About Me...

My photo
In a nut shell : I'm a wife, a full time working mom, a teacher, a Star Wars geek, comic book nerd, Disney enthusiast, hockey Mom, a decade long breast cancer survivor, and oh let's not forget such a happy, sassy, southern mess!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life Lesson # 37 ~ EXPECTATIONS ( ARE A REAL PAIN IN THE BUTT!)



Expectations can sure get us into a lot of trouble, can’t they? If you have any doubts, look no further than yours truly. I have spent most of my life expecting way too much and sorting out the consequences later. It’s not as if I don’t know what I’m setting myself up for, because I usually do, but for whatever inherent reason I still take that detour. I’m always full of good intentions. I set out with a decent enough plan, a highlighted map through the back roads, and yet somehow my navigation skills just don’t seem to add up most of the time. My own eagerness, expectancy, presumptions and conjecture seem to always land me in the deep end of the ocean. I should be used to it by now. I surely should have learned to keep an inflatable life vest in my back pocket, that’s for certain. Yet to my own surprise I’m usually flopping around, treading water, drowning in a sea of self-doubt. I’m a walking contradiction, a beautiful if not deafening complicated mess. I’m assuredly a complex, intricate, tangled up, tricky, thorny, tortuous labyrinth of a woman. I can barely navigate myself through this impenetrable maze of perplexing wonders, much less my husband! Let’s face it; I can’t always understand myself so how is it again I expect anyone else to? 

I’m really not sure where this crazy, hair brained idea of perfection comes from, as if we can actually buy the Brooklyn Bridge. Yet we try anyway, bartering our way through, all on our own, falling for the age old get rich quick, lose weight fast schemes hook line and sinker. We set expectations for ourselves no one in their right mind could ever truly expect to obtain. All based upon what, some kind of cockamamie fairytale cookie cutter depiction of a happily ever after? Maybe a few, small select folks can actually get their happy ending this way, but if you're like me, an average Jane just trying to get through life, those story book endings aren't in the cards without hard work. Let’s just say if they were, I wouldn’t be up at 2 am in the morning, staring down blank pages, trying to make sense of them!

So let’s be honest, life many times can be just as confusing as it is charming. Life lesson #37, expectations can be a royal pain in the butt!

Forest Gump says, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” If we’d simply apply this lesson, we’d be a whole lot happier. Self –discovery, finding our way, who we are, where we are going and yes who we really want to be when we grow up is exactly as Forrest says. If you would had told me I’d lose my breast at 32, muddle my way through menopause at 33 or be starting over again and re-inventing myself at 41, I’d have laughed at you. But that is exactly my story and just like a box of chocolates, life has surprised me around every corner.

Some folks look at my life and think, man she’s got it all together while others judge and smirk, not wanting any part of my existence at all. The reality is my life is so far from perfect it's not scary, it’s a rocky horror show no doubt about it. Till this day I fight more inner demons than most know. Some days they run me, throw me up against a wall and completely strip me of everything good in my life. Other days, I get a hold of the bull’s horns and ride those 8 seconds like nobody’s business! Set backs, well they are just part of my daily routine. I believe we all have these grand ideas and while well intentioned as they are end up beating us up in the process. I don’t know about you but my life is anything but a straight line. It’s been honestly difficult, not just in my trails or health problems, because truthfully those are a piece of cake compared to my internal demons. Being, and feeling accepted, as “good enough”, loved with all my flaws has truly been one of my greatest battles.

When everything else is removed, there has and will always be two issues in my life. The first is absolutely hands down in how I see myself, my body image and the way I look physically. I’ve always found fault in myself, an inadequacy in my appearance, my brain smarts and charm. People have either loved me or hated me, there has never been much in-between. At the end of the day my mental and emotional struggle is feeling inferior. The second, it’s a close race but knowing what you do now should come as no surprise is found in my love life. I was always looking for the perfect relationship which, I learned quickly was not out there. I fought a large scale battle within myself of self-worth and self-loathing, never feeling I was worth the effort. I always wanted to be prettier, skinnier and funnier because those superficial attributes obviously brought happiness. Boy did I have heartache coming!    

I’ve never had a whole lot of self-confidence, so you can imagine how this has played out for me over the years. I’m sure many of you can relate. When you feel less than everyone else in the room, more like a wall flower at the ball, lacking in smarts, physical appearance, and overall cultural hype defining beauty and intelligence you simply tend to accept the lie you’re not worth the salt in anyone’s tears. See I was the kid who got punched in the stomach for giving a neighborhood kid’s dog diabetes simply because I decided to touch his pet in my own yard. Or the girl who was teased and taunted to the point of tears when the teacher left the room because of my diabetes, then blamed by the teacher for the disruption. Or better yet picked on and played by the mean girls back before those words were common place. I guess I was one of the original Duff’s. It is no wonder till this day I still have self-esteem issues, but what I have come to realize is we all do, the mean girls included.

I’ve always had to dig deep, finding my strength and the ability to see myself through my Father’s eyes. I have faced coming in second all my life, being the runner up or not even placing on the winners pedestal at all. It’s such a part of my routine now; I don’t think I’d know how to deal with first place. I still battle the idea someone is always better suited, more accomplished and of course every other form of worthy than I am. The struggle is real, and one I face each and every day whether it’s in my job, my social life or quite honestly in my marriage and I know I’m not alone in this. I think it comes down to an idea we hold ourselves too. If we can only be younger, older, taller, more petite, slimmer, have a full figure, be a blond, a brunette, a red head, have long hair, short hair, curly hair, straight hair, be athletic, smart and so on we would arrive, feeling worthy. We hold ourselves to these unrealistic expectations to the point of our own total destruction. If we think we can control the filters others choose when they look at us, as an anonymous quote I recently read said, then we’re barking up the wrong tree. We can’t have these major life altering foundation changes without a complete overhaul. For that matter we have to accept and realize we can’t change what’s going on outwardly until we start changing what’s going on within us. It’s just a fundamental truth.

The bottom line is this: everybody is searching for something. Just take a look at how we as a society view our bodies or our spouses? It’s this very reason so many marriages face so much destruction today; we destroy ourselves from the inside out and then wonder what happened. We never have enough; we always want more, something new, something different, and something borrowed. Nothing is ever enough but no one has it all despite feeble attempts to prove otherwise. Remember this when you start to feel inadequate. It’s one thing to strive for a better life, to be a better person or want to be the best version of yourself possible but it's a completely different thing to lose yourself, to keep replacing your life with counterfeit imitations of yourself. When it comes down to it, you can’t let hurt, expectations, the un-forgiveness of yourself, or this idea of who you should have been define you. You are you, and the only you there is, don’t take yourself for granted. Let go of those impossible expectations, the far-fetched idea that the grass is greener on the other side and trust God has a perfect design for your life, for your family, your marriage, for you and begin fighting for it.

Note to self: I am enough.

~Christina

Friday, April 24, 2015

Life Lesson #36 ~ RESTORATION, FORGIVENSS & PRUNING



I remember a while back, I asked my counselor why God was allowing so many hurts to pile up so close together in my life. Do you know what she told me? "Boundaries Christina, it's all about boundaries." Let's just let that sink in for a moment. I know I had to. The truth is I have lived my entire life trying to please everyone. The reality, it is clearly impossible, and simply never ends well. Honestly, this is probably the hardest, most miserable life lesson I have ever had to learn. A lesson you can be certain inevitably pushed me through a barrier, over a cliff and to the bottom of a ravine. 

The moment leading up to my hallelujah, come to Jesus meeting got it's first start some 19 months ago. Life at the time wasn't bad; in fact it seemed pretty good to me. As with any typical month in our household, we had our ups and downs. Sure I knew life wasn't full of gumdrops and lollipops, but life wasn't exactly sinkholes and tar pits either. I had just hit my 40's, not that I was worried about it, age had never bothered me. I was fairly content with where I was in life at the time. I was at home, raising our boys, a wife of 17 years, keeping up with our home, managing the kid’s schools, doctors’ appointments, lessons, church and making sure my family had a home cooked meal every night. I had a routine, a way of moving through life, I knew what was expected and my week went accordingly. I was happy, content and oblivious to the storm clouds gathering.  

The reality though, the hard truth of my situation is my faith was growing stagnant, and in many ways so was my life whether I realized it or not. So when I was hit by the first of several emotional semi-trucks colliding into my life, you can say I was completely knocked off the side of a cliff. I wasn't prepared, I had nothing in my reserves to even begin coping with or better yet to even access the damage. I was walking wounded and pained. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and my weight began dropping quickly. The only way to accurately describe myself immediately following this first collision, smash up, wreck and yes pile up of sorrow, agony and torment is as the walking dead. Everything else following afterwards just added to the growing pileup of desolation in my life. Suddenly I became a wreckage of failure and total emotional bankruptcy. I simply had nothing left to relinquish from January 2014 onward. 

I began grieving, filled with an aching, stabbing pain I can't accurately explain even now, all this time later. My life was an utter, complete mess, in shambles at the bottom of a cliff, spread out along the edges of a ravine. What was left of me felt exposed, my wounds open and bleeding, my bones picked nearly clean by vultures. I felt dead inside, isolated, alone and desolate. To say I was at my lowest point is an understatement. This pain, this unending, deep gash in my heart was the worst I had ever known. I truly wanted to die at times, just so the pain and grief would stop. My heart felt shattered, ravened by a cold, hungry wolf. My life as I had known it before was laid out, demolished and in ruin. My choices were simple, either give in to the devastation or begin with a new foundation. I chose the latter.

Only a handful of folks really know what caused this carnage, this gigantic leap over the edge in my life. Quite honestly it should stay that way. It however doesn't change the consequences or the end result. The scars are still there, serving as constant reminders of my lowest place but the point is they are just scars. My faith is no longer a puddle of three day old rain water but a spring of fresh living water. My wounds aren't oozing, open gashes still hemorrhaging. I've had to learn to look deep within myself. I had to stop over thinking, tossing all night, replaying the moment I was pushed off that cliff back in February 2014. In doing so, my life has been reclaimed; a peace even while feeling scared no will come to rescue me has set in. It's funny I had to reach the bottom to reach the top. I learned a hard, excruciating lesson but a valuable one all the same. You see it's not always about the rescue as much as it's about trust, allowing yourself to start climbing back up that mountain, finding you had the strength all along. The only real requirement is trusting God to lead the way.

Life Lesson # 36 is all about Restoration, forgiveness and pruning.

Ya, I'm still mending, even after all this time. You just don't get over those kinds of hurts in a jiffy. The work put into healing is hard, painful and at times very overwhelming. Personally I've licked my wounds, battled my mind, fought insecurities, come face to face with Christina's not so nice side and finally allowed the knife to be pulled from my heart. Yes, I've absolutely experienced other gut wrenching hurts along the way, but what I have learned is forgiveness is essential for the soul. Our reaction verses our response will ultimately define the way any situation we face either turns around or continues to plummet over the cliff. Restoration, whether it is a simple acknowledgment inside your heart of what was, what is or a full throw your arms around, let me squeeze you tight kind of moment, forgiveness and the restoration of your spirit is critical to recovery. It's a life lesson which never comes easy or when we're expecting it, but instead when we drop our expectations and let go.

Truly, what I know in hindsight is restoration brings healing. As hard as it has been, I've forgiven, making a choice, spoken the words out loud even if no one else was there to hear. I've let go of the broken friendships, confidence, and trust, yes even the betrayal leading to that almost near fatal crash of February 2014. True, I was trapped for a while, captive of many anxious, uneasy and awful dark nights stuck in that terrifying ravine, feeling helpless and alone. However terrible it was though, the truth is once I set my mind to climbing out, to reaching the top, I found myself and who I was all along. I'm happy where I have landed when all is said and done. Day finally broke and all my anger, hurt and confusion dissipated. 

My world was shaken, I was betrayed and I didn't know why. The truth is I may never know why exactly, and that's OK. God allowed what He did for a reason, because He has purpose in my life. The situation I faced, I would never wish on anyone. But I know now sitting at the top of that ravine; it wasn't there to hinder me but to aid me in my journey. See He knew what was inside of me all along; I just had to go through the pruning process first before I could see it myself! And now as one chapter closes and another begins in my life our little family of four can see restoration breathing back new life into our roots. I can see who I am in Him, who I can be in my marriage and in my family and it's pretty amazing. I've truly given myself over to forgiveness, allowing the pruning process, trusting God come spring, His shearing will bring beautiful flowers to bloom once again.

~ Christina

Monday, April 20, 2015

Life Lesson # 35 ~ SELF-DOUBT ( SHE COMES IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL! )



Have you ever asked yourself why is it as women we tend to compare ourselves to one another so much instead of appreciating what we each bring to the table? I often wonder if we could just stop and see ourselves through the eyes of the One who created us, molded us and perfectly designed us how we'd feel. I am thinking it would be pretty awesome and rather incredible, don't ya think? 

Life lesson #35, self-doubt with all her shortcomings can really mess us up! She comes in like a wrecking ball, with her demolition crew eagerly awaiting to turn our lives into rubble.

Honestly, how many of us start the day off already defeated, with our crown tilted or better yet in need of a serious polish? We believe every stinking one of the lies forced and spoon fed to us. If we don’t have the latest hair trend, if we aren’t following the newest diet fade, if we aren’t signed up for the current fitness craze or sporting an up- to - date version of ourselves we are obviously in default, heading into foreclosure of our own self- worth. It’s downright despicable the way we see our imperfections as such fordable foes. Personally I've fought this same battle the majority of my life, feeling defective, inadequate and made up of nonstop glitches, From the time I was old enough to understand my clothes weren't a designer brand or my hair wasn't exactly trendy, I began comparing myself to the media's version of "bold" and "beautiful". We all do it and that's what saddens me the most. We compare ourselves, wishing away our own rare qualities for what? Cookie cutter, unrealistic, a dime a dozen, get in line, take a number, follow the leader stereotypes? So I just want to get really honest here today, because I still find myself sailing this very same ship more often than I'd care to admit.

My mother is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, both inwardly and outwardly, but she's never been able to accept this fact. As a child I watched her, admired her, wanted to look and be just like her. I knew she was beautiful but as I grew up I saw her confidence flounder all over the place despite my dad adoring her. Why, because Hollywood and the fashion magazines told her she wasn’t thin enough, young enough, wasn’t pretty enough or trendy enough. The truth is she was far more beautiful than any diva of her time. The sad part is because she felt unworthy; I learned to feel the same about myself. And what's even worse, as women, we’ve all been here, we teach each other to be this way, passing our insecurities down through the generations because we fail to see what God sees in us, falling for the lie there's something wrong with us.

Personally my battle line has always been drawn in my weight. I have fought this uphill campaign all my life. I am never happy with where the scale lands, ever! I could look like Twiggy, be a toothpick and I'd still think I was fat. Why, because I was programmed to see myself this way, never making the mark. In high school I just wanted to fade away into the background, I hated getting up and getting dressed for school. I couldn't pull off any kind of trendy hoopla to save my life. My hair was a complete mess most of the time. I was always trying to hide my boobs, of course now I just wish I had them back again.  Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it? I had dark hair and pale skin when blond and tan was the thing! I hated myself if we are going to be really honest. I could get along with anyone, and I had lots of friends but I always felt I was somewhere way down the totem pole. I was awkward, my head in a book most of the time, you would either find me reading or writing. I stayed away from the sports stars at school, I wasn't a cheerleader, I wasn't a rocker, a kicker, a nerd or any of those other stereotypes. I was simply me, though I was never quite sure I knew who exactly that was most of the time. The fact I married Johnny, a jock in his day, a football player in high school, sure goes to show you how life can change though.

It has taken me years to feel any kind of self-confidence about myself at all and to stop being a people -pleaser. I'm definitely still a work in progress. I really do feel awkward to this day most of the time, keeping my eyes downcast. Even as an adult, a grown woman with two near grown children of my own I know I'm easily manipulated into believing I am nothing, never strong enough, pretty enough, or smart enough to run with the cool kids. I guess I never quite feel I fit in anywhere and so I observe a lot. I worry I'm under or overdressed and I'm frequently aware I am nowhere inside the trendy zone despite my feeble attempts. I inevitably get the joke too late, take things too literally and wouldn't know one designer bag from another. I wake every morning, seeing my scars, the ugly ones stretched across my chest, working hard to accept the missing part of me. I see the scale go up and I have to fight the urge to not eat. And truth be told I don't even bother with fashion magazines at this point, I simply have no need to further complicate my self-image! Basically, I'm my happiest when I'm writing or miles away with my head in a book to this very day. And just like my mom, you can tell me I'm beautiful all you want, till you are blue in the face and I'd still feel inadequate. 

The reality is this though: we can't live life photo -shopped or airbrushed, could you imagine what that would be like? There would be no diversity, no unique qualities in any of us. We'd all be a bunch of fake, plastic dolls running around like Stepford wives! Seriously, if we became real life Barbie dolls we'd be walking around on our tippy toes with neck braces on just to keep our heads upright! So this is the deal, the reality we should be living in ladies: we are made in HIS image, so how in this world could we be anything but beautiful? Personally, I know I'm a constant work in progress. Some days the battle is already over for me before I even climb out of bed. If you were thinking I've made my destination already, with confidence plus and you'd like to be like me, let me go ahead and assure you, despite my best efforts, on any given day, I've got a very long way to go yet.

As I put pen to paper today, my challenge to myself and to you is to stop seeing ourselves through any one's vision but our Father's. I definitely need to stop looking at my worth through my own eyes for sure! Accepting this challenge doesn't mean I will meet my goals on a daily basis because I can tell you right now I won't. What it does mean is I want to stop wishing my own attributes away and start appreciating the wondrous, even if baffling at times, masterpiece I am in Christ alone. My worth does not come from what color my hair is or if I am skinny or even have both my boobs! No, my worth is found in the reality I'm a daughter of the King, and in His eyes I am indefinitely, irrevocably beautiful. We all are! So come on buttercups, chin up, and let's get the real party started! Embrace your flaws whatever they may be. Be thankful for your own unique qualities and beauty, inwardly and out. Accept we aren't going to be perfect, we can't all have what everyone else does, but we CAN canoodle our hearts and minds around who God has created us to be in our own right. After all and I know for many of us this is a breaking news story, we aren't mistakes, our bodies, large or small are not up for sale! 

And really at the end of the day, the bottom line, the way I see it anyway, as women, we need to begin finding our way back, being at home within our own skin again. Just from my own internal battles, my personal demons and boy howdy aren't those some big ol' struggles kind of days, I’ve learned before we can change any part of who we are physically, we have to dig around and uproot our emotional fears and doubts first and foremost. Hard work doesn’t come cheap, it’s by far anything but easy and more than likely will take our whole lives to complete. But if the end result's peace, self-confidence and personal acceptance, isn’t it worth the price? Honestly, that's really the sum of it all isn’t it, finding our worth in a sea of  doubt? So please make me a promise won't you? Never, ever stop reminding yourself you ARE beautiful, stunning, exquisite, magnificent, and lovely, made perfectly in HIS image, a true daughter of the King! Go ahead, pull your tiara out. Better yet push those old dusty boxes out of the way and grab your crown made of diamonds instead. Don't you know beautiful girl our Father in Heaven bestowed this very gift upon you the day you were born? All you have to do is accept you're already a diamond, beautifully made new every day in His image. Go on then, put it on, we’re all waiting for your triumphant entrance….


~ Christina



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Life Lessn #34 ~ LIFE'S A GIFT (GONE IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE)



If you’ve been anywhere near the Dowling – Olachia abode lately you’re painfully aware the last 10 days have been exceptionally difficult. I honestly wouldn't even know where to begin a full account if I tried. Let’s just say this, life has been very fast paced and nothing less than an unexpected exit down a high speed turbo express turnpike of the unfathomable. This whole idea of losing not just one but two of the most important people in my life, a week a part, has been absolutely terrifying. The old saying “in a blink of an eye" is resonating loud and clear right now.

First, I am beyond thankful for all of our tribe, both our family and extended. I don’t know quite frankly if we’d have any scruples left without those who have rallied, been at our sides and even sat through the nights with us. I am eternally grateful for the love our family has been surrounded with, it’s truly been overwhelming. And if not for my amazing husband, and precious children I may have lost my own marbles a lot sooner during these last couple weeks.

Life lesson # 34: Life's a gift, never given twice, always interchanging, moving and yes, fragile.

Many times we overlook crucial, critical moments, convincing ourselves we have more time. We close our eyes, ignoring the minutes counting down, just living life for granted. We get so caught up pretending we have plenty of time left we let life spin out of control. Before we know it we've forgotten to circle back around , to make up lost time or simply take a trip down memory lane one last time with those we love. We kinda live as if we're bulletproof; having all the time in the world but the harsh reality is we don't. What’s really tragic is the belief we can barter for extended time together when we’re already living on borrowed time already. 

Why do we get so tangled up in so much rubbish? Life is just not as complicated as we try and make it. Time stops for no one, and the way I see it we have two options, you can either complain about it or live it! We can’t keep running around exhausting ourselves, living on fumes expecting to make our destination without incurring some serious damage. Seriously if we keep waving people off, passing them by and flipping the bird, how can we still expect those same folks to be willing to help us change a flat tire down the road somewhere? We simply can’t go around, screaming foul and blaming everyone else for our troubles when we ran the red light! Neither can we keep replacing those same people and relationships every time the wind changes direction. I just don’t see how we can expect any kind of enduring, stable and long-lived connections in the end if we’re so willing to toss people out with the bath water. If we continue living life in this kind of manner, in the fast lane all the time, we miss everything precious and beautiful offered us in the process.  

Simply put, life is not for the faint of heart, it’s for the courageous. We can live a life full of strife and turmoil or we can simply live. Quite honestly, I would be exhausted living any other way than full hearted. More than ever I’m thankful for where life is leading me, and not vice versa. I’m also thankful and humbled by the life I have lived, by the love and family I have been given and raised by. My parents, my husband and children are all true blessings, gifts I could never forsake nor acquire in my own right. For this reason alone, the ties that bind us should never be broken or severed simply because we won’t compromise. So if I told you I wasn’t scared, I would be lying to each and every one of you, because I am petrified. Losing those you love is an unmeasurable pain. No, not in any universe, am I ready for a future without my morning phone calls, sweet texts, Facebook tags or afternoon lunches with my O’hana. This is why we have to learn to slow down, pay attention to what direction we are leading ourselves in. We’re all traveling toward the same destination; shouldn't we want to arrive there with a full heart, not an empty tank? 

If I can leave you with anything, it's to implore you; reevaluate the direction you’re moving in. Ultimately, all things said and done, it’s about having the courage to take a leap of faith, to love, forgive and accept we can’t always be in control. If we know our time here is short, why waste it on nonsense? We may just have to come to a complete stop, looking all four ways in order to see the road ahead of us clearly. When we stop and slow down, our lives don’t look so bad do they? Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way! Just STOP, learn to sit and wait without a need to speed. All we have to do is move over into the passenger’s seat and stay as far away from the wheel as we can! In the end if we think about missed moments long enough we’d realize it’s time to take the detour we missed, make a U-turn and put the breaks on our current GPS. If we can’t sacrifice for those we love, what business do we have taking the wheel or calling shotgun anyway? Taking the backseat for a while may simply be the best bet, just long enough to appreciate the scenery anyway. 

And at the end of the day, when my road comes to a winding end, I hope to have lived much more of an adventure than to have led a mere existence. Why, well that's simple, life, is all but gone in the blink of an eye!


~Christina





Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Life Lesson # 33 ~ BOUNDARIES, LIVING LIFE WITHOUT BORDERS!



Anyone who knows me or my family knows we have an inner exuberance and elation for squeezing every last drop out of life. We tend to live life to its fullest, grabbing hold of life by the horns. After all, life is meant to be lived, out there in the game, not on the sidelines. Don’t get me wrong, we all need time on the bench, moments to refuel, catch our breath and grab a snapshot of the bigger picture BUT we aren’t meant to stay there indefinitely!

Is life just a perfect happy go lucky kind of round up? Ha, nowhere near if we are going to be honest here. Life, however, is meant to be lived without borders, to be experienced, breathed in and enjoyed, unpleasant or delightful moments alike. We aren’t promised a never-ending fairy tale with a pre-approved happily-ever-after seal stamped across our foreheads. Life, when it comes down to it is all about adaptability. We have to take part in the challenge of life together, adapt, compromise and give up our “my way or the high way” mentality if we want to experience real happiness. If we tend to avoid conflict, fear the unknown, reject change and ignore self-evaluation we end up a hot mess. Life isn’t all roses and unicorns; it’s honest to goodness down right hard if I do say so myself. We’re not meant to avoid difficulties or live with blinders on; life is about growing, taking part in the process of our own adventures. If we are always running how in the world will we ever have the opportunity to stop and smell the roses?

Life lesson #33, we all need boundaries. One, they keep us grounded but two they also develop our ability to navigate uncharted territory without falling into the abyss. The thing about boundaries is they don’t actually confine, us, they really free us, ensuring we can live a life without defined borders.

So when I say I have lived a life without restraint or borders, I have absolutely known love, pain, struggle and blessings unconditionally. Life with all her difficulties has offered me gifts I can’t even begin to account for. I’ve lived this life of mine with a freedom that’s allowed me to experience life without fearing the detours. In all my off road trips, through the back roads I’ve been down, I’ve come to an un-reckonable understanding. Life’s wait a minute vines are not there to hinder me, but to redirect me, pushing me forward not backward. Happiness is not a product of a perfect existence or a byproduct of some abstract scheme or planned outcome. Instead, happiness is a direct result of His enduring and unfathomable joy present in our lives. We can't plan our happy ending, we just have to find joy in the moments leading us there. 
 
Believe me, we’re not happy, happy, happy in everything going on around us, it’s just we’ve learned to live without borders, in the moment, good or bad. And that’s the key, where our whole foundation lies, in a deep, unbreakable, impenetrable joy. What I’ve personally come to understand about life is it isn’t a performance, meant to be showcased or placed on display. Life is about living with the bumps, bruises and scars we acquire along the way included. If life is anything, it’s unpredictable. The sooner we learn to embrace this idea, the lighter our load becomes. So when you see images into our family’s little moments I hope ya’ll understand they aren’t there to depict a perfect, happy life. Our lives are anything but ordinary but as far from perfect as you can get. We make mistakes, screw up, fumble and fall down all day long. Those snapshots, they’re not meant to exclude the sorrows inside our lives, but to frame our joy in spite of them. 

What I know is this: True happiness comes from accountability, an ownership of sorts, counting every moment we have as pure joy, unpleasant or not! We should never be afraid of hardship, of failure or even of loss because without them we are nothing. I do not fear the struggle life offers; however the absence of the struggle does indeed scare me. So my prayer as this week begins is for the presence of real, unbreakable joy in your lives. Count every bit of it, blunders and elations alike as what they are, life lessons, and not fatal slip ups. We’re not meant to merely convince ourselves we’re happy, but to truly be happy. I simply encourage you to take life by the horns, drop your pretenses, take off the mask and begin truly, fully living life from a place of unspeakable joy!

Keep in mind being inspirational is not the goal, to be inspired is! So just remember when you’re at the end of your rope to remind yourself what James 1: 2 says, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials” (NET).

~ Christina

Friday, April 10, 2015

Life Lesson #32 ~ FINDING YOUR THANKFUL PLACE ( The grass isn't greener on the other side)!


A while back I learned a great lesson involving thankfulness. Not just an appreciation for my marriage, family and the life I lead but a real genuine heart felt thankfulness. When I least expected my world to turn sideways, it did. And it did so from a completely unthinkable direction! 

The problem is more often than not we get so wrapped up, so busy in this life we forget to stop and smell the roses as they say. We end up so lost in our lists, our tasks and in our self-contained worlds we take for granted the foundation holding it all together. It's not in any way we mean to overlook our blessings, no matter how small, but we do. We slowly begin taking not just our material possessions for granted but more importantly our relationships. Sadly we stop tending our own patches of green and begin admiring, desiring, craving and wanting our neighbors sparkling gardens a little too much, a little more often. Before long the beauty in our own lives has dulled, seemingly losing the sparkle we fondly but barely remember. 

Life lesson #32: Find your thankful place, your patch of gratefulness and burrow in. Believe me; the grass isn’t greener on the other side!

The sad truth about life these days is we are so busy looking for the beautiful forest just ahead of us we fail to see we've already arrived. We miss our present, current surroundings because we're so eager, so excited, expecting the next best thing we can't see the forest for the trees. In those moments we lose pieces of ourselves, chipping away at our thankfulness, and many times building more of a resentment driven reality. By the time we have figured out we have all we ever wanted, we are close to losing everything. 

James 1:17 is one of my favorite verses when I need reminding of this. It says, “Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning.” (Good News Version)

So maybe, just maybe we need to slow our pace down, quit running around, ignoring mental stop signs.  Maybe it's possible to begin slowing our minds to a manageable speed, paying attention to the direction we're moving in. Life is all about realizing boundaries, accepting no matter how big or small, they're there for our well-being. Like a yield sign, you have to slow down long enough to look both ways. How can we expect to make it safely to our destination if we keep running red lights? Doesn’t our driving, the way we navigate through the traffic around us become questionable or dangerous? If we keep swerving in and out continually we miss opportunities, even turns we need to make. And why pray-tell? Simply put it's because we're in such a dog gone hurry to get there! Sometimes it’s not that we’re going in the wrong direction, it’s just the way we’re trying to get there that’s the problem. The reality is we have to slow down, stop crossing double lines in a no passing zone and just enjoy the drive. 

For me I had to literally come to a complete stop. I wasn’t looking or paying attention to the rate of speed my life was accelerating at. Suddenly without notice my fork in the road came out of nowhere, in the middle of no man’s land. I was so caught up in tending to the radio, wiping the dust off the dashboard, fusing about the noise in the backseat and pulling things out of the glove box I almost failed to see one of the most important decisions of my life. We can take a more direct route or a detour, and we don’t always have to give up our hopes and dreams in the process either. All we have to do is be considerate of those traveling the roads of life with us, merging our lives while appreciating the unique gifts we have and not become afraid of taking a different path than the one we imagined. So my question is this: where is your fork in the road? Will you be able to see it coming before it’s too late? And when you do, what direction will you take?

This is the thing about thankfulness, we have to recognize our own blessings, the beauty our lives contain all by their lil' ol selves. We can admire and respect those things we wish we had BUT we can’t increase our favor by devaluing our own blessings. If we could just take the time to recognize, acknowledge, comprehend and completely grasp these beautiful gifts we have been given, even with all their imperfections, we’d realize they are each perfectly fitted to our needs. We’d ultimately live more abundant lives. Thankfulness, ya it can be tricky, but once you grab hold of it, own it, appreciate it, you won’t want to live any other way. 

~ Christina

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Life Lesson #31 ~ SILVER LININGS


Have you ever wondered where our silver linings come from? Why some folks can easily find one and others can’t? Maybe it’s a gift we are given, maybe it’s an inheritance or maybe we have to find them all on our own. No matter how we come into ownership of these brilliant and beautiful treasures they are magnificent indeed to behold. I know how I came into mine, and why I’ve held onto it all my life. It goes something like this…

Anyone who knows the Dowling - Olachia clan will hands down inform you we're a Disney family. It's just in our DNA I guess. Maybe the "whole whistle while you work" concept is so ingrained in us  we have no problem finding our silver linings haha. That said it shouldn't be a surprise our family's favorite quote, our motto of sorts, one we hold near and dear is from a Disney movie. Those who know us well will tell you without hesitation it's from Micah’s favorite movie, Lilo and Stitch. It goes something like this, “This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken but still good. Yeah, still good.” This particular saying sums up our small and unique tribe. I can’t ever remember a time when I wasn't laughing or smiling as a kid. Now this doesn't mean I didn't have my own battles, didn't have tears stream down my face because they most definitely had their 15 minutes of fame along the way. I was just not one to ever wallow. When I say I was a happy child, it means I was never down long. I've always had this keen ability, an internal navigation tool allowing me to find the silver lining in any situation.

Life lesson #31: Finding our silver linings isn’t about the expected. We only find them in the least likely places. The only way life uncovers and reveals a silver lining is when we let go of our expectations. Embracing our differences, our difficulties with joy and laughter shatters our fear. By allowing our eyes to focus on the good, staying optimistic when the skies turn dark, we can decode, decipher and unravel any worry concealing our silver lining. Our constant joy, our love of life and belief in each other can only be found in our unshakable faith in the Lord and in our foundation as a family.

Did I just obtain my ability to be happy? Well, truthfully you could say optimism is my gift. I'm one of those who comes by it naturally. As a little girl, just as today, I never had a problem opening up and sharing this gift with anyone near me. Laughter, humor and wit have always played a part in my outlook. Without looking to the bright side I can seriously say I don't know where i would be today. Life hasn't been easy, but it has been amazing. Growing up, I was surrounded by so many wonderful people and experiences. Our family truly has lived life to its fullest from living abroad to making memories all across the States. I honestly don't remember staying still much. My granny used to call us street rats because we were always on the go. Till this day, we live the same way.

Life and the way its unfolded has most definitely been entertaining. I have such great memories of my folks with so many of our extended family gatherings whether those entailed BBQ’s or running around amusement parks together. As a little girl I watched my mom and dad, in awe fall in love each and every day over and over again. Growing up I was touched glimpsing their sacrifice for one others needs. I learned early on amongst our little clan of three, age was nothing but a number. When I think of my parents I know they lived life with me, beside me and absolutely as I always like to say out loud. For this reason alone our lives our full to this very day. As grandparents, my mom and dad are rock stars and our kid’s friends will be the first to confirm this. As grandparents now in their late 60's and early 70's my parents experience life in the moment, sharing the same spontaneity and exuberance for life with my children, as they did in their early 20's.

Today as parents ourselves, as a couple now in our 40's, Johnny and I carry the same drive, energy and motivation in preserving our zest for life. As close kindred we enjoy the flood of enjoyment, the nonstop enthusiasm and unpredictability of our Ohana. Johnny and I have inherited a determination, vitality, and vigor for living life WITH our kids instead of simply through them. This quality, this gift and zeal has made all the difference in the makeup of who are collectively. Just as my parents did, and still do, we enjoy the unpredictability life has to offer. We believe in living in the moment, sharing unplanned, impromptu and genuinely last minute adventures. Johnny and I have continued this get up and go way of life simply by not being bystanders. We participate in the practice of living life with our boys. We laugh, tease each other, and play together. Whether it's crossfit, a pickup game of street hockey, a late night dinner, an impulsive drive to the beach or hoping on a roller coaster together, we live life with a wild charismatic gusto. After all life is meant to be lived, not overly planned, posed for or navigated with a predictable mode of operation. The key to staying young at heart is never giving up your ability to appreciate the unpredictable. And for this very reason I can always find the silver lining even in the worst of situations. 

I was born and blessed with this gift, the ability to overlook the impossible through example. My parents, the people they chose to surround themselves with, further instilled this gift in me. I was never lonely nor was I ever truly bored. Life in our household was anything but ordinary but neither was my capacity for joy. Through everything, the diabetes, the stroke, the blood clots, breast cancer, RA, and more, they all could have defeated me. I could have given up, been destroyed enabling my hope and my joy to be annihilated but optimism and joy wouldn't allow it. For this reasons alone, I have never ever surrendered my sense of humor. I can’t guarantee you much else in life but I can assure you this, you can bet the bank I NEVER will! 

I may not have gold, but my silver linings are ALL the riches I will ever need.

~Christina

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Life Lesson #30 ~ LOVE IS NOT DEMANDING!



I've done a lot of reflecting this week, mostly on my childhood, how I was raised, the way my parents brought me up and the incredible opportunities I've been given because of my parents choices along the way. From the moment I was born I knew I was loved, cherished and longed for. My parents had all but given up on having a child of their own when I came along and surprised everyone. To say I'm daddy's little girl is an understatement. My dad was in the delivery room when I was born, a first for the hospital I was born in way back when in 1973. My dad was also the first to hold me. Growing up I never doubted my parents love or my dad's ability to protect me. I was their baby, their only child and together we were a family, not perfect but our own kind of wonderful. 

One major component in who I am today comes from my parents ability to listen with open hearts. I am so grateful I was given a voice in our family decisions; I was never made to feel too young for my voice to be heard. I was brought up in a home where we talked things out; we didn't keep secrets, and were open and honest with each other while always careful of one another feelings. No one persons wants ever came at the expense of another. We have certainly argued, disagreed through the years, that’s for sure. At the same I have known no conflict which could ever divide us. I was taught from a young age however we may clash  compromising was the best solution for any family squabble. Being right was not always the right thing. At the end of any day, no matter what was going on the one thing I always knew was this: I could go to my parents with anything!

The biggest memory I have growing up is the way my parents gave of themselves to others. Our home was always full of life and all kinds of people, from all over the world. Mom was always cooking meals for large groups of folks, my dad always there right beside her. I not only remember Bible studies and music but deep, wonderful conversations filled with such love and laughter. There was always honest to goodness real life going on surrounded by grace in the midst of any turmoil crossing our threshold. See I was brought up in home based ministry from the time I can remember. No matter what day of the week it was or for that matter the time of night, someone was always in our living room, at our table and more often than not I was giving up my bed and my room to someone who needed a good night’s rest. Now some of you may say, what, how is this fair, what kind of crazy home did you come up in? The answer is the absolute BEST! Let me say this for the record, I would not change anything, not one day, one hour! I grew in spirit, I was offered the opportunity to understand real servant-hood, true giving without receiving, to share without question and to do it all with a cheerful heart. The truth is I can't ever remember wanting for anything despite giving up so much all the time. Even with so many people in our home, all the time, I never felt abandoned or neglected. I learned early on, sharing their time didn’t mean I had to compete for or demand my parents time, it was freely given. 

Life lesson # 30: Love is not demanding, it's not selfish and it does not think of itself, love is an action word. My parents have been my greatest example of this life lesson. If not for my childhood, for the example of their grace, humility and trust in the Lord my parents lived in front of me daily, I wouldn't have the heart and soul I do today. So this morning as I look back I can't help but smile knowing how much I am loved, maybe even laugh a little bit realizing I'm still daddy's little girl.  

The real truth be told, if anyone thinks my childhood was easy, I can attest to the opposite. My life was filled with its share of difficulty from my diabetes, to the countless moving from place to place as a teenager but I can't complain at all. From the years spent in Germany to the countless southern states we lived in in-between ages 5 and 6, and finally at age 7 when we settled in Texas, life has never been boring. So when I think of my childhood, I think of many things, memories of living overseas, the real life castles, the Rhine River, Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard, and so many lifelong friendships. Each memory holds something wonderful from Christmas, the first day of school, vacations or picnics at the park with my parents and of course those magic filled tea parties with my daddy.

My dad has always been able to make me laugh, pose for hilarious pictures with me and instill a sense of humor I wouldn't trade for the world. He was never afraid to put me on his shoulders, play dress up or listen to any story I had to tell him. His courage, while keeping a smile across his face as I attempted to trim his toe nails at the age of 4 is still beyond my comprehension. That's why today as we wait, not knowing what tomorrow holds, I am filled with such respect, love and devotion for my dad. He's always been a man of his word, a selfless and loving man, never one to hurt anyone by design, hard headed at times, just like his daughter, but always a man who wouldn't think twice before giving you the shirt off his back. My dad, is a great man, a man my boys call their greatest example. When my dad comes across my mind, I realize he has and by God's hand will continue to be a mighty example of God's grace, even when under fire. It is by my dad's example I have entrusted my life to the Lord, and by watching my dad's positive attitude, his love for life, and his way of always putting others first I have modeled my own life after. 

So, today as I pick out my "Way Back Wednesday" pictures I want to reflect on more than the images on my screen. Instead, I'm going to take the time, take inventory of these precious memories and the loved ones captured in each of those photos. I am ever so grateful I was not only blessed but given the chance to grow up a part of our small, but beautiful family unit. To know unconditional love the way I have, to experience joy in ways I can't even begin to explain and to have learned to appreciate the wonders this life has to offer without fear or regret. To me the greatest gift my parents could have ever given me was teaching me love is never demanding, but always patient, kind and unconditional.

I love you daddy, we're all here for you, we won't ever let you go!

Always you're little girl,

~ Christie