Urban Birds | B&W Photography

Chandler, AZ | Canon 5D Mark IV | Collection and individual images available as fine-art prints, magnets, coasters, and digital download | Photography and editing by Brooke Oliphant, copyright 2021

Pain is a Powerful Teacher

I am unbelievably blessed by the number of quality people in my life; wonderful humans whom I love dearly and trust with my authenticity, individuals who inspire and challenge me, and my inner-circle who listens, supports and loves me unconditionally. I believe we meet people for a reason and the timing is intentional (by design, ordained, stars aligning… you choose), to give and receive in new ways, influence and support, and ultimately learn something new about ourselves, lifestyle, beliefs, and the human experience. We each have a unique story, and when shared and received with an open heart there is always an opportunity to gain understanding, show compassion, and both give and receive the gift of being truly heard.

Through study, counseling, and intentional actions, I’ve changed significantly over the past few years in both obvious and unseen ways. I’d been holding onto thoughts and beliefs formed in childhood; things I was told combined with fundamental experiences became my foundation for living. I created dreams and a vision for life in my youth, and then lived for years with regret and a lingering sense of failure and loss when those dreams didn’t turn out as envisioned or never materialize.

Everything we experience and believe comes from a place of choice and is interpreted through the lens of our beliefs. I hadn’t considered that all beliefs are a choice and choices can be changed, or that when we change a belief it changes everything. From small things like “I’m not built to be a runner” to big things like “divorce is the ultimate failure”, our thoughts about ourself, what life should be like, or what we’re meant to do, have, or become shapes everything. . . absolutely everything that we choose to do or not do, experience or not experience, expect is possible or believe is impossible, is based on our personal belief system. I needed to evaluate and update my beliefs about myself and life, rewrite expectations, and create new dreams to fully release myself from grief I was carrying that I’d allowed to define me in damaging ways. Pain, loss, loneliness, regret, disappointment, and sadness were all heavy emotions deeply seeded in my heart, holding me back from dreaming big, justifying limiting beliefs, and keeping me in a place of dissatisfaction.

Some of the most important lessons in life come from loss, change, and hardship. Pain is a powerful teacher. There is also beauty, freedom and peace in acceptance. I have deep appreciation for some of the darkest moments in my life because without them I wouldn’t have experienced myself as a warrior, I wouldn’t have been forced to become vulnerable with myself and others, and I wouldn’t have seen myself transform and accomplish in remarkable and unexpected ways.

I was recently reconnected with an old friend. For the brief time that we knew each other as teenagers the connection was kindred. Thanks to social media we found one another again and learned that we have some difficult similarities in our life journeys. The opportunity presented itself for some raw transparency and like divine intervention we became accountability partners; providing support, asking thought-provoking questions, and being a listening ear with someone who knows first-hand the hurt, crazy thoughts, discouraging feelings, and highs and lows of rebuilding and healing after years of neglect has been such a blessing. How do you get your light back after diminishing yourself for another, and even bigger, how do you forgive yourself for choosing to shrink? How do you live with passion, enthusiasm, confidence, hope and faith after years of surviving? How do you create new happiness or even believe in happiness while continuing to face the hard realities of divorce and broken dreams? Changing course doesn’t automatically put the broken pieces back together, and healing doesn’t come with a roadmap. Also, grief isn’t a private, ugly emotion, and we aren’t meant to face the most difficult aspects of life alone. Hardship is as normal as breathing, yet we work so hard to hide it from others. There’s definitely a balancing-act to putting on a brave face while processing and healing, and it’s very easy to present yourself as brave and “moved on” while you’re internally suffering. Moving forward isn’t starting over. We take the dents and bruises, the lessons learned, the heartache and regrets, and either allow them to define us or we choose to define them simply as facts about our life that got us from then to now. The power we give to our history determines how it influences the present and how it will travel into our future, and often part of the healing journey requires rewriting some of our foundational beliefs about ourself, family, lifestyle, who we’re meant to be and what we’re meant to do. It requires forgiving ourself and giving ourself the freedom to create new dreams. Often, just being heard and discovering that your fears, thoughts, questions, or an unexpected emotional setback are all completely normal has a powerful way of providing clarity and peace on the bumpy road to recovery.

If you can relate, please remember that we have to travel through our grief, not over, under, or around it, and you are strong enough to face everything you encounter. Even when you feel the most mashed-up, uncertain, and lost, the brokenness you are experiencing is temporary and you are worthy of a healed heart and a happy life. You can change your beliefs, you can choose a new path, you can create new dreams, and it’s normal for both the good and bad we experience to shape us and change us. Also, you aren’t meant to suffer and heal alone, so share your hurt with someone you trust.

I seriously dislike the saying “someone has it worse” as a way of comforting myself or another in a season of trial… it diminishes the hardship. Instead, I like thinking “everyone suffers” because it normalizes whatever heavy emotion is currently in the drivers-seat and creates a feeling of connection with all of humanity. We all laugh, cry, love, fail, experience loss, change course, trust, dream, and fear. The human experience is beautiful and heartbreaking, and I love that each day is a new beginning and we can choose a fresh start, change our mind, transform, and heal over and over again. We aren’t carved in stone.

Spontaneity, Self-Care, and Snow

I love exploring and seeing something new. I love the anticipation of looking forward to something. I’m quick to make plans, I often come-up with an idea and run out the door to make it happen “right now”, and I crave experiences that add value and create variety in my life. There’s a mindset shift, a heart-attitude shift, and a lifestyle shift that’s required when facing change, and between the pandemic, the ever evolving needs of my children, starting a new career, spiritual study, personal goals, and healing my heart, I’m working to embrace a lot of change right now, and my photo adventures have become a valuable creative outlet.

There’s been a battle inside of me; a fight to hold on, a resistance to accepting things as they are, and a wish for certain things to remain the same or have never changed. In a recent mirror chat with myself I discovered that I was choosing to hold onto emotions and wishes because facing reality comes with the need to process pain and accept change that I don’t want and/or didn’t choose. I was telling myself that walking away or healing or envisioning a different journey or setting new goals was somehow giving-in or giving-up. I really appreciate these moments of honesty with myself, and love my ability to gently show self-compassion while also recognizing the craziness and silliness in my thought-process and approach at times. I literally laughed at myself, and with empathetic humor said “you’re smarter than this” and “you deserve freedom and happiness” and “healing doesn’t mean it didn’t matter” and “change is constant” and “I am different today than I used to be, so why am I resisting this change?” and “stop hurting yourself silly”. The reality is that the things I’ve been resistant to accept, the changes I’ve been avoiding, and the circumstances I wish I could alter have already happened. They are completely outside of my control and already a part of my history. When I set my feelings aside it’s easy to say “it is what it is” and acknowledge that avoiding or resisting my reality is causing myself pain and confusion, and delaying my ability to move forward.

“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.” – Jack Kornfield

I’ve been actively practicing mindfulness and spending more time in meditation, both sitting in silence and walking in nature. I want to live with peace in the present, showing myself and others a deep sense of appreciation, empathy and love, and I believe that worrying about the past or future distracts from the best version of myself, my desired lifestyle, and my spiritual attitude. So when my mind and energy start wishing that past or present circumstances were different, or I catch myself worrying about the future, I purposefully and thoughtfully bring myself back to the present moment by focusing on gratitude and reminding myself that I’m on a journey to love and experience life one day at a time.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Jack Kornfield

I’m so thankful that I enjoy my own company, and that I’m adventurous and confident enough to explore and experience on my own. I take myself out to dinner, I go for long drives, I hike, and I explore familiar and unfamiliar areas with my camera in hand. The other day I was feeling stagnant and wanted to do something that I could feel excited about. At the foundation of my desire was the need to experience joy and get out of the house. So I grabbed my camera and took my daughter and her best friend on a drive into the mountains to find snow. We listened to music, laughed, stopped a few times so I could take pictures. . . and we got to play in the snow, get cold and wet, and see the desert landscape in a magical way! Our adventure created special memories and a set of images I’m really excited about, and I’m so thankful I didn’t allow myself to get stuck in unhappiness and stay home.

There’s a special kind of peace in acceptance that I’ve come to deeply appreciate recently. When I feel hurt and sadness, wish for different, experience fear, doubt, anger, or loneliness, I show up for myself differently. There’s a better conversation going on within myself about what triggers negative emotions, what’s at the foundation of my thoughts and feelings, is it something that’s within or outside of my control, and if I can influence change am I taking action or just wallowing? I pay attention, make time and space for more self-care, and I’m choosing to learn, listen, and transform the energy into understanding and self-love, bringing myself back to a place of peacefulness. It’s amazing how lovely it feels to show-up for myself with so much intention. I feel like my own best friend, walking through the messiness, highs and lows of life with more skill, better prepared to navigate the external and internal influences that distract from being present, having faith, loving deeply and freely, and giving my all to each moment, interaction, and experience.

Canon 5D Mark IV, with Canon 200mm f2.8LII and Sigma Art 85mm f1.4

Turtles and Ducks

Once a week I take myself on a photo adventure. The location and subject-matter aren’t really the point of this activity. . . it’s about creativity, seeing space and light through the lens, getting lost in myself, exploration, and my art. While the purpose is more about energy and emotion than the resulting images, I’d be lying if I said the pictures I take don’t matter. I want to create and share stunning photographs, and compile a portfolio that tells a story of the way I see and interact with the world around me.

There’s a small pond not far from my house where turtles live, along with ducks and very big fish. It’s a peaceful space surrounded by large, beautiful trees, and a well cared-for walking path. It’s not visible from the street which makes it kinda like a secret garden. I’ve been there numerous times without my camera, and always told myself I’d come back and photograph the turtles. Last week I did just that, except there wasn’t a turtle in sight. . . so I created some great images of ducks instead. Today I went back and got to take pictures of dozens of turtles, and discovered that through a long lens I was able to see detail and appreciate these amazing creatures in a way I’ve never been able. Their eyes, feet, texture and details are stunning, and the way they move is beautiful.

I am a sucker for birds, all types, shapes and sizes. I love watching them fly, I think they’re cute and beautiful and funny and inspiring. I wish I could fly – how incredible would it be to have a birds perspective of the land, architecture and sky, and to feel weightless and without boundary? For all of these reasons I photograph birds often, just ask my kids. . . they think I’m obsessed, or have a problem depending on how it’s interacting with their life in the moment. All that said, here are more pictures of ducks.

Photographed with Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 200mm f2.8LII

Cactus in the Rain

I love when it rains in the desert. There’s something extra special about water in a space that’s always dry. While I’m not physically thirsty for the sky the open-up like the plants and animals, I feel excitement, appreciation, and celebration when it rains. I make a big deal out of it with my children and for myself. . . we run around outside and get soaked (so maybe even our skin somehow needs to feel and receive the gift of rain?), we search for a rainbow, observe the palm trees moving in the wind, the water pooling and carving paths in the hardened ground, and I take pictures. If you haven’t paused long enough to appreciate the beauty of thousands of water droplets on the needles and spines of cactus, I invite you to take a close look the next time it rains; it’s seriously stunning, especially when the sun breaks through the clouds! If you live somewhere other than the desert, I’m sorry this isn’t something you can experience in person, but here are some photos that capture the magic I’m describing.

Photographed with Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 135mm f2L

Ducks, Strangers, and a Truck

I’ve been chasing light and seeing the world as framed moments for as long as I can remember. With a camera in my hand something special always happens; it’s like magic right in front of my eyes and in my heart. Exploring and creating brings something to life inside of me that makes me feel a little more alive, a little more connected, a little more appreciative, and a little more inspired.

In 2019 I challenged myself to take a single photo everyday with my “real camera” (Canon 5D Mark IV). In 2020 I starting going on picture-taking dates with myself – little adventures with the singular purpose of seeing, exploring, and creating. When portrait photography was my career, I rarely took pictures for fun. Now my art is simply for my enjoyment, and I plan to continue going on photo adventures in 2021.

This afternoon I found a cool old truck, met very photogenic ducks, watched the sunset while sitting next to a beautiful fountain, and met a supper cute couple walking their dog who asked me to take their photo. We visited for a few minutes and I was reminded that even in this season of social distancing it’s still possible to have meaningful interactions with others.

Intentionally Thoughtful Parenting

I have a fun home. There’s lots of loud music, dance parties, picnics on the living room floor, meals as a family, lively and opinionated discussions, art projects, laughter, meditation, singing, and toys all over the place. My kids are often only partially dressed, the kitchen is almost always some version of a mess because it’s the room we gather in the most and I’m obsessed with cooking, the floors don’t get cleaned often enough, and there’s always laundry waiting to be washed and a pile to be folded. It’s functional chaos and seriously my happiest place on earth!

But it wasn’t always this way. I used to care way too much about how my house looked, mostly for the benefit of company I rarely hosted and to live-up to the standard my mother set, in an attempt to be perfect at adulting. I credit my strict upbringing, first-born birth order, type A personality, and social media for my desperate desire to appear capable of juggling everything better than most. This previous version of myself was fueled by compliments like “you make it all look so easy”. I made my life look special on social media, but I was extremely unhappy. I prioritized chores and the appearance of perfection over simply enjoying time with my family and living in my home. I never relaxed because that felt lazy. With limited time available after work and responsibilities to be truly present and make memories, my priorities were upside down, and the pressure I placed on myself created stress and unhappiness that carried from one day to the next. I felt like I was failing at life every single day, and I cared more about how dinner looked on the table than if my children would like their meal. I was easily stressed, quick to critique, and went to bed feeling disappointed and wondering why my efforts weren’t creating the happiness I longed for.

It’s easy to place value in the wrong areas and sometimes very hard to objectively see our own reality. I worked my ass off to make things “better” for my children while navigating a loveless relationship, loneliness, financial stress and all the responsibilities that come with owning a home, full-time work, and raising children. I really thought that I could out-work, out-pretend, and out-plan my unhappiness, and somehow I’d wake-up one day to a life that didn’t suck. Thankfully I found the strength to fight for freedom from my dysfunctional relationship, and when it was finally just me and the kids in my home I felt equally excited and scared for our future. I knew I wanted my home to be the safest and happiest place on earth for my family but I didn’t know how to make that a reality. Knowing what doesn’t work doesn’t automatically mean you know what will work or what needs to change, so I started reading motivational books and blogs, listening to pod casts, journaling about what I wanted, and honestly looking at how I could make little changes that would create a happy culture within my home. With one small action after another I transformed how I was living, thinking, and what I was prioritizing until my home became a place of peace.

Like every family, we are a combination of different ages, preferences and personalities living under the same roof, and that comes with natural challenges. I believe the foundation of safety is acceptance, and I also believe that my children need the freedom to experience and learn on their terms as much as I need the freedom to be my unique self. This meant I needed to relax! I decided I was no longer going to be a referee for my children, and stepping away from their minor conflicts allowed them the opportunity to start working things out without a mediator, and released me from the burden of being too involved and delivering too many punishments. I want to be my children’s biggest cheerleader and only step in as a disciplinarian when truly necessary. It took a million baby steps and purposeful actions, and at least a year before I could honestly say that the changes I made felt natural, but with each day I discovered a little more emotional freedom, felt more relaxed, and was more physically and spiritually available to live in the moment. The more I changed the more I discovered that I didn’t care what others thought or perceived about my life. I went from sharing pictures and stories on Instagram and Facebook daily, to posting less than a dozen images in a year. I needed to create my normal, my happiness, and set priorities based on my lifestyle without the influence of carefully crafted lives on social media or the desire for immediate gratification through likes and comments. I’m not living the same life as a parents or friends. THIS IS MY LIFE, and I felt a desperation to set a better example for my children. I’m not saying that happiness means turning your back on responsibility. I didn’t need to stop cleaning my house to prioritize time with my children, I didn’t need to stop cooking beautiful and healthy meals to prioritize my children, and I didn’t need to change the appearance of my home for the benefit of friends and family… I needed to stop comparing my life to others and heal my broken expectations about life. The childhood version of myself had a picture of what life and family should look like, and she was wrong. I’m so thankful for the heart-breaking, eye-opening experiences that motivated me to change and heal.

Is the improved version of my family life perfect? No. That’s not even the goal or a consideration anymore. Is it easy? No. It’s life and life isn’t easy, but the time we spend together as a family and the way we live together is purposeful and meaningful, even when messy and hard-as-hell. I’m modeling a life of choice, adaptation, happiness and quality time for my children, even when the circumstances aren’t ideal, and they live in a home where it’s encouraged to be an individual and safe to have an opinion. It’s a peaceful reprieve from the demands, confusion, and challenges of the world around us. I apologize when I’m wrong, ask questions when I want to yell, cry and ask for advise when I’m lost in a difficult situation and feeling the loneliness of single-parenting, and like all parents I mess-up often enough that I fear I’m failing my children. Like a miracle, every time a shadow comes over my home, one of my children shares something they’re grateful for or asks for a dance party, a friend sends an encouraging message, or I read something that reminds me that hardship is temporary, and the mood is reset. What a blessing that every day is a new beginning and that my children are loving and forgiving as I continue to grow, learn, and transform my life into something beautiful and meaningful. My prayer is that the adult version of my children will be more resilient and better at living in the moment because of everything we’ve been through together and the thoughtful way in which I’m showing up for them.

A New Affirmation

There are times when my heart aches and I question why I’ve had to go through so much hardship. Once I’m far enough past a difficult event I’m often able to identify blessings, recognize growth in myself, and sometimes even be thankful for the ways life has changed for the better because of the hardship. But sometimes life goes sideways in devastating and cruel ways, and there isn’t a silver lining. It’s not that I expect life to be easy, but my god, just because I’m strong enough to survive this shit and just because I’m able of learn and grow from each heartache, doesn’t mean I don’t wish for better.

In these “what if” moments I’ve even questioned why my heart wants what it desires, and sometimes wish that it didn’t so I’d be free of wanting, hoping, trying, and the inevitable losing and failing. Maybe if I could somehow care less or give-up a little I’d be happier? But I wasn’t built for half-ass anything, and I’ve had a desire for greatness, true connection and meaningful purpose since I was young. What I’ve discovered over the years is that the “thing” doesn’t matter as much as the passion and purpose behind it, and that has allowed me to find joy and success in multiple careers and adventure in the seemingly ordinary. I am a dreamer, visionary, trail-blazer. . . I want to exceed my own expectations, always grow and learn, and lead with my heart. I want to make a difference, leave a positive mark on the world, and bless the lives of those I encounter throughout my journey. I want to be loved as entirely and genuinely as I’m capable of giving love. When I evaluate my desires it’s hard to not ask “what’s wrong with me?” because my desires for life are pretty simple and pure, yet somehow I’ve been used, abused, lied to, taken advantage of, and left. I’ve put my heart into other people’s dreams, cared when I wasn’t cared for in return, and faced devastating losses while being “the bigger person” and “believing in the potential of others” and “holding onto faith that my dreams could become reality”.

This has been a massive year for me emotionally and mentally. I’ve experienced some of the darkest moments of my life – true fear, grief, and loss. I’ve also experienced some of the most beautiful moments – events that will be life-long memories and have forever changed who I am and what I want. I’ve had the space and freedom to create healthy habits physically, mentally and emotionally that will shape my next chapters and have created the best version of me (so far), and I’ve dedicated significant time to emotional healing and mental health. I’m thankful and hurting at the same time.

Maybe there’s a place for doubt in the human experience, like a check-in that causes re-evaluation every-once-in-a-while? Fear can be used for motivation, anger as a prompt to forgive, and sadness an invitation to love more deeply, so maybe doubt also has an upside. I want to believe that my hopes and dreams will come true, but so far my adulthood has taught me very hard lessons and attempted to break me a few a times, leaving me in a place of emotional exhaustion and fear that no matter my faith and no matter my efforts, I will always be left wanting. For the first time in my life I feel like having hope requires strength, courage and energy I’m struggling to find, and the experience of losing hope is completely different from letting go of something you once wanted or adjusting your purpose, vision and goals because it no longer servers your mission in life. . . it comes with heaviness and defeat that logically I want to fight against, but emotionally I’m weak. The interesting thing about the tension between hope and fear and is that some days I feel unstoppable, and some days stop me. It’s the most difficult experience, and while there’s a sweet little voice in my head reminding me that there are better days ahead, the hardship I face day-in-and-day-out is heavy and very difficult to overcome with hope.

So how do I live with all this and navigate my daily life? How do I make sense of the contrast between laughter and sadness that often exist in neighboring moments? Counseling, mediation, prayer, fitness, family and friends. I stay busy enough to have purpose but spend much more time in silence than ever before. I’m learning to comfort and love myself with more patience and care, while communicating my needs to those closest to me with more transparency. I deeply appreciate the times when my heart feels light, I focus on gratitude all day every day, write lists of thankfulness to show myself the extent of good in my life, and I pay close attention to how I’m feeling while accepting the highs and lows equally. In my youth I had an expectation of arriving at a life that would include all the happiness I envisioned; a place where my dreams lived as reality. My “happily ever after”. That life would include adventure, success, purpose, love, family, friends, laughter, and safety. When simplified to a list, I’ve experienced and/or am currently experiencing all of those things. I just wasn’t prepared for all the betrayal, loss, brokenness, starting over, loneliness, grief, and healing that comes with living, and never thought I’d see a day where dreaming would feel foolish, my heart would be guarded, and I wouldn’t recognize myself. But here’s a truth about my history – I did everything in my power to force my dreams into existence, and there is a massive difference between dreaming and pretending! I refused to see reality, with hope that time, hard work, and holding-on would somehow connect the puzzle pieces. I didn’t know, trust or value myself, and I placed my trust in people and situations that didn’t care about me. My guess is that everyone can say the same about some piece of their own story because falling down is part of learning. It’s a condition of the human experience to rise and fall, and like a heart beat requires a constant and consistent up and down to keep us alive, our journey through life needs variation to challenge and develop us, to continually show us the depth of our heart, and to redefine our purpose.

It is a remarkable, wonderful thing that as people we are able to heal, grow, learn, change, and adapt. Otherwise we’d crumble under the weight of loss and never see the light again. I’ve had to rework the vision for my life multiple times, some from a place of joy and enthusiasm, and some from the necessity that comes out of devastation. I am an ever-evolving work in progress, clinging to faith as I live my life heart-open. While it’s easy to doubt and question, that is a form of looking backward, so when those thoughts arise I’ll thank them for their perspective and then move forward. I write affirmations often, typically on my bathroom mirror to easily read and remember, and this is today’s commitment to myself as I move forward with a restored hope for my life: I will begin each day on purpose with joy for another opportunity to experience, dream, and love. I will celebrate my victories and grieve my losses as they arrive. I will focus on daily gratitude, and fuel my belief that life is a wonderful adventure worth showing up for with an open heart. I will dream and hope without fear, live in the moment, and adapt throughout my journey so that the summation of my life is rich with meaning. I will honor myself by loving deeply and genuinely, with faith that my desire for a loving partnership is in my future, and I will feed my spirit with connection, adventure, and growth daily.

Why I Write

There’s an honest conversation about the struggles we all face that is missing or masked over by the way we present ourselves to others. Because only the best version of our lives gets publicly shared or discussed in most conversations, culturally we’ve created a new standard for “normal” that’s heavily filtered, posed, and always perfect, and people are naturally becoming more and more insecure, jealous, and competitive. Depression is skyrocketing and face-to-face social skills are diminishing. It’s really easy to doubt your reality when comparing it to your social media feed.

It’s my intention to share truths about my life in a way that normalizes the human struggle, while helping others process hurt and navigate healing, offering suggestions for how to create a mindset and habits that support the life you want to live, and inspire people to elevate their lives through self-care and gratitude. I’ve fallen down hard a few times, I’ve lost everything, I’ve had to start over when the circumstances were devastating, and the journey out of my lowest points were messy, long, lonely, and came with so much doubt and fear. There is also a lot of light, privilege and comfort in my story. . . my rock bottom is different from yours, but the process of getting up after falling down, starting over, and self-transformation are what I’m here to share. My biggest hope is that through my transparency others will also share, and as a community we can empower each other to live more healthy, meaningful, genuine and fulfilling lives. There is freedom from self-doubt and comparison through authenticity, therefore the conversations we should all be having needs to come from the heart, and that requires confidence that you’re safe to share your fear, hurt, insecurity, loneliness, dreams, hopes, wants and desires, believing everything will be received with kindness and understanding. My hope is that everyone has at least one person that they can talk about everything with (the good, bad, and ugly), and if you don’t, I’m here for you. I’ve received so many messages since I started this blog, some cheering me on and offering encouragement in my healing journey and others asking for help or encouragement as they struggle. The notes that often bring me to tears and motivate my continued writing have come from dozens of individuals who have trusted me with their stories. I’ve had the privilege of sharing in the healing transformation of many, I’ve been a listening ear and encouragement for hurting hearts who are in the darkest moments of their trials, and I’ve been able to celebrate with many who have made big (sometimes scary) changes in their lives to grow and heal.

When we hide our reality and only share a carefully created version of ourselves with others, we are actively hurting ourselves. We’re saying “I don’t accept my own truth” or “I believe there’s something wrong with who I am”, and if we can’t love ourselves it’s impossible for others to truly know us, love us, or care in the ways that we need. I know this all too well. I spent the majority of my adulthood attempting to be what I thought others wanted, accepting the criticism of others as my truth, and was painfully insecure and lonely, desperate for anyone to see beyond my facade and save me from my hurt. For anyone who can relate, let me share the hardest but most powerful truth of my self-love transformation: no one can save you from yourself. My climb out of self-hate, insecurity, and hiding was incredibly painful and required purposeful actions and self-awareness that was almost exclusively uncomfortable. My friends and family had to get to know me all over again, and while the changes I made were necessary, it ended a career and some valued friendships. Not to discourage anyone, but those were the surface-level challenges. . . greater than any of the outside factors, I had to meet myself all over again, experience my brokenness without ignoring, hiding, or suppressing, and choose to be brave and courageous in my authenticity when every aspect of my nature feared rejection and wanted to protect major aspects of myself by presenting only the carefully crafted version of me that I’d created and lived with for so many years. I had to show-up for myself. Let me say it again, no one can save you from yourself and letting down your guard when you’re a life-long faker is painful, but it’s the kind of change that’s worth all your focus and efforts. You are worthy of living your truth and experiencing life with authenticity! Humans are social creatures; we need one another yet we don’t trust each other enough to actually give and receive what we need, and in our loneliness it’s easy to tell ourselves lies about our worthiness and value. I promise, you were uniquely designed for a purpose, and being anything other than yourself is disrespectful to yourself, while also robbing the world of everything your genuine self has to offer. So take the leap of faith and get to know yourself more deeply, share your truth with others, and send me a note about your journey whenever you need someone to listen or to celebrate with you.

Time To Start Shining

My life has been exceptionally difficult lately for reasons that many can relate to: isolation and loneliness as a result of quarantine, homeschooling and children home more often than before, heaviness that comes with living in a pandemic, job loss and navigating life for multiple months on unemployment, never-ending changes to routine, schedule, and household needs, and the ending of a relationship. The circumstances aside, my reaction to all this crisis, change, and uncertainty has surprised me. I shut-down and stopped functioning normally for a couple of months, which simply isn’t my style. My go-getter, always land-on-my-feet, invent change and challenge for myself, always rise-to-the-occasion personality went on vacation, and I was left ghost-walking through my life, uncertain about everything, feeling scared, sad, and tired with an utter lack of desire to do anything.

I didn’t realize until I wasn’t working anymore how much of my identity was attached to my career and how much of my self-worth was attached to my ability to provide for my family. I’m facing a very difficult journey of soul-searching and trying to figure out what my next career move is going to be, with chatter about another round of school shut-downs clouding my ability to envision anything stable or functional in my future, all while trying to both embrace and ignore the elephant in the room: how am I going to take care of my children while also providing for them? Navigating so much hardship on my own while attempting to maintain a positive household culture and energy for my children has been overwhelmingly difficult at times. I never knew I could feel this emotionally exhausted, lost, and hopeless.

I’m a dreamer. I’m a goal-setter. I’m a high achiever who believes in starting everyday on purpose and ending everyday with gratitude. I’m a lover who believes in happily-ever-after despite a life full of reasons to be guarded and untrusting. I am strong and capable. I know all of this to be true about myself, so what the hell happened to me? Where did I go and how do I get myself back?

I’ve spent the past couple of months exploring different career opportunities, and while each has come with pros and cons, I’ve been unable to motivate myself to commit to anything and move forward. I ask myself “why?” all the time, and finally came to the realization that I suddenly don’t know who I am. I lost momentum, focus, dreams, and courage in my heart all in a matter of months, and that’s a shit-ton of life, loss and purpose to process, heal, and redefine all at once. So I’ve spent countless hours in tears, and even more time in meditation, prayer, and journaling. I’ve dedicated extra time to activities I love, counseling, and studying grief recovery, while deepening friendships, setting emotional boundaries, and accepting that right now it’s okay to be struggling. There is peace and comfort in acceptance, and while there’s a part of me that is frustrated beyond measure at the snails-pace of my self-understanding and healing, I have faith that this season of hardship is transforming me in meaningful and significant ways that will ultimately make the magnitude of challenges I’m currently processing worth the fight.

I am worthy of living life to the fullest; it’s time to stop surviving and start shining. I am ready for the next chapter.

I was reading a short story by Shane Chambers, and a section felt so relevant to how I’ve been feeling that I’ve re-read it over and over: “I am sad, yes, but it is a sadness of longing, not of casualty. I was able to experience a special part of my life so beautifully, living and giving the world a better version of who and what I wanted to be. For me to feel this unhappy right now is only a reminder to me that I must have loved something very, very deeply, and I am grateful for having felt that.”