About Me...

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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!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Life Lesson #110 ~ This IS the House that Built Me

"The best loved stories are not from books or films BUT those from our own families." ~ Anonymous

It's been said, "every family has a story to tell" and today for my last post of 2016 I welcome you to ours. "The house that built me was strong, faithful, not perfect by any means, but graceful and loving, and still standing strong. I was given joy, hope and an inner peace which has continued to give my life direction despite the winds blowing and howling outside. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." That's actually from a post I wrote over four years ago called 'The House that Built Me' in July of 2012. Re-reading over my older posts from the last 10 years the truth is my writings haven't really changed much since 2007. I'm still writing about what's most important to me...my family. 

My family, they are my core, my foundation and the roots from which all I am springs from. A beautiful Malay proverb says, "A tree with strong roots laughs at storms." My family may not be perfect, and the storms have most definitely come barreling in bending our branches. But you know what we've learned through the years...if we're firmly planted as a family we'll bend, never break. Quoting myself a few years back, "As a child I was given love, taught fortitude, shown grace and given the gift of watching true mercy lived out in front of me. I grew strong because I had no doubt I was firmly in the hands of the One who loved me, the One Who breathed life into my spirit."

I have so much to be thankful for. And why,well because of those I call family. Because of my family roots I have security, well-being, and a place to call home. I'm a mother, a wife and a daughter. I'm an only child but I'm surrounded by close extended friends we call family. I'm never alone because I'm loved deeply, unconditionally and my place at the table, no matter how big or small is always valued. Yes I was given my father's name, and it's true both my parents raised me but that is not the only reason I'm secure in who I am and where I come from. Our table may be small, but there's always room for everyone even if our elbows are bumping. The only true one at the center of our family is Jesus Christ. He sits at the head of our family. The truth is my family is everything to me and yes for them I would sacrifice all I own including my life. When one of us accomplishes something, we all share in the joy. Success by one is celebrated by all. Sure we argue, disagree and feel misunderstood from time to time but it all comes out in the wash. Unconditional love is the foundation, the roots of any and all strong families. You see,"strong roots produce beautiful leaves." And this love, this family IS the house that continues to build me.

Because of my roots and the strong foundation my parents built our family upon I am content with all my life has given me. As I say all the time I am far from perfect. I have flaws like nobodies business. And I mean it when I say I'm a sassy southern mess. But because of my faults I can say I'm authentic. I've learned to listen, to be thoughtful and to sit side by side my family at the table. Because of the house that has built me, I have learned to act compassionately and with unconditional love. Don't get me wrong, I can be fierce especially when it comes to protecting my family, but I've been taught and shown forgiveness as well. I grew up not just with faith but with a personal relationship within my faith. I am strong only because my roots are grounded and my foundation is solid. Colossians 2:7 says,"Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving." Till this very day I find my strength in the roots my parents planted in side His love so long ago.

Life lesson #110 ~ This IS the House that Built Me. This house is the same home that gave me wings, taught me how to fly and then to raise my own children to sing with voices of their own. Because of this very foundation I know who I am, where I come from and sometimes I even have a pretty good idea of where I'm heading to. This house, well it has shown me how to love, to care enough to fight for what we have together and not to ever let go. Generations from now my children's children will tell stories, tales of our family who came before them with the knowledge they too are a continuation of me, of Johnny, of our boys, of my mom, my dad and the generations before us. Yes my grandchildren's grandchildren will know just as I do today the house that built them. So yes looking back on the last 9 years while gazing forward to the new year I'm thankful for my core values, my faith and for the unconditional love of my family. My roots run strong and deep. Our home is filled with so many wonderful, sad and beautiful memories and love. And yes everyday this house that built me adds just a little more joy to my life.

"Remember your roots, trust your wings." ~ Bellamy Young

From our home to yours Happy New Year!

~ Christina

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Life Lesson #109 ~ Family is Everything (The Extended Version) 2016

"No matter how poor you think you are if you have a family, you have EVERYTHING." ~ Anonymous

Two years ago on December 19, 2014 to be precise I wrote my first post titled FAMILY IS EVERYTHING. The truth is our family has been through some pretty tough times. Back then we were recovering from some fairly harsh blows that year on all fronts to be honest. The thing is this: as a family we are stronger together, each of us individually bringing a strength which fortifies our bonds, reinforcing the ties that bind us. And just like in 2014, our bonds in 2016 are still unbreakable, unshakable and inseparable. Doesn't matter what bombards us, attempting to destroy or target our family. It doesn't matter who or what may try to tear us apart I know this to be true: we will not abandon those we love. Simply put, family is everything and so today I am revisiting this subject. Let me start with this... as a family, our goal is not to appear happier than anyone else, not to obtain perfection or seem euphorically blissful. That's not our reality. Our truth finds meaning in this simple quote,"Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that looks good on the outside." For us, our strength comes from honesty, openness and every last one of our flaws and faults. These are the things that fortify, keeping our family castle so to speak from collapsing.

So what does family mean to you? I know what it means to me, to my hubby, our boys and my parents. I know when I say family is everything, it is defined by unconditional love. Even when we don't get a long we are family. Heck we might not even like one another sometimes but unconditional love is defined as, "affection without any limitations or conditions." This is the core value of family. See family isn't just the holidays, birthdays or celebrations bringing us together. Family is love, devotion and gratitude even during the most calamitous of situations. For me,"Family over everything" sums it up beautifully to be honest. I love my family with all my heart, those near and far. I am content in knowing they are part of me just as much as I am a part of them. Some share my DNA, some don't but all share my heart. They are my tribe. Blood or not, we are a family. We are kindred, we are bonded, affixed and stuck together like glue. For me, these are my people. "This is where life is LIVED. These are the moments, the people that make life worth living. These are the people who make life beautiful. These are my people. This is my tribe." ~ The Art of a Beautiful Life

Sure I may not always see eye to eye with those I love. The truth is I may even feel neglected or unappreciated at times but that does not mean I will ever stop loving my family. After all, they are MY family, handpicked by God, bonded and sealed upon my heart. No matter the disagreements or disputes my family bond is more important to me than my pride. I am imperfect, full of flaws with plenty of faults myself so how can I expect anything more from those I share a limb with on the same family tree? 1 John 4:20-21 says this. "If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both." So no, I have no room for hate, for malice, hostility or even bitterness. What I do have room for in my heart is forgiveness, love and goodwill toward those I call family. Yes, even if we are all different and divergent from one another we are still family, fruit from the same tree.

Again, I declare my family IS everything to me. My hubby, he's the love of my life. Our boys, they're the light of my life. My parents, they are the genesis of my life, the core of who I am. Jesus Christ, He is the center of my life, the Master Builder of our lives and the cornerstone of this little band of kinfolk. And together they are my whole world. I am a Dowling, a Palmer, a McBride, a Burgman, a Gronska, a Swanson, a Carlson, a Robinson and yes an Olachia. Together all these names, all these blood lines form the unique woman I am. And just as your family names and lines do the same for you, they bond us together across the generations. But now let me be clear, we're all more than a surname, a crest or a bloodline. We are individual personalities coming together collectively forming a tribe. Think of it as a tree if you can imagine with branches wide, springing upwards and roots growing downward, strong, deep and unwavering, This tree is always bending, blooming and growing, new leaves appearing while others fade away as time passes. The reality is I'm truly blessed by such a large and diverse family. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, and extended family I couldn't see my life without. Quoting myself from 2014, "As for me, my family is a gift. I have been blessed to grow up surrounded by two sides of family, and inherit another who loves me. I could not and would not want to do life without any of them. Each family has molded me, made me and left footprints in my life. We laugh; we cry, reminisce, celebrate, argue, disagree and come together time and time again. Some bonds just can’t be broken, like Georgia Florida line says. “That’s how we do it around here.” So when you ask me, what does family mean to me, my answer will forever and always be EVERYTHING.

Looking back on 2016 I'm humbled by the grace, mercy and unconditional love I have experienced. And today, looking toward 2017 I'm excited. I know without a doubt I'm blessed. I know I'm loved but I'm also a part of something bigger than myself. And you know why, it's because of this little thing we call family. So my Life Lesson #109 ~ Family is Everything (The Extended Version) 2016 brings us back to where I first started, way back to life lesson #15 over two years ago. “My family is my strength and my weakness.” ~ Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, this quote could be my life's song track. Life Lesson #15, Family is everything. We come from one another, our lives, hearts and even blood are tied. We grow up together, move on in different directions and yet come back to one place, together…where our roots began." As long as we tend to our branches, water our roots, keeping our leaves always growing upward, and onward never losing sight that the pruning makes us stronger our family tree will always flourish and thrive. So to my family, both near and far I want to say I love you with all my heart. I'm an extension of your heart as you are mine. I am content knowing we are bonded, roots and branches intertwined. For me, "The best feeling in the world is knowing your presence and absence both mean something to someone." And you know, I'm so glad ya'll are my someone.

I'll never be poor, because I have you...my precious family.

~ Christina

Friday, December 23, 2016

Life Lesson #108 ~ Christmas' Past

"Today's MOMENTS are tomorrow's MEMORIES." ~ Anonymous

Do you ever wish you could go back and re-live a moment? Maybe you've pulled out a few old pictures from your childhood or your child's childhood and thought to yourself, "I just want 5 minutes minutes." Christmas time especially evokes those feelings for me. I'd love to go back when the boys were little, and scope them up in to my arms again, kiss their little cheeks and delight in their Christmas morning joy. Honestly how many times do we reflect on Christmas' past longing for those 5 extra minutes? How many times do we "smell a certain, familiar scent and suddenly remember a small part of our childhood?" Often is my bet.

Christmas time in our home has always been a warm, homespun, family affair. As a little girl Christmas was magical. Our tree was always glimmering with gold garland, red balls, our German ornaments and our family star high a top. Gifts were beautifully wrapped waiting under the tree and stockings hung filled to the brim on Christmas morning. Growing up an only child I can't lie, Santa and my parents were good to me. I can still feel the excitement building as my parents had me waiting in the hallway taking inventory of Santa's treasures and making note of how many cookies he had eaten or if some of his beard had gotten stuck on the coco mug. I still feel the joy inside of finding a Barbie dream house, a kitchenette, roller skates, a ballerina tutu and of course Strawberry Shortcake and her friends waiting for me Christmas morning under our tree. But more importantly I remember the feeling of gratefulness, of being loved and singing happy birthday to Jesus.  And honestly none of that changed when it came to my kiddos 24 years later. Of course Johnny and I decorate our family tree differently than my parents did, but our star still sits, shining high a top our tree, a signal of Christ's love for us. The boys tend to eat Santa's cookies for him these days and the gifts and stockings are long unwrapped and spilled out before Christmas morning. Still our Christmas'are just as magical and warm as I remember.

When I look back on Christmas' past I see love and happiness. I see a close family, real as real gets, full of imperfections but happy and full of joy. Sure we may have lost our way a few years back but that hasn't diminished who we are or our love for one another. If anything it's made us stronger, forged our bonds tighter. No, Christmas around here is not a Hallmark channel or Martha Stewart special but it is warm, inviting and about down to earth just as cornbread and greens on a chilly day in the South. It's funny, Joshua brought this point home just last night while we were watching Krampus. Micah was feeling "mad" seeing the family disrespect the mom's efforts and I was feeling exhausted watching her go through all that to make everyone happy. I laughed when Joshua piped in saying, " Thank you mom for not making our Christmas' like that. I like them simple, just like ours." And what I realized in that moment is nothing ever really goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Childhood and Christmas are part of us, our past, our present and yes our futures. It just comes down to how we want our holidays to be spent or our memories made... in purgatory, re-living our worst nightmare or in peace, thankful for those we love. As Scrooge once said, "I wear the chain I forged myself in life...I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it." Maybe an old tale we half consciously watch during the holidays, but a lesson we should all take more notice of. Remember these are the moments, the memories that link us all together, affixing our hearts as a family. And so for us, the Dowling - Olachia family no matter where the years take us, our Christmas' past will always bring me, my parents, my hubby and our children back to those joyous simple times we all want 5 more minutes more of.

Life may be uncharted. It may not be easy, we may even feel we weren't given a fair shake but the truth is life is not not un-navigational. We may want that Martha Stewart Christmas but maybe its more about the gift of the magi .Deuteronomy 26:11 says ,"Be grateful for the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family; " And so this is where I focus my thoughts today in Life Lesson #108 ~ Christmas' Past. It doesn't matter what the past held be it joy or contempt, what matters is where you focus your heart once the page has turned. We all live and learn, our past may be a source of great strength or pain. Our past can either tighten our chains or break them. The choice is ours. We can live live in purgatory or we can start again. As Scrooge says after he has been visited by all three ghosts of the past, the present and the future, " I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons they teach." I implore you this year let your Christmas be a time of peace, of joy with your family. We can't re-live our past, no matter how good it was. We can't go back and get a do over because it wasn't a Hallmark stamped Christmas. Let's not feel "the future started yesterday and we're already late." (John Legend) Instead let's start today and appreciate all we have making brand new memories. And so I wish you and yours a merry, merry Christmas. I pray your holidays are joyous, peaceful, warm and inviting just like cornbread and greens on a chilly Southern day.

"God bless us, every one." ~ Charles Dickins, A Christmas Carol

~ Christina

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Life Lesson #107 ~ Be Merry and Bright

"It's not what's under the tree that matters. It's who's gathered around it." ~ Anonymous

So Christmas is almost here. School's out, the malls are full, ugly sweaters are back in style and admit it, you're singing along to the sounds of the season on the radio. Our tables are filling up, our trees are lit and prime real estate under the tree is not only at minimum but almost impossible to find the closer we get to Santa's big day. And with all that fun, also comes the stress and worry.This year our family has taken a new approach to celebrating this season of merriness and shall I be honest, should I dare say it, of anxiety and pressure. So what is our new technique, it's simple, it's a little something called slowing down and actually being merry and bright, not stressed and strained.

As Christmas began descending into our household following Thanksgiving I began taking inventory of the little things, and soon I was reassessing the bigger ones too. First we unpacked our inside decorations, putting up the nutcrackers, the advent calendar, and of course our almost five decades old nativity scene. Our tree came the next weekend, full of lights, glittery balls, more nutcrackers and of course Disney ornaments. And last but not least Johnny put up our outside lights. These are all family traditions, things we do together. I for one love traditions, as they remind us our history. Still as we've begun slowing down, I've fully come to understand  "Holiday traditions are meant to build bonds not bring bondage. So hold them loosely." And I guess that's exactly the approach we've been taking as of late.

This year has been especially sweet, merry and bright as the old song goes. For one, we've spent a lot less time shopping and much more time gathered around the table together. Second we've decidedly put the emphasis this year on time spent together, and not the activities themselves. Life has slowed down tremendously and in doing so we've found ourselves more content, satisfied and far less stressed. The change in our outlook has been incredible. Maybe it takes going through hardship and loss to fully appreciate what you have. I'm not an expert, I can't absolutely say that to be true but I do know that this family while far from faultless and exemplary has spent this season satisfied and untroubled. We just made a decision this year not to want more than we have. I don't honestly know exactly how we arrived at this place, but by God's grace we have. I can tell you this year has been interesting to say the least trying to buy, wrap and place tiny packages under the tree. Not one of us could come up with a list. Which means we're ALL going to be very surprised to be sure on Christmas Eve night. But do you know why, do you know what we realized? We are content, we are happy but most of all we are satisfied with what we have and where we are right now. Our lives are fuller period. 

To say we're a close, tight knit family would be an understatement. Now let me make this abundantly clear, that doesn't mean we always get along or see eye to eye. Being so close can also mean stressing from time to time. Being a family, connecting, taking part in traditions and celebrating what is one of the most important birthdays of the year can at times become demanding, taxing and plain tense. This is the thing, it shouldn't be. Many times we are so busy trying to be happy we forget how to be happy. Expectation, need and greed begin to over shadow the whole meaning and the reason we gather to celebrate Christmas. But you see Matthew 19:21 speaks of it so beautifully, for me anyways, "It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being." So where is your treasure today? Is it wrapped up under the tree or spread out, sitting around it?

"The truth is the most complicated skill is to be simple." Seriously, that's the best quote I have read in a long time. And it's true. We tend to overdo everything including Christmas. Our lives are so overrun with making everyone's want a reality and with making sure our social media feeds look merry and bright we forget how to actually be merry and bright. Now I can't speak for anyone else, but I can say for me and mine this year, Christmas of 2016 has definitely been an amazing awakening if not a journey for us. One that has brought our little family of six full circle. The Friday Night Lights, quote, "Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" has reignited loudly within our home. Taking a look inside the walls of our home you will very clearly see we've come to understand how fragile life really is. Unwarranted stress adds nothing but takes away everything. Todd Stocker brilliantly speaks of this very subject like this," Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace." So today, as I share Life Lesson #107 ~ be merry and bright, I wish you the same peace, happiness, satisfaction and real, unfiltered contentment our family has found in this blessed season.

"Maybe Christmas" he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ...perhaps..means a little more!" ~ Dr. Suess


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Life Lesson # 106 ~ Mirror Mirror on the Wall

"You must become unshakable in the belief that you are worthy of a big life." ~ Kristin Lohr

Most of us have seen Snow White or even Once Upon a Time. We all know how the story goes right? An over confident beautiful queen and an even more beautiful but unappreciated princess mixed together with a dose of jealousy, insecurity and envy leading to bad things. Before Snow White can get her happy ending the Evil Queen becomes determined to cast a spell and poison her with a ruby red apple. And in real life, that's how it typically begins...something innocent and relatively simply triggers and brings to life something dark, ugly and unseemly. For me it was the fateful day I heard the mirror whisper those painful words  back to me, I was not enough. But let's back up a little bit first. If we're being honest most of us have stood in front of our mirrors, many times feeling and yes fearing we just aren't enough. Maybe you've even whispered those famous words, "Mirror mirror on the wall" For so many, both men and women alike, we convince ourselves we've fallen short and disregard ourselves. Our reflections are not meant to harm us, to discourage us but unfortunately many of us never see ourselves as our Father does, perfectly imperfect. So many times we spend our entire lives trying to define ourselves we end up missing the truth all together. You see, "Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about discovering who God created you to be."

Today, I want to talk with you about a very dark part of my life. I guess you could call it my "Mirror Mirror on the wall" moment. It's a place I've not exactly kept hidden but it is a part of me I haven't exactly exposed to the world either. Truthfully it's a journey I had absolutely no desire to start out on but ended up trekking thru anyway. Let me start by being transparent. Today I'm taking a deep breathe, grabbing my courage and with a brave heart talking about a part of my life only a few have knowledge of. It's not really a secret I've struggled all my life with body image. My mom struggled with her body image, so the reality is I was bound to struggle with my own. When other girls were buying their first yellow polka dot bikinis I was the one taking up a long term lease and residence in the dressing room. Better yet, even when I was modeling on a catwalk or walking down a pageant runway I never saw myself as anything other than repulsive. I had no self confidence. As a young woman I'd looked into the mirror and see an unsightly mess. Even when I wasn't big, I saw myself that way. It didn't matter what size I was, my reflection was always too heavy for the mirror in front of me. As a teenager and later as a young mother I managed to keep most of those feelings under control. I didn't always feel fine about myself but I never let those feelings out to do any physical harm. Unfortunately the truth is dare I say it I was fighting back an eating disorder just under the surface my whole life. My body was fine, my mind on the other hand was just waiting for the perfect storm. That day came in early 2014. I accepted the queen's apple, losing 60 pounds in less than 4 months. Unfortunately once I bit into that poisoned apple my life forever changed, becoming slightly tainted.

Yes once upon a time, not too long ago during the onset of my early 40's a perfect storm finally blew in. It was brutal too. Truthfully life had fallen apart on all sides. I was ripe for the old witch at my door bearing fruit. Rejection and comparison fueled this particular storm to be sure. During this chapter of my life I found myself having to confront years of self ridicule and disgust. Before I knew what was happening I was battling more than my thoughts, I was also fighting my body. Most of the time I couldn't eat but If I was eating, I wasn't able to keep it down. If I was keeping my food down I was feeling guilty and if I wasn't feeling guilty I was beating myself up for not feeling guilty. I never truly realized until those dark hours just how little I'd thought of myself until I admitted to myself I have an eating disorder. Saying that out loud doesn't come easy let me tell you. I fight it everyday, good days included. For me there's "constantly a voice telling me : You're not skinny enough." It is truly that simple. Even now, as I've mostly regained control of my eating habits I still fight those demons inside my head trying to convince me I'm too big, too heavy, too plain or not enough.

Looking for a great example of what living with a talking mirror feels like?  Well look no further than the movie Central Intelligence with The Rock. It's pretty funny actually. This movie also hits the nail on the head with a really honest approach. In one scene The Rock's character is confronted by his nemesis from high school. You've seen the Rock right? He's a lean, mean, fighting machine. In this movie he's just as fit as ever but his character feels insignificant around the now grown up bully. What struck a cord with me happened as The Rock looks at his refection and despite all his muscles and lean mass, he still sees himself as a heavy kid  with no confidence or self-worth. I came close to tears. And you know why, because this is exactly how it feels to have an eating disorder and/or poor body image. This is exactly the poison the apple offers... an unrealistic image of your body forever and always. No matter how small you may be, you're never small enough. It doesn't matter how pretty, thin or fit you are, with an eating disorder you're always fighting the mirror. The truth is I'm in recovery. There is no simple fix. But where there is hope and faith, a desire to recover, and a willingness to face the mirror honestly there is the possibility of a happy ending, imperfect as it may be. So now almost three years later I can can tell you I'm a completely new woman. My life, well it's been put back together in an unexpected but mostly realistic way. Yes I have kept off the weight through hard work and determination, eating right and exercising. I've concentrated my energy on redirecting my self doubt into realistic goals. Truthfully, I still have "those" days when I feel like The Rock's character staring at his reflection with my head down, shoulders sinking. Believe me it's not easy, and it's sure not a cake walk talking about it either but it is my truth. By God's grace I can finally say, I'm the girl who's facing her demons leaving her scale to rot on the bathroom floor.

"I assure you, I'm not put together at all. Nor am I broken. I'm recovering ~ finding the beautiful in the ugly and stitching it into my life." ( Rachel Wolchin)  And now years after an eating disorder almost broke me I'm sitting here speaking to you from my heart. I can't tell you I am convinced I'm worthy of God's love on a daily basis, but I know His grace covers me despite all of it. I'm absolutely working each and every day on the idea and belief that I'm unshakable. I know God's work in me isn't anywhere near finished. I'll forever be a work in process. I'm a sinner saved by grace. But that grace is oh so beautiful filling me each and every day. So now on those days when I find myself fighting the mirror handing me another apple I just hum along with Colbie Caillat. "You don't have to try so hard.You don't have to, give it all away .You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up. You don't have to change a single thing ." What I've learned in the process is this: I am a woman, no better and no less than the women standing to each side of me, I am strong, beautiful when I allow myself to accept that truth, and fierce in my faith and my desire to recover. I've fought and continue to fight the demons of self -destruction and self-doubt but mostly I've been the victor by God's grace. Now every time I start to wander down that dark, rocky and sadly too familiar road, a poisoned apple in my hand I remind myself of Psalms 139:13,  For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

And so this December life lesson # 106 ~ mirror, mirror on the wall is a declaration of freedom, not a curse. I am no longer ashamed of my struggle. I'm working toward a better me, no longer a woman defined by inches or calories. I'm not ashamed of my story. My body should not be a battleground for my mind to measure my worth. Today I have willingly broken the mirror, tossed the apple and  decided to believe in the possibility of me.

" I say to my body softly,  I want to be your friend.' It took a long breath and replied, 'I have been waiting my whole life for this." ~ Nayyirah Waheed

~ Christina

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Life Lesson # 105 ~ Family Traditions

"Traditions have a very special way of keeping favorite memories forever in our hearts."  ~  Anonymous

It's that special time of the year again. Christmas is almost here. With December 25th getting closer on our advent calendar every day so are all the festivities, parties and of course our family traditions. We all have traditions, ways we celebrate, commemorate and honor our faith, family and the love we share. For us this season brings so much happiness, reflection and hope to be honest. It's not just the decorations or the food, not even the gifts that get us excited or the fancy gatherings that bring warm fuzzies to our hearts. No it's the people, our loved ones, our friends who fill our hearts with such gratefulness. Some years we have more than other years but that has never made or broken our Christmas. This season for us is more about the love, the joy and the memories we share.Wrapped up in all those particular things are our traditions. Some go back generations, while others are a few decades old and many more are simply new or expanding traditions.

As a little girl we used to put up an artificial tree. It was in fact my grandparents tree. My mom, the truth is she's always known how to decorate an exceptionally beautiful tree. I would sit in awe by our family tree when I was small. Looking up at the lights, the shiny balls, tinsel and ornaments I would  dream of decorating my own tree one day just like my mom. Now some 40 something years later I am decorating our family tree with one exception, we buy a real tree. To be honest I wasn't so sure about this practice but it was a tradition my hubby grew up with. After getting married we realized it was important to blend our traditions as much as it was essential to blending our families. And so our tradition of a live Christmas tree began. Buying our tree has always been an exciting night. For 17 years now, we've gone together, Johnny, myself and the boys as a family to pick out our tree. It's typically a Friday night, about 9-10 days into December and followed by a meal out before heading home to allow our Fraser fir to fall out. When the boys were little they would run through the trees of the nursery, on an adventure in Narnia before leading us to just the right tree for our home. We'd all pile in, usually cold but filled with excitement. Some tree have been huge, snow flocked or like this year small. Looking back today our traditions have definitely changed just a little bit over the years. The boys aren't so little anymore and they sure aren't forging through the forests of Narnia. However we are still picking out our trees together and those once small trips to the nursery are part of who we are and part of our history as a family.

As for decorating our tree, well it's just one of our many changing family traditions. We still make hot coco, put out some eggnog and make cookies as we always will. But some 17 years later we've also introduced a few new traditions along the way including making scotch eggs before dressing the tree for the holidays. It's one of our new ways to bring a little Disney magic into our festivities. One of our favorite traditions Johnny and I started was during our third Christmas together. Joshua was just a little over a year old and we'd just gotten back from both Johnny and Joshua's first trip to Disney World. Joshua had actually taken his first steps in the Studios over Thanksgiving and we were beyond excited about it. So being the new parents that we were we began buying gifts from Disney World or the Disney Store for our boys. These gifts would then magically appear on Christmas Eve night on our doorstep from Mickey. We continued this tradition for years with both our boys. Now at 17 and 20 Mickey doesn't leave gifts on the doorstep anymore but Disney is still a part of our Christmas magic. Gifts from Disney World continue to appear for all of us and those scotch eggs we love so much in Epcot now grace our table during the holidays. See traditions are not so much about ironclad and rigorous ways of doing things just because it's always been that way. No, just like the roots of a tree traditions are made to bend, to grow, to bloom even to change some and to remind us of the love we share together.

Life lesson #105 ~ family traditions are truly the heart of the home,growing from memorable moments into realities we can touch. I've learned this lesson from the time I could sit in my daddy's lap, from the moment I held my own children in my arms and now looking forward to one day being a granny myself that "Home is where memories are made and traditions are created." Christmas time is no different. James 1:17 says, "Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God" This is what Christmas is really about in my eyes not how big or expensive the gift is. Traditions are much the same, they only hold meaning if they come from a place of goodness. So you see it doesn't matter if your traditions include biscuits and gravy, kolaches or hash and eggs on Christmas morning. Maybe your family opens gifts the night before Christmas. Maybe you attend services or have a simple gathering in your home on Christmas eve. It doesn't matter what or why you do what you do as long as whatever you do brings you closer together. For us, that means expanding our traditions and this year is no different.This Christmas we're changing things up a bit. No turkey for us this Christmas. I know crazy and un-traditional  right? Exactly my point. See it's not about having to do anything but enjoying everything you do together. So my grandmother's eggplant it is. We many not be Italian but this Christmas is looking to fall right in line with my Mama's godmother's old world roots. We'll keep to our Southern flair with a pecan pie and of course my family's favorite Christmas soup among other old and new family traditions. But who knows maybe we'll have a new tradition by the end of this Christmas season we hold on to for years to come.

I think what I have come to understand is this:Family, traditions and our homes are not made for showcasing our happiness to the world. No, those moments are made to express our joy, happiness and the love we share together with one another inside within our homes. So today I leave you with a quote I love the most. Take it to heart and let it take root this season in all your family traditions both big or small, old or new. Remember, "It's not about how big the house is. It's how happy the home is." ~ Anonymous

~ Christina

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Life Lesson # 104 ~ Next Chapter Please

"Mama looked into me and saw something worth believing in long before I believed in my self." ~ Keion Jackson

As a little girl I used to pretend I was a school teacher. I would set up my imaginary classroom in my bedroom, put on a pair of my dad's old army lens-less glasses, some of my mom's high heels and play school. All my dolls and stuffed animals would attend and of course homework was a must. The thing is I had ( still have) a learning disability. I struggled with math and science especially. On the flip side I was very strong in English and history. The truth is I never felt very smart in an actual classroom. But my mom, she always believed in me even when I was threatening to quit. Even though I struggled in math and she was a whiz with numbers, my mom never allowed me to believe I couldn't achieve my dreams. My dad on the other hand was the one who always encouraged me to write even when I misspelled every other word. Together my parents cultivated and supported my dreams and my talents whether I saw them or not.

We all have dreams, a life we imagine for ourselves one day right? OK so maybe you dream of flying to the moon and back again. The reality is we all can't be astronauts, it's true but if you really love math, science and all things space you can be part of the team on the ground. That's exactly how a little girl with learning disabilities, afraid of big numbers is now in a different classroom everyday teaching. How did I get where I am today? Well it wasn't because I thought I was better than anyway else or that I tooted my own horn loud enough. No, the truth is I had to fail many times. I had to learn humility and I had to have faith. Hebrews 11: 1 says, "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see." See, I knew what I hoped for but I had to step out and take a step of faith. I had to believe even if I couldn't physically see how I was going to get there, I would eventually get there.

Over the last two years my life has come completely full circle. I am writing again and with even more passion than ever before. I've actually gone back to school too. I'm back in the classroom on a full time basis though not as Christina the student. No after all this time I have gone back to school with my own high heels on and a brand new pair of purple glasses. All these years later, I'm  Mrs. O the teacher, not Christie, the girl with the learning disability. Getting here hasn't been easy. In fact if someone wrote about the life and times of Mrs. O, a few eyebrows might be raised to be honest. I have been through some pretty awful encounters but I have also experienced some really awesome adventures too. And all those escapades have brought me precisely where I am today, full circle. This is the thing, "I am confident because I can admit who I am, what I've done and love myself for who I've become." So yes the little girl with learning difficulties, afraid of numbers, wearing her daddy's glasses and her mama's high heels grew up to become exactly what she dreamed of..a teacher. The reality is it doesn't matter what other people think, what they say or how they see you. It's not their dream, it's yours. What matters is how you see yourself. What I've learned in the process, as unconventional as I have too, is this, "I have found I was more confident when I stopped trying to be someone else's definition of beautiful and started being my own." (Remington Miller)

Life lesson #104 ~ next chapter please. I'm so ready for this new chapter of my life. I am not only happy, I am exactly where I should be. I am surrounded by family and friends, a job I love, a life I'm proud of and a new found confidence in myself I've fought long and hard for. Yes, I am still nervous when I step into a math and science based classroom. I haven't lost my leaning disabilities but what I have done is learn to rise above them. And thanks to my parents, my hubby, my boys and my closest friends I no longer doubt myself. So my advice to anyone afraid of taking that step of faith, "Just be yourself. Let people see the REAL, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful and magical person that you are." And you know what, your dreams will become a reality.

Next chapter please.

~ Christina

Monday, December 5, 2016

Life Lesson #103~ Making Peace with Yourself

"The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest is being happy with what you find." ` Anonymous

I was raised by an amazing, humble, selfless woman. A woman of grace, beauty and strength. My Mom, she's a giving woman, forgiving and generous. A modern day Ruth to be honest. What is a mondern a day Ruth you ask, well it's best said like this, "A "Ruth" is a woman who has experienced great loss and pain - yet has remained loyal and faithful no matter what. She has found her strength in God." ( A Modern Day Ruth)  That's my mom, living through loss, pain  and still finding strength and joy in her faith.

My Mom has always had a tender heart, and in that she's felt things deeper, with more emotion than many of us do. When she's hurt, her heart doesn't just break, it shatters. Growing up the only child of a woman who's heart had been broken long before I was born, it was painful through the years watching her feel rejection, loss and grief so intensely. Years after I was born I learned from my mom she'd spent years fearing never being able to have another child. She felt God would punish her for what she perceived as past sins. But that was nowhere near the truth. Hearing this years later I couldn't bear the idea of my mom feeling so much pain. The idea of a loving God rejecting the woman He graciously gave me to call Mama was unfathomable. As a little girl I saw my Mom as this amazing  beautiful, gracious woman, a " Ruth" with a hint of sadness tucked away inside her heart. As the woman I've become I see her as she truly is "the perfect example of grace because she is a butterfly with bullet holes in her wings that never regretted learning to fly." (JM Storm) The truth is I've learned many things from my Mom through the years but her greatest lesson came as I entered my 40's. As a little girl she showed me how to love, to give, to be humble, to be honest, to be last and to inspire. Her heart, well it's as big, as wide and as deep as the ocean itself. Today, I can tell you the three greatest lessons my mom has ever taught me came as an adult: Forgive yourself, accept your past and make peace with yourself. For years my mom carried around this burden on her shoulders, a wound, an ache and an anguish as if she deserved it. I know many times she felt the suffering was hers alone to bear but the truth is, it wasn't. I knew it wasn't, my dad knew it wasn't but it took facing the regret after years of mulling over the pain for her to fully let go. Augustine Burroughs says it best, "The past does not haunt us. We haunt the past. We allow our minds to focus in that direction. We open memories and examine them. We re-experience emotions we felt during painful events we experienced because we are recalling them in as much detail as we can." The truth may have taken a little longer than any of us would have liked, but in facing her past, Mom found she wasn't ever defined by it.

You see my Mom allowed her understanding of the past to influence her present. For all those years even with a brave face to the world that warped sense of truth made her feel insignificant as if she was unlovable. My Mom saw herself through broken lenses and it jaded her vision. Because her past was blurry it seemed, though very untrue that her future was just as cloudy. But the truth is, as it is perfectly said in Isaiah 61:3, our God, her Father and mine, "He makes beauty out of ashes." Sadly events not that long ago tried to reinforce this failed theory of hers. By God's divine hand these efforts failed. The truth is rejection has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with a deficiency in the lives of others. The past is gone, it has no bearing on today unless we give it merit. Karen Salmansohn speaks brilliantly in her examination of this truth, " Don't let the darkness from your past block out the light of joy in your present. WHAT HAPPENED IS DONE. Stop giving time to things which no longer exist, when there is so much joy to be found here and now." And that is why Life Lesson #103 ~ Making peace with yourself is so important. Once we've discovered who we are underneath all the fear, worry, regret, rejection and guilt, happiness and joy are ours to claim from here to eternity.

1 John 4:4 says, Greater is He that is in me." This is my Mom's truth, as it is mine too. God is greater than anything this world can dare to conceive, destroy or manipulate. In allowing herself to be free from the pain and loss, to fully accept the courage the Lord had given her to make peace my Mom indeed became free of her past. Not to change it, or forget it. Not to attempt to edit or erase the hurt but to completely accept it as it is. In doing this my Mom became a modern day Ruth whose past and example is a testament of God's grace today. You see, by my Mom's example and her willingness to expose her deepest, darkest insecurities I've learned to make peace with my own past and to let go of the demons hounding my feet. In the last few years I have witnessed my mom's heart come full circle. She has finally allowed God to mend her broken heart and fill every empty space she kept hidden all those years. I've seen her not only grow but flourish as she's come to terms with her past. I've sat in awe watching my mom make peace with the fear and regret left behind all those decades ago. The hurt, the ghosts once paralyzing my mom have faded and bloomed into something beyond beautiful. Relationships thought unthinkable, have become reality. Life once thought of as impossible is now possible. And forgiveness has become the foundation for the once unattainable. My Mom after almost 50 years of self punishment is finally accepting she has no regret. There is absolutely no guilt in the life she was given, the path she has chosen and the life God carved out for her in His great wisdom and mercy. Fear, regret, hurt and rejection are long gone. None of those uncertainties hold any significance any longer. The dungeon key has been thrown away and those shackles completely broken. And in in their place is a life far from the ordinary full of possibility, happiness, joy, acceptance and endless unconditional love.

The Better Man Project says this, "Some stories go through long pauses like the space in between the notes.If it's in the stars our paths will collide again and how sweet the music will be." And if not remember " God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling."  My Mom's life is a beautiful example of this, of restoration and triumph with a pause or two or three in-between. No, not everything turns out the way we want it to but as Garth Brooks famously sings in Unanswered Prayers," And just remember because He doesn't answer doesn't mean He doesn't care. Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. And then as she walked away, well I looked at my wife and then and there I thanked the good Lord for the gifts in my life." 

I'm so proud of you Mom, You've not only discovered yourself  but you have accepted the happiness you deserveI love you Mama.. As we say here in the South, Forever and always, to the moon and back.

~ Christina