Mrs. Zini’s Final Lesson

 

Bonnie Marie Zini 9/26/1947-4/22/201

Bonnie Marie Zini
9/26/1947-4/22/2010

Five years ago, my beloved mom entered eternal life on April 22, 2010.  In memory of her life on earth, I decided to share her “final lesson,” which I wrote and delivered at her memorial service.  It’s not an eulogy- it’s a reflection of what I thought my mom would want me to share as we celebrated the end of her earthly life and the start of her eternal life.  Five years later and her final lesson still rings true for me… it’s so full of joy, hope, and promise.  Regardless of your faith, I hope this story brightens your day and brings you a little closer to God!

XOXO

Christina


 Mrs. Zini’s Final Lesson

Written by Christina Zini and delivered on 4/27/2010

Let’s begin with a prayer because that’s how my mom would have wanted us to begin…

Heavenly Father, thank You for this day and giving us the opportunity to celebrate my mom’s life together.  Thank You for the gift of Bonnie.  Thank You for her 62 years on earth, especially the miracle of the last 8 years.  Thank You for bringing such an amazing woman into each of our lives- we are so blessed to have known and loved Bonnie, particularly my Dad, Angela and me.  Thank You for bringing her home to You and giving her the gift of eternal life.  Although we miss her so much, we are comforted in knowing that Bonnie is in Heaven with You, free from pain and suffering, and full of infinite joy.  Amen.

Wow, wow, wow… thank you all for being a part of this special celebration of my mom’s life.  I’m deeply touched to see so many of you here today, and I know my mom is smiling down from Heaven upon us.

As you all know, my mom was an incredibly special woman with tremendous courage and enduring faith.  Although my mom had many talents, she was ultimately born to teach.  Not only did she teach a variety of subjects to her elementary school students, but she also shared her knowledge and abilities with her colleagues, friends, and family.  She taught us so many valuable lessons about life simply by being Bonnie– she was loving, kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous, courageous, trust-worthy, self-less, gentle, humble, fun, intelligent, artistic, vibrant, genuine, inspirational…I could go on forever about her attributes as she was one of God’s earthly angels!

Alas I do not intend to stand before you this afternoon and summarize the highlights of my mom’s life or tell you what you already know about this extraordinary woman.  Prior to my mom’s passing, my mom and I talked about what I would say at her memorial service.  This conversation took place less than two weeks ago in a rather unusual setting as we laid next to each other in the back of her car in the medical center’s parking lot.  My dad had his own medical appointment prior to my mom’s final appointment with her oncologist.  So, while we were waiting for him to return, I climbed into the back of the car and laid next to my mom for a brief, yet significant, mother-daughter chat. We rolled down the windows to enjoy the fresh spring breeze and stared up through the sunroof at the perfectly blue sky.  I curled up next to her, holding her hand and stroking her soft cheeks.  I told her that I knew she was going to Heaven soon. I told her that I was going to miss her terribly, but I accepted that God was calling her home.  I then asked her if I could speak here today and what she’d like me to say.  From that brief discussion, I then formed Mrs. Zini’s final—and perhaps most significant—lesson to share with you today.

First and foremost, my mom wants you to know and love our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  One of her favorite Bible versus is John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  If you are blessed to have one of her beautiful hand-made driftwood crosses, you will know that she wrote “John 3:16” on the back-side of each one as a reminder of God’s love for us and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

My mom always encouraged me to talk with Jesus about anything and everything- she’d say, “Just talk to Jesus as you go about your day.  He’s listening and He will guide you.”  Whenever I turned to my mom with a problem, she’d tell me, “Just pray about it, honey.”  I must admit that this answer often exacerbated me, but I know that she was right.  Perhaps even more compelling than simply telling me to pray about my worries was witnessing how she responded to her own challenges in life.

My mom was the ultimate role-model for believing in God, casting her cares upon Him and trusting His plan for her life.  As the cancer spread through her body, her trust in the Lord grew even stronger.  She drew strength from Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” She held steadfast to her faith, and did not fear dying as she believed in God and His promise of eternal life.

Astonishingly, upon reading an essay she wrote after losing her father at the age of sixteen in 1964 and a letter that she wrote to Angela and me in 1974, I discovered that my mom possessed an uncommon life-long faith: she’d been turning to God since she was a young girl.  In her letter written in 1974, she wrote, “You should never fear death. Love life and live it as deeply as possible when it is your time, but think only of death as the birthday of your eternity.”  My mom continued on by writing, “We shall all be together in a bliss which only the blessed with God know.”

Mrs. Zini so very much wants all of us to join her in eternal bliss- she hopes that her unwavering belief in God will inspire all of us to get to know Jesus a little better each day so that we can join her in Heaven someday.

Secondly, beyond knowing and loving Jesus, my mom wants each of us to discover God’s purpose for our lives.  Now, you are probably thinking to yourself, “Easier said than done!”  But, in essence, discovering God’s purpose for your life is quite simple.  Think about your strengths, talents and knowledge.  Think about how you excelled as a child.  Think about your passions and interests.  Think about what makes you special and unique.  God blessed you with these attributes because He wants you to use them here on earth.  The best way you can serve the Lord is by sharing the gifts that God has given to you with those around you.  When we share our talents, God rejoices—and He opens up even more opportunities for us to shine.

Sometimes, God’s purpose for our life is related to our current circumstances.  He may choose to present us with seemingly insurmountable challenges, such as cancer.  As the expression goes, God never gives you more than He knows you can bear.  So, when you are given a heavy load to carry, that means that God thinks you are capable of confronting this challenge with courage, hope and perseverance.  He’s giving you the opportunity to lean on Him and strengthen your faith.

Again, my mom is a great example of a person who understood God’s purpose for her life.  My mom knew that God wanted her to be a teacher and blessed her with the skills, talents and knowledge to succeed. In turn, she had an uncanny ability to quickly identify her students’ strengths and encourage them to excel. In her Life Inventory, she wrote, “My life has been full of meaning and purpose because I have been able to love and serve my family, my students and my friends through the love of Christ.”

My mom also knew that God wanted her to be His witness here on earth as she bravely battled cancer.  Another one of her favorite versus was Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  She knew that God gave her an incredibly challenging task, and she courageously accepted this mission.

Thankfully, I was able to understand my mom’s interpretation of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. When my mom was first diagnosed with stage III-C ovarian cancer, neither she nor I asked the usual question of “Why?”  We just knew that God wanted my mom to be His witness and an inspiration to those around her.  He trusted her with this critical mission.

In the words of Bonnie’s favorite Psalm, the Lord was her Shepherd and she followed Him accordingly.  My mom served in God’s Army here on earth by following His purpose of her life.  When her mission was fulfilled and God called her home, she fearlessly accepted the death of her earthly life and began her eternal life in Heaven.  My mom hopes that you too will discover God’s purpose for your life, embrace the gifts He’s given to you and bravely face the challenges He may place in your path along the way.

Now Ms. Zini would not be Mrs. Zini if she didn’t spread some joy during this final lesson….  I hear my mom’s voice saying, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice in God’s blessings. God is good!”  As she wrote in her Life Inventory, she wanted her memorial service to be upbeat and spiritually comforting because she is now- and I quote- “sitting at the feet of Jesus, free of Earth’s troubles and beginning my eternal life.” Always so positive and full of light, my mom saw the beauty in everything around her and considered herself exceptionally blessed.  My mom wants all of us to remember how blessed we are—even during toughest of times– and rejoice in God’s grace.

During that precious mother-daughter conversation less than two weeks ago, I asked her how she wanted us to remember her life.  She said, “Tell them I lived a kind, gentle life.”   A kind, gentle life—imagine what the world would be like if we all aspired to live a kind, gentle life?

In closing, I hope that you will always keep my mom’s spirit alive in your heart by remembering the special times you shared with her.  I hope that you will continue to rejoice in the blessing of Bonnie.  I hope you will feel inspired by her life and reflect on her desire for each of us to know Jesus and discover His purpose for our lives.

Let’s end with a prayer because that’s what my mom would want us to do…

Dear Lord, thank You again for blessing our lives with Bonnie- one of Your earthly angels who has taught us so much about You and how to serve You.  Lord, help each us to be more like Bonnie so that we too can know and love you, discover our purpose in life and enter your Heavenly Kingdom.  Help us to count our blessings and rejoice, even during tough times. Guide us in living kinder, gentler lives.  Amen.

LEAP! with Jackie Bassett

leap collage 2

(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

Introduction to LEAP! 

I’ve always been a leaper-  no, not a leper…a LEAPER!  At a young age, I would leap onstage without hesitation and I’d sing, dance, and perform in front of hundreds of people.  No sweat!  I leapt early and often, which meant that I learned to LOVE leaping, how ALIVE I felt mid-leap, and where I landed.  Some of my greatest achievements happened because I leapt.  With a suitcase and a few boxes, I moved to D.C. to start my first job on the Hill after negotiating a way to complete my remaining grad school credits from our nation’s capital.  I quickly leapt from politics to management consulting, trading in my short walk to work for cross-country flights.  I said “hell yes!” to that last-minute overseas assignment in Amsterdam which was supposed to last 2-3 weeks (I stayed for nearly 9 years!). I offered my popcorn to the handsome Dutchie sitting next to me on an airplane.  I pushed to move my position to the Middle East and encouraged my Dutchie to do the same.  I founded and led a professional women’s network in a part of the world where women have been historically oppressed.  I left my corporate career to re-train as a professional coach and start she dreams big.  I jumped on a plane to visit a fertility clinic in Dubai when I ran out of options in Doha.  Despite my fears and many obstacles, I just kept leaping in the direction of my dreams: to develop and empower women, to start my own business, to become a mother.

I leap because I’m meant to leap, because I’m driven to leap, because I don’t want to live a leap-less life.

And I’m not alone.  I’m surrounded by inspiring women who take mini and massive LEAPS every single day.  With so many trail blazin’, risk-takin’, big-dreamin’ women in my network, I often reflect on how blessed I am to be surrounded by such talent and courage, and how I want to shout their amazing stories from rooftops around the globe.  I’ve been dreaming about this day for a few years now… dreaming about the day that I would launch an interview series featuring inspiring women who aren’t afraid to LEAP in the direction of their dreams.   So, I’m taking another LEAP as I launch the first interview in this exciting new series.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” encourages women to lean into their careers, and I want to encourage women to go beyond leaning… I want to encourage women to LEAP!  I hope these interviews will motivate you to LEAP in the direction of your own dreams and give you encouragement for your journey.  No more excuses, just do it… you were meant to FLY!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback, ideas, inspirations, passions, and dreams of leaping. Ready, Set, LEAP!

XOXO Christina


 

When you decide to leap, it has to be a decision of the heart.” –Jackie Bassett

Have you ever fantasized about quitting your job?  Just resigning and and then taking a looooong trip to Maui…. then coming home to start looking for a job that aligns with your values and passions, while giving yourself plenty of time and space for writing, meditation, exercise, connecting with your loved ones… just BEING present, reflecting on what you want most in life and how you want to leave your mark on the world.  Hmmm….sounds divine, doesn’t it??? Maybe even a little cray-cray? But oh how freeing, how FABULOUSLY FREEING!

Well, I’d like to introduce you to a woman who did more than fantasize about quitting her job, she did it.  Not just once, but TWICE. Yup, TWICE. Meet the courageous Jackie Bassett, a talent, strategy, and operations consultant who recently resigned from IBM to pursue her passion for putting people first.  Not only is Jackie a former colleague and dear friend, she is also one of my clients and a fantastic example of a woman who isn’t afraid to LEAP.  In our recent interview, Jackie shared her story, wise advice, and motivational quotes with me in hopes of inspiring other women who dream of pursuing their passions.

Jackie Bassett

Jackie Bassett

Below are the selected highlights from my recent interview with Jackie.  However, I highly encourage you to listen to Jackie’s inspiring interview (approx. 40 min).

On Learning to Leap

“Growing up in a small town in Illinois, my favorite pastimes as a kid involved reading home plan magazines and drawing sketches of my dream home.  At 8 years old, I ‘knew’ what I wanted to do with my life.  I started my career as an architectural engineer because I was good at math and science and I loved architecture.  About 7 years into my career as an engineer, I wasn’t feeling inspired by my job.  The engineering problems didn’t feel challenging enough– they felt like slightly different applications of the same formulas.  I found myself getting more interested in the business side of things, and I often went to my boss with ideas for how we could improve things.  He politely told me he really just needed me to be an engineer.  That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I chose to leave my job.  I took some time off to reflect and that’s when I decided to go to business school.”

On Leaping AGAIN

“After business school, I became an internal consultant at IBM.  I focused on strategy consulting, operations consulting, and, over time, talent consulting, which is what I found I loved the most.  Then a few months ago, after 8 ½ years with IBM, I decided to quit my job.  I still loved my job a lot – I had great clients, I worked on interesting projects, I had just been promoted to the senior leadership team, I was making good money, and I had the privilege of working with some really extraordinary people.  You might be asking, why on earth would I walk away from that?  Passion can really make you do crazy things!  It was becoming increasingly clear to me that my passion for people was so strong that I wanted a career that was more focused on solving people-related challenges.  So, I chose to leave my job to pursue my passion for the second time in my career.  This time, I’m pursuing my passion for people, specifically my desire to help companies thrive by putting people first.  My goal is to find a talent-related job with a company that has a people-first culture.”

On LEAP-spiration

 “Part of my inspiration came from my earlier life experience when I chose to leave engineering to pursue my passion for business.  It ended up being one of the best decisions of my life, and I can’t even imagine what would have happened to me if I had stayed in a job that didn’t inspire me.  So, I learned early on that taking the leap is a far better option than not taking it.  I’ve also found inspiration through the stories of other extraordinary people who took leaps and ended up the better for it.  One of those extraordinary people is my mom.  She is probably the most courageous person I know.  She has taken many leaps in her life, such as selling her home and business to travel around the country in a camper with her life partner.  After her life partner died unexpectedly, she decided to move to Hawaii, where my sister lives, and enroll in massage therapy school at the age of 60.  Today, she is one of the happiest people I know, living in Hawaii, practicing massage therapy and providing daycare for her granddaughter.  My own desire to lead an inspiring life is a big motivator for taking leaps.“

On Decisions of the Heart

“I couldn’t have made the leap if I didn’t feel strongly that it was the right decision.  When I tried to logically weigh the pros and cons, the cons outweighed the pros. So, I threw out my pros vs. cons list, because my gut told me it didn’t matter.  This was not a decision driven by logic–it was driven by my intuition.  When you decide to leap, it has to be a decision of the heart, not the head.  Your head will always try to convince you to play it safe.  I just know that, if I didn’t take this leap, I’d regret it.”

On Overcoming Fears

“My number one fear has probably been the fear of what people will say when I tell them I’m unemployed.  Unfortunately, we’re so often judged in life by our ‘professional label.’  When you meet people at parties, their first question is often, ‘What do you do?’  If I say ‘I’m an unemployed consultant,’ that’s probably not a great strategy for making good connections.  So, I’ve had to think carefully about how I answer questions like that, finding ways to tell my story in a way that communicates who I really am: someone who is driven by my passion, so much so that I’ve made major life decisions based on my passion.   I also constantly have to remind myself that what others think doesn’t matter, what’s important is how I feel about myself, and I made the decision that I know was right for me.

On Connecting with My Soul

“I’m not a religious person, but I’m a very spiritual person. Several years ago, I read a book by Neale Donald Walsh called ‘Conversations with God,’ which changed my life.  One of the main messages in the book is that we are creators of our own lives.  At some level, our soul chooses everything that happens to us.  I believe deeply that, by following my passion, envisioning the job I want, praying for it, and working diligently to make it happen, I will find the perfect job at the perfect time.  What helps me to connect to my soul is daily meditation- stepping out of my head, breathing deeply, and just being.  Daily reaffirmations that I’ve made the right choice and that I will find the right job at the right time are also helpful. Being able to exercise regularly makes me feel calmer, happier, and relieves the anxiety of not having a job.”

On My Support System

“I have an amazing family and such supportive friends!  I rely on my family and friends to support me through this big change.  My husband, Nigel, has been my champion.  He was incredibly supportive of my decision to leave my job, even though I think he thought it was a little crazy. He knew how important it was for me to make this leap. Every day, he helps me by giving me career advice, suggesting possible employers, and brainstorming blog topics with me.  In addition, my coaching with Christina has been such an amazing source of support.  I had reached a point in my career where I was just letting my career happen.  Our coaching sessions motivated me to be more deliberate about driving my career in the direction I wanted to go. I think everyone should have a coach, and I suspect we’d see a lot more people taking bold leaps if that were the case.”

On Looking Ahead

“In the short term, my plan is to focus on three things:

  1. Keep looking for that perfect job by networking- meeting interesting and inspiring people and having great conversations with them.
  2. Build my brand. I have a new website, peepsfirst.com, which is a blog about putting people first.  I’m focusing on creating interesting content, publishing it, and promoting it through social media.  Not only do I love writing, but I love that this will help me build my brand as someone who is passionate about putting people first.
  3. Keep enjoying this gift of time- time to write, time to read, time to exercise, time to reconnect with the people who are important to me, time to visit my family, and time to just be. Once I start working again, things will be extremely busy, I’m sure, so I’m appreciating the time I have at the moment.

In the longer term, I’m still figuring that out.  I will have a wonderful job where I can focus on my passion for people, but I don’t yet know exactly what that will look like.  Stay tuned!”

(UPDATE: Since the publishing of this post, Jackie accepted an offer to return to IBM in late June 2015 and is now working in an Organizational Development role within IBM Marketing.)

On Inspiring Others to LEAP!

“First and foremost, follow your passion.  I believe wholeheartedly that, if you use passion as your beacon to guide your decisions, you will live a life of joy and inspiration.  Believe in yourself.   In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.’  This quote ties to my belief about having the power to create anything we want in life.  If we don’t believe it, we can’t create it.  Don’t be afraid of taking a risk.  Even though making the leap might feel like a scary risk, ask yourself: might it not be an even scarier risk if you don’t leap?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”-Mark Twain

Want to connect with Jackie? 

jackie.bassett@verizon.net

Twitter: twitter.com/peeps_first

Facebook: facebook.com/peepsfirst

www.peepsfirst.com

bodyshame part II: shame vs. love

This month, I’m blogging about body shame, which is the #1 source of shame for women.  At the end of body shame part I, I shared how I was able to leave behind destructive eating habits, but I still needed to change my mindset and develop a healthy relationship with food.  In this follow-up piece, I share how my mindset has evolved over many years as I practice self-love and focus on wellness.  If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please take a few minutes to read my personal story before reading this post.  Thanks!

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1) and FB throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

XOXO Christina


IMG_5026

Source: prettypearbride.com

I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer experience body shame.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about my weight and that I’m not actively trying to lose the “extra insulation” I gained after moving to Alaska.  I’d be lying if I told you that I’m completely content with being a comfy size 8, that I’m not hanging onto a few of my svelte size 6 clothes in hopes that SOMEDAY I’ll squeeze my post-partum hips back into them.  I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer use food to comfort me when I’m feeling anxious or blue (nope, never- now where did I hide the chocolate???).

The truth is…

In my adult years, I have worn size 4’s to size 14’s, and I perceived myself in the same way regardless of my dress size.  The number on the scale or size on a label didn’t make a difference in changing how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t any happier being a size 4 than I was when I was a size 14, and I certainly wasn’t freed of body shame.  The same shame demons still haunted me, convincing me that, without them around to “keep me in check,” I was one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (my drug of choice) away from needing a forklift to leave the house.  Sometimes, I’d feel a little high when I dropped a few pounds or I fit into a smaller size, but it always was a fleeting surge of egotistic pride followed by a sharp slap of shame.   Whether I gained or lost, the demons found a way to shower me with a shame storm.  I eventually recognized that what I needed to lose was the shame, not the weight… or at least I needed to find a sturdy umbrella to protect myself from the storms!

So, while the shame storms continued to rage over the years, I carefully constructed my umbrella from the finest sources.  Wanna know what holds my umbrella high?  I thought so.  Now keep in mind that what works for me might not work for you, but I think these three elements are pretty critical if you want your umbrella to stand a chance against shame.

  • TRIBE:  I choose to surround myself with women who care more about making a difference in this world than the size of their thighs. I choose to socialize with women who embrace healthy, balanced living like I do.  They fill their bodies with wholesome, healthy foods yet they aren’t ashamed to order dessert and finish the entire slice of decadent goodness on their plate.  Because they are busy changing the world, raising babies, and generally kicking-butt, they don’t spend HOURS at the gym trying to whittle themselves down to a size 0. They choose activities which makes them feel empowered and ahhhhmaazing.   They are the kind of women who will stay up late drinking wine and inhaling copious amounts of cheese and chocolate with me.  They are women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures whom I admire and adore, not because of how they look but because of WHO they are.  You are my TRIBE, and you form the base of my umbrella.  A shout-out to my husband, Mr T, because he’s also a big part of my anti-shame tribe.
  • WELLNESS: I choose to focus on wellness, instead of weight. I choose to define myself by WHO I am, not by a number on the scale or a dress size.  I acknowledge that weight is important to wellness, and I choose to strive for what feels healthy and realistic for my height and build. I choose to appreciate each part of my body for how it has served me and honor how it looks and feels today.  I choose to nourish myself with delicious, wholesome foods every day.  I choose to eat a healthy diet which allows for indulgences (why hello there, Reese’s!).  No food is off- limits, no food is “good” or “bad,” but I choose to minimize or eliminate foods which are allergens or toxins.   I choose activities which I enjoy and contribute to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  I honor my body when I am tired, hungry, injured, or need of extra TLC.  I deliberately choose to read, watch, or listen to media which reinforces body-positive messages (e.g., Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”).  I choose to define what wellness means for me and live accordingly. I’m a positive—not perfect– role model to my family and friends. Wellness forms the ribbing, or spindles, of my umbrella.
  • SELF-LOVE: I choose to love my body as it is today.  I am deeply grateful for my body and its unique design.  I choose to speak lovingly of my body and treat it with respect, especially in front of my children.  I nourish my body because I love my body, and I exercise because I love my body.   I choose love instead of shame to “keep myself in check.”  I let self-love guide me in making healthy food and exercise choices.  When I make mistakes, I learn from them, forgive myself, and move on.  Self-love, not shame, is what motivates me in reaching my wellness goals.  I rely on my inner wisdom to indicate when I need to adjust my choices: when it’s time to cut back on snacks and sweets, when it’s time for extra sleep, when it’s time to switch from high-impact to low-impact, etc.  Self-love determines how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time.  I choose activities which I love, and I surround myself with people who love themselves and encourage me to do the same.  Self-love forms the rainbow-colored, super- shame-fightin’ canopy of my umbrella.

How’s that for an anti-body shame manifesto????

So, the TRUTH is that I have come a looooong way in learning to accept and love my body.  The TRUTH is I’m not perfect in practicing self-love (and it IS a practice!).  But I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to keep practicing.  Body shame took root so early in my life and became deeply ingrained in my psyche, so naturally the shame demons make a cameo appearance from time to time.  The DIFFERENCE is that I’m now uber-conscious when shame starts to creep into my mental chatter and sprinkle on my parade, and then-  snaaaaap-  UP goes my umbrella of self-love.  Through continuous practice, I’m much faster on the draw to combat these occasional, passing showers and no longer let a little rain ruin my beach plans.  The darkness of shame doesn’t stand much of a chance when met with the lightness of love.   The more I practice accepting and loving my body as it is TODAY, the freer I am to dance in the rain.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain by Heather Norton-Ruston


Questions & Resources:

Brene Brown writes about shame and developing shame resilience in her three books. Her theory is that shame is an everyday human emotion and, rather expecting ourselves to never experience this emotion, she believes in the importance of developing shame resilience.  In this piece, I use the metaphor of a shame-resilient umbrella to combat my body shame storms. At the end, I acknowledge my storms, albeit less frequent, are still part of life, so I’ve learned to use my umbrella to “dance in the rain.”  Do you agree or disagree with Brene’s theory on shame and shame resilience? What rings true from your own experience?

If you designed your own “umbrella” to combat body shame, what would your umbrella look like? How would you know when it’s time to take cover? How would you continuously bolster your umbrella?

Which parts of your body and appearance crave your love and acceptance?  Connect with each part and lovingly ask them what they need from you.  Thank them for showing up and serving you every single second of the day. If you are looking to read inspiring, body-positive messages which do NOT emphasize dieting or weight loss gimmicks, then I highly recommend you check out Geneen Roth’s works:  http://geneenroth.com/

As parents, one of the ways we teach our children about their bodies is by role-modelling. What would you like to teach your children about their bodies? How can you show them what it means to love and respect their bodies? What behaviors do you want to start/stop/continue as a role model?  How can you promote wellness, not body shame, in your family?

bodyshame part I: “Big=Bad”

For the past two months, I’ve been blogging about topic which makes people cringe: shame.  In my first post, “A Year without Shame,” I shared my intention to experience a deeper, more spiritual level of joy in 2015, which meant continuing to let go of the shame, grief, and pain which blocks me from experiencing supernatural joy.  In my second post, “The Joy Robber,” I tackled a recent experience which triggered shame, and how I was able to confront how I was feeling and release myself from shame’s grip by speaking my truth.

Since I’m finding freedom in writing about shame and inspiring so many other women to do the same, I decided to write this month’s post about a deeply rooted issue for many of us: BODY SHAME.   As I started to write, a waterfall of memories, emotions, and insights flowed from my heart to the page, and I quickly realized that this topic deserves more than just one post.  This month, I’ll be publishing two posts:  the first to share my “shame story” of how body shame wormed its way into my psyche, and the second to explore how I feel about my body today and how I continuously work on surrendering my body shame.

This post differs from my previous posts because I’m writing about my formative memories and pinpointing when…

body awareness: “I’m aware that I am different”

transitioned into

body consciousness: “I feel self-conscious about being different”

and eventually into

body shame: “I feel ashamed that I am different.”

I’m not writing this to blame anyone for my shame– I’m simply sharing how a young girl (me) interpreted the messages she received from her parents, teachers, classmates, and the media about her body and how her feelings evolved over time.  Some of you reading this post will remember me as a bright, talented, independent, creative young girl who danced to the beat of a different drummer and wasn’t afraid to take the stage.  You may be surprised to read about my hidden body shame, but I believe my story will resonate with many of you who also excelled in school and extracurricular activities, while hiding painful insecurities and shame about your appearance.

I hope you’ll read Part I with an open and compassionate heart, and that you’ll reflect on the messages you received about your body as you were growing up and how they continue to influence you as an adult. If you are a parent, I hope you will think about the messages you are sending your children about their bodies and what you can say and do to be a positive role model.   Most importantly, I hope you will do what I did as I wrote this piece:  Hug the little girl inside of you as you wipe away her tears.  Forgive her for what she didn’t know and release her from the mistakes she made.  Let her know how proud you are of her.  Let her know that you love her just the way she was and is today.  Set her free to be who she was intended to be.

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1), Twitter (she_dreams_big), and Facebook throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

XOXO

Christina

PS:  Spoiler alert: it’s a LONG one… get comfy and grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, maybe some Kleenex nearby if this is a sensitive subject for you too.


I remember when I first became aware of my size….

In 2nd grade, I was the first kid in my class to own a ten-speed bike.  Unlike my schoolmates, my 7 year old legs had outgrown the kiddie bikes, so my parents gave me a shiny blue ten-speed for my birthday. I was pretty proud of myself– I knew that being tall made me unique and eligible for special perks like ten-speed bicycles.  YEEEEEEEHAAW!!!!

Dancing Queen- age 7

Dancing Queen- age 7

In 3rd grade, my teacher (Miss Johnson- still my fav!) asked for volunteers to perform the Mexican Hat Dance for an upcoming celebration and my hand immediately shot up.  “YEEESSS, PICK ME!,” my heart screamed.  I never turned down an opportunity to dance!  Miss Johnson then faced the challenge of finding a suitable male dance partner as no one had volunteered to dance with me.  I vividly recall that height was the selection criteria as I towered over most of the boys in my class.  She settled on the tallest boy in the class, Peter, as my dance partner.  I don’t think he had a choice in the matter.  The take-away for 8 year old Chrissy was that boys should be taller than girls, and boys don’t want to dance with girls who are towering over them.  (In retrospect, 8 year old boys probably don’t want to dance with ANY girl, but this wasn’t how I saw the situation at the time.)

Then, in 5th grade, I remember riding on the bus next to a classmate who called me a “she-man” referring to both my height and sturdy build. I was 10 years old, and my shoe size was the same as my age.  I certainly wasn’t an overweight child, but I wasn’t built like my petite girlfriends.  I left elementary school with an acute awareness of being taller and bigger than my peers, including the boys.  My mom always reminded me of the “perks” of being tall, but I really just wanted to look my pixy-n-pretty friends… you know, the popular girls who the boys thought were cute.  From my childish standpoint, BIG=BAD.  I couldn’t really see any perks in that equation.

At home, I only found evidence that supported my BIG=BAD theory.  My tall, Scandinavian mother was constantly dieting and talking about losing weight with my dad and her friends.   To this day, I DESPISE Wasa Crisp bread because I associate it with my mom being a diet and replacing our sandwich bread with this tasteless, cardboard substitute.  While I never remember her as overweight, I know my mom felt ashamed of her size and worked very hard to maintain a certain size.  I remember digging through her closet and finding a love letter that my dad had written to my mom shortly after they married. In the letter, my dad wrote that he would love her “even if she weighed 150 pounds.”   My dad, having grown up with an overweight and domineering mother, liked his women skinny and subservient.  He also dieted, and boasted about his quick weight losses.  In my childish mind, I determined that love must be conditional, linked to one’s weight.  To be loved, you must stay thin.  THIN=LOVABLE.

Middle school was a self-esteem minefield, as it is for so many kids. Even though my peers were catching up thanks to growth spurts, I was still tall, still sturdy, and STILL growing.  Us girls were starting our periods, developing breasts, and growing hair in unexpected places.  I started to wear baggier clothing to hide my changing figure.  When it was my “time of the month,” I tied a sweatshirt around my waist to hide any potential leakage (golden rule: never, ever wear white pants) and safety-pinned my pads to the inside of my waistband.  Girls who carried purses were targets for teasing because everyone knew that they were having their periods and needed to carry a purse full of pads.  Body shame was rampant as we couldn’t control or hide these bodily changes, and the school bullies preyed on our vulnerability and awkwardness.

One of the most humiliating and shaming experiences happened in my home economics class when I was in 8th grade (13 years old). The teacher set up a scale in the front of the classroom where she weighed every single student in her classes.  She then recorded our weights on index cards and kept them in a box on her desk.  As if the public weigh-in wasn’t embarrassing enough, the boys in the class would regularly open the box and shout out other kids’ weights.  They liked to pick on the girls in the class, typically those who were on the “bigger” side.  I remember a classmate sitting at the desk with the index box in his hand, yelling across the room, “Hey Chris, do you weigh 140 pounds?”  I turned all shades of crimson, lowered my head, and mumbled, “No, I don’t.”  Deny, deny, deny.  I wanted to crawl under the table, leave the room, jump out of the second floor window…anything to escape being shamed in front of the class. I still remember how physically sick I felt in that moment, and how badly I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.  The boys continued on, doing the same to the other girls in the class, humiliating every single one of us.[1]

8th grade

Dressed like an Amish girl to hide my figure- age 13 (approx 5’8,” 140 lbs)

So, in 8th grade, I went on my first crash diet. I remember feeling proud of myself for losing 10 pounds in a week right before my mom took my sister and me on a shopping trip. Never mind that I gained the weight back within a few days of resuming my usual habits. That summer, with my parents’ support as avid dieters themselves, I joined The Diet Center, which included a zillion mystery pills, a restrictive diet, and weekly weigh-ins.  While my skinny girlfriends were munching on Fun Yums and Skittles, I was concocting strawberry-tofu smoothies and eating eggs with wilted spinach on diet toast.  Every week, I biked to my weigh-in to log my progress and replenish my supply of mystery pills.  It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I already felt deeply-rooted shame over my body and its inability to conform to a smaller size.

If middle school was bad, then high school was waaaaaay worse.  In high school, I hung out with a group of girls who didn’t want their thighs to touch.  We were all “good” girls who excelled in school and our extracurricular activities, but we would have preferred being called “dumb” over being called “fat.”  We all struggled with the same desire to be perfect.  We spent our evenings doing Jane Fonda exercises in our bedrooms while on the phone with each other comparing diet and exercise notes.  By this point, I had developed a full blown eating disorder:  I binged and purged, I compulsively overate, and I went on 800 calorie a day diets.  Breakfast was often a cup of yogurt, lunch was usually a granola bar washed down with a Diet Coke, and dinner was a miniscule portion of whatever my parents were serving up that night.  I would lie in bed at night, hungry and admiring how my hips jutted out.  As a slave to the scale, I didn’t want to eat in the middle of the night because it would mess up my morning weigh-in and ruin my mood for the day.  Everyone, including my parents, complimented my slimmer figure, which further reinforced my desire to be thin at all costs.  THIN=LOVABLE.  Whenever I would feel upset about my dad’s drinking and verbal abuse, agitated by my parents’ fighting, or stressed by school pressures, I would binge on comfort foods, purge out of guilt for overeating, and then hate myself for being so weak and out of control.  Sure, I lost weight, but at a significant price to my health and happiness.

After a falling out with my group of girlfriends, I gained 20 pounds between my junior and senior year of high school thanks to a summer of compulsive overeating.  That August, I remember baking myself a pink confetti 17th birthday cake, which I promptly frosted and ate as soon as it cooled. I sat on the kitchen floor, sobbing and stuffing myself with globs of pastel cake to numb my pain and self-hatred.  I was embarrassed to tell my mom the truth about the cake, so I told her that it hadn’t turned out.  A month later, I returned to school feeling horribly ashamed of myself for putting on so much weight.  Again, I just wanted to disappear, to hide, to fall off the face of the earth… I spent most of my senior year in a depression, only attending the classes required to graduate, and taking a class at the local university where I felt anonymous.

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Despite feeling trapped in a vicious circle of restricting and overeating, my blossoming inner voice told me that I could find a way out of this hell hole by developing a different relationship with food and my body.  I took the first step by joining a support group, unbeknownst to my parents who had regularly encouraged me to diet and were oblivious to my eating disorder.  I discovered Geneen Roth’s books on breaking free from compulsive eating and I devoured them just as frantically as I had devoured my birthday cake.  I journaled and wrote poetry about my misery and self-hatred, opened up to a few close friends, and asked my parents to help me find a therapist (which they did).  Over the course of my senior year, I was able to stop the extreme dieting, binge-purge cycles, and compulsive overeating, but I hadn’t stopped believing in the BIG=BAD body shame equation.  Even though I was never overweight, I had a horribly distorted body image and poor self-esteem.  Changing my mindset and developing a healthy relationship with food took time….a long time and a LOT of self-love.

Part II coming in mid-March

[1] To this day, I don’t understand why this teacher weighed us—it certainly wasn’t part of her duties as a home economics teacher- and I don’t understand why she allowed the boys to further shame us.


Untitled

Poem written May 30, 1990, when I was 16 years old at the end of my junior year of high school

I shut the window, sealing myself into my virginal, sacred room

From my view, I watch, gaze, wonder, judge

Raindrops flattening themselves

Clouds overlapping the sun like men denied water

I feel the layers of fat building upon myself

Muddling my brain

Crushing every sane thought

I grow larger, more obscure in hopes of becoming obsolete

The drops smatter against my looking glass

A punishment in each tiny capsule

The window remains sealed, only to leak in the spring.

The Joy Robber

Mama & Toots just after delivery

A few weeks before Christmas, I made a rare solo trip to the local mall to finish my holiday shopping before we jetted off to sunny California.  Filled with festive cheer, I chatted with the woman standing next to me in line as we waited to pay for our gifts.  I first complimented her on her stylish attire: she was dressed from head-to-toe in Michael Kors and looked much more fashionable than the average Alaskan woman.  In turn, she complimented me on my black Coach messenger-style handbag.  I thanked her and explained that I really liked the cross-body strap as it kept my hands free when chasing after my 2 year old son.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, and asked, “Is he yours?”  (awkward pause)  “I mean, did you give birth to him?” Now the puzzled expression was on my face… of course he is MINE!!!  I felt a tightening in my chest as I replied, “Yes, I gave birth to him.”  Then she proceeded to ask me if he was my first, how old I was when I gave birth to him, and if I wanted to have any more children.  I felt a sudden downpour of shame from this series of rapidly-fired, judgmental questions, instantly drowning my holiday cheer and confidence.  In shock, I froze and mumbled a brief yet truthful reply, leaving our future “in God’s Hands.”  I figured this would end our discussion, but alas she left me with these parting words:  “Well, I’m 47, and I already have grandchildren. My doctor put me on birth control pill because he says I’m too old to have anymore.”   (Apparently she hasn’t heard of TMI…)

As I paid for my gift and headed towards the parking garage, I found myself in an all-too-familiar state of numbness: the feeling of swallowing an ice cube, which then lodges itself at the back of my throat and numbs my brain as it slowly melts.  The brain-freeze sensation allows me to temporarily escape from the shame I feel when asked such probing questions about my age, fertility, and shortcomings as a mother.   I wish I could chalk this incidence up to a “one-off” and let it go along with all of the other junk I’ve recently burned, flushed, or otherwise released.  However, since moving to Alaska in early 2014, I’m asked almost daily why I have “just one” and if I want to have more children.  I’ve become so adept at numbing myself when I reply to these questions that I no longer notice the ice cube permanently lodged at the back of my throat.  In zombie-mode, I politely reply, divert the conversation, and then I stoically shuffle away…. Only to cry in the bathroom, in my car, or into my pillow at night from overwhelming, heart-wrenching shame.

Ohhhhhhh Shame…. that cunning thief, sucking every ounce of joy juice from my soul and leaving me dehydrated and deflated in a ditch.  Shame is quite a smooth operator: an abuser who injures me with his razor-sharp words, punctures my joyful spirit and tender heart, and then professes his “love” for me.  Shame claims he needs me, can’t live without me… apologizes and promises it won’t happen again. He wants to lurk in the dark corners of my mind and thrive on secrecy, silence, and smallness. Shame hates being labeled, being identified, or being seen for what he is.  Shame is my Voldemort, and the only way to release myself from his grip is to shine light and love on the parts of me which feel so shameful.

I spent most of my life in repetitive shame cycles: experiencing moments of sheer joy followed by a shame beating and then numbness. This pattern felt strangely comfortable—after all, I had yet to experience a life without shame and felt that I deserved such scathing words to keep me “in check.”  Yet a little voice inside me told me that I deserved better and I could live differently.  As I committed to living joyfully in 2015, I realized that shame was such a JOY-robber… the ultimate buzz-kill, a real Debbie-Downer.  If I truly want to experience “joie de vivre,” then I need to be aware of what triggers my shame, counter every cruel word with love, and then let it go…. get back down on my knees and surrender my shame to God.  I need to regularly talk and write about my shame so that it doesn’t fester in the recesses of mind. I need to connect with other women who share the same shame associated with their bodies and want to free themselves from it.

And I need to respond courageously when I encounter people like Ms. Michael Kors…

“Yes, I gave birth to my son.  He is my child, just as he would be if I had adopted him or used a donor or a surrogate to bring him into this world.  Yes, he’s my first, but he’s not my only.  He’s our miracle baby after a long wait, much heartache, and ceaseless prayers.  He chose to arrive a week after my 39th birthday and he thinks I’m the perfect age to be his mother.  We are always open for more miracles regardless of age… our lives are in God’s Hands.”

There’s no shame or sadness in my statement… just honesty, gratitude, and whole lotta love.  Another step towards living joyfully and authentically in 2015, the year without shame!

………………………………………………………….

We all have shame. No need to deny it or be embarrassed about it. I’ve been inspired by Brene Brown’s Ted Talks, books, and column in O Magazine where she speaks and writes about shame resiliency, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. Check out her website:  http://brenebrown.com/

For connecting with your fertile heart and losing the shame associated with infertility, I highly recommend Julia Indichova’s books, resources, and classes: http://www.fertileheart.com/

Lastly, I’m also very grateful and inspired by my friends, Ali K and Jen B, who share their journeys to motherhood so courageously.  Their honesty and openness has encouraged me to do the same.

A year without shame

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of ‘what we’re supposed to be’ is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
Brené Brown

Happy New Year! How did you ring in the new year? Did you spend some time reflecting on 2014 and dreaming about 2015? Or did you let 2014 slllliiiiide right into 2015? Totally ok if you did! I decided it was time for some soul-searchin’, so I signed up for Stratejoy’s Holiday Council in December and went deep into reflection mode with a couple hundred big-dreamin’ gals around the globe.  Led by super-coach Molly Mahar, we reviewed, released, dreamed, schemed, plotted, and planned as we closed 2014 and began 2015.  I absolutely loved this conscious way of reflecting on the past year and then planning for the new year, so I thought I’d share my new year-changing rituals and what surfaced during this journey.

Flame o' Shame

Flame o’ Shame

On New Year’s Eve, I locked myself in our bathroom to perform a year-end releasing ceremony.  Noooooo, not that sort of release, but an emotional release of what I want to leave behind in 2014.  As part of my Holiday Council reflections, I made a list of what I want to keep versus what I want to release from 2014.  The keepers—like intuition, God, writing, and vision–are colorfully captured on little strips of paper and tucked away in a decorative chest of drawers as positive reinforcement for years to come, whereas the emotional “poo” was ceremoniously burned and flushed away.  Shame, guilt, fear, anger, regret, grief, negative self-talk, limiting beliefs, the past, and a few other doozies… I burned every single one of those mo-fo’s and then flushed the whole pile of emotional crap down the toilet.  As skeptical as I was about this year-end releasing ritual, I actually felt freer after the flame-n-flush, like a minuscule mental shit—I mean SHIFT—took place.  Did I expect to wake up on January 1 feeling like a whole new person? Not really, but I felt good about taking a symbolic step towards the joyful and carefree life I so desire.

Emotional Poo

Emotional Poo

With 2014’s negativity behind me, I then spent a few hours on New Year’s Day finalizing my 2015 vision board, with the theme of “Joie de Vivre.”  I came upon this lovely French expression when I was searching for a word which embodies feeling joyful, carefree, and creative.  I love how it is defined on Wikipedia as “cheerful enjoyment of life,” and, even more fitting, “an exultation of spirit.”  Yep, that’s what I want— an exultation of spirit! C’est bon, non? I’ll take THAT with a glass of champagne please!  The end result was a beautiful, inspiring board full of images and quotes which reflect joy, authenticity, creativity, freedom, and God-consciousness.   I went to bed feeling optimistic and accomplished– maybe, just maybe, 2015 would be the year of free-flowing joy. YEEEEESSSS!!!!!!!

Joie de Vivre

The inspiration behind my vision board

Fast forward several days, and I am here to tell you that absolutely NOTHING has changed.  The same ol’ pesky demons– the ones I flamed-n-flushed–still haunt me throughout the day, leaving little room for the unbridled joy depicted on my vision board.  Hmm…what to do?  Now, I know JOY- we go waaaaay back.  I can relive many joyful memories and tap into that emotion easily.  I just think about my little Toots and the joy juice starts a-flowin’.  So, this isn’t about my ability to experience joy, or that I need to give myself permission to live joyfully.

As I thought about what was getting in the way of my “joie de vivre,” I realized that SHAME was the culprit, hogging the biggest slice of emotional cake.  As far back as I can remember, I have never experienced a day without shame.   Shame is so deeply ingrained in my psyche (thanks Mom & Dad!) that it will take a lot more than a flame-n-flush to release its iron grip.  And oh man do I want to get rid of shame…  I want to stop feeling ashamed of my body. I want to stop feeling ashamed of my imperfect figure and aging skin. I want to stop feeling ashamed of being an older mom to a toddler.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of my longing for another baby.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of infertility, of the repeated failures and losses on my very bumpy road to motherhood. I want to stop feeling ashamed of my choices, including those which were uninformed or made to please others.  I want to stop feeling ashamed of shame.  I want to stop feeling ashamed… period.

I want a year without shame.

…because a little voice tells me that, without shame, I will have a LOT more room for JOY.  She’ll be able to show up freely and abundantly…. joy at a cellular level, joy flowing through my veins, joy flowing into the world around me.  Picture me as a platinum member of the Joie de Vivre Club, shakin’ my bootie, tossing my long hair around like a boss, laughing uncontrollably, and bear-hugging everyone in my path.  A conduit of joy! A true “exultation of spirit!”  YEEEHAAAW!!!!!

So, as I’ve stumbled through the first days of 2015, attempting this joyful dance with my feet still shackled by shame, I only found my footing when I stopped to pray. Down on the floor, hands and knees, sobbing, waving my white flag of surrender… asking God to release me from this shame which consumes me, open my heart to His Grace,  fill me with His Joy, and make me an instrument of His Peace (yep, just like the Prayer of St Francis!).  Adding to my anti-shame arsenal of releasing rituals, zany visualizations, and affirmations, I now have my daily prayer for 2015…a year without shame, a year of drawing closer to God, a year with plenty of space for joy, authenticity, freedom and creativity.

shame_grace

From “Saved by Mercy and Grace” on Tumblr

The final step in releasing my shame is writing and talking about it. No more secrets, no more hiding.  What about you?  What are you ashamed of and what steps would you like to take to release yourself from shame?  Let me know… I’m curious. I’m here. Open arms, bear-hug, no judgment.

“Shame loses power when it is spoken. In this way, we need to cultivate our story to let go of shame, and we need to develop shame resilience in order to cultivate our story.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Tis the season of grief?

I’m sitting down to write on this snowy evening while Toots is asleep in hopes that I can finish what I have drafted over the past few weeks.  I rarely find time to write, and, when I do, I tend to write in short, sprinter-like bursts.  Tonight I want to write like a runner on a meandering trail through the forest, with no one to impress and no “personal best” to beat.  I just want to speak my truth and let it echo through the trees.

………

mommy and me

My mama and me

 

This time of the year reminds me so much of my mom:

the start of a new school year followed by her birthday in late September,

crafts made from autumn leaves and pine cones and desserts filled with pumpkin and cream,

the silliness and make-believe of Halloween,

her childlike excitement over the first snow fall,

her way of bringing families together at Thanksgiving and how she would lead us in giving thanks,

and the way she celebrated the birth of her King at Christmas.

Whereas spring reminds me of my mother’s death, autumn and early winter remind me of her life, specifically HOW she chose to live her life.  As a teacher, an artist, a mother, a homemaker and a Christian, her spirit shined brightest during this season.   A glowing yet humble star adored by many, and especially by me.

Unsurprisingly, at this time of the year, I am just as aware of her absence as I am of her presence: that motherly love which transcends all boundaries.  Although we can no longer engage in an earthly mother-daughter relationship, I sense my mom’s spirit surrounding me, influencing my environment and my way of showing up in this world.  I hear her voice as I speak to Toots, using the same expressions she used when raising my sister and me.  I re-create my mom’s dishes using the recipe book she made for me before she died, one of the many gifts she made in anticipation of “that day.”   I buy the same household cleaners so my house will smell the same as hers did.  I bundle myself up in her bulky sweaters to feel her embrace, to fall back in time.   Every night, as I put on my frumpy yet oh-so-comfy pajamas, I catch glimpses of my mother’s body in the mirror: we share the same broad hips and fleshy thighs, passed down by our Scandinavian ancestors who farmed and birthed lots of babies with ease.  It’s impossible to despise your hips and thighs when they belonged to a woman you loved so very much.  As I pull on my pajamas- the same style she loved to wear- a fleeting, unanswerable question scampers through my mind:  will I also meet her same demise?

Despite feeling her love surrounding around me, I still long for my beloved mama’s earthly presence—to hear her voice, stroke her silky cheeks, feel the weight of her arms wrapped around me, rest my head on her shoulder, lay next to her in bed for a chat, brush past her in the kitchen as we make dinner, hold her hand in church, and so much, much more.   My heart aches that I cannot call her and have a two-way conversation, that I cannot ask her the millions of questions that I wished I would have asked her when she was still alive.  My heart aches that Toots will never know what it feels like to be held by her, to be loved by her as he grows up.  Although I take great comfort in knowing she lives eternally, the little orphaned girl inside of me finds her absence completely grievous.   This little girl is still sad–and frankly, pissed off– that her mama’s gone.  Like Toots when he throws a massive fit because I won’t buy him another Matchbox car at the checkout, my inner orphan SCREAMS for her mama and won’t settle for anyone else.  She wants the physical, tangible, earthly version of her mama, not a spiritual stand-in.

Why now, I ask? Why this tsunami of grief which has flooded my world over the past month? Just when I thought I was in a good place, finally feeling at peace after years of loss after loss.  Just when I was starting to get my professional groove back… Is my grief simply prompted by “the time of the year” with its traditions and holidays?  Or was I unexpectedly triggered as I read Cheryl Strayed’s account of losing her mother in “Wild” and found myself bombarded with memories of my own mother’s battle with the big C?  Or is this just part of the grieving process: a tidal wave, followed by still waters, followed by a tsunami, followed by still waters, repeat cycle until heart no longer aches? As much as I want to stop myself from this downward spiral, as much as I want to scream “I’m DONE,” as much as I want to silence my inner orphan, my heart says otherwise.  My heart tells me to let this wounded part of me throw a tantrum and grieve whatever it is she needs to grieve.   Give her time, space and an abundance of maternal love. Then let her go, just like everything else I’ve learned to let go.  INNNNHALE, EXXXXHALE.   Let GOOOOOOOOOOOO….

(Total side note: Is it just me or do you also hear that bloody “Frozen” song every time I write about letting go? Embarrassing and distracting. Blech!)

When I lie very still and quiet the constant mental chatter to deeply connect with Spirit,  I can hear my mom’s voice whispering that it’s okay to let my grief go, that it doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten her or don’t love her anymore.  I know my mother’s right (of course she is!), but I also know that my inner orphan isn’t quite ready to move on.  For the moment, this little orphan girl needs my love and acceptance.  She needs to know that I’m not going to shut her out or abandon her.  She needs me to honor her feelings, to hold her when she cries.  She needs me to trust the process.  With this simple acknowledgment of her needs, she rests her head on my shoulder in peace to soak up the maternal love she misses so much.

XOXO

Me

I’m BAAAACK!!!

I’m BAAAACK!!  Do I need to point out the obvious? Ok, I will… my first (and last) post was over 2 years ago when I softly launched she dreams big and shared the news of my pregnancy.  I wrote my launch post a few weeks before my due date and committed to returning to my work after six months of maternity leave.    Weeeeelllllll, that never happened, but the most extraordinary thing DID happen: I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, whom I affectionately call Toots (not his real name, duh).  Suddenly, my coaching biz and anything pertaining to the professional world faded to beige, and all I wanted to experience was the Technicolor world of my lil Toots.  Just him, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He rocked my world, to say the least.

After more than 2 years of complete Toots immersion, I am still on “maternity leave.”   Actually, I no longer call it that- I have accepted the title of “mostly full time mommy to a very active toddler.”  The mostly part refers to the fact that I coach a few clients on the side (read: when Toots is sleeping), and recently resumed my coaching education to maintain my hard-earned credentials.  As I updated my website, my outstanding to-do was to write a new blog post, but I really struggled with what to say. Should I keep it uber-professional or make it deeply personal?  Either way, I wanted to prove to the world that my brain had not turned into mushy peas over the last few years.  My head kept telling myself to write a profound post about how women leaders can take the world by storm, but my heart nagged at me to pick up where I left off with my unique story of following my dreams.  Guess which part of me won?

To reach the point of writing this post, I first had to let go of the mental gunk which muddled my ability to share my heart.  I let go of the expectations I have about writing and the silly notions that I will only be taken seriously as a women’s leadership coach if I write about business-y topics. I let go my desire to prove the sanity of my post-partum brain to the world and appease anyone who stumbles across my blog.  I let go of worrying about those of who will critique my grammar, how often I use commas (old school style!), and my vocabulary.  I let go of my fear of being vulnerable, and of being seen for the sensitive, tender-hearted soul that I am.   I even let go of the “write a new blog post” action of my list of to-do’s. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Oh no, my work was hardly complete… I finally had to let go of whatever was stopping me from seeing myself as a leader in the here and now.

Good Lord what it took just to write this post!!  But the journey of letting go was MUCH greater than the simple act of writing, and this experience led me to where I am today as I let my heart do the typing.

So, here’s what I discovered as I let go, my lovelies…  When we let go of our perceptions of what a leader is, and how she is supposed to behave, talk, act, look, etc., we give way for our own style of leadership to emerge.  We no longer need a title, a salary, an org chart, or a snazzy suit to affirm our status as a leader.  We see opportunities to lead regardless of our profession, education, social status, or history.  (Do I hear a hallelujah??? Sure do!)

Stripping away all of this baggage, we LEAD when follow our heart’s desire, dreams, visions, and goals.  Yep, that’s right– we LEAD when we FOLLOW, letting the unseen, and sometimes unexplainable, serve as our compass.  We LEAD when we live our truth.  We’re at our best as leaders when the whispers of our soul guide our thoughts and actions.  Whether we succeed or fail isn’t the point, the point is that we lead by listening, following, and living our truth.

When I walked away from corporate life, I raised my leadership game up a few notches.  Perhaps others wouldn’t see my decision this way— I went from earning a six figure salary to ZERO-ZIP-ZILCH!!!  But, I was finally listening to that inner voice which urged me to follow my dreams of empowering women and becoming a mother.  When I made my initial leap of faith, that voice grew a bit louder, a bit more directive—she knew the way, I just needed to trust her and stay patient.  So, I did, and what unfolded, both personally and professionally, was transformational.  This being said, I couldn’t acknowledge myself as a leader until I recently let go of my limiting beliefs and realized I’m more of a leader now than I ever was.

And then I was FINALLY able to write this bloody post!!!!  (Let’s hope future posts come with greater ease or you won’t hear from me often.)

You, me, the gal on the commuter train, the mom driving the hybrid, the school girls in Pakistan, the farmer’s wife in Tanzania… we all have dreams, and we all hear the whispers of our soul urging us to follow those dreams.   We all have the ability to lead in this very moment by honoring those whispers.  Start simple, make it easy- choose whatever feels closest to your truth.  Keep listening, keep letting go of whatever limits you.  Keep practicing and celebrate the leader you are right here, right now.  Keep expecting miracles.  Above all, keep dreaming, my beloved soul sisters!!

Damn it feels good to be back….

Love and blessings,

Christina

 

Dreams Do Come True!

For many years, I dreamed of leaving corporate life behind to become an entrepreneur. I longed for more meaningful work that aligned with my passions and satisfied my soul. I imagined what life would be like outside of the corporate walls—how I’d define not only the “basics,” like work location and hours of operation, but, more significantly, how I’d choose the people with whom I collaborate and the way in which we work together.  I spent nearly 14 years dreaming about the future and wondering if I’d ever find the courage to walk away from my steady paycheck.. and then one day, I did it.  And I’ve never looked back…

Since leaving behind corporate life in early 2011, I’ve been on a path of self-discovery and self-actualization.   The first few months after I left IBM, I continued operating like I was still in the corporate environment- I threw myself into my role as founder and leader of the Qatar Professional Women’s Network and began taking steps to design my new business model, research coaching programmes, deliver workshops, etc.   What stopped me in my tracks was learning that I was pregnant, and, subsequently, miscarrying our little angel whom I named Gabriel.

I can’t begin to describe the heartache that followed the miscarriage—only those of you who’ve gone through a similar experience will understand the heaviness of my grief and the feelings of hopelessness.  All I wanted was to feel that life growing inside of me again.  If anything, losing Gabriel prompted me to reflect on what I really wanted in life, and, eventually, focus on the steps needed to create what I wanted.  My dreams became even clearer, and my desire to realize them even stronger.

Fast forward a year later, and my biggest dreams are coming true. I’ve re-trained as a professional coach, and started coaching amazing women in different parts of the world in pursuit of their own dreams.   I can finally say that I truly LOVE what I do and know that I’m making a difference in the world around me by coaching these women and investing in their development.   Concurrent to my coach training and business start-up, I’ve been “baking” another little miracle—and this one’s a keeper.   So, this summer,  I’m giving birth to two babies: my new business, she dreams big, and my “rainbow” baby (yet to be named).

she dreams big is truly a manifestation of my own dreams—a business which aligns with my values and  my passion for empowering women, plays to my strengths and experience, and makes a difference in this world.  Through she dreams big, I hope to inspire other women to pursue their dreams, whether they dream of owning their own business, starting a non-profit, achieving a leadership position within an organization, becoming a mom, or whatever their dreams may be.  she dreams big is aptly named after my clients and me:  big dreamin’, trail-blazin’, game changin’ women who are bold enough to be the change they want to see in this world!

So, here’s to you, my fellow big dreamers- may your every dream come true!

Love & blessings, Christina

(Note, I’m on maternity leave from July-December 2012, so look out for new blog posts and my return to coaching and consulting in 2013. In the meantime, you can reach me at christina@shedreamsbig.com)