She Is: Jodi

The following post has been submitted by Jodi Lee Fleming in collaboration with Julie Crawford Photography.

This project! 

It started with a desire for conversation.  Admittedly, I was selfishly looking to have deeper dialogue with a broader spectrum of friends.  I was tired of talking about the weather and how busy life is.  I didn’t want to complain or hear people complain.  I wanted to engage in purposeful talk that would lead everyone involved to a feeling of peace, or at least, a deeper understanding of who they were.  I was feeling alone inside of my own head, something that I think I’ve always felt. However, never before had I had the courage to do something about it.  

It’s been evident by the interest in this project and by the incredible feedback, that I now recognize how many people were craving the same conversation.  I also recognize that despite the number of daily interactions we have with friends and loved ones, the multitude of things we have going on, and the hectic lives we all lead; we all experience varying degrees of loneliness. I’m not the only one.

I committed the year to showcasing several brave individuals who are able to harness the power of their vulnerabilities, seek to find their truths, and work their butts off to be the best versions of themselves. 

Each participant was sent a series of questions to reflect on as they worked away at framing their story:


What prompted you to start this journey of self-discovery?

Can you think of a time when your faith was tested or your beliefs were challenged?

When do/have you felt the most vulnerable?

What factors have caused you to stray from your course?

What influences, practices, or beliefs help you stay grounded?

When do you feel most powerful?

What have you been able to manifest for yourself as a result of doing the uncomfortable, messy, and hard work?

What advice would you give to others just heading out their journey?

What do you love most about yourself?

What work lies ahead of you?

If you could define yourself in one word, at this time, what would it be?


In the process of working with these incredibly smart and poignant women (and one man), I noticed a similar trend...they all at some point stated that they still had “lots of work to do” and thus it was, at times, difficult to define themselves or their stories, in one or two final words at the end.  For example, She Is: present, She Is: ready, He Is: blessed, etc.  

My response to them at the time was not to look at their story as if they were writing some great summative, a synopsis of their life that suddenly ends with a positive noun or adjective.  No, I wanted them to reach beyond the superficial tag line of wife, sister, mom, teacher, accountant, fitness guru, etc.… and I asked them to consider who they are right now.  Not who they are trying to be, and perhaps not even who they will be in ten years, or on their dying bed.  Just now!  As Eckhart Tolle writes, “Now is all we ever really have anyway”.  

The results were outstanding. I could never have imagined working with a more dedicated and beautiful group of individuals.  They all poured their hearts and souls onto paper and shared their deepest fears and actualizations with hundreds, even thousands of readers.  I will admit that I was often complimented alongside the authors, but never once did I actually feel that I owned any of the work.  This was not about me.  This was about providing a safe platform for others to feel beautiful, accepted, and proud. 

All twelve of the author’s who participated in this project hold a special place in my heart.  Some of them I have known my entire life, others only pulled towards me by the project itself.  Like many of you, as I read about their journeys, I shed tears for them, I envied their courage, I sat joyful at their triumphs, and I prayed for their futures.  However, what I am truly grateful for are the lessons that each one of them brought to me. I was able to see myself in each and every one of their stories.  

I was reminded of my own heartbreak. I was reminded of my own judgments. I was reminded of my own struggles with balance. I was reminded of my own fear of inadequacy, and I was thrust into remembering that the work is never really done.  I was always left with the urge to re-evaluate my own choices, forced to ground myself, and excited to uncover the next little piece of my soul.

Very early on in the project, it was evident to me that I personally needed to go back and ask myself the same questions I had been asking everyone else. 

Joseph Campbell was an American Professor of Literature who worked in comparative mythology and religion.  His work covers many aspects of the human experience and offers an intriguing perspective on why we are all here.  I honestly can’t recall how I stumbled upon his name or any of his work, however at some point in the past year, I felt compelled enough to write his name down and do a little research.  Campbell is best known for his depiction of The Hero’s Journey– a twelve-step process that describes most character arcs in fictional stories (think Luke Skywalker, Hercules, or Ice Queen Elsa).

Aside from using the twelve steps to help you create a complex and captivating movie character, Campbell wanted us to use his ideology to help draw parallels and compare this pattern of character development to that of our own lives.  Essentially he explains how at some point in our ordinary lives, we all get called to adventure.  In the case of the human experience, he wants us to see the word ‘adventure’ as ‘spiritual awakening’. 

This is all rather philosophical and I apologize if it’s a bit wordy, however it all began to make perfect sense to me.  To paint a fairly clear picture I’m going to use an example most of us can understand…Finding Nemo! 

In the movie Finding Nemo, a young fish loses his mother at birth and is then forced to live within the constraints of his father’s fears of death and danger. In this case, the hero’s journey is not undertaken by the title character, but by Nemo’s father, Marlin. Marlin was likely called to adventure several times before he was actually forced into it.  Perhaps there were many times when he felt the urge to release some of his fear and let his son gain his own independence, however those calls were ignored until something much greater came along that forced him to do the work.  

Nemo disappears and Marlin must find him. Along the way he meets Dori, who Campbell would argue, is actually a part of Marlin’s subconscious.  Dori repeatedly has Marlin questioning who he is, and what his purpose as a father should be.  There are a number of symbolic features in the movie, including a whale, which represents the shadow of Marlin’s former self and all of his limiting fears.  At a pivotal point in the film, Marlin and Dori end up inside of the whale. 

His fears actually swallow him!

(I mean come on…there is no way that Disney writers don’t have degrees in psychology.)  

It’s not until he’s in the midst of clinging to the whale’s tongue in an effort survive, that Marlin begins to realize he’s the one holding not only his son back, but also himself. Thankfully his subconscious spirit, Dori, speaks fluent Whale, and tells Marlin that he’s supposed to let go.  

Despite not knowing if something bad is going to happen, she trusts that this is what she is supposed to do. Marlin also makes the choice to trust in Dori and releases his hold on his current reality and plummets into the unknown space.  We all know that this leads to a re-birth for Marlin, as a short time later he is expelled from the whale’s blowhole with a new sense of strength and purpose. 

Of course Marlin’s journey is not over there.  He now has to determine how best to move forward with this new understanding and nourish his potential as a father and as an individual. 

So here I am, about to compare myself to a cartoon fish.  

For a long time I was (and still struggle not to be) a little too much Marlin.  I was constantly faced with a fear of not being in control.  I was scared of not being viewed as good enough. I set ridiculously high standards for myself, and by default, it lead to unattainable expectations for those that I love.  This created feelings of guilt, and I eased that guilt by going out of my way to make everyone else happy.  I struggled to say ‘no’ out of fear that I’d cause disappointment, and then of course that directly related to a feeling of being perceived negatively.  Needless to say, this was neither a healthy nor sustainable way of living.  However, this is who felt I needed to be, and pretty much all I was comfortable with.  

“The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.”
— Mark Manson

On my hero’s journey I was beckoned out of my ordinary life several times before I answered the call. I stayed involved in unbalanced relationships with friends and partners out of love and commitment to their well-being, but not necessarily my own.  I opted for easier pathways in education and extra-curricula’s out of fear that if I stuck with my desired choice, I wouldn’t be good enough.  I also stifled curiosity and fun because it meant not being in control.  All of this happened slowly and gradually but over time it became a pattern, a pattern that has been very challenging to break apart.  

I believe that the first call to adventure that I actually decided to listen to, came roughly six years ago.  I began to wake up and notice the ways in which I had been starving myself.  It felt as if someone else who was living inside of me was desperately trying to help me remember who I was and what I was capable of. It came in whispers of song lyrics while I was driving; odd visits by small creatures or pieces of nature; coincidences that just couldn’t be ignored, and a desire to start believing that I was worthy of more.  I was faced with decisions that at the time felt monstrous, but later realized only had the appearance of being scary.  I was learning that everything I wanted, everything I was worthy of, was available to me…just beyond my own limitations. 

Much like Marlin, I had to learn to let go.  I needed to remember that the most powerful tool in my toolbox was trust.  By trusting that ‘what is for me shall not pass me’, I was able to release my fears and make room for magic to happen.  The key was to lean towards love.  In that, a new definition of faith was revealed me: to have fear is not to have faith. I used to walk around believing that I had faith - faith in humanity, faith in God, and faith in good versus evil. But yet I was lacking faith in myself, and I had put limitations on how much I was really willing to trust that all would be well.  You can’t have faith and control at the same time. 

“We are all entitled to miracles. If they aren’t happening, something is wrong. Look within.”
— A Course in Miracles

This meant that I consciously had to turn off the little voice in my head that would say mean things to me. By releasing the hold that my ego had on certain aspects of my life, I started to notice what I had been missing out on. I remembered to pray.  Of course, prayer became much more than it was to my 5-year old self being tucked into bed each night.  Prayer came in the form of meditation, journaling, and reading material that made me want to think and reflect.  Prayer meant asking for a sign and then actually noticing when it was received.  Pray and send it away. 

Together with my faith, I began to shed the ordinary thoughtless parts of Jodi and started to notice the soul within her.  I began to question my daily purpose and notice the connections between the health of my mind and the health of my body.  I set out to hear the wisdom and advice of other seekers, and when I couldn’t seem to find the answers I was looking for, I learned how to be patient and trust that they would come to me at the right time. 

I also started to forgive. I began to recognize that past injustices by friends and loved ones weren’t actually injustices at all.  The boy who broke my heart didn’t do it out of hate; it was in fact, an act of love.  He made a decision that I wasn’t strong enough to make on my own, which in turn led me to a love that I am worthy of.  The girl who said nasty things about me was just being honest about how she perceived a situation.  She taught me that the only actions and reactions I can control, are my own.  Of course, the hardest of all these, was making the decision to forgive myself.  This is something that didn’t, and still doesn’t, come easy to me.  How do you just dismiss the fact that you ignored your call for so long?  How do you slough off years of complacency and settling for second best?  How do you justify ignoring your own personal wants and needs and even mistreating your physical body? 

You don’t.  You just recognize that you were only doing the best you could with what you had at the time.  Hindsight isn’t meant to make you feel bad.  It’s there to give you the clarity you need and to help you retain your faith going forward. 

“Enlightenment is a recognition. Not a change.” 
— A Course in Miracles

A year ago I thought I had a decent sense of why this project was necessary.  I thought I had arrived at a place and time where I was feeling fulfilled at a soul level and had a heightened understanding of my purpose. Although I knew that my own journey of self-discovery was far from over, I felt pretty darn good about where I was sitting.  Although I’m very proud of the spiritual distances I’ve travelled thus far, I now recognize that I can’t just sit by complacently and simply cheer on the other travellers.  I am at a point where I must nourish my own understandings, continue to open doors, take risks, and think critically about the little signs and life lessons that are presented to me each day. 

I made a promise to myself that I will take responsibility for my problems.  I make a conscious effort to own my feelings.  I notice when I’m experiencing a negative emotion (i.e. jealousy, anger, impatience) and I immediately recognize that there is something inside of me that needs to be addressed. I also try not to project my own fears, judgments and blame onto others.  I know that where I’m hurting is where I will find the answers I need. 

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
— Rumi 

I am not perfect.  I have lots of work to do before I finish my hero’s journey.  However, I now acknowledge that without the pain, without the disappointment, and without the nagging call to get up and do something different, life is rather ordinary. So I will continue to ask myself questions, I will continue to wonder what I’m holding myself back from, I will try not to fight the uncomfortable feeling of the unknown, and I will patiently await the joys of my next challenge.

And, so long as you promise not to ignore your own call to adventure, I will be here to have the conversation with. 

I am Jodi, and I am not alone. 

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Let’s take time to offer a little gratitude, shall we?

Thank you to all of the wonderful people who have helped me with this project and whom have continually offered their encouragement and support. I have anxiously awaited your monthly predictions and giggled alongside your excitement and enthusiasm for each feature. I appreciate all of the individual messages and feedback as particular stories resonated with you in unique ways.

I am grateful for the open dialogue that this project created and it’s my hope that you won’t stop talking about your own paths to happiness and the ups and downs that make us all so similar.

I have so much gratitude for Julie Crawford and her willingness to collaborate with me, She jumped on board my ship without hesitation and eagerly signed up to capture a wee bit of vulnerability, all the while making me feel beautiful and strong.

Additionally, I want to once again thank Selina, Natasha, Rylee, Chelsey & Finn, Lindsay, Kezia, Lisa, Meagan, Arlene, Anna, and Donna for saying ‘yes’ and and bearing it all. You are all full of so much light and we are all grateful to have been touched by it.

God Bless,

jodes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Is: Donna

The following post has been submitted by Donna Curran in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography. 

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Donna is an alternative health practitioner whose modalities include Reflexology, Body Talk, Psych-K, Reiki, Kaurna, Metamorphic technique, Reconnective Healing, and food sensitivity testing.  

I remember when Jodi asked me to be part of her ‘She Is’ project and I will admit I was hesitant in thinking I would be a good addition. This is such a powerful project with a lot of lessons for people to learn if they are willing to look critically at themselves and the lives they live. How ironic is it that the tables have turned and now Jodi, who is one of my clients, is asking me to be vulnerable and re-evaluate who I am.  I spent a lot of time thinking, yes, let’s do this, and then finding myself with a long list of reasons why I should not. So the answer was no, and it was no for a long time; until I realized I was saying no out of fear of judgement.   

I had always struggled with other people’s opinions of me. Yet my life path led me to choose a career in alternative healing that at the time, was not a preferred method of treatment. Perhaps it was even frowned upon. I was worried about others viewing me as different, however; despite the judgment, I knew the path of alternative healing was one I needed to take in order to help my girls and I lead better lives.  

When my first born, Lindsay, was three-years-old, we were constantly in and out of the hospital with ear infections and digestive issues. We saw an older doctor at McMaster hospital who suspected there was nothing wrong with her aside from the foods she was consuming. We were referred to a chiropractor who administered food sensitivity testing and suggested we take her to see a reflexologist who would tackle her digestive issues by working through her feet. Within the first three weeks I knew something was working when Lindsay asked what the noise was that was coming from the laundry room. She was hearing the dryer for the first time in amazement, and that moment changed everything. Similarly, with my daughter Lisa, altering her diet was enough to eliminate the use of puffers and steroids for what doctors thought was asthma.  

Not long after witnessing the health changes in my daughters, I made the decision to enroll in a reflexology course. That course would lead to another course and then several more in parallel fields. Little did I know that my efforts to help Lindsay and Lisa would lead to big changes for myself as well.  

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The relationship within myself has changed not only emotionally but physically too. My desire for a different path changed my career, my health, but most of all, has altered the way I look at myself and view my self-worth. Sitting down and writing this gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate and ask, yet again, who am I really?  

Going back to school and taking courses was extremely hard for me. I had not liked school and I despised exams. I struggled with the thoughts of seeing, feeling, and hearing a lot of judgement from myself and others. The fear of failure scared me, but the need for change quickly overpowered those feelings. It is always easy to slip back into old thoughts. I am sure we can all relate to these negative thoughts that quickly destroy our perception of what we are capable of achieving: What are you doing? You are not good enough! You will fail! And then my own personal demons at the time took over, What if you don’t pass? You don’t like driving in Toronto; just to mention a few.  However, I was fortunate enough to have a few close friends and family who helped encourage me and gave me the confidence that I myself lacked.  

So onward I went.  

I have learned the importance of understanding what is the true perception of what matters the most in every situation. For example, have you ever walked into a room and witness two people whispering and immediately think that they are talking about you? Believing those whispers are about you is only the result of your own fears taking over your perception of what is really going on around you. It’s when I would give into those fears, that my own personal perceptions would become tainted by judgement.    

F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real  

Over the years I have allowed my fears to limit me from seeing what truly matters or is real. I came to the realization that I was only seeing such a small piece of myself and my truth. I had a tendency to worry more and more about things that in time, would end up being pure non-sense. Which in hindsight, in doing so, I was only betraying myself. During the early stages of my learning, I needed the constant reminder to not be anxious for tomorrow. In time, it became ingrained in me that tomorrow always takes care of itself. This is a belief system that is deeply routed in my day to day practices.  

The entire water of the sea cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you let it get inside of you.
— Jake Ducey  

We all know that little voice in our head that says, you’re not good enough, you’re fat, you’re not worthy etc., but how often do you tell it to shut up? Instead, we let it dictate our choices. We give this voice all the power without realizing the limitations we are in turn, placing on ourselves. The endless chatter in my own head needed to stop. I needed to instead, trust my intuition, my gut, and know that “what feels right” is what should be. There is nothing more important than listening to your heart.  

There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t encounter judgement or hear that little voice in our head. But what we need to remember is that we get to decide what we do with it. We never eliminate emotions, but we must become aware of them, acknowledge why they are there, and let our heart guide us.  

I was once asked by an instructor “what is your truth”? At the time I had no idea what this meant so I was told to ask myself (similarly to what Jodi is asking) “who are you really?”.  At the time, I defined myself by the number of masks I was wearing. I was a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, and a practitioner. However, I gradually recognized that I needed to remove each one of those masks to uncover my true self.  As I peeled back the layers, I saw someone entirely different staring back at me in the mirror. Faced with my own insecurities and vulnerabilities, I saw a woman full of sadness and hurt.  

I acknowledged that many times in my life I have changed myself in an effort to please others. I would think that approval from others would make me “who I am”.  However, it is the exact opposite. How others see me is NOT who I am.  

The only person who could help me step away from the sadness and hurt was myself.  

Loving myself was going to be the ultimate goal. Through my growth and development, I needed to learn to decipher between what was fear-based and what was true, I needed to break free from judgements, frustration and anger and see myself with eyes of love. Albeit, I did it out of love, giving pieces of myself away to others did not serve my higher purpose. I was sad and angry with myself. In order to move forward I needed to bestow upon myself the gift of forgiveness. “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”. 

Ultimately, forgiveness is what sets, and continues to set me free.  

“As I forgive; so am I forgiven; we are all free.”
— Louise Hay  

These are beautiful sentiments and with so much focused energy on my practice and my own personal growth, one would think I have it all mastered.  

Nope!  

The wheels can still fall off. You can be doing your best and feeling like you have it all together and we softly and silently slip back into old patterns and behaviours. It happens when a person re-enters our world, life-changes are ahead, the mundane creeps in, or even that old song comes on the radio. These are the things that remind us of past hurts. The only difference for me and those willing to do the work, is that we have the tools we need to make the repairs and put the wheels back on in a timely and efficient way.  

Negativity pins you down – it’s heavy and it takes up space, creating less room for joy. When we take things personally it creates an open space that leaves us all sitting prey for negativity.  

The Course of Miracles teaches us that you cannot be free until you let go of judgement and negativity. A good exercise for releasing negativity is to complete the following statement, “I choose peace rather than this…” 

I choose peace rather than this sadness.  

I choose peace rather this hate. 

I choose peace rather this anger.  

I choose peace rather than this fear.  

I choose peace rather than this control.  

Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.
— Robert Fulghum  

I am no longer THAT woman who looks in the mirror with all of her masks peeled back and sees sadness and anger. I am strong. I am prepared. I am wise. I choose peace and I make room for joy.  

I am also grateful. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and my clients for helping me in my endeavours over the last 24 years. It is because of you and your commitment to both your physical and mental health that I am continually driven to grow my practice and delve even deeper into my own journey of self-discovery.  

I am Donna, I am a student of my profession, and I am certainly not done!  

I love you.

She Is: Anna

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The following post has been submitted by Anna Zuck Downs in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography. 

It’s interesting to write this from the place I’m in now. When Jodi originally approached me to share my journey, it was before my dad was admitted to the hospital, it was before I shattered. I was in a coping, believing, and enduring place. I learned a lot in that place about my own power and strength. But writing this only 120 days later, is writing from a drastically different place. It’s all very much raw and real right now, and I am still sorting out my emotions surrounding who I am and who I will become as a result of it. It’s all a process. This most recent part exposed my vulnerabilities - my terrified dark places that I truly did not know existed until now. But I’m glad they’re out there. I’ve opened myself up to them, and instead of ignoring them, I welcomed them into my life to exist in a place they needed to fill. They rarely speak right now, and it’s likely they will speak again.  However, they served a great purpose in allowing me to unpack some deep crevasses that I had been patching day in and day out for the last 4 years. 

When I think about my life, when I talk about my experiences with friends, and when I think about how onlookers perceive my life from afar, it’s safe to assume that I’ve led an exciting, adventurous, and happy existence. I’ve traveled the world, and through my expeditions have managed to have countless ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunities. I’ve had the chance to live abroad in Hong Kong, South Africa, and now the US, and I was fortunate enough to find and marry the love of my life. I’ve always held a glass-half-full perspective and kept that general attitude as ups and downs inevitably come my way. I always thought that when the universe throws particularly bad (hard and heartbreaking) blows your way, you take it in stride, knowing this too shall pass.  I’ve also been aware of the fact that you can only take so much until, ultimately, you get to the other side.

Then this year began.

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Writing this, I realize that my story could have had so many different beginnings. I keep going back further to try and think about how I can concisely or “correctly” capture this story. We all know that there is no “correct” way to examine your journey, but that doesn’t make it easy. In reality, it’s all messy. So by in large I’ve decided that this is a journey to cope with my father’s disease and deterioration, and my journey to support us both the best that I can.

I’m young. We all deep down know that as our parents age and life happens, we will have to make hard decisions and ultimately take on the responsibility of our parents care. However, nobody anticipates becoming a caregiver in your twenties. And at my age, we certainly don’t talk candidly about the pain and grief of caring for a loved one through these times.  

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In the Spring of 2015 my father was diagnosed with rare form(s) of Dementia called Posterior Cortical Atrophy and Cortical Basal Syndrome. Up until that point, I had known that my dad was struggling with some of life’s more precise tasks such as cooking for himself and driving, but I had no idea of the magnitude. A long time prior to this he had stopped painting - much longer than I even knew about. As a professional artist, this was a devastating blow to his entire identity. This is who he was for 50 years, an aspect of his life that actually defined him. For him, not being able to produce art anymore was crippling - a feeling I know I’ll never fully understand the weight of.

I’m also an only child of divorced parents, and one that lives in an entirely different country then either of them. And so, as my father’s difficulties increased, slowly but surely so did my caregiving responsibilities. It built-up gradually, but very quickly I was managing his entire world. I don’t think I realized or understood how much pressure I put on myself to provide the best possible life for him after his diagnosis. Always involving him every step of the way, conceding when he fought to maintain his independence long after he should have had in-home care. As of this Spring, I had been taking care of every square inch of his life for over 3 years. From another country I was paying all of his bills and taxes, handling his finances, and hiring people to take care of transportation, meals and his everyday needs. I was managing his career, organizing appointments for doctors, dentists, neurologists and optometrists, and ensuring he was safe…all while living in New York. Here I was trying to start life with my fiancé, launch a new career, and plan a wedding. 

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Last year, when the time came that he could no longer live in the house he had made his home for the last 9 years, I spent weeks combing through his archives and his body of work. I packed and staged what should have been the dream home and studio where he would work until the end of his days, sold it from my honeymoon, and moved him into an independent-to-memory care facility. The decision was ultimately his, and while it was excruciatingly painful for me to see how far the disease had progressed, we had heartbreakingly realized he needed to leave his home and be in a place where he could have the support he needed.

It was pure torture to watch. I cannot imagine battling a disease that robs you of your independence, traps you in your home, and prevents you from doing (in his case) everything you love. I set out to provide the best possible situation for him to be happy and to take care of every aspect of his life that he could no longer handle. But my hyper-focus served another purpose at that time. It allowed me to put aside my own sorrow and mourning of his deterioration and pragmatically chip away at task after task feeling like I had purpose and something tangible to hold on to.

If I’m being truly candid, I lamented that carefree time that was slipping away. I was on an airplane back to Canada every 3 weeks for more then a year. But I put my head down and pushed through. I pushed through the feelings of guilt for not dropping everything, quitting my job, and moving back to take care of him full time. To keep him in his house no matter the difficulties and obstacles. I felt like if I put every ounce of energy into making everything as good as I could for him, no matter the toll on my body, my heart or my mind, it would justify my decision to try to live both lives. One foot here, another as a full-time support and caregiver there.

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I poured the grief of slowly loosing my dad into concrete tasks, and in the end it drained my soul. Somehow I didn’t realize it. I didn’t realize it when I was waking up 2 and 3 hours earlier in the morning to work on lawyer or insurance documents before work. I didn’t realize it when I was packing up and moving his entire life, going through old letters, preliminary sketches of paintings I know so well now - mourning the loss of him no longer being able to produce work. I didn’t realize it when I got a phone call this Spring saying that he was being rushed to the hospital because he was unable to swallow and was aspirating and choking. I didn’t realize it when they told me that he likely only had a few days to live and I needed to decide whether to put a feeding tube in or resuscitate.  

Then, after weeks in the hospital, when he began to bounce back and the new reality and weight of next steps set in, I noticed. I felt the physical manifestations of the stress and my body began to reveal the toll I had put on it.  

I realized it after his first attempt at discharge in a never-ending night while sitting beside his bed. He went into gut-wrenching, hallucinating, and seizing from the withdrawal of the palliative care drugs they had given him…and I was left paralyzed with shock. I realized it when I came back home shortly for a weekend of recovery, and couldn’t get out of my bed. All of these moments had added up and I shattered.

The realization that you’ve shattered is scary beyond words. I was suffering from intense PTSD, not just from watching his body go through the delirium and feeling completely helpless, but from the minute daily tasks associated with his care. I couldn’t make one more phone call, answer one more email or do one more ounce of research. I couldn’t go to battle one more time as POA for something that should be easy but wasn’t. I couldn’t do a thing. I had been “doing” for so long in order to cope with the deep sadness and rage I had towards this awful and unfair disease and I was done. I couldn’t do any more, I could only grieve with my entire body. 

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People find it difficult to be around people who are experiencing deep grief. I now understand why. I am also able to understand and accept the discomfort that it once gave me. I’ve learned not to ask “what can I do for you” and instead show up, leave a meal, plan a hike or reach out with a small note or message. Just leaving a door open to talk is enough. So frequently I couldn’t put the anguish and anxiety I was feeling into words, but on the odd occasion that I did, those open doors were such a blessing. I was able to walk through and pour out my feelings freely. Grief is paralyzingly lonely. It feels as though not one person in the universe could understand the pain you’re experiencing and you can’t possibly begin to speak or write the words. But now I know that’s not true, unfortunately there are people that do understand and this experience has brought me closer with a dear friend who has lived through the unspeakable, just like I was doing.

It is this community, these compassionate people and those candid, sobbing conversations, that allowed me to bare my soul and helped bring me back to the surface.

It has also made me realize the true power of love, of strength and of courage. Each time I was curled up sobbing in desperation by the cruelty of it all in the backseat of my car in the parking lot of the hospital, I would find the strength, pull on the pure love I have for my father, and find the courage to pick myself up and walk back in. I think minute-by-minute survival allowed the raw me, the real me to rise. When every moment feels like a struggle I finally embraced all of the vulnerabilities that surfaced, and for the first time in my life, I owned my limitations. I finally truly asked for help when I needed it, admitted when something was just too much in that moment, and said yes to friends driving hours out of their way to try and make one iota of each day easier.

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Resilience is a strange thing. I’m a doer. If I can make a plan I will. It’s what calms me, and when you have a plan there are steps, there is purpose. It provides a path and a guidance system. Once you do all of the things on that list you get to the end right? Illness and death doesn’t work like that though, that’s for damn sure. I had put so much of my focus on these steps, but fighting through and realizing how futile the control we think we have is…It really doesn’t mean what it used to to me anymore.   

Throughout this experience I’ve taken things one step at a time, the same as I did before, but I’ve learned not to feel like with each of those steps I deserve anything. At times, one step forward became a thousand steps back, but no longer do I lie crying in a pile cursing the universe for taking away those steps I “deserve” - the ones that I painstakingly gained. I still there lie crying, but I have learned to let the grief wash over me, feel the things I need to feel because they are all valid and real, and then once I’ve lived in every ounce of it, I’ll get back up and take another step. Because that’s the only thing left to do.

I think from the beginning my ability to think logically and pragmatically ultimately made my ability to compartmentalize easier then it should be. I needed to actually break in order to be able to listen to what I needed. What the person who had been going for so long and who was fiercely independent, what the person who could do anything and make everything happen actually needed. I am human, but I certainly didn’t realize that I hadn’t been functioning like that for some time. I have learned open my heart to acceptance of others and their unique journeys through grief, but even more so accepted own need to grieve. I cannot always be the strong pillar that I tried to be. The power I got from doing and the resulting self-preservation can only work for so long.

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And so, I stepped away from it all. There’s only so much your body can take physically and emotionally. Once I knew that I needed to physically remove myself from the situation that I was ingrained in each day, I finally took time out for myself. It seems so simple doesn’t it? But when you’re doing and going and are needed in a thousand places at all time, it isn’t quite so simple. It was survival. But because of these brief moments and these times, I’ve been able to see clearly the different parts of this journey, the positive ones, the time I’ve been granted with my dad, and how these experiences have shaped who I am today. I went to the lake, I sat in the forest, I took the spare moments to say no more, and drove the 6 hours round trip whenever I could so I could be at our family cottage even just for a night to feel reconnected to my dad and to myself. I took a trip that really made me appreciate the world around us, that world my dad and I love so much and he taught me to appreciate. I took a step back. My dad has always been a solitary man and the places I feel the most connected to him are the places in our natural world where quiet takes over and you become connected to the trees, the water and the air. Every moment I could step away to be in these calm spaces reminded me of why I was taking on the impossible.

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Being a caregiver is by far the most intense and challenging roles I’ve ever taken on, and I’m a strong ass woman! I moved to a new country for a man (now husband) without a job or citizenship, and somehow managed to make it out the other side with a successful career in a cutthroat industry, and more in love then I imagined possible. But changing your father’s brief, letting him kick and scream profanities at you while in a delirium, or making the decision (though a desire he had made crystal clear), to not to give him a feeding tube when you think he has only a few days to live? No, there’s nothing to prepare you for that. 

I think it humbles you. I think illness and watching a loved one sick or dying is something that (obviously) gives you a different perspective on life, but it taught me that you are what you’ve created - the memories and moments you share with the people you choose to love. My own time processing how to be with this hellish hand my father has been dealt, evolves daily, but it has forced me to evaluate what’s really important to me. And that is powerful. To look at your life and know that you are doing something you can be proud of, to know without a doubt in your mind that you have given it your all. And that my father could say with every decision, every fork in the road, I made the choice that he would have wanted.

We got through yet another obstacle, a seemingly final one. My dad fought through the clouds, started swallowing again and was just recently discharged after spending the last 105 days in the hospital. What we thought were his final weeks and days were not. In fact, they were a part of our story and solidified not only my bond with my father, but the gratitude, friendship and appreciation I have of my mother for all of her unwavering support for me and my decisions. My husband and I moved him to a quiet, beautiful place with my aunt and uncle on the ocean where he can live in peace with help. I bought him a house there, a little slice of the world just for him. It’s quiet, surrounded by the forest and the ocean and the things that make us both feel calm and yet so powerful at the same time. I have learned to hold onto his short moments of clarity and I have found the lifeline of humour. I have found solace in my friendships and the deep breaths that are slowly coming more easily.

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I know that there are very few people in my life that have any idea of the depths of helplessness and emptiness I felt throughout this time. It bred into anxiety and panic attacks and a level of hopelessness that I’ve never experienced before. It felt like I was being beaten to a pulp over and over again, all while trying to do the right thing - but never ever catching a break. Being a caregiver requires giving more of yourself then you have to give. And filling that role alone for so long leaves a lot of holes and cracks. I learned to fill up that emptiness and those cracks of despair with my tribe; my closest friends, my mother, my husband. 

I also know unequivocally that surrounding yourself with strong, fierce female warriors is how I began to learn to cope. Time and time again over the last 4 years, I have been picked back up, fed, allowed to breathe in silence or scream in frustration by a group of women who while they can’t always know what to say, have surrounded me with unconditional love. Women are powerful. We are fierce. We stand up and fight. We choose whether the gritty parts of life make us more resentful and jaded, or we choose to become more aware that every person on earth struggles and experiences hard things. Empathy is uncomfortable, but I think we need to spend more time sharing in the discomfort and pain of others journeys so that we can learn how to support one another. We’re all here for each other. I am here for you.

I am Anna, and I am resilient.

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“Why are we here if not for each other?”

Special Note: Anna’s story was brought to my attention by a close mutual friend. Kirstin is very special to us both and it was her self-less and caring heart that compelled her to ‘nominate’ Anna to take part in this project.

Kirsten, I know I speak for both Anna and myself when I say that you are an integral part of this collective tribe of women who strive to make a difference in the world. Thank you for humbly helping to align our paths and for always holding the '“pack”.

xo, Jodi

 

 

She Is: Arlene

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The following post has been submitted by Arlene Fox in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography. 

When I first committed to this project, it wasn’t exactly because it was in my comfort realm, but because I saw the enthusiasm and passion in the sparkling eyes of the ‘She Is’ creator.  I recognize now that it also had something to do with my profound need to want to make others happy, and my not-so-occasional inability to say ‘no’.  

So, as with all of my off-the-cuff commitments, I found myself thinking “I can’t believe I agreed to do this!” However, through all of my apprehension and procrastination getting started, I still figured that perhaps there was more to gain than to lose.

And here we are. 

Stepping out of my comfort zone and taking part in this trek (including being in front of the camera rather than behind it), has actually proven to be worthwhile. Evidently doing what I can to impart my wisdom (if that’s what you want to call it) on others and helping out, brings me joy and happiness. Additionally, the process of self-reflecting and the action of scribing those thoughts onto paper has been time well spent. I highly recommend it! 

I can see now, although I’ve always known it, the value in taking the time to focus on myself. 

Over the course of my time organizing my ideas and thoughts, I started to recognize a pattern in my writing.  I noticed that as I wrote and shared about a time when life got a little tough, I would stop myself from leaning too heavily towards the negative aspects of that experience, and I would start to write about how grateful I was for having experienced it in the first place.  The ultimate message I want others to hear is about how powerful gratitude can be. 

I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for my friends (including the the four-legged ones), and I am grateful for my faith.

Truth be known, I have always sought (and continue to seek to be) a greater version of myself.  In my case I’m not sure if I’ve ever considered it to be a journey of self-discovery, I’ve just known it to be a continuous cycle of self-improvement. 

Since I was a teenager, I’ve enjoyed reading books that in some way or another revolve around self-improvement or the betterment of an individual (there is still a pile of them at my bedside). However, my preoccupation with other activities would often keep me from looking too deep and moving forward too quickly.  The pace of the ‘work’ has been slow, but over the years, the moments when I’ve really needed to stop, listen, and reflect, have presented themselves to me time and time again. I have relied on trusting that I’ll be equipped to handle whatever life throws at me, even if I know I’ve been distracted or neglected my soul.

Of course, having the courage to trust my decisions has been an area I continue to work on. I tell my daughter “make wise choices” (because heaven knows I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes). This is a bit of a mom-brag, but she is actually much more confident and wiser in her decision-making than I could ever fathom for myself.  This makes me super proud!  We all make mistakes, this I recognize. And to be honest, I’m still learning to forgive myself for all of the unintentional hurts that a lifetime of living and learning have created.  To all those that felt the effects of the threads that unknowingly I pulled upon, I am sorry, I hope you can forgive me. 

Within a relationship the responsibility for failure lies with both parties, and I assume my weaknesses. Hindsight really is a magical thing. Looking back with the knowledge that I have incurred, if given the chance, I would most certainly do a few things differently. However, perhaps each of those little mistakes and failures happened for a reason. We all do the best we can with what we have (give it the old college try, if you will). How we proceed afterwards is what holds the most merit.   

I’ve learned that in the hike onwards and upwards, a key ingredient is forgiveness.  Forgiveness not only of others, but of myself. Forgiveness just feels good!  Revenge, anger, and guilt are exhausting emotions.  It takes way too much negative energy and it’s far easier to hold on to love. Choosing to forgive is like whipping up a nice old pecan pie.  It’s a reward of peace, comfort, and satisfaction because in your heart you know it’s the right thing to do.  I’ve also learned that not everyone has a hankering for pecan pie, and that’s ok too! Sometimes just being willing to share a slice is enough.  You can’t please everyone all at once and not everyone comes to forgiveness as easily or as quickly.  Just do the right thing, so long as you remain true to yourself.

I feel truly blessed to have had the privilege of growing up within a strong immediate and extended family. Growing up in a loving Christian home brought me so much joy and comfort.  Additionally, my parents built a masterful dairy farm operation which helped me appreciate the value of hard work. I’m sure I would have thought otherwise as a kid, but hard work has proven to be a very useful attribute throughout the entirety of my life.  I especially loved all of my four-legged friends (horses, dogs, cows, and cats). I feel strongly that the agricultural community, the outdoors, school, and church, all worked cohesively to help me grow into a well-balanced individual with strong roots. I also feel a major source of pride and gratitude towards the community I was able to live and teach in. I feel incredibly proud of my work in the classroom and I owe a lot of that to the eagerness of each child that stepped into my classroom. 

There really are no words to describe how blessed I feel and how thankful I am for the family I once had, still have, and for my friends; the family I chose to have.  Without these people, who have been there for the happy times and the difficult times, I’m not so sure what would have become of me. To my 3 F’s: family, faith, and friends, thank you! 

I am grateful to have been, and continue to be, a mother. 

Probably the greatest test of my faith has been during times of great loss.  Great losses for me, are the loved ones whom are physically gone but yet are still imbedded in my soul.  I need not share all the details of these losses, but it is important for me to note that as tragic as they were, it’s always been a part of me to think ‘it could have been worse’.  Some would say to me, ‘what do you mean? How could it get worse than losing your child?’  And the answer lies in my faith.  It would have been worse to not know where my son was, or worse to know he was alone.  I believed and trusted that he was safe and sound in the loving arms of God. The same is true of my Mom who now is in heaven with her loved ones (her grandsons among them). 

Everyone goes through tough times, some worse than others…and it’s all quite relative I suppose.  We all feel what we feel, until something else comes along that tests your happiness, your despair, and your faith. To say it was challenging may be a bit of an understatement but finding a worst-case scenario for my life-situation, has made my losses seem less tragic.

When we lose the ones we love, our whole world stops…yet it keeps turning for everyone else.

Moving forward was very important for me.  I needed to push on and find my new normal (not that I was normal before, or have been since, hah!). 

I was a mom, and then I wasn’t.  

Talk about a game changer! 

As difficult as it was to let go of the mother/son relationship that I had known, I found solace in believing that his spirit would be with me always.  He still watches over my family and myself and every now and then I get a sense of the magnitude by which the heavens work.  Just a few years ago my daughter was in a very serious car accident that she miraculously walked away from.  Everyone said she was ‘lucky to be alive’, and that she was!  I believe with all of my heart that she had both her brother and her grandmother protecting her that afternoon.

The pain of deep loss eases and the wound heals (much like a really bad cut that leaves a scar). However, the hole in my heart is still there along with the scar that serves as a reminder. These great losses have made me appreciate how short life is and the importance of living every day to the fullest. 

I came through the dark side of that valley concerned with getting stronger, more so than being perfect. Rather than worrying so much about what other people thought, I tried to be courageous and move forward in a new direction. I floundered and struggled…and my ten-year-old self would never have imagined that my life would take me where it did, but I had to move forward. 

I sometimes feel that the old saying, “when one door closes another one opens” was actually written just for me.  I was forced to close a door no one is ever ready to shut, but I was fortunate enough to have several other doors to choose from. Fear of more hurt, loss, and failure prevented me from moving forward as quickly as I would have preferred, and it still sometimes has me wondering how life would have been different if I had walked a little further and chosen another door. Yet, here I am…so undeniably grateful for everything that is laid out before me. My beautiful daughter was behind one of the doors I chose to open.  What a sacred sight at the end of hallway! 

Far more than anything else, being a mother has grounded me. It’s a massive responsibility and huge undertaking, but it’s been worth every second. Demanding as motherhood is, the rewards are priceless. The love I’ve felt towards my children, the beautiful human-beings who have depended on me, has been the greatest joy I’ve known. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to once again be a mom and enjoy the work, humour, and pleasure of parenting. It’s the best! 

I am grateful for the little things, and I am grateful for the seasons (of life).

Being physically ill or emotionally weak is when I feel the most vulnerable. Although I am fiercely independent, I’ve discovered it is actually OK to lean on others to help take care of you when needed. The importance of the ‘golden rule’ which is to treat people the way you want to be treated, is so important as we travel down the road. Helping others and being kind just feels good! 

I certainly don’t want to pretend to know it all, but my little bits of life-advice often boil down to common sense (which doesn’t always appear to be so common in the world these days). Power comes from within, being an individual, and remaining positive.  Believing that “I can” accomplish what I set my mind to is a habit of mine.  I am so fortunate to have the freedom to pursue my own happiness…so I choose happiness!  Quite often we are compelled to listen to the little voices in our head (more of a mindset, than crazy town) telling us “you can’t do that, are you nuts?!”, and this has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Turn down the volume in that old noggin of yours and take the time to know who you are and what you want. Take the driver’s seat, don’t let life drive you.  And lastly, connect with your spiritual self. 

Working on my self-confidence is a task that I understand to come from within (notice how I put that in present tense). Being a gregarious ginger with a giant personality does not necessarily mean you are self-confident!  If you can feel confident in doing the best you can with what you have, it’ll certainly make travelling down life’s’ road a little less bumpy. We all make mistakes, but it is important not to dwell on those mistakes. 

We are unable to control many of the events that happen to us or how some people will treat us, but we can control how we react to them. Decide not to be reduced to acting selfishly or poorly because of the bad things that happen around us.  Take the high road. 

I take pleasure in chatting with and listening to others. I am curious in hearing about their lives, challenges, problems, achievements, dreams. There is usually some laughs and something to be learned from others.  So open that bottle of wine you’ve been saving since Christmas, and don’t add too much water to your whiskey! 

The next season (literally and figuratively) is upon us. Fall is a time of change. The weather is cooler, leaves are turning color, children are back to school, and there is never a better time for setting new intentions.  In this next season of life, I intend to enhance my time by creating space for personal pursuits. I will continue to read my books. I will focus on being kind and giving back to others.  I will continue to work on enjoying the moment and letting go of the things I cannot control. I will not take my health for granted.  I will continue to express myself in the ways I know how, including spending time with my music, being outside in the garden or with the dog.  I will prioritize my time with my friends and family. I will listen more. I will say yes to the things that make my heart sing, and I will never stop growing.

And so, there you have it!  With my hard losses and great blessings in life I realize the importance of embracing each day. The future is a mystery. Love and respect each other. Be kind. Keep learning. 

“This is the day; may we celebrate and rejoice in it!”  And, I suppose if you peel away the sunny, curious, spirited, reflective, goofy, hopeful individual, you’ll find that I’m just Arlene; fortunate and blessed.

I am Arlene and I am GRATEFUL.

Jodi: At the end of your writing I want you to try and define yourself in one word.

Arlene: Are you kidding me?! Cripes! One word is impossible!

She is: Meagan

The following post has been submitted by Meagan Maher in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography. 

It’s hard to piece together everything that’s happened to my husband and I over the course of the last three years. So much has happened and yet, so little has visibly changed on the surface. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at us that our lives have been turned upside down and put on hold more times than anyone could count. It’s impossible to articulate all that we’ve experienced because everything has become jumbled together in one big mess over time and has resulted in me being unable to separate recent years in to neat little standalone piles. My life has been a broken record with the same tragic soundtrack skipping over and over, replaying one lyric in particular. One sentence that is just as painful to hear the echo of now as it was to hear in each moment that it was spoken. A phrase we’ve heard four times too many,

 

“I’m so sorry, but there’s no heartbeat.”

 

Becoming an expert at having miscarriages is not something you ever dream of becoming adept at, but it’s precisely what we’ve become. I can now nod solemnly, keep my cool, shed just a few pesky tears and squeak out, “What are the next steps?” with minimal quavering in my voice. I can muster up the presence of mind to make small jokes to the doctor as we’re exiting her office in an immense effort to prove that this hasn’t pushed me over the brink of insanity (as though fertility clinics are a barrel of laughs to begin with). I can pay for the misoprostal medication at the front desk without crumpling on to the floor under the weight of knowing that these four tiny octagonal pills will unjustly separate me and my baby before either of us are ready to part ways. I can walk out of the office and to the elevator, and actually remember to take it UP to the parking level. I have pressed the down button all other 78 times except for on the days when I’ve been told our baby didn’t survive. I can call my boss to say, “I won’t be coming in to work for the next few weeks” in the utmost professional tone. I know that I will probably be off for at least three weeks off because my miscarriages last for months and always end in a D&C surgery. I can pretend that I’m okay when people ask how my appointment went, and can manage to say, “It didn’t go well today” in a well-rehearsed mildly disappointed tone, as though I were referring to a multiple choice test that I just didn’t study hard enough for. I know who I can say what to, who can handle my honesty about how excruciatingly soul destroying this has all been, and who would rather hear me say, “I’ll be okay. We knew this was a possibility from the start”. Because if I don’t, I’ll hear the ole, “You need to stay positive. It will happen for you one day. At least you can get pregnant” spiel, as though getting pregnant is the only issue someone can have, and as though I should be happy that I even got this far. I also know that this is as much as you can possibly be prepared for the impending eviction of your child. The rest is out of our hands. You can plan, prepare and pick out all the names you want but at the end of the day, none of this life and death stuff is within our control.  

And then I’m just supposed to carry on like nothing completely life-changing has happened to me. I went to my parents’ Christmas Eve party two days after surgery because that’s just what happens every year. I went back to work a few weeks later and tried to pretend that I wasn’t majorly suffering from baby brain because I didn’t have a kid to show for it. I managed to avoid breaking down in to a sobbing mess whenever someone asked when we’re having kids, or when someone brazenly pointed out that we were running out of time and better get to it. I didn’t outwardly explode over comments on photos with my friends’ babies that were along the lines of, “It’s your turn!” and “Kids look good on you *wink*”. There’s a reason that women are constantly sharing not-so-subtle hints via Facebook posts about not making these kinds of remarks. When I found myself in situations where I did have to mention it, I learned very quickly that people generally do not want to acknowledge your loss or your grief. People are extremely uncomfortable with other people being uncomfortable. They’ll try to minimize your experience and their own discomfort by saying, “Well, at least you didn’t have to deliver”... as though having your baby taken out by a vacuum while unconscious on a table is any easier. Others will say, “it was just cells at 14 weeks”. Except they’re not. We have seen our babies alive and heard their little hearts beating. I have seen my friends’ 12-week ultrasound photos, and those cells look pretty damn-well like a baby to me. It takes everything in my power to stop myself from saying, “Well, your newborn is just cells too, along with the rest of us. Guess it shouldn’t be hard to lose anyone if that’s how you want to put it.” 

One of the more unanticipated side effects that I experienced was being depressed for months. Baby or not, you still have to go through physical changes and that horrendous hormone crash post-pregnancy. Except when you don’t have a living child at the end of it, there is nothing to ease the weight of it all and make it all feel worth it. My body felt so different and I felt like no one believed me when I said my hips were wider and that I needed all new bras thanks to my new chest size. It was like I wasn’t allowed attribute these changes to my pregnancy since I didn’t earn the badge of honour that was a baby or a birth story to prove it. I was never much of a crier (only for The Notebook and the end of Harry Potter), but everything was making me upset. Emotional stability and happiness always felt just beyond my grasp. Nothing anyone said was the right thing. For a long time, the littlest things would set me off. As someone who was always consistently in good spirits and had never even so much as experienced PMS before all this, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that it was suddenly necessary to put on a fake smile and muster up every last bit of my energy in order to laugh. I felt so much pressure to be my old self again both internally and externally because I was always considered a strong person and I should have been able to move on more quickly than I was. On the outside, nothing had changed. Life should have carried on as normal because I’d gone 30 years without a baby and I still had no baby, so why was it suddenly impossible to continue living as I did before? But my old self was long gone. She left my body when my baby did. I felt like I was completely losing myself and like I was a massive failure to myself, my family and my friends for not being able to pull myself together and quit being so focused on what I assumed seemed so minuscule from an outside perspective. 

I am not sure whether I imagined it or not, but I sensed that people were getting tired of hearing the same old story so I started staying home more and going out less to avoid having to pretend that everything was fine. Because it wasn’t. Not even close. The nature of my miscarriage lead to some questions from my OB and my answers had sparked the need for further inquiry. I was referred to a fertility specialist within two months of my surgery, which was extremely difficult for me to accept. I am a fairly intuitive person and while some of my family tried to reassure me and said the doctors just wanted to rule out problems, I knew something bigger was amiss deep down. People told me to stay positive but intuition is a pesky thing and unfortunately, it doesn’t let you rest easy. And it turns out I was right. My miscarriage snowballed in to the discovery of a much larger issue. We were told that it would extremely difficult to ever carry a child past the first trimester without needing surgical intervention, and even then, surgery was not guaranteed to work and was a high risk. We were instructed to try again and that the procedure would be considered only after further losses occurred. I was completely and utterly devastated. How was I supposed to just be okay with knowing that we were going to lose more babies? How do you muster up the courage to start the process all over again when you know that the outcome will result in the further destruction of your soul? 

 

I wanted to crawl in to a hole and never talk to anyone again. I was convinced it would be impossible to ever feel happy again.

 

I had no idea how to communicate any of this news and my feelings about it all to people. This kind of heavy news is not exactly something you just drop mid-conversation or send a quick text about. You do whatever you can to protect yourself when you are going through something over the long-haul out of a need to survive. A lot of the time that looks like not sending an open invitation for awkward conversations to happen where you end up having to reassure someone else about something you aren’t sure about yourself, or to receiving more of the same unsolicited and contradictory advice: 

Stay positive. Don’t think about it. Don’t give up hope. So and so gave up and only then they finally get pregnant. Go on a vacation, that usually seems to work. The only thing that works is getting back to a normal routine. Forget what the doctor said, babies survive when the time is right. Take the doctor’s advice and do everything she says.

Our heads were constantly spinning and it felt like a lot of the time, people were subconsciously placing the blame on everything I was or wasn’t doing. It felt like every time I brought it up, someone was telling me that I had to simultaneously do more and do less than I was currently doing and if I only took their advice or followed in someone else’s footsteps, that I would have a baby. Except, let’s consider the fact that drug addicts and people in high-stress situations since the beginning of time have managed to successfully have babies. Not to mention the fact that I had never even heard of a uterine septum and neither had 99% of the people I knew, and yet, everyone had tips and tricks for me, all the while completely glazing over the fact that my issue was congenital and not a product of something I was or wasn’t doing. But everyone needs something to place the blame on, and when it’s my body that’s killing my babies, the blame automatically rests with me. And that’s not a nice feeling, even if people didn’t intentionally infer that this was all my fault. Three miscarriages, a failed surgery and a subsequent fourth miscarriage later, I started to feel like we were finally being given permission by others to truly feel the weight of our situation without judgment, finger-pointing or the need to offer up suggestions we didn’t ask for. We were officially beyond comprehension and saving, or so it felt. Those who had previously made me feel as though I wasn’t being positive enough, mentally healthy enough or hopeful enough suddenly seemed to grasp that we were never being dramatic or negative about our situation. We were just contending with the reality of it and all along, this was a heavy cross to bear. 

Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.
— Bob Goff

Needless to say, the experience of infertility is an incredibly lonely and isolating one. It’s one of those things that you genuinely cannot fathom or understand until you have gone through it yourself and at the heart of it all, it’s an extended grieving period. You go through the motions of doctor’s appointments, bloodwork, ultrasounds, and surgeries, all the while trying to stay positive but also coming to terms with the fact that you may genuinely never get to experience parenthood. The research shows that women who struggle with infertility suffer from depression and psychological side effects that are in line with those who suffer from long-term medical conditions such as cancer. I can see how that would be true because you grieve not only for the little lives lost, but also for the life you thought you’d live yourself. I found myself getting more and more bitter and afraid every time that I did get pregnant because I felt completely robbed of what should be a joyful occasion and instead, I wondered every day if this would be the last that I would be with my baby. As the years went by and the loss of both babies and hope piled up, I finally reached a breaking point in my grief where I knew I needed to make a change. I became tired of justifying my unhappiness and I just didn’t want to continue feeling miserable every day. It was becoming more exhausting to be sad than it ever was to be happy before all this happened. I also didn’t like how some of my interactions with others were making me feel. Sometimes I’d walk away from conversations feeling like I was taking it all too hard, or that I was a disappointment because I wasn’t acting in a way that coincided with that person’s own narrative of who I was supposed to be based on who I had been in the past. I knew that in order to get through this without completely losing myself and my relationships, it was going to take a lot of difficult work and that I needed to get a handle on this space we were living in. 

I began seeking out information about how to cope by listening to self-care books about dealing with grief and vulnerability, reading blogs by people going through similar situations, and listening to podcasts with stories of women who not only overcame huge hurdles in their lives but came out the other side of them thriving. I first heard about the liminal space in a podcast called The Feel Good Effect around this time last year and it was like the universe was saying, “Welcome back to life. Here’s a good place to start”. The liminal space, or liminality, is described by anthropologist Victor Turner as a space characterized by uncertainty (check), ambiguity (check), disorientation (check) and isolation (double check). It is a place of crossing over. A place where you’ve left something behind but have yet to become something else. A place between the ‘was’ and the ‘next’. If there was ever a light bulb moment in my life, this was it. The place where I was dwelling had a name and people who had lived there before had coping strategies that were Google-able. For the first time in a long while, I felt like I had found some footing, a place to rest instead of hanging on for dear life on the side of a cliff. I may have been clinging on to a very jagged, very high cliff, but if I could make small movements upward..then I’d at least have something to focus on within my day-to-day that would help lift me out of this deep, sorrowful valley I could not seem to escape. 

I started by creating boundaries little by little. I had always been a completely open book about my life up until this point, but it was clear that sharing everything was not going to work for me anymore. We had no choice but to talk about our first loss due to the fact that it occurred after the 12-week mark - and while it helped to lean on our loved ones and connect with others who had gone through something similar, it also opened up a lot of room for opinions, questions we didn’t have any answers to, and giving up what little control we had over having conversations about this deeply personal experience. I have never done well with getting numerous opinions from others because I find it clouds my own intuition and gut feelings. So, I decided it was time to make my husband and I the primary characters in our story, and to stop feeling like I owed the secondary characters a place in the main plot. This was an extremely hard habit to break and I held a lot of guilt over keeping things to ourselves but I reminded myself that this was not anyone else’s life- it’s mine and it’s Eoin’s and no one else’s. Others were only entitled to know what we chose to divulge. I was surprised at how quickly this worked in giving us some breathing room. It is incredibly humbling to have family and friends gather around you and hold you up during hard times, but there is something to be said for getting through entire days without having to talk about it or being given false reassurance. Creating some distance improved my sanity immensely and it meant not having to live in that dark place day in and day out at the mercy of others who, while well-intentioned and caring, often caught us off guard. 

Seemingly completely contradictory, I also gave myself permission to be more open about what we were going through with those that we did choose to share our story with. Talking to women who were experiencing infertility, who were on the other side of it, or who were even just willing to listen opened up a whole other level of relationships with some incredible ladies who I credit for getting me through a lot of my days. Hearing different perspectives from those who had walked a similar road was more healing than I could have ever imagined. While everyone was reassuring me that it would all be okay and that we’d have a baby some day, my Granny who lost her baby boy in child birth was the first person to say to me,

 

“You can have a very full and happy life without children too, you know. You are a complete person as you are and you don’t need a baby to be whole”.

 

It had never even crossed my mind amidst the countless appointments and prayers being lifted up by others that maybe the alternative wouldn’t actually be the end of the world, that I could survive this and be happy again. I started to consider that maybe I am enough just as I am in my current state and I didn’t need to kill myself trying to become something more. We do love Hawaii, having lots of quiet alone time and eating popcorn for dinner...all things that I know we won’t see much of once kids come along.

 My relationship with my husband strengthened beyond anything I imagined it could have. It has never been better as a result of everything we have been through. One brief glance between us can communicate a thousand words in the span of a second. We now know and respect how the other grieves and copes with hard situations. We sense when the other needs some breathing room and also when we need to just be together to get through tough stretches of time. I used to joke that I hated when people called their spouse their best friend because I already had a handful of amazing women to call my own but now I totally, 100% get it. Losing four little people that were made from both of your souls (like little horcruxes, if you will) can bring you closer together or tear you apart, and I am thankful every day that these last three years have solidified our marriage in ways that some may not ever get to level up to over the course of their lifetime. 

I also made a point of taking time for myself very seriously by doing things that required me to not take myself too seriously. I thought a lot about what I would do with my life should kids not be in the cards, or at the very least, what I would like to accomplish for myself before the responsibility for another human life became my reality. So I started purchasing online courses to learn new skills. I took up a more modern style of scrapbooking as a way to house my many, many happy memories. I started knitting like a fiend and watched all the TV shows. I got seriously back in to yoga, which is something I’ve always loved (Yoga With Adriene is my jam). In a conversation with one of the aforementioned ladies who has been a hugely positive force in my life, she mentioned that she was taking photography lessons with a woman in Toronto and was learning a lot. Photography was always something I was truly passionate about and despite having taken classes with another amazing photographer years prior, I had gotten a little rusty in my skills. I signed up as a way to focus my attention elsewhere and it did more for my self-esteem and wellbeing than I ever thought could be possible. I had found a hobby that I loved, that occupied as much time as I needed it to, and that was coming naturally to me, something I didn’t have to fight with to be good at. The first 8-week beginner course lead to another 8-week intermediate course and then one day, I found myself purchasing my own website for a photography side-hustle. For some strange reason, people liked my photos and I somehow booked over 30 sessions in 6 months. I had something to do for me that I was well aware I couldn’t have done had my first pregnancy been successful, and this made everything a little more easy to bear. I started believing again that maybe, just maybe, everything does actually happen for a reason and in due course. I had to pull back this year thanks to miscarriage number four and surgery number four, but I know that it will be available for me to dive back in to when I am in the clear and that has made all the difference with my ability to continue living a happy life in the liminal space. While hobbies and free time are no substitute for the survival of our babies, sharing my gifts and investing extra time in both myself and my marriage has proven to be immeasurable in value. I am proud of myself for reframing life as it was happening instead of letting it completely pass me by and having regrets down the road. I feel an overwhelming sense of peace that I am doing enough with the situation I was handed. And I’ve proven to myself that in the end, if this is all there is, I will be okay. I will persevere. I will be happy. I will have purpose. 

When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.
— Brene Brown

I wish I could wrap all this up in a pretty little bow and say, “surprise, I’m pregnant!”. But I can’t. I have no idea if the future has more babies in store for us. And the truth is… that’s okay. I’m learning to accept this because the reality for everyone is that none of us can ever know what lays ahead. Life has a funny way of forcing us on complete detours from the path we intended to take. In the moment, it can feel incredibly hopeless because you’re constantly swimming against the current but if we just learn how to ride the waves, the time we spend in those liminal spaces during the course of our lives can teach us that the universe really does have our best interests at heart and a destination in mind. If we take the time to appreciate all the good things that we presently have in our lives and to recognize an opportunity for growth when it’s upon us, we can leverage our time in the in-between places to discover who we are as individuals, to shape ourselves in to the people that we always imagined becoming, and to show ourselves just how much we are capable of. Through it all, you might just find that you end up on a path you quite enjoy the scenery of in spite of its dicey bits. 

 

I am Meagan, and I am enough.

 


Post Script: 

I receive emails from the Universe on a daily basis. They hold amazing little nuggets of truth and really help to reframe the way that I see life as it unfolds before me. I received this one back on August 15, 2013 and have held on to it ever since. I have it hanging on my wall as a reminder that good things always lay ahead, even if it might not feel like it in the moment. I wanted to share it here in the hopes that it might help to inspire someone else reading this.

 

Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2013

04:44:22

From:theuniverse@tut.com

To:Meagan Walker

Subject: A Note from the Universe


Usually, the best way to find theyellowbrickroadof your life, Meagan, is to start out on the dusty, dirt one.

And then let yourself become so preoccupied in making the best of it, having fun, and challenging yourself that you actually stop paying attention to the path.

Until, one day, not so long from now, with a new best friend, wearing cool clothes, feeling awesome, a teeny tiny bit taller, fresh from a WOW vacation, looking for the path you just left, you'll notice that it's 24 carats... baby.

And you'll wonder for a long, long time, sipping on some exotic fruit drink, when the transformation actually took place...

Tripping,
The Universe

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She is: Lisa

The following post has been submitted by Lisa Nigh, in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson

I spent half of my life quitting. I spent half my life afraid. I spent half my life shy and cowering. I spent half my life swallowing my words and playing it safe.

When I was young, in grade school, I was painfully shy. I’m not quite sure why, but I was happy regardless. Who I was was inconsequential at the time, but I know that I was raised in a very strict but loving household. I wish I could go back there and spend time with that little girl, encourage her to keep her chin up, to try new things. I didn’t shine as a child, I was a follower, a wallflower, I was homely and skinny and feared anything that would challenge my strict upbringing.

What happened between then and now is a mystery, as I can’t pinpoint a catalyst that caused an abrupt change in the way I socialized and grew in confidence, but what stayed the same was my deep fear to succeed. I had these great dreams of going places and doing amazing things and I pursued them...all the way until they were a breath shy of completion..then I quit.

Something deep inside compelled me to move from everything I rested my familiarity on. So post-university, I headed all the way to a city 22 hours from my home where I knew no one. It was the first meal I ate alone in a restaurant. I felt liberated and not the least bit afraid of the aloneness.

This is the time that I flourished, discovering who I was, challenging my own values, driven to pursue a new and improved me with only my own compass to guide me. This is the place that I began to become familiar with the woman I was, the journey of self discovery, a very independent woman.

As I went through the next few years in my early 20’s and working in the advertising industry in Toronto and Hamilton, I became confident in my abilities, determined to succeed by just living in the moment. I had no regard of past or future, but I lived with happiness and excitement for the moment. I sipped in all that life poured.

I’ve had several transformative events since those days. Events that, in retrospect, were pivotal in my journey of self discovery, yet were not realized as transformative until much later.

For example: One day, I was looking for a carpool ride, and I decided to pick the middle name on a list that, as per my wing and a prayer usual, and my finger landed on the name ‘H. Nigh’. This is how I met my husband. I often refer to it as divine intervention, but he made me realize that the things that I was chasing for happiness were not what I needed at all; but were, indeed, actually core value alignments to love and regard for family. He loved his dad and his family and that’s what drew me to him. That was an epiphany, truly.

Of course, all of the big life changing events that we all know that cause stress and elation ensued. As many others know, children add a new dimension to self discovery. Having my daughter allowed me to reveal once again that happiness was not my career in advertising, but it was being with my daughter. Wow, I had no idea what the love of a child could do to my heart, but my career became inconsequential and raising her while working part time filled my heart with joy and satisfaction. Raising a family without my own family around, without aunts and uncles or stop-ins for coffees, has been really challenging. However, living in moments and carrying no regret helped pave the way to successful parenting.

The biggest challenge in my life, though, came when I was 32. I learned that we were expecting twins. All the learning and excitement quickly turned into angst as we found out that one of our twins was health compromised and that she may also hinder the growth of the healthy twin. I went on bed rest for three months. This challenged me not only physically and mentally, but it also rocked my faith. Against the odds of the specialist, I prayed for two healthy babies and those prayers turned into prayers to hold twin b, our baby named Hope, alive. At 36 weeks, I delivered a crying and healthy preemie boy...and behind a shroud of tears and bright operating room lights, I delivered baby Hope to silence. I held her for 1 hour. 

An hour where my prayers were answered, an hour to know the feeling of being a mother of 3, an hour where nothing else mattered but life.

We buried Hope in Springvale cemetery, underneath the most beautiful trees and sky and I often go there to remember who I am. The neighbours are her keepers, in that I feel secure. Because Hope fought to live, her brother, against all odds, was able to grow and be healthy. I survived knowing that her little life was not lived in vain, but she showed me to fight for what mattered. The docs encouraged me to help with the loss by prescribing medication, which I took for 1 entire day before I instead turned to my happiness pill: exercise. This is where I completely evolved to who I am today. Faith intact.

I took up the sport of powerlifting. It’s a long story, but I had a few game changers in my life that got me there; people who believed in me, and people who endorsed consistency over anything. From that time forward, practising consistency has always paid off, as it eliminated fear. When I have studied with consistency, when I have practised with consistency, when I have done anything with consistency, it's been miraculous how my fears suddenly dissipate.

Powerlifting has been a great teacher. Powerlifting has been a truant officer, a guardian, a loyal friend, a hurtful partner that has caused pain and trauma and heartbeat to a family that has filled the gaps while I’ve been thousands of kilometers from my own. I have stood on a World podium with the Canadian flag draped over my shoulders. I have been Vice President of our provincial powerlifting organization, and I also have lost friends in the sport to the evil that is cancer. Some of the most incredible interactions with others and relationships I have garnered to date, have been a result of delving in to a sport meant to be a one shot goal to gaining fitness consistency. I revelled in the glory of that once meak-mannered child, living in moments of fortitude as a powerful woman. 

As I approached my late 40’s, my thinking changed, maybe without my steering. I, for the first time, was very conscious of my vulnerability. I stopped living in the moment, but thought about past and future. Physical setbacks and people coming and going; growing older was at the forefront of my thoughts. I hate being vulnerable, but that resistance to vulnerability kept me in limbo for many years. I kept doing the same thing over and over and saw that inconsistent, fearful and shy me resurface.

It’s not easy to open your life up to people who don't know you. Hell, the ones that do can find fault with your life or resist your best version of you. I am meant to shine. We all are.

It wasn’t until last year that I remembered who I was. I left my home, my family, my job and I flew 2,400 kms away to meet my dad in Thunder Bay as he was having tests for the screen used to mend his hernia. The day I arrived, and after several tests, we still didn’t have answers. My mom asked me to ‘stir up a storm’. There she was, fierce me ignited, locked and loaded ready for the storm. But it wasn‘t a rain cloud, it wasn't even a tsunami, it was an asteroid set to end my world. My dad had metastatic pancreatic cancer, stage 4; a prognosis of weeks to live. Instead of sinking into past and future, I began to live in the precious moments again.

My dad dug deep to keep his chin high and he asked me to stay with him. Dad trusted me with his life. He always did. He was young, fearless, full of passion for life and athletic. At 68 years old, I saw my dad for the first time in a very different way. In one of the waiting rooms, I observed his skeletal back and hunched spine through the hospital gown while he rested his head in his hands as he sat, and I beside him. He sobbed, that wretched, explosive, fully paralyzing sob, knowing that he would not see his grandchildren grow up. That was the only time he cried in front of me. I saw my dad as a human for the first time in my life and I knew what I had to do. I knew that he deserved dignity, as all humans do, and I endeavoured to fulfil his wish of dying at home. 3 months I stayed with my family. 80 days. I worked every day around the clock to give my dad a pain free existence. I drove to appointments, I cooked, I talked, I placed fentanyl patches with care, I loved, I drank wine, I stayed up all night while dad was in delirium. I visited with old friends, I sourced how to explore alternate treatments, I learned how to give injections and IV, and I learned how important it was for dad to have people around. Those people gave him the notion of happiness, if even for a moment of reprieve from the inevitable. I learned the power of community and peace. I learned that one can fully push their existence leading to their own impending doom. I saw the person in me that my dad believed in; consistent and strong. Because of powerlifting, I was able to carry my dad back to his bed at his weakest time and when no one else could. And in all the times I spent seeking the gold at podiums in the realm of lifting, this is the time I felt the most powerful, a time where I made a difference for someone I loved.

Every single thing has its season. I don't believe in reason. I don't believe in fate. Some things just are. The girl that fought so hard to leave and be away from the trappings of family and a small hometown felt at peace and at home back in her roots. I was with my dad during his final breath at home. It changed me down to my DNA. My tear filled eyes changed the world before me.

I often think deeply about factors that caused me to stray from my path of self discovery, but I guess if I’m fully understanding who I am, then any chance I have at growth will be stunted because everything in my path; whether conscious of that course or not, is part of self discovery. It just IS.

What I do know without a doubt, is who I am NOT.

I am deeply rooted in the intricate mechanisms of my internal compass. Anything that doesn’t line up with my inner workings, I actively avoid or delete those things from my life. While I am strong, I have deep fears like anyone, maybe more. I am shy, I can have esteem issues, I am still that little girl, but I work hard every single day to move forward and not back. I am the master of my own happiness. I forget that sometimes, because sometimes I just want to be sad...I want to mourn and I want to be angry, but I give those things lifespans too. They are cancer. I have been accused of seeing life through ‘rose-coloured glasses’, but what is the alternative? I am a student of my own happiness. I am ultimately responsible for my own happiness. And I won’t ever stop.

Today, I work hard at being a beacon to others by giving, by moving to inspire, and by redefining how we age. Women are amazing. I feel the absolute strongest when I am coaching teenage girls and other women. I could be coaching them to compete or to just squat properly, but more so I hope that I am teaching them a little about themselves at the same time. I feel strongest by giving. As the great Muhammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” I love to give. Not often, but sometimes, I feel jaded in the act of giving. I’ll ask questions as to why and when and who. In the messiness of being human, it’s easy to get hurt or offended and at times, even jaded. That is fear, and fear derails you from your happiness. It is at that exact moment that I'll feel the little hands of my happiness tugging at my shirt asking, “does this service to others make you happy?” well, the answer always is yes; it does make me happy.

So, it’s been a circle...I began meekly, then I grew worthy of a new beginning, I moved forward with grand ambitions for myself and OF this world. As I self realized, I learned a lot about what’s important and I've learned what defines my happiness. Happiness is consistency, happiness is work, happiness is ever changing, and I ask myself in everything I do: "does this make Lisa happy?"...as for the rest, I've learned to let go. 

Now, I am a student IN the world I live in, and I have ambitions for my little world with my sights on my children, my husband and my mom. Family is home and home is happiness. Where I faltered before in thinking that I was strong alone and showing no signs of vulnerability, at 50 I NEED community, I NEED great friends and I NEED family. I NEED laughter and I NEED love. 

I will spend the next half of my life alive and being true to myself. I will speak my peace and consistently seek happiness. I will dedicate my time to forging great relationships. I will spend the rest of my life as an encourager, a beacon of light that shines not only for myself, but for others when all they see is darkness. I will spend the rest of my life showing my family that they are my universe, without distraction.  I will continue to work on my legacy. I will never, EVER quit..and I will spend the rest of my life giving that young girl inside of me permission to do the same.

God, it’s hard...but by your grace, I go.

I (Lisa) am Fearless.

She is: Kezia

The following post has been submitted by Kezia Cooke-Brown, in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.

“The more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.” 
— Henry David Thoreau

This document has affectionately been saved as “She is - version 3” on my computer.   A few weeks ago when I started crafting my story the page quickly filled with details of heartbreak.  The black print told a haunting tale of a tall, dark haired man who captured my heart for most of my 20s.  The day that I left poured out on to the page.  It vividly described the scene as I loaded my car and pulled out of the driveway leaving the red brick home, with the single tree on the front lawn, in my rearview mirror. 

Version 2 of my “She is” story emerged a week later.  In an effort to tell the tale of my how my self-discovery journey began I found myself writing yet again of a man.  The cursor on the screen moved quickly across the page as I told the story of the day the two of us sat across from each other in a small burrito shop.  His broad shoulders filled a red athletic shirt and the air in the restaurant was heavy with the scent of spicy chicken and warm tortillas.  Half-eaten rice bowls sat between us.  “I think I love you, more than you love you.”  He said quietly. My eyes lifted from the grey faux marble top tables when he spoke.  “I know”, I said definitively. 

Reading over both pages I found myself alarmingly aware of the fact these men, while important parts of the lessons I have learned and memories I cherish, were not my identity.  They are not my story.  

I am 30 years old.  Up until 2 years ago there were very few things I knew to be true about myself.  I could read back an impressive academic and athletic resume, pull you in with charming stories from my travels or enlighten you with anecdotes from my work as an elementary school teacher.   My relationship with myself had about as much depth as a social media profile.  

In the summer of 2016 I was brave enough to break my own heart.  I left a man I loved and a home we had created because I knew our relationship would not provide the emotional security and fulfillment I needed.  What ensued was painful and created a choking self-doubt inside of me.  Having spent my formative years as one half of a couple, I felt unsure of who I was as an individual.   When I found myself shortly after this face-to-face with a handsome and funny man who had an open heart, I was unable to be a vulnerable and authentic partner.  I recognized then the work I needed to do for myself.  The answer to who I was could not be found in a relationship with anyone else.  

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by women who were all along different parts of their own journeys with self-discovery and love.  Each of them contributed in their own way to what became a yearlong commitment to discovering and loving myself.  Like all good journeys, this one began with a journal.  It quickly filled with letters to myself, lists of things that made me feel alive, goals I had and inspirational quotes.  The most important pages were the ones that detailed the date of every Wednesday for the following 12 months.  Each week I committed to a planned time for myself. These days included explorations of counseling, Reiki and yoga.  I took myself on nature walks, read books and spent time writing.  It wasn’t long before acts of self-care and a quest for personal development bled into every aspect of my life.  Affirmations on post-it notes, podcasts on my drive, and walks outside during every lunch break at work.  Each of these activities allowed me to explore myself and be an active participant in the way I felt and acted each day.

In acknowledging dark thoughts, old wounds or flaws, I felt compassion for myself...In cherishing my celebrations and setting goals, I felt empowered and grateful.  

The more authentic my relationship with myself became, the more present I became in my relationships with others.  I felt myself drawn to listening more intently and craved connecting with others on the highs and lows that life presents. 

I am grateful to the man who did not give me everything in my 20s, because I realized it was only me who could fill my soul and inspire my true self.  It has allowed me to cultivate a sense of self and build the routines and habits necessary to make a life long commitment to caring for myself and growing. 

Six months after I left the broad shouldered man at the burrito shop heartbroken, we connected again. This time, I shared openly my journey and invited him to embrace my new routines and commitment.  He began reading and journaling with me, sending me podcasts on self-discovery and leaving me affirmations on post-it notes.  I am grateful to have found someone to walk along side me as I continue to develop my story, but I know that who I am and the relationship I have with myself stands independent from anyone.  Having a wonderful partner is an edition to my story, not the ending.  

My story would not have ever been about me if it were not for the wonderful women along the way who gave me emotional refuge and safety in their support.  Their bravery in sharing their own stories with me gave me the strength to discover myself.  I am forever grateful for the women who lent me books that moved them, shared their personal truths and listened to mine.  For the pizzas you shared, movies you watched and silence you held next to me- thank you.  

I (Kezia) am PRESENT.

She is: Lindsay

The following post has been submitted by Lindsay Curran, in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.


Preface: 

Every time I had the intention to start writing this I would begin to cry. I felt like there was never enough time to sit and reflect about what I really wanted to say. Ultimately, I think it was something about putting my thoughts down on paper that made my feelings official and real. That is why it is ironic I needed to devote an entire day for myself, where there were no distractions, in order to write about my relationship with time.


When Jodi first announced the “She is” project I called her immediately to tell her how much I loved the idea and how proud I was of her for creating a project that was asking people to reflect on their own lives, while getting to see a glimpse into someone else's journey. This idea of being able to connect to another person was truly inspiring. Little did I know that the next thing out of her mouth was to ask me if I would be her “She Is” for the month of May. She wanted me to tell my story...

... and, as I sat on the bathroom floor watching my daughter play in the tub, I was excited, and extremely honoured she thought I would be a good addition to her project. However, as months went by, my excitement turned into worry and even a little anxiety. I spent countless days driving to and from work and laying in bed at night pondering. What is my story? What about my journey do I want to talk about?

Then it came to me.

My journey of self-discovery started years ago, and it centers around the relationship I have with myself, and time.

The relationship I've had with myself has definitely had its ups and downs, and as I've reflected on things for the sake of this project, I've decided to start my story at the beginning of my university career. Post secondary is a significant time in an adolescent’s life. It is the start of a new chapter and one that doesn’t often involve having your parents or even your core group of friends by your side. I had chosen to go to Wilfrid Laurier University in the fall of 2003. I will never forget my mom dropping me off at my dorm and feeling scared, anxious and alone. Even though I had one of my closest childhood friends with me, and conveniently living down the hall, I knew I was going to miss my family and group of girlfriends back home.

University presented its own struggles for me. I quickly realized I really had to work for my grades. That year my relationship with myself can only be described as 'riding on a roller coaster that seemed to be never ending'. I developed an outlook on life that was detrimental to not only my academic success but also my personal well-being. By Christmas time I was feeling extremely depressed and my grades were beginning to slip. I spent a lot of time sleeping in my dorm room and not socializing with the other girls on my floor. Not only were my grades hanging on by a thread, but so was my self-esteem. This resulted in weight gain, which I might add, did not help with my depression.

Later that same year I lost a really good friend who had been in the hospital due to a motor vehicle accident. The loss of my friend, Jenna, was devastating. I wanted to quit school, come home and be with my family and friends; in other words, be in a place that gave me comfort and allowed me to escape from my new life where I felt like I was constantly failing. Jenna’s accident was, and is to this day, a reminder of the fragility of life and how everything can be lost in a moment. The rest of the year was all about survival and constantly wanting to come home on weekends. I ended the year getting kicked out of my Honours program, having gained 20 pounds and not liking who I was as a person.

Sometimes in life you need a little help from others. This could not be more true, and that is why I am forever grateful to my mom. I can best describe my mom as that little flicker of light in a lantern, guiding me whenever life begins to get dark. Through my mom’s work she has helped teach me how to focus on ONE THING at a time and reflect on what I want out of life.

This is where the art of letter writing came into play. I will never forget my mom telling me to write a letter to myself venting about all of the things I didn't like, the relationships that were causing me stress and the negative thoughts that were constantly making me feel angry and resentful. I remember finishing my first letter and asking her, "what now?".  She then told me I was to either burn it, or rip it up. I looked at her in complete dismay. Destroying my letter reminded me of having to write out lines in grade 8 and then having the teacher rip them up in front of you, making you feel like you just wasted your time. However, what she was asking me to do, after having done it, made perfect sense. So I ripped up my letter into as many pieces as I could and threw them in the trash. She then continued to tell me to release all of my negative thoughts and move forward; leaving them in the past.

Letter writing is personal. It is not the same as venting to another person. There is no one to respond to you and no one to possibly fuel the fire. Getting your thoughts down on paper can sometimes provide you with the clarity you need in a situation. That was the start of my letter writing therapy. Letter writing became a liberating part of my self-development and something I still do today.

Over the next four years I continued to work on myself and let go of things I could not control; which was (and is) not always easy to do. After having graduated from university, I was worried that I would not get accepted to an Ontario Teachers’ College, so I decided instead to apply to the Sunshine Coast University in Australia. I got an early acceptance and was SO excited that this is where my journey was taking me. I went to all of the information sessions, paid my deposit and began planning for the next year of, sun, sand and an entirely new adventure. At the same time, there was a lot of talk about the importance of going to an Ontario Teachers’ College if you wanted to get a full-time job immediately after graduation. I had applied to several Ontario schools, but had not received any acceptance letters. However, life can sometimes surprise you in ways that are totally unexpected. On the last day before I could cancel my Australian offer, I was accepted to the University of Windsor. At that moment I knew I needed to cancel Australia and go to Windsor.

Now, I know what you must be thinking...you gave up a year in Australia for Windsor, Ontario? Hah!

Yet, this was it...this was at that moment in my life when the clouds started to part and revealed that all I needed to do is let go of the things I could not control. Little did I know at the time, but that one decision would lead to a teaching job in Haliburton the following fall, a permanent position in Lindsay one year later, and ultimately the family I have created today.

 

I think there comes a point in your life when you need to hand the job over to the Universe. This could not be more true of the events that have unfolded in my life.

 

Returning to my letter writing, I wrote a letter to myself describing all of the things that I was looking for in a partner before I started Teachers College; however, unlike past letters, I held this letter for safe keeping. I knew what mattered to me and what I wanted from someone who I would spend my life with. Insert Craig.

Craig is exactly who I was looking for. I had feared that I would not be able to find someone, who would not only work to understand me, but who I would also want to work for in return. It wasn’t until I let go of that worry and doubt, that I began to enjoy the process of the search. After being married now for four years, I can honestly say Craig is the love and balance I need in my life. When I am overly emotional, irrational or indecisive, he has a way of offering advice to help me see more clearly. He is the perfect sounding board I need to just let me get my thoughts out of my own head. Looking back on when Craig and I met, I realize now that I needed to be ready to meet him.

In order to find someone who I could be happy with, I needed to be happy with myself. I had to trust that whoever I was supposed to meet would come into my life when I was ready, believing in the law of attraction and...

...allowing time to work its magic.

Trusting, or putting 'things out into' the Universe, became a regular part of my belief system. Eckhart Tolle famously said, “Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life and see how life suddenly starts working for you, rather than against you.” However, this is not to say I haven’t had my road blocks, not knowing which direction to embark on.

Being ready to enter into motherhood was one of those moments. Turning back the clock to two years ago, I would consider my relationship with myself to be fully intact. I considered myself to be self-reflective and I loved my time alone to do something for me, whether it was working out, reading or watching TV.  As much as it pains me to admit...I feared what would happen to me if I were to have a baby.

I wasn’t worried about whether I would be a good mom, because I knew the kind of love I already had for my own niece and nephews and the example my own mother set for me...but what I did worry about was losing a part of myself and not being able to get it back. I didn’t want to say this out loud in fear of judgement and being perceived as selfish. Working through my uncertainty of the unknown was difficult and it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with other people. Rather, it was one I needed to tackle on my own. I needed to get crystal clear on what I wanted to manifest. I needed to envision it, fall in love with it and believe it was already here; once again, learning to surrender my thoughts.  As soon as I was able to do this, and realize my relationship with myself was on-going, I was able to realize that creating a family was only going to further help me develop into the person I want to be. That is when my fear turned into excitement.  

Eighteen months ago we welcomed our daughter, Palmer Laighton into the world. Palmer’s presence, and my love for her, has completely changed my outlook on life. All of the events and situations in life that I would have devoted time to worrying about prior, no longer seem important. Being Palmer's mom has truly made me into a stronger woman, and pushed me to be the best version of myself.

Since having Palmer, I have had to dig even deeper into my relationship with TIME. I think it is easy to want to be the control captain of your own life. I am guilty of taking on too much, saying YES to commitments when I should have said NO, and failing to delegate or ask for help when I am juggling too much. Going back to work in November mid-semester was difficult. I never had a problem devoting time for family; that was always from the moment I got home from school until Palmer went to bed. However, what I struggled with was finding the right balance between prepping for my classes, marking, finding time for Craig and I, my family back in Hagersville and...

...time for myself.

I was very in tune with the warning signs my body would give me when I was beginning to fall apart. Releasing that control was (and is) scary, but what I have come to realize is that I do not have to be in control of everything in my life. With the passage of time, and the deadlines that life imposes, learning to let go is the right thing to do.

I (Lindsay) am: learning to surrender.


Epilogue:

Subsequently, upon revision of my SHE IS: post, I noticed that I listed my own personal needs last...so evidently I still have some work to do!

 

Dear Lindsay,

Finding time for YOU matters. Taking a moment, whether is it each day, or once a week to do something for you, helps you remember that you are important too. How you talk to yourself matters. Your words are powerful, especially the ones you say to yourself every day. You need to remember not to be so hard on yourself, and acknowledge that what you tell yourself is reality. So, remember to be kind. In the end, the relationship you have with yourself will make you stronger in all other aspects of your life.

I love you,

Lindsay


Post Script:

To my co-creator of the Universe, Jodi; I want to thank you for pushing me to reflect on my journey, and relationship with myself and time. This project has reminded me that when life gets busy it is easy to forget that you just need to breathe, let it go, and let it in.

 

 

S(he) is: Chelsey & Finn

The following post has been submitted by Chelsey Cowlin and Finn Roche, in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.


Note to readers:

You'll notice that I've intertwined Chelsey and Finn's submissions.  I think it's worth mentioning that they worked on their post as individuals and submitted them to me without having read the other's work. I found it fascinating to see how their written work converged, and I hope I've done their stories justice.  

My wish for you as you read this post is that you don't just see a love story between a man and a woman, but a realistic tale of two journeys that have been forged out of love for oneself. 

- jodi


Chelsey

To be honest, there was always a part of me that found comfort in being ignorant. I didn’t have to take responsibility for the relationships in my life, I could freely blame others without taking accountability for my words and/or actions, and I could justify my unhealthy attachment to things and people.  I grew to expect that bad things would happen to me and feeling negative and victimized in many experiences brought me comfort. Resisting life and feeling sorry for myself was familiar, believing I was unworthy of being loved. I didn’t know this at the time but these tendencies were my way of projecting my shit onto the world. Instead of facing myself I attracted experiences that validated the way I perceived myself: angry, insecure, abandoned, abused, and lonely.

Needless to say, this pattern of thinking eventually lead me to manifest Epilepsy within my body. Lousie L., Hay would say the probable cause being,  “Sense of prosecution. Rejection of life. A feeling of great struggle. Self-violence” (You Can Heal Your Life, 1999, p, 191).

Long story short...I spent the first 21 years of my life dwelling on all the “tragic” things that happened in my past instead of showing compassion and practicing forgiveness. The low moments were dark; at times had me questioning faith altogether. Until I subconsciously manifested my last seizure while driving. Nothing like hitting rock bottom to leave you desperate enough to ask for help! The psychiatrist I ended up meeting with taught me that I actually did have a choice: to live in fear or to live in love.  

A month later, my future husband, randomly, walked into my life.

At the beginning, being Finn’s partner was absolutely exhilarating but at times frustrating. He wasn’t willing to “fix” me and compensate for my shortcomings but rather challenge me by telling me, “only I could make myself happy”. I had never heard of something so absurd.  How the hell was I supposed to learn how to do that when all that consumed me were feelings of anger and pain? What did it even mean to be content?

Soon after, I began chipping away... slowly...at the series of layers I wore to protect myself from the world. At this time, I was attending a meditation class at a local holistic store. This was when I learned that there was something sacred about stillness. I wondered why our society didn’t see value in it. I was then introduced to Reiki and it was here where I learned how heavy I really was - by seeing and feeling how much I was able to let go. Implementing the practice of meditation and learning how to access energy to help me heal brought the first of many glimpses of light into my life.

Finn

A man of humble beginnings; growing up I suppose I would have considered myself to be a pretty simple guy, needing very little to be happy. I was fortunate to have had parents whom raised me with unconditional love, and offered nothing but positive reinforcement throughout my childhood. I’ll be the first to recognize that this upbringing gave me a sense of security which, in this often complex and fast paced world, some might say they lacked. On the one hand this security gave me a sense of optimism and contentment which still to this day is the silent tone behind the pervading music of my life. Conversely, this same sense of optimism has at times left me ignorant to many things in my life, including my own self-awareness.

It was probably this lack of awareness that led me astray from the healthy young man I was when starting a career in the trades (straight out of high school), to the all time low I hit just a few years later. Had I been more aware of my psyche at this time, I may have found the strategies to cope with the compulsive people pleasing tendencies, anxieties and so forth to build the confidence and means to keep my life on track. Instead, I found myself spending the extra wealth I had accumulated working full time on the night life.  The fact that I was still living at home during this time enabled me to live my life the way many kids would in the post secondary system. It began innocently enough; going out the odd night with friends, paying visits to others whom had gone away for school. But somewhere along the line I just flat out stopped taking care of myself. And how could I have? There was no way I could have maintained being in the shape of my life; as I had been a few years prior. Not while up all night, many nights of the week, for weeks on end. Somewhere along the line I not only lost sight of myself but took for granted the opportunities I had worked so hard to achieve. It eventually got to the extreme of forgetting entire moments from the night before because of how heavily I was drinking. And the worst part was, I didn’t even know how my life had come to this point.

Many months into living this lonely sense of feeling stuck, as the helpless victim of a downward spiral, I unexpectedly crossed paths with a young lady by the name of Chelsey. There was a certain energy about her I had never sensed from anyone else before. Although I’d spent most of the day at this particular function completely in my own world, using my go-to tools to blend in. There was just something about her magnetic presence that, for the first time in a very long time, had me absolutely captivated. Even still, I couldn’t summon the courage to have more than a few insignificantly brief words with her that evening. When the night ended we went our separate ways, and that brief shimmer of exhilaration was as if a distant dream, I sunk back into the illusion my life had become. At times I wondered if I had ever really met this mysterious women at all. It wasn’t until a few months later at a company Christmas party that we met again at her place of employment. I had to seize the opportunity; knowing full well that life doesn’t give you a second chance at meeting someone of this magnitude by chance. 

One thing led to another...one casual drink one night turned into many subsequent rendezvous in which we got to know one another. At this stage of my life not only had it been quite a while since I had dated anyone, but my self-confidence had deteriorated significantly. I didn’t really have a clear self-image and therefore didn’t know what it was I had to offer. What I did know was the more I got to know her, the more I came to realize that I needed a change in my life. Getting to know Chelsey gave me a new lease on life, literally. Learning of the struggles she had to overcome in order to get into the school board reminded me of how hard I had worked to get my foot in the door of an industry just as difficult to get into. Witnessing the passion she had in doing whatever it took to become established not only reminded me of how fortunate I really was, but it gave me the permission to re-evaluate my self-worth for no one’s benefit but my own.

In this stage of my life I had nothing to lose. As we grew together we developed a deep appreciation for the importance of communication - although this was certainly not a strong suit for either of us in the beginning. It was this same communication that lead the way to building a trusting friendship, which in turn lay the foundation for fostering the type of relationship I had never before known. As our relationship grew I found new ways to regain some of my once lost confidence. However, at this phase of my life, feeling successful  looked much differently than it had in the past. And I found it increasingly difficult to manage the mounting responsibilities of life while trying to build myself back up. As such, with glimpses of the new found confidence that came with the work it took to become established, trying find time to intricately break myself down just didn’t seem a priority at the time.

In the summer of 2011 we bought our first house together. Ironically in a small town we had both become accustom to driving through at times in our single days when we felt overwhelmed and in need of a break from reality. Before even getting the keys we had decided to undertake a pretty extensive renovation which winded up being a little over a year in the making. By this point we were ready for a break from living in the chaos, so we organized a four week trip on the East Coast. As fate would have it we cut our vacation one province short of it’s original itinerary. The reason being; through a series of unexpected events, while passing through one of the most beautiful towns we had come across during our road trip, a unique opportunity presented itself. We stumbled upon a house with a sad past, which although in need of some serious TLC, had a lot of potential in our eyes. Were we crazy? Having driven 2500 kms away from our home in search of a break, here we were debating putting an offer in on a house that needed twice as much work. This meant we would not only be cutting our vacation short but coming home with an even bigger project than what we had just taken on. After much discussion as to the whys and the why nots, we decided to take the leap. Having just completed a similar endeavour, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. And besides, in our eyes if a few summers of hard work was going to give us a home away from home to share with our family, it was a small price to pay for the priceless memories this place would give us later on in life. So three weeks into our holiday we put in our offer, and turned the car around to get the logistics sorted out back home.

We dedicated the next few summers to working on it full time, and will be forever grateful for the tremendous helping hands of our family, who saved us hours of labour. A project that would have extended the process out another year or two easily without their assistance. By the summer of 2014, the once run down bleak house we had found under the Cape Breton Highlands had become our little oasis. Although there was plenty of work still to be done (as with any home) we had made it a fully functional living area. A sacred space away from all of the hustle and bustle of back home. It was this summer that it seemed most fitting to get down on one knee and propose to the love of my life on the East Coast; symbolically the day after the major storm Hurricane Arthur. 

We spent the next year planning vicariously for a large but simple wedding in our backyard for the following summer. Much of our time was spent organizing, making decorations and laying out our backyard for the big day. By the time it came around, all of that love we had poured into the day came pouring back down on top of us. Quite literally! The sky let loose to the rain storm of the decade - from the moment I said “I do”, until the last of our guests said their goodbye. But despite the torrential down pour and heavy winds, we were rained with nothing but happiness and love by everyone in attendance that day. 

It was a very emotional day for the both of us as we reflected on the events leading up to this point of our lives. I had never worked as intensely as I had the last five years along side this dynamo of a woman. And to see our blood, sweat and tears pay off the way it did, left me feeling accomplished, with a certain sense of stability. As little as we knew of what the future might hold, we had created a solid foundation from which to begin our life together as husband and wife. Although confronting these milestones gave me a sense of confidence in myself and our relationship, it had taken the tangible time away from dealing with the underlying issues that I had struggled with prior to meeting my wife.

Chelsey

Finn and I married but continued to grow as we challenged each other to learn how to love ourselves. We found that when we took care of ourselves as individuals first, we were able to extend our love tenderly to one another. That being said, we put our relationship through some pretty dicey waters through renovating three houses, relying on substances to numb ourselves, and shutting out family and friends as we thought asking for help was a reflection of weakness. Finn and I both had a hard time trusting people - making us continually think we had to compete for each other’s approval, preventing us from being our authentic selves. As time progressed, and the more time we each took to understand ourselves as individuals...things started to shift.

During the summer months, I took a love to reading and studying self help books at our summer home in Cape Breton (one of the cheap homes we purchased that just needed a little love). I would spend days on end in complete silence, searching for clarity. I visited the ocean and lake every day and reflected and observed my thinking, actions and/or words. Each summer I was able to dive deeper and deeper into my quest of self healing: 

learning how to let go of the past, being willing to change, understanding forgiveness, loving unconditionally, loving and approving of myself, seeing myself as a divine goddess, learning that God is love, that you are your reality, the power of intent and prayer, the benefits of yoga and tantra, how to dance and sing confidently, laugh from a free and honest place, be creative, express my feelings, being vulnerable and feeling safe while doing so, speaking my truth with love, surrendering to the moment, trusting and allowing in the Universe, opening my heart so that I would naturally become a mother, living to my ultimate edge, facing my fears, honouring my worth, and practicing gratitude.

Sounds lovely doesn’t it? However, I know what you may be thinking as many of these things are not tangible to touch. How do you create such lovely sensations in your life? For one, you need to be ready to see the dark in order to see the light. I have spent years digging deep into my seven chakras and learning how each one contributes to the functionality of my mind, body and soul. This invites a lot of change. Change is scary. However, I have learned to embrace the opportunities that come with change. Being able to listen is also key; you can learn a lot if you are comfortable with being quiet. But my absolute saving grace through my journey was that I never turned down an opportunity to experience something new.

I have been mentored by Reiki Masters (Ellen Sutherland, Donna Curran), guided by spiritual teachers (Sandra Gemin, Julie Barasevic, Mariah Freya), and am formally trained as a Reconnective Healing Foundational Practitioner by Eric Pearl.  I have been on retreat and studied with teachers such as Susan Child and Molly Swan. I have been committed to my yoga practice for the past 5 years as another pastime that also brings me peace and awareness. While finding experiences and opportunities that guide me through my passion, I have also been an elementary school teacher with the HWDSB for the past eight years. Throughout this duration of time I have had the privilege of bringing different modalities into the classroom and seeing children heal first hand.

Since finding Reconnective Healing in 2016 I feel as though my purpose is becoming more clear. A few teachers have told me that I will continue to be reincarnated as long as there is someone that is in need of help. I now take that responsibility pretty seriously and want to bring comfort and ease into people’s lives. I run my business, Balance out of my home where I support my clients in whatever it is they need in that moment of time. I don’t go “looking” for people to treat as I have faith that they will find me when the time is right. Through my space I offer Reconnective Healing, The Reconnection, and/or Reiki sessions that bring physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual healings from the Universe.  I also run mediation classes for children and adults and am hoping to host one-day retreats in the near future to educate people on the power and benefits of stilling the mind and sitting in gratitude. I also sell essential oil blends that foster healings based on our thinking patterns. I have recently signed up with the company Young Living to sell 100% pure essential oils as mixing oils is another one of my favourite past times.  

Finn

As successful as I may have felt in that moment, with my new wife, I unexpectedly came to realize these unaddressed patterns which caused me such turmoil in the past were still lingering. To make matters worse, having never challenged this dynamic in my life I lacked the skills to understand them, let alone deal with them. It wasn’t until this moment when I found myself surrounded by so many different personalities representing so many different stages of my life that I noticed these quarks resurfacing. Being the centre of attention for the day we were surrounded by a sense of ungrudging love and support by everyone in attendance, yet even still; the impulsivity, people pleasing, and anxious tendencies which had once high jacked my rational view of the world came back to haunt me. My clarity of the day in many ways became a blur, not knowing where to put my attention or when...I very much lost the ability to remain present and strong. 

The simple fact that these unaddressed issues caught up with me the way they did during such an important moment of my life shook me to my core. This realization acted as a breaking point for me. If there was ever a time to put the attention towards myself and how I worked, this was it. I was forced to really look at myself, accept where I was, and understand that no matter how successful I may feel at times, like everyone else, I am human and have things that I need to work on too. 

As I’m sure anyone who has found themselves in a similar position can appreciate; the first and most drawn out part of getting your life on track is accepting that your life needs a significant overhaul in some respect. Often times the more difficult step is taking accountability for this and figuring out what action you are willing to take to make the necessary changes in your life. This then leads to the uncomfortable realization that you can’t always deal with these issues on your own. Which is a terrifying thought on in itself, as it means having to be raw and vulnerable about this with someone else, put your trust in them. 

Since meeting Chelsey she had discovered meditation, later transitioning to energy work and other forms of self-awareness (which over the course of our time together has lead her to the transformations within her very own journey). In pursuit of better understanding these unknown aspects of my life I followed in her footsteps seeking various specialists, psych testing, self help books, mindfulness, meditation and even energy work (such as Reiki, aroma therapy and Reconnective healing to name a few).

With every layer of myself I confronted came the realization of there being more I wasn’t aware even existed. As intimidating as it’s been at times, once I began the journey of understanding myself on a more intricate level, gaining this awareness became a journey not easy to shy away from.

Fuelling this pursuit more recently has been undoubtably the largest transition of my life: parenthood.

When we were blessed with our beautiful baby girl, it only reinforced the responsibility I had for my own healthy understanding of my mental wellbeing on a level I had never before felt. I didn’t plan on taking this lightly, knowing anything I hadn’t confronted in my own life may inadvertently be passed onto our daughter. In my mind there was no other choice than to continue the ongoing process of dissecting myself, one element at a time.

 

During the last few years of plugging away at myself I have come to the conclusion that I’ve always been a person of high anxiety which I was later able to identify as predominantly being triggered by ADHD. The cumulation of these mental illnesses often prevented me from being present enough to feel grounded, resulting in a lack of confidence in myself and my abilities. I have not only been able to recognize and accept these tenancies, but I have become more aware of my subconscious as a whole (including certain corks that at times seemed to rule my life).

As a result, this awareness has given me the confidence to dive a little deeper and challenge other aspects of my persona including my rudimental understanding of myself. Some things have surfaced more naturally than others; similarly some have been easier to tackle than others. More specifically, I have found opportunities to challenge myself to face my fears, including working towards strengthening relationships in my life which at times seem easier to avoid.

Further, acknowledging my more sensitive side I’ve learned how to feel more comfortable accepting this aspect of my personality (no easy task for any man, let alone one struggling at times to find confidence within himself).

Lastly, I’ve become aware of a slowly growing ability to still my mind and be more present. In the last year I’ve noticed, even in the most subtle of ways, the different external effects this new capacity has had in my life. One such example in recent months: I’ve had the opportunity to offer people around me resources to tackle similar problems they were facing in their lives. It feels good to have the presence to recognize similar patterns in people through listening to their stories, and for them to feel comfortable enough to open up to me. What has probably been just as rewarding for me is having the courage to show my vulnerability, and more so, to have the wisdom to suggest possible solutions. Had this been a few years ago, I never would have found these moments to reach beyond myself and reach out to others in need. Not necessarily out of being too caught up in myself, but rather as a result of not being present enough to see the opportunity, or courageous enough to act on it.

Chelsey

I now believe my purpose is to provide a space where people feel ready to tackle their demons and feel safe while doing so. To learn in love rather than fear. It is important not to have expectations of yourself by judging and/or criticizing your experience. It is essential to be kind and gentle with yourself and celebrate the smallest steps as there is great power in our willingness to try. If we can learn how to trust and allow one will see that no problem is too big for the Source to solve. It’s about appreciating and honouring the present moment instead of feeling guilty about the past or anxious about the future. Negative thinking will create illnesses within the body to help communicate that a change needs to be made. Be still and listen. Learn how you work. Understand how you are wired. Show empathy for yourself while doing so. Discover what makes you joyful.  We are all born perfect, whole and complete. Over time, our experiences cloud this reality and we tend to forget the magnificence of our Being. We were all put on this Earth for a purpose. A purpose that will benefit humanity in some original, unique way to you. Show gratitude for your blessings along the way and your abundance will be multiplied.

I am and will forever be grateful for the Universe sending me the love of my life, Finn. I truly believe the Universe pulled us together as we have both flourished since being in each other’s company. He challenges me every day in a loving and supportive way to be the ultimate version of myself. We both come to the table as balanced as we can be. We live life to the fullest and communicate A LOT. Not to say that life isn’t always perfect and that we don’t have our fair share of hard days and long weeks, but we have learned how to lean into the discomfort and have compassion for ourselves when we struggle. We understand that everything happens for a reason and try to look at situations calmly as emotion tends to limit your ability to think clearly. We each take accountability for our actions in our relationship and take time to love ourselves when we find we are projecting our “shit” onto one another.

I am also and will forever be grateful for the Universe sending me the other love of my life, Rosemary Ann, our daughter. For a long time I didn’t think I would ever be worthy enough to have a child. However, as time progressed and the layers began to unfold I learned that I was more scared of having a child to love if I couldn’t even love myself. When I found out the pleasant surprise of being pregnant, I knew that was the Universe’s way of telling me I was ready. And low in behold, the kid came out with heart-shaped markings all over her body… my heart chakra baby. Rosemary started taking care of me the moment I found out she was there. We had some sacred moments together while she was in the womb that I hold close to my heart. I had never felt that deeply connected to a Being that I had never met before. And since she has arrived, she has done nothing but encourage me to be my most authentic, most vulnerable, most beautiful Self. I have never felt so free, strong, accomplished and purposeful. I am truly honoured she chose me to be her mother as she has already taught me so much more and she is only ten months old.

Most importantly, I am forever grateful for myself and the path I have chosen to live. In the end, it is the relationship you have with yourself that trumps all others. I love myself because I continue to try to be the best person I can be. Being mindful of my mental health is a constant effort of checking in and scanning my body. I love myself because I am now consciously aware of what love and peace feel like; it is always accessible as it comes from deep within. I love myself because I can forgive myself on the days where I feel saturated and overwhelmed. I love myself because I have given myself permission to trust my intuition and allow the Universe to guide me in ways that it sees fit.

I choose to see life as eternal and joyous. I am eternal and joyous and at peace.

I (Chelsey) am WHOLE.

Finn

I’m not claiming that I have mastered my weaknesses, far from it; I still have my good days and bad days. These tendencies will forever be a part of whom I am. However, rather than live with it in denial or self persecution, I’ve discovered a new found courage in which I choose to face it head on. The main thing I have found since putting the work in is that I can no longer live in ignorance (as much as I’d like to at times). There isn’t a thing I would change about my life. Every experience I’ve had along the way has amounted to whom I am today. I create my own reality and therefore make it my mission to do what I can to be the best version of myself that I can be. It’s a constant learning curve in discovering whom I am, how I work and how I can better myself. Although it never looks perfect, and every situation is different- I have found as long as the intent is there, all in all I have only been more pleased with whom I have become. 

Living in ignorance is by far a much easier path than facing yourself. It takes work, the challenges never end. But the end result for those brave enough to challenge themselves in this way is that you will never be the same, and although intimidating at times- it couldn’t be anymore rewarding.

If there were one word to describe myself, and all of the good fortune I’ve had throughout the good times and struggles in my life,

I (Finn) am BLESSED.

She is: Rylee

The following post has been submitted by Rylee Hill in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.

When Jodi first asked me to be a part of this project, I was really intrigued but also utterly terrified. If you know me at all, you’d understand that I’m quiet by nature, but it also takes quite some time for me to really open up to others. Needless to say, doing something like this has really challenged me...in a positive way. I knew deep down that God was using Jodi and her project as a way to push me out of my comfort zone. So, here I am!

Nearly a year and half ago, in November of 2016, my world was turned upside down. I was 19, my brother turning 17, when our mom passed away of cancer. When my mom’s health first began to decline about 3 years ago, I was in the midst of applying for universities. Many of my friends were interested in schools that were 3-4 hours away and were looking forward to leaving home. But in my case I knew I couldn’t do that, and I didn’t want to either; the guilt and anxiety of leaving my mom would have haunted me everyday. I was in a very different place in my life compared to my friends, forging ahead into adulthood much earlier than I ever could have anticipated. Consciously, I still tried (and wanted desperately) to make the most of my youth. This proved difficult, because as I was trying to keep a balance between thinking of myself and my own future, my whole world was actually revolving around my mom and her health.

In the months leading up to her passing, my mom had become very weak, which made doing things on her own exceptionally difficult. Because of this, I was staying closer to her than ever and we were spending a lot more time together. I never wanted her to feel alone in what she was going through. I was taking her to every doctor’s appointment I could manage (she couldn’t drive on her own anymore), ensuring she took her medications each morning and night (her memory was going), bathing her, and hooking up her feeding tube every few hours...things I never imagined I’d be doing for my mom as a teenager. Yet, anything she needed, I was there. I also selfishly liked how much she needed and depended on me because I always knew her to be incredibly independent and at times, stubborn. No matter the challenge, she always worked hard to do what she felt was best for us. She had always put my brother and I’s needs before her own and I knew that this time her needs needed to come before ours.

The moment she passed I instantly felt lost, as if I didn’t know who I was without her. There were so many unanswered questions that I was struggling with and I had no idea how I was going to move forward. I feel that if I had to pinpoint a time in which my own journey of self-discovery began, this was it.

Although I was more confused and overwhelmed than I had ever been in my life (or could have anticipated I would be at my age), there was only one thing that I was certain I needed to hold close to me, and that was my faith in God. He is the one who I seek to keep me grounded and, quite honestly: sane.  In the beginning I was trying so hard not to be angry with God and not to question him. However, if you can imagine (as many of you have) this was not always an easy thing to do. Slowly, whenever I would find myself overcome with feelings of anger or sadness, I instead challenged myself to seek gratitude - reminding myself to thank God instead of resent him. Everyday I thank him for the beautiful, independent, selfless mom he gave me, and the time we were able to spend together.  

Another large part of my journey has been allowing myself to trust the plans that God has set out for me. I’ve always felt the most vulnerable when I’m not the one in control, which is why not knowing where God is going to lead me next, scares me more than anything. I know the fear isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so instead, when I feel it coming over me, I’m learning to lean into it and trust in Him.  

When my mom passed, that fear came over me in waves...greater than it ever had before. My mom was the first person I would go to before making any big decisions. If I was in crisis, or even if I just needed to vent, she was the only person I let my guard down in front of. I was completely myself with her, and she always found a way to make the most difficult decisions seem easy.

What I wouldn’t give to have one more conversation, one more hug, to hear her call me “babe” one more time; I envy those who still have their moms here with them - as I now only have the quiet, divine conversations we share. I miss the comfort I felt with her.  I miss knowing that she’s at home waiting for me, whether it’s after a long day at school or after a night with my girlfriends. I know that I can’t let the fear of being without her steer me backwards. This is why I work everyday to willingly give up my control to God...and when I do, it’s worth it every single time.

I will never understand the reason why my mom had to pass, but I don’t need that answer in order to be able to keep my faith God, and trust that he has a plan for me.

God has granted me strength. I love this about myself. I never imagined that I could possess the amount of courage, strength, and perseverance that has gotten me through the past year and a half. I am grateful for my strength and my ability to keep moving forward with a positive attitude (most of the time).

Some advice for those of you who are, or have been in a similar situation to mine, or for those who just want to hear it: you can, and you will get through it. I know it’s hard to believe that statement sometimes, but it’s true; the pain will subside and you’ll be able to sift through your memories and remember nothing but the positives. You’ll be able to take solace in the moments and the time you were so grateful to share with the person you lost. The memories will stay with you forever, reminding you that although their physical self may be gone, the soul never really leaves. Their purpose remains fulfilled within you.

In a relatively short period of time I have learned so much about who I am, and who I want to be. I don’t resent any of the challenges that God has placed in front of me. I accept them as they come and will continue to use them to help shape this life - because I’ve got lots of it left to live.

At 20 years old, this is me.  Not exactly, what I had in mind, but I will continue to do the best that I can, and remain grateful for every minute of it.

RYLEE IS: trying.

the mallard duck

Ever look for a sign that you're on the right track?  You know...when you've absolutely no idea where the train you boarded is taking you, and you're dying to know if your destination is 'happily ever after' town, a beach in Tahiti, or a Walmart parking lot?!  

I suppose I could just stick with the motto "you get what you get and you don't get upset", sit back and see where my next station stop is, however; I'm always on the lookout for the DIVINE.  Divine timing, divine messages (or signs), and divine connections.  It's not wrong to want a tiny bit of insight from the big guy upstairs/the universe/He Shou Ji Ju, or whoever else you lean on for answers.  We all need a little reassurance from time to time.  Something that tells us that we haven't strayed too far from the course.

So, I really try and pay attention. 

Recently, when out on a shoot for my new "she is:" project, I had this little guy hop up onto the snowbank when I got out of my car.  He sat there long enough for me to get a good look, snap a few photos, and really start to wonder what he was trying to tell me.

Dweeb Alert***  According to my animal totem guidebook, if a duck shows up in your life, it means that this is a time of fertility (either literally, or metaphorically). It's time to have fun and maybe even get a little silly.  The time of turmoil has passed, and now you can release any pent-up emotions that have been suppressed.  Pretty cool eh?! 

It gets better...

The mallard duck, in particular; tells us that it's a great time for whatever project you're engaged in, a perfect time for productivity.  He tells us that whatever new idea comes to you, you should develop and pursue it's manifestation. 

Well then.  I suppose any questions I had about launching a new website and forging ahead with this little passion project of mine have been divinely answered by a duck in a snowbank! 

(Oh, and just for those of you who agree that this was a magical duck and not some bogus lie I'm telling myself...after my brief encounter with the duck, I went about my business; finishing the shoot and excitedly getting back home to review and edit the images.  As I came to the set of snaps from the pier, my jaw dropped as I clicked on the image of the duck flying away!  Just above him in the sky you'll see a feather.  A sign from the spirit world.)

All is well here. 

Perfectly well. 


Just doing what the duck told me to do...

So what exactly do I have in store for 2018? Well you've found it! 

...a new website AND a new passion project. Yay! 

The project you ask...

...is something that I had been toying with for quite some time, however;  I had struggled to conceptualize it, name it, and implement it.

After admitting to my fears of inadequacy and sharing them with you in my previous FB posts, I had a number of beautiful people reach out to me to say thank you. They thanked me for being candid, and for sharing a little piece of my truth.  It was through their support and sweet gestures, a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen and an empty journal page, as well as a deep yearning for some kind of fulfilment that I knew I wasn't already getting, that it hit me: 

(honestly, it felt as if someone smacked me on the forehead)

I needed to connect my passion for bettering oneself, and finding one's purpose, with my passion for observing human behaviour.  Duh, Jodi!  Use your photographs and your platform for a wee bit of good! 

So, in a nutshell, I decided that this year I would commit to showcasing several individuals who are harnessing the power of their vulnerabilities, seeking their truths, and working their butts off to be the best versions of themselves. I've titled the project, She is: simply because that's what I've asked these women to do; define yourself in one word.  Would your definition match the definition of those that love you most?  Would your self-definition mirror societies markers for who you are (she is: a teacher, a wife, a banker, someone's mom)? Or would your definition reveal something far less superficial, and require you to acknowledge a much deeper truth about yourself? Hmm...Just something to ponder!  

Each month you can anticipate a bit of inspiration from the stories of 11 different women (err...and hopefully I can wrangle a man who is also up for the challenge). 

We began with the Super Blue Blood Moon on January 31, 2018.  Quite possibly the best day in a 150 year span that we will have for releasing the past and setting new intentions.  Selina was first of out of the gate with her story, followed by Natasha in February. If you haven't taken the time to read their stories already, I highly encourage you to do so!  I couldn't have chosen two better women to help me kick off this project. 

Towards the end of each month, be sure to tune in and see who the next feature is.  It's my hope that at some point over the course of this year, we are all able to identify with the stories of these 12 introspective (and incredibly brave) individuals. 

Oh, and if you're going to be on this journey with me in 2018, you're totally going to have to google: full moons, new moons, animal totems, and the like.  Affirmations and universal energies are definitely going to be a common thread here folks! 

Stay tuned...and please, stay in touch. I'll be dying for your feedback. 

Love and light, 
jodes

She is: Natasha

The following post has been submitted by Natasha Shoup in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography.

I just want to start by saying what an honour it was when Jodi asked me to be a part of this project. I think it's such a great idea to shine light on others who are on a personal journey of self-discovery and I think we can always learn from others through their dark times, their bright times, and everything inbetween.

I quite literally haven't gone a day without thinking about it since she asked me to be a part of it, and I'm just over the moon excited to be a part of this project.

So, here we go...

My journey of self-discovery began with loss.

Self-discovery is a beauitful transitional phase of life... It isn't a conscious decision one makes, it typically stems from something that rocks your world, could be in a good way, could be in a bad way... For me, it was heartbreak. Heartbreak from the loss of others from my life as I knew it. It was fall of 2015, I somehow managed to lose my grandfather and my boyfriend of many years in the same month, in the same year. My grandfather passed and my relationship had hit rock bottom, it was time to move on...

At first, there was a lot of sadness and mourning, loneliness and the feeling of being completely lost. It's dissatisfying how long it takes to process such emotions, there is nothing you can really do to speed that process up, you just have to live in it, take it day by day... But eventually somewhere along the line the magic starts happening, the magic of new beginnings. You dont even know it at first but in time you come to realize the strength and wisdom you gain from such traumatic experiences turns into something beautiful and beneficial. And so begins the journey of a version of yourself you never could have dreamt of.

I can think of many occasions where my faith and my beliefs that I grew up with seemed to become somewhat of a grey area for me...

There is however one time in particular that stands out in my mind...

It was on my trip to Haiti in 2011, a year after the earthquake had hit. The country was, for lack of a better word, in shambles. One evening after being there for a number of days I was sitting on the beach with my group leader (a man whom of which I have nothing but respect and love for) asked me something to the effect of 'how I felt about God after being to a place like Haiti (because of the recent catastrophic events that occurred there)...' 

*A little bit of background, I didn't grow up in a religious family, it wasn't something I really even thought about, ever*.

His question left me speechless. I thought about it for years to come and the question still lingers in my mind...

I may not believe in one specific religion, I tend to be a very open-minded person when it comes to religion. I try to see things through the minds of others to help myself understand and appreciate the perspectives of others.

Anyways, since being on my path of self-discovery I have become a believer in my own kind of religion. The belief that if you send out positive energy into the world that positive things will come to you in return. A belief of karma. That being said, do I think a catastrophe such as the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 was an act of karma?... No, absolutely not. But I do believe it made the country stronger and united the people of Haiti. Visiting Haiti made me realize for the first time that happiness comes from the simple things in life. Love, family, health, the country we are blessed to be born into. I believe the people of Haiti play a big role in my journey of learning what real love looks and feels like and I will be forever grateful to the people of Haiti for that realization.

Vulnerability is something I have come to embrace in my life, it is not easy to be vulnerable. I thought about this long and hard and switched my answer a couple times because after a couple days of letting it resonate I realized what truly makes me vulnerable. I am my most vulnerable when I need help doing something. In fact, one of the first phrases I learnt as a baby girl was, "I do it!" (with the authority behind it no doubt haha) and that still runs true to this day. I tend to want to do things for myself and when I do need help it's really hard for me to ask for it and to accept it, but I have gotten better...

Although I know it is not a sign of weakness it makes me feel weak, on the contrary I think it is a sign of strength realizing when you need help. But to be honest, I'm a stubborn Scorpio and I am proud to be this way, I've embraced it but am always very appreciative to anyone who can lend a helping hand in the rare times I need help haha... (more Scorpio sting, tsssssssss!).

With that being said, I feel my most powerful when I am practicing yoga. It has been a great progressional journey I have been on just like re-discovering myself. I find yoga so satisfying because it never feels the same each time you practice, you are constantly building strength physically and mentally. Also there's nothing more empowering then being surrounded by like-minded individuals that share your love for something as beautiful as expressing yourself through the movement of yoga and harmonizing your breath as one. It's an incomparable union of magic.

Yoga and Music don't just keep me grounded, they have become a form of therapy for me - a safe place/space to let go of my day and truly be myself. Music has got me through some of my darkest days. For me, a day without music is a day without air. Music makes the world a better place in my eyes. And yoga has been my saving grace for the past 8 years.

On days where I can't escape the thoughts whirling around in my head my mat is where I seek refuge, a place that I can count on for absolute peace. Being on my mat is a place that I can be completely present and let all my worries wash away. (Namaste)

Going through tough times is NOT easy and unfortunately there is no quick fix. It takes time and patience to get over things that break your heart. But I can promise you from personal experience that in the end the pain is something that transforms into strength, and on those days where you feel like you have nothing to look forward to think about the growth that comes from the struggle. A bad day is a bad day and it will pass, you have to learn to let go and embrace the journey, the emotions, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To the women (and men) who are lucky enough to be on the path of redefining and rediscovering themselves -- like anything in life take this in stride. Everyday will feel different, some days you will feel lost, so uncertain about your choices - but know that you are growing through these days, you are becoming stronger, a better version of you that you haven't yet discovered. Always follow your heart and do what is best for you.

Before my heartbreak of 2015 I did not truly love myself. Self-love would have been a foreign concept to me (I say "would have" because it wasn't even part of my vocabulary), something that never really even crossed my mind. I was ignorant to the idea of loving myself. Putting others before myself and trying to please them first. I have however learned to love myself, again, this just happened naturally. I started doing things for myself. Jumping into new sports and hobbies that I had always admired and wanted to try but never took the time to. I can now say there are many things I love about myself...I love that I love with all my heart, I love that I can laugh when things go a wry, I love that I have become fearless, I love that I choose to see the good in people, I love that I won't settle for anything but true happiness, I love my sense of adventure, my sense of humour, I love my loud laugh, and I love my eyes, hair, and feet... (and all the other parts of me but those ones especially).

I'm currently in a transitional stage of my life, potentially heading into a brand new job in hopes to start working towards some future endeavours, and goals I have set for myself. I feel like I am constantly working on myself, aware of times where I need to step back and consider approaching things a different way, a more productive way perhaps. Everyday I discover more about myself and everyday I feel closer to being the person that I am ultimately destined to be. Taking life day by day has allowed me to go with the flow and never set unrealistic expectations on myself for the coming days, just letting things happen naturally and organically. Tomorrow is the best gift I could recieve and everyday I feel more thankful for another day to live and learn.

NATASHA is: BRAVE! 
(and so are you)

She is: Selina

The following post has been submitted by Selina Reitsma in collaboration with Jodi Lee Fleming Photography. 

Who am I?

A simple question right? 

The Selina from years ago would agree. I would’ve answered: I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and a girlfriend. I’m an athlete, a teacher, and a homebody. I’m confident, caring, loyal and funny. Every one of those descriptors would have been safe answers. 

However, almost three years ago I went through a break up that crumbled my perspective of who I was. It’s from that point on that my real journey of self-discovery began. Currently, I would describe myself as a wandering soul; looking for the truest version of myself. 

This is a ridiculous cliché but I’m going to roll with it...I'm like an onion with many layers! The first layer being a front: looking good on the outside for appearance-sake. Next (which most women can attest to), the first inside layer is full of insecurities and self-consciousness. Deeper yet...the nasty stuff...a nice ripe layer ready to make you cry. This is the layer I use to protect my vulnerabilities – which I suppose is truly functioning as barrier to hide my fears (at the core of the onion). 

My core: an insufferable childhood loss. The death of my father. Yeesh! That's deep. 

My greatest learning over the past three years is coming to this realization. That these layers have been building upon each other, stifling my joy and inhibiting me from finding my true self and living the life I was meant to. 

This journey that I'm on has been challenging, messy and confusing, yet at the same time, beautiful and rewarding. I am not alone. I am going through this while holding the hands of God. 

My faith in humanity, the world, and beliefs in a higher power have been strengthened...and it's with strong conviction that I share the following bit of wisdom: 

Trust and believe in something...anything. Whether it's God, Buddha, or the entirety of the Universe, that 'something' will be your strength on the most difficult of days...the days when you've struggled to get dressed, ate yourself through the fridge, wallowed, napped, Netflixed, napped again, and cried yourself to sleep thinking "why me?"; remember to call on your strength, your Source. Know and TRUST that you are being guided to your purpose and your place. 

This is my journey. I'm finally realizing that it's okay for it to look different than I had originally imagined (like honestly...the mind of a Dutch Christian Reformed pre-teen is totally unrealistic). Now I'm wise enough to know that we are all on individual paths, however; those paths are destined to cross. We meet up at different times to encourage each other, be a cheerleader and a shoulder to cry on. 

I have learned to trust that every trial and tribulation that has come before me, has had its purpose - a hidden lesson to learn or a new perspective to gain. Whether it be great moments of celebration or hurtful agony, there is something for all of us to learn and guide us further down our road of self-discovery. Trust in those difficult times. They are there to create vulnerability. If we are brave enough to be vulnerable and trust that our Source, our friends, our families, will still be there to love us on the other side, we can face our deepest fears. Really, what have you got to lose?! 

So why do it? Why go through this mess and allow Jodi to convince me to expose myself for the whole wide web to see? It’s as simple as hope. Hope, that in my efforts to peel back my layers, I can actually just be Selina.

SELINA IS: a strong, beautiful child of God, who is vulnerable and ready!