Eating oranges

When company’s coming, I normally tidy up the house hurriedly, clearing up clutter quickly. Everything must find its home–James’ smelly socks sitting in the middle of the mudroom floor, Maggie’s tiny pile of clean laundry atop the dining table outside her room, the four coffee cups on the kitchen counter. Even if I don’t have time to scrub each surface with bleach or mop the floor with wood oil soap, I can’t relax until the clutter isn’t visible and the dishes are loaded in the dishwasher.

12801343_605792375922_8706710045606079300_nAfter the mad dash through the house, I typically glance down at myself in horror and jump in the shower. Even if I don’t have time to apply makeup or shave my legs, bathing myself and brushing my teeth are essential.

This Sunday, after caring for a very sick little girl by myself for three days, I found myself staring at the clock in anticipation of my friend Erin’s visit. I looked around me; thankfully, since James had been out of town for three days, the house was already clean. I looked at myself; if I’d had an ounce more sleep, I might have cried after catching a glimpse of my hair in the mirror. However, I’d reached the point of subsisting solely on coffee fumes, and brushing my teeth and pulling my bangs away from my face was the best effort I could muster.

When Erin arrived, I laughed. She looked similarly smocked and just as exhausted. We consumed even more caffeine while halfheartedly entertaining Maggie and catching up on life. She came bearing gifts of a toy puppy, a teeny tiny watermelon from her garden, cranberry cookies, and s’mores dip. We consumed sugar and watched leaves fall while Maggie chased chickens.

That night, I explained to my mentor that I wasn’t sure what lesson I was supposed to be learning, but every time James left town, one of us was really sick. I often reached out to people asking for babysitting assistance or inviting them to visit, but by and large, I couldn’t reach people or found that people had other plans. What was the lesson I was supposed to be learning here? Could I just learn it, please, and stop dealing with this?

While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across a post about oranges.

“The smell of an orange relieves stress. Smelling an orange or eating one can reduce stress by 70%” (ThePsychMind.com).

Is this true? Is it legitimate? Is it scientific? It’s on PINTEREST, for crying out loud. But I know this—when I peel clementines for my little Maggie (which is rather tedious and a bit time-consuming), I love the scent and seem fully present and engaged. Why? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about why things work a long time ago. I just do what works.

As I reflected on three long, stressful, sleepless days and nights of caring for a sick little girl (cuddly, but sick), I recognized that I may have done a great job of caring for her, but I was sucking in the self-care department.

Ah. So that’s what I was supposed to be learning here. The age-old adage about putting on my own oxygen mask. How do you do that when your child is hacking up mucus? How do you do that on three hours of sleep? It wasn’t just about meeting my physical needs. I could handle that part and did so most of the time while taking care of Maggie. But was I mindful of my own well-being, mindful enough to stop to meet my needs even if it meant altering our daily routine and plans? When was the last time I did something frivolous and fun for myself—not related to work, an organization, or my family? Do I care for myself with as much love as I care for my daughter?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I decided I’ll start by peeling an orange every day. I’ll peel it for myself. I will enjoy the way it smells and then eat it myself instead of giving it away, which is what happens 89.5% of the time I attempt to eat one.

I think someday, when Maggie is old enough to understand the importance of loving herself—and not laying herself down on the altar of taking care of other people, or losing who she is in the name of trying to save someone else—she will thank me for eating one small clementine every day.

Plenty to be grateful for

To call Kristi Gray my friend feels like a misnomer. We share more than one secret connection, and I know God has bound us together for the rest of our lives. I couldn’t be more thankful for her. Kristi, you matter to me.

When I first saw my friend Bethany’s request for people to submit posts on gratitude for her blog during the month of November, I quickly skipped over it thinking, I have nothing to be grateful for this year.  It’s been nothing but hard.  But then as the days grew closer to November, I began to be hit with a flood of emotions, including, yes, lots of gratitude.

Fifteen years ago this week, I was on a spiral downwards.  I had just moved to Washington, D.C., three months prior, and I was in a dark, dark place.  My drinking led to blackouts, which led to waking up in strange places with strange people.  I was putting myself in more and more dangerous situations.  I had managed to lose all the friends I had in a short period of time.  My parents were no longer speaking to me.  I was alone, miserable, hated myself, wanted to die and couldn’t imagine life without alcohol because then I would have to feel all these feelings I was desperately trying to push down and hide.  On November 4, 2001, in the middle of a drink, I was struck with the thought that if I continue drinking, I am going to die, and all of a sudden I didn’t want to die anymore.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

That night I walked into a meeting of people who had managed not to take a drink for weeks, months, and even years, and I desperately wanted what they had.  They offered me a solution and walked with me through the fear and the pain and the tears and all those feelings that I didn’t want to feel.  I began to slowly experience peace and contentment and God’s presence in my life.   And I haven’t had to be alone again ever since that day.  How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for?

Fourteen years from the day I put down that drink, I began walking through perhaps the most difficult year of my life.  At the beginning of this year, I was enveloped in a darkness I didn’t think I could ever crawl out of, and worst of all, I had lost all hope.  I have been through lots of painful, dark times in my life, but I had never experienced this level of pain.  I didn’t know what to do, so I just did what I’ve been taught to do by my many mentors in life and that is to keep walking through it, hang on, and don’t give up.  My wallpaper on my phone says “Never Give Up” as a constant reminder to myself to keep going no matter what.   And I know God didn’t give up on me because He has been continuously sending me angels to guide me through this dark, difficult year.  The most amazing, beautiful people have showed up on this journey to help guide the way and help me face those parts of me I had been unwilling to face.

Just a few weeks ago, with the help of a wonderful mentor God recently placed in my life, I was able to start removing some of those things that had been blocking me from God and from others, and finally, finally the light started to come in and the darkness began to lift.  I woke up today with a smile on my face, excited to start my day, and I felt happy for the first time in a very long time.  I think I called everyone I knew to tell them I was happy! I didn’t know if I would ever feel peace and contentment and God’s presence again, and now, 15 years after I felt it for the first time, I am feeling all of those things on a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced.  On November 5, 2016, I will wake up 15 years sober, and I will wake up in the sunlight and will know that God is with me and is taking care of me and that all will be okay.

How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for?  I’ve been given my life back, not once, but twice.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

A new vision

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My spiritual mentor has told me this on numerous occasions. The saying proved true in my journey to finding my spiritual mentor, and it proved true when finding my career mentor, too.

467039_10151664152983185_896591402_oIn 2005, I attended the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers conference. In addition to meeting other fabulous speakers—people who would be key to my success and landmarks in my career journey—I met Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing. Her story and vision inspired me. A few months later, after relocating to central Arkansas, I decided to go beyond the typical follow-up after a conference (a LinkedIn invitation and message stating how much I enjoyed her presentation) and contact her to invite her to lunch. She said yes.

I held back the first time we met even though I probably wanted to beg for assistance. I didn’t want to scare the poor woman off! I’m sure I still sounded like a wayward child (I was). I truly had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go in life. In addition, my personal life was in shambles. I could find no peace and stability in my career until I found personal and spiritual peace and stability; Samantha recognized this and even pointed this out at the time. Samantha offered some ideas and suggestions, but our initial meeting was more about getting to know one another, as it should have been.

Over the next few years, we kept in touch and met a few times face to face. Samantha’s guidance was crucial. My career goals ran the gamut. I was good at everything, highly adaptable, a quick study, and stuck at a certain salary range. I kept leaving jobs in hopes of greener grass, and finding similar stubble. I couldn’t figure out my missteps until one morning over pancakes when Samantha encouraged me to create what I call my vision card. I lacked vision—and I kept accepting positions that weren’t aligned with my passion, my values, or my goals. As soon as I fixed the problems that presented themselves, I became bored, and I moved on.

vision cardSamantha asked me to create a vision board. However, I’m not really into pictures as much as I am into words, and she said that was okay. So my board because a card, and when I pictured a big display of images, the images were just words. So I wrote down all the words I envisioned.

Something beautiful is happening in my life right now. On this journey of life, I’m finding that each time I look back at my vision card, my current position aligns even more closely with the words written on it.

I don’t believe in coincidences.

I believe this is a direct result of planned and thoughtful decision-making, of saying no to interviews, of listening to my gut, of stepping away from situations that feel wrong or incomplete and stepping closer to situations and people that feel right and that align more closely with my values and goals.

If Samantha were not in my life, and were not willing to thoughtfully consider each question I ask her before responding and provide such excellent mentorship—without asking anything in return, except that I give to others—I might still feel like an aimless soul rather than a purpose-driven woman.

Dear Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

2013 year in review maggieThank you for helping me find my house. I resisted liking that house since it was more my ex-husband’s preference than mine. You might even say that I resented that darn house for a long, long time, actually. Slowly but surely, the longer I lived in it (particularly the longer I lived in it by myself), the more it grew on me. The house and I made our peace. I learned to love not only the house but the yard, the view from the front porch (thank God for the pasture and horses paid for by the neighbors!), and the woods behind my property. With lots of help, significant elbow grease, and minimal financial investment, I converted the house into a home.

Rhonda, thank you for introducing me to Cheryl and Henry Wilson. They became surrogate parents to me. I miss them so much, particularly this time of year when I just long to go home to their house and bake, bake, bake spicy pfefferneuse cookies with Cheryl. 252482_516930600632_6872391_n

Rhonda, when you offered me the opportunity to work for you as a sub-contractor six months after we closed on my house, doing odd jobs under the umbrella of real estate, I felt relieved and honored. The offer came in the nick of time. As my life mentor says, “God goes ahead and plans in love.” He certainly did that time. I was recently divorced and desperate for extra income with flexible hours. Working with you was much more classy and fun than serving drinks at the Underground Pub, and I gained experience in real estate for three years, picked your brain on a regular basis, and benefited under your leadership and guidance.

229694_506890022032_1308731_nRhonda, thank you for mentoring me and teaching me everything you could in every situation we encountered while working together. I never felt bossed around by you; I felt like a team member. I watched you open your own business. I learned how to be fearless and brave. I listened to you open and close deals while upholding high ethical standards. I observed you undergo difficult business and personal situations with grace and dignity.

I cannot even begin to list the lessons I learned from you in one measly letter. Thank you for going to lunch with me and going shopping with me and convincing me to serve on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters with you (not to mention the countless other non-profit service projects we tag-teamed on together!). It was refreshing to share my passion for non-profit fundraising and development with someone who approached volunteerism and fundraising from a business perspective. You helped me grow and develop my personal interests, weed out some of my potential career paths, and hone in on my real passion: writing, reading, and teaching these two things to others. 189672_502826380602_5699_n

I know that we don’t make or find time to talk over the phone or face to face now (shame on us!), and we live two hours away from one another, but I hope you know that you made a significant impact on my life. You helped shape me into who I am today.

Did you know that I actually LIKE who I am today, thanks to people like you? Did you know that I have direction in my life now, and that I absolutely love waking up every single day with the people in my house and going to work every day, thanks to people like you who chose to invest in my life? It’s true.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, Rhonda, I might still be floundering and trying to find my way. Thankfully, you cared enough to share your experience with me. You cared enough to share yourself with me; you shared your time with me, and that is a gift I will keep giving back to those I mentor and teach for the rest of my life.

Thank you, my friend.

I love you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Bethany

Being the dish

Giving back, paying it forward, passing it on. . .  these are concepts I live by—partly because other people have done these kind of good deeds for me and to me.

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

A friend and mentor of mine once gave me her family’s tax refund to help pay for a mission trip overseas. Their donation funded more than half of the expensive adventure. Countless times, good friends and coworkers have bought me lunch when I couldn’t have otherwise afforded to join them. When I was in third grade, my Sunday School teacher funded gymnastics lessons, a gift that led to the development of my favorite pastime and some of my greatest childhood memories and lessons learned. My gym coach lowered his rates for my parents, allowing me to compete in the sport. When I was going through a divorce and needed temporary housing, two of my friends allowed me a peaceful, quiet break from the chaos, along with plenty of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Texas soup.

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With my mentor, October 2013

I’ve been given other gifts that have nothing to do with finances, too. Many of my mom friends have prayed for Maggie and for me, encouraged me, and mailed us packages of beautiful tiny clothing, toys, books. My boss generously mentored me through the entire fall semester, answering emails, fielding questions, and sharing handouts with not even a hint of annoyance. My mentor in recovery has listened to me, mentored me, and guided me as I took her advice (or didn’t) over the past six and a half years. In college, one of my professors offered to host a few eager students at his house weekly for a Bible study on the topic of love; it changed my perceptions permanently. Many of my friends have trekked into the woods to visit me since having Maggie, making it possible for us to continue to connect in spite of my temperamental little traveler.

This fall, a friend of mine handed me four Wal-Mart gift cards worth $50 each. She explained that a friend of hers, who preferred to remain anonymous, had given her the cards to give to someone else who could pass them on to people in need. Instantly, I thought of two friends—one was caring for three foster children with no financial reimbursement, and the other was in the midst of multiple surgeries, mounting medical bills, broken appliances, and a car on its last leg.

I was so grateful for the chance to pass on the good will of someone I had never met. I was especially grateful for the timing. I’d felt compelled to help these two people, but since it was a lean time of the year for us financially, I didn’t have the means. This anonymous do-gooder did for me what I could not do for myself.

039This is the nature of God. He is always doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Giving to me when I don’t even know what I need and allowing me to extend the same blessing to others, even when my hands and wallet are empty.

Empty hands aren’t such a bad thing. I open them up, and God fills them. I give the blessings away, and I open them up again.

My God has an endless supply of goodness—I’m thankful that He lets me be the dish He uses to dose it out to His other children.

Give them their flowers

Today’s beautiful post is written by Latresha Woodruff Johnson, one of the most encouraging people I know. Latresha, thank you for continually pointing me to God and reminding me that there is always hope in Him.

IMG_7283My grandmother was named Jewel, and how fitting, because she always gave us little pearls of wisdom.  She also left us with some funny saying as well, some laced with a few four letter words (I won’t repeat those here), but I will share these:  When talking about my uncle, whom she said couldn’t keep a secret, she would say, “That boy couldn’t hold 5 ounces of water in a 10 gallon bucket with a lid on it,”  or for people who think they know it all, “His head is bigger than yours and he don’t know everything so neither do you.” And this is what she would say when you were “testing her nerves” by doing something she told you not to do: “You don’t believe fat is meat greasy!” 

Momma, as we all affectionately called her, tried to teach us to always be grateful to people even for the small things that they do.  Now here is where I insert a pearl of wisdom from Momma, “Give them their flowers while they are here.”  

 

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

That’s pretty self explanatory, but I will further break it down. She meant — say thank you to people while they are living on this earth; don’t wait until it ‘s too late.  I  know what it feels like to smell the flowers of gratitude.  I spent 16 years as a television news reporter, and now my job is to keep news reporters informed.  There was one particular reporter who I saw some promise in, but she tended to be very inconsiderate of my time and would show up unannounced.  I am a matter-of-fact person, so I definitely put her in her place, nicely though.  But again I saw promise in her, so whenever she would come by, I gave her pointers on being a great reporter and putting her stories together to make them effective.  I have watched her grow into a seasoned reporter, always thinking some veteran reporters at her TV station really must be spending time mentoring her.  Well, to my surprise, she sent me flowers this week – not literally but figuratively the way momma sent flowers.  I got a card (a nice handwritten one the way I like them–all personal) from this young reporter which read:

 

LaTresha,

You have taught me so much!  Your encouragement and feedback has helped me grow over the last 3 years into the reporter I am today.  I’ll be sending you my work from Cincinnati for more tips!  Thank you for always being so sweet, so accessible and such a joy to work with. I wish you all the best! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..

 

I can still smell those flowers… the fragrance will linger in my mind for years to come.  I feel like a proud parent. She is going to one of the largest TV markets, and I, the little ole girl from Mississippi, played a small role in molding someone into not only a master at her craft but into a kinder person. 

 

*So Lisa, I am giving you your flowers and showing you gratitude for making me proud of you and for making me feel that my words to you resonated and made a difference.  

*Bethany, I am showing you gratitude for being that person who isn’t afraid to share with the world your struggles with raw and pure emotion and honesty and allowing us to celebrate your victories and milestones and sharing that beautiful baby girl with us.  I know you, like us all, are a work in progress, but it’s clear GOD has his hands on you.  It’s so nice to be there to watch you continue to evolve.  You are a wonderful person and a woman of GOD, and I love you.  Smell the flowers!!  

*and God,  I try to show you gratitude daily by praying, reading your word and being an elevator person to others instead of a basement person.  Thank you for looking past my faults and seeing my needs.  Thank you for your Grace and Mercy (or as momma would say “thank you for dem old twins  — Grace & Mercy”), they are new everyday.  I love you Lord, I have your flowers, and I know one day you will call me home to heaven, and I will be there with a big bouquet saying,”Here I am Lord; smell your flowers!”

 

LaTresha Woodruff Johnson

Day 17: Chère Madame Douglas

*Day 17 comes to us from my friend, role model, and mentor Samantha Hartley, Founder/President of Enlightened Marketing. I’m thankful for her letter today and even more for her willingness to spend time with me and to share her insights and experience. Samantha, the answer to the question you ask in your letter is a resounding, “Yes.”*

Chère Madame Douglas,

I’ve thought of you often over the years, but never so much as this year when I turned the age you were when you died. I wonder if I’ve had on anyone the impact you had on me. I wonder if I’d only been given this many years and not another day, if I could look back on my life as complete.

I believe that people come in and out of our lives, and each of them gives us a piece of the puzzle, or maybe they plant a seed. Sometimes they’re disguised as beggars or abusers or fools, so it isn’t obvious when they’ve blessed us. Certainly anyone who is a teacher is expected to give to their students.

Yes, you taught me literally, and taught me so much. But your impact came in the form of modeling a certain way of being: cultural immersion, passionate pursuit.

As a French teacher you moonlighted as a hostess at the French restaurant to perfect your language skills. You pursued your own career development (when?) and moved from the classroom to leadership in gifted programs. I was sorry that you left teaching but loved the dedication I saw in you. You even modeled the pursuit of unexpected hobbies, like belly dancing of all things.

Your intellectual diversity influenced me greatly. It’s amazing how much of my life can be traced back to seeds planted by you:

  • Gifted education and all the creative pursuits it opened up. I can’t imagine where I’d be had you not plucked me from the main stream and identified me as different.
  • French language and culture. Although my French is probably the worst of the languages I speak, I adore it. France has been a magical place to me and I trace my love of it all, including cuisine (which I actually studied formally in Paris) back to you.  Our visit with you to Restaurant Jacques et Suzanne created a little foodie-monster!
  • Metaphysics. No one in my life had ever talked about ideas, abstractions and philosophy as you did. It’s my whole life now, seeded by you.
  • Gandhi. You took us on a field trip to see the movie, which is my all-time favorite. Again, how is it that you are the one connected to something that changed my life? It’s uncanny.
  • Russia. Five years before I moved to Russia, a place of such transformation for me, you came to our classroom. I hadn’t seen you in ages and you were just back from Russia, full of wonder for the place and all its enchantment. Was that just to reinforce for me that I would go there?

What stands out to me about our relationship is that, as a teacher who nurtured and shaped my path more than any other, there are no gushing bursts of praise or affection. I always felt from you a kind of matter-of-fact endorsement of me as the best.  I wouldn’t be surprised if others felt that from you too.

You appeared in my life at pivotal moments with those seeds. Knowing this gives me such a strong sense of meaning and design, as if life isn’t random; as if there is a support system for me that swoops in just when I need it.

I saw you the last time just a year before your death. When I think of you there, acknowledging me with your quiet smile, I imagine you knew our exchange was completed. That you’d given all you had for me in this lifetime.

I believe we’ll meet again, Mrs. Douglas, and when we do, I’ll share my amazement at the complexity of your role in my life. You’ll laugh at how long it took me to realize how interwoven you were into the tiniest yet most significant details of my journey.

And I’ll thank you so much for launching me. I will thank you for blessing me with your warmth and confidence. And for whispering clues about what was to come.

Merci, Mme. Douglas. Thank you.

Merci et au revoir – until we meet again,

Samantha