Thirteen years ago this month, my husband and I exchanged our marriage vows in the middle of a meadow on a beautiful Fall morning. Later that evening, we celebrated with dinner and dancing under the stars surrounded by family and dear friends. Full of love and enthusiasm, we marveled at the seemingly endless adventures that awaited in this next chapter of life...
On a recent visit to the Midwest, we found ourselves back in the same setting enjoying a similarly beautiful evening with family. At some point our conversation turned back to that memorable day, and I expressed regret that we never took part in the tradition of sharing a piece of our wedding cake on our first anniversary.
My mother smiled, "It is still in the freezer..."
We laughed, and before I could weigh the wisdom of my decision, I leapt up from the table to investigate. As I carefully peeled off layer after layer of wrapping, I was delighted to discover the cake was not a freezer-burned brick but instead a clearly recognizable layer of cake. I warmed, sliced, and plated the nearly THIRTEEN YEAR OLD dessert, and delivered it to our guests.
Between giggles, we raised our forks and took a bite. While the flavor and texture were undoubtedly compromised, everyone agreed it had held up remarkably well. As I continued with a second bite, then a third, my mother cautioned, "Just because you can finish it doesn't mean you should..."
Her caution reverberated in my thoughts as we returned home from our travels and found ourselves in the midst of the frenzy of Fall. New teaching opportunities presented themselves, and I found myself devising creative ways to accommodate the increased demand while attending to the logistical realities of shuttling the babe to school and related activities. The pace was initially invigorating after a Summer of ease, but after a mere two weeks I found myself exhausted. By the end of most days I was irritable and frazzled. As I collapsed into bed each evening, I chastised myself for this perceived weakness: What's wrong with you? It's time to step it up a notch. Let's go!
But as I continued to struggle, I kept returning to a few simple questions: What am I gaining by ignoring what my body and heart are telling me? Do I need to add more to my schedule? How do these new commitments align with my priorities? Will they make make me a better mother or spouse? Do they allow bandwidth for activities that fulfill me or bless others?
My mother's voice whispered clearly: Just because you CAN doesn't mean you should...
In different seasons of life and growth, we are presented with new opportunities, but we also encounter new limitations. Just because we CAN push up against the very boundaries of our abilities doesn't mean we are best served by doing so.
Simple questions and reflections often provide the guidance we need. Does dread begin to creep in when you consider a certain activity, engagement, or commitment? Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your participation. Has your longstanding exercise routine begun to drain rather than energize you? Maybe you need to integrate something more restorative into your routine. Do certain relationships create more insecurity than comfort? It might be time to part ways.
As we enter the final quarter of the year, I encourage you to listen to your heart and acknowledge your limitations. Rather than try to ignore or push past them, consider whether they are offering you a much needed caution. Let's learn to embrace our limits so we can live more fully.
In a span of a little more than one month, my husband and I will have made two separate trips to our hometown for our respective 20 year high school reunions. These events have loomed large in my mind since adding them to the calendar late last year. Every time I envisioned the gatherings, I found myself reflecting on how life has unfolded over the past two decades.
During these strolls down memory lane, I often paused to consider the many pivotal moments within those years that changed the trajectory of my life: the places I traveled and subjects I studied. The decision to pursue an internship - and subsequently a job - in Washington. (Re)meeting the childhood friend who would become my husband. Our long and difficult road to parenthood.
I lingered on images of the friends, mentors, and peers who had a tremendous influence on my journey and considered what I know - and imagine - of their lives today. As I reflected upon how seemingly small changes can transform who we are and where we find ourselves, I considered the endless "what ifs" along my own path. What if I had chosen Boston over Nashville for school? What if my husband and I had moved back to our hometown rather than building a life in a city halfway across the country? What if I hadn't pursued my first yoga teacher training? What if I had accepted the prognosis that I would not be able to have a child?
As I followed each of these rabbit trails to their logical (or not so logical) conclusion, I envisioned an alternate reality - one that seemed, in some respects, precariously enticing... I found myself critical of what I deemed to be mistakes and missed opportunities.
After a week of uncharacteristic irritability, I paused to sit with my agitation. Why did I feel so unsettled? Why was I questioning elements and experiences and relationships that are otherwise reliable sources of joy? I asked myself hard questions: If I could change one thing about my life today, what would it be? What action could I take to bring about a more full and fulfilled life?
The more I meditated on these ideas, the more I realized the root of my dissatisfaction was not any decision, consequence, or circumstance. Rather, it derived from a false comparison between real life and an imaginary ideal. No matter how wonderful our relationships, pursuits, and surroundings, we ALL experience frustration, boredom, and aggravation. Regardless of how well obscured, these moments are part of the lives of EVERY. PERSON. WE. ENCOUNTER.
I don't mean to suggest there aren't occasions when meaningful, large scale change is necessary. We may need to overcome an unhealthy pattern or break free from a toxic relationship. But more often, the only thing standing between us and joy is a misplaced yearning for something that simply doesn't exist. By tapping into gratitude and focusing on the blessings that surround us from moment to moment, we can (re)discover the peace that grounds and sustains us.
Next time you find yourself struggling with dissatisfaction, stop questioning what you are missing. Silence your inner critic and invite a more full appreciation of who - and where - you are. Let's embrace...what is.
Physical affection is NOT my love language. Sure, I can recall giving and receiving plenty of hugs as a young child, but at some point, I adopted the arms-length approach more characteristic of my family, where I remain (quite comfortably) to this day.
My fellow introverts will recognize the struggle inherent in balancing the desire to be polite and reciprocal alongside the visceral need to guard one's own personal space. Naturally, when we encounter a fellow non-hugger, we feel extreme gratitude to be with someone to whom we needn't explain our predicament.
Which is why I was caught off guard upon receiving an open-armed greeting from an equally reserved friend when we ran into one another in our neighborhood. The gentleman in question was the partner of a former client with whom I worked for nearly four years. We met in their home every week without fail until a decline in the health of my client required his transition into an assisted living facility. Though they are often on my mind, it had been more than a month since I had checked in. After exchanging pleasantries I inquired, "How is Robert?"
"He passed away on Tuesday - it was fateful that we ran into each other today."
I was immediately flooded with empathy. I can only imagine the strain of watching a loved one slip away. Having observed Robert's steady decline from week to week I had a glimpse of the struggle his partner faced and the labor of love he endured. As we finished our conversation I regretted not being able to offer the perfect words to convey my sympathy. At a loss, I instead offered a hug.
Walking away, it occurred to me how many times in my own life an embrace has transcended a gap no words could bridge: receiving support after learning of the loss of a pregnancy - comforting a friend after the passing of her mentor - assuaging the fears of an anxious toddler.
The encounter also served as a powerful reminder of the need to connect on a more human level in today's technologically dominated reality. We are wired for physical connection, and simple gestures can be incredibly healing - even (or should I say especially) when it is not our go-to reaction.
I don't mean to suggest anyone needs to embark on an uncomfortable new touchy-feely reality. Start small: accept a hug from a niece or nephew - or reach for the hand of a partner or friend. Open yourself up to the benefits of giving - and receiving - meaningful contact. What might you gain by embracing...people?
As my daughter neared the end of her first year of preschool I began anticipating Summer. Channeling my own schoolgirl days, I envisioned lazy afternoons at the pool, picnics in the park, and other simple joys that for too long have long taken a backseat to the demands of work, parenting, and keeping up with life. Full of ideas and enthusiasm, I declared this year would be different!
With our mornings free from the constraints of a school schedule, there were adventures to imagine, play dates to plan, sights to see, and camps to consider. I did my due diligence and crafted a schedule that I thought would provide the perfect balance of structure and spontaneity.
Meanwhile, our evenings and weekends slowly filled with visits from family and friends, connections with members of our D.C. tribe, and our own planned escapes from the heat and humidity of the nation's capitol. It wasn't until a dear friend reached out to suggest a family outing that I realized our first free date was in SEPTEMBER and I knew something needed to change.
Despite being enthusiastic about everything I had placed on the calendar, I began to regard the flurry of activity with dread. Summer had yet to begin and already it seemed over.
We want so much to create the "perfect" experience that we find ourselves driven by a (false) urgency to fill every moment - even though we know better. Research has demonstrated what our hearts tell us: what kiddos (and grownups) need most is freedom and space. Unstructured time to play and relax. The boredom that breeds creativity and spontaneity.
So as we enter (what is actually only) the second full week of Summer, I am changing course. Instead of asking, "What fabulous activities can I find?" I am looking for opportunities to pull back - to create space and time in our lives to just be.
As you dream up your own perfect Summer, I encourage you to scale back your ambitions and give yourself the gift of freedom. Let's embrace less so we can experience more.
At the beginning of last month I was scheduled to undergo a relatively minor surgery. A few weeks prior I had experienced a severe pain, about which I visited a doctor, who referred me for tests, which led to an appointment for surgery.
Along the way there were many surprises. The first test ordered by my doctor revealed a mass in my abdomen measuring 11 centimeters. A subsequent test suggested the growth was only 8 centimeters. In a follow-up appointment, a specialist determined it was not a mass at all, but instead a torsion. He recommended surgery to resolve the issue, remove any damaged tissue, and stabilize the area so it wouldn't happen again.
As I considered the series of events it occurred to me how fortunate the outcome was. From the initial pain to the determined course of action, the process seemed to deescalate. Not only had the pain abated, the prognosis downshifted from something potentially ominous to a relatively minor inconvenience.
I informed my clients I would be unable to teach for a few weeks, made arrangements for family, friends, and neighbors to help transport the babe back and forth to school for a few days, and arrived at the hospital at the appointed date. I felt comfortable with the plan and ready to move past this little bump in the road.
When I awoke after the surgery, my husband was waiting for me. "You're not going to believe this," he said... "When the doctor got inside, the torsion had already resolved itself. Everything is back to where it should be. You're good to go."
This could have been an opportunity to reflect on the miraculous power of prayer - or perhaps the efficacy of a consistent yoga practice. I would like to tell you my response was, "What great news! I'm glad there were no issues."
But instead I was livid: "You mean he operated for no reason?"
"He didn't know it had happened until they were inside."
"But wasn't he supposed to do something to make sure it won't happen again??"
"He said he didn't want to remove or potentially damage perfectly healthy tissue."
"So this was all for nothing???"
Despite the positive outcome, I fixated on the negative. Had everything gone according to plan, the inconvenience of recovery would have been overshadowed by the knowledge that all was well. But the awareness that it could have been avoided filled me with indignation.
It has taken nearly a month for me to let go of the frustration and acknowledge that what transpired was the best possible outcome. My recovery was no different than anticipated, and I avoided the potential complications from a more invasive procedure. But between then and now I wasted precious energy and countless opportunities for joy.
When we encounter the unforeseen on our journey, we can question and complain, or we can invest the time in navigating our new route. Next time life presents you with a bewildering detour, I encourage you to pause, survey your new landscape, and explore what it might offer. Let's learn to embrace the unexpected.
No matter how streamlined and efficient we aim to be, waiting is an unavoidable part of life. We stand in line at grocery stores and coffee shops. We idle in doctors' offices. We await updates from prospective employers and admissions offices.
As I shared last week, I am in a waiting pattern of my own. And despite the opportunities I have had to flex these muscles EVERY. DAY. OF. MY. LIFE. I am woefully out of shape.
I know I am not alone in this. Students often laugh when yoga teachers suggest savasana (final relaxation) is the most challenging element of the practice, but it is true. While no great strength, flexibility, or balance is required, being completely still requires tremendous mental and physical resolve. We are conditioned to instead "use" the time to review today's "to do" list, map out tomorrow's logistics, or consider how to most quickly roll up one's mat and make a speedy exit from the studio...
In my private sessions, I can anticipate the fidgets, adjustments, and sighs of my clients before they begin. And I understand exactly where they are coming from. No matter how many studies demonstrate the importance of stillness , and no matter how many times we have acknowledged the need - perhaps even a sincere desire - to create more space in our lives, sitting in silence is an uncomfortable place for most of us to be.
But I would like to suggest there is much to be gained from these moments of discomfort. Acknowledging and accepting that we are not, in fact, master of the universe frees us from the burden of investing precious energy and brain power trying to control every element of our existence. Paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise when we are forced by outside circumstances to be still can provide powerful insights into our desires and our character.
At the end of the day, we cannot escape traffic, grocery stores, or medical appointments. Rather than allow yourself to grow frustrated by these inevitabilities, I encourage you to be still and open yourself to the valuable insights they can provide.
Next time you are find yourself waiting, can you stay present with whatever arises? Can you be still and learn the lessons these moments hold?
I was honored to be a featured contributor for Dr. Emma Basch on her column for Psych Central. Regular readers of this blog know I am a strong advocate for the benefits of yoga - especially as they pertain to infertility. I am glad to be able to share this message with a wider audience on this important week and offer a step-by-step practice for those who wish to give it a try on their own. You can read the full article here.
If infertility itself is something of a taboo, the more difficult ethical questions surrounding various treatments are positively unspeakable. My own journey left me with far more questions than answers. I am grateful to the Huffington Post for publishing my article about one of the more difficult decisions we made along the way to building our family. I hope its message offers encouragement to others in a similar position and opens the door for an important dialogue in the broader community:
Huffington Post Essay: Are you My Mother?
Walking through infertility is bleak. You question why you are unable to attain a desire that seems so simple and ubiquitous. You ask what is wrong with you. You wonder why you are being "punished." Many spend hundreds of hours in doctors appointments - others research alternative therapies - still others invest tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of this elusive dream. And they all wait - hoping desperately for an outcome they can't control.
If you had told me in the midst of my struggles to "cheer up" or "find the silver lining," I would have assumed you had no idea what you were talking about. And I don't expect anyone who is currently facing this struggle to embrace this encouragement wholeheartedly, but I offer it nonetheless.
In retrospect, I can see that the painful wait and the heartbreak and disappointments along the way were invaluable to my journey to motherhood. The lessons I learned gave me a far greater appreciation for the privilege of parenting and a greater compassion for those who struggle. It opened my eyes to the many unconventional ways families can be created. And it provided a platform for some of the strongest friendships I have ever experienced.
Whether you suffer from infertility or are facing an entirely different storm, I encourage you to dig deep and look into the rain. I pray you will find your rainbow.
When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
I discovered that there might be an issue while I was looking for a new OBGYN. I also understood that I should schedule a pre-conception appointment if we were trying to get pregnant, which we were at that point. So all of this aligned at the same time, and it wasn't until I heard myself explain my age, and how long we had been trying that it became obvious that a more focused effort was needed.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
The most challenging aspect of the diagnosis was the bleakness of the outlook, and the limited options. My tubes were blocked. One could go through the process of having them unblocked, but that would take a significant amount of time in terms of the recovery period to start trying to conceive again. In addition, it was possible that the tubes could re-block during the post-op period.
What gave you motivation and confidence to move forward?
I felt like the diagnosis was very clear, and I didn't have issues with producing eggs. This was positive news in a pretty bleak situation. Trusting God to take care of the rest is actually what gave me confidence and motivation.
What factors helped you determine the path you ultimately chose?
We moved forward with seeking out an infertility clinic specializing in IVF treatment as this was the only option that was viable.
Where did you find hope when the situation seemed most bleak?
I found hope in how God had showed up in very dark situations in my past. I thought surely, if He could carry me through the dark valleys I had already experienced, He could get me through this. It was most important for us to try to see what could happen.
What is the best piece of advice you received during your journey?
I can't say that I opened myself up to advice. I really held things close. I was very discerning about who I brought along on this journey. I specifically chose not to tell close family members for fear that they might say the wrong thing or simply ask too many questions when I wasn't up for it. In addition, people often like to identify with your situation by talking about all of the people they know who are living with infertility. In many cases, you don't want to hear their story whether the outcome is positive or not because there is so much uncertainty as every situation is a unique one.
I didn't share what my journey had been until I was pretty far a long in in my pregnancy. I was blessed to have a former colleague who was willing to share her journey as well as someone I met at my husband's college reunion. These were individuals who were available, but not people I would run into on a regular basis. I also connected with a ministry called Sisters of Hannah which meets at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. This was a place where I could be with people who were in the midst of the same issues.
What book(s) or other resources were most helpful?
As I mentioned, Sisters of Hannah was a great resource. For one day out of the month, I could sit with other women who were in similar situations, and I could share as much or little as I wanted. I also focused on words and music that kept my mind positive. I was very intent on keeping my spirit free of negativity when it came to the IVF cycle and early pregnancy. Miscarriages are common even during natural conception. Because it was a high-risk pregnancy, I didn't allow myself to focus on what could go wrong.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
It can take your spouse a lot longer to digest the reality of the situation. It probably would have been helpful for me to understand that it was going to take my husband more time to accept the situation. It was a lot easier for me to think through strategies and action steps. It took him months to come to the reality that natural methods would not be an option for us. Even after we had our son, he still questioned whether we could get pregnant naturally.
What encouragement can you offer someone who is struggling with infertility?
As difficult as it might be, it is important to seek out community. It doesn't have to be a formal group, but you need at least a couple of friends that you can be transparent with over the long haul. People who know you well enough to understand what you need without you having to ask.
Dannielle leads a group called Shiloh, where women who are living with infertility and pregnancy loss find community in their journey. The group meets every other Thursday at 7:30pm in the Capitol Hill area. Please reach out to her directly for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!