On Being Small

Some days I feel small.  The truth is I think I have always felt a bit small.  I was a shy timid child who never really felt like I had much of a voice.  Growing up I knew that I felt like I had a part of my that was buried, the part of me that was fierce, the part of me that was brave, the part of me that was not afraid of my own voice.

Slowly I began to find that girl.  I kept pulling her out, until one day she began to feel like she belonged to me.  Suddenly my own voice didn’t scare me anymore.  I began to believe that the things I had to say mattered.  Maybe not everything mattered to everyone, but it all mattered to me.  And that is what truly mattered, learning to stand up for myself, learning to speak up.

Some days my voice still scares me.  Some days it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me, because some days I still feel small.  I like to think that even some of the most important people in the world feel that way too.  It can be hard to find your voice when it feels like no one wants to listen to it.  Some days it can feel like everyone is against you.  Some days it can feel like all you are trying to do is breath hope and love into the world, and all you get is hate in return.

But my voice matters.

Your voice matters.

You matter.  And you playing small doesn’t help anyone, including yourself.  Because the truth is, the really hard truth is that if you don’t believe your voice matters, no one else will believe it either.

Some days you will feel small.  You will feel like your voice doesn’t matter and that you can’t even inspire yourself.  That’s okay.  I wish I could give you a magic fix all, but I don’t have one.  I can tell you that just because you don’t feel like your voice matters, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter.  Because I can promise you that someone out there is feeling small too, and that someone needs to hear the exact words that you have to say.  So find your voice, big or small.  Find your voice, and never be afraid of it.

Image result for quotes on playing small nelson mandela

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Let That Be Enough

Happiness is fleeting.  I have been told this my whole life.  Happiness comes into our lives as quickly as it slips through our fingers.  Life gets hard, and bad things happen.  We will have moments on top of the mountain, and we will have moments in the rut.  But I am not convinced it is that simple.  I think it goes deeper than that.

By this standard, everyone should have relatively equal amounts of happiness and misery.  Take a look around you, and you will realize how inaccurate that is.  Some of the most miserable people have everything, and some of the happiest people don’t.  It has nothing to do with their current life situation – it has everything to do with them.  

Maybe happiness isn’t that fleeting, maybe we just don’t know how to appreciate it when its right in front of us. 

We see our happiness, and we want more.  Good things happen to us, but there are better things that we want to happen.  We see our life but our friends lives look better on social media.

We have become a society wrapped in our own greed.  And when we find that our greed for material things cannot be satisfied, we replace it with greed for the perfect life.  We need to have the most elaborate proposal, the most pinterest worthy holiday dinner spread, the mother that can manage all.  We run ourselves into the ground trying to chase this perfect picturesque life that we don’t even want only to wonder why we are left feeling miserable.

Bad things happen and we push through them, and they make us stronger and more resilient.  But then good things happen and we brush them aside.  We don’t take the time to see what is right in front of us.  We have so much, but we push it aside because we don’t think it is enough.   We are try harder than ever to capture happiness, and all we get is this feeling that there should be more to life.  There is, we just can’t see it because it can’t be bought in a box or posed in an Instagram post.

It is right there in the midst of the messy part of our life.  It is right there in the moments gone forgotten.  It is right there waiting for you to stop looking for other’s to approve of your life.

You don’t need the world’s stamp of approval, you just need yours.  Let that be enough. 

We have lost sight of the life that happens in the margins, the life that happens when social media isn’t watching, the life that isn’t perfectly cultivated at our fingers tips.  We have lost sight of what it means to be alive, because the best things in life can’t be planned, they just happen.

It is a hard thing to be human, it is a very hard thing.  It becomes even harder when we refuse to let ourselves be human – messy, unsure, imperfect.  We are human.  We make mistakes.  We have no clue what we are doing most of the time.  We feel things deeply, sometimes too deeply.  And we are forever haunted by this voice that tells us we are not enough,  that we will never be enough.  Silence it. 

Let life your life with its messy imperfections be enough.  Let what you have be enough.  Let the things you do be enough.  Let who you are be enough, even when you believe that you never will be.

Be messy.

Be imperfect.

Be real.

Be you.

If you don’t, you will spend your life chasing someone else’s happiness.  Chase your own happiness.  No one else but you can decide what your own happiness is.  Chase your dreams relentlessly, and always believe that you are capable of more. Be complex, be confused, be chaotic, be content – be human.

Your life is beautifully imperfect, and that is enough. 

So, I’ve been thinking about this whole being happy thing, and I feel like people get lost when they think of happiness as a destination . . .  We’re always thinking that someday we’ll be happy; we’ll get that car or that job or that person in our lives that’ll fix everything.  But happiness is a mood, and it’s a condition, not a destination.  It’s like being tired or hungry, it’s not permanent.  It comes and does and that’s okay.  And I feel like if people thought of it more that way, they’d find happiness more often.” – One Tree Hill

Happiness

Photo Credit: Erwin Blumenfeld

The Fear of Falling Failure

“You just need to push off and swing to the other side.”

The Just implied that it was easy.  A piece of cake.  What the experienced rock climbers, safely planted on the ground, were really telling me was that I need to let go. Obviously.  Just let go.

It was my first time rock climbing.  I felt a twinge of fear as I looked at what I was about to climb, but I silenced it.   I have always been good at climbing.  My family likes to tell me about how when I could barely even walk I would love to climb up the step stool we kept in the kitchen.  I would climb up, fall down, dust myself off, and climb back up.  I don’t remember this at all, either from being too young or from hitting my head each time I fell.  My point is that  I have always loved climbing things, as a child and yes still as an adult.  So my excitement about rock climbing quickly squashed any nerves or fear I had.

That is until on my first run up.  I managed the first half like a natural, and then I got stuck.

“You just need to push off and swing to the other side.”

Yeah okay, sure, easy peasy, I’ll get right to that.

I tried to use my unnatural long limbs to reach to the other side, so I wouldn’t actually have to let go and swing over.  I had half let go, but I was also half still holding on for dear life.  What sane person wouldn’t when they are that far above ground?  At that height you forget that you are being supported by a rope that will catch you.  At that height all knowledge that you are safe feels like a lie trying to trick you, and suddenly there is no way you are letting go.

Undeterred, I tried a second time on the second rig.  Once again I was climbing quickly and easily.  Look at me go.

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Then I fell.

I don’t remember how it happened.  I just remember one minute I was reaching, the next minute I was falling, the next minute I was caught, and then I was fine.  After that falling didn’t seem so scary anymore.  I took more risks, and yes fell many more times.  But each time I was fine.  The more I fell, the less I was afraid of falling.

My next attempt back on the other rig, I got stuck in the same place.  And you know what I did without even hesitating?  You guessed it, I let go and pushed myself to the other side.  Not only did I survive, but I realized that letting go was ridiculously fun.

Letting go can be scary.  Until it isn’t  Although that is easy to say in rock climbing (relatively) it is a lot harder when you are talking about something more personal and permanent.  Especially since in life it often seems like their isn’t a rope to catch us when we reach too far.  So we convince ourselves that our dreams our merely meant to be pretty pictures put on our shelf of someday.  Thought about and admired but not something we ever dare lived.

I have been a dreamer ever since I can remember.  I use think that when I grew up and finally started living my dreams it would be like running through a field of daisies as I easily glided into happily ever after.  Not even a little bit.  It is more like being stuck 50 feet in the air the first time I decide to rock climb.

Terrifying.

Life is a beautiful story of falling and picking ourselves up again.  Those who do great things are not the ones who never failed, but the ones who refuse to let their failure stop them.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just let go.  To fall so we can catch ourselves, so we can once again believe in ourselves.  So that the next time we find ourselves having to swing to the other side, we won’t hesitate, we won’t let our fear hold us, we will just swing, and for one split second feel free from our fear.

When the Ash and Smoke Settle

Life can get hard.  It can get so very hard somtimes.  Our scars are a reminder of just how hard this life can get.  We have days that leave us feeling too rubbed raw to pick ourselves up and start again.  Other days we are faced with the unrelenting demand for answers we know we can never have.

I have a rule that I don’t explain my artwork.  I tend to do more abstract art, so I get asked a lot to explain.   I think the beauty of art is that it speaks to each of us individually. Each person sees what they need to see.  I don’t want to ruin your interpretation by forcing my own upon you.

Which is why I created my rule (the one I am about to break).  Only I am not going talk about all of the symbolism and such.  Instead I want to talk about the inspiration behind this series.  This series is about a topic that has been on my mind a lot the last year.

This series is our human ability to mend and to bounce back after incredible defeat. These paintings were inspired by my trip to Africa, were hope and despair are found in equal abundance.  They dance around each other like a perfectly stepped waltz.  You can’t have hope without despair.

There is a Russian word Toska, I think it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful words I have ever found.  Toska as defined by Vladimir Nobokov:

No single word in English renders all the shades of Toska.  At its deepest and most painful it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause.  At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long form a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning.  In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.  At the lowest level it grads into ennui, boredom.”

That feeling when hope dies, and we feel lost without any hope of being found.  This painting pulls you in with its fire and anguish.

Burning and consuming.

Turning life into ash and smoke.

Turning hope into a distant memory that was never meant for our lives.

Toska

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

There is also a beautiful Portuguese word -Saudade- which as defined by Dictionary.com “A deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent.”

The budding leaves gives us a picture of a better world coming our way. The moment when we first allow ourselves to believe that there is more, that there is something better.  Although it may be out of our grasp, we can feel how close it is.  It is a chance for something better and we are hungry for it.  

It’s this hunger that causes our greedy fingers to pull tomorrow’s promise into today’s reality.

Saudade

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

And finally like a breath of fresh air, hope draws us in with its childlike whimsy.  The ashes and smoke has settled replaced with raw unadulterated hope.  We thought we would never be okay again, but then subtle and without notice one day we were.

Hope

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

People are made to mend. It’s what we do. We can’t stop ourselves from hoping again, from falling in love again.  Our hearts are made to be malleable.  They were made to break and mend and change and grow.

Strangers will become friends and friends will become strangers.  Hearts will break and hearts will mend.  On the days when you feel broken into so many pieces that you don’t believe there is a way for the all of the pieces to ever find each other, remember this – people were made to mend.  You were made to mend, and mend you will.  

Following Breadcrumbs & Finding Purpose

I have been restless and relentless.  Searching for the answer to the daunting question of “What am I going to do with my life?”  It has turned into my own little research project.  I have read as many books as I can get my hands on, and talked to as many people who will answer my questions.

I was desperate.  Desperate to not end up doing the same job that I hated for the next 40 years of my life.  Desperate to not miss my calling, my purpose.  Desperate for answers that no one seemed to have. Desperate for some lightning bulb, neon sign, or message from above that would tell me what to do with my life.

All I got was breadcrumbs.

Little bits and pieces of information that I was somehow suppose to puzzle together into an answer.  I started listening for the little pings that went off in my heart when something felt right.  Slowly I started to form a little breadcrumb trail of pings.  A trail that could be easily overlooked if one was instead looking for a neon sign.  I haven’t figured out where I am going yet, but with each new ping I feel like I am getting one step closer.

I think it is normal for young people to feel lost in life.  Maybe old people feel this way too, I don’t know I haven’t made it that far yet.  If we are honest, we can admit we have no idea where we are going, but when we stop to take a look at how we got here, we can realize just how far we have already come.

I think about all of the places I have been, and all of the places I am going.  When I look at where I have been, I feel successful. Not in the tradition sense as I am far from being rich or famous.  But I feel successful in the way of relationships, memories, and adventures that money can’t buy.

Successful is maybe the wrong word, but I like to think of success in broader terms than the traditional sense.  I heard a story of a friend of a friend who had spent his whole life building an empire, only to find himself old and with no one to give it to.  I thought this sounded like the saddest way to live a life, yet often that is how we define success.

The friend who told me that story has been running a camp with his family for about as long as I have been alive.  He has little to leave to those behind him after he dies, but that is because he has already left so much.  He has lived one of the richest lives I know, and he has made others lives richer because of it.  That is the type of life that I want to live.

When I think about the future my life could hold it is exciting but overwhelming, because in the grand scheme of my life I seem too little.  I am left feeling like life didn’t know my shoe size so it gave me ones that were way too big.  Shoes I desperately want to fill, but know I never can.

Then the doubt and the fear creeps in, strangling the seed of hope that sprouted there.   I begin to wonder, am I enough?  Am I really?  Do I have what it takes to keep walking forward?  Or have I been found wanting?   Who am I?

Who am I really to want these things, to believe I can chase these things?

You are you.  When has that ever not been enough?

Me

Photo Credit: Christin VanderPol

I have learned that the question “What am I going to do with my life?”  doesn’t have an answer, it is an answer.  It is an action, one that you are constantly doing, constantly adapting to.  And on the day when what you are longer doing no longer fits, that is okay.  You can do something new.  Purpose is fluid that way.  We define it with our life, rather than our life being defined by it.

Many people fear regret.  The fear of making the wrong decision can paralyze us from making any decision.  Then we grow old, and we realize that our biggest regret was not the times we stepped out of the box, but the things we never dared to try.

The beauty in life is that there are no destinations, only defining moments that change the course of our path. So run hard and jump high and trust yourself to make it to the other side.  Follow your breadcrumb trail and know that where ever you end up, where ever you are, it is a good place to be.

“What actually gives life meaning is the willingness to live it.” – Michael A. Singer

Just Words and Just Music

I remember the first time that I listened to Ed Sheeran’s new album.  I didn’t really know who he was before that, but I stumbled upon it on spotify.  A sign of a good song is when it causes you to stop everything you are doing and just sit there and listen to it.  I did this with the entire album.  I just sat curled up in my favorite chair and let Ed sing to me about love, life, and loss.

His songs still get me a little bit emotional when I listen to them.  They are just words and just music, only they aren’t.  They are so much more because music is so much more.  The arts are so much more, because they touches a part of us that nothing else can.  They drive our human existence. They drive humanity together, because in that moment your realize that someone else gets it and we are not truly as alone as we feel.

Science may create the medicines that keep us alive, but with the arts we struggle and thrive. With the arts our broken hearts heal.

Poetry

I grew up listening to my father sing.  Sometimes it was playing hymns on the piano and other times it was singing along to Simon and Garfunkel in his office.  It didn’t matter where he was, his voice loud and strong filled the whole house.   And I suppose I just got use to always having music be there in the background of my life.

I have been doing a lot of self-exploration into what I want to do with the rest of my life.  And every time I come full circle back to the arts.  I can’t escape them.  Just like listening to my father sing, the arts have always been in the background of my life.  I tell myself that they aren’t practical, then I remember that is exactly why I need them. Because practicality will silently lull us to our grave.  Practicality will cause me to wake up one more when I am 50 with realization that I never chased any of my dreams.

It has been about three months since I have started writing everyday and posting a new blog at least once a week.  I didn’t originally plan on writing that much.  I find that forcing myself to write steals my creativity, and I am left looking at a blank sheet.  I just started doing it more often.  Then I started wanting to do it all the time.

The more I write the more I love it, and the more I realize I have to write.  I have to write because it is my oxygen, and it feels as natural as breathing.  I write because it keeps me sane.  I write to heal.  I write to forgive.  

I write because there is so much in this beautiful life that inspires me, and I am desperate to not let it slip through my fingers. 

All my Single Ladies

It is a rough time of year to be single.  Just when you think you made it through the holidays.  You know the whole not having anyone to bring home on Christmas, or kiss on New Years Eve, plus eating chocolate alone on Valentines day fiasco.  Just when you think you survived all of that, you are hit square in the forehead with wedding season.  Don’t get me wrong, I love wedding season.  I love watching my friends and family fall in love with their soulmates.  But every wedding is just another reminder that mine should be right around the corner.  Only its not.  Only I am no where near even being in a serious dating relationship no less a marriage.

The realization that I am no where close to marriage makes me wonder if I didn’t miss a step in life.   I know that in the grand scheme of things I am still very young, but as the days go on I feel like the reality of marriage becomes more unattainable not less.  While I was happily enjoying my freedom and exploring my youth, should I have been more focused on falling in love?  But that doesn’t seem right either because I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, even a wedding dress.  Those were my most formable and memorable years.  While everyone else was busy falling in love, I was busy discovering the world and how I fit into it.  But now at the still young age of 23, I feel like I missed this window of opportunity that I didn’t even know existed.

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Whispers of Love

I was reading a story about a new mother who just had twins.  Lots of people came to see them in the hospital and as well meaning people do, they would hold one of the twins and say in their baby voice something like, “You look like you are going to be a football player.”  The mother would gently take her baby back into her arms and whisper, “don’t listen to them, you can be anything you want to be.” I think I will probably be that type of mother.  The type of mother who is overly protective about the words society tries to whisper into my sweet baby’s ear.  Because despite the saying, words have the power to hurt us more than sticks and stones ever could.

I like to think that God is that type of father too.  Society doesn’t stop labeling us once we grow up.  It seems that everyone everywhere has an opinion on what type of person we are or should be.  Sometimes they keep it to themselves, and sometimes they feel the need to let us know we are not doing a good enough job of being ourselves. It is impossible to escape this feeling that we are not enough – that we are not doing enough – that we do not have what it takes to ever be enough.

It is in those moments that I believe God pulls us into our arms starts whispering love back into our tattered soul.   He whispers for us not to listen to them because he created us to be smart, loved and valuable.  He whispers that He has made us to do wonderful things with our lives and no one but Him can tell us otherwise. Continue reading

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

“On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is your pain?”

“I mean for neck pain it is probably like a 7, but for normal pain pain it is like a 4.”

“Describe your pain for me.”

“Umm its like here and like uhh a dull tight ache.”

“Is it worse on one side.”

“Umm . . . *tilts head side to side* I’m not sure.”

“Are there any activities that make it worse?”

“Uhh . . . sitting?”

“How often do you feel pain?”

Oh for crying out loud “I don’t know.”

I recently have started seeing a chiropractor because my neck would always be sore which would cause me to have horrible headaches on a pretty regular basis.  I am not sure what caused it.  Maybe it was sitting at a desk for eight hours every day, maybe it was clinch sparring in Muay Thai, maybe it is because I stubbornly refuse to sleep on my back, or maybe it is just because when I get stressed I put all of that tension in my neck.  The answer is probably d) all of the above.  I didn’t know and honestly I didn’t really care.  All I knew is that I hurt all the time and I wanted it to stop.

Every time before I saw my chiropractor I would have to sit through this long list of ridiculous questions, think about my pain, and try to describe it to a stranger.  But I knew that the more detail I could give them, the better they would be able to help me.  So I endured it, and I thought about my pain. And when you think about pain for long enough you realize that the only purpose that pain serves is to let us know something is wrong.  Pain is our body’s way of letting us know, “Hey, you should probably pay attention to this.”

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The Roads We Walk

“But you have got to remind yourself over and over again that there are no destinations in life.  Only roads.”  – Christin Mihai

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I am constantly reminded of how life goes exactly the opposite way of how I planned it.  Life is fickle that way.  Sometimes I feel like Matt Hires sings this song just for me . . .

Darling, nothing ever goes exactly how you planned it
I guess I’ve been here long enough to see
That time can be your dearest friend
Or time can be a bandit
When tomorrow changes into history

And oh my my, honey everybody dies
But you got, you got to see
That you can live your life walking in a straight line
But it’s more than just A to B

Maybe it’ll find you lying peaceful under blankets
Or bleeding at the bottom of the stairs
Oh but it’s not when or how you go
It’s life and what you make it
It’s the traveling, not the road that gets you there

-Matt Hires, A to B; see full lyrics here

I am finding that even when life doesn’t go how I planned it, it goes exactly as it was meant to. Unfortunately that is something I can only understand in hindsight.  At the time I am simply frustrated.  Which makes me wonder if that is why we so often we prefer to live in memories of the past, because that is the only part of our life that can make sense of.

When we are young it can be easy to forget how long life is.  To us it seems short and slippery.  Like we have to hold onto every second for dear life lest it slip right through our fingers and be gone forever.  Time is fickle, and life never works like it should.  We become discouraged, or we believe that maybe we were foolish to try.  But we pray for rain even though we want sunshine, and we must allow ourselves to take steps backwards even though we want to take steps forward.

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