Burn The Ships

Last weekend we sang a new worship song, Burn The Ships by the duo For King & Country. It’s a powerful song with a deeply personal backstory mixed with this story about a ship of explorers. Here’s what Luke Smallbone said in an interview about the song:

“I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, ‘Hey let’s go explore this land and see what there is to be seen,'” Luke explains. “All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized that even those boats were grimy, stinky and small, they wanted to stay on the boats because it was familiar. The next day he calls them out again and when all the sailors were on land, he gives the command to burn the ships because he said, ‘We’re not going to retreat. We’re going to move forward in our lives.’ 

Over the coming days the song would not leave me and neither did the story. It hit me because I intimately understand the comfort of a fully destructive comfort zone. The sailors knew the ship was “grimy, stinky, and small” but it was far more comfortable to stay in the horror you know than to step into the unknown. It actually reminded me of my closet.

Yes, my closet.

I used to have what I called My Closet of Hope. It had clothes in every possible size. If you needed formal wear I had gowns from a size 16-28. How about an outfit for work? I had you covered from a size 14-32. Casual day wear? My largest inventory from large to 6x!

Why?

I stayed on a roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain. When I lost weight I’d still hold on to my bigger clothes in case I gained again and when I’d gain weight I held on to smaller clothes in the hopes I’d fit them again. After weight loss surgery I decided that I was no longer hanging on to my old clothes. It was harder and far more emotional than I ever dreamed it would be. I kept ONE shirt and ONE pair of pants that I bring when I speak at the hospital.

What does this have to do with the worship song? My Closet of Hope was really a Closet of Fear. Much like the sailors, I feared something new. I’d been overweight for 30 years and it may seem odd but it was scary to even think of being anything else! Holding on to those clothes was almost like giving myself permission to retreat back to the way I’ve always been.

Up to that point I’d been a slave to food because I was using it to cope with my often crippling anxiety. I hid my feelings behind a wall of shame and ate to feel better… yet always felt worse. I was incapable of asking for help and would use humor as a means of deflection. After RNY I unknowingly made the decision to “burn the ships” in my closet. By donating all of my clothing I was propelled into a new way of living with no easy way to retreat. This also meant confronting my feelings, adjusting my coping behaviors, and getting help for my anxiety and food addiction.

That was my ship. Your ship could be removing yourself from a toxic relationship, stepping out in faith at a new opportunity, or leaving anything behind that no longer serves you. It’s never easy to burn a ship, to leave a comfort zone, to try something new. I had to step out in faith, trust God, and fall to my knees before I fall into ice cream.

What’s your ship and are you ready to set it on fire?

Read more of the personal story behind this song and hear the song: Billboard Article – Burn The Ships.

Check The Environment

The other day an Instagram friend posted this quote:

“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer

I loved this because it resonated in me. But as swiftly as the thoughts came in, life swept them away.

I was going through my Facebook newsfeed a few days later and was quickly reminded of that post. It was from an article in the Paris Review from author CJ Hauser. The essay titled The Crane Wife was an incredible read about how a woman found herself on a crane research trip after breaking off an engagement. Here’s the passage that took me back to that earlier post:

Here is what I learned once I began studying whooping cranes: only a small part of studying them has anything to do with the birds. Instead we counted berries. Counted crabs. Measured water salinity. Stood in the mud. Measured the speed of the wind.

It turns out, if you want to save a species, you don’t spend your time staring at the bird you want to save. You look at the things it relies on to live instead. You ask if there is enough to eat and drink. You ask if there is a safe place to sleep. Is there enough here to survive?

Why did this hit me so hard? Spending the last five years ardently working on myself by dealing with my weight, my food addiction, and my (often crippling) anxiety I discovered a link I never knew I was missing! I’ve been so focused on myself that I haven’t paused – consciously – to consider my environment.

When a person has a weight issue it’s often because there’s an imbalance somewhere. Many will consider that imbalance to ONLY be calories in far exceed calories out. It would be nice if that were true. It’s just one part of a much more complex algorithm! There’s usually an underlying cause that leads to the pure calorie math.

For example, consider the environment in which a person lives. Has food insecurity ever been an issue? A person who was deprived food through poverty or even through a parent’s withholding can be a factor.

I personally know a woman whose mother was terrified she’d grow up to be fat. She was slightly overweight when we were kids and her mother was obsessed with how much she ate, what she could eat and where she could eat. Her mother constantly micromanaged her food. When I saw her ten years after we graduated from high school she had gained a lot of weight. I often wondered if leaving her parents house where she had no one to stop her or manage her food led to her weight gain. Turns out her mother was heavy as a child and was taunted throughout her school years. Her desire to save her daughter from the same treatment was the motivation behind her behavior.

Trauma is another item to consider. Comedian Russell Brand famously said this:

Cannabis isn’t a gateway drug. 
Alcohol isn’t a gateway drug. 
Nicotine isn’t a gateway drug. 
Caffeine isn’t a gateway drug.

Trauma is the gateway.
Childhood abuse is the gateway. 
Molestation is the gateway. 
Neglect is the gateway. 

Drug abuse, violent behavior, hypersexuality, and self-harm are often symptoms (not the cause) of much bigger issues.

And it almost always stems from a childhood filled with trauma, absent parents, and an abusive family.

But most people are too busy laughing at the homeless and drug addicts to realize your own children could be in their shoes in 15 years.

Communicate. 
Empathize. 
Rehabilitate.

— Russell Brand

When I first saw this, it hit me hard. The weight of that truth sunk into my core. Although he doesn’t specifically mention food, when it’s abused food can be just as dangerous! When I started to take on the challenge of my weight I had to consider the source! What is the root of my eating? It wasn’t only WHAT I was eating (calorie math) but WHY was I eating (complex algorithm)?

I was stagnant in my behaviors for years. I discovered that despite how I felt about myself the greater risk was in changing. It was far easier to stay the same! I willingly chose a life where I was so miserable in my own skin because even though I was unhappy with myself it was far more comfortable to stay in my misery than to attempt to do something and potentially fail… again. I knew my misery and ended up making it my friend. I was the flower that wouldn’t bloom but I didn’t have the strength to consider switching my environment!

Looking back, I see how taking the steps to work on myself contributed to a change in my environment. To be successful in how you live after surgery you have to be able to eat according to a plan. Before surgery I’d often order food or go out to fast food. I’d have a steady supply of ice cream, chocolate, and cookies at my disposal at all times! You can’t do that after surgery. The first environment I changed was my kitchen! I didn’t even realize that’s what happened!

If you’re struggling or lost, have you considered what in your environment is hindering you? Look around and take stock. Then look inside and try to uncover the roots. Having the courage to honestly get to truth of your weight and being willing to challenge the environment around you will lead to success.

After 30 Days – The Results

In the month of May I had my sinus surgery after a non-stop year of sinus infections that started to impact my overall wellbeing. As I started to heal I noticed just how far from the basics I was living. After RNY Gastric Bypass Surgery you have to be so diligent with food, movement, and daily habits and here I was over 4 years out and being too “busy” to get to the business of weight management.

Too busy. It’s really the most basic excuse and there is to justify why I was no longer paying attention. Taking stock of how I was feeling, what I was eating, and how I was moving made me realize that I needed to hop back on the wellness train. I’ve gained some weight in the past couple years and I stopped journaling my food about 6 months ago. Once you start slacking on your routines the inevitable is coming. Regain is an epidemic with weight loss surgery. If you don’t stay diligent then you have the potential of going right back where you started from. I definitely didn’t want to do that.

So what do you do? You get right back on the horse! I know what works, I’ve done it before, and it was time to do it again. I decided to take 30 days and really go back to the beginning focusing on these core things:

Eat well
Stay hydrated
Increase Daily Movement
Keep a Food Journal
Meal Plan and Prep
Check in with Friends

These were the foundations of my beginning with weight loss surgery. I needed to go back to that kind of diligence. In looking for a plan to help with meal prep I decided to do the Whole 30 because it fit with my goals and there are limitless resources to assist you with doing it. You can find information about the Whole30 here: Whole30.

Primary Foods to Eat During Whole30:
Vegetables
Fruits
Unprocessed Meat, Seafood, & Eggs
Nuts & Seeds (no peanuts or peanut butter)
Certain healthy oils and fats

Primary Foods to Avoid During Whole30:
Junk food
Fast Food
Sugar
Processed Food
Alcohol
Dairy
Legumes
Grains
Bread
Preservatives
Caffeine

I have a complicated history with scales and weigh ins. I like that the Whole30 doesn’t want you to weigh yourself or take any measurements for 30 days. Just do the work and trust the results will follow. I let all of my readers and social media friends know what I was doing as a means of support. For me, it also keeps me diligent. If I tried to do this on my own and it became too challenging I know I’d be the first to quit if no one knew what was happening. I wanted to regularly check in. Not only did I get to support others, but their support was so healthy for me.

I spent 30 days reading labels of all my food diligently checking for sugar and preservatives. I planned all my meals and prepped weekly. I learned to coook with ghee to avoid the dairy part of butter and discovered new ways of introducing veggies into my food. My husband was not too thrilled at first with the Whole30 and he ended up loving the dinners we created and new methods of cooking. The best part is that we took the time to cook together and eat together which was something that we let our “busy” schedules convince us was impossible. It wasn’t our schedules, it was our priorities.

So what happened after 30 days?

Clearer skin
Better sleep
Easier digestion
More energy
No more daily coffees
No sugar cravings
AND
I lost 24lbs in 30 days which I absolutely didn’t expect!

After RNY Gastric Bypass many people believe that the “work” of weight loss is over. That’s actually where the work begins and you have to keep working it for a lifetime or you run the risk of the behaviors you had before to re-emerge. It’s never too late to STOP, cycle back to the beginning and get back to basics to get Back on Track!

Give yourself 30 days and get right back at it!

For tips, tools, and motivation be sure to like my page on Facebook!

Thank you!



Back on Track 30 Day Re-Focus Info

There’s been a lot of interest in the Back on Track 30 Day Re-Focus for June. In my last post I outlined a little about what I planned. Here’s a little more information to get you started.

  1. Plan! June 1st is a Saturday… yes… a weekend. Focus doesn’t have to begin on a Monday.
  2. Be realistic! Don’t set lofty, unattainable goals. Focus on how you feel while paying attention to areas that you’ve previously overlooked like hydration, calories, and lack of movement.
  3. Write a little letter to yourself detailing WHY you want to get Back on Track. How are you feeling? What do you want to accomplish? Why is it important to you. When things get challenging READ IT. Remember why you started this. Remember what you wanted.
  4. Think of food as either nutrient dense or not nutrient dense. When we assign words like “junk” to food it also plays into emotions of food. We feel bad when we eat “junk.” Sometimes we even feel frustrated what we “have” to eat “good” or “healthy” food. Remember that this is YOUR body and your permanent home.Your body needs nutrient dense foods to perform optimally. Try your best to give your body not only what it needs, but what it deserves… what YOU deserve.
  5. Remember that it’s only 30 days. As of today, I’ve been alive for 17,065 days. The next 30 is a drop in the bucket. You can do it. It isn’t forever.
  6. Plan to move for at least 30 minutes a day. This doesn’t mean you have to do a full on kickboxing workout or run 10 miles. It means you have move your body for 30 minutes outside of your normal routine. For example if you walk 15 minutes a day to your job everyday that’s your routine. There are 48 half hour segments in a day. Play on the swings at the playground, grab a basketball, go for a walk with your kids or your dog or both. Something you don’t normally do for 30 minutes. You’ll be surprised how good it feels… especially on the days you don’t want to do it. I challenge you to take those additional 30 minutes and do something different and fun.
  7. Weigh yourself and take your measurements by the end of the day on May 31st and then put them away. Do NOT weigh or take measurements again until July. You can use a pair of pants or a shirt to see how you’re doing but this really isn’t about weight it’s more about re-focusing on your health and creating new healthy habits. There are far more indicators of health than weight. It only tells one part of the story. How you feel will tell you far more than the scale ever could.
  8. HAVE FUN! This shouldn’t feel like a chore it should feel like a mission! You’re on a mission to increase your movement, develop healthy habits, feel better physically and emotionally. Focusing on your health will do just that!

Resources

A lot of people ask me about what books I’ve read or what products I’ve used and wellness is inherently personal. You’ll find what works for you and what works within your lifestyle. We can navigate those waters together to discover what your best approach will be for long term success. I’ve compiled some parts of my original eBook Healthy Fare that can help with the planning of your personal wellness story. These are available for free use at your leisure.

Download this page that gives 9 easy steps to begin the process of meal prep. Meal prep is one of the best ways to set you up for success. We tend to run to convenience because we are busy and lack planning in advance. If you take the steps to meal prep then you can properly calculate calories and nutrients. PRO TIP: I use my daily planner schedule when meal prepping. This way I can see what days I may be out later than usual or will need an additional snack to make it through a day. It’s planning for these things in advance that will keep you focused and on track.

Download this page for answers to the age old issues of meal prep: If I’m cooking a week of chicken breast HOW BORING WILL THAT BE BY FRIDAY? Good question! This guide gives you some tips on how to season your food so that you can have a similar base like chicken breast but completely different meals: Lemon Pepper Chicken, Rosemary Herb Chicken, Cuban Chicken Strips, Buffalo Chicken baked tenders. All the same base, completely different foods. Seasoning will keep your food flavorful and varied. Eating well doesn’t have to be boring!

This weekly meal planner will help you decide what you’ll eat. I plan on Fridays. I take my calendar and look at my schedule for the week. I then put what meals I’ll need at home and what I’ll need to take with me. What I’m cooking for just me and what I’ll need for my family. This is tremendously helpful. When you’re done then use the next sheet.

The shopping list is an insurance policy. You take your weekly meal planner from above and you look in your fridge and pantry and see what you HAVE to make your meals for the week. If you’re missing anything then put it on this list. When you shop drink a big glass of water, have a meal, and THEN go to the store and get ONLY what is needed. When you shop hungry and with no planning you end up with a bunch of impulse purchases and not what you needed. This take practice and discipline.

If you bite it, write it! Write down everything you eat and drink. From a tic tac to full meal. Write it all down. Be honest, it’s only for you but you’re only cheating yourself by not writing it down. Pay attention to how you feel. I’ve been known to put emojis next to my food to chart my emotions. If you’re an emotional eater this will provide you with clues to your own food behaviors. Look it over at the end of the day and see how you did. How did you do? What could you have done better? Did you drink enough water? How did you feel about your food choices?

Check out this website for help on calories, macros, and more: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-count-macros#step-by-step

Other Helpful Items

Here’s a couple of things that have helped me. If you’re interested in them feel free to purchase. Again, they are a help, not a requirement.

These books were amazing. After being diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder it was a helpful resource for me. It helped me get to the root of the issues I had with food and how to talk to my counselor about it. NOTE: They are on MEGA SALE! I paid over $25 for each book!

Food Scale

Food scales really help you with portion control. I’m always surprised by how large we eyeball portions. Weighing your food keeps you accountable to proper portion sizes and calorie counts.

You are now ready to take on 30 days of Re-Focus! Let’s do this! If you’d like more accountability feel free to join my Facebook Page here: https://www.facebook.com/reginabartlettweightandwellness/

Back On Track After Illness

I started to write a blog the other day about my sinus surgery. It really wasn’t until I started to write everything down that I noticed just how long my sinuses have given me problems. I actually first started presenting issues back in May of 2018. That was a year ago!

The past year has been amazing from doing my TEDx Talk, launching my book, and having my dream book signing at my favorite book shop Savoy. I was even nominated for an Athena award, celebrated 10 years with my husband, and moved! Did I mention that I teach POUND several days a week and take karate?

In the midst of all these great things I also took 10 rounds of oral antibiotics of increasing strength and duration, took prednisone for far longer than I ever wanted to, had a PICC line of antibiotics since my “severe persistent maxillary sinus infection” seemed to never go away. Through it all I rarely paused.

Figuring out I’m allergic to a host of plants, animals, and fungi and starting immunotherapy has been great but finally going in to repair my deviated septum and tool through my sinuses has been incredible. I sleep better, breathe better, and even though the first couple of days I felt like I was hit with a bat it is all worth it.

Now that I’m feeling better I got to see just how much this has affected me. I was always very diligent with journaling my food and meal prep but the past few months have been so draining that I barely kept up. It’s easy to make excuses when you don’t feel well. Being under the weather is always a great excuse to slack.

If you’ve been around these Blog parts for a while you’ll know that I’ve had a very unhealthy relationship with scales. It was bordering on obsessive and emotionally controlling. When I had RNY Gastric Bypass I only weighed myself at the doctors office until those appointments became less frequent. I then implemented what I call the Rumble Strip.

On a roadway the rumble strip is the lines placed in the asphalt beyond the white line. When your tires hit them it makes an alarming sound jilting the driver back to attention. My rumble strip is a pair of pants. I have a pair of jeans that I love. They fit well and the true test is how they fit fresh out of the dryer. If I ever want to check how I’m doing I’ll throw on those pants and let them be my guide.

I haven’t done it in a while and with my general slack and boatload of excuses I knew it was time. I put them on yesterday after 3 solid weeks of limited activity recovering from my surgery. They went over my hips and zipped just fine. The button, however, not my finest hour. I’ve officially hit the rumble strip and I’m finally feeling well enough to tackle it!

So many people ask about getting back on track. Not just after weight loss surgery but after any way that you’ve lost before and began the slow creep back. The best thing is always to go back to basics. You know what you did that worked so return there and begin again. The month of June I’m doing a 30 Day Re-Focus where I’ll return to my basics and get back on track.

What are Basics?

  • Count macros and calories
  • Journal all food (if you bite it write it)
  • Chart how I feel when I eat
  • Be sure I’m pausing and taking 10 seconds (read about that HERE)
  • Increase step goal to 15,000 per day
  • Move 60 mins per day
  • Meal prep!

What are NOT Basics?

  • Getting upset about gain
  • Isolating and not addressing the issue
  • Continuing to live in your excuses
  • Not trying to correct the behavior before it gets out of control
  • Hating yourself

Remember:

  • You cannot hate yourself happy
  • You cannot shame yourself thin
  • You can take steps to correct
  • You can reach out for help and accountability
  • You can bounce back
  • We can do it together
  • Give yourself 30 days

Before May 31st

  • Weigh yourself
  • Take measurements
  • Make sure you have a place to journal your food
  • Find an accountability partner or check in with me
  • Have at least 3 days of healthy and portioned meals ready to go
  • Be ready to take this challenge on!
  • NOTE: You will not weigh in or take measurements until July 1st. Feel free to put on your Rumble Strip pants to check progress if you NEED to see how you’re doing before July.

You’ll be amazed what 30 days of focus can do! Let’s do it together. I’ll be posting some free reference guides and helpful planning tips.

Flashlight In A Cave

Suffering is universal. We all suffer. In our own ways and with own inner demons we battle things that can seemingly destroy us. I think every person on earth has an event in their life – at least one – that they can look back and wonder how they survived it. I had a moment to look again at suffering and the human condition this weekend.I served on a panel at Westerly Library this past weekend with other local authors and a local author who owns a publishing house. This event was for the main benefit of the writing group that meets on Saturday mornings at the library. The group wanted to speak with local authors who published their work and were willing to answer questions about their writing process and the road to publishing. It was an honor to be included with other writers and I learned just as much as I shared. It was a great event.How does this relate to suffering?Ahead of the session the event organizer sent the panelists a list of questions submitted by the writers and asking us to answer one that they’d feature in Facebook posts announcing the event. One question really stood out And I had to answer it:Q: How do you deal with negative self talk? Or the thought that ‘I don’t need to write that’ or ‘nobody wants to read about that’?

Suffering is universal. We all suffer. In our own ways and with own inner demons we battle things that can seemingly destroy us. I think every person on earth has an event in their life – at least one – that they can look back and wonder how they survived it. I had a moment to look again at suffering and the human condition this weekend.

I served on a panel at Westerly Library with other local authors and a local author who owns a publishing house. This event was for the main benefit of the writing group that meets on Saturday mornings at the library. The group wanted to speak with local authors who published their work and were willing to answer questions about their writing process and the road to publishing. It was an honor to be included with other writers and I learned just as much as I shared. It was a great event.

How does this relate to suffering?

Ahead of the session, the event organizer sent the panelists a list of questions submitted by the writers and asking us to answer one that they’d feature in Facebook posts announcing the event. One question really stood out And I had to answer it:

Q: How do you deal with negative self talk? Or the thought that ‘I don’t need to write that’ or ‘nobody wants to read about that’?

A: As a person who has anxiety this question really spoke to me. I’ve been a blogger for 16 years, so sharing measured parts of myself was nothing new to me, but this was very different. Writing about my weight – which was something I lied to myself about for years – was very frightening. I continually battled the thoughts of sharing too much and I really wondered if anyone else ever felt like I felt. It was like pushing myself off a cliff to publish my book. The best thing was that in all of my fear and anxiety and embarrassing situations with my weight was that there was not a single unique feeling. People resonated with what I wrote. Even without having weight problems people looked behind the specifics and saw themselves and their struggles in my struggle and benefit from my sharing. Blessing for me and for them.

What would be the point of struggle if not to use it as a flashlight to help someone else out of the cave?

Flashlight in a cave. That’s really what happens when we share our struggles. We open ourselves to others and share our humanity with compassion and empathy and provide others a way out. Currently, we live in the most connected time in history yet we are wrought with loneliness! We share our highly filtered images and obsession with material goods often forgetting the people behind the images. The story in the details. Who we really are, not just what we want people to believe.

I’m positive that the more we share of our authentic selves the more we connect, then we can relate, then we can build bridges of understanding. When I started sharing the stories of my experience with weight and anxiety I was terrified that people wouldn’t understand or judge me based on the truths I told especially since I’d spent decades attempting to minimize the roles both things played in my life. Then I discovered the more I shared, the more people let me know that I was never alone in my feelings. Somedays I think of the many opportunities I had where I could’ve safely opened up to a friend and I couldn’t out of fear, pride, and judgment.

If only I took that step of faith into vulnerbility and authenticity in those moments it could’ve saved me years of self imposed isolation.

I wouldn’t recommend that you open a fire hydrant of emotions on unsuspecting people, but if you have a friend who is genuinely concerned for you and you have a moment to share what is really going on inside… take the leap.

If you have found yourself exiting a cave with a flashlight and a well-worn map then share the route and share the light. What was once your suffering could be the blessing someone needs and the healing you deserve.

 

My faith has been a huge part of my healing and my sharing. There are so many questions that come up regarding suffering and God. There are many written resources that beautifully address this.  One of my favorites is this one.

Review: TLM Color Changing Foundation

I discovered this foundation on Facebook and was intrigued. I wasn’t sure if it would work but it was affordable enough to give it a try. Check out the video and I even found a cheaper and faster way to getting it from Amazon! I probably should’ve checked there first! Thank you!

Sowing and Reaping

When I look back on my life I see themes based on how I was feeling mentally and emotionally over time. It seems like there are periods of fear, anxiety, and depression but also times of emotional stability, providence, and abundance. I’ve learned to love and appreciate the ebb and flow of my time on earth. I am able to fully know joy because I’ve been fully intimate with fear and pain.

As time went on I learned more, became more open, and learned to ask for help. My fear of doing these things kept me in over my head, doubting myself, and difficult to be around. Self love is a learning curve and self care is too.

Twenty years ago I could best describe my life as flailing. In the ocean of life I wasn’t exactly drowning but more like doggie paddling for a very long time. My arms would get tired, I’d sink for a bit, flail for a while and get back to paddling. I was always one paycheck and 5 minutes ahead destruction.

The critical mistake I made was instead of asking for help, I’d try to maintain the charade that I had everything under control. I absolutely didn’t. When it all came crumbling down I remember a lot of people being surprised. I was only surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

I had a moment to reflect on that time at the Camp Berea Women’s Retreat in Hebron, NH,  this past September. Leaving a workshop I saw a woman I worked with years earlier. She recognized me instantly. We only had a second to talk as we were both on the move. I kept catching glimpses of her the rest of the weekend but I never got a moment with her.

On the final morning of the retreat, we were packing the van getting ready to drive several hours back to Rhode Island and I saw her again. She was with one of her friends also getting ready to leave. There were so many things I wanted to say but didn’t know if I could say them or if I should say them. I turned around to go to the van and it was like God Himself turned me back around. This was my moment and I had something to say.

I went over to say goodbye and then I told her this:

I knew you at the darkest time of my life and you were always so kind to me. I will never forget your kindness, it really was a shining spot when I needed it most.

As the words came from my mouth I was crying and then she was crying. She didn’t realize that she had a positive effect on me. She never knew how sad and overwhelmed I was and just how much I appreciated and needed her encouragement.

It reminded me of a quote that I love (that the internet has been attributed to everyone from ancient Greek scholars to Jar Jar Binks)

The true meaning of life is to plant seeds of trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

Reflecting on my walk with Christ I can feel the true weight of that statement. For years I ran from God but in looking back I can see the seeds that people planted along the way. From my Godmother who first showed me the love of Christ to one of my neighbors years ago who never wavered in her faith despite my many questions and general disbelief. I was getting trees planted all around me!

Flash forward ten years later when my daughter asked my husband and me to attend church I didn’t realize that these seeds were going to get Living Water and ultimately led me to my old friend that God placed right in my path at a women’s retreat 20 years and 200 miles from when I saw her last. She, like the others, never knew she planted a seed of kindness and a seed of God’s love. Two decades later she got a moment in the shade.

You may think your words are falling on deaf ears, you may believe that you aren’t affecting change, you may even think you should stop because people aren’t hearing you. Never underestimate the power of planting a seed. You may even be blessed by a moment in the shade!

 

 

Safety Versus Passion

I sat on a panel of entrepreneurs of my high school alma mater a couple of weeks ago as part of their career day. It was nice to be there and see how the school has changed and progressed in the past (nearly) 30 years.

The panelists were all running different businesses from a social impact retail store and luxury handbags to a local performance and coffee shop and a brand new distillery. Everyone had something incredible to bring to the table.

When I speak with students it’s almost like I can see the pressure emanating from their pores! The pressure to do well academically, athletically, socially, and everything in between! We had pressures too but what we didn’t have in the late 80s was information coming at us from every corner of the world nestled in the palm our hands!

Look like this!

Act like that!

This will make you feel better!

I sat on a panel of entrepreneurs of my high school alma mater a couple of weeks ago as part of their career day. It was nice to be there and see how the school has changed and progressed in the past (nearly) 30 years.

The panelists were all running different businesses from a social impact retail store and luxury handbags to a local performance and coffee shop and a brand new distillery. Everyone had something incredible to bring to the table.

When I speak with students it’s almost like I can see the pressure emanating from their pores! The pressure to do well academically, athletically, socially, and everything in between! We had pressures too but what we didn’t have in the late 80s was information coming at us from every corner of the world nestled in the palm our hands!

Look like this!

Act like that!

This will make you feel better!

Everyone is getting that!

Rich Kids of Instagram!

Reality TV!

The pressure from outside is palpable. There’s also the pressure from within.

What does my family expect?

What do my teachers expect?

I need good grades.

So I can get a good GPA.

Then I can get into a good school.

Become a doctor, lawyer, or some other socially appropriate job that signifies wealth, substance, and success.

We continue to do what is expected and so often there is no joy. What happens when you go through all every step of expectation and you aren’t fulfilled? Feels a lot like the world we live in now. Lily Tomlin once said:

Wouldn’t it be great if we all grew up to be what we wanted to be? The world would be full of nurses, firemen, and ballerinas.

Consider her thoughts for a moment. We were all born with passion and somewhere along the way were told in multiple ways to stifle it.

What will you do with an art degree?

Writers and artists are usually broke and homeless… they make money when they die.

You can study ballet forever, do you know how many become prima ballerinas?

Wait! You’re getting a degree in history but you don’t want to teach? What will you do with that? (Full disclosure: I’ve actually said this to someone, whoa, I am so sorry!)

I could continue with this for days. My heart was always in writing and speaking. My socially responsible thought was to do something with a little more stability. Yes, smart to be safe.

But is it?

Imagine this: we begin to cultivate a different model of success with children. Success isn’t necessarily built on test scores and college degrees but on what will drive you every morning with passion and vigor. What if we encouraged tiny artists, theatre kids, and budding musicians to continue, grow, and develop these skills?

As I looked at this group of kids, they were so ready. They wanted to hear everything, learn everything, and know every step we took to get to our current places. At that moment I was so grateful for how the world has progressed. Twenty years ago if you wanted a book published you needed an ironclad idea, a well-written query letter, and an act of God! In a world where Stephen King’s writing was rejected scores of times, it made it all but impossible for common folks – like me – to publish a book. Thanks to advancements in the internet and social media you can transform your idea into a book, you can market and sell that book completely on your own! We live in a time where musicians are routinely getting discovered on reality competitions or YouTube! The world is a much more open place and we have more power to advance our own thoughts, dreams, and art.

Back to the room with the wide-eyed students. They asked a lot of questions, they had a lot of great comments, and as they sat on the very precipice of their future they wanted to know what lesson we wanted to share with them. I offered this:

Discover what you love. Once you find it, nurture it, develop it, and keep working at it. Then find a way to make it pay.

Thank you Chariho High School in Wood River Junction, Rhode Island, for having me on this panel. Not only did it introduce me to several other members of our community who took the ultimate leap of faith and gave their dreams a chance but you also instilled hope and possibility to the attendees. That is a priceless gift!

Who Are You Fighting?

I first walked into East Coast Karate two years ago on a whim when a friend of mine posted they were hosting “Buddy Week” where people can bring a friend to try classes for free. You can read about that experience here: The Karate Adult

Karate – like anything that challenges you and takes you out of your comfort zone – had proven to be a place where I experience the most growth physically and mentally. I’m a person who likes to do things right and well. I like the satisfaction that comes with doing something to the best of my ability. I’ve also been known to “not see the forest for the trees.” I can get so mired in details that I fail to notice the big picture. That became abundantly clear a couple of weeks ago.

In karate class, we’re often sent in groups by rank to work with a sensei. A sensei is someone who has achieved a rank of black belt or above and is entrusted with the training of underbelts. On this particular day, we were paired with Sensei Les and we were thrilled. A little backstory on Sensei Les: when I first started in the dojo he was going from his final green belt (green with a black stripe) to his brown belt. His entire belt rank was amazing. I can safely speak for my entire group when I say that we would watch them in absolute awe and wonder if we would EVER look like that.

Before I get to our conversation on the day in question I want to share how Sensei Les challenges us. He’s a man that always does things to full potential. If you’re going to go then GO and GO ALL THE WAY! It’s inspiring. I can get inside my head pretty quickly and I like to mentally go over things before I put any speed or emphasis. I was paired with Sensei Les and we were learning a new drill. I’m trying to work it out – trying to get it perfect (ugh) – and I go to punch Sensei Les. Remember, I’m trying to work out details so I’m not placing any power in that punch. As I “punch” him he just stares at me.

Me: You’re supposed to block…
Sensei Les: You’re supposed to hit!

(apply cold water to burn)

That was the first day I just laid waste to my perfecting BS and just did the drill and it was amazing. I was almost forced out of my head because I was going to do the drill or get drilled. I wouldn’t want to take an errant punch from anyone at our dojo but certainly NOT from Sensei Les. This was a powerful lesson (and epic clapback) that paved the way for our next session with Sensei Les at the helm.

Karate is learned in stages almost like child development. You have to crawl before you walk and certainly before you run. As you improve and progress you learn more advanced ways of doing moves. This is hard for me because I want to know what is RIGHT. RIGHT! What is universally correct. There’s a lot of nuance to karate. (I know, I know.. I’m working on it!)

Sensei Les is taking us through our katas. We start from the beginning and we know the patterns of 11 of them. As second level green belts (green with white stripe) we are at a place where are no longer crawling through karate. Sensei was gifting us with fine tuning our kata with more advanced moves. This is where Sensei Les was when I started karate. Having him teach us is like seeing the light in the tunnel! I want to absorb everything!

Me: Sensei I notice that you move your arm this way yet another Sensei does it slightly differently. Which way is correct?

Sensei Les: They’re both correct.

Me (mentally starting to crumble): Wait, which way is classically correct? Like which is the way that we should learn in our development now?

Sensei Les: Who are you fighting?

In an instant, the light bulb went on and my brain simultaneously snapped! As I was wandering aimlessly through the forest looking for trees I missed the largest and most fundamental part of karate:

Karate is a fighting style!

When we spar in class I fight. I’m actually surprised by how much I like to spar. It’s fast, there’s no time to think, you act and react accordingly or you get hit. Despite knowing this, I was approaching this entire class like a chance encounter with someone in an alley would go like this:

Oh, you’d like to attack me? Hold on… can you stand right there? Give me a second, I just have to perfect my punch placement! All the while my attacker is just letting me get set up. I would never do this in sparring but I was failing to connect the two. We are not learning poses!

When we learn kata we also learn bunkai or the practical applications of kata. I remember in the beginning just thinking that I need to know WHAT I’m doing then I can learn WHY. That logic is fundamentally flawed. Knowing the why improves the what, even at the beginning. Especially at the beginning! Why have I resisted this? Sensei Dave has said it repeatedly. This was the first day I received it.

One question from Sensei Les and my karate has taken a new level of intensity. Every moment is in preparation for an actual fight. In the mirrors, I am my opponent. When I practice I think of the fight and I’m preparing for it.

Ultimately, this works in so many areas of life:

  • If you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability
  • When preparing for any battle know who you’re fighting
  • Practice like it’s real because when it’s real you won’t get to practice
  • Move, block, or get hit… the choice is yours.

Domo Arigato, Sensei Les!