Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How Yoga Helped Me Discover the Truth of Who I Am and How I Want to Feel

Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map Planner lay on the table beside me as I sat down to start this blog post. I've had the idea for the post stirring around in my head for over a month but every time I've tried to write I find myself tangled in details that don't matter and I struggle to get to the heart of what I need to say. When I looked at the cover and saw the question suggested by the planner – What Will You Do to Feel the Way You Want to Feel – I realized I'm already doing one thing that brings me closer to feeling a few of the feels I most desire and it's exactly that thing I want to write about. Maybe I've found my way through the thicket of ideas.

See...I wanted to share with you how yoga saved my life, which I realize sounds utterly over dramatic. 

And perhaps even a bit foolish after I pulled my hamstring by pushing myself deeper into a challenging pose four weeks ago (I'm still recovering, by the way.)

Honestly though, when I revisited yoga this summer after a year long hiatus, I did it because I needed something to quiet the broken-hearted, angry voice in my head that kept telling me that no one loved me, no one would ever love me. That voice had become so loud in the months since moving to Chattanooga that it paralyzed me. To be fair, I already knew physical activity worked better than anything else to quiet my inner critic. Yet, for months I had felt so anchored by the weight of believing the things she said, the things other people said that made me feel worthless, that breaking free of that inertia felt impossible. But I tried. After months of hating myself and my life here, and one especially dark and painful night, I decided I had to find my thing that would allow me to pour all the energy spent feeling miserable into healing. I realized I hated the gyms in Chattanooga. Zumba classes seemed sparse. Pure Barre felt incredible and challenging, but dear Lord, the cost! I enjoy running, but not when it turns hot and humid or too cold. And while I discovered that I love hiking and water sports, you can't really pursue those alone.

So, one day this summer, I pulled out my yoga mat and I haven't looked back. I love power yoga and especially the style of Kurt Johnsen from American Power Yoga. His videos are hard to find online, so I ended up discovering an app called Asana Rebel that has become a big part of my practice.

Before long, that sad and broken voice in my head quieted down. 

Another voice started coming through...one who said things like, "Wow! You just held a plank for two minutes!" One who, rather than telling me I shouldn't bother getting out of bed because my life had no meaning, told me to get my ass on the yoga mat and make that inner critic STFU. I felt better. Actually, not just better, but at peace. For the first time in a long time, I chose joy and the things that made me feel happy over wallowing in my pain. Each day as I continued working toward a daily yoga practice, I not only felt more peaceful and calmer, I began to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in my effort. Not feelings I had felt a lot since giving up my marketing job to move to a city where I hadn't found work.

And...for the first time ever – or at least since my 20s – I realized I didn't hate my body. Well, at least not quite as much. In fact, I began to see and appreciate both my body's strength and its beauty as yoga transformed both my body and the way I saw myself. Ive spent most of my lifetime hating my body. Even as a 113-lb. bikini-clad 22-year old. I feel sad that I couldn't love myself then or see how I really looked to others. Even now as I've progressed I still struggle with that, but I know I'm getting better. Finally, at 47, I can accept my body, appreciate its ability to change and grow stronger and see its beauty, even as I recognize its flaws.

Most remarkably, I've stopped comparing myself to other women. 

Yoga philosophy consistently stresses the idea that competition and comparison have no place in our yoga practice. Rather, yoga provides the opportunity to advance at your own pace, build your physical and inner strength as you discover resources within yourself you did not previously recognize, and to go deep within yourself to awaken parts of your being you tried to tame or repress. Yoga allows you put aside any comparison to others, any fear of being judged, so that you can connect with your true self and rediscover the joy of loving your self and living authentically.

So, when I say yoga saved my life, I'm not exaggerating. Yoga helped me, still helps me, accept myself, love myself, and live fully as myself, whether anyone else likes me or not. In fact, as I began this journey I realized that if I wanted to accept myself, I had to be okay with letting people see the real me. I began posting selfies that I knew might look unflattering. No makeup. Sweaty. In poses that revealed the things I felt most ashamed of like tummy rolls or chubby arms. I had to let myself sit with that shame and fear that the Queen Bees I once compared myself to would see that and laugh. Or my husband would see it and cringe. Sometimes the only way past a feeling is to feel it. And I did. As I exposed myself I realized that some people saw more than my flaws. My fellow yogis saw commitment, effort, a desire to grow and learn and connect and live fully. They cheered me on with support and advice. Friends told me they saw something in me they hadn't before. Some reached out to tell me that my yoga posts inspired them to try it themselves. Now, I feel a part of a tribe of people around the world who see truth and light and wonder and humanity in one another.

And, for the first time in a long time, I feel how I want to feel – loved, at peace, joyful, and like I'm living authentically for me and not in service of trying to emulate someone I've deemed more perfect than myself. 

At least most of the time, anyway. My journey goes on...so much remains to learn and to do and I find that incredibly thrilling and hope-inspiring. Every day does not feel perfect, yet every day offers the opportunity to breathe and feel my way through the darkness and into the light...one asana at a time.

Now, my sweet loves, decide what to be
and go be it. 

P.S. To celebrate the upcoming new year and the fact that I am very close to having my first 1,000 Instagram followers, I want to give away a gift. First, I have been so happy to be asked to become an ambassador for FGMovement.com, purveyors of activewear that does good in the world. Feel Good Movement sells inspiring activewear made from recylcled materials and for every item of clothing they sell, they donate one to groups that provide clothing for those in need. They have given me a discount code good for 30% off your order at fgmovement.com so you can start tackling your fitness goals while doing good. Just enter belleoftheblog30 at checkout.

Next, I want to give one lucky reader or follower the gift of my favorite uplifting essential oil, Young Living Joy. A beautiful blend of jasmine, rose, citrus, and other oils designed to raise your vibration, Joy smells amazing and does a wonderful job lifting your spirit. For your chance to win, leave a comment, follow me on Instagram, leave me a comment on IG telling me why you do yoga or what you do to quiet your inner critic, and tag a friend on Instagram who needs to read this post.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Now, Weary Traveler, Rest Your Head

Last March I set out to change my life and to regain the joy I had lost over time. It felt like everything had fallen apart. I had long ago abandoned who I was to try and be the woman I thought I was supposed to be for my husband and children, friends, community. I wouldn't say I wasn't “me,” but I toned down who I was, subdued my enthusiasm for life somewhat. I gave up pursuing a career I loved to stay at home and raise kids, which I wish I could say I didn’t regret, but I do, more and more, as I see how hard it is to get back into the workforce. 

I gave up the first full-time job I had had in 12 years to move to a new, smaller, ultra-conservative city, where everyone knows everyone else and it felt as if I’d never meet anyone. Of course, my husband had the advantage of moving here 7 months before the rest of us to start his new job. Living a bachelor lifestyle free of kids, he had the luxury of exploring on his own and the freedom to make friends with no constraints. 

By January, after the whirlwind of getting settled here subsided, I felt miserable. I’ve never liked lingering in misery or sorrow. But I just couldn’t seem to escape it. And I've written about this before, but it bears repeating that reading this blog post by James Altucher was the light I needed during my dark night of the soul. In fact, I just re-read it and plan to revisit his process again. But not today. Or tomorrow.

Now, I rest.

For months, I’ve been reinventing myself. Rediscovering who I really am. What I love. Thinking about where I want to be and who I want to be. 

I’ve worked hard to make new friends and I’ve found some wonderful, smart, courageous, strong and inspiring women here that I’m connecting with. And I feel blessed.

I’ve deepened relationships with my tribe from Atlanta (with apologies to Anne who hates that term, but likes squad even less, I think). After joining them for three girls’ trips in the last year – a gift I had never given myself – and communicating almost daily now, I feel a unique and truly beautiful bond to these women that I love deeply.

I found an outlet for writing by becoming a contributor to the Chattanooga Moms Blog. I felt nervous and inadequate at first, despite having blogged on my own for years, but four or five months in now and many of my fellow contributors have become part of my Chattanooga squad (ha!) and I feel validated as a writer after having several of my posts in the top 10 most read posts. 

I took on the role of Home & School President at my younger son’s school and helped plan a pretty kick-ass fall festival despite my fears it would be a disaster. And I’ve made some very dear friends in the process who stepped up and helped out when I really needed it!

I’ve tried new things and discovered that I love them, hiking and stand-up paddle boarding among them. I will definitely continue to pursue both activities as much as time and resources allow.

And maybe my favorite thing that I’ve done is to re-engage with yoga. I’ve done yoga since I was in college, but never allowed myself to build a consistent practice. This summer, after it got too hot and humid to enjoy running (a sport I’ve never loved anyway), and after my trial membership at Pure Barre ran out, I decided to take up yoga again. And as I committed to working out daily, I realized I was falling in love, not only with building a yoga practice, but with myself. I’ve never been a big fan of Dawn. I know her faults too well. And I was never comfortable appreciating her strengths. And don’t get me started on my body. I’ve been fat since day 1. Literally. Six weeks premature and I weighed 8 lbs, thanks to my mom’s diabetes.

Over the last several months, as I’ve committed to doing yoga every day that I can, I’ve discovered some cool things about my body and my spirit. Two important things I’ve learned through all the physical activity I’ve engaged in the last few months is how much I love it and that I’m capable of it. That in turn has made me appreciate my body and see its beauty for the first time ever. 

So, what’s my point?  The point is, I’m tired. I’ve been working really hard to build a new life for myself. To maintain a baseline level of joy and to rise above that as often as I can. I’m working toward some specific goals – I want to help other women who are experiencing transitions in life do so with grace and joy and to avoid the pitfalls of self-pity and bitterness I fell into. And I’d like to figure out how to make a living doing that. And I know I’ll get there, but today I need to rest.

A big part of my transition has been finding like-minded people, both in my real world community and in the virtual yoga and spiritual/mindfulness world I’ve been delighted to become a part of. I have found so much support and encouragement there. But twice in the last week, two critical messages have popped up multiple times for me. 

The first is that it really is okay not to be okay. I can be a happy person and a person who doesn’t wallow in misery and still have days when I don’t feel happy. I can allow myself to feel sad that I didn’t get a particular job or that something I need is out of my reach. I can feel that and still know that the feeling is temporary and that I can do the work I need to do to achieve my goal or reach my desire. I needed to hear that and just when I did, one of the inspiring people I follow on Instagram shared this image:

And the other message, similar in spirit, is that it’s okay to hit the pause button and give yourself rest. I don’t want to lose momentum and it’s really hard for me to know that I am not where I want to be. But I am gaining and growing so much from the process and I’m so much further along the path than I was this time last year when my world began to unravel…. I’m stopping to catch my breath and realize I’ve had a pretty amazing and intense year of growth that even included a surprise trip to New Orleans last week for my best friend's elopement. Life doesn’t get much better than that. 

Having both my kids get sick this week along with a rejection for what seemed like a cool writing job definitely slowed my roll. Then, I saw this image from another Instagram inspiration and got the same message the same day in a horoscope reading from Kelly Lunt, a local spiritual and abundant living guru. 

So, I’ve decided to listen. If I truly love myself, I need to be okay loving myself even when it feels like I’m not hitting the mark. Hell…especially then. So, I’m giving myself a few days to rest. I’ll do a Full Moon ritual to release my negativity tonight. I’m going to take bubble baths and read and sleep. I’ve already cried it out and vented to my girlfriends this morning. I’m putting aside some tasks I’m not into and I’m going to lay around and watch Stranger Things with my kiddos. And, in a few days I’ll know it’s time to pick up and get on with it. But for now…rest. 

And maybe you need that, too, Sister. 

If you do, don’t be ashamed or afraid to take it. The work will be there. Give yourself the tender loving care you need to restore the energy that will carry you forward. You've got this. And so do I. 

With much love, 


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Choose Yourself: An Introduction to Self-Care

If you move in certain circles, you may already be familiar with the term self-care. You've seen the #selfcaresunday hashtags and you may even have a balanced routine that includes taking time out to meet more than your own basic needs.

If you're where I was – oh let's say 10 or 11 years ago – you're thinking you can barely take care of all the people who depend on you. Yourself? You're the afterthought and you're probably poised somewhere between locking yourself in the bathroom for a good cry and having a full-on nervous breakdown. You're doing it all...maybe you're stuck at home with your kids all day. You're cleaning house. You're shopping and running errands, and changing diapers and washing clothes and kissing boo-boos and listening to endless stories about Pokémon and hearing about the lovely lunch and adult conversation your partner had with co-workers while you were stuck at home feeling your brain dissolve. Maybe you get out of the house for an hour or two to take the kids to a playgroup where you gorge on Goldfish and apologize to your friends for your unwashed hair and stained t-shirt, but you never really get the interaction you want with your new mom friends because you're all constantly interrupted. Maybe your story is a little different...throw in a career, rushing to pick kids up from aftercare, make dinner or grab fast food, get everyone to practice or help with homework, then crash into bed after one too many glasses of wine. The end result is the same.

You feel broken and depleted and sometimes you don't remember who you are anymore. You feel as if the essence of the woman you were before you had kids has vanished. And you feel like maybe that's how it's supposed to be. You've bought into the myth that the only way to be a good mother is to sublimate your needs for those of your child. 

I am here to tell you that this is absolutely not true. And if someone had told me this, I might not have wasted a decade or more hating myself, hating my life, falling into depression and letting the wounds in my marriage fester into wounds that could only scar over rather than being fully-healed.

September is National Self-Care Month, so this seemed like the perfect time to introduce those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept to the idea that you matter. Yes...you! And if you're not already, it's time you started devoting a little bit of time each week to yourself. (I was going to say every day, but I know some of y'all aren't ready for that.)

The first thing I want you to do is find a quiet place where you can be alone without kids or your partner for 5 or 10 minutes. In fact, here's a trick my friend K just taught me if you want to steal 20 and go get into a bubble bath while we do this exercise.... Tell your husband and kids you're having tummy troubles and you'll be in the bathroom. Lock the door, run a bubble bath, light some candles, put on some soft music, and ignore them when they inevitably come knocking. I'm not even kidding about ignoring them. If you're a single mom, you may have to wait until they're in bed, but do take a few minutes to do this exercise.

Now...close your eyes and think about the days before you were partnered up or had kids. Who were you? What did you love doing that you don't do anymore? And don't be ashamed of what you find there...we all...okay a lot of us...loved drinking and partying and having a wild time. That doesn't mean you have to do it now, but let yourself remember what it felt like to be purely yourself without worrying about what anyone else thought. Are you running a 5K or marathon? Reading a book in a quiet room while sipping tea? Did you feel most alive while hiking in Colorado or the Smoky Mountains and sleeping under the stars? Do you miss loving your body and the way you looked in certain clothes? Or having highlights in your hair? Do you see yourself sitting on the porch of a beach house laughing with your girlfriends until your snort or cry? Is there something you love doing that you quit because your partner doesn't enjoy it? Or something you love but you're worried your friends or your partner will mock you for? What makes you feel like the happiest version of yourself?

Okay...once you've got that image, the next step is to figure out the steps it takes to get you there. It won't happen overnight. Trust me.

It took me years to work up the courage to reclaim myself. In fact, I'm still discovering parts of myself that I buried. But, we're all always works in progress. the important thing is to start where you are and figure out what self-care looks like for your personally. For me, it meant taking care of my physical well-being which is closely tied to my mental health.

I was never very body confident. But after having kids it was even less so. I was ashamed and embarrassed and hurt every time my husband averted his eyes from me. But finding time to exercise felt impossible if I was going to be a "good mom" and on all the time. Part of my definition of being a good mom meant keeping a pristine house and while it wasn't June Cleaver perfect, I did okay. And honestly, while I did a yoga class once a week and occasionally walked, I was never an athlete. But there were two things I craved after having my first son: adult conversation and to feel attractive again. Through playgroups, I was able to cobble together some human interaction and eventually I met women who became life-long friends. Figuring out that I loved physical activity and where my passions lie took a lot longer. And some trial and error. But, what I was able to do, was to express to my partner the deep sadness and longing for the parts of me that were missing. And while it was difficult to ask for help, I did eventually let him know that I needed him to take care of his own kids one night a month so I could meet up with my girlfriends for a girls' night out free of children. And I made the decision to invest in myself by joining a gym and working with a trainer. My kids were in school and preschool by this point so that helped. But, I'm telling you, Mama, make time while they're little if fitness is something that matters to you or if you're struggling with your body image. I was amazed how wonderful I felt after each workout. Tapped out for sure, but stronger, healthier, and over time far more confident than I had ever been. And I wish I hadn't waited so long to care for myself.

Because here's the secret no one tells you.... When your spirit is depleted and you feel like you're nurturing everyone around you but you're not taking care of your own needs, you have less to give. It weighs on you and you get short and angry and frustrated and feel put upon. You start to resent the people you love who depend on you. And eventually, you will end up physically and emotionally wiped out.

So, if it's physical activity you crave, find a gym with childcare or sign-up with a Beachbody coach and access their online workouts and do one every day while the baby sleeps. Laundry and dust bunnies will be there later. Your sanity might not. If you want to get outdoors, ask your partner to commit to watching the kids one Saturday or Sunday a month while you go for a hike or go kayaking or whatever it is that makes your heart sing. Join a book club or Bunco group or the choir at church. Take a cooking class or pretend you're not feeling well and hide in your room reading a book. If you're single or you have a partner who refuses to help out because he works, find a girlfriend in a similar situation and trade childcare. If your parents or sister lives nearby, ask them for help. Or save $10 of grocery money a week and hire a sitter once a month so you can get out of the house and do something for yourself. Recognizing that you are a human being with needs of your own is nothing to be ashamed of.

Looking for smaller ways to start? What's your favorite type of music? Do you listen to it every day? Or do you only listen to crappy children's music? Next time you're in the car, crank up that Led Zeppelin or John Mayer or Ludacris or Sam Hunt or Miley. A bad word in a song isn't going to scar your kids and you'll have a chance to influence their future musical tastes.

Or maybe you feel more like yourself when your hair is washed and you have on makeup but you never find time to do it. This is a case where you may need to rob Peter to pay Paul by sacrificing 30 minutes of sleep in the morning. But whatever it takes, if being clean and having a little color on your face makes you feel good, then get up and do it. Shower and throw a little BB cream or tinted moisturizer on, put on a coat of mascara, and a tinted lip gloss and you're good to go. And don't let anyone make you feel ashamed for taking care of yourself. You'll be a better, happier mama for it and your kids will see that and, in turn, they will be happier.

So...what does self-care look like to you? I'd love to help you map out your path to a happier, healthier you. 

Post your answers in the comments below. Then, like Belle of the Blog on Facebook and follow @belleoftheblog on Instagram and you will be entered to win a free bottle of Young Living Stress Away essential oil. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back Where I Come From: Thoughts on Moving One Year Later

I took the photo to the left in March of last year. It was the first picture I took of this view. Now, a year and four months later I must have taken hundreds of this same view. Every day, every hour it changes, but each time I look out off my deck, looking to the southwest, my heart fills with joy.

When I stood here on that brisk March evening watching the sunset, I was filled with hope, excitement, and anticipation for the move that was coming.

If only I had known how challenging the next several months would be. It's probably a very good thing I didn't.

Today marks one year since we moved in to this sweet house. I really do love it. And finally, after 12 long months, a few too many of them lonely, I am starting to love this little city of Chattanooga. I certainly know that I am loving many of its people...from the ones I know strictly via social media who have answered questions and made me laugh through my frustrations, to the bright and beautiful friends I made in the women's collective I joined. There are the basketball moms, and 4th-grade moms, and 8th-grade parents from my boys' school who have been kind and gracious and loving...especially the one who always makes me laugh and reminds me of my Atlanta bestie.

In hindsight, I needed to have my rock-bottom moment where the loneliness, emptiness, and sense of being lost threatened to consume me. Despair allowed me to dig my way down and acknowledge the root of my loneliness and gave me a place to anchor a foundation so I could start building myself again – body, mind, and spirit.

It hasn't been easy. And Sister, let me tell you...there are days when I want to pack it all in. I still haven't landed a writing job although I did, briefly, have one freelance client. And there are still days when I feel sad and lonely and wonder how did I get here? But those days come less frequently. And if I'm practicing the art of self-care they are few and far between. For me, that means getting exercise – running, yoga, Pure Barre, kayaking, or my new obsessions of hiking and paddle boarding; spending time with friends; sleeping well; writing; and using a varied regimen of essential oils.

There's still so much more to do to have a complete life here. I'm still a newcomer and don't yet feel entirely like I belong. I'm starting to know my way around without Maps, though. And after spending a wonderful weekend in Atlanta with my kids and husband so we could visit old friends, I know I can always feel at home wherever there are people who love me and whom I love; and I know, that for now anyway, Chattanooga is home and I will continue to joyfully make the most of it.

So...Happy One-Year Anniversary, Chattanooga. Here's to us!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How to Save a Life: Get Out of Your Head and Start Living

A little over a month ago, I wanted to die.

Now granted, I had those feelings at peak PMS when estrogen was soaring and progesterone plummeting. But the root feelings were real, just amplified by a hormonal tornado.

No joke. I felt so lonely, so empty, and so hopeless that I stood in my bathroom staring in the mirror and thought I'd be better off dead than living my pointless, lonely life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wound up crying myself to sleep that night. My despair over not having found a job, having been rejected before I even had a chance to interview, coupled with my lack of solid new friendships in my new town had pulled me down into the depths of sorrow I hadn't felt since I had post-partum depression 10 years earlier. And oh yeah...I hated my body and the extra 10 lbs. it had accumulated since my move.

I believe I also mentioned a moment of serendipity that occurred that night that I believe may have saved my life. Or at the very least, started me on the path of rebuilding my life and becoming the person I want to be.

Sometime around 2:00 a.m., I awoke and turned, as I often do when awake at that hour, to Twitter, looking for something to read that would help me fall back to sleep. Or maybe this time I was perusing Instagram. At any rate, I landed on jamesaltucher.com reading this post. It didn't exactly make me sleepy.

It did give me a spark of hope as I lay in bed mentally listing friends, people I know, people I've worked with, tiny steps I could take to regain my fitness. And it made me laugh. Something I thought I'd never do again a few hours earlier.

More than that, it made me stop and just be present. I was able to accept that where I was sucked, but it was okay. I could rest there for a minute, but I didn't have to stay. With that knowledge, I fell back asleep dreaming of my alternate futures...

The next morning, I got up and the fear and angst rose up again. Instead of giving in to them, I decided to do one small thing. In a reading shared in the women's collective I joined after moving to Chattanooga, there was an exercise that required asking 5 people what they admire about you and what your unique gift is...I messaged 4 people I loved and asked them if they would mind answering those questions. I chose to do that because I was so terrified of doing it and I instinctively knew that I had to do it because it scared me so much. I feared they would come up with nothing nice to say about me or they'd think my asking was needy or narcissistic. Instead, the people I loved took their time and sent me kind, thoughtful, reflective answers that have ultimately guided me to a decision about what I can do with my life, how I can create and follow my own path while being authentically myself.

The lesson in that exercise for me – and one you might benefit from as well, Seeker – is to trust your friends and those whom you love to nurture and support you. Fear of looking stupid may be the number one obstacle any of us face in being open to and receiving the love and guidance we deserve.

Not only did I put myself out on an imaginary limb by asking for support from my friends, I had a heart to heart with my husband who is being totally supportive of my journey to figure all this shit out. In fact, he actually redirected me from trying to keep pushing to find a full-time job and encouraged me to dig deeper in figuring out what I can offer the world by reading James Altucher's book Reinvent Yourself.

Reading this book and the original Altucher post I linked above were incredibly helpful. If you don't know James Altucher, I encourage you to read his blog, listen to his podcast, check out his books, and learn from his hard-won wisdom. With one simple sentence, he moved me out of my stasis. "The past is dead." And indeed, it is. I cannot go back to the life I had in Atlanta. And yearning for it...my yard, my friendships, my job, my position (as little as it was) in our school community...was never going to bring it back or let me move forward.

I was stuck and maybe you are, too. Having someone else help me see that was the smack in the face I needed. I can't hold on to that past life and I can't – nor should I – recreate it. Seeing that gave me the freedom to be right there, hurting and letting go, mourning what I lost, but also, making room for what is coming.

I did have to sit with some seriously uncomfortable thoughts and think about how I ended up here. Thoughts about purpose and career; friendships; my parenting style; my body image insecurities that affect my relationship with my husband...every part of my life was up for examination and reinvention. So, here I am, learning to live again by taking small daily actions to get unstuck from the self-pity, sadness, and self-defeat I fell into.

I don't know where you are on your path...maybe you're loving life and right where you want to be. If so, I am so happy for you! Genuinely happy because you can share that joy with the world and help it thrive. If you're not happy, if you feel like you're at the bottom like I did a few weeks ago, know that you are right where you are supposed to be right now. Yes, it totally sucks and I hate it for you. But sometimes we need a catalyst to launch us into what comes next. The key is to not get stuck where you are. Trust yourself to feel all the feels and know that it can and will get better. But you'll have to do the work. Also, consider this the outstretched hand of a friend, offering to help you stand up.  So, here are five things I recommend (and am finding helpful in my own journey) to pull yourself out of the muck and mire of depression and create the life you want. And while I'm not all the way to where I want to be, I'm making a start.

In the last few weeks, I've landed my first Chattanooga freelance client, started running again, joined Pure Barre, been nominated President of the Home & School Association at my kids' school, discovered that I really want to help other women live their best lives and to that end recommitted myself to writing this blog, and reinvested myself in growing a home-based business that also has the power to change lives. Here are five things that are working for me:

1. Let Go 
Let go of fear and worry. Let go of negative thoughts that tell you you can't. Trust me, you can. Align your thoughts with love for yourself and whenever a negative thought creeps in, let it go. Just remind yourself over and over and over again that the negative voice you hear is your false self and let it go. And let's kiss fear goodbye, too. Fear is also your false self, trying to hold the real you back. Every day try to do something that scares you. I'm doing that right now and I'll be doing it tonight, too, when I go have drinks with people I didn't even know four weeks ago when this process started for me.

2. Find Your Gurus
Whether in your community of friends or in the realm of books, podcasts, audiobooks, or documentaries, seek out the wisdom and positivity of people who can inspire you, motivate you, and help you make the changes you want to see in your life. Listen and re-listen to the things that uplift and motivate you. And on the other side of the coin, try to limit your intake of negativity. Limit the amount of news you consume and the sources you get it from. And yes, limit exposure to friends and family members who question you or challenge you on the changes you are making. You only get one life and you might as well go for it and make it the best life you can imagine. Is your broke, lazy friend going to tell you anything that will help you get ahead or is s/he going to try and hold you down where they are? Okay, right.... So here are some of the things I'm listening to or reading in addition to James Altucher's books and podcast (which I highly recommend): Anything by Dr. Wayne Dyer, but especially How to Be a No-Limit Person. Tony Robbins's Awaken the Giant Within. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant. Ask and It is Given by Abraham Hicks (or really any of the Abraham books). Oh! Also, watch the documentary Happy! It's a life changer!  But, if none of these resonate with you, go to your library or online and explore books on positive psychology. And seriously, check out James Altucher's podcast. There's always a different guest with a different perspective, and even the ones I don't necessarily like can still teach me a thing or two about success and pursuing a goal. The important thing is to learn that you can choose your thoughts and the best way to have happier more positive thoughts from which to choose is to feed your brain a steady diet of positivity, inspiration, and encouragement.

3. Nurture Your Physical Health
Eat well. Stay Hydrated. Sleep. Get some exercise. These things are easy to neglect, especially if you're down in the dumps or working two jobs or living a life you don't love. But, to change any of those things you have to love yourself and one of the simplest ways to love yourself, is to start nurturing your body. Try to limit processed foods. Maybe just start by adding one fresh fruit or vegetable to your diet each day. Cut back on caffeine after noon. Drink more water. I start each day with a glass of water with a drop of lemon oil. It starts flushing out toxins that my body was processing overnight and gets my hydration off to a good start. If you work in an office, maybe take the stairs instead of the elevator or at least take them up to the second floor to catch the elevator to start with. When the weather is nice, go out for a walk at lunchtime. Sunshine is a great mood-lifter and gives you a dose of Vitamin D, which is actually a mild antidepressant. If you're really motivated in the exercise department, try a class. I've tried Zumba, Pilates, and Pure Barre and have loved them all. For me, physical exercise is the best thing I can do to keep all the clutter in my mind from taking over. I feel so alive and happy after a good workout! Even if you don't make it all the way through the first time, it will be easier the second and you can feel proud that you made the effort! Change is not easy and it does not happen overnight. However, the sooner you start making changes, the sooner you can feel and see their benefits.

4. Feed Your Spirit (Even if You're Not Religious)
There are benefits to stillness and quieting the monkey-mind that go beyond any religious implications. And don't get turned off here if you are religious. Meditation can become whatever you want it to be: a powerful tool to calm your mind and increase your connection to Source energy (God, if you prefer), or it can simply provide a space of stillness to clear out the clutter and calm your mind so that you can free yourself from daily stress and open your mind to receive ideas and inspiration. Whether you take a formal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class or start with guided meditation videos on YouTube, giving your essence some quiet time to unpack and release the accumulated detritus in your mind frees you to simply be. It is restful and restorative and it is a gift you can give to yourself each and every day. I think you'll be surprised and delighted at how this simple change can open you up to the possibilities that await you.

5. Make Lists
Okay. Some people would tell you to set goals, make a five-year plan, write affirmations. And those things are all great. But they can be daunting. So, if you prefer to think about it that way, go for it. For me, I needed to start more simply. So, I made lists of the things I'm good at. And lists of the things I enjoy doing. A list of people I admire. Start where you are...If you're trying to figure out how to get happy, make a list of things that make you laugh. Watch a few videos related to the list. Make a list of books you want to read (maybe add one from my list above). Make a list of friends who seem happy in their careers and interview them to see what they like about their jobs. Make a list of places you want to visit. Maybe make a list of things you want to accomplish, but when you write them, write them as "I am" statements and as you write, try to imagine how you would feel if you were already in that place. Make a list of all the things you love about yourself. Just getting these kinds of thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto paper (or the glowing screen in front of you) can help you start to formulate a vision of the person you want to be. It's like creating a road map to help you reach your destination.

I know a lot of this may sound corny and maybe you've always cast a scornful eye on the idea of "self-help," but seriously...Who else is going to help you make a personal transformation if not your Self? And that's where we are right now. You can change or you can stay where you are. In order to change, you have to tell your Ego to sit down, shut the fuck up, and let you get on with it. But you have to decide that you are worth it. Trust me...you are. I am reminded of and want to share with you this final thought which author and one of my chosen mentors Kamal Ravikant shared in a podcast. He mentioned that when he struggles he returns to a line by the Persian mystic and poet Hafiz. I leave you with this: "I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

Be well loves. And please, please, share your thoughts in the comments. I love hearing from you and as always, please share this with anyone who needs it.

Love to all.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Terra Heck, thank you for visiting Belle of the Blog and sharing your thoughts on the trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife! You have won a $25 Fandango gift certificate!

Ashley Stein also won a $25 Fandango gift certificate for liking the Belle of the Blog Facebook page and commenting on the post over there!

I am so grateful to all my readers and hope you'll keep coming back!

And for anyone who is interested in reading The Zookeeper's Wife prior to seeing the movie, you can get the book here

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife: A Movie for Our Times

Never in my life have I feared war coming to America. Not during the second peak of Cold War hysteria in the 1980s; not after 9/11. Until recently. The 2016 Presidential election changed that. So much vitriol and hate from both sides. People vowing to take up arms if Hillary Clinton were elected. Attacks on black churches, synagogues, Jewish Community Centers. Indian software engineers being shot and murdered while out enjoying happy hour after work because someone mistook them for being Muslim. Muslim girls who are afraid to wear their hijab in public because of being spat upon or worse. Sometimes, the fear and anxiety the news causes me makes me feel as if I cannot breathe. In fact, I have literally stopped consuming news at the level I did prior to the election. It's too overwhelming.

Still...as a Catholic I cannot look away. I was called to become Catholic because of the Church's focus on social justice. I had never seen a church so reflective of Christ's love and compassion for the outsider, the poor, the lonely and broken. Not to say there haven't been missteps and wrongs committed by the Catholic Church. However, it seems each successive Pope has worked to right many of those wrongs, with Pope Francis going farthest of all. In fact, the Jesuit parish of St. Agnes, recently announced that it is a sanctuary parish, working to uphold the dignity of immigrants. Jesuits are an order of Catholic priests who are called to live out their relationship with Jesus in the real world.
Blessing of the doors at St. Agnes parish in San Francisco: 
Give us the courage to open these doors and the doors of our hearts to all who knock and seek refuge.

It is from that frame of reference for my personal faith, that I often wonder if I would have the courage to stand up and defend my black, brown, gay, lesbian, or trans brothers and sisters who might be attacked publicly? Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom to take in friends who might be undocumented or accused of some crime (that isn't really a crime) if ICE came for them? Am I willing to put myself between a peaceful protester and someone trying to attack him or her? If things got really bad and our government sought to deport, imprison, or slaughter a particular group of people for their religious beliefs how far would I go to fight for their lives?

These are the very questions at the heart of the new Focus Features movie The Zookeeper's Wife, starring Jessica Chastain. It opens on Friday, March 31 and I am eager to see it. Set in Warsaw, Poland during World War II, this is the true story of Antonia and Jan Zabinski. The young couple, only recently appointed to run the Warsaw Zoo soon face the realities of the bombing of Warsaw by the Nazis. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the Zabinskis very quickly have to choose between the safety of their family and helping Polish Jews who are being captured and sent to concentration camps.

You can see the trailer here.

This is a compelling story for me right now. I have imagined what I would do in a similar situation and the choices are bleak. Obviously, as a Christian – no wait – as a decent human being – I hope I would maintain the courage to act on my convictions and protect anyone in jeopardy. But what if I were faced with someone murdering my child because of what I did. Could I do the right thing then? What if I were killed and my children left alone to fend for themselves? What then?

I fear we may all face these choices at some point, all the while praying we do not. This movie provides a lightsource to allow viewers to examine those hidden places in our hearts where our deepest fears battle for space with our mustard-seed faith. Like any radical act of love in our lives, sometimes doing the right thing means blindly stepping out in faith, trusting that no matter the outcome, by making the right choice, by acting courageously in love of mankind or for an individual or in your love for Christ, you are doing what you are meant and called to do.

I encourage you to check this movie out and to make that a little easier for one lucky reader, I have a $25 Fandango gift card to give away! If you need more convincing to see the movie, check out this review by NBC commentator Hugh Hewitt.

To be eligible to win, please comment below and tell me what you think about the trailer. Does it look good? What are your thoughts on faith and fear? I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you have not already liked my Facebook page, go do that and you'll get a second entry! A winner will be randomly selected on Sunday, April 2, 2017!

Now...Decide what to be and go be it! 

Friday, March 10, 2017

5 Ways Sarah Ban Breathnach's "Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy" Changed My Life

In 1997, at the ripe old age of 27, I thought my life was awful.

I was broke and in debt. I had five mid-range digits of debt that included many thousands in student loans plus the credit card debt racked up because I had to take a job making $5 an hour plus commission (that I never earned) for 18 months while I was between "real" jobs. I finally had a "real" job that I loved but I had just gotten a new boss and she was hateful. I had moved into a house with my then boyfriend, now husband, but our relationship was a mess. We had just been through some ish and I wasn't sure what was going to happen to us. The lovely cherry on top was that my mother had stopped speaking to me the year before because I asked her to tell me who my dad was. She wouldn't speak to me again for four years. So, you could say that life wasn't great. And despite a history of having some sort of internal ballast that let me get right whenever I was buffeted by life, this time, I was being pulled under and I didn't know how to stop it.

Then one day, I walked into work at the headquarters of Rich's Department Stores (now Macy's) where I worked as a copywriter in the advertising department, and was surprised to see a good old-fashioned Scholastic Book Fair in the lobby. And on the table facing the door where I couldn't miss it, was a pretty little pink book. It jumped right out at me as if rays from Heaven were shining down upon it: Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. 

I came back on my lunch hour to check it out. I was a little uncertain about spending the money, but after flipping through the book, I really felt like it was something I needed. Comfort and Joy? I hadn't felt either of those in a while. Sign. Me. Up.

So, I bought the book, and I started reading. One day at a time, beginning on the date I bought the book. Taking 20-30 quiet moments of solitude each morning, just me with my cat curled in my lap, reading. In fact, although I'm about to tell you the five greatest take-aways of this book for me and my life, there was actually one overaching lesson bigger than those: let yourself be still.

In my twenties, I thought stillness meant laziness and a lack of ambition. I was the kind of person who went to work with a 103 degree fever and the flu thinking my bosses would notice my work ethic and reward it. Instead, they just asked for more and more and more. So, simply by starting my day with a pause to read and breathe and take a moment for myself was one of the biggest and most important lessons I ever could have learned. Unfortunately, I've had to re-learn it many times, but I think finally, over the last decade, it has sunk in. Beyond that core lesson, Simple Abundance changed my life with the following lessons.

1. Gratitude is Everything
One of the stories that really stuck with me was of the author being upset over some minor tragedy in her own life and encountering an acquaintance whose husband had abandoned her after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The take-away? No matter how bad your life is, someone wishes it were hers. Feeling sorry for yourself and dwelling on all the things you wish were different about your life isn't going to change those things. It's just going to make you feel worse and the worse you feel, less likely it is you will act to change those things. Ultimately, you create a vicious cycle that leaves you depressed, angry, and bitter. On the other hand, feeling grateful for even the smallest things in your life raises your vibration and can change your life.

Maybe that's counterintuitive, but there's actual scientific research to back this up. Feeling and expressing gratitude, when it becomes a habit, changes the way you think, feel, and react to the world. Gratitude can lessen the effects of depression. It can make you feel more energetic and show greater determination. When I started keeping a gratitude journal, I was so sad and empty that I struggled to know what to write. At first, I could only count the most basic things: shelter, food, my pets, my boyfriend, a car that ran most of the time, my friends, having a job even if I didn't love it. Over time, I found my lists growing and with them, my hope that my life could become something better. Within a year, I found a new job that I loved; I was engaged; I traveled for my new job; I felt healthier; and yes, happier. I began to shed the bitterness and anger I held toward my mother for abandoning me and was able to reconnect with her six months before she died of heart failure. As the author quotes, "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."

2. You Can Let the Past Go
As I mentioned above, when I started reading Simple Abundance, I was consumed with hurt and anger over my mom's treatment of me. Hindsight, maturity, and knowledge gave me a clarity I didn't possess back then. And my willingness to let go and forgive did not happen overnight. In fact, I still have days – mostly when I'm PMSing or hurting for some other reason – where I get lost in the Land of What If. Still, there was something freeing in these words, "Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it." Over time, and with the help of some great therapists and loving friends, I realized that my mother very likely suffered Narcissistic Personality Disorder which helped me better understand her inability to ever consider my needs ahead of her own. And by choosing not to dwell on the past, that anger slowly dissipated. Now, I rarely think about how I missed out by not having a dad or feel anger toward my mother for creating that situation and if I do, I might feel a passing twinge of sadness, but the burning rage I once felt exists no more. Now there's room to focus on all the beauty and goodness in my life, including my loving husband and two beautiful sons and the amazing futures that lie ahead for all of us. 

3. Stop Waiting for Life to Be Perfect
In my twenties, I perpetually had this notion of "I'll be happy when _______." When I land the perfect job; when I make $30,000 a year; when I fall in love; when I get married; when I have kids; when I join the Junior League; when I lose 20 lbs. When...

It saddens me to think about the wasted time. Time I could have spent really being in the moment and enjoying Life. Now, I'm not saying I was a miserable wretch then. I wasn't. I had many happy times with my friends. But I spent very little time actively thinking about how to make myself happy. I'm not even sure I knew it was possible to make myself happy then. I was so focused on looking for some external factor that was going to make it all right...the bigger paycheck, the better job, the boyfriend, the weight loss. But even as those things came into my life, there was still this longing. And so many opportunities for adventure or fun or feeling free just slipped by me because I didn't feel ready for them or deserving of them. 

The moral of this lesson is don't wait to do the things that matter to you. Want to go to London? Max out that credit card and do it. You'll figure out how to pay it off. And, you'll have more fun going alone or with a girlfriend than that guy you were waiting on anyway. Want to wear a two-piece to the pool this summer? Go for it! You'll never be comfortable in your own skin until you risk something. Besides, everyone else is so busy with their own insecurities, they're not looking at you! Think you'll never have time for yourself until your kids are grown? Nope. Just stop, right there, and remember that unhappiness hardens into bitterness. You deserve better. Feeling sad, lonely, and defeated and waiting for the "thing" that is going to change your life? Stop waiting, Sweetheart! All you need to be happy is inside of you. You can do this. Trust me. Your time is now. Remember, "We can stop waiting for life to be perfect, and start working with what we have now to make it as satisfying as we can.... Today we can begin to call forth the riches from our everyday life. Today we can move from lack to abundance."

4. Self-Care
The art of self-care is one I'm still mastering. I'm getting better. This blog is one example of that. Writing is my heart. And it's an act I mislaid some time ago in the hustle-bustle of daily life. Coming back to it with passion and intent the last couple of weeks has felt like coming home. In fact, the last few months have been a revelation in regard to self-care for me, even though the seeds were first planted nearly twenty years ago when I first read Simple Abundance. Back then, I didn't know anything about taking care of my soul or spirit and barely managed to take care of my body. At times, I didn't, working 12-20 hour days depending on the season, drinking to excess, thinking rest was for the weak and powering through made me special. 

I rarely said "no" to any request or favor asked of me because I thought I had to say "yes," in order to be liked and that it would somehow win me the love and appreciation I so desperately sought, especially at work. I was over 35 before I gave myself permission to tell someone "no." Only after facing the worst health crisis of my life that left me physically wrecked when my son was three months old did I realize, fully, that I had to stop letting my needs come after everyone else's. And that it's okay to ask for help. At that point, I started getting regular exercise, sleeping more, and paying more attention to my appearance because it made me feel better about myself. I started paying attention to what I enjoyed. I learned to take a break when I was sick instead of pushing through the illness until my body collapsed. I recognized when my depression was not getting any better and didn't beat myself up for choosing to take an antidepressant.

These days, because I've learned to incorporate self-care into my life, those needs aren't nearly so extreme. I try to get some exercise daily. I'm writing. I try to find something to laugh at daily. I'm cooking with feeling and passion again which I will speak more about in a minute. I take time to get my hair cut and colored when I feel like it. When I need to and can, I let my mind and body just escape from it all with a good nap. I choose to eat a healthy diet, free of sugar, and I use all-natural essential oils and supplements to support my physical, mental, and spiritual needs. 

It's not easy, and it may feel selfish at first, to put yourself first. Start small. When it feels like the world is closing in and you feel overwhelmed by work, your partner's needs, the demands of raising a family, remember that you're no good to them if you're stressed, hurting, sick, and worn out. Start with a quiet moment. Sarah Ban Breathnach writes, "There is no companion as companionable as Solitude," Thoreau tells me as I carry a hot cup of tea back to bed. 

Find 15 minutes before the rest of the family is up or before you start your morning routine just to have some time alone and breathe or stretch. Start small and add the self-care regimens that make you feel wonderful. You won't regret it and your life will become richer for it.

5. Any Act Can Be a Form of Prayer
Now, if you're not religious, don't panic. I get it. I'm Catholic and I get squirmy with too much religiosity. Replace the word prayer with meditation, contemplation, reflection, presence (as in being present). What I'm really talking about and what SBB was getting at is the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness leads to gratitude and gratitude to joy and peace. But, you have to start by being present. So, how do you do that? Well, you try to get out of your head (as hard as that is for some of us) and focus on whatever you're doing at the moment. Yes, even if it is something you don't necessarily enjoy. As you're doing laundry, let yourself really feel the different textures of fabric passing through your hands. Enjoy the colors. Remember how confident you felt in certain clothes or feel love for the family member whose shirt you hold in your hands. Be grateful for the technology and privilege that enable you to do laundry in your home. 

When you're cooking dinner, take time to see the vibrant colors of the vegetables. Listen to the different sounds they make when you slice them and enjoy the aromas of each item as you prepare it. Instead of thinking about the tax bill or the kids' soccer game or the work you have to finish once the kids are in bed or that fight you had with your sister, really just stop and be present and aware of what you are doing. Mentally (or aloud) say thank you to the farmers who grew the food, the workers who picked the vegetables, truck drivers and warehouse employees and grocers who helped get the food to your kitchen. Feel love for the people who will eat the meal you prepare, even if it's just yourself. 

Taking these seemingly simple and inconsequential acts will make a tremendous difference in your life. You will find yourself slowing down and appreciating the world around you even more. You will find yourself feeling ever more grateful for the simplest blessings. And in turn, your sense of peace and joy will grow exponentially. You will become more connected to the world around you. 

I've recently re-visited this concept in an effort to reconnect with the joy that I felt had escaped me since moving. Now, instead of feeling lonely on the nights my husband is out for work or hanging out with the friends he made here, I prepare a meal for my kids, then I cook something delicious and fabulous for myself that I know my kids or husband would not enjoy. I put on music that I love – lately that's been Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, or Nina Simone – pour myself some wine, and indulge my senses in the ingredients at hand. I have had some lovely, lovely evenings in the kitchen lately after feeling completely disconnected to the point of really disliking cooking. It had become such a rote chore that I did for people who didn't appreciate it and more often than not would complain about what I made for them. By fully re-engaging with a craft I love on my terms, and doing for no other reason than to enjoy the process of it and be fully present to it, I found a spot of happiness that radiates far beyond the hour I spend in the kitchen. 

In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach quotes St. Francis of Assisi, saying, "The woman who works with her hands only is a laborer; the woman who works with her head and her hands is a craftswoman; the woman who works with her head, her hands, and her heart, is an artist." 

Don't you want to stop being a laborer? I know I do. The pay rate is way too low. 

What is something you love doing or used to love doing that has been corrupted in some way that you can take back by fully engaging your mind, body, and soul in the process? Try it and see if it restores a part of your soul. 

If you're tired of this treadmill of the disengaged life, the harried and hurried life, I strongly encourage you to click the link and order a copy of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. When I was in what felt like a dark night of the soul, reading this book gave me the light to find my way out. Perhaps that's why it has been on my mind lately since I've been going through a bit of rough transition. 

I promise you won't regret reading it, especially if you're struggling right now. 

In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or ask me anything. I'd love to hear from you!

Much love! 


Friday, March 3, 2017

Doubting Dawn - Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery on CNN

The lot is drawn.

These words are spoken by Peter to Thomas in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas which chronicles the travels of the apostle Thomas from Galilee to India to spread the story of and teachings of Jesus Christ. Or at least that's what we learn in season two of "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery," which premieres on CNN this Sunday, March 5, 2017. Poor Thomas. He's already struggling to understand, to believe, to make sense of the death and resurrection of his friend and teacher...and now he has the bad luck to draw the straw that will send him to what was then seen as the end of the Earth, more or less.

And he does not want to.

At least according to the re-enactment in the episode of Finding Jesus I had the opportunity to screen, he at first refuses, leading Peter to say the words above: "The lot is drawn." Dumb luck or destiny, Thomas is stuck. He and his fellow apostles have been commissioned by Christ to "make believers of all nations."  In his case, to do so means leaving family, friends, the only home he has ever known to travel to a foreign land with no idea how he will be welcomed. He has already seen his friend slaughtered for teaching an alternative to the prevailing belief of their land. We know that Thomas is a man of reason who has been challenged by Jesus to act out of blind faith rather than relying on reason and evidence. How hard it must be to walk blindly into the unknown for him! Yet, as our documentary points out the Acts of Thomas suggests that, with the help of a little con game by Jesus and a night of prayer, Thomas faithfully accepts his lot and brings Christianity to India.

Like Thomas, I have found myself in a crisis of faith. I still don't know if it was just the dumb luck of my husband finding the right job in Chattanooga or if it's destiny that brought us here. Either way, I have not wanted to be here. Well, maybe at first. I did sort of blindly assume it would all be okay. But that wasn't due to my faith in God. It was more about my belief that I could make it all be okay. Unfortunately, it hasn't all been okay. The fresh start I was hoping to have in certain parts of life has been harder to achieve. My kids were deeply saddened by leaving their friends and the familiar comforts of the only home they've ever lived in. I threw myself into trying to help them adjust. I worked with them to focus on the things they liked about their new school, our new home, their new friends. I worried. I prayed for them to adjust. And they did.

It never occurred to me to pray for myself. Or focus on my spiritual needs. I just kept feeling a sense of emptiness, loneliness, and loss and listening to the voice that told me it was all my fault. I gave up my job, my friends, a church I loved, a deeply gratifying role as PTA President. And despite having all of my physical and material needs met...I felt so empty and hopeless, sinking deeper into a growing depression that had been intensifying over the last few months. I kept thinking that I needed to make myself find a job and get up and out so I could meet people. The fact that I couldn't make myself find a job or make new friends was another failure and a reminder of my worthlessness. Like Thomas, I was driven by reason, believing I could think my way through my blocks. It took hitting rock bottom two weeks ago to realize that I needed to be doing more than trying to think my way through. I needed to unify all aspects of my being – mind, body, and spirit.

So, in addition to reading, listening to podcasts, and trying to think my way into action, I've gone back to having a daily practice that is good for all parts of myself. I've renewed my commitment to a healthy diet. I'm exercising. I'm trying to let myself feel all my emotions instead of denying the anger and sadness I felt guilty for feeling. And perhaps most importantly, I'm trying to slow down and find time to quiet my mind through meditation and prayer. And in that prayer, I'm acknowledging that I am not alone as I thought. I still have to take action but I can ask God to help direct my action and to help carry the weight of my loneliness and brokenness.

Clearly, like Thomas's, mine is a reasoned faith. I had to figure out what wasn't working and why, then take the necessary actions to start trying to create the life I am meant for instead of the one I dumb-lucked into. The story of Thomas reminds me of the hymn that goes "Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me." As I mentioned in my previous post, I've changed tacks, headed in a different direction than I intended.  I certainly feel that I am being nudged in the direction of doing work that is in service to others somehow. So, like Thomas, I'm stepping out in faith, couched in the reasoned knowledge that this feels so much better than the alternative of carrying my burdens alone, and trusting that I'm on a path that will bring me greater joy, a sustainable income, and allow me to help others live better, happier lives.

I'm so glad I watched this screener of Finding Jesus. I can't wait to watch every episode starting this Sunday! It was just the right way to start my Lenten practice and gave me the perfect reminder to stay the course like Thomas – not a skeptic, but someone who fought his doubt for his belief. Also, I learned a lot! This isn't just a docudrama with lots of cute British actors. They have actual renowned historians, religious experts and theologians from Oxford, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, and Notre Dame including my favorite Catholic priest, Fr. James Martin, SJ. Check out this trailer to see if you're interested:

Also, I invite you to share the challenges you are facing in the comments below. Or, if you have a story of overcoming doubts and challenges in your life, I would LOVE for you to share that as well. Your story could be the one someone else needs to hear right now! And I have a little incentive for anyone willing to share their story.

Everyone who comments below, likes my Facebook page, shares the Facebook link for this post, and follows me on Instagram will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Lifeway gift certificate. I will do the drawing on Monday, March 6 and notify the winner that day. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When Moving Brings the Blues

I know.

It's a cliché that moving is one of the most stressful things you endure in life. Technically, according to the Holmes and Rahe Test Scale, moving ranks way down at number 32 on the list of stressful life events. To be fair, another research study in the UK found moving homes to be as stress-inducing as the death of a spouse. I'm not arguing. But for me – and I think for many of us – the true stress isn't in the act or process of packing up one home, selling it (although that had it's tense moments like when our home inspection revealed a leak we hadn't known about), finding the perfect new home, and settling in. The real stress is in the actual living and making a life in your new home, your new community. I went in as excited and enthusiastic as I could possibly have been. This was my chance to create a new life.

Six months later and I can barely get out of bed. Depression wraps her cold bony hands around me and pulls me down, deep down. Every day, a battle.

The packing, spending three months on an extended road trip with my boys and our dog, making arrangements for places to stay, finding a friend to foster our cat until we got settled...that was a breeze. I loved it because I was busy, busy, busy. I was also still seeing friends as we traveled around and back and forth to Atlanta. Even once we got to Chattanooga, I was busy and my mind occupied with helping the kids adjust, unpacking, decorating. It was exciting and fun.

But pretty soon, the kids had friends. My husband had already been here for six months and had a rich and active social life that I was not a part of and still am not part of because his friends are single, or childless, or somehow I just don't fit. Suddenly, I'm just alone. As alone as I've ever been.

The election happened, too. Holmes and Rahe rank election years as being quite stressful and I honestly think that did not help me.

I've tried some things and met people I genuinely care about...smart, wonderful women that I hope to know better. But I haven't found my tribe yet. And trying to actually find them is kind of scary. I feel like a kid on the first day of high school looking at the various tables of cliques in the high school cafeteria and not knowing where I fit in.

My old tribe was pretty awesome. They were a group of women from my neighborhood and kids' school or from playgroups when the kids were younger. Still there when the oldest is 14 and the youngest 10. Smart, funny, compassionate, passionate...always there for each other. And I've managed to keep in touch thanks to Facebook and the modern marvel of texting. I've been home once and my best friend from the tribe has been to visit me up here. And I mostly don't feel forgotten.

Still, though...and this is one of the darker aspects of social media I feel stupid for falling victim to...the part where we allow it to shade our thoughts with what we imagine to be the case, or by our own negative self-talk.... Still, though, it hurts when I see pictures of all my friends at a party that I probably would have been at if I still lived there. Or posts that include a reference to a joke I don't get because I wasn't there. I shouldn't be hurt. No one is actually doing anything to hurt me. And of course I neither want nor expect anyone else's life to pause because I'm not there. That's not it at all.

The IT here is the profound loneliness I feel, day in and day out. Even when I'm laughing with the very kind and welcoming basketball moms I hung out with during basketball season or my terrific neighbor or having lunch with a new friend, I don't feel that warm, comfortable yet inexplicable sensation of belonging that you feel with a tribe member. It's a sense of knowing that this person is yours and you are hers and you've totally got each others' backs. That's the thing that's missing. Sometimes you meet someone and you know instantly you'll be friends forever. It's the platonic version of love at first sight. I may have met "the one," actually. But my inner voice tells me not to be presumptuous. (What if she's just being nice, right?) We've tried making a couple of coffee dates, but sick kids prevented our meeting. I'll have to wait until we meet again in person to validate that there's real and shared friendship chemistry underlying our shared love of music and pop culture.

Compounding the loneliness is my deep need for a sense of meaning and purpose. With nothing to occupy my mind, I have a lot of time to ponder why I'm alone. That's why I'm blogging now. To paraphrase Buddy the Elf, "Writing is my favorite!"

I came to the conclusion that I have to write and create my own meaningful work after spending a Friday night crying myself to sleep after driving my child to Atlanta to spend the weekend with a friend. I knew I'd come home to hang out with my teenager for a few hours then spend the rest of the evening alone while my husband was out with his friends. Sometime in the night, I awoke and while reading Twitter, I saw a link to this post by James Altucher. It was just the thing I needed to read to pull myself out of the spiral. And it was the inspiration I needed to resume writing. (I still haven't formally done everything on the list, but it got me started. Maybe you'll see a few of the lists turn up as blog posts!)

The job market is tight here. And I don't believe I'm going to find my purpose in a traditional job anyway. So, I've decided to focus on freelance writing again, and to work on this blog. When I think of what my real purpose is, I always come back to the idea that I want to help other women who might be going through the same or similar things that I am or have gone through. As hard as this experience of adjusting to a new city, making new friends, and building a new life is I believe it can serve a greater purpose. As I reinvent myself and create a new life here in Chattanooga, I want to highlight the things that work for me and share them with others. I'll still be writing about the rest of my crazy, beautiful life – I still love life despite feeling like I hit rock bottom and wallowed in my hopelessness several days out of the last two weeks.

I hope you'll come along with me on this journey. I want you to share your experiences, your trials. We'll take it day by day. Let's figure this thing out together...decide what to be and go be it.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Love y'all!