Decade Challenge

Decade Challenge

As 2019 came to a close and 2020 was eagerly ushered in, social media was influx with challenges, resolutions, and plans for the next decade. Images were posted of new intentions, then vs. now photos and greatest accomplishments. Let me be the first to say, that looking back to reflect is vital. Comparison is necessary – comparison of who you were, who you are, and who you are striving to be. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it this year.

At the start of this decade, I was a senior in high school. Filled to the brim with all the plans, potential and sparkle in the world. At 17 years old, I would hope that’s what you felt also. Yet somehow, at 27, I feel much differently. I feel tired. Exhausted, actually. Because I have spent the last decade striving. Achieving. Working my ass off. I’ve gone through a lot of changes. A lot of growing. To come back to a place that feels like myself again.

I’ve evolved from high school teenager, collegiate athlete and student, college graduate, ex-collegiate athlete, first year teacher, working adult, dog mom, single, girlfriend, fiancé, wedding planner, wife, graduate student, master’s graduate, back to graduate student again. I’ve lived in one house, two dorm rooms, three apartments, three cities. Worked in four different school districts. Taught elementary special education co-teach, middle school special education inclusion, high school self-contained special education and as a special education in-home/parent trainer. My name has even changed over the course of this decade.

And while that may sound like a lot of changing, why doesn’t it feel like it’s been enough? See if you’re like me, you have this picture in your head of what you expect your life to be like when you’re 17. But my picture has always been blurry. I can make out vague outlines and fuzzy shapes, but the whole picture hasn’t ever come quite into focus.

What this past decade has truly taught me is that all the planning in the world doesn’t equal a clear trajectory. Is my life anything like I pictured it would be when I was 17? Not really. And that’s okay. I think our lives are a continual progression, not some end point. I can’t even begin to calculate all the time I’ve spent planning, dreaming, writing down goals and imagining the future. So much wasted time and energy focused on what’s next, rather than embracing what’s now.

Plans and goals are great, but life doesn’t abide by our time tables.

You want to know how I welcomed in the new decade? On my couch, with my dogs watching mindless television. Because I am so exhausted from all the striving and grinding and spinning my wheels to make one inch of progress. Let me use an example, because when you know better, you do better. College Sarah would stay up late at night typing up papers, working on projects and end up working twice as hard because not only was I battling against time, I was also now waging war against my own exhaustion. My end result took twice as long and wasn’t half as good of quality as it could have been.

Wise 27-year-old Sarah (I’m being facetious here) learned, that by resting first, getting up early and working in small, manageable chunks produces a much better result in a lot less time. I’ve decided to apply this principal to this next decade. Prioritizing rest. Less focus on all the hustle and check boxes we’ve created for ourselves. Slowing down, being present and focusing on here rather than where I’m working towards tomorrow.

While I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, I make my decisions in the spirit of the moment, not slipped around some pillar of time, I will set a few.

In the next decade, I resolve to give myself a break. I’m not perfect. I never will be. I never have to be. Someone else already has that covered!

I resolve to enjoy every season and stop praying for the next one. I want to enjoy the valleys and the mountains because there is beauty in both.

I resolve to focus on one step rather than envision all the others I might be taking. To focus on the present, for no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

I resolve to love more. Deeper, harder, with more ferocity. To give it freely and without abandon. Because we all could use more of it.

Maybe this is just my interpretation, but we are so often fed the lies that we aren’t good enough, thin enough, healthy enough, attractive enough, worth enough, that we’re forced into concocting these “resolutions” to convince other people of our worth. Because here’s the truth underneath all the fabricated lies we’re smacked over the head with on a daily basis: you are enough.

Losing those 20 pounds will not make you see yourself differently in the mirror if you don’t love what you see now. Making that next level of salary won’t equal more money in your savings, if you can’t manage the small amount you make now. Finding that person to spend your life with won’t make you happy if you can’t find happiness on your own. Buying more things to fill your house, closet and time with won’t fill that gaping hole in your heart. And setting resolutions to “fix” or “improve” material and superficial things won’t be effective in changing or improving your life.

The internal work that needs to take place to accompany those “resolutions” needs to happen first, every day for the rest of your life. No new year or new decade can solve that. There is no quick fix, special work out, fancy diet or surgery that can alter the hard, mundane work. But all of this is null and void if you don’t operate from the space that you are enough, you already have what it takes to do the work and there is no final destination. Life is a process and it’s all in the details. So as this new phase of life is inevitably upon us, I wish you success, happiness and peace. In whatever way it manifests itself to you.

xxx

Sarah

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. 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