Strive to Thrive (aka: A Self-Love Letter)

People are a mess, aren’t we?

I mean, we try. We each do our best to survive the Monday, to make it to the end of the year, year after year. But who wants to live a life that’s all about surviving? It’s so much better when we strive to thrive.

(Did I just make up that slogan? Because I love it and would totally wear the t-shirt).

Thriving can be hard, though. Sometimes, really, really hard. We know what we need to do to live better, to be better people. But it takes a great deal of effort and consistency. Exercise more. Eat less. Read more, communicate better, and above all, love harder. Love your spouses, love your kids, love your neighbor, love yourself.

Self Love Collage

It’s that last one that throws people into a tailspin. What does that mean to love myself? Does that mean I’m not loving myself if I like to change my hairstyle or sculpt my body into a different shape? Isn’t it possible to love yourself too much and turn into a narcissist?

Let me clear this up: Self-love is not narcissism! Got it? They are two very different things.

Self love says:

I am worthy and valuable, and so are other people.

I deserve good things in my life, and so do other people.

I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and I will treat others the same way.

My goal is not to compete with those around me, but to constantly grow into a better version of myself.

I want to lift other people up so that they feel better about themselves.

Narcissism says:

I am superior to other people.

I am more worthy and valuable than others.

I deserve more good things than other people and envy those who are more successful than me.

People must admire me, or my ego will be shattered.

I must put others down in order to feel better about myself.

(You can read more about this here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201206/self-esteem-versus-narcissism)

Confident free happy woman

Self love is a necessary component to being a happy and secure person. It means looking in the mirror each day and fully accepting yourself — every blemish. Every scar. And know what else? When you can fully accept yourself, then you can also learn to fully accept others. Every blemish. Every scar. Self love lets you laugh at your silly quirks and flaws, and to forgive yourself. And when you can forgive yourself, guess what? You can forgive others.

It comes in that order. First you, then others.
A match with no flame can’t light candles. A lighthouse with no inner light can’t guide ships to shore. You’ve got to love yourself first. Turn on your light, my friends.

love hands heart

Today, I love:

Those tiny crinkles around my eyes when I smile; a marker of many years of smiles and laughter.

My short, springy, curly hair. Some days, I flat-iron it until it’s straights and long. But mostly, I wear it free, run my fingers through the soft curls. I love to stretch them out and watch them bounce back into shape. Boing! Just like that little girl in the Ramona Quimby story.

The way I rise early in the morning, ready to go for a run, ready to pull on my kick-ass boots , face the world, and smash my goals.

The inner wind that pushes me. It drives me forward until I see each project to completion. It focuses me, and enables my self-discipline when motivation fails me.

The treasure trove of stories that dance in my brain, eager to escape when I sit before a blank screen, ready to write.

I love my goodness, and my messiness, my corny sense of humor, even those moments when I feel too serious, overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness in the world (like Artax, Atreyu’s horse, in the Swamps of Sadness).

Cute curly hair

Because I love myself, I will continue to strive to thrive, to do better, to be better. I will be my own queen, wearing my crown with pride. And I will do my best to lift up those around me, those who still struggle with loving themselves, until we are all kings and queens of our own destinies. There are plenty of thrones to go around.

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Commas from the Universe (aka: Forced Pauses)

Commas exist for a reason. They give us a way to separate ideas, or to list multiple items without miscommunication. They also tend to spark wild debates over the use of the Oxford Comma (the “gif” vs. “jif” argument of the literary world). But love commas or hate them, we can all agree that written language simply could not get along with them.

The thing about commas is, they allow us to pause. Take a beat. Which can be a real lifesaver, apparently.

I tend to be the opposite of lazy most of the time. Go go go, from before the sun rises to long after it sets. I have a full-time career. I’m a full-time mom to teens. I cook most of our family meals, and write novels and short stories in my spare time. I also workout nearly every day, and run at least 15-20 miles per week. A routine like this takes a lot of organization and a lot of energy. Which thankfully, I have. Most of the time.

But once in a while, the universe decides it’s tired of watching me run around in a blur, juggling my very active lifestyle. So what does it do? It inserts a comma in my life.

Pause.

Next thing you know, I’m stuck in bed with a cold. Any active person can tell you — we can’t stand getting sick. It keeps us from our runs and workouts and Very Important Business Meetings. Who has time for commas, when we are driven to GoGoGo?

Eventually, the pause ends, and I can get back to the business of busyness.

A couple of weeks ago, the universe inserted another pause into my life. I was out for one of my usual Saturday long runs. Since I’m not in training for anything right now, I was only planning to run for 8 miles along one of my favorite trails. I ran four miles out, and was on the run back when my knee began to complain. At first, it was just a twinge, so I continued pounding the pavement. But by five miles, the pain was excruciating. Youch! By six miles, I was walking. No, limping. So much for a good long run.

But as I limped along the trail, no longer in a hurry, I began to notice my surroundings. It was such a lovely, cold autumn day. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and a huge flock of hawks circled overhead, stalking their prey. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a deep golden glow on the river. Someone had stopped by this way, I saw, and stacked river stones into a tower. The leaves had finished their fiery show and had mostly taken their bows, drifting to the earth.

Rock tower

I met a stranger along the path, who was also walking, and helped her identify a weird fungus-looking plant (using iNaturalist — a great app for nature-lovers). By the time I returned to my car, I was no longer frustrated by being temporarily handicapped by a bum knee.

I slowed down for a few days, then tried to ease back into running. But this past weekend, the awful pain appeared again after running 6 miles. So it was back to walking, and observing, and listening to audiobooks instead of high-energy running music. Today, I feel great, and every inch of me is screaming to get out on the trail and run again soon, but I figure I’d better, well, pause, and go get that knee examined, before I aggravate the injury. Sometimes, it sucks to slow down. But just like you have to know when to throw in a comma to keep everything flowing well, you also have to know when to take a pause in some part of your life. Everything looks different when you slow down for a moment and look around. You may not be moving forward as quickly as you’d planned. But the views can be breathtaking.

The Energizer Bunny is My Spirit Animal (aka: Energy!)

Energy!

Energy!

The word itself demands an exclamation point. Caps, bold, and italics, even. ENERGY!!

As it now Friday afternoon, and many of you zombies are slumped over at your desks, waiting for the weekend to kick in, the word energy is more like an expletive. Or a plea. Or a complete unknown. Energy? What on earth is that?

That’s when I pull out my cheerleader megaphone and do a few cartwheels to encourage you all.

I’ve got energy, yes I do! I’ve got energy, how about you?

(Okay, you didn’t have to use your last remaining reserves of energy to throw tomatoes. How rude! )

Energy is one of those things that so many people wish they had way more of. But like free time, like money, like low-calorie meals that fill you up and taste great, it’s one of those things that always seems to be in short supply for many people. That’s a real bummer, since it takes energy to do so many of the things we want to do. To climb out of bed each morning. To focus at work. To shuttle kids around to activities, and clean the house, and cook healthy meals, and get to the gym, and plan social events, and weed the garden, and schedule that dental appointment we keep putting off. Ack! No wonder everyone’s so exhausted.

I wish I could tell you that there is some magical way to acquire more energy. After all, it has always come naturally to me. Ever since I was very young, I’ve had this inner well of mental and physical energy that makes it very, very hard to mesh with you couch potato types. I become very restless if I don’t exercise daily and push my mental and physical limits on a regular basis. I am definitely the get-up-and-go type. Laziness does not come easily to me. The Energizer Bunny is probably my spirit animal.

energizer_bunny_still_going

According to recent scientific studies, my high energy levels are most likely hard-wired in my genetics. Which is funny, because I grew up in a family of TV-loving, exercise-shunning, sleep-in-on-weekends couch potatoes. Clearly, I was born on Jupiter and swapped at birth.

So I’m sorry to say that, if you were not born with lightning in your veins like me, then you probably struggle to find enough energy to do everything that you want to do. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to boost your energy levels, even if your spirit animal is a sloth.

SLEEEEEEP I can’t emphasize this one enough. Way too many Americans don’t get enough good, regular sleep. 7-8 hours per night, peeps. That does not include time spent in bed reading, watching TV, or other…um…nocturnal activities. Improve your sleep by setting a relaxing routine during the hour leading up to bedtime. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Make your bedroom comfy and relaxing. Bottom line: want more energy throughout the day? Go to sleep!

sleepytime

EXERCISE It may sound counterintuitive. I mean, how are you supposed to go for a run, or ride a bike, or hit the gym after work when you don’t have the energy? But exercise itself actually gives you energy. Remember mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cells? Well, they also produce this chemical called ATP, which your body uses as energy. So guess what happens when you work out? Your body produces more mitochondria, which means more ATP, which means more energy! So if you’re facing a sluggish moment in the middle of your work day, go for a walk. Climb some stairs. Hit the gym near your workplace for a midday pick-me-up. It’s more effective than coffee.

CUT THE SUGAR If you have a sweet tooth like me, this one is soooo hard to do! But sugar and simplex carbs (think white bread) are the enemy of lasting energy. They’re fine for an immediate boost of energy, but you’ll crash quickly and feel more tired than you did before. If you want carbs for energy, go for yummy whole grains, fruit, or veggies.

CHOOSE ENERGETIC HOBBIES If you center your free time around couch potato activities, then you’ll be stuck in the same inactive rut. Once you’re engaged in a good TV show or video game, it’s hard to make yourself stop and go for a walk or work in the garden. But if you work active activities into your schedule, and give those first priority, then it’s easier to convince yourself to do them, even if it’s just to “get it over with.” Who knows? You may get so used to being active that the couch seems a lot less appealing!

running going motion energy athletic

THINK ENERGETIC THOUGHTS I believe that the mind, body, and spirit are strongly connected. By focusing on how tired you feel, how difficult it is to exercise, and on the hundreds of little excuses you’ve made up for why you’d rather lie around the house, you are encouraging your own energy levels to drop. When you shift your thoughts in a positive way about your energy levels, you will experience a positive increase.

Well, this post is getting a little long, and my body is already anxious to get up and move. If you try these tips and still find that your energy levels are low, be sure to check in with your doctor. Sometimes, low energy levels can indicate low iron levels, sleep apnea, or other underlying health issues. But if they are effective, then great! We can start a club for Energizer Bunnies, and keep it going and going and going…

More Than a Moment (aka: Overcoming our Shadow Selves)

 There is a bleakness that exists within the human spirit. It is something so terrible, that none of us like to acknowledge its existence. A cold, terrible nothingness that creeps inside us. The shadow side of our human nature.

The woman who badmouths people behind their backs says, “At least I’m not as bad as the one who mistreats other people outright.”

The man who mistreats other people outright says, “At least I’m not as bad as people who abuse pets.”

The woman who abuses pets says, “I’m not as bad as people who physically hurt other people.”

The man who beats his wife and children says, “At least I’m not as bad as a murderer.”

The man who murders one person says, “I’m not as bad as the man who murders multiple people.”

And we shrug our shoulders at our “lesser” badness, and feel better. If just for the moment.

We have only two real ways to keep the shadows from overtaking us. We give in in bits and pieces, accepting the part rather than the whole. Every time we make a choice to willingly harm another person, we are choosing to walk in the shadows. We choose to cheat, to skirt around the rule of law. We dangle temptation on a string. We aim our bitter self-hatred toward others, forcing our whipping boy to endure the fury and pain we feel for ourselves. We lash out at the weak in our cowardice, then laugh as they fall.

Because it makes us feel better. If just for the moment.

It trades our helpessness for power, if just for the moment. It hides the shadows, that terrible, creeping emptiness, in our darkness. But only for the moment.

But there is another way to keep it from overtaking us.

We fight.

We do not take the route of the cowardly, who give up and give in to their shadow self. Instead, we fill our lives with as much purpose and light as we can carry. We make the difficult choice to reach into the mire with both hands and help our fellow human beings. We share our bounty with those who have less. We seek out those who have become invisible, and we see them. We offer kindness and forgiveness, even to those who aim to do us wrong. We love.

And it does more than just make us feel better. It makes us better.

We fight the shadows with light, because light is the only weapon that can defeat them. It is not an easy route. We are all faced with moments of weakness, when it would be easier to give in. To slander. To do harm. To spread lies. To punish the weak simply because they are weaker to us. But to give in is to feed the shadows, until the emptiness grows and grows inside us.

I challenge you to examine your own spirit. What feeds you? What do you turn to to get you through the day? What lifts you, and breathes life into you? What gives you pause, and fills you with those moments when everything feels right, and you are in love with being alive? Are you fueled by your shadow self, seeking temporary ways to feel better? Or are you motivated by the light, seeking excellence, focused on becoming better?

 

The Great Fast (aka: Why I Would Make a Lousy Catholic)

Today marks the first day of Lent, and I have decided to observe it by giving up soccer. Haha, no, I’m just kidding. That’s crazy talk. But still, today marks the first day of Lent for many Christians around the world. While I myself do not observe the 40-Day Lenten period, I am fascinated by the idea of it, and the reasons for which some people choose to observe. Lent cross

The first time I ever heard of Lent was in high school, when a Catholic acquaintance of mine was showing off the ashes smudged on her head on Ash Wednesday. I, an evangelical Christian at the time, stared in wonder, having never heard of such a practice. Even more amazing, the girl explained that, during Lent, or the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, her family abstained from eating meat. It was then that I decided I never wanted to be Catholic.

Ashes for Ash Wednesday

Then, a few years ago, I made an acquaintance who was an Eastern Orthodox Christian. She happily explained her faith traditions to me, which make the Catholic Church’s rules pale by comparison. During the period of Lent (in this case, the 40 days leading up to Orthodox Easter Sunday), Orthodox Christians observe a very strict fast. They choose to abstain from eating any animal products, meat or dairy. They also abstain from eating oils or fats, and drinking wine. Basically, their meals during this period are very simple dishes, such as lentils, vegetable soup, and bread.

“But why would you want to forbid yourself from eating such things for so long?” I asked my acquaintance. To me, it seemed unreasonably strict, like a self-inflicted form of punishment.

“When you live your life constantly treating and indulging yourself,” my acquaintance explained, “then it becomes less pleasurable. But imagine choosing to abstain for a while from the things which bring you great pleasure. When you finally end the fast and indulge, then the reward is far greater.”

It made so much sense then. Of course, as she also explained, there are other reasons for fasting during Lent, such as being more spiritually awake and in tune with God, dedicating the body and spirit to prayer and thanksgiving, and helping the poor. Some people see it as a type of spiritual self-discipline, which helps them to be less focused on fulfilling the desires of the self and turning their focus outward, toward God and others.

Reasons to observe lent

And the thing is, I really like that idea. Religious or not, it seems such a positive thing to observe a period of being spiritually awake, and of denying the self and focusing on God, or the poor, or on being a better human being. On living as simply and humbly as possible, in order to realize, in the end, how blessed one truly is.

Now, I don’t think that I could spend an entire 40 days eating as strict a diet as an Orthodox Christian. And the Catholic version of fasting does not seem like a fast to me at all, since I already don’t eat much meat. However, many evangelical Christians, though it is not required by doctrine, choose to observe another form of the Great Fast. Some people give up money by giving to charities. Others give up their time by volunteering to help the poor. Still others give up some luxury that is important to them, such as chocolate, television, or caffeinated drinks. If I choose to participate in Lent, then perhaps I would consider this route. As long as I don’t have to give up soccer. Or tea. Or my iPad… Okay fine, I would probably suck at observing Lent.

Think Positive (aka: What I Love About My Body)

girls and body image “I’m getting so fat,” my 12 year-old daughter complained today, pinching a miniscule roll of fat that has formed around her waist.

I groaned. “Puh-lease. You are not even a little bit fat.” This is true. My daughter is a petite and graceful little thing, like a fairy flitting about on skinny little chopstick legs. It’s just that now that she is no longer a competitive gymnast with rock-hard abs from working out 25 hours per week, her little body  is beginning to resemble those of other 12 year-old girls. Okay, well, maybe 10 year-old girls.

Still, she is not fat.

“Since you are complaining about your body,” I told her, “now you have to tell me something that you love about your body.”

My daughter thought for a minute, frowning. “We-elll,” she said. “I guess I love my long limbs. My long legs help me to run fast, and I wouldn’t want to have short, stubby legs.”

I smiled. “There you go! See? There is so much to love about your body. Now no more complaining about being fat.”

Of course, I am not very good with this. I often catch myself pinching the rolls of fat that form around my own waist and frowning about how fat I am. It is probably just an unfortunate curse of being a woman in a culture obsessed with body image. We all hate our bodies – that is, those of us who were not blessed with perfection, like Angelina Jolie (pre-surgery, that is).

“So what do you love about your body, Mom?” asked my daughter.

Ugh. My turn. Okay, well, I guess I love my lips. They are pretty awesome, as far as lips go. Almost perfect, even. My eyes are just okay. I hate my hair. And my…oops, going in the wrong direction. Think positive, Tiare. Think positive.

I almost blurted out, “I love my body’s incredible resistance to mosquitos.” Well, I do. For some reason, I never get mosquito bites like other people. Seriously. I can stand in the middle of a swarm of mosquitos buzzing around, and then walk away without a single itchy little bump. It makes me feel powerful – like, Olivia Pope powerful. Okay, no one is that powerful. But still. Ha ha mosquitoes

“Do you know what I love best about my body?” I hugged my daughter close. “I love how my body was strong enough to bring you and your brothers into the world.”

“Oh, Mom!” My daughter grimaced and pushed me away. “Too mushy.”

I just grinned and blew her a kiss with my almost-perfect lips.

The Power of 3 (aka: Finding Balance for a Healthy Life)

I think that the number 3 is the key to a balanced life. I know, I know, it is an odd number, which makes it seem counterintuitive. However, I have found that my life is most fulfilling when I strike a balance of nurturing the three parts that make up my whole person: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Each part is equally essential for a balanced, healthy life. Here are some examples of ways to nurture your entire self:

Mind Body Spirit

MIND

  • Read Literature – This is different from merely reading for pleasure. Read the classics, the Great Books, the time-tested literature that will expand your mind and stretch your imagination. Don’t have time to read? Listen to an audiobook during your daily commute.
  • Learn a Foreign Language
  • Puzzles and Word Games – Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or my personal favorite, Scrabble.
  • Learn about another culture – This world is such a huge and interesting place. Pick a country and learn all that you can about its history, its culture, and its people.
  • Take a college course – College classes are not only to advance one’s career. There are many online courses available, including free courses for anyone who is interested.  YogaBalance1

BODY

  • Commit to an exercise routine three days of each week (There’s that number 3 again).  — Stick to it.
  • Learn a new sport or physical activity. — Not a runner? Try yoga, or swimming, or an adult drop-in soccer or volleyball league.
  • Eat less meat. – You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. There are huge health benefits to cutting out meat even on an occasional basis. Try making a goal of eating a meatless lunch or dinner three days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit. Explore the internet or your local library for healthy and delicious meal ideas.
  • Move your body as much as possible. – Avoid shortcuts. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Walk in place while watching television. Just keep moving.
  • Sex – (No advice here, but some would say that regular sex nurtures the body, mind, AND spirit) Nourishing relationships feeds the spirit

SPIRIT

  • Keep a journal – More than just a record of your daily activities, a journal is a way to express your personal thoughts and ideas as you travel down the path of life. Or you can do as I do – write a blog. Just be cautious — remember that the rest of the world can read your journal, too.
  • Read what makes you happy – This is a different type of reading. Whether you enjoy reading children’s novels, humor books, or just plain smut, read what makes you smile. A little book candy every now and then is good for the spirit.
  • Give back to your community – Get involved in a community service project, plant flowers along the roadways, pick up litter in the local park, or visit with the elderly in a neighborhood care home. You may be surprised at how altruism nurtures your own spirit while improving the lives of other people.
  • Become an encourager. Smile at strangers and wish them a good day. Give your neighbors a basket of homemade muffins. Write thank you notes and send get well cards to people. Make friendly comments to other people or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, or whichever online social community you prefer.
  • Surround yourself with beauty – Display beautiful artwork in your home or office. Take time to look at other people’s beautiful photography on Flickr. Go for hikes out in nature. Listen to beautiful music that feeds your spirit.
  • Find religion – Dedicate yourself to the belief system that brings you the greatest sense of peace and belonging to something greater than yourself.
  • Develop friendships – Get together regularly to talk, laugh, and enjoy life with other people. That way, you not only nurture your own spirit, but you will also nurture the spirits of other people in your life.

Balance and Happiness in Life

I am most certainly not an expert in achieving a balanced life. In truth, I often fail in several of these ideas – especially the ones which involve other people. But just because something is difficult to do, it does not mean it is not worth trying. Perhaps striving for balance is like climbing a mountain. In order to climb, you must have a sturdy anchor, a rope, and the strength or your own body. When you put these three together, you can keep climbing; keep advancing inch by inch toward the summit.