It’s who you are, not what you do

the secret but somewhat obvious thing behind what you do

 

During this time of physical illness I’ve thought a lot about what I’ll want to do when I’m well again.  Mostly, I joke, but with all sincerity, that I want a vacation.  That I want to just do whatever it is I want to do whenever I want to do it and enjoy every second of it!  I want to go to the beach.  I want to run, and dance, and skip.  I want to do agility training with my dog.  I want to learn modern calligraphy.  I want to visit places of ancient history and stand in awe, feeling deeply connected to all of humanity.

 

You get the idea.

 

But the other thing I’ve thought a lot about is what I’ll want to do to make a living, whether I’ll return to teaching, create a program for kids outside of the public school system, start a coaching practice for adults, become an author, etc.  And for now, I always end up at the same answer–I don’t know.

 

For a long time I’ve desperately wanted to know the answer, experiencing various amounts of peace within this phase of, “I don’t know right now, and that’s okay.”  But what I’ve come to realize is that figuring it out doesn’t require anywhere near as much pressure as I’d been heaping on top of it.  And what matters even more than what I choose is the fact that it will be me doing it.  I can choose whichever path brings me the most joy when the time comes and I can’t tell you how unbelievably freeing that feels.  Talk about taking the pressure off!

 

And the same is true for you.  It is what you bring to whatever you do that matters.  Unless you’re a sociopath who finds pleasure in harming others…which, as a lovely person who gets my emails, I trust you are not.

 

It’s who you are that makes what you do meaningful.

 

Sure, there may be types of service that your soul is called to more than others but no matter what, your purpose is bigger and more precious than any label or occupation.

 

At Luther College we were reminded of the term vocation often and were encouraged to consider what Frederick Buechner calls, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

 

This works for on a grand scale but it’s also true for the little things.  And chances are, there is something you’re already doing, that’s inherent in who you are, that is helping to make the world a better place.  Find that, and focus upon it.  And I promise, the joy that you discover there will propel you forward to uncover even more of what you love and what you are meant to do while you’re here.

 

And I would LOVE to hear what happens!

 

I am sending so much appreciation for who you are and what you bring to the world in the unique and exact way that only you can.

 

Big hugs,

Caitlin

 

P.S.  I’m a little late in getting the word out but…

This summer Martha Beck is offering some fun sale-priced product bundles that she’s calling “fundles.”  :)  I’m an affiliate since as far as I’m concerned she practically has the Midas touch, where everything she has a hand in creating is pure gold, but feel free to head over, check them out, and decide for yourself!

 

The thing that changes everything

the thing that changes everything

 

I woke up one morning feeling so special.  Not in an arrogant, better-than-everyone-else sort of way in which this statement might normally be taken, but in a genuine awareness of how special we all are.  You.  Me.  Everyone.

 

And it is this deepening awareness that so strongly makes me feel the need to tell you so.

 

You are so special.  Prized.  Cherished.  Treasured.  Adored.  And your soul, your love, and your life matter so much more than you can possibly imagine.

 

Those of us that are lucky, have parents, family members, friends, and teachers tell us this as we grow up.  But to we really believe them?  Do we know it to be true as surely as we can feel our own heartbeat?

 

Why do we resist this?  For fear, as I mentioned before, of falling into arrogance?  The irony there is that at this moment, I can’t think of anything more humbling than to honor the magnificence that is all of creation, recognizing and celebrating the love and goodness and gifts within ourselves and others.

 

How strikingly beautiful would the world be if we all really knew how special we are and wholeheartedly lived our lives from that understanding?

 

There is a quotation from Holocaust survivor Jay Sommer that I always felt captured the essence of my mission as a public school teacher.  It goes like this:

 

“Inspiring students with a sense of their own worth gives them the confidence to express themselves more freely, to explore and learn through their mistakes, and to regard learning as an adventure.”

 

Perhaps we’re all just students who need to be inspired with a sense of our own worth in order to regard LIFE as an adventure.

 

May you know the depths of how truly special you are and allow that knowledge to be the spark that changes everything.

 

With love,

Caitlin

 

The true glimmer of hope in all of life’s seasons

This is the #Truthbomb that recently popped up for me on Danielle LaPorte’s super fun new app.

 

what time is it in your life

 

It didn’t even take five seconds for the phrase, “a time of letting go,” to come to mind.  The last year and a half of illness has felt like an opening, a great expanse dedicated to letting go.

 

What time is it in YOUR life?

 

Perhaps you’re in the space of an exciting new beginning, or feel like your life is soaring along beautifully, and if that’s the case, then I send you three cheers and a big high five!

 

Maybe you have a new goal or dream you’re working towards that it is feeling harder to reach than you thought it would be, and you’re pressing forward with resilience and a steady flutter of passion and excitement in your heart.

 

It could be that you’ve experienced a disappointment or loss that has brought with it great pain and strong emotions that you’re trying to figure your way through.

 

Or maybe, like me, you’ve had illness or something else come crashing into your life like a wrecking ball and you’re in the space of letting ALL the old stuff fall away at once.

 

Or perhaps you’ve made it through the demolition phase and are now dreaming of something new, your heart and mind filled with the joy of possibilities.

 

No matter where any of us are in our lives, I’d love for us to take a moment to savor the fact that hope is always there, just like the sun.  Even though clouds may block some of the light or keep us from feeling its warmth, there’s no question about the fact that it is still there shining on the other side.

 

Believing in the presence of hope and trusting it will endure, standing the test of time and trials, is the very thing that will help us to see it again and feel those delicate and nourishing rays that help brighten our very being.

 

In what has felt like an endless cycle of getting excited about a new treatment, only to have my hopes dashed, again and again, I’ve found a new way of thinking about hope.

 

Even in in my darkest moments, I’ve held a little glimmer hope in my heart.  This glimmer comes from the discovery that it doesn’t matter how large the flame of hope feels in the candle of your heart.  It doesn’t even matter if there is a flicker at all because the moment that it seems to be gone is the moment you find comfort in the deeper truth, that the precious wick remains.

 

Our hope lies not in the fact that the candle will never burn out or be blown out, but in the fact that the wick can always be relit to shine and glow again.

 

And it is in this hope that we find the courage to focus on what we want with our entire heart and mind, bringing it closer and closer to us with each flip of the calendar, with the passing of each sunset, and with each breath we take.

 

May hope shine brightly within you always,

Caitlin

 

 

I hope you dance

I love to dance.

 

And for a year and a half now, I have not been able to.

 

So Lee Ann Womack’s song that goes, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance,” even as just a metaphor for life, somewhat breaks my heart.  That’s because physically, I’ve been doing a lot more sitting than I’ve ever done before or ever thought I would do–especially at 28 years old.

 

Literally sitting, not dancing.

 

But by sitting, I’m playing my part right now; stepping up to do what my body and soul have asked.  Which means that what I’ve been doing IS dancing.  That’s right, I am dancing even though I physically can’t dance.  How cool is that!?

 

Dancing is living with courage. 

 

Life is calling us to take a leap in every moment; each one unique in its shape, size, manner, and purpose.  But having the courage to show up, THAT’S dancing.

 

Sometimes that might be going for a run along the river, when at other times it means staying still and curling up in your favorite chair.

 

Sometimes it might mean opening up a flower shop because it’s always been your dream or it might be appreciating the beauty of a single flower sitting on your coffee table.

 

Sometimes it might be speaking up and sharing your message with a group of people, and sometimes it might mean quietly acknowledging and accepting your own truth.

 

Each of us has the power to recognize which kind of leap we’re being called to next.  And when we feel that pull, we have a decision to make.

 

Did you notice that in the song she doesn’t say IF you get the choice, but WHEN you get the choice?

 

That’s because we always have a choice.

 

We choose.  We decide whether to walk toward life or turn away from it.

 

I choose courage.  And I choose stepping out onto the dance floor of life, whatever form it takes.

 

by Justin Leibow i choose courage

 

So let’s dance.

 

May you dance in exactly the way life is calling to you right this very minute.

 

And if you’d like to share what that means for you, I’m all ears.  Send me an email or comment over on Facebook.

 

The little girl with the sparkle in her eye

This photo of me as a little girl reappeared in my life this past autumn.

 

enthusiastic caitlin 2

 

It was part of a beautiful book my cousin put together for me.  Inside are loads of pictures, inspiring quotations, and heartfelt messages from family and friends.

 

On my first look through the book, my mom pointed out this photo and said that it perfectly captures who I was as a child.  I smiled at the thought and flipped to the next page.

 

Later that night, I gazed at the photo again.  With tears in my eyes, I looked at this little girl and realized that I hardly recognized her.  I felt the tremendous gap between who it appears I was then and who I am now.  I started to wonder, when did that sparkle in my eyes start to fade?  How had life come to tear me so far away from who I used to be?

 

And then gradually I concluded that this wasn’t just a distant person I used to know.

 

I thought, THIS is the real me.

 

This genuine joy.  This enthusiasm.  This love of life.

 

It’s all still there.

 

Some of it just happened to become hidden under layers and layers of life experiences–the ones that change all of us.

 

And while we can’t take away any of the experiences that caused us pain or caused us to change into whoever we thought the world wanted us to be, we CAN call the child within us home.  We can choose to wrap that little girl or little boy up in love.  And we can find ways to honor their bright spirit wherever we are now.

 

Just as I thought to myself that night, this is it; this is my opportunity to fall in love with that little girl again and let the light within her shine. 

 

More and more, I keep getting the sense that life and the challenges we face are less about needing to fix or change anything about ourselves, and more about learning to deeply love and fully accept ourselves.

 

In each moment that you choose to treat yourself with love and kindness, it brings a new kind of joy into being; a joy that does not depend on circumstances, a joy that allows your body to breathe a sigh of relief, and a joy that helps you relax into a deep sense of peace.

 

Care to give it a try?  Let me know over on the Facebook page. :)

 

How sharing our stories can help us connect in challenging times

notebook framed

About a month ago, I posted in a Facebook group for bloggers.  I shared my About Page to get some feedback and a girl from North Carolina responded, saying she is housebound with an illness too.

 

I remember the gentle sigh of comfort that followed, leaving me feeling like I could breathe a little easier than before.  It was the unmistakable relief that comes from knowing you’re not the only one.

 

We both commented on the power of knowing this, especially in such isolating circumstances.  She called it the power of having someone say, “me too.”

 

It was a beautiful experience and I wish I could say it has stuck with me ever since, bringing constant and continuous comfort.

 

But it hasn’t.

 

Especially not this past week.

 

For many reasons, I found myself in the throes of intense loneliness, isolation, and abandonment for much of the last week.  Despite the factual knowledge that there are people who love and care about me, I couldn’t feel it.

 

Sometimes it helps to know that certain feelings are just part of the human condition and that everyone experiences them at one point or another.  And sometimes it doesn’t.

 

It’s not so helpful when you’re pretty sure that even if others feel that way too, yours is definitely worse.  Being housebound with an illness where you’re physically unable to do the most basic everyday things others do without giving it a thought will do that to you.

 

And that’s how I felt.  I didn’t care if anyone else was experiencing it too.  I didn’t want to have to be feeling it.  It felt awful and I wanted it to stop.  Plain and simple.

 

I reached out to a fellow coach who helped me allow myself to recognize the feelings of loneliness and isolation–as well as the deep longing for connection and community–for what they are.

 

Normal.  Real.  Understandable.  Healthy.

 

This lifted some of the pressure so I no longer felt the need to change it or minimize it, and could just feel it and allow it to be.  It still wasn’t easy–it’s hard when it feels like everything is going swimmingly for everyone but you and you’re pretty sure that you really are the only one.

 

But for me, sharing with her made the difference.  I felt heard.  I knew she cared.  And while it didn’t take the feeling away, it helped make it feel a little less awful.

 

So today I’m here to declare that our stories matter.

 

Our stories help us connect with others.

 

Having the courage to share our experiences openly and honesty with people we trust creates the potential for connection.  It clears a sacred space, an opening that allows someone to have the opportunity to say, “me too,” so that neither person is left feeling alone.

 

Perhaps your story is just the one someone needs to hear in order to experience the relief of knowing they’re not the only one.

 

If you have a “me too” story to share, I’d love to hear it over on the Facebook page or in an e-mail.

 

An imperfect step in the direction of my inner eagle’s dreams

red shoes agathabrown mf

 

As the first time for me to publish something on the blog in a couple of months, I wanted to put together a pretty and perfectly polished post for you.

 

This sent me on a short boat ride through some agonizing thought waves.

 

What was I thinking when I promised I’d have a blog post out this week?  I should have prepared some blog posts BEFORE taking the leap and making promises.  Should my about page say something different?  I have every hope in the world that I’ll continue to get better, so what if I become completely healthy and want to write about something different?  I don’t want to keep changing things left and right and make myself seem unreliable.

 

You get the idea.  Lots of doubts.  Lots of shoulds.  And lots of me wanting to be able to see the full picture and get everything right from the start.

 

It is an example of me trying to navigate what Martha Beck calls Mouse Vision vs. Eagle Vision.  You see, the eagle in me has big dreams for this blog.  It can see far off into the distance and can imagine incredible things.  But as the mouse, I can only see what’s right in front of me.  Not knowing what the official title of the blog will be long term or which topics and themes will stand the test of time.

 

My mouse self REALLY wants all of the details.  And it wants to know exactly the right thing to do so it can skip to the grand vision as quickly as possible.

 

But as the mouse, all I can do is take the best step forward that I know how to take in the direction of the eagle’s vision.

 

So here I am.  Writing about my experience and sharing it with you, instead of trying to write about what I thought my first post back should be about.  So it may not be pretty or perfectly polished like I’d hoped, but that’s part of what makes it beautiful.  The imperfection makes it real.  And sharing something real and authentic is always beautiful.

 

It comes down to letting go of perfection and the need to get it juuuust right from the very beginning.  Besides, neither of those things even exist!  Incredible creations come to be by trying, failing, adjusting, and trying again.  Over and over.

 

We can alternate mouse vision and eagle vision.  We can use and balance the strengths of both.  And we can keep the spirit of the eagle’s vision alive in our hearts WHILE taking only one step at a time as the mouse.

 

What grand vision does your inner eagle have?  As the mouse, what’s one imperfect step you can take in that direction?

 

I would LOVE to hear your comments about the post and your answers to these questions in the thread on the Facebook page!

 

DadClass 2: What you tell yourself matters. Big time.

He whacks the tennis ball with dad-style force, and it flies over the net, heading my direction at top speed.  Once again, it arrives before I can get my feet planted, with my racquet set to return the hit.  My high school kid eyes widen with disbelief, “How could I have missed it again?  Ah, it was going WAY too fast!”  Just then, he motions to me, pointing from one ear to the other, and says, “It’s between the ears, kiddo.”  This was his shorthand reminder for me to believe in myself, that knowing I can do it is a key ingredient in making things happen.  And it was my introduction to a far reaching life lesson.

Fast forward about 5 years and you’d find my dad in the middle of the ultimate battle of his life – the battle FOR his life.  I remember the day he showed me the mask, plastic with tiny mesh-like holes.  Form fitting, it had been molded to fit around the contours of his face and around his entire head.  It held specific markings that indicated where to focus the radiation during treatments.  I was in awe and confused when he told me that while receiving each treatment, he’d tell himself that he wanted the experience – that he was choosing it because it was the path to shrinking the tumor, or to at least slowing its growth.

Fast forward another five years and you’ll find me where I am today – in a health situation of my own. Even though he’s not here to give me advice, I have his example to refer to for guidance and I have needed to put this lesson into action sooner than I ever would have thought.  So instead of saying, “I can’t eat that because it has too much sodium,” I tell myself “I choose not to eat it because I want to avoid the exaggeration of my symptoms that sodium causes.”  And I don’t “have” to do the vestibular rehabilitation exercises that make me feel worse but I “choose” to do them because I want to get better.

Changing our language from “I have to” to “I choose to” and from “I can’t” to “I choose not to” restores our sense of personal agency and puts us back in the role of protagonist within our story.  We have choices.  We make hundreds of them each and every day.  So we are not merely observers in the background without any say.

When have you noticed yourself with an “I have to,” “I can’t,” or “I shouldn’t” thought that makes you feel small?  How can you flip the language around in way that is empowering?  Maybe “I have to go to the grocery store,” becomes “I will go to the grocery store because I want to have healthy food choices at home.”  Or perhaps “I have to take out the trash” really means “I want to take out the trash because I like living in a house that doesn’t stink!” Consider the reason behind your choice to create a statement that you believe to be true – lying to yourself doesn’t do any good – and see how it feels.

 

DadClass 1: Face life’s challenges head on.

My dad had a way of looking life straight in the eye, no matter what it threw his way. He didn’t turn away; he faced every challenge with determination.  He didn’t retreat; he pressed forward.  He didn’t back down; he gave life his all.  And he did so, even when he didn’t feel he had any more to give.

He persevered.  I watched him try again and again to accomplish tasks, no matter how impossible they seemed.  And this made me admire him more than I ever thought possible.  It didn’t matter what the task was and it didn’t matter if he accomplished it or not.  He was and will forever remain victorious in my mind for having the courage to give it his all.

This experience leads me to a question:  How does our society characterize perseverance and determination?  All you have to do is Google quotations about these words and you’ll find that they are typically used in reference to achieving success and accomplishing specific goals. They’re about what you have to do in order to get something you want…

But my invitation is for us is to recognize the value of perseverance and determination in a way that is not contingent on the outcome.  When we do this, we are able to appreciate the process and admire the courage it requires.

It takes guts to work towards something that feels hard.  Running away from a challenge that presents itself often appears to be the easier, more comfortable path to travel.  And for good reason – lots of times, it is!  The only problem is that taking steps in the opposite direction to avoid the problem only gives it power and that power makes it grow.  And no one wants that!  Ick!  But the point is, even though it is not easy, I believe there is extraordinary value to be found in facing what challenges us.

There’s a popular quotation by Robert H. Schuller that goes, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  This question was never really my thing and I was surprised to discover that it didn’t resonate with Brene Brown, either!  What I love even more is the meaningful question she created to use in its place, “What is worth doing even if I fail?”

The tough stuff in life is worth doing and we can only discover what is possible by harnessing our determination to work hard and persevere.  But it’s not about whether or not we fail, it’s about whether or not we’re willing to take the leap and give the things that matter everything we’ve got, just like my dad.