When All Else Fails: a Year of Surrender

It’s been over a year since I published my last blog post.  I’m well aware of how such a long lapse violates every best practice in the world of blogging.  But I don’t really care…. In our world of constant (digital) connection, sometimes you need to retreat and make space to reflect, feel what you need to feel, and heal.  Disengage from the triggers of Facebook.  Engage in authentic human connection with those who matter most to you, those who accept and love you no matter what.   Write for no other audience than yourself.  Prioritize self-care.  Give yourself permission to FEEL and, eventually, to HEAL.

And that’s exactly what I needed to do in my own time and space, while trusting that I’d know when I was ready to share my heart and soul online.  Over the last year, I’ve been mentally crafting this post about my lessons in surrendering, appropriately titled “When All Else Fails.”  I’ve held off from publishing for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details, especially those related to my loved ones, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to share without oversharing.   Secondly, I haven’t felt up to the vulnerability hangover I experience with every post, yet I know how much freer I feel when I share and how connected I feel when I discover that I’m not alone.

So bear with me as I delicately dance around certain details from this year of surrender…..

Over a year ago, towards the end of 2015, life dealt us a few unexpected blows in a row.  There’s a saying that “bad things happen in three’s,” which is exactly how it all went down.  First, my husband’s company decided to end their Alaska ventures, effectively ending my husband’s and all of his co-workers’ assignments in Alaska.  We immediately knew this meant we’d be relocating much sooner than we originally anticipated, but we wouldn’t know for a couple months where or when we’d move.  Not long after this announcement, a few of our loved ones shared saddening news with us, which weighed heavily on our hearts.  And then, as the final sucker punch, we miscarried a perfectly healthy baby.  This was our 3rd loss, and last attempt at giving our son a sibling.

To say that I was an emotional mess would be an understatement.  Even now- a year later- I’m still grieving and trying to process what happened at the end of 2015.  At the time, I distracted myself with the day-to-day activities of caring for my then 3 year old, and preparing for our rather abrupt move to Houston.  I couldn’t bear to look at his baby clothes and gear, so, as part of our move prep, I gave most of it away, which was the emotional equivalent of throwing kerosene onto my open wounds and then lighting a match (=white-hot-searing-pain).  Our relocation, combined with the overlapping holiday season, forced me to fake my way through daily life and pretend like I was taking it all in stride.  Looking back at myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep it together as much as I did.  But truth is that I was overwhelmed by intense emotional pain, covering me in a heavy blanket of grief laced with disappointment, anger, and deep–seeded shame.

With 2015 ending so painfully, I realized that my only option was to surrender….to completely let go and trust God’s plan for our lives.  As go-getter who has white-knuckled my way through life, I couldn’t imagine a greater challenge than handing the keys to my life over to God, climbing into the back seat and staring out the window at life’s passing scenery.  At first, surrendering felt like I was giving up… like I was stepping out of the driver’s seat of my car, waving my pathetic little flag, and then lying down in the middle of the road to allow car after car to drive over me.  I felt like a quitter:  beaten down, discouraged, and flattened.  A total f’ing failure.  Being someone who doesn’t give up easily, this isn’t how I imagined my story ending.

Until my coach, Cassi, sent me a short piece written by Liz Gilbert, I struggled to differentiate between quitting and surrendering.  I just didn’t get it until I read this piece and then the proverbial light bulb switched on.  Here’s an excerpt of what Liz wrote about surrender:

“Surrender is what happens when you come to the end of your power. Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can’t do this thing anymore. Surrender is what happens when you don’t have any more ideas for how to fix everything. Surrender is what happens when none of your survival strategies work anymore — and your playbook is out of pages. Surrender is what happens when you turn it all over to God. You release your grip on the thing. You stop white-knuckling it. You stop pretending things are great when things are actually horrible. You stop putting on a fake face, or glossing over the problem, or lying. You face the truth that you are not the most powerful force in the universe. You turn it over to fate. You exhale, and let go.

There is always grace in surrender. There is always truth in surrender. There is always a great deal of human dignity in surrender. And what happens next is often very beautiful. You crack open because you have stopped fighting and pretending, and once you do that…anything whatsoever can now occur. Sometimes your true fate can only find you after you have surrendered. As Richard from Texas taught me about cracking yourself open in surrender…well, that where God can rush in. The universe can sometimes only work through you once you have surrendered.”

 

Suddenly, after years of believing that surrendering was just a fancy word for quitting, I experienced my AHA! moment.  This mental shift enabled me to practice true surrender at a time when I had come to the end of my power, when I had run out of options, when ALL ELSE HAD FAILED.  I surrendered to this devastatingly dark place… to my broken, grieving heart… to the uncertainties of our future….to my powerlessness.  I chose SURRENDER as my theme for 2016, and decided to practice the art of surrender whenever possible, trusting everything would work out according to God’s plan.

As the saying goes, “life is a roller coaster,” and 2016 has been no exception.  At the end of 2015, I felt like my ‘coaster went off the rails and bottomed out in the pitch black.  My only option was to surrender to this darkness and trust that I’d eventually find my way back to the light.  As I’ve roller-coastered through 2016, I practiced surrendering to all of unknowns in my life, regularly repeating my mantra of “trust and let go, trust and let go, trust and let go.”  Of course, life continuously tested my ability to trust and let go…from moving to a new city without having a place to live or knowing how long we’d stay… to finding a new home/school/gym/church/social circle/etc… to setting boundaries with family members… to an ongoing dental drama (read: no front teeth!)….. to countless doctor’s appointments and multiple surgeries… to anxiously awaiting results from cancer screenings… to the unexpected ending of a friendship I hold dear… to touring over 70 homes before making an offer only to lose out to another buyer….to having this same house fall back into our laps 10 days later when the first buyer walked away without reason… to the disappointing election results… to planning yet another move over the year-end holidays.. my “surrender” list could go on and on!

Despite the abundant opportunities to practice, I’m still haven’t mastered the art of surrender.  I am–and will always be–a humble student in the “School of Surrender.”  But what I will say is this: There are moments– like the one captured in this photo taken on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain roller coaster earlier this year– where I am riding in complete darkness and I am fully present, where I am energized and open, where I am free and one with God, where I have complete faith that my ride will bring me safely back to the light. These moments are fleeting–few and far between–but I have experienced them, so I know they are within my reach when I simply let go and enjoy the ride.

Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris, May 2016

PS: I also surrendered to my inner poet, a voice I’ve silenced for many years but desperately wants to express herself.  So here goes…

The Arms of Surrender

She admitted,

without pause,

to be one of THOSE types

who clung to life like a tick to skin

She was known as

a control freak

a white-knuckler

a perfectionista

(and a micro-manager, according to some)

She was both adored and abhorred

for her attention to detail

for her ability to deliver

for her “dedication”

She clung so tightly because

she knew no different

As a girl, this is how she learned to survive

Her persistence even earned her praise

Until one day, she found herself hanging onto the very end of life’s rope

She had tried everything

And nothing had worked

She didn’t know what else to do

But to let go

While she wiped the sweat from her brow, she loosened her grip, just a bit

Lingering here for a moment

Relishing in the tension

Between doing and being

Then she let go

Completely

And as she fell

She released all of the beliefs

which had held her back

which had kept her clinging

to that tangled, knotted rope

She stopped trying so hard to please, to be perfect, to maintain control

She stopped forcing herself to be anything she wasn’t meant to be

She stopped blaming and shaming herself

She stopped feeling like she was damaged goods, broken and irreparable

She stopped believing she was unworthy, undesirable, unlovable

She fell freely,

evenly,

gracefully

through baby blue skies and bruise-colored clouds

through the sun’s strong rays and the moon’s chalky glow

through the Milky Way and the galaxies far far away

And when she landed,

she found herself

lovingly embraced by

the Arms of Surrender

— Christina Zini, June 2016

 


Want to know more about Surrendering?

Surrendering, as I’m learning, is a constant practice…. Like a daily (or even minute-by-minute) practice of letting go of my thoughts, emotions,  desires, anything and everything I’ve got a firm grip on.  It begins with truly experiencing my emotions, not avoiding them or disassociating myself from them, not telling myself that I shouldn’t feel anger/fear/grief/jealousy/etc..  I’ve learned a lot from reading Michael Singer’s books “The Surrender Experiment” and “Untethered Soul.”  I also enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”  I’ve found practices like prayer, meditation, visualizations helpful. My nightly ritual of writing a “Love/Leave” list in my journal has helped me to capture whatever I appreciated or loved about the day and whatever I want to leave behind or let go of.  Thankfully, my “love” list is always longer than my “leave” list.  I’ve also found yoga, spinning and walking/running to help me release whatever is festering.  I’m also a HUGE believer in and consumer of therapy, acupuncture, and energy work.. but I wouldn’t have come this far in my surrender journey without the support and guidance of my fabulous coach, Cassi Christiansen!

 

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LEAP! with Cassi Christiansen

leap collage 2

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

Howdee Leapers! Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends and happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans! Hope this latest post finds you in the midst of a beautiful summer (or winter depending on your hemisphere.)  Last month, we leaped with Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith as she shared her story of  transitioning from allopathic medicine to functional medicine and the start of her own practice. This month, I’m thrilled to showcase another one of my favorite women of the world:  my mentor coach extraordinaire, Cassi Christiansen of Ulumination!

In late 2011, I discovered Cassi when I was searching for a mentor coach as part of my training with CoachU.  I reviewed a long list of mentor coaches and read Cassi’s short bio, instantly knowing she meant to be my mentor coach. Not only do we share similar values and ways of being, we both left behind lucrative corporate careers to start our own coaching practices AND we both worked very hard to become mamas to our boys.  Not only did Cassi mentor me as I completed my CoachU training, achieved my ICF coaching accreditation, and set up my business, she simultaneously supported me through my pregnancy with Toots, transition to motherhood, and ongoing fertility journey.  Fast forward 3.5 years later, our coaching relationship is still going strong despite having never met in person (we’re working to fix that!).  She’s a woman whom I deeply admire and respect, and I feel incredibly blessed to call her as my mentor coach and profile her in my LEAP! Interview series.

With Cassi being the one who is usually asking the questions, I couldn’t wait to turn the tables and ask her a few deep questions during our recent interview.   Although I already know a lot about Cassi given that we’ve been working together for a few years, I discovered even more similarities as she shared her story of leaving behind her HR VP job to become a coach.  When Cassi shared how she used to feel physically sick every Sunday evening, I remembered my own struggles with anxiety attacks and stress-induced illnesses when I worked as a management consultant and HR professional.  Like Cassi, I was forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t meant to be and secretly suffered as a result of my efforts to succeed at any cost.  As you will hear in Cassi’s interview, she finally took her big leap into coaching after letting go of her fears about money and status and listening to her inner voice which told her to TRUST.   For me, I made my big leap after my mother died when I realized that I simply couldn’t wear the mask any longer.  My inner voice told me to follow my passion for empowering women and realize my own dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and a mother.  What I love about our similar stories is that our leaps were so FAITH-based… we finally listened to our inner wisdom, trusted it to guide us, and became the women we were always meant to be.  What could be more POWERFUL than that????

So, without further ado, I hope you will take 30 minutes out of your day to listen to Cassi’s big LEAP! and read the interview highlights below.   I guarantee she will inspire and motivate you to listen to your own heart and make your next big LEAP!

XOXO

Christina


“When it comes to LEAPING, I would say all leaps must come from the heart so listen to what your heart is wanting you to hear.  And trust it.  Always ask for signs and guidance and once you receive it, take a little leap.  If it’s meant to be, the little leap will lead to another leap and you keep following the little leaps until you finally ready to fly.”

-Cassi Christiansen

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Climbing the Ladder

“I’m a true blooded Oregonian.  I lived in Portland for the first 40+ years of my life in Portland and, then 4 years ago, we made a leap and moved to Bend, Oregon. We moved here just because we wanted to be here and raise our son here.  My career started with my degree in psychology and, when I graduated, there was absolutely nothing I could do with that degree.  I took an entry-level position answering the phones and, after a couple of months, I was then promoted to an entry level HR position. My first task was filing employee paperwork and files, so I literally started out as a file clerk. I then spent the next 14 years moving up from an entry level position to the Vice President (VP) level. I got to a point in my career where I had reached my goals- I was the first female VP and the first female on the Senior Management Team- and thought ‘Now what I am going to do?’  That’s what led me to coaching.  I hired a coach to help me and thought, ‘She has the coolest job ever, I want to do what she does.’ So, I went back to school to become a coach.  Since I was VP of HR, I started an internal coaching program so I could use my gifts and passions within my current role as I had never imagined owning my own business.  However, it didn’t take long to determine that, if I really was going to do the work I was meant to do, I’d have to leave corporate. This was the scariest decision of my entire life.  It took me two years to make my decision because it was so scary to me.  That was about 13 years ago and I have been coaching ever since.  I have built my whole practice around working with leaders who want to share their gifts with the world and make our world a better place.”

Being Pushed to LEAP!

“Leading up to my leap, I had reached most of my goals and climbed the corporate ladder more than I ever imagined was possible for me.  From the outside, it looked like I reached a pinnacle of success, but, on the inside, I was absolutely miserable.  Looking back, I can now see what was going on.  I had set goals which would make me look successful, like ‘I want to be the first female to do these things.’  What I really didn’t think about was who I would need to be to make them happen.  I worked in a good ol’ boy, patriarchal environment, and, to get to a VP level, I really had to be someone that I wasn’t. When we go against who we are, especially for an extended amount of time, it takes a toll on our soul.  That’s what happened to me- I was absolutely miserable.  On Sunday nights, I would literally get sick and vomit just thinking about going back to that environment.  At the time, I would blame the environment I worked in, but now I can look back and see that I was getting sick because I was being someone that I wasn’t.  My body was responding from a physical place by saying ‘This isn’t okay. You’re not being who you were meant to be in this world, and we’re going to give you every sign possible.’  At this same time, I was trying to get pregnant and I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which meant that the doctors couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to conceive.  So, I was convinced that my stressful work environment and being someone that I wasn’t were the underlying causes of my infertility.  Being miserable and trying to get pregnant really initiated my leap.  It literally felt like my soul was dying on the vine and that I was being pushed to do something different. I HAD to do something different.”

Getting Over Fears

“Once I found coaching, both for myself personally and then by becoming a coach, I knew that is what I was meant to do, but I was TERRIFIED to make the leap.  I never wanted to own my business because my dad had owned his own biz while I was growing up and it was a nightmare.  I always swore I’d get a steady, secure job with an every other week paycheck and benefits.  As an HR VP, I was making more money than I had ever imagined I could and had my corner office and parking spot.  I had worked for 14 years to reach this level, so I was terrified to give it all up with not knowing what was on the other side.  The other aspect was my ego.  I felt proud to say I was a VP and there was instant credibility in being someone who had ‘made it.’  Plus, I started coaching over 15 years ago when it was still very new.  When I said I was a coach, people would ask me, ‘which sport?’  So going from a VP to a something that no one knew about wasn’t easy on my ego. “

Trusting my Inner Voice

“Once I started coaching people, I knew I couldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself as coaching is all about moving through our fears and doing it anyway.  I knew I wouldn’t be as strong of a coach if I didn’t ‘walk my talk.’  I would not be where I am today without the self-development work I did with my coach.  We did the same work that I do with my clients now, focusing on questions like ‘What are my greatest fears? What’s the worst case scenario? Who have I been created to be and what have I been put on this earth to do? Why haven’t I given myself permission to be that person?’  During the two years leading up to my leap, I prayed daily and ask for guidance.  My inner voice kept saying, ‘If you have the courage to do this, you will be taken care of. I heard that same message for two years before I had the courage to believe it, trust it, and then leap.  Without my spiritual beliefs, I would have NEVER had the courage to LEAP.  People always ask me what I would have done differently, and I tell them that I wish I would have listened to my inner voice and paid attention to my body sooner.  This experience taught me to listen and trust myself, so now it doesn’t take me two years to make a decision.“

Co-Creating with Spirit

“I have a constant dialogue with my spirit.  My belief is that we co-create with the bigger Spirit, so it’s not just what I want, but what Spirit wants for me.  I often tap into this when I wake up and say my gratitude prayers for the morning and then I ask Spirit to show me the way, guide me towards what I am supposed to see, and trust what shows up.  I walk a lot outside in nature.  When I’m stuck with a question, I’ll go out for a walk, asking Spirit to show me the way and give me an answer by the time I finish my walk.  It’s hard for me to sit and meditate, so I like walking meditation better.   I also love yoga as it enhances my body’s ability to hear and sense Spirit.  Sometimes, I write in my journal if I need to work through something in a linear fashion.”

Finding support and encouragement

“First and foremost, my biggest supporter was my husband, Jeff.  He married me as a HR VP and enjoyed all the perks that came with a big paycheck and great benefits.  However, within a few years of our marriage, he saw how miserable I was- he would watch me cry and throw up on Sunday nights and remind me that no job was worth that.  He encouraged me follow my dreams even if it meant a huge lifestyle change for us.  Second was my mentor coach, Pam Richarde.  Without her and the work we did together, I would have never leaped.  Thirdly, I worked with a self-employed consultant, Catherine Meeks, at my former company, and she was the first woman whom I truly admired for what she had built on her own.  Because this was the late 90’s, I never had a role model of a female business owner before her.  She believed in me more than I did myself and would always ask me, ‘What the hell are you doing here? Why are you putting up with this?’  Besides these three people, most of the people around me did not support me.  They thought I was crazy for giving it all up and told me that I would regret doing it.  But I think this was important because it made me trust my inner voice and Spirit even more.

Spirit, Lead Me…

“I’ve been coaching now for over 15 years and I still absolutely love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.  My practice has evolved and changed over those 15 years as I used to only focus on working with women leaders but now I work with men and love them just as much.  My work has become much more spiritual as I truly believe coaching is about creating the space for Spirit to work through us.  I’ve been doing more corporate retreats which I love and would love to branch off and start offering more personal retreats that include nature, yoga, and connecting with Spirit.”

Parting Wisdom

“Pay attention to your spirit, your intuition. Listen to that still, small voice which is calling out to get your attention.  Even if you don’t know exactly what it’s saying, take a little bit of action based on what you’re hearing.  Very rarely does anyone go and take a big leap overnight. It’s really just a combination of little leaps that lead you to the big leap.  The world is waiting for you to take those little leaps, and, before you know it, you can take that next big leap.  Don’t lose sight of how important little leaps are, because they help you gain momentum you need to take that big leap.  Even if you’re scared and unsure, please take that little leap and trust that it will take you in the right direction.”

“I believe that we all have been given a special gift and it’s our reason for being on this planet… is to share it and if we don’t share it, we will never live out our full potential and shine as brightly as possible.  So Leap, Shine & Love Yourself through the Journey and know your journey was meant just for you.”

Cassi Christiansen

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Want to connect with Cassi or hire her as your coach?