just as much benefit of the the gym time as he was.

The more times I ran into this family, the more I looked forward to seeing them. Not really interacting much, but a definite positive impact on my day. We’d exchange pleasantries, and the father would always make sure their attendance didn’t put any inhabitance on our gym time. Which I assured him it didn’t.

About a week after I truly began to respect and admire this family, another third party observation shifted my perspective even further. Jess and I were rotating through some boxing circuit reps, taking turns working on different skills. I was yet again doing some fashion of squats and drifted away from the mirrors that seemed to surround me. Jess was on the boxing bag looking like a pro while doing some round kicks.

But what caught my attention was the father and his two daughters. Again, they were seated on his knees while he managed to do some dumbbell presses. The look of awe in the young eyes is what first zeroed in my focus. “Do you see those girls?” He questioned both his daughters. It was apparent they noticed, because their eyes were wide with curiosity. “These girls are strong. And when you get older you will be strong like they are too.” Grins flashed across their sweet faces and they looked in amazement as Jess continued to kick the bag.

Even throughout the remainder of my workout, I couldn’t shake that brief conversation. What an impact that father made on his children. Not only by showing them what a priority their health is by creating a positive relationship between his daughters and the gym. Even before they are old enough to work out. But also by pointing out a stranger as a positive role model. Not a pointing out a particular physique or workout method. This father recognized strength in another female and created a foundation of awe to support it.

Now, in the grand scheme of these young girls life, this encounter may be forgotten in a few weeks. But as a stranger who overhead a personal conversation by being a semi-creepy eavesdropper, I have a good instinct these types of conversations are not the exception. They are the normal for this father-daughter relationship. And what a beautiful lesson to be teaching young girls.

All this to say that you never know who’s watching. Or listening. You have no idea who is around. So to Jess, keep it up sis. Just by you working out like you do every week, you taught two young girls (and a girl a month older than you) that strength is awe-inspiring. You had no idea this family noticed you being your usual bad ass self. And yet just by showing up, made a positive impact.

And to this exceptional father, I am encouraged by your interactions with your daughters. You’re instilling traits in them before the age of five, that this 27 year old is still trying to sort out. What was most likely a brief conversation between a father and his daughters was also such a positive experience to a complete stranger.

Even though you may think no one notices all the little things you do. Someone is always looking. You may never see your impact on others, but you are making one just the same.

Be encouraged friends.

xxx

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I find that most holidays are difficult for me to decipher emotionally. Some holidays are hard and gut wrenching. And in those moments, I don’t even want to be a part of this planet. Some holidays I feel indifferent and neutral. Just another regular day on the calendar. And other holidays I am able to reminisce and bask in good memories. Memories that make me laugh and brighten my spirits a little.

As my mind wondered, my fingers searched through old notes in my phone, hoping for some perspective. I was brought back to this reflection written three years ago. Obviously penned from a place of pain and grief. I’m instantly taken back to that pew, overwhelmed to the brink and feeling like the only person in the world suffering a strained relationship.

05.09.16 : I still struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Have you truly forgiven someone if it still brings you to tears? Have I really begun to heal when old scars continue to reopen?

Another Mother’s Day came and went leaving my heart entangled in emotion. As I sat in church listening to my pastor’s wife talk about a mother’s relationship with her children, even my greatest attempts couldn’t suppress the tears. The war within me had waged and regardless of the winner, I would be the one at a loss. I felt guilty for still having a broken relationship with my mother when I also had an opportunity to make amends. Meanwhile, others had lost their precious moms and I was letting mine go to waste. More often than not, I felt a lack in our relationship. It always felt incomplete; I was left in constant yearning. 

Social media in fluxed with sweet words and tender photos capturing the love between a mother and her children. I was jealous of the photos and statuses because I had never felt what was expressed: an unconditional love. I spent the entirety of my childhood, young adulthood, and college years striving for that genuine love. Time and time again I failed in my attempts. One of the most difficult lessons I am still trying to wrap my head around is that love without restraints cannot be earned. It is given freely. In my quest to seek out love, I neglected to embrace an important relationship. While I would never attain the unconditional love from my mother, I could freely give it to myself. 

Self-reflections are my favorite compass of growth for this very reason. My relationship with my mother has not changed. It has not improved and is virtually non-existent. Everything that I wrote in this entry three years ago is still a true feeling. But what has changed is my view on our relationship.

I am learning that emotions are endlessly complex. It’s okay to miss someone and be in a current state of upset with them. It’s okay to love someone and actively choose to separate yourself. It is okay to feel one million different ways about one person at the same time.

When you’re in a broken relationship it’s okay to feel everything and nothing simultaneously. It’s okay to not know how to feel. Or to experience feelings constantly shifting and by the time you pin a name on a face, the old one has morphed into something else entirely.

So if you’re someone who is currently in a strained, broken or geographically separated relationship, I see you. I see you struggling and wanting to smile. To be happy for everyone smiling around you, but you can’t. I see you trying to hold it all together and get on with your day like you do every other day. But today, in this moment, it’s just too much to bear. I see you locking yourself in the bathroom, burying your face in your hands not knowing what else to do. Because you’ve been holding it all together for so long that today it has to escape.

And that’s okay. You’re okay right here even in your mess. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have all of your feelings organized and sorted. The beautiful thing about being a human is that we are constantly changing. Growing, evolving, shifting. Learning.

I love my mom. I know she loves me. I have so many good memories with her and because of her. And our lack of a relationship now does not negate the good in the past. It does not mean I can’t laugh when a funny memory flashes through my head. Or savor a Riesen because I saw them in the store and they are her favorite candy. We can agree to disagree mutually. I can actively love from a distance with boundaries and peace. My relationship with my mom may never change. But I can continue to change my perspective.

Our human heart is marvelous. Able to withstand heartbreak. Rejoice in triumphs. To long suffer difficult situations while also possessing gratitude. So this Mother’s Day I hope you are able to find solace. Your feelings, no matter the depth and breadth, are acknowledged. Feel the entire gamut. No justifications, explanations or vocalizations necessary.

Sending you all a virtual hug.

xxx

No. 49 – Skin

No. 49 – Skin

Sitting at the nail salon on a Friday evening is usually the LAST thing I want to be doing. After a crazy week at school, I prefer to decompress at home with my dogs. Not in public, while I wear my week’s exhaustion. But, when you need to get your nails done, you suck it up and pay a visit to the nail salon.

I was greeted upon entrance and seated in the only empty manicure chair. I noticed the woman already seated in the chair to my left, but was too fixated on my color selection to pay anyone much mind. I mean that’s the most overwhelming part: too many options and usually none that quite match your Pinterest inspiration pic.

After selecting a color, I relaxed and naturally scanned the salon. I was mesmerized by the woman I was seated next to. Beautiful dark olive skin and deep black hair. She was stunning. Glancing back at my pale, sun forsaken skin I thought “I wish I was darker.” My entire life I’ve battled insecurity over being so white complected. Tanning under lights, over-exposing myself to the sun, and buying beauty products intended to aid in the process of self tanning. With nothing really working as a long term solution.

I glanced back at the bronzed beauty seated next to me and wished I had her skin.

Another female patron two seats down from me commented to the woman on my right what a pretty color she’d selected for her nails. I glanced at her nails that I hadn’t noticed before and chimed in as well. “That really is a beautiful color.”

To which she responded, “thanks, I can only wear soft colors like this with my skin tone. Other colors make me look even darker,” she said with a taint of self deprecation. And then her next comment completely caught me off guard. “I hate my dark skin.”

I surveyed her further to see what she could dislike. How she could hate her own skin? When just moments ago I was wishing to look more like her.

I didn’t miss anything her skin was still just as glorious as before.

I made light of the conversation by remarking that I faced the opposite problem. Only selecting colors that made my skin appear darker. We both laughed and made small talk about the television program playing on the giant screen in front of us.

After our brief yet impactful interaction, I glanced back at my own fair skin and breathed deeply. It seems that we all long for what we are not. Rather than embrace, honor and care for our genes, we grade ourselves against others. Playing the ever-losing comparison game. While it was comfortable to know that I wasn’t the only one who wished her skin looked differently, it was disheartening at the same time. One brief interaction had shed light on a dilemma much larger than myself. The sinking feeling that I was just a tiny string in a larger, darker tapestry overwhelmed me.

Here I was in a white shell wishing to be darker. Not for an instant did did it cross my mind what wearing a darker skin complexion might mean for this woman. How it might have made her life more difficult than mine. How maybe people treated her differently, less than, inferior. So caught up in the aesthetics of her pigment that I hadn’t even considered the context of her hatred of her own skin.

Our interaction sat heavy on me the entirety of the weekend. Weighing on my heart and my head. So I’d like to share my few takeaways from this brief interaction. An interaction that was minor and insignificant when juxtaposed in relation to the larger picture. But as with all change, it originates by opening the channels for reflection and open communication.

 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Which also means it’s EVERYWHERE. Open to interpretation and popping up when you least expect it.

 Everyone has insecurities. Pieces of themselves they want to change and may even actively do so. Be understanding. Kinder. To others, and to yourself.

 You never know what someone else is struggling with. We all have a story. Things we battle that are so ingrained into our core.

 Stop comparing yourself to others. Physically, financially, with social statuses, likes, followers, relationships. Just stop. Stop trying to be someone else and be the person you were created to be. Step into your own body, own beauty, own circumstances and be grateful for where you are.

 Appreciate the beauty around you, but understand that it may come with a cost. Extend grace and understanding to others. And show that same compassion and empathy to yourself.

 Lastly, it’s often in times of inconvenience that we receive the most important messages. Be aware. Be open. Be present.

I hope in sharing my simple reflection on a personally impactful interaction is able to prompt a conversation and an awareness that while we may have differences, we all share similar struggles, pain and insecurities. Darkness that can only be combatted by pulling back our own curtains and allowing the light to illuminate our deep seeded feelings of shame.

xxx

Sig

No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

We’ve all heard this phrase before. Seen it on art prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs, tattooed on our own bodies. What started off as a simple phrase has snowballed into a life mantra. A dangerous one at that: do more of what makes you happy.

NOPE!

All wrong.

The dictionary defines happy as this:

Happy (adj).

-feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

Feeling being the key word. Feelings are fleeting; they change and shift constantly. By fixating on the pursuit of a feeling, you’ll be left with a replacement feeling in happiness’ absence – emptiness.

It’s easy to believe this notion however. The notion that happiness is our North Star, our guiding light. Aiming our compass towards happiness actually leads us in the wrong direction. Our emotions are fickle, they come and go, sometimes at their own will.

I’ll be the first to own up to believing this fallacy. We’re pumped full of claims that living “this” way leads to happy. Rocking these shoes. Carrying that purse. Strutting in a body that looks a certain way. Mesmerized by this mirage and exhausting ourselves chasing a lie.

By placing happy on a pedestal as the end destination we de-value all our other feelings. One of the beauties in being human is our ability to experience the full spectrum of emotions. Sadness isn’t enjoyable but is a vital ingredient in a healthy life. We create out of sadness. It teaches us strength, perseverance, lessons we couldn’t grow from otherwise. We learn to be tender, gracious, understanding. And that it is okay to not feel okay.

Happy is a side effect NOT an end goal. Personally, I’d rather not be a stagnant robot that operates on auto pilot. I choose to live my life open to all emotions and willing to grow from the process. Embracing the chaos, accepting the bad and learning that life does not always have to look pretty.

No. 47 – Work of Heart

No. 47 – Work of Heart

Working as a teacher is tough stuff. No year has been easy, and I don’t expect it will ever be so. However, with the finish line in sight of my 5th year, I feel as if it has been my first all over again.

The classroom I’m in this year has shaken up my entire world. Teaching students with low incidence disabilities has challenged me beyond measure. The absolute sweetest humans in the world living in untraditional packaging. These students deserve nothing but the best and it often feels like my best isn’t enough. There are many limitations both between my students and myself: cognitively, physically, mentally and emotionally. And it is frequently discouraging. 

I’m constantly self-assessing, working on improving myself and my teaching styles so that I can meet these students in their needs. Consistent positive progress is few and far between as fluctuations are expected, but often blur the progression. It’s been a lot of trial and error; a constant journey. Wondering the whole way through if I’ve gotten a single thing right. 

Today, during my conference, one of my students walked in with several flowers in his hands and a grin on his face. “Mrs. Carter!” he exclaimed, “I got these for you!” 

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My heart melted and all that worrying about my teaching performance melted with it. Oftentimes as a teacher we get so wrapped up in performance, data and if we’re checking all the boxes our campus and district requires that we satisfy. That it becomes easy to lose sight of why true teachers began in the first place: an innate calling to serve. To serve students through building relationships, providing a safe haven and acting as a catalyst that ignites the passion for lifelong learning. 

A precious student of mine reminded me of my reason behind teaching, students with special needs especially. I’m reminded that what I teach them couldn’t possibly compare to what they teach me. And keeping that at the forefront of my planning and instruction will guide everything else. 

I can’t fully control everything my students retain, but I can be sure of this: they’re hearing me. Hearing my call to serve them. Hearing my love for them and their quality of life. My dedication to give them my best, even if it will never feel enough. 

So if you’re a struggling educator counting down the days until summer while simultaneously not wanting to let this precious group of students go at the end of the year, be uplifted. They’re hearing you. Maybe not in a way that will necessarily show up on test scores or report cards. But your students are hearing you where it most counts- they’re hearing you from the heart. 

That’s all the feedback I need. 

xxx