When it Just Hurts

You know the feeling.

You wake up at first light, eyes puffy, head aching, processing the emotional hangover from the night before.

Miscommunication. Sharp words. Raised voices. Stomping feet. Slamming doors. Hurt feelings. Tears. Sleeplessness. Self-pity, loneliness, despair, isolation…

Being human is hard. We are all complicated beings, shaped by our experiences and our current situations. We carry these things with us and are triggered by things we can’t identify fast enough to avoid the damage they cause. The ones nearest to us get the overflow, and so on and so on. Hurt rarely singles out the original culprit. It seeps and crawls and oozes it’s way into everything you touch, bringing with it the pain and suffering and heartache that started as only a pinprick on your heart. That is the landslide of the power of hurt.

But God.

Yes, I have a sensitive soul. I’ll be the first to admit it. I can still feel the way my heart broke at 6-years-old, watching my parents fight. I can still feel the sadness in 2nd grade learning about MLK Jr., learning for the first time that people hated each other simply for the color of their skin. I can still feel the tears on my face when my favorite cat died. I can still feel the tears falling on my white butterfly comforter when I was told we were moving in 5th grade. I can still feel the dread of going to school in 6th grade because that kid who made fun of me everyday would be there. I can still feel the grip of my car’s steering wheel as I drove through tears after my high-school boyfriend broke up with me. I can still feel the ache of homesickness when I left for college.

I can still feel that hurt. But what I hurt most for, is that girl.

That was a girl that often felt unloved, unworthy, insecure. A girl who stuffed all her hurt inside to please everyone around her and who felt like it was her responsibility alone to keep her world from crumbling. A girl who’s unprotected heart was free range for the world to manipulate and destroy.

But I’m not that girl anymore.

The girl I am now, the woman I am, is different. Her heart resides in a place built on solid ground, a place so safe and beautiful that evil cannot touch her there. Light beams from the windows and never lets the darkness in. It’s clean and comfortable and full of warm blankets and comfy chairs and fresh baked cookies and scented candles and love and safety.

Safety.

My heart lives in the Father’s house now, where there is safety and security and peace. Hurt sometimes makes it up to the front porch, but Jesus sees it, out of the corner of his eye…he goes and grabs a broom from the pantry and quickly sweeps it away. Sometimes the hurt gets bolder, dares to knock at the door, sometimes even manages to crack it open slightly, but Jesus comes over, smiles and says confidently, “No, thank you. You’re not welcome here. Have a nice day!”

And I remain inside, safe and sound, probably on the couch with my blanket and my coffee and my Jesus.

Our world will throw hurt at us faster than we can handle. It is healthy to acknowledge and feel our hurt. But we don’t have to handle it alone. I’m so grateful that I know that now. I’m so grateful for an identity and a heart that is forever safe in Him.

I pray for continued strength, for patience, for a safe place to go when I am hurt. I pray there will always be a warm, inviting, loving place for me on that couch next to Jesus. And I pray that you will hear the best news ever…that there’s plenty of room for you there, too.

There will always be room for you.

What if You Don’t?

The universe is sending me messages again.

I recently published a blog post three months after I finished it and I’m still stumped on why. Actually that’s a complete lie…I know exactly why! Because finishing things is hard for me. My self-discipline hasn’t always been top-notch (I actually told a friend at lunch today to please write anonymous threats to get me to workout). I am frequently inspired, but rarely do I see my ideas to fruition.

Anyway, back to the messages. While listening to yet another podcast (I promise, I do other things, I swear!), the girl (can’t remember who, but obviously a successful, well-enlightened person) was talking about all the time she had lost being creative due to escaping into things like social media, Netflix, etc. She even described the feeling you get (yes, you know it) when you’ve been on your phone too long and you get that icky sensation that you have completely ignored everything else for a bit longer than you should have. It’s a fun escape at first, until you look up two hours later and wonder where in the world the time has gone, or where your children are, or is that the smell of food burning?!

We are all guilty. Smartphones are amazing tools, but also amazing at being addictive. I won’t lie, I’m writing on one right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking of how I long to use my creativity more, always wonder why and how to do better at it, when I know exactly why…this shiny little screen right here in front of me. It’s just too easy of an escape.

My husband and I love to watch The Crown on Netflix (I know, I know, more screens). One of the most fascinating things I started to notice was how they spent their down time. Reading a book. Drinking tea (of course). Playing cards. Not a screen in sight. Well, part of the series is in a time period when tv’s weren’t in homes yet, but still. You can actually hear clocks ticking in the background. Funny that in a time when we use our phones to escape, I watch actors just sitting around in a quiet room and that seems like the real escape.

I had a rug delivery today (always exciting, I know!) and the delivery guy saw that I had a giant wall version of Connect Four in my embarrassingly large Amazon box pile by my front door. I love that game! he says as he rearranges my furniture. I tell him I hope my kids will actually play it, all they want to play is their phones, yada yada.

“I have a friend, soon as you turn into her driveway…no internet!” he says. “They always playing board games, the kids will communicate with you, it’s amazing!”

I look at him with wonder. Who is this magnificent woman and why is she not the President? Sadly, I too have the power to turn off my internet. I can take back control! But wait- I have to fill out this form online, the kids have to use the computer for school, my husband has work…not gonna happen.

So I guess it’s up to me, my own self-discipline and knowing how to set rules and boundaries for my kids. Adulting…ughhhhh.

Think of all the artists, the musicians, the authors that will never share their gifts because of screen time? The ones who, if exposed to sheer boredom, might teach themselves to play the piano or paint with watercolors or make up recipes? Or will they be sucked into the vortex of the screen when free time allows? I know I am guilty. How much time would I have spent being creative if it weren’t for unlimited episodes of Below Deck or posting vacation pictures on social media or falling into the abyss of an endless news cycle all at my fingertips? Sigh.

And yet, I do this every single day. And I bet most of you do, too. Not meaning to put the guilt trip on, just make you think.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she explores the idea that creativity is almost it’s own dimension. That creative ideas flow freely and it just takes one person with enough grit to catch one and do something tangible with it. She mentions how she had thought up a complete storyline for a novel that she kept to herself, always struggling to actually write it down. Eventually, enough time passed not following through with her book writing that one day, she picked up a novel by one of her favorite authors and was stunned to discover that it was the exact same story she had thought of. Ok, so maybe not word for word, but the plot, setting, characters…it was basically the same idea.

This has always fascinated me, this idea of creative thoughts just waiting to be used by the right, willing person. Have you ever read a book, or seen a business idea or invention that you have already thought of? It’s a crazy feeling. My husband actually did a project in college about the idea of satellite radio, in 1998. You learn about people’s innovations in the world and think…wait! That was my idea!!! Until we limit the distractions, muster up some courage and some Olympic levels of self-discipline, sadly that’s all they will remain…ideas in our heads, never to be shared with the world.

What are we waiting for? What ideas and creative gifts do you have that you are holding back from the world? I know I have many. I have notebooks of songs and poems that I’ve started as far back as first grade. I have books and stories half-written. Art half-drawn. Choruses and verses and bridges in my head. I used to dream of breakfast delivery service when I was in my 20’s…and now voila! We have Uber eats. I know I wasn’t the only one with that idea way back when.

But what will they think? What if I fail? What if they all laugh at me?!!

You could spend as much time worrying the opposite…what if I don’t? Chances are, if you don’t run with a creative idea, somebody else will.

I need to hear this message constantly, need the fire stoked so that maybe eventually, I’ll finish something I’ve created. I know, we are all busy raising babies or paying bills or studying or just surviving. But we all have creative gifts inside us. Ideas are everywhere. They just need a little care and cultivating before they can be released out into the world.

Can you see them? Can you catch one? I can’t wait to see what you will do with it, beautiful friend.

Turn off that screen…and make some magic.

Target Practice

Another spring break has come and gone.

As excited as I was to take some time off from the normal day to day and get down to the Georgia coast, I was pretty dang excited this morning dropping my kiddos back off at school. Grass is always greener, they say!

I have to bring awareness to the fact, however, that my anxiety levels have been heightened as of late. I’ve noticed the soundtrack in my head becoming stuck on the old what if and oh no and get me out of here more than I have in a while. Old triggers have been more noticeable and louder in the past month or so.

Of course I’ve been ruminating over why…but the sad truth is that the wild goose chase may not ever lead anywhere. Hormones? Stress? Diet? I mean, you could run yourself into the ground.

I did know that I had a long drive to make, and I was doubting myself pretty heavily.

I know I’ve mentioned that the way we think has a direct impact on our anxiety levels, among others factors. The truth was, the doubt and fear were starting to gain momentum on the feedback loop in my brain. This negative thought pattern sets us up for the perfect breeding ground for anxiety to grow.

The drive down was tough. The endless lanes of Atlanta’s interstates bearing the morning load of traffic was overwhelming. I squirmed in my seat and fought through it, although waves of disappointment and discouragement accompanied my endurance.

I’ve been doing so good! Why am I taking a step back? Am I falling back into my old ways?

Just like that, the lies began to try to persuade truth into my life. It’s amazing how powerful your thought life can be. The tiniest idea can manifest into a whole identity-stealing concept before you can blink.

After we arrived, I was mentally exhausted. That was hard, I mentioned to my mom without much detail. I kept going back and analyzing the failures of my drive, like it was some judged performance, although it was me who was the lone judge in this competition. I had the hardest time shaking off the worry that I was re-entering the dark pit of debilitating anxiety.

Sadly, ruminating on the negative has completely overshadowed the fact that I still successfully made the drive. I tackled Atlanta morning rush hour (which is no small feat…um, hello 16 LANES!!!), managed two children and a dog, fed everyone, made the necessary bathroom stops, all while making pretty darn good time. From an accomplishment stand point, I should be thrilled! Especially knowing that a handful of years ago, driving on the interstate with my children was my number one fear.

Hold up…I conquered my number one fear!!! How could I forget how awesome that is?!

It’s funny how you can desperately wish for an outcome for so long, and once you achieve it, there’s a point that the euphoria of success tapers off, and you begin to assimilate that once impossible task back into daily life. It just becomes normal. You try to remember why you struggled so much to do something that barely phases you anymore. It’s almost as if the anxiety never robbed you of all those years in the first place.

Until years later, when you receive an uninvited visitor.

Hey girl, haaay… so it’s been a while. Why don’t we hang out anymore? I know, I knowI was a bully. But I was just trying to keep you safe, remember? I mean, you could’ve been out living your life worry-free and having fun, but who wants to risk that?! You were safe in your little cage, thanks to me. You couldn’t drive, you couldn’t get on an airplane, go to concerts or movies or crowded restaurants, I mean ugh…what a hassle that is anyway! Why don’t we go have lunch and I’ll remind you that you can have your old fear-driven, anxiety-ridden life back? Can’t we just be friends again? Puh-leeeeeease?!

Ughhhh…there she is. My a-hole brain, trying to let herself back into my life. There I was, dwelling on the disappointing flashbacks of my lessthan-perfect drive, when I should’ve been celebrating an amazing accomplishment. That’s what the a-hole brain does; steals your joy and tries to erase the good thoughts from taking the proper front-row seat in your brain.

She even tries to stop me from writing, that little hussy. Distracting me and doubting my abilities with every passing hour. You don’t have time or no one wants to read that or why even bother, what’s the point?

All too often, I listen to her. Or I just get lazy and pick up a book or defer to the Netflix. But not today, dang it! If I have to pick up and finish this post every time I’m in carpool line, I’m gonna make it happen. So what if spring break was a full three weeks ago…no one said this was a race.

Anyway, so we have a great break, and guess what? I will have to drive back home at the end of it, because that’s how vacation works. Of course, I would rather stay and live at the beach forever, but that’s not really the most realistic life choice at the moment. So I prepare myself by trying to think more positively about my journey. I can listen to my podcasts! I get to sleep in my bed and take a shower in my own shower (we all know we get cleanest in our actual, own shower)! Maybe the traffic will be lighter than normal in McDonough (reality check: traffic is never light in McDonough, for some mysterious reason.)!

So I start my trek, the kiddos settle into the first of many hours of technology time (an utter delight to their eyes and my ears) and I get going on the podcasts. I love a good podcast lately, and a nice long drive is the perfect time to devote some attention to them. Most of my favorites are personal development podcasts, but I have everything from pop-culture to faith to current events to business psychology in my library. I kind of love all the things.

What I really love is a hearty, deep conversation, especially within the realm of faith, and more importantly, when my soul needs to be nurtured. Sometimes I just need a good soul hug. So I sat back and took a deep dive into a few of my favorites.

In one particular interview, the speaker was talking about calming her nerves before speaking publicly. When she prayed about it, she saw the image of a target on the back wall during her speech. It was there to remind her that God should be her primary focus, especially during difficult times; all she had to do was focus on Him to get her through her struggle.

This wasn’t a new idea to me, making God my focal point. My faith-walk has been a pivotal factor in overcoming anxiety. But sometimes I need a reminder, a wake-up call, a direct-line to hear His message.

About 10 minutes after listening to the target story, I got my message. I passed a billboard with a huge, white target symbol plastered across the front. I can’t remember what the advertisement was for (I know it wasn’t my beloved Target big-box department store), but it screamed to me, loud and clear.

I’ve got you. Keep your eyes on me. I will guide you home.

Traffic was horrible, as Atlanta traffic always is on a holiday weekend. It was coming up on hour six of my drive. The sun blared down on all 16 lanes of packed cars, reflecting off their roofs like shining scales on an enormous school of fish navigating through the current. I was weary. I wanted off the interstate, and I wanted off now.

Those are the moments that you realize you have a choice. You can succumb to the chaos of your lack of control, or you can focus on your target. You can get carried away by the endless waves of uncertainty or you can stay on course and follow Him home. Once you can let go and surrender that control, it’s smooth sailing.

I don’t remember the exact moment in that sea of traffic that the peace washed over me, or how I somehow received a boost of energy that helped me through those final 45 minutes, but I do remember my overwhelming gratefulness. I relaxed in my seat, smiled at the familiar scenery of my hometown out my window, and breezed on home.

Bullseye.

Like I do with every blog post, I start to narrate in my head, can’t wait to run to the computer when I get the chance to share my insight. But before my fingers even make it to the keyboard, my a-hole brain quickly shows up and tries to shut it down. You’re too tired. Nobody cares. Your thoughts aren’t really worth sharing anyway.

But then…Monday. I take my daughter to tennis practice and I hear her coach say, “Focus on the target.”

Tuesday. A friend sends me a rap video on my phone (we were trying to get pumped up for our tennis match, ok?!!) and guess what’s painted on a brick wall in the background? A white target.

Wednesday at my tennis practice. We ask our coach what we are going to work on today. “Target practice,” she says.

Fine, I think. I hear you!! Keep going. Keep your focus.

Symbols have always been a huge influence in my life. I can’t explain it, but I feel it in my spirit when something I see takes on a deeper meaning. I’ve never really heard God speak to me, but I know He can communicate in so many ways. Even though my faith has grown leaps and bounds recently, I’m a skeptic at heart, and I think God knows I need these reminders to stay the course. Sometimes they are whispers and sometimes they are roars, but I know when there’s a message waiting for me. All I have to do is be willing and ready to receive it.

So here I am, reminding you to stay the course. Focus on your target. Lean into your faith and trust the way forward. Do the hard things because they will help you grow, no matter how much you want to stay where you are. You will miss the mark, over and over again. But when you hit the bullseye…that is the moment that you realize all that target practice was worth it.

Steady your arrow, and let it fly.

From Post to Prayer

Goodness me…where to start.

This year. This few months. This week.

The tension, the noise, the fear, the injustice. All of it is just too much sometimes. And yet what are we doing? We are letting it sweep us away.

It’s happened to me lately and I’m just now realizing it.

I try not to read or watch the news too often. To me it’s only healthy in bite-size, honest doses. But I’ve always defended social media, to some degree. I love seeing what my friends are doing! I love the inspirational stories and causes! Yes, I found this cute dress on my Facebook feed!

But lately I’ve caught myself red-handed. I’ve caught myself scrolling past the good, past the new puppy pics and vacation stories to find the controversy. On purpose. Like it’s some tv show I’m waiting to see play out. What extreme view will this person post today? What names will she be called? How does this side defend themselves to that side?

My Facebook feed has become my favorite new reality show.

Yes, I always try to call people out and remind them to love, no matter what. I try to point them to trust in their faith in the least pushy way possible because I’ve seen the fruit produced from my journey. But even so, I’m still engaging in the endless online banter. I’m still stirring the pot by reacting. And there’s a fine line between acting with love and just trying to prove a point.

But today I spent 30 full minutes just reading the back and forth of responses to someone’s post. The harsh words, the expletives, the public lashings in both directions were terrible, and yet I ate it up. Just couldn’t put it down. It was completely sad and completely entertaining all at the same time.

But it’s just for fun right?

Try to remember…on the other side of the screen are people. Actual, real humans. People with their own stories, their own experiences. People who are being verbally torn down and attacked because they don’t feel real. Because how dare they disagree with you. Because it’s easy to say whatever you want when not looking someone in the eye.

How do I feel after reading that enticing online rant? Or trying to prove a point with my quick-to-judge comment? Refreshed? Satisfied? Justified? Usually not. Maybe for a minute or two, and then I realize the emptiness behind it. Half the time I don’t even know this person. Just because I feel strongly about something, that gives me the right to interject without knowing someone’s story or experience? To think I’m the be-all, know-all on a subject? That because I have emotions about what someone said that I have to react to it just to get my rant out? Oh how I wish we could all go back to old school, hand-written, locking diaries sometimes!

It’s hard enough for my middle-aged brain to comprehend all this online rhetoric right now, but I can’t even imagine how the younger generations are handling all the negative energy out there. I’m so thankful that social media didn’t exist when I was an adolescent…but that’s a whole other topic.

My point is this: what if we took all that energy we want to throw into that post, that online conversation, that thing you just want to scream out for all the world to hear, and said it to the One who can really take it? Who can take your screams for injustice? Who can take your mourning and your anxieties and your deepest fears and use them for good??

What if we turned our posts into prayers?

When I find myself in that dark place, when my heart hurts so bad that I feel lost and alone, I go straight to my Bible app. I search for verses to help with what I am feeling. I seek out a story that will center me and remind me that God is good, all the time. And if I really need to, I will sit down and give it all to Him; whether it’s through prayer, through worship, or just being still and listening. I give it all the One who wants all of me, good, bad and ugly. To the One who has offered to carry all my burden without any conditions.

Will there be a risk of a public mockery? Will I be called names and belittled and shamed for all the world wide web to see? Will I loose friends and followers and risk being censored or banned or exploited?

Not at all.

I will be loved.

Unconditionally, unapologetically, eternally loved.

Seems too good to be true right? In this world where we are turning against each other in droves, where people hide behind screens and tear others down in the name of “justice”, where we label and assume and bully and shame in the name of “love”, it’s hard to imagine that there’s an actual safe place to go. We are all increasingly desperate for that safe, loving place. That place where we are loved and heard and held no matter what our opinions are.

It’s available to me, to you, to all. Jesus doesn’t care about your skin color, your political affiliation, your gender, your sexual orientation. The only thing He cares about is your heart. All He wants is a relationship with you. He wants you to come as you are, to lay everything at His feet, and let go. There’s no risk of cyber bullying or public shaming or losing friends or family. It’s between you and Him, and that’s the simple, beautiful truth.

Be mindful that after you give Him your all through prayer, after begging and pleading and unloading the heaviness in your heart, you may not get immediate answers. You probably won’t hear a big booming voice or a crack of thunder (like in the movies!). In fact, you may not see any change at all. But give it time. Prayer isn’t a magic wand you can waive over a situation to make it all better. It’s a humbling act of spiritual giving that asks for mercy and giving in return. It peels away the layers of our hearts, exposes the darkest parts to the light to be made better. It takes time and patience and trust. It takes new eyes to see and new ears to hear. Sometimes the answers are smaller than dust and quieter than a whisper, but they are there. The more you expose your heart in prayer, the more the answers will become clear. The more you pay attention to the nudges, the more will follow. It’s like seeing the tiniest crack of light in the darkest tunnel, and trusting that everyday, with every prayer, that crack will open just a bit more. It’s our lifeline, our compass, the light unto our path.

Ok, now I’m feeling pushy.

I always hesitate to share my spiritual beliefs with others. I truly respect all people’s beliefs and don’t want anyone to feel that they won’t be loved and accepted because of my views. Most of my blog posts are gentle in my approach, because I get it. I get the scars that people have because of their “religious” friends and family. I get the anxieties of being judged and feeling “not good enough” when it comes to church, even in the eyes of God. I know you think following Christ means you have to follow this ridiculous set of rules. I have heard those lies too and I know many of you still believe them. I have a whole blog about it, in fact.

But these days, when the negative presence and evil in our world feels palpable, when hate is literally breeding at a breakneck pace, where love and humility are being drowned out by all the noise, I can’t not speak up about the freedom that is available to us all through Christ. I can’t sit back and pretend I don’t know the antidote to this madness. In my darkest hours, in my most desperate moments, it’s been my constant. My place of rest.

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes that is the only thing I have left to say.

Do you ever see the same number over and over again? Like you always wake up at the same time? Or you keep seeing the same time when you look at the clock? For me, for the last couple of years, that number has been 4:20. When I’d wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night…4:20. When I’d hear my favorite song…4:20. When I heard shocking news about the health of a friend…4:20.

When it started to become more of a “thing”, I went to a trusted friend (who wouldn’t totally write me off as crazy) and mentioned it. She told me to go to the Bible, see if there was a verse with those numbers that resonated with me. Um, okay…I thought, skeptical. But I kept an open mind and kept digging. There were some good ones, words that spoke to me. But I kept coming back to Acts 4:20.

“For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

I have found so much freedom from anxiety through blogging, through sharing my truth. I love to help others through their own journey, but I always hesitated to bring in my spiritual journey. But this verse spoke loud and clear to me. I have seen and heard the love of Jesus. He has helped me through my darkest hours, filled the voids that nothing else ever could, taught me the power of humility and forgiveness. How could I leave Him out of my story? So it was time to speak.

Still it was hard. I didn’t want to loose friends or offend anyone. To loose a chance to help people with anxiety because they were turned off by my beliefs. And then one day, while hiking up in the north Georgia mountains, the alarm on my phone went off randomly. I took it out of my pocket and looked at the screen.

4:20.

I hadn’t set an alarm, I hardly ever do. I’m sure it was one of my kids, let’s be real. But what are the chances of it being for that specific time? It stopped me in my tracks.

It was time to listen to the nudges.

So here I am. Almost contradicting myself because I’m sharing my thoughts online while telling you to put them into prayer…oops! But sometimes we need a little reminder, a little encouragement to get us going. A story that is authentic and hard to share in the name of inspiring others. To speak of what I have seen and heard… not my political opinions, my annoyances with this or that, my frustrations with society.

I want to speak about the good news. The news that we are all completely loved and enough. That perfect love cannot be offended. The last time I checked, I didn’t see that headline at the top of any recent news story.

What I’m not saying, is don’t act on issues that break your heart. If something bothers you to your core, please speak up to a trusted friend or a reliable source. Slow down and do the work and find the right avenues to accomplish the goal. Pray about it or meditate on it and really process your emotions first before you divulge them all on a public media forum. Take a step back and a deep breath and stop yourself before you add fuel to the already blazing fire. Social media sounding boards may not help you achieve anything, as tempting as it is (yes, I’ve fallen for it too!). I bet if we put down Facebook and put in some face time to solve our issues, we would be making way more progress.

The bottom line is this…we all have a lot to say. We see hate and injustice and evil all around us. We want to fight back and do what’s right and speak our minds. But we must be careful, because as humans, we take offense. We offend others even when we don’t realize it. It’s so hard to avoid right now. The atmosphere of media and online chatter is toxic, it’s so easy and so available to us. But there’s a better way to vent. There’s a Savior that’s always available to you, with open arms and a listening ear and a spirit that doesn’t take offense.

So next time you are angered, upset, even enraged with someone or something that you read online, try turning to prayer instead of that keyboard. Give it to God instead of going on Facebook. Shout it to the heavens instead of the internet.

Then be still, and know that sometimes the best feedback you can get is so quiet that only your soul can hear.

Shinrin-Yoku for the Soul

I just took a tree bath.

Yep, I totally meant to say that.

My morning started off with some harsh words and less than kind exchanges. Nothing too serious, just life getting the best of me. My soul was left aching, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I needed a walk in the woods.

I didn’t need it for the exercise (well, my lazy self could always use some exercise I guess), I just needed to be there. Surrounded by the beauty and life and oxygen-giving trees.

While sitting in the lobby of the dentist’s office, anxious about being poked and prodded all up in my mouth, I flipped through one of my favorite magazines and saw a quick insert about a place north of Atlanta where you can rent small, simple cabins in the woods. They referrenced the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which when translated, literally means “forest bathing”. A Japanese forestry expert coined the phrase many years ago, and it has since been a practice widely used and loved by their culture. You simply spend intentional quiet time surrounded by trees.

I didn’t need to read this article to know that I love being in the forest (ok, honestly, I love being on a well-maintained trail in a forest; I get a little freaked out about being lost or surprised by bugs and critters off-trail). I’ve always said I feel the most at peace, most inspired and most spiritually connected when I’m surrounded by nature. So of course when I hear terms like “forest bathing”, I geek out a little.

Some of my best memories and most peaceful moments are when I’ve been immersed in nothing but trees. We grew up going to a quiet cabin in the North Carolina mountains, and were even fortunate enough to purchase our own cabin last summer, nestled among miles and miles of trees. We love sitting on the deck, looking out at the long-range views of nothing but green, listening to leaves being rustled by the breeze or the dancing rain. My husband says he does his best thinking up there. It’s definitely good for the soul.

View from our cabin…ahhhhhhh

So this morning I headed out to one of my favorite trails. I let the rhythmic sound of my feet, pounding the damp ground, lull me into a state of peace. I smiled at the way the sun peeked through the leaves, leaving a golden glow among the darkened forest floor. I watched a black and blue velvet-winged butterfly float by, I passed a field of tall, bushy grass, alive and buzzing with a chorus of grasshoppers, I exchanged a curious glance with a pair of deer. Luckily I didn’t see a snake or get eaten by mosquitoes…I mean, not everything in nature is pleasant.

What I noticed the most on the walks, however, were the trees. I mean, their symbolism for life just amazes me. The way they endure so much. They live through heat waves and frost, too little rain or too much. They lose limbs in storms and become covered in vines or eaten by insects, and yet their root systems are usually so strong, their trunks so sturdy, they survive again and again. They grow and grow and grow some more, some for many more years than I will ever see. Even as I passed trees that had finally fallen or succumbed to death, I notice their ability to continue to give life. Plants were sprouting from within and moss covered the bark. Creatures found new homes in their safe shelter. The tree continued to give, even in death.

One of the trails at Cheatham Hill

I walk on and on, my soul filling up with every step. The trees guide me on. Acorns and branches and leaves are falling all around me, but I head on. I have to keep going. I realise that after a heavy storm, it’s not the best time to hike in the woods, but there’s so much beauty to notice, so much more good, that the benefit is worth the risk.

Life is like that…things are falling apart all around us. We are attacked from every angle, every day. But our roots are strong. We may be covered in fungus and loose some leaves and limbs here and there, but we endure. We are life-livers and life-givers.

Everyone struggles everyday with something. Even the people who seem like they aren’t (I’m looking at you Facebook and Instagram). We are all human and life is hard. Sometimes we search so desperately for something to take away the hurt, that we forget that right in front of us, all around us, God has put everything we need already here on this earth. I think we just forget to stop and notice. We strive, we search, we struggle…but we forget to just be still.

Truth.

So go hug a tree. Ok…just kidding. Kind-of. At least if you do, send me a picture because that will just make my day.

Do take the time to be still and notice. Slow down, breathe deep, go take a tree bath or two. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself one day, when no one is looking, giving those trees a quick thank-you hug.

The Road to Forgiveness

California here we…leave!

We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!

From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Seeing the west coast for the first time

So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.

On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.

Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.

So, that’s not awkward at all.

I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.

So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.

There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.

Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.

Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.

Update: Meeting was a success!

Those Summer Nights

Y’all. I just need to gush about how much I love a good, warm, chill summer night. Because sometimes it’s just fun to write about the good things in life.

Down here in the south there’s this golden hour of summer, between about 8 and 9pm. The sun starts setting, the twilight sky glows as clouds start to turn all yellow-orange-pinkish-purple, the tops of the trees catch the last golden glimmer of the sun’s rays.

Birds sing their lullabies and cicadas start dueling with their shrill cries. Children’s laughter echoes off the houses as they finally take to the streets in the cooler air, delighting at the first sight of fireflies blinking in the trees. Crickets start chirping and the frogs start to call out from the retention pond down the way.

It reminds me of an old folk song, which was also made into a picture book I used to read to the kids, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir”. Nature’s song comes together with an array of sounds, celebrating this golden hour of summer.

And then…a dang mosquito bites me on the ankle. Almost immediately after, I hear my daughter’s tell-tale my-brother-just-hit-me cry. I interrupt my euphoric back porch moment to go check on the situation.

He p-pushed me into the c-c-cabinet! Waaaaaa…aaaaahhh…

I hold Allie close and don’t even attempt to seek justice in this simple brother-sister squabble. I immediately direct her attention towards the back deck.

Come on! The fireflies are starting to come out!

Of course she requests a bowl of cereal first because face it, she’s my child and cereal is life, and then we sit out back in the spinning outdoor chairs (aka, the spinny chairs). I show her the torch candle I’ve lit, brought back to life after finally being filled back up with citronella oil. We spot multiple airplanes in the sky, their underbellies glowing pink, reflecting the last of the sunlight. We ooh at the brightness of the quarter moon as it peeks over a tree branch, and ahh as a fluttering flock of birds race by.

The golden hour is back in full swing.

Jack eventually shuffles out to meet us, casually digging into a bag of goldfish. He points to a few more airplanes, makes some goofy faces and then says excitedly…let’s swim!

My goofy kiddos having some back porch fun

And just like that, they are skipping down the stairs and jumping into the pool, (conveniently still in their bathing suits from this afternoon because duh, its the official uniform of summer) and I take a front row seat to the splashing joy of my children’s childhood. My heart fills up watching them play together (the earlier shoving match long forgotten, at least for the moment) as I sit back and watch the stars pop out one by one. Night officially sets in, and I am grateful for yet another beautiful day.

What’s that? Another mosquito?!

I don’t think so, mister. Go mess with someone your own size. I’ve got a perfect summer night to savor.

Nothing and Everything

Ahhhhh….summer.

As I lay here, minutes ticking away towards 9am, kids still snoozing away in silence, I realize how much we have really settled in to our summer groove.

At the end of May, when everyone is coming down from that tornado of end-of-year-madness, we begin gearing up for summer.

What trips are y’all taking? Are you doing any camps? Swim team? Travel ball? Plans, plans, PLANS?!!!!

All of a sudden I’m plunged back into scramble mode. Desperately feeling like I should have every week plotted and activity-filled. I’m googling camps and scheduling play dates and travel planning like a crazy woman.

Our summer started out with a bang. The day after school ended, we ran off to the cabin, straight down to the beach, and then flew off to Chicago. We did have a lot of adventures, made countless memories. But somewhere during all that traveling, my body just needed to stop.

I drove home from the beach, which is still a huge feat in itself, knowing I had a little over 12 hours before I had to turn around and leave again. I flung open the door and literally made a beeline for the bed. My body ached for sleep. The hundred-mile-an-hour, action-packed summer I was so excited about was already exhausting me.

Then my son really drove it home when he turned to me sweetly and said, “Can we just have a week where we don’t go anywhere?”

Wow.

All my fretting over having enough to do over the summer, and my nine-year-old had to spell it out for me: I just want to do nothing!

Of course he didn’t actually want to do nothing, but I understood. He wanted a chance to be still, to stay home and catch his breath. He didn’t want camps and activities and agenda shoved down his throat like he had during the school year. He didn’t want to spend hours in a car strapped into a seat. He just wanted space and freedom and stillness.

Isn’t that what we all want?

So we did just that. We came home and got some much-needed rest. Yes, we still had chores and errands to do here and there, the kids both spent a week away at camp, and we have another trip or two planned. But we have spaced them out better so we can fully embrace our summer rhythm. We have plenty of nothing days in-between.

Sometimes we aren’t dressed until noon.

Sometimes we have popsicles 4 times a day.

Sometimes we have cookies for breakfast and cereal for dinner.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) the pool counts as bath time.

Sometimes we watch tv for hours.

Sometimes we forget to wear shoes for a whole day.

Sometimes our only outing is to get gas station ice cream.

Sometimes there’s literally nothing to do.

But sometimes, doing nothing is EVERYTHING.

Don’t be afraid of having nothing to do this summer. I admit that I was. I feared every small hole in our agenda. But as I settle in to summer, I’m realizing how much this quiet rhythm soothes my soul. How being bored can actually breed creativity. How slowing down is my love language.

I still haven’t heard a peep from my sleeping children, and that’s a beautiful thing. These sweet days won’t last forever. But soon enough, I’ll hear those thundering little footsteps coming my way, and when they come jump on my bed for their morning hugs, they’ll ask me what we are doing today.

To which I will happily reply… nothing!

You Are What You Eat

I did something a bit, well, sneaky the other night.

As we were about to turn in for the night, my husband asked if I knew where his phone was.

“Your phone? Hmmmm…” I replied.

I knew exactly where the phone was. Selfishly, however, I omitted that information. Notice I didn’t lie, right? I told you I was sneaky…

My husband loves comedy podcasts. Like a lot. Every night, falling asleep in his huge headphones, comedians help lure his thoughts away from everyday stress. In the morning, it’s news on his phone. Scanning pages and pages of headlines, the latest shocking drama or political circus act. It seems like a harmless distraction, or is it?

He also gets caught up with work calls, texts, never gets a chance to fully escape from work. Constant responsibility weighs heavy. It’s a sacrifice, sure, but he truly loves the push and pull of his work life.

I too, am guilty of the addiction of finger swiping late into the night when I need to wind down. Before I know it, I’ve gone deep into the rabbit hole; this story leads to that story leads to another story. Sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, even uplifting at times, but for the most part, distracting chatter. I’ll read an article and then get caught up in the reader comments that usually read like childish banter of I’m right/you’re wrong nanny-nanny boo-boo. Its like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you just want to keep going back for more.

A while back we talked about this in bible study, about things we tend to watch or read regularly. My friend mentioned her husband started listening to these political podcasts constantly, and she noticed a subtle change in him. He became overly worried and invested in the toxic political atmosphere according to the news, when in reality his career was nothing related to that world. He became quick to anger and criticize. Finally she suggested that he listen to something a bit less intense.

For the past few years it seems, the phone seems to become my husbands constant companion. Ok honestly, it’s that way for a lot of us. It’s a way to escape at the end of the long day, or relish those last few minutes of laying in bed in the morning. And don’t even get me started on Netflix…I mean, how fun can that be on a rainy day???

The other day, before the phone hijacking incident, I told my husband he was turning into his mamaw. Don’t get me wrong, she was an amazing, spit fire of a women. Jason tells stories of how she used to buy things from garage sales and turn around and sell them for profit. The woman could pull off one hell of a hustle. When I first met her, she was sitting with Grandpa Brian on their plaid couch, cozied up in their small living room, eyes glued to one of the 24 hour news networks.

“Jason, don’t you go bringing kids into this world, it is a scary place,” she would say, staring at that small box in her living room. She would go on with concern about how the world and humanity was doomed. How we should be worried and afraid. She didn’t venture out much from her small house in Franklin, Tennessee much in those later years; the people in the tv warned her not to. The constant, negative news feed had shaped her entire world view from that half-acre lot in suburban America.

We already struggle daily with our own interpersonal news reel, feeding us the shoulds and what ifs and whys of our daily actions. We struggle with self-compassion and positive self-talk already, so to feed ourselves more negativity from the world around us can overload until we are drowning in hopelessness. We feel a tremendous weight and burden that we don’t even need to be carrying.

I’m not saying that we need to be unaware of what’s happening in the world, because I absolutely believe that knowledge of injustices and needs around us can call us to action and unite communities, but this is more of a help me, help you situation. Like putting on our own oxygen masks before we start helping others. If we run off trying to put out fires before we’ve filled up our water tank, we won’t get very far.

I decided a few years ago, I needed to change my diet.

It wasn’t a food diet; (ok, so there is lots of science to back up that this is essential also, but this girl needs some French fries in her life!!) I needed to change the information I ingested.

I struggled with self-worth, with feeling like I was enough, with shame and guilt over my anxiety issues. But unlike those extra pounds that you can feel and see, my extra weight was internal. It made my heart and soul feel heavy with doubt and fear. Being overweight in your soul can be just as harmful to your health as in the physical sense, but most of us don’t entertain this notion as much.

So how do you start a healthy diet for the soul?

Everyone is different here. We all have things we feel are lacking, and those are the nutrients we need to feed ourselves regularly. Of course it can be as simple as doing one thing we love everyday, or using our creative gifts more often. For me, writing, music, and being out in nature pack a healthy serving of soul food, so I try to make intentional time for those as often as possible. I have friends that go for long runs or take a trip alone once a year. The other day I told the lady doing my pedicure how much I appreciated it and how I wish it was covered by health insurance. Whatever self-care you can fit into your schedule, don’t feel guilty about it.

I also read my devotional every morning, either while brushing my teeth or even more effectively, when I drink my coffee. Tying a daily habit to another only reinforces the act. I make it a priority to read the “good news” of God before reading the news of the world around me. I’ve been doing this daily for about three years, and it’s become as essential to me as breathing oxygen. My oxygen mask.

Mindfulness and being still are other daily snacks that I try to feed myself. We are constantly attacked by countless distractions, and ingesting small moments of quiet and calm can better equip us to battle that sense of feeling overwhelmed with to-do’s. Even if it’s five minutes of your day, the benefits from this habit are life-changing.

Of course, physical exercise and a healthy diet directly affect our state of mind, so it is important to pay attention here as well. But just as we try to drink enough water, take our vitamins, get our cup of coffee in daily, we can’t overlook the importance of the information we are feeding our brains and hearts, figuratively speaking. The mind-body-spirit connection is about as critical as all those crunchy yogis and preachy pastors and chill therapists say it is, and I’m so glad the “mainstream” population (whatever that generalization really means?) is starting to believe it. We can’t do life on our own, people.

So before you scroll the endless barrage of news feeds and Facebook posts and check-lists, pay attention.

Have you fed your soul first today?

I know, it sounds corny. Cheesy. Whatever you want to call it to distract you from the fact that it is essential to your health.

The night I “hid” the phone, my husband and I cuddled up and watched a show together. It reminded me of our earlier days, when smartphones weren’t even on our radar. I relished in our quality time, and my soul started to fill up. In return, I felt loved, worthy, at ease. The extra pounds of loneliness and rejection slowly started melting off. I was satisfied.

So while this isn’t a lesson in how to deceive your husband (of course I fessed up the next morning, after gushing about how much I enjoyed our quality time), it is a reminder to take notice of the “junk food” you catch yourself craving; the deficits and distractions in your life that are depriving you and draining your happiness and health. If you have to set limits and boundaries to do so, go for it.

If you find yourself hungry for happiness, craving comfort and control, thirsty for security and self-compassion, start a new diet. Find what lifts you up, take it in, feed it to yourself a little each day. It’s the most important, most delicious, most satisfying meal you will ever eat.

Promo Code: JOY

I promised myself I’d be in bed by 10pm.

Yet here I am, 50 minutes past my bedtime, deciding that there’s more important business to attend. Time to get back to writing. It’s been way too long, friends.

Life is good. Summer was hot. Heck, fall was hotter than summer I think. Halloween was crazy. I think the moon was full for like seven straight days at some point, so between that and all the candy my kids were plain bonkers.

Then my sweet old stinky dog died in his sleep. We went from bonkers to grief in 2.2 seconds. I was a sad, sad soul. I think I cried for 24 hours straight. But although I still swear I hear Bear’s toenails tip-toeing down the hall, and his little piggy-like snorts coming around the corner, we are slowly adjusting to the emptiness.

Now it’s almost December…and like every year we all stop and look at each other like HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!! Then ensues the blur of shopping and parties and Santa and Christmas songs and white elephants and Black Fridays and cyber Mondays and Giving Tuesday’s and days that I can’t even see straight because it’s FREAKING DECEMBER.

But I caught it early this year. A light conversation I had with a friend early in November stopped me in my tracks. We were literally dreading the holidays. Bracing ourselves for the chaos and basically setting ourselves up for a stressful month no matter what. And then I heard myself. And I decided to stop it.

NO! I will NOT dread this season. I will not get wrapped up in the busy distractions that steal my joy. I will not stress over buying gifts or worrying that they are enough or perfect. I will not go to every Christmas party if I’m tired and need to say no. I will give what I can to charities I love and know that I can’t give to everyone and that’s ok. My cards won’t be early if on time at all but they will get done. If the dang Elf forgets to move one or two or five nights in a row, it won’t ruin my children’s lives. The chaos will not control me anymore…I’m taking back my joy this season.

Because, y’all. We are so totally setting ourselves up for failure every year. It’s like some imaginary universal Christmas competition that we all go crazy trying to win. The decorating and the wrapping and the shopping and the baking and the partying…yes, it can be fun, and it may even bring you joy, but not if you feel like you are chasing an unattainable goal of winning the holiday perfection trophy every year.

That was the path I was on the last few years. Literally so distracted by all the stuff that I was missing out on the joy.

Why? What is it all for?

Last year, during our school’s mom/daughter Christmas craft party, Rachel Brown came to speak. Between the painting and blow-drying and kids running around with unlimited hot-chocolate, you could hardly hear the poor girl. I tried to listen as best I could, and I know she played her favorite Christmas song, but it was hard to hear. I asked her at the end of the night what the song was, and the next day, in the stillness of my quiet car (which is sometimes the only place a mom can get peace and quiet) I played the song; Wrap This One Up by Christy Nockles.

As I listened intently to each word, a peace came over me. I knew I needed to hear that song in that moment. I needed to be reminded of where my focus needed to be during that busy, crazy time. I just needed to be still and listen.

That song forever changed Christmas for me.

From that day through the rest of December, anytime I started to get wrapped up in the chaos and stress, I would force myself to stop and listen to that song. To remind myself of the why of Christmas. To remember what it’s all for.

Because the what and the why are so much bigger than the stuff.

If you get a moment in the next few days, try to be still, even for a minute. Focus on what’s good in your life. Focus on the fact that we get the privilege to celebrate at all. Forget the invisible finish line and the infinite lists you’ve made for yourself, and relish the fact that you are here to see another day. Soak up every ounce of joy you can. Be grateful for the tangled ball of Christmas lights and the 60 cookies you have to make and the paper cuts from the wrapping paper.

Or don’t do any of it at all. Just decide to sit and be with people and love on them and shine your light brighter than the dang Rockefeller tree.

Whatever brings you joy, will bring joy to others. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. No promo code required.

So before you go rolling your eyes at those Christmas songs that drive you mad sometimes, try to be still and listen. You may just be reminded what a miracle Christmas really is.