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. 51 – Your Cup

No. 51 – Your Cup

Kendrae and I had a fight the other day over something so stupid. I’m embarrassed to admit that it started over a Mason jar lid. Yeah… But as any couple knows, it’s never about the lid. The lid merely served as a catalyst for what had been there lying dormant, unaddressed.

So we had our little “fight” if one could even call it that. We don’t often have fights so neither of us are very good at them. My feelings were hurt, and so were his. And we spent the rest of the afternoon in tension but weren’t able to discuss it further because we were around others. Which was fine, it didn’t give either one of us the opportunity to sit and stew in the fight. We had to get over it for the time being and go on about the rest of our day.

After an initial 15-minute car ride of awkward uncomfortableness we both moved on. We could either make our friends feel uncomfortable while we carried our personal fight into their time, or we could let it go. We didn’t forget the fight, it happened. We both apologized, but the interaction we had with each other didn’t quite leave the back of my mind.  When you live with a person, you’re eventually not going to agree about something. You may even grate each other the wrong way from time to time. But after the emotions settled down, I realized how trivial the entire argument was. Welcome to most arguments.

Today, my yoga teacher shared this beautiful metaphor. And it’s an explanation that I’ve heard before, but didn’t make much of an impression until now. It reads:

You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you, making you spill your coffee everywhere. Why did you spill the coffee? “Well because someone bumped into me, of course!” Wrong answer. You spilled the coffee because there was coffee in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is whatever is inside the cup, is what will spill out. Therefore, when life comes along and shakes you (which will happen), whatever is inside you will come out. It’s easy to fake it, until you get rattled. So we have to ask ourselves… “what’s in my cup?” When life gets tough, what spills over? Joy, gratefulness, peace and humility? Or anger, bitterness, harsh words and reactions? You choose! Today let’s work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation, kindness, gentleness and love for others.

I sent a photo of this text to Kendrae and asked what was in his cup. He replied, coffee, then water. Coffee representing self-reflection and rejuvenation. Water representing life. You need it to live. “I don’t have tea because I stay away from gossip.”

I smiled because he gave the question deeper thought than I intended. But then I was befuddled when my own question was posed back to me. What’s in your cup?

Sure, I’d like to think that my cup is overflowing with sunshine and good times. But what about when I’m driving and I miss my exit? Not much goodness spilling out there. Or what about when a student of mine sneezes all over my face? Yeah…not my shining moment either. Or how about when I feel let down by my family? Yikes…forgiveness doesn’t quite flow so easily.

Or how about a few days ago, when I got into a fight with my husband? Did I emulate compassion, understanding and open ears, or was I merely focused on proving my point?

After some thought, I’ve come to this conclusion. Proving a point is not worth more than loving my partner. Coming from an exceptionally competitive person, this was tricky to admit. You don’t win an argument with your spouse. In trying to prove the other one wrong, you both lose. You win, by trying to understand where your partner is coming from. You win in trying to share your feelings in a way that doesn’t point blame. You win in being open to apologize if you’ve caused pain. You win by not trying to win.

Alright so my cup may have some gunk in there, but it’s not all bad right? Maybe I do have water in my cup, but it’s still a little murky. Needing some major filtration work to eliminate those impurities. Or maybe it’s deeper than selecting one metaphorical beverage of choice. Maybe what I choose to fill my cup with today, will not be the same drink I select a week from now. Maybe what’s filling my cup will change. Sometimes my cup is filled with wine. I’m sure not letting a single drop of that spill over! Maybe the parts of me that are more refined can constantly be spilled out and refilled over and over again. Because we’re all called to pour out our gifts in some fashion.

But maybe to rid my vessel of the ugly parts, they must first be exposed. I can’t refill my cup with gratitude if I haven’t first dumped out my selfishness. Which is bound to spill out at some point. I can’t replace bitterness with kindness if my bitterness hasn’t been emptied out of my glass. While it is beautiful to want to only pour out the good, I am also realistic. I am human. I will never have a cup full of only goodness and love. But I can work on dolling out those drinks to as many people as often as I can. And anytime I find my cup is dry, I can be intentional about what I’m selecting to hold in it.

Life, relationships, other people are always going to come along and shake you up. It’s inevitable. The moral of the story is not who bumped you, or how hard or for how long. Or how much coffee you had in your cup. We all have our own messes. What is important is that we work towards filling our cups with things that are lovely and pure. A more eloquent painting of the platitude, garbage in, garbage out.  You can only pour out into the world what you already have inside. You can dress up your cup with the most beautiful shell. But you can’t hide what spills over. No matter how pretty the dressing may be. So if you don’t like what spills onto the floor after a good hard shake, clean up your mess and refill.

xxx

Sig

 

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!” 

img_3636

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. 45 – This Season

No. 45 – This Season

The cool, gentle breeze

dances all around me

cloaking me in an unseen embrace

comforting

reassuring

fulfilling

joining me in my solitude

carrying the loneliness away

in its arms

while wrapping me up in another

cupping my face

tenderly steeling my faith.

Rejuvenated by the presence

so palpable and thick

my spirit and my face lift up,

skyward

a welcome greeting from the sun

meets my skin with a warmth

that penetrates to the depths of my soul.

winter is over.

spring is here and with it,

a season of flourishing growth.

my lips spread into a smile

for it is this season I have been waiting.

Author’s Note: So I heard that it’s National Poetry Month…? What! How did I not know this was a thing until now. So fun fact about me, poetry was actually my first exposure to writing when I was younger. I used to LOVE writing poetry. Now naturally when I was six, most of my poems rhymed or were accompanied by a tune I made up. I’d like to think I’ve strengthened that muscle since then.

For me, poetry has always been a refreshing creative outlet. To me, poetry is painting with words, and each reader gets to use the colors you’ve laid out to paint their own picture as they read. It’s beautiful.

Lately, all my thoughts have turned into poetry. Walking to my car, on my lunch break, sipping coffee in the morning. Maybe it’s the fresh spring air, or maybe I just needed the creative outlet more than I realized, because the past few weeks, I’ve written a poem a day. Sometimes even several.

This little piece came to me as I was sitting out on my patio, soaking in the spring sun. Rereading it now brings me right back to that moment in time. Peaceful, refreshing and full of promise. That’s what Spring feels like to me. A time for new growth, A time for shedding those winter layers and allowing yourself to blossom. It is my hope that these words do just that for you too.

xxx

Sig