becoming a bookworm

books

Photo Courtesy: Widewalls

Bookworms. People who love reading, who get lost in a good book for hours on end and struggle to put it down. I am becoming one of those people and I’m excited!

A more flexible schedule in this current season of life has allowed more time and space for multiple areas in my life. The main area being family time, closely followed by friend time and third, more time and space to enjoy hobbies again. One of my favorite relaxing activities to do alone is read. It’s become my norm to come home, sit on the couch and desire a “mindless” activity—usually watching TV. This isn’t bad in it of itself; however, I’ve been determined to spend my days and evenings a bit more purposefully. Don’t get me wrong- I love my weekly shows with the time and date set to record if I’m unable to watch. But I’m talking about those moments when I simply turn it on to “pass the time” or because I am simply bored. I’ve recently reignited my love for reading, a large variety of novels. In the past seven years, I finish an average of two or three books per year for enjoyment. I start the process of picking up a new book, beginning it, and then quickly find myself losing interest. That quickly correlates to stepping away from reading for enjoyment and filling my time in other ways. Since June 2016 when I took a step back from sprinting through life, I’ve finished nine books. That’s nine books in seven months compared to two or three over the course of 12 months. I’ll be the first to humbly cheer myself on for that new accomplishment 🙂 I LOVE READING!

I remember being a student in elementary and middle school, sitting through SSR: Sustained Silent Reading. Some days I enjoyed it and others, I loathed it. Being forced to sit and read…I could pass. We had reading logs and reading homework and…MORE READING. Today, I’m so grateful that reading was something I stuck with and was forced to “endure” at a young age. I also wasn’t always the best reader. I struggled with reading at even a remotely consistent pace, with phonics and pronunciation and reading comprehension. It was frustrating and limiting to the point where my parents, bless their hearts, scheduled multiple tutoring sessions to encourage growth in my reading. It was embarrassing to read out loud; to confess I had to read something two or three times before I remembered or even processed what was written on the pages in front of me. Today, I’m fortunate enough to have learned tips and tricks from so many different teachers and professors and feel blessed to not only be a better reader, but also enjoy sitting with a good book and a delightful cup of coffee, for pure enjoyment. There is always room for growth and improvement if we are willing to endure hurdles along the way.

There’s something about getting lost in a good book, intrigued by the characters and storyline. I spent years as I was beginning my career in athletic training and teaching feeling guilty about reading anything other than a textbook or a manual pertaining to an athletic training or kinesiology topic. Why would I allow myself the space to read a book for enjoyment when I should always be striving to better myself as a professional in a particular career? Little did I know that by providing time and space for reading “non-academic” books I would be directly improving myself as a person and professional. I’ve more recently allowed myself the time and space to get lost in books and it feels incredibly rewarding. I’m setting new goals for my reading and I’m almost as excited about these goals as I am for fitness or nutrition or professional goals.

I’ve read various articles about encouraging children and adults to set aside time in their busy schedules to read for enjoyment. They are articles pertaining to encouraging young (and older, too!) individuals to become life-long readers. A few years ago, an article in the Washington Post shared 5 key habits of life-long readers. Let me share them with you!

  1. Dedicate time to reading, regardless of busy schedules
  2. Confidently select books based on interests
  3. Share book references with friends
  4. Have a reading plan: look beyond the book you’re currently reading
  5. Allow yourself preferences based on author, genre, and topic

I think life-long readers are generally more capable of expressing themselves, both written and orally, and are stronger communicators. I’m sure there is research on that as well; however, I will not be diving into that in this post. I’m grateful for the time to read and reflect and begin writing again; I hope you might join me as well!

broken pieces

seashellsBeach week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love the quaint wood-covered beach house. I love waking up to sit on the porch and drink a mug of delicious coffee while reading or simply enjoying the morning as the fog rolls away. I love the short walk that can be made barefoot to the sand. I love having beach hair, wearing no makeup, and wearing a swim suit as my main attire. Most of all, I love having family all nestled together in one place.

Earlier this week, my niece Brooke and I delighted in playing where the water meets the sand. We’d sprint up the sand only to turn around and sprint back into the waves. And by waves, I mean where the white wash rushed to the sand. She was hesitant to get wet—probably fearful of being washed away by the powerful monsters called waves. Little by little, she warmed up to the ocean and by the end of the afternoon we were knee deep, jumping and running and tumbling into the water. We also walked along the shore, collecting seashells. I love seashells—always have, always will. It was so fun to see Brooke so enthralled by every shell she came across. She’d yell, “Auntie!!!!! Auntie Pookie!!! Here!!!” as she placed each shell proudly in her sand bucket. What puzzled me for a short moment was how she would pick up EVERY shell: the broken ones, the full ones, the shiny ones, the dull ones. Every. Single. Shell. I thought about it for a few moments, silently. I usually prefer to collect only the whole shells, the most beautiful ones. And as per usual, it led down the path of yet another contemplative life moment.

Life is a lot like seashells, I think. Every day is a new adventure. Every season, the possibility of new memories to be captured and held closely. Life, when seemingly perfect, is to be cherished and the memories collected, like seashells resting on the sand. But that’s the thing about life: there is nothing perfect. No years where there is no heartache and suffering and challenges. If we waited for seasons in which there were no waves—no speed bumps—to enjoy and celebrate and cherish, we’d be waiting forever. That reality is one I have begun to accept and also learn to embrace. When expectations of what life is supposed to look like turn to moments filled with hope and gratitude for what is, that is when we can fully appreciate every season, no matter the waves it brings.

I have always loved picking up and collecting shells for as long as I can remember. The vibrant beautiful shells, colored with coral and orange and blue and silver. I love finding that rare sand dollar that is impeccably round. But this week, Brooke helped remind me that there is a special beauty to the imperfect shells—the broken pieces, the cracked shells, that still contain the most beautiful of colors. And those are to be collected, too. There’s something victorious this week, I have found, in celebrating the passing moments in life where everything is just as it should be, even when it looks nothing like what I planned. Collect the broken pieces, the chipped shells. Don’t be so entranced in the search for the perfectly shaped shells that you miss the beauty of what is in front of you.

go

IMG_0052 - Version 2Two years ago I moved to Paso Robles, California. I sought a new beginning. I sought adventure, continued professional growth, and the desire to immerse myself in a new community. All of those things have occurred over the course of the last 24 months. It is with a bittersweet heart I share that I will be moving back to Southern California during the summer. I have made the drive back to LA more times than I can count to visit family and friends, all of whom give me joy, hope, and a sense of “it will all be ok.” Paso has given me more than I could have imagined, as well. In one word, Paso has brought me healing. I don’t say that to mean I’m perfect and completely made whole, or any other cliché’ statement. I say that to mean that Paso has brought me all of which I had hoped and wanted it to. I have met some incredible people here, and am honestly sad to leave. But I also know that Paso will be one of my forever homes, a place I found more confidence and trust and a community that has become like family. I imagined myself staying as long as I felt called to remain, but the time has officially come following the completion of this school year.

I left Southern California realizing I used to think I NEEDED my family, my parents especially. That, without them nearby, I might not succeed or be confident or be able to “get by” on my own. What I have discovered over the past two years is that I do not necessarily need them to survive or thrive; but I WANT them. I desperately want them to talk with, to share meals with, to laugh and cry and question and debate with. I want them physically present to celebrate life’s greatest joys while sitting in life’s messiest and most heartbreaking realities. It has been one of the most heart-wrenching years of my life thus far—and I’ve been through quite a lot leading up to this last March! But more than any other details and challenges and obstacles and fears, I have concluded that I want to cherish the time I have with the two people who have given me life. They are far from perfect; but they are absolutely the most loving, kind, do-anything-for-your-children parents I could ever imagine.

Last year I was hit HARD with the reality that my parents will not always be around. That reality alone consumed multiple nights and showers filled with tears. It’s one thing to think about; it’s another to be dealt a hand with an aggressive cancer diagnosis. I have sat in the questions of “am I moving or leaving out of fear” or is it really worth leaving a job I absolutely love, in a community I love and have grown close with; the security and safety of a full-time job (two, in fact!) and health insurance and benefits and retirement. Even as I type this, I stop and say….REALLY!? And then I ask for peace of mind in the decision that is to be made—to stay or to go. And I am consistently led back to the word “go.” Go cherish moments and memories. After all, what value does a place of living give if the people I want to spend the most time with are not present?

While family has been a large part of this decision to return to the LA area, I have also spent ample hours of my life asking myself what it is that I want professionally as well. Ever since I left APU, I have envisioned myself becoming a future “Phil Ford” or “Chris Schmidt” of an athletic training education program. While that is a passion and something that is extremely exciting, what has also been a vision and strong desire on my heart is to establish a program similar to one in Ohio at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, here in California, that has an athletic trainer as the lead to create plans and programs for pediatrics oncology patients returning to sport or physical activity, or simply a normal active life.

I can honestly say I have no idea where life, or rather God, will lead me next. While my faith has been shaky and I have been challenged this past year, I remain hopeful that He will provide, that He will pave the way and be a lamp for my feet in this season of life. Paso, you have been wonderful to me and I will never forget the lessons and memories I have made. I look forward to visiting and maybe some day even returning!

highways and hindsight

highwayEvery Fifteen Minutes has impacted me more than I could have imagined. Four days after the event was conducted at our high school, and the images of (fake) blood, shattered window glass, and a staged funeral are still as vivid as they were on Wednesday. This event led to multiple meaningful and insightful conversations with students and faculty, and even family members. It deeply affected me, as I know it has for many others; and I am so grateful it has struck a cord- it NEEDS to.

Highway driving can be so enjoyable and just plain fun. But I have recently been repeatedly reminded of how dangerous it can be. Car crashes, posted articles, young deaths. Last week, I was nearly in a head on collision, heading northbound on highway 101 when a vehicle driving southbound landed in my lane.  For reasons unknown, the driver plowed through the median area filled with flowers and soil, causing a dust cloud. Before I could even process what was happening, I witnessed the car flip at least once, roll, and land tire-side, facing me, in my lane. I was lucky enough to have seconds to react and respond, pulling as far right on the highway as possible, and dialing 911 not knowing the extend of injuries. I was close enough to see airbags deploy; it was beyond terrifying. I still do not know how the driver and possible passengers are doing, but I wonder every day.

So today, as I traveled from LA back to Paso, I was sobered and reminded that those driving in front, behind, and beside me are someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or friend. They all have a story of their own. Let’s commit to being considerate, concerned, engaged and alert drivers every time we get behind the wheel. Let’s commit to making our highways safer. No distractions, no texts, no posts or updates; no phone calls or fiddling with the GPS. It all can wait. And if it can’t, commit to pulling off the road. PLEASE. There is nothing more important than arriving at your destination safely- NOTHING. A traffic ticket or accident or collision will take longer than the 5 minutes saved by multitasking while driving. It’s just not worth it.

Some “accidents” truly cannot be avoided. But so many can. If you are over 21 years of age, have a designated driver. Enjoy beverages responsibly. Commit to driving sober. As the woman from Every Fifteen Minutes said about driving under the influence, distracted driving is also a choice. They are not “accidents” that occur due to alcohol or distracted driving; they are collisions, as it all stems from a choice. Choose safety today, for all of us.

portraits, playtime & profound moments

There is something sweet and rejuvenating and inspiring about capturing authentic beauty behind a lens. Carly is a senior who recently finished her studies at Cal Poly SLO and will be walking at graduation this spring. I was lucky enough to capture her senior photos prior to her graduation. We spent a whole afternoon exploring Paso Robles, visiting vineyards and flower fields, making new memories and laughing every moment along the way. It was a day unlike any other and so much fun!

I met Carly a few years back, after I moved to Paso for my new job. She was one of my first authentic, genuine and free-spirited friends here on the central coast. I’ve absolutely loved getting to know her and spending time sipping wine, running on beautiful trails, and sharing hopes, dreams, and daily excitements.  She is a beautiful soul, not entirely knowing her true beauty both inside and out and it was an absolutely joy capturing her behind a lens.

These are just a few photos  I think capture Carly’s authentic, natural beauty and glee–I hope you enjoy!

Carly, I wish you nothing but pure joy, success, and plenty of adventurous days in your future.  Remember, you are more precious than rubies.

Go Mustangs!

IMG_9718 IMG_9786 IMG_9391 2 IMG_9407 IMG_9453 IMG_9519 IMG_9550 IMG_9589 IMG_9785

 

rediscovering vulnerability

Summerland, CA  Photo by Kelly Franks

Summerland, CA
Photo by Kelly Franks

A new year. A new page, a fresh start to write letters and words and phrases of what is to come. But before that happens, I have honestly been off the grid for so long, I haven’t even taken the moment to reflect on the whirlwind of the last twelve months. There is something about closure and tying off loose ends that feels….good, and necessary. To unfold the last twelve months and all that has transpired would have been multiple pages and journal entries and blog posts that just never happened. Cancer updates, road trips, travels to LA, summer adventures, more cancer updates from friends around the country, crazy student stories…the list goes on. Despite a deep yearning and desire to write and reflect through pen and page, I think there was also an arcane fear of letting words and emotions and thoughts flow freely from within. For someone who has loved and thrived on vulnerability in previous years, this has been a year of not fully understanding and processing all that has encapsulated the wondrous workings of my mind. All that being said, I still believe there is something so profound and sweet about sharing process and struggle and victory with those surrounding you. My goals for 2016 are to reflect more, journal abundantly, blog more consistently, capture more photos on my exquisite DSLR camera, and simply ride the waves of emotions as they come. So, here we go!

As I ventured back to the Central Coast this weekend, I prepared to return to the “working life” routine. Following a much-needed two-week hiatus of family bonding and relaxation, I decided to go to church on Sunday morning. Usually this wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary; however, this was one of my first Sunday services in over two months. It would be easy to say it was due to travel and busy schedules and conflicting times. But let’s be real: if you want to go to church, you can and will find a way. It’s been freeing and also challenging to admit that truth, and also the truth that this has been a season of sickness, sadness, heartbreaking news, (drizzled with small victories), and God has felt quite distant in it all. In the midst of troubles and turmoil. I have clung to whatever glimpses of hope and joy I can possibly find and yesterday happened to be day when returning to church felt easier, rejuvenating, and more inviting than weeks past. For that, I am extremely blessed and grateful.

Yesterday’s sermon was the last teaching on the book of John for the year. There were two points that really connected with me personally and I finally allowed myself some space to reflect on paper. The first point was sparked through a statement that read, “God uses failure.” For some of you reading this post, church and God and Jesus may not be a part of your life. But I can guarantee failure has been, and will continue to be, a part of your life. Failure, to me, is the reminder that I am fighting, that I am living and trying and creating and expanding my abilities. Failure can actually be ok, dare I even say, good. Furthermore, I’d like to think it’s the recovery and new attempts that say even more about one’s character.

This point on yesterday’s sermon notes led me to the question, “What has God taught you through failure?” As I paused to reflect on this question, the one thought that kept coming to mind was marathon training. As a woman who has now been running (in some seasons, more miles than others) for over 16 years, I have recently felt like my training and inability to run in weeks past is a failure. It has been frustrating and sad and even embarrassing. But yesterday morning, as I sat in the wooden pews atop the favorite ABC green carpets, reflecting with my favorite pink Papermate Ink Joy pen, I was able to see a few positives that have resulted from this speed bump. When I stopped and asked myself what I have truly gained, I realized it’s in the moments when something is taken away that it is most cherished and appreciated. My love and appreciation and pure JOY for running has not always been present; it has felt like a chore to wake up early and log multiple miles at times during this season and previous ones as well. But when my body literally rebels against me and tells me a strong, “NO,” it’s in those moments I remember why and where my love for this sport and activity came from. I think I almost forgot for a few years how much l love to run, especially long distances. The tranquility and feeling of adventure—mixed with the accomplishment of finishing! And add a running group like the guys and gals I have met through Team World Vision and the “Rose Bowl Running Crew” as I like to call it now, and you have the perfect recipe of why runners are such a special breed: friendly, outgoing, compassionate, energetic, a bit crazy, and enthusiastic.

The second point in the sermon today that really spoke to me was the idea that God partners with people—we are coworkers with God. We are not self-made nor are we alone in this journey. We have friends and family and community alongside us. That point has been more than true in my life, especially in this season. I have had multiple friends call, text, send snail mail and letters; the community God has surrounded me with, both geographically and metaphorically, has been crucial. I can’t begin to imagine doing life alone. I was further reminded of this reality when I was at home at my parent’s house over Christmas Break. As multiple neighbors dropped by Christmas gifts and cards and asked about Mom and how she and our family was doing, they also repeatedly asked how they could help and what they could do for us. They reminded us of how long we have all lived on the same street and lived life and community together and wanted to share in our cancer journey with us, in any way possible: soups, cards, hugs; it warmed my heart. Even now, it reminds me of Acts, and the first church ever formed. It wasn’t an organized church made by four walls and a building and designated meeting place and time. Rather, it was a community meeting each other’s needs, sharing meals, working toward a common goal. Today, I am grateful for that reminder. Letting people in, being vulnerable, can be a scary thing, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

As I close these ramblings, I’m not 100% where my blog posts will lead in 2016, but I can type one word to capture my heart and mind in it’s current state: HOPEFUL. I am hopeful for what God has in store for 2016. May it be a joyful and prosperous year for you and yours and may you feel purpose and hope each day of your journey.

Bubbles & Balloons

balloonsGrief is such an interesting concept, let alone process, made up of multiple phases and steps and overlapping emotions. I teach about grief in my health care and sports medicine classes; about the phases and emotions; about how necessary it is to allow individuals to feel and experience whatever it is they are feeling but to also share those emotions and feelings with friends and family or others close to them. This last year has provided many life experiences of learning and growing and leaning into the stages of grief.

In one word, grief is vulnerable. Vulnerability is something that is so powerful yet so challenging in a time of grief. We wear sunglasses at memorial services and gravesides for a reason and it’s not just the beaming sunlight; we hide our tears for a reason—being vulnerable and allowing others to see raw emotion can be both extremely difficult and scary. And to be honest, grief can be quite conflicting and confusing, to say the least.

Yesterday my family came together from Arizona, Texas & California and celebrated my Nana’s life in various ways. Last Monday, she took her last breath at 86 years old. Unfortunately, the last eight months have been an uphill battle for her with health issues, hospital visits, and finally an assisted living facility before returning home to spend her final months of life. As I reflect on yesterday and all it entailed, it was quite a different day for me. It was one filled with a multitude of emotions, some of which I did not fully expect.

We arrived at the graveside and my Aunt Heidi welcomed us with a beautiful and heartfelt commemoration of Nana. Family and friends were invited to share thoughts or memories and it was a beautiful moment in time to just be present with family as we reminisced in memories both recent and of years past; but to be honest, it is all such a blur now. It is hard to remember much of what was specifically shared. What I do remember vividly is what followed our shared family memories: bubbles. Nana would have absolutely loved this. We had multiple great grandchildren present for her memorial service and my aunts and uncle thought it would a sweet way to have them included and keep the mood light. We had bubbles of all sizes blown at Desert Lawn on that scorching hot September afternoon, and I can honestly say I have never experienced a memorial service where both children and adults were allotted the ability to experience such a vast array of emotions: sadness, joy, heaviness, peace…it was beautiful. What started as just children blowing bubbles turned into some of the adults blowing bubbles, too. Emotional releases and laughter and salty tears all mixed together somehow worked. And that seemed to be the theme that carried throughout the day.

We arrived back at my parents’ house to have a celebration of life reception with Nana’s favorite: Mexican food! She sure loved her Mexican food! We decided another way to commemorate a life well lived would be to do a balloon release (yellow balloons, of course) in the back yard. As dozens of yellow balloons were let go into the sky, we looked around at one another and just smiled. The great grand children loved watching them float away in the bright blue sky as a huge cluster together, trying to pick out which one was theirs. Balloons: something I had never experienced at a memorial service or celebration of life reception, but a tangible moment of joy and a moment of symbolism that I didn’t quite grasp until now. Pain-free and no longer suffering, Nana is released from earthly disease and ailments and has been welcomed into her Eternal resting place. I pray it is the sweetest of reunions with Grandpa and that the two of them are waltzing together again, on the streets of gold in Heaven.

rain and reflection

I love stobootsrms and rain and puddles and jumping in puddles in cute navy blue and flowered rain boots. I also love time to reflect and ponder and restore a slow rhythm to my life. Neither of those has been abundant in my life in the previous months, until this week—rather, until this past Friday! We received more rain last week than our state has seen in this drought all year—well, in more than a year! Friday happened to be the perfect opportunity for both rain and reflection: especially extended reflection time. It was a travel day for football, as we made the nearly 6 hour trek down to San Diego in our charter buses to take on the El Capitan Vaqueros for the CIF Regional Bowl Game Saturday night. It was a beautiful stormy day to sit and recline in the soft blue marble patterned chairs and ponder the craziness of the past six months.

From countless Saturday 5am coast drives for credential class, an apartment fumigation, a football CIF Championship, a progressive Thanksgiving, and my first real full-sized Christmas Tree, it has been a jam-packed four months of pure craziness and absolute JOY.

While managing two jobs (teaching and athletic training) has been a juggling act to say the least, it has been incredibly rewarding. If two jobs have not been enough to keep me busy, I have pursued the incredible undertaking of completing my Career Technical Education Credential as well during my first year at Paso Robles High School as part of my contract. The song that seems to follow me is the circus theme s <insert song NOW>. I have classes online that I complete as well as every three weeks an in-person classroom meeting down in Camarillo. So, every three weeks, on Saturday morning, my alarm wakes me up to the Frozen song, “ Do you want to build a snowman” at 4am and I drive down in the dark and stop in Summerland, near Santa Barbara and enjoy the beauty of a beach sunrise before I begin class. Those 5am coast drives and early morning beach sunrises have become an absolute highlight.

Another adventure this season occurred last month. My apartment building was in need of a bit of…termite killing, to say the least! Fumigation weekend taught me a lot. From Friday morning to Monday night, I was not allowed into my apartment building, so for all intents and purposes, I was a traveling gypsy for those next four days with no one place to call home. I ended up camping out at my sweet friend Amanda’s house in Atascadero for two evenings before staying my last night in Paso with my adorable coworker, Denise and her family. What started as a weekend of potential frustration and annoyance of being transient became a weekend of gratitude and truth and feeling blessed beyond measure. Staying with Amanda was an unexpected gift, as it brought about time to reflect on where I have come in the past six months since staying at her house prior to my move to the central coast. Six short months ago, I was sleeping on the same air mattress, preparing for my job interview at PRHS and San Luis Sports Therapy. I remember those nights vividly, June 10th and 11th. It was a week already filled with heightened emotion, and as I arrived at her house after my first interview, I hugged her tightly, reunited after 5 years of limited conversation. It felt so easy, so safe. Vulnerability happened rather quickly, as I shared with her about life changes and fears and excitements and new possibilities. I went to sleep that evening on that comfortable but quickly deflating air mattress, asking for guidance and answers and signs direction about taking the risk of stepping into NEW. So much NEW. I was reminded that night of those emotions, as I returned to Amanda’s house to stay with her while my apartment was being fumigated. And what also came that night was the reminder and blessing of gratitude for friendships and hospitality and vulnerability, no matter what coast I am on. It’s almost hard to believe at times that one of my biggest hesitations to moving was the fear of a lack of community: God definitively answered that prayer 100 fold.

Progressive Thanksgiving:

Our football team has had an incredible season! We ended up playing through the week of Thanksgiving, which meant I would not make it home to celebrate as originally planned. This year was the first time in 27 years that I did not go home to my family on Thanksgiving Day. As someone who is very big on tradition, I was fearful of the sadness and impact this would have. Fortunately, I was able to see my family the weekend before Thanksgiving, so we planned to celebrate early. My family was very easy going and encouraging and loved that I made it home early. Every one was extremely excited for the team and how successful our boys were competing. They sent me on the road, wished me well and said they would see me soon! As Thanksgiving Day approached, I still did not know what my own personal reaction would be. I had been invited by a few families to stop by and celebrate with them if I had no place to “call home” for Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to try something I called “Progressive Thanksgiving.” I would go to a few different houses to celebrate with the various families that had invited me over and opened their homes to me!

We practiced on the morning of Thanksgiving, and I had the wonderful help of two of my senior students who joined me to help tape and manage any injuries. I treated them to a quick Starbucks breakfast (unfortunately it was one of the few places open in Paso) as a thank you for their help and then I went home to prepare for my progressive Thanksgiving! I started at the Conte house! It was a delight! Denise is one of my coworkers at the high school and it was an absolute treat to spend some time with her family and meet her daughters. They were just the sweetest! Afterward, I went over to the Baldwin home where I spent the majority of the afternoon and evening. We shared in delicious food and played fun games and had wonderful conversation. It was such a joy to spend time with these families and get to know them better and feel like such a valued member of their community and family as well. I can honestly say I left those homes feeling treasured and honored and hopeful that I left behind even a spark of the joy that I took away.

:: on encouragement and hope ::

encourageNational Day of Encouragement. Yes, that is real! It’s a “thing!” September 12th, in fact! It was last Friday, and I found out as I walked out of the gym from my morning workout. There was a giant calendar on the wall immediately left of the women’s locker room and I happened to glance over at it, looking for class times. I quickly scanned the calendar and looked at today’s date, September 12th. It only had one expo’ed in statement, and it read, “National Day of Encouragement.”

I walked out of the gym, beaming from ear to ear, excited that no matter how cheesy it sounded, it was a day marked on the calendar to spend a moment encouraging another human being. As most of you know, I really really like encouraging people. Like really. I love notes and cards and texts and letters. I like making food and pouring wine, and listening to others as they also listen to me share the thoughts and feelings on my mind. I really think we need more of that. Honestly. There is so much to be overwhelmed by and it can be so easy to let the weight of so many situations rest on my shoulders, it is imperative to be surrounded by genuine kind, encouraging and loving individuals. What is encouraging and motivating is the story of that which landed me at the gym on that beautiful Friday morning at 6:15am.

The previous night I watched the season premier of the Biggest Loser, on which one of my dear friends works as one of the Athletic Trainer on set. I would not consider myself a diehard fan of the show, but in this case, I wanted to see her appearances and at least watch the first episode. As I watched minute after minute, I found myself relating with these individuals, the struggle to push through moments of pain and soreness and the feeling of quitting, not just in physical fitness, but in many aspects of life. The fears, the feelings of inadequacy, the emotional roller coaster of drastic lifestyle change. I found myself crying, moved to tears by their stories of sorrow and loss and hardship and yet such powerful waves of hope. The producers of this show have done an amazing job at allowing the audience to be captured and captivated by the stories and heavy emotions of the contestants. It was such a beautiful episode, in my opinion.

As the episode ended, I found myself wishing it was not 10pm and desperately wanting to go to the gym and workout! But instead, I went to bed, gave my body some much needed rest and recovery, and hit the gym bright and early the following morning. As the previews for the coming weeks and the layout of previews for the remainder of the season aired, one of the contestants said a statement while he was standing on the scale that hit home on so many levels. He said, “ I’m starting to let go of grief, and the flip side to that is you open your life to joy.”

I have come to realize and accept that I am an extremely emotional person, so, as per usual, that statement made me well up in tears, agreeing with the contestant and empathizing with the reality that with open hands and the release of grief in a healthy time frame, I have begun to let go of grief day by day, and have been filled with more joy than I ever thought possible in this new season of life. Biggest Loser, you win at not only motivating the physical sides of health and wellness, but also the psychological and emotional sides of wellness, too. Let’s encourage one another; let’s build each other up. And let’s inspire each other to live well each and every day. We can choose to make each and every day national day of encouragement!

: the body :

Photo Courtesy: Letters and Lens Photography

Photo Courtesy: Letters and Lens Photography

This morning I attended my first church service since moving up to my new community! What a beautiful experience to worship again as the body of Christ, this time, on the Central Coast! As I sat in the service, I began reflecting and realized over the past few weeks, that it’s been easy to live on my own strength and to forget how much it has been God’s strength that has gotten me through the toughest of times. It’s easy to forget those nights of crying and moments of such deep sorrow and loss and confusion and desperation. It’s easy to forget the pleas with God for peace and comfort and hope when He provides peace and comfort and hope in the most unexpected moments and places. And when He provides rather quickly! It’s easy when so much is going so well, when a new job is exciting and challenging and exhilarating. It’s easy when a new community is welcoming and warm and inviting. It’s easy when life feels so great, so “together,” to forget that it is He who is the Ultimate Provider of that strength, peace, comfort, hope, and childlike JOY.

Today in the middle of worship, however, the reminder of His power and strength in my life became quite apparent again. As we sang “Lord, I need you, oh I need you, ever hour I need you,” I was brought to tears, remembering the goodness of my God who has provided for me time and time again. I broke down, quietly of course, tears flowing down my cheeks and they wouldn’t stop for the remainder of the song. Those tears held so many emotions: gratitude, joy, grief, and exhaustion (my new roles have kept me busy!). Ultimately, the reminder to turn to Him daily, hourly in fact is what brought those heavy falling tears.

Today, I thank God for instilling in me a strength greater than I ever knew was inside me. I thank Him for providing me with so much NEW: a new city, a new job opportunity, a new community, a new coast, and the reminder that I am strong. I am a woman built and rooted in His strength and that family and friends are along for the ride with me as well. He has provided and paved a way for me to grow personally and professionally. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the amount of peace, comfort, and joy He has blessed me with at the beginning of this new journey.

The sermon today was based on the book of James and patient suffering. Oh, the irony! J But in contrast to suffering, I realized today that He is healing my heart, day after day, and allowing joy to invade every aspect of my heart and soul. I don’t know that I would consider myself in the midst of grief and suffering any longer, and that is victory! Standing in church today, looking around and realizing I knew only one person in the group, I expected to feel alone. I expected to feel sad, having left not only family and friends, but also my church family in Fullerton. While there is sadness in moving to a new coast and starting a new job with a new community and not having every one within an hour’s drive, I was reminded today I am not alone. During worship, I felt anything but alone this morning. And I am so grateful for that. I am grateful to never truly be alone, as I believe in a God who does not leave nor forsake His children. We all matter to Him, and we are all stronger than we think we are. Amen.