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. 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

No. 46 – Sun and Rain

No. 46 – Sun and Rain

The sky opens up

And soft tears pour down from it

Gently misting the earth below.

A cacophony of droplets

Dances in my ears.

Scents of the earth

Welcome my nose.

A light opens up slowly

Illuminating the grey clouds

Brightening the sky

Yet never revealing its light.

Rain and sun

Existing together

Yet separate somehow.

Reminding me of the human spirit:

Crying out in pain

While still shining.

Mourning and worshipping,

Peaceful and tumultuous.

There is a season for all things.

Especially simultaneous sun and rain.

Author’s Note: I find that the more energy I invest in the present, the more I receive back. Yet, it’s increasingly difficult to disconnect from the noise around me. My ears have been so tuned to hear noise rather than notes. 

It has only been recently, in moments I physically remove myself that my ears begin to truly open. Overwhelmed with music all around me. Soft melodies, intended to be the soundtrack of life. Only audible when intentionally dialed in. Songs of peace, contentment, encouragement. Uplifting without utterance of a single syllable. You know exactly of which I speak if you’ve ever been comforted by the rain. 

Wishing you all time to be fully present and hear the sweet symphony playing around you. 

xxx 

Sig

No. 44 – Rest

No. 44 – Rest

Need a mid-week pick-me-up? How about a mid-chapter pick-me-up? That’s been me these past few weeks. I’ve been weary friends. Emotionally, mentally, and physically fatigued.

In this fast-paced society we live in were told we should always be striving for more. More work, mo money, more accomplishments, more self-care . And I agree, a stagnant life is a life unfulfilling. But at some point, I can’t take any more of anything. Trying to balance a full-time job, full-time marriage, side hustling, and writing a blog while also trying to better myself by working out, and stimulating my mind is exhausting. I got tired just typing it all out. When you’re in a season of growth it’s not easy, it’s uncomfortable and often tiring. I’m not writing this to say, don’t be so tired. Because reality is, sometimes we need to be tired as we work towards a better version of ourselves. I am writing this to acknowledge you in your season of striding.

A few days ago on my lunch break while sitting in my car with my windows open, absorbing the fresh air, I penned this love note to myself. And after writing it, I read it several more times that day and the next few days after that. And each time I read it, I feel rejuvenated. Its a reminder that even in the process of running after our dreams, we still need to prioritize rest. Not quitting, not abandonment, rest. So it is my sincere hope that these words encourage and rejuvenate you in the same way they have done for me.

When weary, dear one,Rest.

But never cease.

For there will be many times

Your aching muscles will be screaming

At you to give up

To lay down and wait for death.

But never cease.

Pause and catch your breath

Remember why you started

And fan that flame as you press onward

Gaze forward, head high

But never cease.

In those moments of defeat

You will gain your inner strength

Fortitude that is powerful enough

To propel you forward

When you believe there is nothing left.

When you grow weary time and time again,

Rest, but never cease.

In short, grab a coffee, or in my case a chai tea from Epic Gelato and take a moment to rest.

No. 25 – The Caged Bird

No. 25 – The Caged Bird

Slivers of light sliced through the white, wooden blinds. I turned over on my right side, and felt an ache through my back. The top of my hand rested on the plush carpet. Confused, I peeled open my eyes which quickly settled on the carpet directly beneath me. I was literally laying on the ground. As I sat up, I felt the strain in my muscles. My air mattress seemed to be lacking a crucial element – air.

Frustration rushed to the surface as I remembered yesterday’s events. I had a sinking feeling this air mattress was faulty. And I was disappointed to be right. This was not right. How could my parents give me a broken air mattress instead of my fully functional mattress? A mattress that would now only furnish an empty, extra bedroom. This was not an accident or slip of the mind. It was my main request in fact. No, this, was thought out and intentional.

My eyes scanned the barren bedroom. Then stopped on that awful dark brown armoire. This they managed to bring. The utterly unnecessary piece of furniture I made clear I didn’t want or need. I shook my head in amazement. Then thought better. At this point in time, nothing my parents did or didn’t do should shock me. All my expectations had been shattered months ago. Even if it felt like a whole other lifetime ago. Sarah pre-two months ago and Sarah now felt like two separate beings. Individuals who had nothing in common.

So this was how it felt like on the other side of the fence. I took in a deep breath and released it slowly as the changes settled in. My body yearned to relax, to let my guard down. But my mind had other plans. What if’s and extreme and crazy scenarios held my mind hostage, convincing me I hadn’t escaped captivity.

Paranoia grabbed hold of my throat and slowly choked my breath away. There was no way I had gotten out that easily; there had to be a catch. Why else would my parents trek out to Longview with none of my furniture? They hadn’t stayed long, weren’t interested in looking around much and really didn’t ask many questions about my new job.

Was their entire trip a hoax based on the ulterior motive of scoping the place out?

Did they just want my address?

Did they bug the dresser?

Was there now a tracker on my car?

Crazy, I know. Even for my wild imagination. But after you’ve been traumatized, your filter of what a person is and isn’t capable of doing goes out the window. Even someone you’ve known and loved your whole life. Nothing is labeled off limits. So while, yes, I felt like a crazy person for allowing my thoughts to run rampant, I also reminded myself that being cautions was my best bet.

Three hours of distance, my name on the lease, and I still felt trapped. The freedom I had dreamt about all summer turned out to be a mirage. No closer within my reach than it was two months ago. How had nothing really changed? Geographic relocation was just as it sounded. Simply a change of geography. None of my problems were alleviated with my family. My relationship was still forbidden. A secret trapped in my inmost vault so as not to mention to anyone that could somehow connect back to my parents. No pictures, no spending excess time in public, not sharing any information with my friends.

For these next few months, I would have to fly under the radar. Once I saved up enough to be completely financially free, then I could step out from the shadows, and into the light. But until I got my own insurance, car insurance and cell phone bill, I would be forced to keep our love tucked away. I would have to continue to use my burner phone to communicate with Kendrae. I knew my parents would continue checking my current cell phone record even though I was now out of their house.

All of their restrictions and judgements followed me to Longview. My big, empty apartment suddenly felt much smaller.

Trapped like a bird in her cage, I walked around the vacant apartment. Dragging my finger along the textured wall as I walked the inside perimeter. Wanting to familiarize myself with every minute detail. So if anything was slightly out of place, I would notice. I wanted to familiarize myself with the sounds outside my window, the hum of the refrigerator, the clunk of the ice dropping into the icemaker. I wanted to recognize the sound of the air conditioning cooling the wide-open spaces. And grow accustomed to the wind as it breezed across my patio. Because not only was I still on guard, anticipating a stealth attack at any moment, I was now in foreign territory as well.

I steeled my resolve and heightened my senses. This time, I would be ready. If I caught even the slightest glimpse of freedom, I was flying out of the cage without looking back.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

-Maya Angelou

Author’s Note: In the spirit of keeping it real, I’m going to do just that. Some of you may have noticed that a post didn’t go up last week. Which for me, was a pretty big deal. When I set out to begin this journey, I planned out a year’s worth of posts to get started. One post a week for 52 weeks. And I kept to that schedule for 24 weeks. For almost half a year, I committed to weekly open-heart surgeries. I committed to sort through my brokenness publically, which hasn’t been an easy undertaking.

Every week, I’ve benefited from this process and allowed myself to heal. But last week was different. Ironically enough my message from the previous week was that done is better than perfect. So what happens when you don’t even start? Is there an adage for that?

I’ve had a lot of life changes going on behind the scenes. Which is not to be used as an excuse. Bottom line, I didn’t set aside enough time required to write in the manner that I do. Sure, I could have scrambled and slung something together to post for the sake of posting on a scheduled timeline. Because after all, something is better than nothing, right?

Not always the case. Because I care so deeply about the message that I’m sharing, I take careful consideration in regards to the content. Are any of my posts going to be perfectly written? No. But do I intend to write each of them in a meaningful and well thought out manner in a way that hopefully serves someone else? Absolutely. One hundred percent, YES. So just know that I will never post for the sake of posting or meeting my own quota.

And while I don’t believe in sitting around and waiting for inspiration to write a powerful piece, often times there is a little magic that comes into play. It takes more than just dedication and making myself sit down to write. I can craft a post, and still lack quality. And other days, the lens through which to tell my perspective of this narrative flows right through me and I don’t stop typing for an hour straight.

All this to say that life should not only be measured by what we produce. True growth and wisdom come from the process, not the end result. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accurately articulate how grateful I am to every single person who chooses to partake in this process with me. Thank you.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled posts!