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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Are you there, God? It’s me, Christina

Images found on Pinterest.  Hand of God by Younsung Kim.

Photo Credits: 1) Paige Locke 2) Hand of God” by Yongsung Kim 3) evangelismcoach.org

I feel compelled to begin this post with a disclaimer: this is a meaty, murky subject of which I have limited experience and knowledge. I’m not a theologian, a philosopher, a clergy member, a spiritual leader, or a devout yogi.  I’ve never checked myself into a monastery, a nunnery, or an ashram to sit in silence and experience nirvana for days on end.  The closest I’ve come is spending a (noisy) week at Bible camp in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, as a kid and then a (less noisy) week at a Six Senses spa in Thailand as an adult.   The only nirvana I’ve experienced is the one that smells like teen spirit.  I’ve always subscribed to the Christian faith, but I’m your typical lay person:  highly flawed with a faith that has waxed and waned over the years.  So now you can decide whether or not to continue reading…

Despite my lack of credentials and spiritual shortcomings, I am a truth-seeker, a contemplator, a self-improvement junkie, and, most importantly, a believer.  Stripped of my ego’s domination, I’m a sensitive soul who wants to be a channel of God’s peace and love in this world.  I yearn to know more about God and feel His* presence in my life.  I strive to be more God-conscious even though I’ve struggled to grasp what it actually means and how to achieve greater consciousness.  My desire to be more God-conscious often feels like an unattainable goal, like trying to run like a Kenyan when my body is built like a Swedish farm girl.  And yet, and yet, and yet…. I hear God whispering that it’s within my reach if I can learn to drown out the noise of our Earthy world and tune into His universal vibrations…the whole notion of “being in this world, but not of this world,” if you know what I mean.

Does hearing His whispers mean that I’m already God-conscious?  I think so. From my limited “earthly” understanding, God resides within us and we can access His presence anytime.  Each of us possesses the power to achieve God-consciousness, also known as a higher consciousness or transcendentalism.  This is a core belief of most faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i, etc.   Just like the lesson Dorothy learned in “The Wizard of Oz” when Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy that she had the power all along and only needed to learn it for herself.  Close eyes, click heels, return home… Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So, why does it feel so frickin’ difficult???  I can point to experiences where I’ve felted His strong presence, such as the moment my mom entered eternal life, during a few deeply blissful meditations, and while worshiping to music.  I’ve also witnessed His miracles, and how He has answered prayers in the most unbelievable, inexplicable, mind-blowing ways.  These experiences have stirred my soul enough to CRAVE His presence just like I crave Trader Joe’s mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups… MORE PLEASE!!  Whenever I feel that God-consciousness eludes me, I consider all of the “evidence” of His presence, and remind myself of the ways I can satiate my craving through prayer, meditation, writing, and music.  So, I know it’s possible… yes, it’s possible.

But let’s face it… I don’t live in a constant state of serene meditation and prayer. In fact, my daily life is quite the opposite of serene: it’s chaotic, often unpredictable, and quite MESSY.  I usually wake up at the crack of dawn, after a night of tossing and turning, with a tiny human attached to my back or belly.  My sweet little Toots wakes up between 6-7 a.m. with a list of three year old demands: “Mommy, I need to go potty! Mommy, I want juicey please.  Mommy, watch Dora.  Mommy, I want clothes NOW.  Mommy, I want (fill in the blank).” I stumble out of bed, completely sleep-deprived, with God-consciousness as the FURTHEST thing from my mind.  I move around on auto-pilot, with my talkative ego dominating my mental chatter.  I’m aware that my thoughts are often small—I mean, embarrassingly petty and trivial—and my early morning emotional state is best described as “fragile.”  My day continues at warp speed while I juggle my son’s needs with household chores, meal preparation, errands, exercise, and my part-time coaching business.  Listening to contemporary worship music while driving 65 mph down the highway and sipping herbal tea is about as close to enlightenment as I get. In a blink of the eye, it’s time to give Toots a bath, read him a few stories, and put him to bed.  At the moment, bedtime involves lots of crying and protesting, followed by lying on the floor next to his bed until he falls asleep, and then eventually letting him sleep in our bed when he wakes up screaming.  My time to meditate and pray is reduced to a few minutes as I’m falling asleep and groggily giving thanks for our day, the miracle of Toots’ life, and His many blessings.  Then wake up, and repeat!

No surprise that I don’t feel particularly God-conscious…

So, how do I become more God-conscious while still going about with daily life?  I wouldn’t be much of a wife, mother, friend, or professional if I spend my days sitting in a meditative silence.  God certainly hasn’t called me to monkhood!  The only answer is this:  to slow down enough to listen to those whispers I hear and honor them… to slow down enough to notice all of the ways He speaks to us through nature, the people around us, and experiences…to slow down enough to savor the present moment without agonizing over the past or worrying about the future.  In my last post, LEAP! with your Heart, I referred to this inner voice as my heart, but others may call it their instinct, intuition, or gut feeling.  Regardless of the label we choose to describe this inner wisdom, this is God’s voice speaking to us.  He’s not the voice of shame, fear, anger, disappointment, or worry—gals, that’s your ego talking.  He’s (or She’s) the gentle voice inside us that encourages and empowers us, that loves us just as we are today, fabulously flawed.  When we let His voice flow freely, we experience His divine grace: a love like no other, a peace everlasting.

What I’ve come to understand as I’ve crafted this piece is that tuning into your inner wisdom IS God-consciousness.  We needn’t look outside ourselves to find it—it’s a gift, always accessible without any strings attached.  God wants us to be the uniquely beautiful, talented women that He created us to be.  He doesn’t expect us to be perfect and is quick to forgive our shortcomings.  He calls us to slow down enough to listen to our hearts and trust this voice to guide us in every aspect of our lives.  He challenges us to stand in faith…to trust and be patient… to believe…to be grateful…and to dream big.

*Note: I’ve used a male pronoun for God, but I actually don’t believe God is a “she” or “he.”  Some writers use “it,” but that didn’t feel right either.  God is God!

(Keep scrolling down for Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts)

Found on Pinterest

Found on Pinterest


Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts:

What does God-consciousness or Higher Consciousness mean to you? How do you connect with God or your Higher Power?  Think about some examples of when you’ve experienced God-consciousness, enlightenment, or however you wish to describe that awesomely peaceful feeling.

What daily challenges do you face in connecting with God or your Higher Power? What tips can you share with me and other women for listening to God’s voice (aka your heart, your inner wisdom, your intuition)?

As you become more God-conscious, tuning into that voice, what are you being called to do? What’s one action you’d like to take towards that calling?

For my fellow Christians, when I’m in need of shot of God-consciousness, this is one of my favorite You Tube videos to watch of Kim Walker-Smith singing “Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here.”  And when I’m feeling like I’ve totally lost the connection, well then it’s time to watch Worship Mob’s cover of “Say Something I’m Giving Up on You.”

LEAP! with your HEART

leap collage 2

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

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

Welcome back to LEAP!, an inspiring interview series featuring women who aren’t afraid to leap in the direction of their wildest dreams.  Hope you had a fabulous summer as you leapt in whatever direction your heart desired:  into a refreshing lake or a warm, salty ocean; into a frozen margarita or a dulce de lece gelato (or both!); into the arms of your loved ones or into the embrace of solitude.  After taking a hiatus in August, I had hoped to launch a new LEAP! interview this month, but a couple spontaneous trips combined with Toots’ birthday celebrations interfered with my writing time.  Starting in October, I’ve lined up a few extraordinary women to share their stories of LEAP-ing and inspire you to do the same.  In the meantime, let’s explore what propels our fearless LEAPers to take that first step towards their dreams… their hearts!

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In my LEAP! interviews with Jackie, Vicki, Rajka, and Cassi, I couldn’t help but notice a common theme: all four proclaimed that their heart led them to LEAP.  All four mentioned how their head often talked them out leaping—how their ideas seemed “crazy,” “impractical,” or even “impossible.” What made perfect sense to their heart didn’t make sense to their head.  Yet they went ahead and listened to their heart, soaring courageously into the unknown in pursuit of an intangible itch, an unmet desire, or a burning passion.  And look how beautifully each one has leapt and where they have landed in their journeys!

Recently, I was reminded (again) of how much easier life is when you let your heart lead the way.  How your head CAN help, but it can also hinder.  For six months, I agonized over a big, huge, life-changing decision: where to send Toots to preschool.  YEP- PRESCHOOL for my THREE year old.  After researching and touring several schools earlier this year, I secured him a place at my top 3 choices and then I spent six months debating which one was the right fit for us.  I say “us” because, not only did I want the best environment for my little dude, but I also wanted to find a school in a convenient location which suited my scheduling needs.  From the moment I started researching schools, I was drawn to one particular school- I loved their educational approach, the new facilities, and the teachers.  I could visualize Toots enjoying himself and thriving in the colorful, Montesorri-inspired environment.  My heart was constantly drawn back to this particular preschool, yet I agonized for MONTHS over this decision.  I wrote pro’s and con’s lists; I drafted schedules; I did multiple drive-by’s, even resorting to driving Toots to each parking lot and asking him, “Is THIS where you want to go to school?”  When I pulled into THE preschool, Toots remembered it from a previous visit and wanted to go inside and play.  I took his response as the final sign I needed, and I withdrew his spot in the other two preschools.  All along I knew in my heart of hearts that he’d end up going to this preschool so WHY did I spend soooo much time and energy contemplating this relatively SIMPLE decision? Really… WHY???????

Because I let my head get in the way.  My head was telling me that the schedule at one of the other schools was better- the later start/end times, the longer hours would better suit my needs.  My head was telling me that my friends sent their kids to the other two preschools, so I should do the same. My head was telling me that, if I sent my child to Preschool A, then he’d be missing out on Preschools B and C.  My head was full of fears for his safety, his health, his future, etc.  Basically, my head was telling me that my heart can’t be trusted to make such decisions…. about PRESCHOOL.  Yeessssss, PRESCHOOL.

I totally get how ridiculous this sounds, and I feel slightly embarrassed that such a basic decision could occupy so much mental space for half of a year.  Maybe a few other mama bears can relate!  But now that I’ve made the decision and Toots has started preschool, I can look back and see it for what it was: just another exercise to reinforce the importance of listening to my heart…. trusting my heart to guide me even when facts and figures point in a different direction….then leaping HEART-first with courage and conviction as my wing-men.

I could share many more stories about leaping head-first vs. heart-first and what I’ve learned through these experiences. When I think about the times that I let my head call the shots at the expense of my heart, I remember the emotional distress I endured as a result: the grief, the melancholy, the disappointment, the desperation, the sheer panic, the anger, the self-hate, the SHAME.. all stemming from the misalignment between heart and head.  Looking back, I know that my greatest, most significant, most transformative, most KICK-ASS leaps happened when I followed my heart… like saying “YES!” to a last-minute assignment in Amsterdam, like starting up a conversation with the cute Dutchie sitting next to me on the plane, like launching a professional women’s network and mentoring ring in the Middle East, like leaving the corporate world behind to start my own coaching business and become a mama.  Oh the JOY that comes from leaping HEART-FIRST!

Perhaps I needed this “preschool” lesson to remind me that, although I’ve made a few “PhD-worthy” leaps in my lifetime, I must practice leaping every single day.  Some days, I need to take baby steps in the direction of my heart, and other days I need make toddler-sized hops across life’s puddles.  These mini-leaps prepare me for when it’s time to make another PhD-level leap.  By practicing the art of leaping heart-first on a daily basis, I’m ready for those life-altering moments when I’m standing on the edge of a cliff with my eyes closed, visualizing where I’m headed, taking a deep breath, and then LEEEAAAAAAPING into the unknown… yet with absolute trust and faith that I will land exactly where my heart wants me to land, exactly where I’m meant to be.

So, with this in mind, let’s start our new “school” year with some journal exercises to tune into our hearts and listen to this inner guidance.  I’ll be posting a weekly journal prompt on my Facebook page through the month of September to help you start this heart-centered dialogue and see where your heart leads you.

Week 1:  Reflect on an example of when you listened to your head (aka your logic) to make a decision and then reflect on an example of when you listened to your heart (aka your intuition or instinct) to make a decision.  What did you learn from these experiences?

Week 2: What tends to guide you in your own decision-making: your head or your heart? How can the two energies complement each other?

Week 3:  What is your heart telling you RIGHT now?  How can you learn to decrease the volume of your head and increase the volume of your heart as you make decisions? How can you learn to trust your heart to guide you?

Week 4: Re-read what your answers to the previous week’s questions.  Identify at least ONE heart-led step you would like to take before the end of September, and then define another step or two you’d like to take in October.  Challenge yourself yet be realistic.

“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

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

I’m BAAAACK!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn it feels good to be back….

Love and blessings,

Christina

 

Dreams Do Come True!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love & blessings, Christina

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