Seven Years Later

Today marks seven years from the launching of the readmoore. Whew. Seven years since Dr. Carol Zuegner told us we needed to start a blog. Nine thousand, five hundred and forty three views later, I never knew how much having a public outlet for my words would mean to me. One hundred and fifty six posts (and 13 unpublished saved drafts later), I am so grateful, so humbled to be able to go back and read where my head was at – in the tender years of early college, in the years of figuring out where I was headed (not that it’s a finished thought), and reading the words I never had the courage to post. One hundred and eighteen comments later, I can read the feedback of those I know and love – and those I don’t know but my words impacted… It’s crazy. It’s been transformative.

I marked this date a few months back and promised myself I’d write some semblance of a retrospective – where was I then, where am I now? I thought I would have some epic observations, some insightful conclusions. I took time today and in recent weeks to read posts that I’d written in 2011, never thinking I’d go back and read them. I never thought I would be keeping this up years from now. But, alas, here I am.

And, here I am lacking epic observations or insightful conclusions. I guess I’m just here! And while it wasn’t what I imagined being an epic post, I’m glad to be where I am. In the years since I started this blog, I’ve journeyed through college, tackled the most emotionally challenging experience of my life to date, made amazing friends, dated, adventured, journeyed, moved, graduated. I’ve lived in Omaha, Maine, Chicago, and now Houston. I’ve earned my degrees, completed an AmeriCorps year, got a “big girl job,” raised over $15 million dollars with clients, figured out a whole hell of a lot about myself, lost weight (and then gained weight), stayed out way too late, snuck onto private ships, ran a half marathon, competed on bodybuilding stages and powerlifting platforms, tried to learn to curl my hair, wanted to get a dog (didn’t), lost my family dog, buried loved ones, realized the power of a well-written memo, traveled around the country, witnessed marriages of dear friends and family, went to Disneyland, and geez, I don’t know, lots of beautiful things. I’ve seen blessings come to life. That’s how I’ll sum it up.

I read back from a post from my first week of writing readmoore. I quoted from a book that I have STILL not read – from Erwin McManus’ ‘Chasing Daylight’ – (which is now on my 2018 list!) that said: “There are things that God does for you, and there are things God waits for you to do. The journey begins when you choose. Stop wasting daylight. Choose a life of meaningful adventure. When you do, you will live in the epicenter of God’s activity.”

Maybe that’s the best way to say it. In these past seven years, I’ve tried, failed, and recommitted (over and over again) to choose to do things that God is waiting for me to do. I’ve tried to not waste daylight. I’ve chosen and continue to choose a life of meaningful adventure. And boy, does the epicenter of God’s activity feel amazing. Thanks for following my journey.

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Sheryl and Stevie

I can’t get enough of this performance of one of my favorite songs, Strong Enough, by Sheryl Crow. This particular video is of a duet with Stevie Nicks.

[There is little to say about this but to put it out there. Skip to 1:13 if you want to get right to the song.]

I read a quote the other day that said “you’ll be too much woman for every man until you meet your soulmate.” And I feel like Sheryl is essentially saying the same thing, but for a few minutes. “Just try and love me if you can – are you strong enough to be my man?”

Perhaps the one that resonates with me most is:

“When I’ve shown you
That I just don’t care
When I’m throwing punches in the air
When I’m broken down and I can’t stand
Would you be man enough to be my man?”

I am not a raging feminist (though I have no hate for those who are) but I will say that you, my dear, should not dim your beautiful self to make a man comfortable. Because there will be a man who wants every ounce of that crazy, energetic, passionate woman. Take heart, because he will come along….probably when you least expect it.

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give yourself a little grace

I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole NYE craziness and then the swath of resolutions. I think it oftentimes causes folks to feel so negatively about their past year – “I didn’t do x, y, or z.” Or “I didn’t fulfill this goal or that resolution.” Or even worse, “I am so glad (insert year here) is over.” While I understand that some things in life are just plain sad or hard, I hate that it colors the year (or the person) as a failure.

I say all of this because I’ve fallen victim to this line of thought, too. I have looked back and thought “I wanted to read a book a month. I think I might have gotten six done. Or, my goal to travel went another year unfulfilled. But, I’ll offer a different perspective for those who are interested.

Each step that we take is divinely designed. While the culmination of the year may not match up to the list of things we set out to do on a rather arbitrary schedule/date (January 1 really means nothing when we look at the entirety of a life), I think it’s best that we look for lessons. I challenge myself to think about the ways in which the previous year were great, hard, sad, encouraging, exciting, fun, and challenging. That way, I can identify patterns, people, experiences, and habits that are either worth investing time into, or, more importantly, not.

But the biggest step in this reflection is to give yourself a little grace. We’re not perfect. We’re never going to be. What we did at the time we did it was the best that we could do with what we had. So, maybe you didn’t read all twelve books, or go to yoga once a week, or travel the world. But, you got a promotion and you formed a few really transformational new friendships. If you were in Europe or at home reading, you may never have met those people or cranked it out in the office as much as you did.

I guess the gist of this is to just encourage each of us to set goals, yes, but also take heart and leave room for some grace. For you. You, my love, deserve it.

And when someone says to you, a little ways down your life journey, “You changed.” I pray you are able to respond, “Mhmm, I’m different now. I love myself more.”

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Stuck in the gutter?

Oscar Wilde once said “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I don’t know the origin of the quote or the context in which he said it, but it’s striking to me. I see it as kind of an Eeyore mentality in that we’re all in the gutter, but a Winnie-the-Pooh mentality to look up at the stars.

Perhaps it strikes me strongly right now because I feel like as a country, as a society, we’re seemingly deep in the gutter — and not enough people are looking up at the stars. Because when you look up at the stars, you want to reach for something. When you want to reach for something, you dream about it. You imagine your life differently. You start to see a path forward and ponder how… You identify the action steps necessary. And, you begin to work your way out.

So, I began to wonder: what is keeping us “in the gutter?” I came up with a few societal ills that I think begin to cover our collective gutter-dwelling status. Disclaimer: I identify these and by no means say that I am innocent of them; quite opposite, actually. I think that we all can fall victim to these, and other problems that hold us down.

  1. Entitlement – We seem to live in a world where we believe we deserve the best things. We’re quick to be frustrated, we want everything perfect and immediately, and we are quick to judge others for a litany of different things.
  2. Violence – The world is plagued by people and groups who resort to violence to express their emotions, recklessly hurting others and extinguishing people with whom they disagree. This underlines a misconception on the value of each person’s life, as well as proves the entitlement issue (i.e.: a violent perpetrator believes their life to be more important than that of their victims).
  3. Apathy – We see a whole lot of bad going on, and don’t often do too much (if anything at all) to stop it. We need to be excellent – and by that, I mean we need to excel in our effort to do good, recognize good, praise good, reaffirm good, and ensure good continues. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So, we’ve got to continue to practice it.

So, while the previous list isn’t exhaustive, I think it groups some necessary realities into easy to digest topics. And, it helps me to think about how to transfer those into positives.

  • Instead of acting entitled, remember that I am NO better than any other person. I am called to be a peaceful, loving child of God – a sister to all. That means I do good and be good, loving those around me for all of their qualities and their flaws, and believe that they will do the same in return.
  • Instead of acting violent or endorsing violence, I preach and teach a culture of understanding and conflict resolution that takes place using words and conversation rather than acts of aggression. While I am blessed to not face extreme violence, I recognize that violent acts are a slippery slope, and so I keep my eyes open to actions that are violent in nature.
  • Instead of feeling numb about the tragic ways of the world and doing nothing, I seek to be a voice that shares positivity and a different way. I don’t submit that the world is unchangeable; rather, I believe that the drops I add to the ocean do indeed create a ripple (at least I pray that they do). I continually think “Is what I am doing today going to get me closer to where I want to be tomorrow?”

At the heart of it, I think that we as a society and a world are in a very busy, loud, place where there are lots of voices speaking and not enough ears listening. “Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” I think we, collectively, have a lot to understand about each other. I truly believe that if we seek to understand and move forward so tomorrow is better, then we, despite coming from different places, are all “in the gutter together” but “looking at the stars.”

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numb to the news

It’s frustrating to me that yet another senseless act of violence has happened. It’s heartbreaking to me to hear the names of the victims. It’s confounding to me that it continues to happen. And its disturbing to me that I’ve reached a point where I come to expect it.

I am almost ashamed to admit that it doesn’t hit my heart as hard as I want it to. I don’t say that to sound robotic. But in attempt of being riskily honest, I will say that now, when I turn on the news and see yet another act of violence or terror, it doesn’t stop me in my tracks like it used to.

Instead, it follows a typical set of reactions: we are shocked, we begin to learn the names, we begin to hear a profile of the killer, 24 hour news cycles ask ‘why’ and camp out on the victims’ families front yards, you start to see #Prayfor(InsertCityHere) on social media, you hear talking heads on the news analyzing the crime and the mind of the killer, and you’re told to focus on the victims and not on the killers name. We’re told it’s not a time for politics, we’re told by the right the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; we’re told by the left that guns are the problem. For those who don’t pick a side and many in between, we’re told that mental health is the issue. Either way, no matter what way you lean, there’s an issue.

I don’t say the previous litany of reactions to undermine the severity of the tragedies. In fact, it’s for the opposite reason. I say it because I’m so fed up with having this be such a routine. To hear Anderson Cooper have to come on and speak with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, etc. To see grown men cry over the loss of their children, to hear politicians ask for prayers and support for their cities and states, and I just don’t know how I want to act.

To feel so small in a world that seems so full of hate is overwhelming. It feels like a burden that I can’t bear. I don’t know what is needed, I really don’t. I think that’s what is so hard. I can’t imagine the feeling of the families who lose a loved one and have the eyes of the nation on them, just to have another tragedy four days later and the news crews are gone. They pack up and move on to the next ravaged town. It’s hard to understand.

According to the FBI, a “mass killing” is defined as “murdering four or more persons during an event with no cooling-off period between the murders.” And USA Today reports that 208 people have died this year as a result of mass killings. This makes it the deadliest year for mass killings in over a decade. And the trend just seems to be being beat each year. Because the runner up was 2016, with 188 people killed in such attacks.

One of the craziest part of these statistics that I found in my research is how common mass killings are. I thought that what we saw on the news was bad. But according to USA Today, mass killings take place once every two weeks on average. And “though large public killings, like those in Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, and Newtown earn headlines and national attention, the data reveal that these account for only about one in five mass killings.”

And, according to Mother Jones’ Google database on mass killings from 1982-2017, only 15 of the 96 were committed using weapons obtained illegally.

The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of public record and aggregates the information for public review. In 2017 alone, there have been 52,489 gun violence incidents, resulting in 13,183 deaths and 27,002 injuries. Of those killed or injured, 3,380 of them were children under age 17.

Living in Chicago, I became numb to the number of shootings happening each day. Particularly, the weekends where the article would be about a specific incident, and then the end of the article with quickly mention the 3-5 other gun incidents that happened during the same news cycle. Like, there wasn’t even enough room for them to include them separately so they group all the violence into one.

This morning, the headline in Chicago read “Chicago close to recording 600th homicide for only second time since 2003.” A neighbor of a homicide victim on Chicago’s South Side was asked why not move to a safer place. “I’m scared to move somewhere else because it’s so bad everywhere,” she said. “At least I know people here now.” What a situation to be in.

When I write, I want it to have an action step, a lesson, something to go on. In this situation, I don’t. And that is so tough. But, I think silence on a subject is worse than what I’m doing. At least thinking about it, learning about it, writing about it, well, it validates that it’s happening.

What now?

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stay awake, be ready.

Walking into church this morning, I didn’t expect to see purple. While I know that Advent comes around every year in what seems like minutes after Thanksgiving dishes are cleaned up, I still was surprised today. Today’s Mass was a prime example of how I get caught up checking off the items on my to-do list, but overlook the bigger picture! And to think that the whole message is “Stay awake, be ready, for you know not the hour when the Lord is coming.” Well, I wasn’t awake. But, I can assure you that after the great Mass experience I had this morning, I am awake and more prepared than ever to try and make this Advent my best yet. As I have referenced before, I’m a tad OCD when it comes to accomplishing things: I’m an organizer, a planner, a list-maker, a rule follower. So, the same will be true for me in this Advent mission. I have come up with a few items that I’d like to pay more attention to incorporating in my life this Advent, as well as a reflection on how my mindset can be focused during this season of preparation, anticipation, and excitement.

1) I’d like to get back into the routine of attending weekday Masses. For someone who works in churches every day, I haven’t been to a weekday Mass in quite some time. And I haven’t been going with any regularity since college. In an effort to be practical about the time binds of work and competition prep, I will strive to make it to a weekday Mass at least once per week during this Advent season.
2) As a professional in the nonprofit sector, one might think that I have many volunteering obligations. However, I spend so much time in the act of fundraising and working with my client, that I don’t sacrifice my personal time to service to others. This is something I’d like to change for this Advent season. I don’t have expectations on what it will look like specifically, but in a city with such great need, I want to make sure to incorporate at least two acts of volunteer service over this Advent season.
3) When we think of “getting ready for Christmas,” the first thing that often comes to mind is the shopping for gifts and the stress that perhaps accompanies the task. I am grateful that my immediate family has decided to forego gifts this year in order to take a family trip over the Christmas holiday instead. This makes me able to more fully focus on the reason for the season, seeing that I won’t be caught up in checking people off my Santa shopping list. Through this deferral of gifts, I think I will have greater opportunity to spend time and money on things that bring value to the season. At this moment, the first thing that comes to mind is my newfound love for cooking. I hope to work on this skill while giving back to others. I think that baking some goodies and trying some new recipes will be a great way to give back to the folks who make my life brighter each day (but who may not expect a gift from me!)

Lastly, the mindset of the season. This, for me, is paramount. As I prepare to wrap up a long term assignment in Chicago and begin to transition to a new client and assignment (perhaps moving states away), I think that the only realistic way I accomplish that with low stress is to give it up to God. I think that the metaphor of walking on the beach with the Lord is applicable here. Right now, I’m walking beside him, but now that at any moment, I’m going to be picked up and carried through to the next safe space to land. What can I do to make this preparation one that is fruitful and effective? And, besides the move and upcoming transition, a few overall questions to consider: Am I being who Christ wants me to be? Am I acting in a way that is loving, patient, and kind? Am I acting in service of self, or others? Am I the girlfriend that my partner deserves? Am I in control of my emotions and aware of my words? Am I being a supportive member of my family? Am I present while in conversations? These are some thematic questions I hope to keep in mind during this time of preparation for Christmas.

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Choosing Happiness: forgiveness, God, politics, lists, youtube, priorities, transitions, traffic, and friendships.

I think that we need to work on our understanding of happiness. In my mind, contentedness is similar to a point where it’s often unrecognizable. I know that for me, when I am “happy,” it’s a time when things are – simply put – going well. Nothing dramatically amazing is flying around in front of me, but if asked, I can’t think of too many rough things either. Happy means I’m set, I’m good to go, things are good…you get the point.

But what plays into that? Surely its not that I was prescribed a list of things to do to be happy directly before I was asked how if I felt that emotion, right? “Do this, this and this, and you’ll be happy.” *Proceed to do this this and this, and !@#$ there we go.* No. When I was writing down random thoughts I wanted to put forth in a post, I realized that in doing so, I was creating an ingredient list for happiness. There are some greater themes which could encircle the words, perhaps PERSPECTIVE and FAITH are among the most encompassing. But, I digress. I will share a bit about each of the things that flew into my psyche when I decided I wanted to spew some words into cyberspace.

(1) Forgiveness. It’s probably my #5 favorite F word, after Family, Friends, Faith, and Food. 🙂 When you search the term on Google, you receive over 68 million results in half of one second. So, FORGIVE me for adding yet another interpretation. The presented definition – in the handy little “we hope this is your perfect response and the only answer you need” box that Google provides – is “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.” Hmmmmm…I don’t like this definition. Though disagreeing with it would suggest I have a new definition, I don’t. But, I do think that forgiveness doesn’t require there to be a VICTIM and I don’t think there has to be an OFFENSE. I think it relates more to the CONSCIOUS DECISION that whatever the “offense” was in the SUBJECT’s mind/heart, is not paying the rent for squatting in their mind/heart any longer. It’s the first of the month, that offense isn’t a good tenant. Move Out.

Now I say that and it makes it sound transactional and easy, which I know would be foolish to try and persuade one to believe. In my life, I have come to realize that forgiveness is a freeing process by which I can let things go and the best part is it’s up to me. I think a VERY important truth of this is the following: Just because you have decided to forgive the other person for whatever the action/inaction was, it doesn’t negate the validity of whatever feelings you had. Does that make sense? For example: One hypothetically is in an office environment, when a coworker says something vile and offensive regarding our main character. It was hurtful and poorly thought out. Now, our subject is upset by this, understandably. Regardless of the offender’s reaction with either an apology or not, the ball is in our subject’s court. She/He can decide that this comment is either worth their stress/anxiety/mental energy, or not. Welcome, forgiveness, you’re now at the party. If and when the subject forgives the person (in their mind or by their words), it wipes clean the offense in the sense that they are no longer suffering from it because they have chosen to abort that feeling. I think it’s an important distinction, though, to know that it doesn’t mean that just because you can decide to forgive someone, that the initial feelings you had at the time of the offense are any less valid or reasonable.

So, forgiveness. Practicing it, working at it (literally done by not-so-simply choosing to do it) has been working wonders in my life. Both with very big things in my past, as well as the day-to-day antics.

(2) God. An obvious one for me so I won’t need to go on for long. But, talking to God keeps me happier than anything else. I have been winding around in “I don’t know how to connect with God” no-mans-land for a while, and then the tried and true method of writing in my journal every night works without fail. It can be short, it can be long, but doing that, putting my thoughts on paper (to God) really feels like the most genuine sense of calm in my day.

(3) Politics. (Insert obligatory laugh here, because WHY IS POLITICS LISTED IN THE HAPPINESS POST?!) Well, I’ll tell you. This Presidential election, no matter how incredibly theatric it is and is portrayed, teaches me something quite exciting. YOU can do whatever you want. That is a liberating feeling. We have a man who decided that he was going to dye his skin orange, his fake hair blond, own hotels, host a TV show, fire a bunch of worthy people, say whatever is on his brain, and, oh yeah, run for Oval Office. We also have a woman who has fallen down and continued to get back up, who has ridiculed others and broken laws, who has represented the people and also been out of touch, who offends fashion sense on a regular basis, and she has decided too, that she is qualified to be the President. I promise, I’m not supporting either one of them. But I will say this. When I see the platform these two people have and the influence they have drawn, I can only be encouraged by the realization that this means we ALL have an incredible opportunity to impact the world. We can each decide to do whatever the heck we want to, say whatever is on our mind, work 54234 different jobs, and still, we could still be top dog (that is, if we want to be). That’s encouraging.

(4) Lists. I don’t have to promise you that lists are constantly made by me, as this post is evidence of it….Zoinks. Well, being OCD about lists has made me happier. Crossing things off. Making personal to-do lists, work priorities, goals, dates of letters I’ve sent, etc. It’s satisfying for me because when I have written something down (usually in a list, haha) it is off my brain. I have room to think about and process other things. It helps me work more efficiently, be more present in the moment, and be happier. Boom.

(5) YouTube. Whew. I was close to omitting this from my list of choosing happiness, but I try to be authentic. I digress. I’ve gotten hooked to a few different YouTubers who really shine a light of perspective and happiness in my life. Some days, it’s because I learn something about that person that I find unappealing, thereby teaching me more about how I want to be, and other days, it’s because I admire a trait or way of acting and it inspires me to work better at that corner of my life. There are moments which just induce laughter, and I’m always grateful for that. By following some YouTubers who share similar passions as me, it makes me feel a little less “woman on an island” at times.

(6) Priorities. This one ties into lists, as my priorities are usually listed somewhere. But I think that there is a huge pressure for people to find BALANCE – it’s nearly a buzzword in today’s society….work life balance, personal time balance, it’s important to find balance…blah blah blah. What I would say to that is this seemingly epic quest of FINDING BALANCE really looks like (1) Identify your required actions. (2) Identify your most pleasing experiences. (3) Prioritize both of them, by treating #2 just as attentively as you treat #1. Does this mean since you love going to the spa, you do that instead of work? No. But it means that instead of checking your email 43 more times in the afternoon, you take a break and get a manicure. Then, checking your email later doesn’t stress you out – plus you get to look at your pretty nails as you type. 🙂 I think that the pressure of trying to find this stealthy balance in life puts you in a place where you’re unbalanced! How about that! I saw a post recently that said “Make a list of things that make you feel alive. Make a list of things you do everyday. Compare the lists. Adjust accordingly.”

(7) Transitions. I work in a profession where moving is a reality of my life. Geographic relocation is impending and not up to me at any time. So, I’ve found that applying my best friend’s advice has been a game-changer: “BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED.” Every place has potential. Every where you live can be an okay place to be. If you decide, as you’re getting to know where you are, that this place is going to be good for you, then damn it, you’re going to seek out (and definitely find) things that are good. It’s a perspective thing again. But transitions that are monumental shifts in your life are written to be bad – usually attached to words like “Coping With Transition” or “Making a Positive Transition.” By qualifying a transition as positive, it assumes that without that adjective, it’s not! Why not? I’ve tried to have a better opinion on transitions so they are less scary and more full of potential!

(8) Traffic. Ugh. Chicago is one giant, beautiful, diverse, bustling, talented, incredible PARKING LOT. And the best part of choosing happiness when this ridiculous traffic exists in everyone’s life is to simply know that we’re all in this together. Let’s all just recognize that it sucks just as much for you as it does for the guy behind you, and by breathing in and out a few more times than you are right now, you would gain some perspective. You’re running late? IT. IS. NOT. THE. END. OF. THE. WORLD. I say this like I practice what I preach…let me be clear. I utter my 6th favorite F word constantly in traffic. But, i try to keep this in mind.

(9) Friendships. Boom, this one need not be explained. Simply put, that text from your best friend? Answer it. In unlocking your phone to see that meme she sent you, or to answer her call when she has a minute, you’re choosing happiness.

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