The unapologetic, raw, unedited interpretation of living life. Each of us is the artist of our own life, constantly remolding, reworking, and roughing out the details and applying what we've learned to the changing canvas. There are no do-overs, no take backs...just rough cuts that release what lies inside us.

I saw the angel in stone and I carved until I set him free. - Michelangelo

Monday, July 9, 2012

In Response to Life

Trying to get back into writing has proven to be a tough challenge.  As with any art, the creativity process takes time to develop and is fueled by an inner desire to produce something not for myself but for the benefit and pleasure of others, so the blog lays empty, or as I refer to it - dormant.  When I began this blog more than a year ago, it was in response to pages of writing I felt needed a voice.  Now as a work-at-home Mom and business owner, avid runner and all around insanely busy person living the career and home life I have dreamed about, there isn't much time left to think about what I feel compelled to write...until recently.

For as long as I can remember, my life goal was to know that one person lived better because I lived.  I have known for years I want to live a legacy and a trail of lives which I impacted in some small way, that someone breathes easier going to bed at night because of what I contributed to the world.  In some ways, that seems incredibly selfish to say the word "me" or "I" and I do not mean that I need to be the sole contributor to a village of starving children or the single person responsible for any great feat of heroism.  Rather, I simply want to know I was part of something greater than me which led to a better life for someone else.

All around us everyday there are people who stand up fast to come to the aid of others.  They do not wait for someone to ask them to or respond to an organized effort is assembled.  They are the ones behind it, doing it, making it happen!

Where does that leave the writing? Well, I leave that up to my readers, my family, to those who catch the attention of the words intended to be in this space. 

Thinking back on the times when I have been called upon to write, they were not always joyous times or times when I felt the most driven to put words on paper.  Quite the opposite happened.  The requests came when I felt the least capable or least experienced to write it, but God, love, and words found their way and the writing happened and I felt the most connected to them.

In 1998, I wrote a poem for my grandfather, which I read at his funeral.
In 1999, I wrote a letter read to my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary.
In 2005, I wrote my mother's eulogy after her 22 month battle with cancer.
In 2009, on Thanksgiving, my grandfather asked me to write his eulogy. He passed away the week after Christmas.
In 2012, my father, a retired Marine and compelling public speaker asked me to write his key note address for a Memorial Day Ceremony.

Who was I to write about these lives or about the accomplishments of others?  What qualification did I have to submit my thoughts on behalf of leaders and people with far greater influence than I?
Writing in the simplest form is about the ability to draw out truth, emotion, and bring life to words.  There is an intangible joy that comes with memorializing a life in words.  The same joy experienced when writing moves people to action or tears.

I write in response to life.  And perhaps through this small way can cause others to #livebetter.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Party with those Crazy Birds!

Being newly debt free, and wanting to stay that way, my mission is to help our family live better without going broke.  Hosting a birthday party used to pull out all the stops, but this year I found ways to bring out the FUN and save the Finances.  With a little extra planning, hard work, and creative thinking we now focus on the celebrating! 

This is a little detour from my regular blog, but I am blown away by the change in our lifestyle and choices since beginning our debt free journey in 2011; I just had to share with you how you can throw a party, be mom (dad) of the year, and still have money left for the present!

For my son's Angry Bird Party, we held the event at our local YMCA (check on their member rates for room rentals) There are not too many places out there where you can hold a party, have access to their gym equipment, clean facilities, and hosted by people who love kids for under $100! (ours was way less)
We used their "regular party package" and then I looked for deals on paper goods and extras to save a few $$.

Items to purchase:

Cake/Cake Balls: <$25.00
Box of cake mix
Container of icing
Extra icing for "Staging cake"
Candy Melts: Yellow, Green, Red
(reserve a few yellow and green for the beaks and pig parts)
Eyes: I used leftover bits from ice cream topping
White cookie icing (I recommend using white chocolate cut in circles instead. 
This stuff was really runny.)
Black Licorice
Candy sticks
Green Floral Foam block

Angry Bird Towers: <$10.00 for paint
Spray Paint (* optional)
Boxes FREE!  (many retailers receive shipments on Fridays, hit them up in the afternoon)
I got the hook up at Bed Bath and Beyond and a local hardware store.  We also saved our cereal, tissue, and boxes from regular purchases at home.

Party Bags: ~$1.25 each
These used to be bank breakers.  Keep it simple!
Angry Birds fruit snacks
Clear Party bags
Spiral drawing pad
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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Distance to THERE

When I was a little girl, there was a swing set in our back yard. I used to spend hours swinging and looking up at the clouds thinking about what it was I was going to be.  Mostly, I turned up my little FM radio/Cassette Combo player and made up music videos, but there were moments when I would dream about life beyond Middle School, beyond Barbie and NKOTB (I am a child of the 80's...).  I was convinced I would get there on my own, wherever 'there' happened to be.

There interesting part about 'there' is nailing down its exact location. Over the years it moved quite a bit, like the clouds from my childhood, my drifting dreams were replaced each day with new, brighter ones. 

On the way to 'there'
At some point along the way, I realized I was not walking alone.  Something, someone, was guiding each step.  As I began to turn my dreams of a little girl into goals for the future, 'there' became a real place, a time, and sense of accomplishment.  I knew I wanted to influence people, not in a manipulative coercive way, but in a way that moved them to be better people, do things bigger than themselves, achieve the unthinkable.

You have to be 'there'
You just can't get there alone.  Along the way, many people influenced me (not always in positive ways) but those who made a true impact in me I remember most not for how flamboyant their tactics or how intriguing they made their stories, but because of how they live.  They continue to inspire me to live better.  This is really where the concept of Think better. Feel better. Live better. developed.  Before you can expect a life that is better than where you are today, you first have to surround yourself with the people who have been 'there', those whose experiences you can learn from, whose wisdom is far beyond yours.  There is nothing more valuable in life than a friend, a person you can count on to love you no matter what. 

'There' is not a place
There is an idea of what it means to live better.  When I sat on the swing behind my house I thought about what life could be like beyond today, it was full of hope and had no fear of failure. What would it take to get you 'THERE'?  What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

THERE is eventually where you will be once you decide HERE is not where you want to be.

Think better. Feel better. Live better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Birthday Wish

A funny thing about birthdays, they still contain 24 hours, the kids still go to school, and work doesn't take a break, however on one day every year I take a moment to reflect on my life.  As birthdays pass, I become more accutely aware of how my Birthday Wish changes and what I consider to be "a great birthday".  When I was five, a Happy Meal with Ronald McDonald and a free ice cream ranked number 1 and Barbie in a bright pink box wrapped in a big bow equated rock star status by my standards.

The years change us, they open our hearts to what really matters. Today, I realize I am the richest woman on earth because I am loved.  From handmade cards to wildflowers, balloons and sharing the evening with close friends to calls from across the miles, texts and facebook posts to homemade guacamole and banana cupcakes.  I am truly beyond blessed and by the grace of God, my life contains More than Enough of the good stuff and my cup overflows with gratitude for the people in my life.


There is no greater gift than to love and be loved in return.

Think Better. Feel Better. Live Better.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On the Edge of Adversity

There are two moments in your life when you will remember where you were and who stood beside you: standing in the midst of adversity and experiencing the supernatural. There is a bond which forms in these situations, a bond no one can sever, it transcends time and place. Interestingly enough, the experience of the supernatural is correlated with how we respond to adversity, challenges, or face difficulty.  Some will choose to walk away, others will wait, most will talk about it.  Few are bold enough to stand on the edge of adversity and take a step of faith.  They will face the darkness because they ARE the light.  And these few will share the pride, the distinction and honor of being in the supernatural.

This past Friday night I attended an annual hockey marathon at my high school.  Participating in the event after so many years reminded me of such a time in my life when struck by tragedy, a few stood strong to be part of something truly spectacular.  In 1994, a fellow teammate was killed in a car accident leaving a night game against our county rivals. Just Freshman in high school, my teammates and I watched as our Seniors faced losing a friend, classmate and sister in uniform.  Everyday on the way to practice walking past the trophy case, where jersey #26 hangs in remembrance, reminded us of the strength and courage of her parents, coaches, and teammates demonstrated.  It instilled in us a drive to value one another on and off the field, that no day should be taken for granted.   To this day, those who were part of the SHS Field Hockey Team that year still keep in touch.

As I sat on the same wooden bleachers, overlooking the same hardwood floors we played on so many years ago, I looked up at the felt banners toting successes past.  My eyes stopped on two of them: County and Division Champions.  In bright orange, the year 1997 stood out, only one team in the past 15 years had such an accomplishment.  The year was our senior year. My attention turned back to the purpose of the night - we were gathered to play in memory of Alicia Lenker, our fallen teammate.  We stood alongside other members of the team and thought back on the events of that fateful night looking at a group of high schoolers about to play in a hockey tournament in memorandum of someone they had never met.  After 18 years, two generations all shared a common thread of one young life. The somberness resonated with both generations.

The inspiration Alicia had on our graduating class directly impacted our desire to play harder and work as a team. It led us to several championships and accomplishments beyond our capacity. Now as alumni, stepping out to play again so many years later, it was as though nothing had changed. Adversity had made us stronger, the supernatural gave us in something to bond us forever.

This made me consider other situations when facing adversity leads to the supernatural. When those few bold individuals stand up to take action in spite of the opposition.  They experience something the others will never understand and they will never be the same as before.

The man in uniform who hugs his wife one last time before he steps off the dock onto battleship. He will gladly face the enemy if it means saving the life of the person next to him.  At home, no one can comfort his anxious family except those who share their sacrifice.

A husband and wife who must face lost hope, comforted only by their own love and commitment to a life lived for one another.

Friends, coworkers and neighbors step in to help when disaster strikes, bond in the shadow of tragedy. 

These stories inspire us to be better people, to help our fellow person, but do we ignore the call when we stand on the edge of adversity in our present moment?  What could be made better if you took one step beyond what you see in front of you?  When you find yourself in that place, step out in faith, the supernatural waits just on the other side. Keep digging! The imagination can not fully know the impact it will have on you and the person standing beside you. God gives us strength and courage to take a stand; He gives us one another in order to ensure we do not fall.

Think better. Feel better. Live Better.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can I get an AMEN?

People who  have a mission just walk a little different.  They talk with a purpose and are overly concerned with details, because they believe it matters.  I work for an amazing church that has grown from 50 people to over 3200 in 8 years.  Everyday I get an up close and personal view to see lives change.  We have volunteers and passionate staff who are some of the most talented and committed people I have ever met.

I don't normally write on Fridays, but I am fired up today.  Fired up becuase I know the greatest mission on the planet...Jesus.  The following conversation is one of the most impactful moments in my experience at Waters Edge Church and it's Friday. Why is that significant? While most of our Sunday staff do not work on Fridays, our mission doesn't take a day off...

I was at one of our campuses dropping off some supplies for Sunday and our cleaning lady was there, finishing up the men's room, her AM/FM radio tuned to a preacher shouting "Can I get an AMEN?!"  I gave my usual Friday greeting of "Hey there, Miss Valerie!" She waved back.  As we worked, we chatted.  Then she said:

"This is a beautiful building.  You all do so much for these people."
Me: We love it.  It's all worth it on Sunday!
"I am part of it too!  Here I am wiping baby hand prints off the windows, but it's good they are here."

Do you get it?!  She gets it!  She knows the reason why those hand prints are there is because there were people in this place on Sunday!  She feels part of changing people's lives on Sundays while she's cleaning up bathrooms, vacuuming doughnut crumbs, and wiping down windows during the week.  While she is taking out a garbage bag full of coffee cups, dirty diapers and mint wrappers, she is thinking about the people God is changing!  Do YOU get it?

When she cleaned our building the week of spontaneous Baptism, she paved the way for 399 people to make a significant decision.  Those decisions changed lives, changed families, and will change a community!

She gets it.

What's your mission?  What is your excuse for not having one?  This isn't soft serve ice cream people, this is about God and it's about getting a mission.

Think better. Feel Better. Live Better.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's a Process, Enjoy it!

My sporadic posting is a testament to what you are about to get today.  My plan for the new year was to launch this incredible vision of how to live life to the fullest with 3 simple principles:  Think Better, Feel Better, Live Better.  I truly believe these all work in tandem and anything can be over come with placing these in the right order.

"So what Happened?" you may ask. 

I put them in the wrong order. I was ready to Live Better because I Felt Better about where things were going, I just hadn't Thought it all 100% out, very unlike me.  I am a thinker, I will toil over things for great lengths of time before diving in to new territory or even revisiting the familiar.  2011 was full of me pushing this comfort zone: I launched my blog in April, saw significant changes in myself, my family, and my marriage over the course of 3 months.  Not accustomed to the fast track, I did what any other awkwardly uncomfortable person would do in that situation - I jumped on the flying train and rode out the thrill!

Enter the last weeks of 2011. I saw the earth flying past and a door flying open and yelled, "Whoa!" Though my voice sounded more like reality setting in, "We haven't got all this together yet." 

I am so thankful for the joy ride of 2011.  My life is in a place beyond my wildest dreams and the momentum just keeps taking my family and I to new levels of living.  I am not talking rags to riches, I am talking about closed eyes to open, fearful hearts to ready, from what about me to how can I make it better for you. 

The conception would be for some once you think better, then you feel better, then a leprechaun jumps out of a rainbow and 'Poof!' live better!  As great as that would be, it just isn't so.  We get them jumbled, we stick around in Feel Better and don't want to leave.  We get trapped in our thoughts and can't imagine our way out of them again.  Worse yet, we live and forget to feel or think about anyone else.

The pursuit of Living Better is just that - a pursuit.  You sometimes need to engage some flexibility, accept the detours, and move beyond your past to get to the destination.  Along the way, we know we need accountability, people to share the feel good times, and just time to ponder and plan what to do with the "present".

Your life is a gift.  Your heart is a sponge, the more it gives away, the more it can absorb.  Your mind is an amazing place where you can go to tap into the power of your dreams.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pursue What Matters Most

A quick look at your Facebook News Feed or Twitter stream will tell you a lot about what matters in the moment.  Just as quickly, those 52 comments or 87 likes will be but a blip on a timeline.  Our emotions are triggered for but a moment and then all is forgotten and we move on to the next "top story".  

What outlives those fleeting moments?  What stays behind and how do you and I live beyond our lifetime and make mark in the world?

Much of what we do on a daily basis seems to be a simple process of going through the motions, yet this denies the value of the human spirit and the purpose for which we were created.  To deny we have innate needs to be more than what we are is a reflection of a suppressed spirit, one perhaps scarred by past mistakes or broken trust or misguided focus.

Isn't it interesting two people can work the same task but have completely opposing motivations for doing it?  I am brought back to the story of two brick layers.  One man was asked what he was doing and he replied, "I am laying bricks." The other brick layer replied, "I'm building a Cathedral."  Our perspective changes everything...

The great heroes of yesterday left behind a legacy:  we still study them in history books, watch videos of their greatest speeches, recite their speeches, and model ourselves in efforts to be who they were to others.  The great heroes of today are still finding their dream, still asking the tough questions, and still carving out their masterpieces.  The great heroes of tomorrow have yet to be born, but what do all of them have in common?

They pursue what matters.  Those individuals have purpose.  Their hearts overflow with passion.  They love better so others can live better. 

Heroes leave behind no question unanswered because they possess integrity, they live generously - they leave nothing behind but the legacy of a dream realized and a life well lived.  You don't know who will live better because of it or what generation will find hope as a result of the life you lived.   

Live Better and pursue what matters so tomorrow can be filled with the impact of your dream.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Extraordinary Life Begins in You

For many in our world, a better tomorrow will never come.  Not because the opportunities aren't theirs for the taking and not because they weren't shown the way.  For these, life will remain a dark place with seemingly no escape.  They have not learned to live...

This post has been on my heart for just under a year now and felt the push to share it with you today. 

I am not an expert in Psychosis, nor do I proclaim to have interviewed, surveyed, or done case studies on such matters.  I lived it.  I lived in the abyss and so I can only write as a testimony to what I know and how I managed to climb out from the catacomb and into the Light.  What follows is simply my philosophy on how one goes from a place of self to a place of grace.  How one grows from living for now to living better.

Think Better: better begins within us, in the place deep inside the secret alcoves of your darkest secrets, most private thoughts.  Call it your inner voice or your conscientious.  There, you know your real self.  Over time, this part of you is either shielded or released by the identity you form over time.  Your identity forms through social interaction, your environment, and the very thoughts you interpret from those interactions. Much the way a sculptor releases a beautiful form from stone, one must pull back the thick toxic layers to find true self. 

The expectation is this process will be painful, emotional, perhaps discouraging.  Dig deeper.  The threshold to truth is only reached through persistence, support, and accountability.

Feel Better: Our emotions and perspective influence our heart and soul. The better we feel about ourselves, the more empowered we are to reach out to others. The ability to Be better seems real and possibility.  This is by far the pinnacle of better awareness.  Once the state of feeling better is reached, one goal is accomplished, the other areas of one's life begin to change.  The course shifts and our thoughts drive action.

The pursuit of better living begins in our passion to live better.

Live Better:  Once balance is found between thought and heart and the physical being, one possesses the tools to make a lasting impact, causing a chain reaction within you, within your home, within your neighborhood, school, city...the world! 

I still think about "the Dark Ages" and wonder how I existed in that cold, hard place for so long.  What still astounds me is not only the extraordinary transformation of mind, heart, and soul, but also the speed with which it happened.  Once the layer of truth was reached in my mind, I was able to embrace a real sense of who I was to be, what I had live for...I was free to live. I did not walk away from where I was, I ran!  Each step promising to be better than the last, never to return the same as I was before.

Find your inner truth.  Find your best self.  Be Better.

Think Better. Feel Better. Live Better.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Your Life is what you Choose

At one point or another, we walk the blade of indecision.  Afraid if we commit too quickly, we would fall flat on our faces, afraid the risk would be too great.  The reality is you cannot escape decision making; not making a decision you have decided to take no action and leave yourself open to someone or something to make the decision for you.  You probably have stories, I know I do of a time when you decided to not decide and the outcome set you back.  Let's face it, this isn't a good plan for your family, your business, or your life.

Decisions aren't a surprise: Decisions begin deep within our thoughts, buried in a heap of experiences, lessons learned, and tossed among our hopes and desires.  Think about the last time you had a tough choice to make, chances are there were a few triggers along the way leading you to the final moment when everything came to a point when you needed to choose one way over the other.

Decisions are born from struggle:  Struggle is not meant be something we should fear or run from.  This is the place inside us where we reach a little deeper than usual, where we really test our understanding of reality, wrestle with our values, and question our selves.  No matter how overwhelming or insignificant you make think your struggle is right in this moment, there will be a decision leading you out of it.  The question is not what, but when you will make it. 

Decisions provide a way:  I should just rename this bullet the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  No decision is perfect because you are not perfect! ( "The truth shall set you free!")  If you are a parent you know how this works because it is part of what keep you waking up every day.  I made two amazingly perfect decisions in my life: marrying my husband and becoming a mother of two amazing kids.  The Bad is a great deal of decisions I have made before and since then, yet Grace brought me better days.  The knowledge we aren't perfect hit the hardest during the Bad.  The Ugly is the beautiful mess we sort out everyday just in time to appreciate it more than anything else in the world. 

We make decisions everyday.  We're surrounded.  You can choose to move forward, focus on a goal, and take control or you can wait and watch a lifetime pass you by.  The truth is you will have to choose either way.  First think better, then BE it!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Pursuit Requires Endurance

Eight months from those first ideas scribbled in a notebook, Thirty days to contemplate, plan, and anticipate...20 hours and 15 minutes into the New Year and I am enjoying the bittersweet taste of a slice of humble pie.

Occasionally, actually more times than I'd like to admit, I have a stroke of genius that doesn't see the light of day. I do a lot of thinking, visualizing, and planning. This past year, I finally began to take some changes. 2011 was all about risk and taking some bold steps toward a realized dream. Truthfully my last post of the year was all about making it reality! Time with family and myself way from the hustle of making other dreams happen has an interesting way of proving just the appropriate dose of reality. I realiazed I was trying to microwave my dream! The decision was still on to begin fast-frying my life's calling. Seems silly now, but at 12:39pm today, it wasn't such a pleasant bite to swallow. But the truth is this- you cannot microwave a dream. Dreams need to slow cook, marinate. They need time.

Over the past several weeks I read a devotion about endurance: "Remember that God's blessings are found not only in "great possessions", but also in suffering and delay." As a runner, I can appreciate the word endurance, it must be built up over time, it takes patience, dedication, intention, and purpose. It requires a goal, planning, and preparation.

I could see the top of the mountain, but forgot about the climb.

God knows what lies on the other side of our mountain. Endurance gives us the discipline to ensure the mountain is ours to climb and we learn from it along the way.

There are a few more cuts to be made into this stone mountain to release the masterful work I am called to do. The year has just begun. Have you found your mountain? What step are you taking to make the first cut in 2012?