Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Self

We've made it, dear readers. It is the end of February, the end of "winter," the end of our 2017 Renewal Challenge. We slowly made our way around the house, cleaning, re-purposing, and releasing that which does not serve us. We spent time revisiting our eating habits and the decisions that carry our food from farm to table to our bodies. We examined the way we rest, paying extra attention to releasing guilt and allowing our minds to freely exist in whatever season we're facing. We reflected on the way we interact with others, specifically those who seek to understand us and provide our lives with light and love. We also took time last week to focus on refreshing our daily perspective, keeping our minds in the moment, and surrounding ourselves with the environment we need to find fulfillment.

This last step is definitely the hardest, at least for me.....this last step is all about self - acceptance of self, but more importantly, intentional, purposeful celebration of self. Buckle up, lovelies.

So I'm not the most patient woman in the world. I get emotionally bogged down in negativity, I get territorial, I get insecure, I get lazy, I get overwhelmed, and I get greedy. I change my mind a lot about what I want to do with my life. I start projects sometimes that do not get finished. I am aging and am physically softer than most men prefer. I really don't enjoy working out to lose weight.

Some of these things I intend to change. Some of these things I do not intend to change.

I think the key to accepting who we are is to acknowledge our flaws, decide which flaws we'd like to change for ourselves, put a positive spin on flaws we have no intention of changing, and then find forgiveness when we slip up and hate on ourselves.

I do hope to finish what I start more often. I hope to get rid of my insecurity sooner rather than later. I think silencing insecurity has a rippling effect on territorial behaviors. I hope to realign my thoughts with positive things instead of letting the dark take over. On the flipside, I will always be emotionally charged and reactive, it's ingrained in who I am. It makes me a great storyteller, a passionate person, a whole-soul lover. Happy Jen will always be physically softer instead of chiseled. My body is a comfortable place for babies and my curves are a physical manifestation of the peace and prosperity I am experiencing in my life.

Some things about ourselves can be changed, while other things simply are the way they are. Try and see the positive side to your flaws. They exist for a reason and sometimes that reason is something good...maybe even invaluable. Without my passion I would have no voice. Without my reactive nature I would have no urgency to my actions. Without my greed, I would have no motivation to go and get it, Jen....go get it. Invaluable, these flaws, for they provide me with the characteristics I need to propel myself along.

So you have things you'd like to change about yourself, yes? Me too. But how?

Just begin. Doesn't matter if you start to change and fail a thousand times as long as you continue to begin again. Try again. Make the effort again and again and again.

I struggle immensely with self value. I worry that what I do is not enough, either with my work, my parenting, my friendships, or as a daughter. What I provide, my mind tells me, is not valuable enough. I need to do more to prove I am worth love and effort, attention and time. I need to do more to prove it's worth it to be around me, even though I am sometimes moody, smelly, sensitive, stubborn, unattractive, crying for no reason, chubby, or any of the other things about myself that I perceive others find distasteful and obnoxious.

Somewhere in the far corners of my heart I know I have an enormous amount of value and that I am worth going to the ends of the earth for. But that voice of light is smothered by bombarding insecurities and worries fueled by my ability to quite consistently compare myself to what I deem "beautiful, stable, functional, worthy."

This flaw of mine drives me nuts. I am capable of projecting a confident, strong woman on the outside, but I want to feel that way on the inside, too. So I work on it. I avoid comparisons by purposely staying away from "fashion" propaganda - it helps that I have zero interest in makeup and clothing lines and shoes....unless....do chicken-patterned rain boots count?

I look at myself in the mirror each day and pick out one thing to complement myself on. I spend time reading or baking or puttering around in my yard because that is where I can center myself, those places are where nothing can touch me. I can reconnect to the core of my own beauty - I can paint an image of myself surrounded by my flowers and my children and my chickens and my dog and I can put to rest my worries that I will never be enough because in that image, I am everything to all of them.

I fall back into my flawed nature all the time. But then I wake up the next morning and start walking, one step at a time, consistently dedicated to moving forward. Always take steps!

Last year's challenge was centered around self-sufficiency. I broke down ways to become more self-sufficient with our food, homes, health, money, and time. There's nothing more freeing or beneficial to your sense of self than learning. Decide what you want for your life and then learn how to accomplish the dream. It doesn't need to happen overnight - in fact the journey is as important as the arrival point. So take your time. Read all the books. Make notebooks. Listen to others. Learn how to build things yourself. And be sure to glance back to see how far you've come...that is the most magical part.

Build Confidence
I had to brainstorm some confidence-boosting tricks last summer when my new single-mama status had me feeling down. If you don't have time to click the link to that post, that's ok. Here's a quick and basic run-down of my tips, which I will repeat here for myself because I forget my own advice constantly my lovely readers because I love you.

Positive People - yep, get with them
Be Alone - get comfy in your own, independent lil' skin
Music Magic - light up your brain with some good tunes
Mirror, Mirror - Don't let your feelings of rejection cause you to give up on the things that make you feel beautiful
Flirt - It's fun and exciting and can accomidate all types of relationship statuses
Be Selfish - Pamper yourself with intention! Often!
Fake it - 'till you make it
Critical Challenge - Don't say anything critical about yourself for one entire day, then a week
Got Kids? - Talk to yourself the way you want your kids to talk to themselves
Don't Keep Your Head - Fall in love with yourself, with nature, with others

Trust Yourself
Rebuilding trust in yourself after a particularly hurtful time in your life can seem impossible, but the truth is it just takes time. I need to relearn how to trust my instincts. I sometimes think because my ex-husband was unfaithful and I stayed hopeful in such a broken and dark marriage for almost a decade that I am the most gullible, idiotic woman on the planet. I sometimes think my naivete and ignorance to the true feelings me ex harbored for me pretty much solidifies I am a complete moron. I confuse my marital devotion with ignorance all the time. I feel so, so stupid when I think back and see just how long I allowed someone to walk all over me, lie to me, disrespect me, and drag me through the mud of his own addictions and issues. Where was the confident Jen my daughters needed? Where was my sense? My intelligence? My no-crap-taken mentality? My strength?

It helps when I journal all the signs I purposely ignored - kinda proves I wasn't completely ignorant, just stubbornly dedicated to forcing a broken relationship to work. Hindsight and all that. But rebuilding trust in myself is, I'm learning, less about exploring the past and more about approaching the future without fear.

I do have the ability to make sound decisions for my life. I will one day believe in my intuition again. I will one day learn to take advice and suggestions lightly and forgive myself for the mistakes I've made. If everyone were born brilliant and with this whole life thing figured out, we'd have no need to learn and live at all, right? We'd be stagnant and boring, muted versions of ourselves. I prefer to glitter and shine....risk be damned.

We are who we are, beautifully flawed and hopelessly imperfect. Our lives are tiny little pinpricks of light in this big, bold world and to waste our fire on doubt and self hate is a tragedy. Celebrate who you are. Throw yourself a party. Invite others, or don't. Turn off your inner critic. Celebrate your verbosity. Call a friend and talk their ear off. Celebrate your thighs. Wear the shorts. Celebrate your mood swings. Write stories and paint pictures and take photographs of things that reflect how you feel. Relish the changes your body is experiencing, for you're well on your way to becoming a wiser and better version of yourself. If your head feels rainy, soak in the water for a minute, then find your sunshine - friends, family, kids, pets, flowers, or maybe the rain is your sunshine. Doesn't matter. Just find it. Carve out time for people who make you laugh, laugh, laugh. Carve out time to just be. Let people come to you. Know that you are enough, what you do is enough, and you don't need to do a single thing more unless it contributes to your own happiness. Make this year the year of you. I think you are wonderful and worth celebrating.

I am so glad you've come along on this Renewal Challenge, dear readers. I would love to hear your favorite renewal tip in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading.

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: In the Moment

This post is dedicated to Mama Lynnette, a true believer of living in the moment.

The moments following the loss of a loved one are always raw and unfiltered. Thoughts are muddled by pain, grief, confusion, and a gaping hole where someone amazing once existed.......but strangely enough, intentions and actions and perception is remarkably clear. Nobody cares about things like dents in the truck, trolls on Facebook, or whether the apple you're trying to choke down is organic or not. The important things in life stand out one right after the other, little toy soldiers marching past the trivial and setting up a defensive wall against all the regrets and what if's and should-i-have's. You get by minute by minute, hour by hour, and you cling to those left behind and vow to never take them for granted. 

I think it's awful that we need to experience such heartache to truly appreciate the goodness around us. I think it's terribly unfair that we need to be dismantled and broken to truly recognize love, friendship, peace, kindness. I wish we could consistently acknowledge our blessings and understand how good we have it without getting yanked from our comfy places and dragged through despair. 

But that's not the way life works. We're not that perceptive. It's not our fault. Loss, lessons, juxtaposition, a balance of good and bad, and the living, sighing, breathing realization that until you experience sorrow, you'll never truly know joy...this is simply reality, both horrendously ugly and titillatingly beautiful.

I sometimes force myself to close my eyes during the good times - my eyelids are a camera shutter, capturing and imprinting how I feel to memory. I'll try and breathe in the smells around me, commit faces and voices to memory, memorize how they feel in my arms, the swell of love in my heart, the light shining on me. Remember this moment, Jen, I'll say to myself, cuz it will pass and then you'll fall back into your less-discerning coasting mode, where you worry about the small stuff and try and control all the things that don't matter at all. And then something bad will happen and you'll look around and wonder why you wasted so much time.  

Maybe there's a few tricks we can implement, aside from pretending like our eyes are cameras, to keep a very natural and human "coasting mode" from kicking in. Maybe we can lean on a couple tools to help us stay in the moment more often.

Soothing Places
Imagery is incredible and imaginations are powerful. I sometimes become so enveloped in my daydreams that they become reality. This can be good and bad; sometimes my daydreams are more like daymares. I can become filled with anxiety and spend way too much time reliving painful moments I wished I'd handled differently. I find it extraordinarily helpful to have a few soothing places to go in my mind when I can't seem to shake negativity.

One of my soothing places is my bed. I feel the sheets, I can smell the scent of my pillows, the light is cozy and gentle. I picture myself cocooned in soft blankets and melting into my safe spot, tucked away from chaos and experiencing nothing but rest. Another one of my soothing places is the seaside. I can smell the water, hear the gulls, feel the sand under my feet. I shade my eyes from the sunlight sparkling off the water, and hear the waves lapping at the shore, salty water crashing against my ankles, the rhythmic and constant pulse of the ocean sweeping shells onto the beach and then drawing them back out to sea again and again. Over and over. I could be hurting. I could be feeling like it's all over now. But the waves keep coming in and out. They will keep washing onto the shore whether my life is over or not. My problems' insignificance is comforting. Life continues with or without my approval. There is consistency and security to be found there.

Soothing People
I love each and every one of the distinctly different people in my life. Some are incredible at giving advice, others are my logical, grounded go-to's. Some love on me from afar with sweet texts and quotes, others show up on my doorstep and stand there ready for my pain. I know great cooks, I know wonderful listeners, I know comedians with hearts of gold and humor. I have friends who will fly with me into dreamy and unrealistic plans for the future and others who prefer to remind me of my credit card debt when I'm feeling impulsive. There is incredible value to all styles of friendship and love and support.

That being said, there is nothing wrong with using discernment during the various seasons of life. Sometimes I really need the friend who is logical and honest. Sometimes I really need the one who will lie to my face because she knows it's what I need to hear. I'm finding that at this particular moment of my life, I am drawn to the steady, consistent, accepting, gentle people in my life...the uncomplicated, unquestioning, quietly supportive souls speak to the anxious and fearful parts of me. Those anxious and fearful parts of me seem to be running the show these days and need the most attention, so I seek out those most soothing to my specific ailments. Find your soothing people and love on them and let them love on you. They will remind you to stay focused on this very moment and guide you gently to the next.

Disconnect from the Feeds
Nothing good comes from comparison...and that's kinda what social media is all about. Sharing and comparing, it's just what we humans do. If you're truly interested in living in the moment, you gotta shut it down. At least for a little while.

I've realized checking my social media feeds over and over is typically a sign of depression and boredom. I rarely go on there when I'm with other people or when I'm busy, but I am on there all the time when I'm feeling crummy and alone. What a terrible way to handle my sorrow - compound it with a good dose of social comparison! I don't know why I do it, but it's almost like I can't help it. I get bored, I want to see what people are doing, so I check my feeds. I never feel better after doing this. Now to be fair, I do read and see some pretty inspirational things on social media - especially after I get done blocking people and adjusting my feed content - but I can also find that kind of inspiration in books....or photo albums.....or outside in nature....all without the steady stream of not-so-inspirational things that often outnumber the good posts at least 2:1.

I have to force myself to do it, but when I do, putting my phone down and disconnecting almost always makes me feel better. I yearn for my phone and struggle, quite frankly, and feel naked without it, but once that panic passes and I become engrossed in another activity, I always end up feeling refreshed and happy and productive. I feel like I did my part to enjoy that moment, to truly soak it up and not miss a thing. It feels good.

Find your Church!
There's a very handsome and wise man I know who isn't particularly religious, but goes to church every chance he gets. And by church I mean some kind, any kind, of water with fish in it. The water is his place to reconnect and recenter himself. He typically goes by himself, sometimes late into the night, and always comes off the water happy, even if he doesn't catch a fish. I picture him out there with the sun setting, the water lapping against his kayak, the breeze softly blowing, every now and then feeling that tug of hope and possibility on his line, and I could see how he'd find God out there.

You don't need to be Christian. You don't even need to believe in a higher power. Find your sanctuary, your place to go and be when you need a change of heart or some time to think. Sit there, or stand there, or dance there, and reestablish your perspective. When your mind wanders into worry, bring it back to where you are at that very moment. Let yourself escape and acknowledge and be free from guilt. Your church is your place to worship and give thanks and be serenely and wholly you.

Is there truly a way to live in the moment, all the time? I don't know. Really, I don't. I'd like to think some enlightened minds out there somewhere have made it to the point where they can filter out all the garbage and just be. I'd like to think that maybe one day, with practice, I will be capable of keeping the perspective of someone who's just lost someone they love....the running-with-the-wind, time-is-short, Mama Lynnette way of living. Let's do this, she'd say. No time like the present! 

No time like the present. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Relationships

There are two primary groups of thought when it comes to Valentine's Day:

Group A: It's a wonderful day filled with flowers and pink, hearts and dinners! An opportunity to show love and appreciation! A day of guaranteed romance! Bring on the chocolates and balloons!

Group B: I wish Cupid would literally stab me directly in the heart so I wouldn't need to endure the tragic, materialistic, greeting-card-concocted waste of money and time that is Valentine's Day.

I fit nicely right in-between the two. I adore flowers, but hate that close to 80% of the flowers found in the grocery store are shipped to America via poor Ecuadorian and Colombian farmers who are treated unfairly and paid even worse. I love chocolate, but again, poverty-stricken, unfair trade practices make it difficult to justify a few sweet bites of goodness at someone else's expense. And then there's the extravagant jewelry....yet again, stones shipped in from unknown places, mined by unknown, mistreated people, all so I can smile for an hour or two on a holiday the people who provided my goodies prolly never even heard of. So I suppose if done correctly, fairly, and with the right intentions, I could like Valentine's Day. But in my perfect world? Love would be celebrated and shown every single day.

And what better way to celebrate then by committing to renew the relationships in our lives?

Gather Friends Close
One of my best and wisest friends, when confronted with my worries that I am too "co-dependent" because I don't like being alone, reassured me with the following advice: "We are human beings, biologically made to exist in groups. We were not designed by nature to be alone and isolated. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around others."

I get the need to be alone. I'm learning how to venture out and be comfortable alone more and more each day. But when push comes to shove, I am a gregarious creature in spirit, heart, and mind. I laugh harder, smile bigger, worry less, and learn more when I am around others. It doesn't need to be a huge group, nor does it need to be a specific person. I just grow better in a garden.

I often put pressure on myself to cut ties with this "needy" mentality of mine. I feel guilty for wanting to be around people. I worry that I'm not "being enough for myself" and therefore will never be enough for others. But I think that's the catch - if I really want to be true to myself, I need to accept all parts of myself....embrace them, even. And that means soaring high with my inner empath and allowing myself to depend, however vulnerable it makes me, on others.

On the flip side, some excel best on their own. They relish and delight in isolation. And I respect that, despite not relating as much to those needs.

But if I could go out on a limb here and just quickly speak to those isolationists.....friends enhance the world around us. Good friends, real friends, yes they require work, yes they can make you tired, yes they can disappoint you. But good friendships, really good friendships, they offer a hand to hold while you're at your weakest. They offer a sounding board. They offer a soul to share your joy with. One of my favorite quotes is by Emery Allen, who said, "You don't need another human being to make your life complete, but let's be honest. Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn't see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world."

In exchange for vulnerability, you receive love....a love that will stand beside you while you work to be independent, while you work to make yourself happy, and while you strive to learn from your mistakes. Gather your friends close. They can be rays of sunshine on your cloudy days.

Renewing relationships can be as easy as shooting off a quick text or sending a Facebook message. Want to meet for coffee this Tuesday? What day works better for you? I'm heading out tonight if you're around! It can also be incredibly hard and awkward.

Life gets in the way of plans. Life gets in the way of forming connections. Life gets in the way of relationships. Sometimes our perspective becomes complacent on accident, like when we're so ridiculously busy with our own internal drama that we forget to include a friend in plans or forget to reach out and wish a good friend a happy birthday. Other times our relationships purposely take a back seat to new priorities in our lives. Children. Work. Travel.

The good news is, almost every broken relationship can be resolved by simply making a choice. Do you want to make the time for this person? Do the benefits to having them in your life outweigh the work it will take to reconnect? Are you willing to apologize? Are you healthy and strong enough to accept they might not accept your apology?

If you miss someone and you truly want them back in your life, you've gotta be willing to be humble, you've gotta be willing to take responsibility for allowing the relationship to slip without projecting any of that on the other person, and you've gotta be prepared for the other person to turn you down flat. It's that simple. That is your choice. You cannot predict what the other person will say, or do, and that's ok. If the only way to resolve a disconnected relationship is by permanently closing the door, then so be it. At least you've got closure...see what I did there. Hopefully the person on the receiving end of your effort will also make the choice to be humble, to take responsibility, and to apologize. Or maybe it truly is all your fault and you've just got to eat that. Or maybe the reconnection process won't have an ounce of drama at all and you can just pick up where you left off.

The point is, you are in control of your half of every relationship. If you're missing someone, take consistent, solid, repeating steps to bridge the gap. Make the choice to invest in that relationship and make it a priority. Maybe it will blossom, maybe it will fizzle into obscurity, but either way you can say you tried your best and are taking steps to improving your relationships with others.

Retrain Expectations
One of my favorite things about being around other people is how much I learn. Everyone is so different...even those I am close to and deeply care about sometimes have different opinions from me. It's incredibly interesting to me when a large group of people engage in friendly, intelligent debate. I love watching reactions, seeing tempers quietly flare, and feeling the passion coming off everyone in the room.

But the flip side to this diversity is that you won't always see eye to eye. Yes, it is great to hear other perspectives, but sometimes those perspectives work against the relationship you're trying to form.

A perfect example of this is my tendency to be extremely territorial of those I care about. For someone who considers herself a half-empath, I sure do turn my back on how others feel when they try and become a part of my close knit-relationship circle. Now I could wax poetic about how I was isolated and bullied as a kid and dip deep into the psychological reasons behind why I am the way I am, but then this post would be 400 more words and to be honest my kid will be up from her nap real soon here so let me just say - I am extremely territorial. Do not encroach on my relationships with others or behave in any way that I could perceive as threatening to the bonds I've worked tirelessly to maintain. I speak about this at length in my understanding territorial behaviors in females post - I get to "cut-a-B" levels when I feel like my relationship with someone I love is disrespected.

Unfortunately, those who are new to the group or who have not met me or know anything about my history don't understand this. They unknowingly walk right into the fire, a fire that burns as a deep grudge within my heart for way longer than it should. Did I mention I also suck at letting things go? I do. I suck at letting things go. Which is basically a death sentence for the new girl who tries to invite my best friend to coffee without me. First impression destroyed, wedge driven, mind shut.

Ultimately what this all leads to is me snarling in a corner while the newcomer looks around wondering why this lady is hunched over and snarling in the corner.

I need to retrain my expectations, you see. I cannot expect everyone to know my backstory. I cannot expect them to understand my version of a threat vs the traditional version of a threat. They do not and cannot read my mind. The same can be said of friends who've known me my whole life. They don't always know how I'm feeling. They cannot always understand why I'm upset. And instead of holding that against them, I need to understand this is the flip-side of the diversity that I love and hold so dear to my heart in almost every other circumstance.

Because we are different, we are never 100% one. This is the joy and this is also the sadness. I'm gonna hafta be a big girl and explain myself...which I've gotten better at doing over the years (lots of practice! heh heh! Hehe...ugh). I'm going to need to practice forgiveness and compassion. And yes, I'm going to need to provide for and tend to my own feelings instead of expecting them to be constantly met and coddled by those around me. Friends are wonderful, but like I said before, relationships are enhancements to your life.....a life you, yourself need to build on a steady and sturdy base.

Release the Weight
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while I need to let people go. I think a healthy part of renewing your life and your relationships with those around you is to occasionally step back and ask if the relationship is serving you well.

Now I purposely wrote this section under the "expectations" section because if you go looking for flaws in your relationships, you're bound to find one or two in every single one of them. Everyone judges your decisions, especially those who care about you and think they know better than you do. Some are outward about it and others try and remain neutral but everyone has an opinion and will judge you from time to time. There are ways to deal with that judgement, and ending relationships is not one of them.

But every so often there are relationships that need to be released. You don't need to hate the person, you don't need to not care about the person, but sometimes your efforts are better spent elsewhere. I wrote a pretty long post about dealing with painful people last fall when things really started to take a turn for the worst with my ex-husband. It is very hard to get me to a place where I will no longer try, but once that happens, I've mentally and emotionally closed the door on that relationship. I do it for my own safekeeping. I do it for the safekeeping of the relationships that truly do nurture my soul and understand me and see me for who I am. And I do so with the understanding that should anyone I once made an effort to love ever came to my door in need of food and shelter, I would open it to them without question. I don't beleive that love ever really dies. It just gets locked up. And that's ok.

If you have relationships in your life that are weighing you down instead of helping you fly, that make you feel worse about yourself than better, it might be time to close the door on that relationship. Hope that one day the person shows up on your doorstep changed and filled with perspective....but do not count on it. It's hard but this step is imperative to renewing the relationships you do have left...the ones with those who truly do love you and need your attention.

Ooze Gratuity
One of my biggest fears (outside of losing relationships because the other person randomly decides I am not what they want....another story for another time) is being taken for granted. Getting comfortable with your relationships is inevitable. You become intimately attuned to the other person's mannerisms....the same things don't make you laugh any more. The little quirks are no longer unique, they are just a part of that person's persona. The touches and phrases become routine instead of tingling. It's what happens, naturally, as part of a relationship's natural rhythm.

But screw rhythms. It's perfectly ok to be comfortable and secure. It's a completely different thing to become lazy. Relationships take work....lots and lots of work. They take discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice. For the right person, especially in the beginning, that discomfort and inconvenience and sacrifice might not seem like work at all. But once you start to truly know another person, it takes unique, appreciative, and proactive thought processes to keep relationships alive.

I will forever be grateful to my best good friend cuz despite being friends for over 20 years, and despite me having kids and us both moving far far away from each other multiple times and despite relationship troubles and post-partum depression and changes to our circle of friends she has always, consistently made time for me on my own terms. She will come to me, she is flexible with me, she does not ask for anything in return except my willingness to go along with the plans she's already created. She calls me, she texts me, she deals with my crap, and I deal with her crap. We are far from perfect and we fight. But despite our differences I have so much appreciation in my heart for who she is and what she's done to keep our friendship alive over the years.

That kind of appreciation is often forgotten. We get bogged down and we forget to say thank you. We forget to pay it forward. We forget to return kindness with kindness. I am so, so guilty of not wanting to leave my house much. I like it here and this is where I am most comfortable. But I tell you what, you come over, and I'll try and reward your effort by feeding you good food and giving you all of my attention and treating you like the most honored king or queen in all the land.

You don't need to return kindness in the exact same way it is delivered. The idea is to simply return the kindness. Try. Make effort. Do the best you can without needing to be reminded that yes, it takes two to make things magic. Be grateful for those in your life and don't take them for granted. An appreciated relationship is a rewarding relationship.

I think the hardest part about tending to our relationships is the fact that we need to really look at ourselves and evaluate what we could be doing differently. Relationships include at least two people, always, but you as an individual can only control one side of that equation. Dive into your relationships with a grateful heart, an understanding spirit, a selective eye, and a willingness to view those you keep close as embellishments on a canvas that should already be sparkling with all the wonderful things you have to offer this world. Keep your garden clean, nurtured, and loved, and everyone will blossom :)

How do you handle the relationships in your life? Have you found children, work, or other priorities getting in the way of holding on to those outside of your own home? What's your favorite way to bring the "spark" back into your relationships? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading.


Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Rest

One of my absolute favorite places in the whole wide world is my bed. I love laying down in my bed, reading in my bed...I've even been known to eat candy and cake and french fries in my bed. It's a place of comfort to me, where everything I need is right there at my fingertips and relaxation surrounds me.

Except lately. Lately I've been jumping onto my phone in the morning and at night and my pulse starts to quicken. We are a divided country and the things I see and hear and read keep me up at night, they inspire me to take action, they push my worries and anxiety into overdrive.

A little light reading before bed, yes Jen? How about getting drowned in inequality and rich man puppetry and shaming and removing the rights of others and fearing for your daughters' safety instead. Meh-heh-heh sweet dreams, Clarice! 

I've never really been one to just let things go. I completely suck at it, frankly. I dwell and obsess until the problem is resolved. This flaw of mine has an upside: it's instilled a sense of purpose to my life and I often find myself saying, "if you don't like it, do something about it." So I act a lot. Sometimes irrationally. Almost always reactively.

The activist within me hates to rest. The humanitarian within me feels guilty for resting. The young woman within me screams at me to get out and live before it's all over. And the mama within me shames me for not making the most out of my babies' childhoods while I still can.

Resting does not come easily to me. Resting is most definitely a challenge.

Release the guilt!
Everyone needs sleep and everyone deserves peace, even us well-off, white, suburban moms. My mind, recalling images of starving, war-ravaged children, often fights me on this. What do you have to complain about, Jen? What are you tired for? Do you have any idea how easy you have it? Are you appreciating your privilege enough? Are you getting lazy because it's "the American way?" What could you be doing instead of resting?

Every now and then, particularly when I'm around someone who validates a restful, relaxed lifestyle, I can coerce my brain into letting me shut down for a little while. But the guilt still seethes.

One of the only things that works for me is the reminder that without rest, I am acting with only a portion of my potential greatness. When I think about all the things I want to accomplish, when I actually envision myself on the ground, making things happen, I never imagine myself standing there with dark circles, a furrowed brow, and a hazy consciousness. Nope. The successful Jen in my dreams is always alert, quick-thinking, anticipating. She is confident, composed, ready. She most definitely is not yawning and snapping at her kids and bursting out in tears at ASPCA commercials.

The only way I can be the very best mom, friend, daughter, significant other, and Jen I can be is if I give myself permission to release my focus and zone out every now and then. Shut out the worries. Stash away the fear. Give my mind and my heart a break. Live fully in my privilege and realize that once I'm done resting, I'll get right back to working and passing freedom and privilege to others.

Have you heard of this yet? Hygge is a Danish word that kinda sorta means "coziness." It's an idea, or rather a collection of ideas, that purports our standard, ho-hum moments can be transformed into special, meaningful, delicious experiences simply by tending to the small stuff. Blankets, hot chocolate, soothing music, warm lighting, good company, long books, drawn-out meals....these are just a few things that can create hygge. The Danish have long winters with very little daylight, so they created hygge as a way to continue happy, healthy, appreciative, enjoyable lifestyles despite the bleakness outside. When we take the time to light candles, create warmth, and set the stage for comfort, we are forced to focus on that very moment - the attention to detail helps you appreciate the moment you've created for yourself and for others.

I tried my hand at hygge last week and wouldn't you know it? It was wonderfully restful. I lit a candle, I turned my TV into a cross-country train ride (check out SlowTV on Netflix), I brewed myself some tea, grabbed my blanket, and set out my seed catalogs. With each "settling in" step, I found myself anticipating the warmth, serenity, and relaxation ahead. My mind focused on creating a peaceful environment, one filled with things I love and find soothing. By the time I'd fallen into the beautiful abyss that is springtime seed planting, the worries I'd previously been obsessing over were shoved to the back burner. My mind was resting and it felt glorious.

Resting doesn't need to mean sitting on the couch watching TV. It doesn't need to mean sitting at all, actually. One of my favorite ways to rest is by way of creation. When I'm trying a new cookie recipe, I am resting. When I'm painting or coloring, I am resting. When I'm digging new seeds into the dirt, I am resting. Each of those things require a great deal of concentration and with every scoop of flour, splatter of paint, and sprinkle of seeds, my worries slip farther and father into the background.

Think of something enjoyable that challenges your brain and requires total focus. It could be swimming. It could be writing. Heck, it could be playing an online hidden object game. Write them down or save them to a note in your phone. Next time you find yourself getting overwhelmed and in need of rest, whip out that list and pick something, anything, to give yourself a break. The things you need to worry about will be there waiting, so give yourself permission to walk back to your problems refreshed and ready to tackle them with a clear head.

A Life of Seasons
Our world cycles back and forth, round and round, from sunny summer days to freezing winter nights. Our lives are no different. Sometimes we are stuck in a season of stress and inconsistency and worry. Sometimes we are flying high in a season of security and potential and excitement. Each season calls forward its own set of needs, including needs centered around rest and renewal. Sometimes we can go a whole week without needing a time out. Other times we need to take 10 time outs a day.  Your seasonal swings are natural and they are ok.

If you're not able to cope today, don't cope. Take care of the bare minimum obligations and then get out of your head for a little while. When your mind is telling you it can't do it, listen. Give it a rest. These sleepy, exhausted moments can carry on for a couple days - let them. You don't need to "make up for it," the next day, that will happen naturally once you've regained your strenth. Sometimes I can look at the world with a sense of awe and inspiration. Other times I see nothing but sadness and darkness. What goes up must come down.....every storm runs out of rain.....and change is the only constant. Allow yourself to circle round and round and accept the seasons of your life. The hard times create the contrast we need to truly recognize the light....so give yourself a break and rest up when you're feeling down.

It's not easy to clear our heads from the clutter of the day. I'm not going to lie, most of these posts I write here on this blog are for me. I can't tell you how many times I've revisited the blog and tried to remind myself of what I just said....like the one about being too busy living to be busy in any other way, or tips on how to stress less. I've read the dealing with judgement gracefully post more times than I can count. I write these things down to serve as reminders to myself. My head is at its peak darkness right before I rest. One of the very first things I do when I get to the point where I am about to explode from anxiety is (and this is gonna sound insane.....because it kinda is insane) I get on Google. I get on Google and I type my problem right in the search bar and I read. I read for perspective. I read for comparison. And once I've gotten my fill of internet insanity, I start to wean down my content into pieces that distract me and make me feel good.

You don't need to read blogs (although, let's face it, they're pretty dang fantastic). You can read poetry. You can look at pretty pictures. You can listen to music. You can watch funny videos. The point is to find content that is not social media (you cannot control or predict social media content) and use the content to propel you into a more restful state. Sometimes escaping to a good book or a 22-minute-long video of The Office outtakes is all you really need to center yourself. True story.

Resting does not come easily to some of us. This week's challenge is to find new, sustainable ways to rest so we can all operate during our active phases at our full potential. The monarch butterfly rests in that cocoon for two whole weeks before emerging in all of her beautiful glory.....pretty sure we can take a half hour to watch cats on YouTube, sip on tea, read a good blog post, and laugh.

What are your favorite ways to rest? Do you struggle to let go and really immerse yourself in relaxation? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. As always, thank you so so much for reading :)

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:
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