Empowerment

The Journey, November 20, 2013

So, have you ever had one of those days when you just felt icky? You look at yourself in the mirror, and you don’t just feel like you have a double chin – you feel like you have a double face?? Yeah, me too.

Just last week, the day before my weigh-in, I felt that way. I almost didn’t weigh. I thought, maybe I’ll put it off a week. Besides, it won’t help my self-esteem if I’ve gained, right? Then I thought, no, be true to yourself. If I had gained weight, then I at least needed to face the truth and deal with it. Take my medicine like a big girl, so to speak.

While I was walking downstairs at work, heading toward the scale several of us use to track our weight, I kept thinking things like, “Well, I’ll do better from now on.” “Hopefully, I won’t have gained more than 1 or 2 pounds.” Or, my favorite, “I sure hope nobody notices my second face.” You think I’m kidding, don’t you? LOL

I stepped on the scale, expecting the ceiling to open up above me, and the scale to explode, ejecting me up and out. Usually, I look away from the number display, waiting a few seconds for it to settle before I face the truth. This time, I figured, go big or go home. So, I stood there, watching the LCD digits go back and forth, bravely awaiting my fate. Finally, they stopped. The number I saw took my breath away. I had met and EXCEEDED my 10 pound goal! Yes, friends, I’ve lost 11 pounds!!

I walked back to my office with a spring in my step, and stretching maybe a centimeter or two taller. I was so proud of myself! Then, since it’s a bit of a walk to the opposite wing of the building, I had a little time to think. I had almost chosen not to face the truth. I had almost chosen to hide. Again. If I hadn’t weighed, I would have accepted the idea that I had gained weight (and possibly had a double face), that I had let myself down and failed. I might have let myself become trapped in disillusion and decided to give up. But, I took a chance on the truth, and I’m so glad that I did.

Is there something holding you back from facing the truth? You know, if you’ve ever watched the old G.I. Joe series, you’ll be familiar with the saying, “Knowing is half the battle.” Friends, it’s so true.

If you can face the truth of your situation, no matter what that might be, you will have power in your life and over your life. When you make decisions from a vantage point of veritas, your north will always be true, and you will reach your destination.

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The Journey, November 5

Well, it has taken a little while, but I am now down 8 pounds, and hoping to hit that first 10 pound goal by sometime next week 🙂 In the long run, I have many more 10 pound goals to go, but I am going to celebrate this one and not worry just yet about the next one. Afterall, there is (or should be) joy in the journey, right?
I have struggled a bit this week with enjoying where I am, not only with my weight, but in other areas of my life, as well. I have had to remind myself more than once that there is beauty, value, and worth in my life, in me, in the here and now. Of course, there are things that never fail in bringing a smile to my face, like my wonderful son and his effervescent personality. Or a beautiful sky. Or chocolate. ;p But, I think that there is something in all of us that wants to be seen, to be known, to be recognized as a precious, unique being. We desire affirmation.
For too many years, and even now at times, I looked to others for validation. Of course, this is normal to a degree. But, there is a difference between seeking the approval of others in your life and seeking permission and empowerment from them. We can trust some people with our power, but not all, and we are never meant to relinquish it. It was given to us to wield in love each in our own way.
Our power is made up of many things – the sum of our experiences, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and talents, our motivations and passions. It is unique to each of us. Custom-fitted to our path in life by God to perfectly equip us for the long road before us.
It can be easy sometimes to forget who you are, who you are meant to be. It’s easy to blind yourself to your giftings and worth, to deny the fire that burns within. But, my friends, when we choose to do that (and yes, dears, it is a choice), we live a lie. We are commanded to walk in truth, yet we are so easily misled into thinking it’s okay to be false to ourselves. We are meant for so much more.
When I was a senior in high school, I had to select a personal motto for the yearbook. I chose, “To thine own self be true,” from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. I stumbled away from that many times. But, the words served as sort of a North Star over the years. I may have felt lost over and over again, but knowing that there was something more, somewhere, gave me hope that I would find the high road once more.
So, wherever you are on your journey, whether you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle, a new career, or a brighter outlook on life, remember that there is a better way, a higher way. And, every journey walked in truth will be a positive experience in the end. Hang in there, put one foot in front of the other, and soldier on.

We are Fargo

By now, most of us have heard of the Wicked Witch of North Dakota. https://twitter.com/mlucerobertson/status/395934324588949504

She is a woman who has taken it upon herself to judge her fellow “villagers” in the Fargo, Moorehead, and West Fargo triad. Evidently, she feels parents are not doing a good enough job of taking their children’s health in hand and has decided to take matters into her own hands, thoughtfully choosing Halloween to make her stand. How considerate of her.

Without going down the road of the origins of the holiday or arguing who should celebrate what, let’s look at contemporary reality. For all practical purposes, our western Halloween observances are centered on children. We encourage them to enjoy their imaginations on this night over all other nights of the year. We tell them that, on this night, you can be anything you want to be. Superheroes, doctors, astronauts, robots, faeries. On this night, preschoolers toddle down the street, holding the hand of a loved one while wondering at the lights and decorations. They practice saying thank you to the friendly neighbors who smile and give them Tootsie Rolls. Older children spray imaginary spider webs while saving the world one grimacing jack-o-lantern at a time. The grandma next door admires a princess’ tiara and everyone hits the house on the corner because they give out “the good stuff.” Do I even need to pull out my The Great Pumpkin wildcard?

Unfortunately, for some children, thanks to the WWoND, the dream will be cut short because, instead of the candy their “slimmer” friends receive, they will be handed a slip of paper. The friendly pumpkin on the corner will serve as a temporary distraction from the cruel message it precedes. Some younger children might not be able to read the words, and some might not understand. But others will. Say, the ones 6 or 7 years old and up. The words will say something like, “You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season.” But the message…ah, now, that will say something much, much more.

To the child who receives such a letter, the message will be many things. Things like, “There’s something wrong with you.” “You don’t deserve to have the same fun tonight as your friends.” “You’re not good enough.” You’re not pretty enough.” “You’re not athletic enough.” “You don’t live up to my expectations.”
Labeling. Judgement. Cruelty. Injury. Harm. Brokenness. Legacy.

Some of these children and their families may have the ability to laugh it off. And, I say, more power to you. But, for some of the children who will receive such a note, on a holiday that is supposed to lay all children equal, the effects can be devastating, lasting far into their lifetimes.

For several years, there have been increasing reports in the media of children and young adults who have taken their lives due to being overwhelmed by bullying, cyber-bullying, and general harassment over their physique. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. These little souls had swords of words driven into them by people who were thoughtless and cruel. Those acts crushed their self esteem and tore their hearts asunder, and somewhere on a table in a house on a street in North Dakota, a woman has a stack of paper daggers aimed at the hearts of the children of her city.

I do not know her name. I don’t know her address. I don’t know her. But, I have felt the pain she is willing to throw at the innocents of Fargo, and there is one point that we agree on. It does take a village. It takes a village made up of a nation that is willing to stand up for its children. To protect them from cruelty. To protect their innocence. To protect their dreams and their futures by pouring so much love and encouragement into them that the harsh words of a stranger fall feebly to the ground and blow away with the wind.

And so, to the children of Fargo, and their parents, I stand with you. If you knock on a door or ring a doorbell and find yourself face to face with the WWoND, and she hands you a piece of paper, be strong and know this. She is secretly more afraid of you than you are of her, all bullies are.

The Journey, October 25th

So, I have now lost 7 1/2 pounds! If I can just replicate these results say, 10 more times, I’ll be close to my goal :0) Seriously, though, I am so happy to have surpassed that dreaded 5 pound wall. It feels good to be a winner!

Have you ever noticed how, when you set out to accomplish something, the emotions in the process run through a cycle? It reminds me of the classic cycle of grief. Now, of course I’m not trying to liken weight-loss to something as devastating and painful as losing a loved one. I’ve been there, as have most of you, and we know that that is a cruel beast unto itself. But, when we lose weight, we are letting go of something.

We like to say that we’re losing weight to be healthy, and we act excited. But, many times, the trigger for losing weight is negative, at least it is in our minds. We feel bad about how we look. We feel guilty for not being more energetic with our kids. We feel ashamed when we compare ourselves with others. We feel we’ve been irresponsible when we get a bad health diagnosis. We can even feel invisible and ridiculous for trying to lose weight when it seems so difficult or even impossible to accomplish.

We have to fight an uphill battle not only against outside forces (like doughnut Friday at the office or lonely nights with Ben & Jerry), but against our inner voice as well. And we grieve. We grieve the past. We grieve a little part of us that seems to have been lost. We grieve our bad habits.

Even so, we have hope. We must have hope somewhere deep inside, or we wouldn’t try in the first place, right? Before starting this weight loss journey, I was very upset with myself. I felt I had let myself down, and perhaps even those who love me because I was not living up to my full potential. When you are overweight, you say no more than you say yes for a million different reasons, and you try to tell yourself this is reality – deal with it. But, when I decided (again) to lose weight, I started to feel excited. I wasn’t really dreaming of being a size 4 again, but instead was looking forward to wearing the next size down jeans that have been in my closet for 2 years. That sounded like something I could do.

The first few weeks were a bit of a struggle. I fought against my old ways. When something upset me, I couldn’t run for chocolate. (Well, not every time anyway 🙂 ) For some reason, this time I powered through. I didn’t give up. I allowed myself to feel the emotions instead of drugging them down with sugar and denial. I found myself living in the moment more. I found myself being real more. And you know what? I like it!

Years ago, I heard a message by T.D. Jakes. He was talking about accomplishing goals, and he said the key to accomplishing a goal was having discipline, desire, and delight. Back when I was beginning as a runner (something I hope to pick back up one day), I thought of that message. I found myself disliking the discipline in the beginning, but as I progressed, I found myself desiring that time on the road. And, as I made it a habit to run 3-5 miles a day, I took delight in it. I used the time to pray, to meditate, and enjoy the mythical “runner’s high.”

I think this formula can be applied to anything in life that we want to turn into a habit, like living a healthy lifestyle. The discipline hurts at first. We strain and struggle against so much – emotions, apathy, environment. Then, we have a taste of success, like breaking through the 5 pound wall. This creates a desire for more. And, one day we wake up to realize that we are taking delight in our new lifestyle.

Be encouraged, friends. Losing weight is truly a journey, and our emotions will make for interesting scenery and pit stops along the way. But, just remember to get back on the road and keep moving. You’ve got this!

Forecast for Happiness

Yesterday was going to be special. My husband and I had plans to spend the morning outside with our son – going to the farm park to pick a pumpkin. We took him there for the first time last year, and had a wonderful experience. It had been a beautiful day – cool but sunny and dry. Happy memories in the making captured against a cloudless blue sky.

Cub with pumpkin 2012

We let him wear himself out running the hay maze, indulged in his first pony ride, and took our time walking the pumpkin field to find a pumpkin that was “just right.” It was a perfect day, and I have an entire Facebook photo album to prove it. But, that was last year.

This year, our Saturday started out like most do in our household. Feeding the animals, feeding the humans, running the dishwasher – getting all  the necessaries out of the way so we can enjoy our fun family time. Eventually, I made my way to the bathroom to get ready. I glanced out the little hexagonal window and my heart sank. The world was grey. Dark and heavy. The trees lining our backyard stood in silhouette against a sky full of clouds.

In the time it took me to put on my makeup and curl my hair, my day was brought to ruin. The pumpkin field was probably going to be too muddy, the air was going to be too cold, and there would be no blue sky backdrop to carry our memories over until next year.

As I flipped off the light switch, determined to soldier on and find a way to salvage the day, I glanced once more out the window, and what I saw took my breath away. Sunshine and blue skies! No shadows, no grey, no heaviness. No clouds. I craned my neck in all 8 directions of that tiny window and saw no hint of the tragic day I had seen just moments before.

Happiness restored, I gathered jackets, keys and camera, eager once again to embark on our glorious adventure. Even so, this little lesson was not lost on me. With the whisp of temporal misty darkness, I had been willing to cast judgment on my own future as well as that of my family. Sadly, I was quick to assume and accept that our day together was not going to be all that it could be. Somehow, it would be less than because it wasn’t going to be as good as last year. Thankfully, our stories are alive, changing from moment to moment, just like the weather.

I was wrong about our day, but not because the clouds rolled away and the sun came out. Not because our day was rescued by a last minute blue sky. I was wrong about our day because I had forecast my happiness based on my observed circumstances. As I began to think about it, I began to wonder what would have happened if the weather had not changed. Had I really been willing to lay down the fullness of my joy just because some clouds got in the way?

We have all experienced dark times – those clouds that seem to linger. And, it is tempting to lay down our joy. But, we don’t have to. According to the Bible, the joy of the Lord is our strength. That being said, I have long thought that joy has been greatly underestimated in our culture. We (I) need to make a daily endeavor to embrace joy. When we choose joy, even on the cloudy days, we gain strength. And, since joy seems to beget joy, we will encourage and empower those around us, like an infectious laugh.

So shine on, my friends. Shine on.

Empowerment

I’ve read that when we write what we fear, we give our words power. It follows, then, that if we infuse our words with power, we will, in turn, empower our readers. So, in the spirit of facing our fears and empowering one another with the will to do all that is right and good in this world, I would like to begin what promises to be a lengthy post with an excerpt from my current manuscript project. A little vulnerability does a body good, yes?

“Racing around the corner of the house, I come to a dust-clouded halt in front of the open car trunk. I stretch out my little girl arms, fingers wiggling, eager for Daddy to hand me my next load of groceries.
“Why are you back so fast,” he asks a bit gruffly. “Jimmie went in before you.”
“Oh, he met me at the porch and took my bag. He didn’t think I was strong enough to carry it up the stairs.”
Daddy stops digging in the trunk and turns to face me. Feet firmly planted below shifted knees, he looks at me in silence. Eager to catch up with my brother, I smile back, not really noticing his cloudy eyes. Then, in either child’s folly or fortune, I blink, never seeing the blow – a woosh of wind, the crash of a hand against the side of my head. I’m confused, air born and falling. Blinded.
I land hard, feet in the air, hands stinging from breaking my fall. My eyes and brain feel out of place, and I blink over and over again, trying to focus. The tears stream hot, my fingers gingerly searching the left side of my face, my ear as they burn with pain. The fog begins to lift, and I see him, standing over me. He is bent, a thick, nicotine stained finger pointing into my face. He’s not confused or caring or worried, and I realize it was him. His hand, and he’s not going to comfort me. He’s not going to say he’s sorry.
Confused, I start to cry. “Stop crying!” He says. I look at him with incredulity. Still waiting childishly, foolishly, for a father’s sympathy. How do I stop crying, I wonder.
“I said, SHUT UP!” Ah, there will be no sympathy.
“When I tell you to do something, you do it. YOU, not someone else. You do EXACTLY what I say, understand? I am your father. I am the boss. Savvy?”
Unable to speak, I suck in my tears and nod my head, trying hard to swallow the hiccups, afraid to move my hand to wipe my face.
“Answer me!”
Cautiously, I meet his eyes and whisper, “Yes, Daddy.”
“Now, get up and take this bag into the house.”
Choking back the sobs, the hurt, and the betrayal, I grasp the bag with both hands and heave. I see the red cap of a gallon of milk, amongst other things. It’s heavy, but I say nothing. I swallow the bitter taste of my first true anger and shuffle forward. The bag drops. I pick it up.
Repeating the process over and over, I eventually round the corner of the house. Angry, stubborn, and compliant.
Jimmie bounds off the porch and stops me. “What are you doin’ carryin’ that, Sissy? It’s bigger than you are! Here, give it to me.”
The bag plops down unceremoniously, and I shake my head no. Sucking down a silent sob, I fail to conceal the telltale shudder but reach down for the bag anyway, without looking at my brother. I feel his hand on my shoulder. “Sissy?” I look up, but unable to meet his eyes, I look beyond his shoulder to my favorite old oak. “Daddy told me to carry it myself,” I mumble.
Jimmie takes my chin and pulls me up to meet his gaze. We say nothing. It’s not necessary. His eyes are a little more gray than blue as he lets go and says, “Here, don’t carry it by the edges. Wrap your arms around the sides like a big hug. It’ll be easier to carry that way.”
“Okay.”
He stands waiting, watching over me as I trudge up the stairs and pull open the door with my foot.”

We talk a lot these days about empowerment. So much so that I think we begin to look outside ourselves to find someone to give us a power that we assume we inherently lack because, if we had inner power, our lives would be better. We wouldn’t have self doubt, we could conquer the world before noon, solve world hunger and give everyone a puppy. With empowerment comes a higher quality of life. We can mold ourselves into whatever we want if we just will it to be so, or so we’re told. But, I think a misunderstanding has pervaded our culture – a simple misunderstanding of the word empowerment.

If you look up the word in any number of dictionaries, you will come up with a meaning something like this, “To equip or supply with an ability” or “To give power or authority.” These definitions imply that empowerment means to supply an individual or group of people with an ability they don’t already possess, and then help them learn to wield that power. I would like to talk about another kind of empowerment – that of identifying and accepting the powers we already possess but, for whatever reason, we have allowed to lie dormant within us.

I don’t know where a sense of no control over one’s own destiny comes from. Some past psychological issues, no doubt, or perhaps genetics, apathy or even illness. “Life” in general, I suppose, can become the bushel under which we hide our light. I will use myself as an example. I developed into an odd combination of a somewhat good nature, intelligence, humor, creativity and stubborn will, but no power. I became used to being told what to do at a young age, and lived restrained. I let people seek me out, thinking for too many years that love and success would stumble upon me and think I was special, but some universal rule that seemingly only applied to me required that I not put myself forward.

I was mistakenly thought shy by some, including myself at times. But really, I had learned to live and survive in a responsive environment. What or who did I need to be according to someone else? If people didn’t flat out tell me who they wanted me to be for them (and believe me, some people did), I sat back and waited for clues and cues – awaiting my time on stage to play a part. Over time, I realized that I was not being true to myself and, in sink or swim fashion, slowly started to break the surface of who I really am inside.

In my journey, I have often thought of a story my Mama (Yes, I call my mother “Mama”) shared with me from her own childhood. She told me that in about the third grade, her teacher wrote a note to my grandmother. Mama’s grades were perfect, but the teacher mentioned my mother’s quietness. She remarked how “Marcella does not know how much power she really has.”

Now, my mother is hands down one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, and remains a powerful force in my life. So, for the longest time, this story baffled me. How could this tigress of a human not have known how powerful she was? Then I grew up and gained some perspective. The child Mama was is not the woman I now know. Somehow, through trials and struggles, heartaches and “have-to’s,” she sloughed off whatever that greatness was hiding under. She became that which she already was.

So, maybe instead of searching for some outside force to give us permission, like a spouse or employer, maybe we should instead seek opportunities to discover and release our own inner abilities and strengths. Look for moments of encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes life forces these moments of revelation upon us, and other times, we have to reach for them. The giftings are there, lying dormant. Like an oil soaked torch in need of a flame – a little spark to ignite and inspire.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what the secret is, or where the key lies that will unlock the door to your inner power. I’m still discovering my own. It’s a mystery that we each must solve for ourselves. But, I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s there, somewhere, in you. It always has been, and it always will be. You just have to make friends with your power, and use it for good.