LEAP! with Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith

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

Well hello there, LEAPER! Welcome back to this inspiring series of LEAP! interviews featuring everyday women who aren’t afraid to LEAP in the direction of their dreams.  I launched this interview series in April with Jackie Bassett, and then followed in May with Vicki Flaherty.   This month, I’d like to introduce you to another one of my favorite ladies:  the UBER-talented, “stylishly healthy,” and ALWAYS admirable… drumroll please… Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith!!  Dr. Rajka is a superstar of a leaper– she’s an American Board Certified Family Practice Doctor, a Doctor of Functional Medicine, an entrepreneur, a blogger, a world traveler/expat….  Oh, and did I mention that she’s the mom to two adorable kiddos (Liam and Liv) and the wife of a jet-setting Kiwi who works on global construction projects?

Rajka and I met in 2010 when we worked together with a handful of other women to launch the Qatar Professional Women’s Network (QPWN) in Doha, Qatar.   I immediately admired Rajka’s professionalism, her “can-do” attitude, and her personal warmth.   Our friendship blossomed when we shared a hotel room (and a couple bottles of Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc) during a mission trip to Ethiopia to benefit the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation and the Yezelalem Minch Orphanage.   After this experience, Rajka became a huge source of support and free advice when I was going through fertility treatments, and she happily threw my baby shower and gave me TONS of hand-me-downs when I was pregnant with lil Toots.  She was the only friend who brought me meals after my miscarriage and after I gave birth to Toots.  Rajka even let me practice my coaching skills on her while I was first starting up as my biz, and I learned so much from that experience.  Although we both left Qatar, Rajka has continued to be a loyal, encouraging friend.   Can you tell how much I love this lady????

To be completely honest, I could write an entire essay about how brilliant and beautiful Rajka is, but you are here to read about her story of LEAPING!  So, here are the highlights of our interview.  As always, I encourage you to listen to the 30 minute recording as well as reading the summary… some many great little nuggets of inspiration are tucked away in my conversations with Dr. Rajka!

XOXO Christina


 “Functional Medicine looks at the root cause of a disease, rather than just treating symptoms with medication.  We look at balancing four realms: the mind-body, the energetic/spiritual, the physical, and the biochemical.  Finding the imbalances and getting them back into balance is where we achieve optimal health.”  – Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith

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Photo Credit: Sheryl Patrizi

Getting to Know Dr. Rajka

“My name is Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith, originally from Cleveland, Ohio.  I’ve known since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a medical doctor. I was inspired by my own pediatrician- I thought he was so well-mannered and I wanted to be like him.  What I didn’t know is that allopathic medicine wasn’t going to be my whole goal.  By allopathic medicine, I mean being a physician who prescribes medicine.  For the first fifteen years, I practiced traditional family medicine.  I delivered babies, and took care of the babies and their moms in the hospital. I worked with children through to geriatrics, along with performing outpatient procedures.  I joined a great practice in the Pacific Northwest, just outside of Seattle, Washington.  From there, I ended up meeting my husband, and imagined that we’d live in one community for the rest of our lives. We’ve really been on quite an amazing journey since those early days in the Pacific Northwest.  After 7 years in the Pacific Northwest, we moved to Chicago for a couple of years, and then spent 8 years living as expats in Doha, Qatar.”

Embracing Integrative Medicine

“When I had a little breather while we were expats, I started to ask myself where I was going next. That’s where the first leap occurred when I transitioned from traditional allopathic medicine to a more integrative, holistic practice.  What inspired me to go this route is that there were a small percentage of patients who I just couldn’t get better, and I’ve had a long interest in integrative medicine to treat patients. This stems from my Eastern European upbringing. My parents are from Serbia and would often use home remedies to treat illnesses, such as applying lard and garlic to our feet when we had fevers.  Although we dreaded the lard and garlic, it always broke the fever! Additionally, I was inspired by my own experience with a fertility acupuncturist while living in Chicago.  She had me doing acupuncture and guided imagery work to support our efforts to conceive our first child.  I just knew there was more to optimal health than just prescribing medication.

Leaping from Allopathic to Functional Medicine

“The leap into functional medicine fell into place when we lived as expats and I decided to become more entrepreneurial.  I saw a need in the expatriate community to educate expats on good healthcare abroad.  Repeatedly, I had friends and former patients approach me for advice, so I started to give general guidance through my blog called ‘Expat Dr. Mom.‘ Through my research for my blog, I found a compelling article by Dr. Mark Hyman on Functional Medicine.  I also met a physician who trained in Functional Medicine who told me that her training in functional medicine was life-altering and she could never go back to traditional allopathic medicine.   Once I found this field of Functional Medicine, I started to re-train myself while continuing to work in Qatar and doing telemedicine consulting work from Qatar back to the US.   We were interested in relocating back to the US when I found an opening for a Functional Medicine physician with a practice in Boston.   The job was a great fit, so we relocated to the Boston area in 2013.”

Getting Over Fears

“One of my fears stemmed from traditional medicine’s tendency to criticize integrative healthcare.  Would I be able to practice something that would be questioned by my colleague down the road? However, everything I’ve learned to date is backed up by research.   We all know that there’s an art to medicine, so when we don’t have research, we treat and tweak the protocol for each patient, perfecting it along the way.  Secondly, I was concerned about where would I train and would I learn how to apply Functional Medicine.   However, I overcame this fear by training with the Institute of Functional Medicine and then landing my current position which is a working fellowship, enabling me to work while being mentored and trained along the way.”

Leaping with a husband and 2 kids

“My husband, Kerry, works in the construction industry, which is totally different than medicine. He’s the yang to my yin, so we complement each other and he always gives me an honest answer.  He’s my biggest support.  When I showed him the job opening in Boston, he told me that the next career move was mine.  So, when I landed the job, the kids and I relocated while he continued to work in Qatar for several months.   Together, we have two kids, who keep us on our toes and trying to balance it all.  Sometimes this means getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get myself ready and cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner before we leave the house at 8:30 a.m. “

Next BIG LEAP!

“I’ve always wanted to have my own practice.  When I was practicing traditional medicine, I wanted to have a boutique-type office where patients experienced a highly personal level of care.  With Functional Medicine, I am now leaping to launch my own clinic. Part of it will be in person visits and part of it will be health optimization (via telemedicine) which can I can offer to anyone, anywhere.  I can connect back with people who live abroad and want optimization of their health.  I plan to start with a couple days in the office and then follow-ups with phone and/or skype.  I was planning to start my new business in August or September, but I recently had my first health optimization consult after receiving a number of referrals from abroad.  This opportunity to start my own practice stems from my husband landing a fabulous job in the Chicago area, so we’re relocating back to Chicago and then I’ll be starting my practice in a new city.”

Tips for Making a Big LEAP!:

“If I am faced with a tough decision, I use guided imagery and yoga to bring clarity.  I usually sit with a decision, let it soak in, journal about it, and then reflect.  I also go to my resources, like my husband and like-minded friends, to support me.  My tips are:

  • Surrounding yourself with like-minded others and leverage resources online like meetup.com, BNI for marketing yourself, and Ellevate, a global women’s network
  • Hire a coach
  • Set goals and track your results.”

“Dr. Rajka’s favorite mantra: Balanced and calm. Focused, flexible, and strong”

Want to connect with Dr. Rajka?

  1. Subscribe to her blog: drrajka.com
  2. Follow @Drrajka on Twitter or on Facebook
  3. Contact doctorrajka@gmail.com if you are interested in a consult

 

 

Mother’s Day Unspoken

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Source: LiveluvCreate.com

Four years ago, on Mother’s Day of 2011, I spent the day shuffling between my bed and the bathroom as I miscarried my first child.  What I remember about that day is my unending flow of tears… the uncomfortable cramping and heavy bleeding… holding what was left of my baby in the palm of my hand and not knowing what to do…the absence of tenderness in my breasts… the emptiness of my barren womb…. and an overwhelming feeling of utter devastation.  The stark white bathroom tiles offered little comfort as I laid on the floor next to the toilet, begging God to reverse this sick joke and give me my baby back.  Surely women don’t miscarry on Mother’s Day??? Oh yes, dear, oh yes they do.

My heart was already thick with grief having lost my mother to ovarian cancer just before Mother’s Day in 2010.  The news of my first pregnancy had buoyed me through the first anniversary of her passing, giving me comfort and renewed hope for the future.  While my husband was cautiously excited, I was beyond certain that this baby was a divine blessing and an answer to our prayers at a time when we needed it most.   What I hadn’t expected was that this pregnancy would end in miscarriage– that the little soul who had built a small nest in my womb would take flight much earlier than I expected.   Curled up in fetal position, I comforted myself by envisaging my child, whom I named Gabriel, joining my mom in Heaven.  She had always wanted to be a grandma, and she finally had a grandchild to call her own.

After my miscarriage, I felt shattered in a way I had never imagined.  I struggled to socialize or work as I attempted to hide my fragile emotional state.  Only a few friends had known that we were expecting, so telling people about my miscarriage also meant telling them that we had been pregnant.  Inevitably, this would lead to questions about us trying to get pregnant, which I just couldn’t handle.  I stayed close to home and grieved in silence, until I finally felt like I could open up about my loss to more of my friends and a few colleagues.  Many of them reacted with empathy and compassion, validating my grief.  One friend brought us a meal, which was a touching gesture that I will never forget.  Not knowing what to say when I shared the news of my miscarriage, some friends made comments like, “At least you know you can get pregnant,” in a feeble attempt to offer me hope.  One friend reacted thoughtlessly by saying my baby wasn’t really a baby- her underlying tone was “get over it.”

But I couldn’t get over the loss of my first child, and frankly I don’t think I ever will.   About 6 months after my miscarriage, we conceived our “rainbow” baby (a rainbow baby is a baby conceived after a loss).  After experiencing some light spotting not long after my pregnancy had been confirmed, I drove myself in hysterics to the OB-GYN’s office for a repeat HCG blood test.  While I anxiously awaited the results, I sobbed on an exam bed, begging for God’s mercy.  I felt absolutely certain that I was miscarrying again.  When the nurse explained that my HCG levels had tripled overnight, I looked at her in disbelief, and my tears of anguish transformed into tears of gratitude.  Although the spotting only lasted a day, my OB-GYN took every precaution with me during the first trimester, which included supplemental hormones, regular blood tests and ultrasounds, and a long list of things NOT to do.  The usual “laissez-faire” approach to pregnancy wasn’t an option for me.

Needless to say, I was a complete mess through most of my pregnancy.  I felt horribly guilty that I wasn’t more excited about my pregnancy—I absolutely wanted to be pregnant, but I was still traumatized by my miscarriage and the anxiety associated with a “high-risk” pregnancy.  I realized that I would never experience the same carefree excitement that most of my friends experienced during pregnancy.   In losing my first child, I also lost my innocence as a mother.  There would be other losses, but none would be as devastating as my first miscarriage on Mother’s Day.   The way I viewed the creation of human life was forever altered.

But maybe this was just the lesson that I needed to learn, although I would have preferred a gentler alternative to this emotional triple shot to the chest. Because what I gained through my miscarriage was a greater appreciation for life: how miraculous it is, how fragile it is, and what an extraordinary gift it is.  The miracle of Gabriel prepared me for the miracle of my take-home baby (aka Toots).  Because of Gabriel, I became acutely aware of just how badly I wanted to become a mother and what I needed to change to make space for another miracle to unfold in my womb.  So, despite all of my anxiety while pregnant with Toots, I also felt (and still feel) tremendous humility and gratitude– I knew that the life growing inside of me was such a divine blessing.

What I also learned through both my mother’s death and losing Gabriel is that a mother’s love transcends all boundaries.  While we often crave physical presence, the love between a mother and her child flows freely, unbound by the human form.   Nothing ever stops us from being in the presence of our mother or our child.   Experiencing this spiritual connection has comforted me during times of grief and heartache, reminding me that their love is not confined to this physical world.  All I need to do is find a quiet place, close my eyes, and connect with their love… God’s love… a universal love which floods me with its golden-white light and soothes my soul.

So, when Mother’s Day rolls around, I prefer to spend the day in quiet reflection, soaking myself in maternal love.  I hold my precious son tightly in my arms and whisper my deepest thanks for the miracle of his life.  I thank God for choosing me to be his mama and trusting me with his life.  As I hold him, I silently honor my angel babies, as well as my mother and grandmothers who are no longer of this world.   I step into their presence and feel their love and encouragement surrounding me.  Then, I take some time to remember my friends who too are missing their moms and angel babies. Sadly, several of my friends have lost their babies in utero, just after birth, or as children:

  • A resilient friend who experienced multiple miscarriages before the arrival of her baby boy. She was the first person to openly talk about miscarriage with me.
  • A high school classmate who has publicly shared her stories of miscarriage and infertility through her blog and newspaper column. She is now the proud mama of twin girls.
  • Two courageous girlfriends whom lost their first daughters in utero and were induced to deliver their stillborn angels. Both friends went on to give birth to rainbow baby girls who are the lights of their lives.
  • A dear friend, who is a mom to two teen boys, an angel in Heaven, and a preschooler. She lost her sweet daughter to a heart defect when she was just a baby.  A few years after her daughter’s death and a few miscarriages, she gave birth to her fourth child (another daughter).
  • My childhood friend, Sarah, who lost her son, Jack, to pediatric cancer.  His legacy lives on through Gold in September and the I Back Jack Foundation.  She is also the mother to Annie (Jack’s twin) and little Tommy.
  • All of my friends who are still waiting for their rainbow babies. If I know your story of loss, then I remember you and your angels and I pray for your take-home baby to arrive soon.

To these friends I say:  Although our society may not recognize you as a mother or may not recognize ALL of your children, I hope it comforts you to know that I do.   I hold you and your babies in my heart today.  May you find time to quietly honor them and experience that unbreakable bond between mother and child.

XOXO

Christina


Have you experienced pregnancy loss or the loss of your child?  How have you coped with your loss? How do you feel on Mother’s Day and other trigger holidays?  How do you honor your angels and connect with their spirits?

If you or a friend would like support in dealing with pregnancy loss, here are a few resources in addition to joining a local or online community:

http://miscarriagesupport.com/

http://www.aplacetoremember.com/

www.fertileheart.com

For family and friends who want to support you:

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-loss/supporting-others/

Are you struggling to conceive after a loss? I’m here to listen and support you.  You may also find my FREE download with tips for improving your fertility naturally helpful when you are ready to start trying again.

 

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Source: Pinterest

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Source: Pinterest

LEAP! with Vicki Flaherty

leap collage 2(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

Welcome back to LEAP!, an inspiring interview series featuring women who aren’t afraid to leap in the direction of their dreams!

I hope you enjoyed last month’s interview with Jackie Bassett.  This month, I’m excited to feature Vicki Flaherty, an IBM leadership development professional, a poet, and a breast cancer survivor.  Vicki and I met in 2007 while working on an internal project at IBM and I immediately felt a strong click with her soulful way of being.   After I left IBM, Vicki became one of my first coaching clients and I learned so much from our coaching relationship.  She was—and still is—one of my favorite clients because of her openness, vulnerability, and willingness to go DEEP.  I chose Vicki for this interview series because of a significant leap she took after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  This leap culminated in her published collection of poems titled, “Mostly My Hearts Sings.” As you listen to my interview with Vicki and read the highlights, I hope you will feel inspired to listen to your heart, connect with your own truth, and tap into your creativity just as Vicki has learned to do.

Below are the selected highlights from my recent interview with Vicki.  However, I highly encourage you to listen to Vicki’s interview (approx. 30 min).

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!

XOXO Christina


 “Listen to your heart and be intentional about how you want to move forward in the world. Listen to your truth and let your truth guide you.”—Vicki Flaherty

Vicki Flaherty

Vicki Flaherty

Meet Vicki Flaherty… PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  Learning & Development Guru.  IBMer. Runner.  Yogi.  Gardener.  Writer.  Poet.  Breast Cancer Survivor.  World Traveler.  Lives an “abundantly delicious life” with her husband, Jim, in the heartland of America (Iowa).

A Calling to Help People Succeed

“About 20 years ago, I worked for a small start-up company in workforce development and was awarded a corporate award called ‘Helping People Succeed.’ I didn’t realize it then, but that was the sign on the path of my career.  Today, I’m an IBMer and thrilled to work in the learning organization in leadership development. I’ve worked for IBM for 17 years and I’ve had 3 or 4 careers so far.  I started in our services organization doing consulting work to start, then I switched to doing career development work, then I moved into our learning organization, and have shifted into leading programs related to leadership development.  My latest responsibility is to support new executives in making that transition to the executive level, which is a pretty big leap in our company.  One of the initiatives I’m leading now is around mindfulness, bringing mindfulness and focus to the work that we do, and helping leaders to do this.”

Awakening the Inner Poet

“In 2005, I had gone through a workshop which was a very powerful, transformative experience.  Through the workshop, I determined that I wanted to find my joy, and I hadn’t even realized that I had lost my joy.  The workshop began this awakening process, and I started to dabble with poetry and words.   It was an important impetus to how I handled being diagnosed withbreast cancer in 2011. I’m very achievement oriented, but I didn’t always slow down enough to experience what I was feeling or celebrate what I was accomplishing.  With cancer, there were a lot of experiences and feelings I never experienced before, and I found myself needing an outlet to understand what was happening.   I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and started writing some words that described what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  The words started turning into phrases, and the phrases started connecting together.  Suddenly a river of words and emotions was flowing and felt so cathartic.”

Leaping into the Darkness

“My poetry helped me process what was happening and lean into my fears.  I tend to be a very positive person, so, when I experienced negative emotions, I often didn’t have words for what I was feeling.  I knew I was going to have to physically change my body and the poetry helped me move through this. My poetry helped me get comfortable with putting my heart out there and being vulnerable.  I showed parts of me that felt very intimate, but I felt such power and comfort in sharing my poetry and knowing that others could relate to it.  I wrote a poem called ‘The Struggle,’ which is about the dark side of myself that was so difficult to face.”

The Struggle by Vicki Flaherty
feeling the walls
surrounded in darkness
in the cocoon
no light
only tiny fragments
of hope linger
in the air
like smoke
from a fire smoldering
into the unknown
tension thick
like mud unsure
what’s in here
even more uncertain
what’s out there
fear filling the air
wanting desperately out
struggling against the edges
the barriers
holding things in
spinning circles
dizziness pushing ‘round
falling to get up
only to sit still
in the gray silence

© 2015 Vicki L. Flaherty

Leaping into the Light

“Even during this cancer experience, I leaned toward finding the light, finding the grace, finding the opportunity and possibility, while going through struggles and moments of darkness.  The poetry told the story of my diagnosis, my journey to acceptance, the dark moments, the coping, and the release toward the end.  Sharing my poetry, being vulnerable enough to share my deepest feelings – was my LEAP.  Facing head on my emotions – the dark and negative ones, the ones I typically rushed over or pushed away – was the opportunity that came with my cancer diagnosis and treatment.  My book, ‘Mostly My Hearts Sings,’ really opened the door for me to more fully listen to my heart and follow it, especially in my work.”

Leaping with Grace, Joy, Hope, and Faith

“Through my journey of looking inward, I found parts of myself to call upon for support.  I have a friend named Grace who brings calm and confidence to me. I have a friend Joy who brings light and gratitude whenever I go. I constantly hold Hope in my heart and she helps me to dream and make the leaps towards my dreams.  I hold Faith in my gut and she gives me the courage to let go of my fears and believe in things that I can’t see but I know might be possible.”

Leaping into the Future

“When I interviewed for my current leadership development job, it took a lot of courage to be completely authentic and honest during the interview process.  I wanted my new manager to understand that I was going to be bringing not only my mind to work, but also my heart to work.  I’m bringing that singing heart to work, and I have some great opportunities to let my heart sing at work, especially related to cultivating a culture of mindfulness.  As for my poetry, I’ve written more poetry since I published ‘Mostly My Heart Sings.’ I’m thinking of pulling together another collection. I’m open to the possibility of publishing more, but I’m not sure what it will look like yet.”

Parting Words

“Listen to your heart and be intentional about how you want to move forward in the world. Listen to your truth and let your truth guide you.  My poem, ‘Truth’s Whisper,’ is about tuning into your inner truth.”

Truth’s Whisper by Vicki Flaherty
My truth
speaks quietly.
It whispers
so that sometimes
it is hard to hear.
In quiet moments
of stillness
I feel its breath
upon me.
It’s voice is clear:
Be who you are, completely.
Your light is for giving.

© 2015 Vicki L. Flaherty

Want to connect with Vicki Flaherty, buy her book, and continue to enjoy her poetry and inspirational writing?

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