Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Best of 2016

Only one more day to go for this year. I often times cannot believe how fast the days go by (even though there are moments it feels they are dragging.)
 Honestly, the saying is true that the older you get, the quicker time passes. This year has really been a very good year for me personally.
 Yes, there have been struggles. But what is life if there aren't any? Struggles bring growth and growth brings opportunities. So, today I just have some photos of the Best of 2016. I will tell you that I have found myself taking WAY more photos this year! And while that may at times annoy or intrigue those around me, I love it because now that the year is wrapping up, I can truly find all the best moments I chose to document in pictures.
  I could share the messy moments, too, but I don't usually photograph those. And I think I am real enough through the year about my hard days that today I just want to dwell on the best. I chose the word Strong as my word for the year, not knowing what would come along with that.
   I neglected to share one thing about that in depth, so I will close with this (brief) description and then show you my favorites/bests of the year.

  In January, I chose to do a word study through the Bible on the word Strong. I wanted to see what the One who matters most- God- had to say about strength. That time of study was one of the most eye-opening and heart shifting times I experienced in my perspective of strength. It's not about me. It never is. It's about putting my trust in the One who can give me strength.
 He will help me rise on wings like eagles. (I don't take credit of getting through the day of anxiety attacks and hardships. Only He gets me through those.)
  I can do ALL things through His strength, not mine. (going back to school took a lot of courage on my part, but I can only do it through Him because resources and time are limited, but He helps me to do ALL things)
    But the verse that became the most vital to me became 2 Corinthians 12:9 (or 8-10) which says
"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will gladly boast all the more about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

  That is why I am OK with fighting anxiety and sharing about it- because I would rather boast about his power in me than pretend I am fine and not allow His story to be told through my life. That is why I am OK with who I am, and not just Ok with me, but embracing who I am. That is why I have grown so much this year. Because this verse became my theme. It's not about me or about my own strength. Yes, it is good for me to work on those things, but really, HE is the one who provides all that and realizing that and relying on Him for it truly brings a strength that is supernatural and unexplainable. And one I am learning to embrace in a very real way.

  Now.... here are the best moments of the year.
Bethlehem, PA. Great Times. Good Race. Great Company. Good learning. 
My best finish time in 2016 came from this race, The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, but the snow, sleet, hail and rain that happened in MAY made this race be my most memorable of the year. 

My favorite photo this year with Paola in Colombia. It's my favorite photo because when I see this, that smile is one of the most genuine smiles and sums me up pretty well. The real me. :) 

My Second Favorite photo of the year. We were all exhausted and worn out, but the race was a success, and our leader left an impact on me and the event's completion marked another time of growth for me. I love my little work family. 

God gave me a new best friend this year. Paula has become an answer to my prayer. 

It is hard to find a better cup of coffee than in a country where it actually grows. Yum. And this girl knows coffee- trust me. I can so often be found at Starbucks or traveling with a cup in my hand. 

Best surprise ever when my best friends from Florida showed up at my 5K in June. I had no idea they were coming! (Side note- these 2 ALSO showed up at the airport in Miami to greet our team upon coming back from Colombia.)

This photo sums us up well. He's never serious and I'm always trying to get him to be. It's very hard to get a good photo. We celebrate 15 years this year.  

Best discovery this year- my TRX class and people 

Best photo of me and my son, Joseph. Finishing one of his Cross Country meets. #ProudMom

One of my favorite moments with my daughter this year. Going to see the Lion King. 

Best "Yes" this year. I finally began my journey to get my college degree.

 As I say goodbye to 2016, it has been a beautiful year. I look forward to what 2017 will bring. One day at a time. 

The Last Shall be First

I have read the saying that you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. There are passages in the Bible that speak on how the first shall be last and the last first. And those all intertwine.  

This year, I had the privilege of experiencing the meaning of all of those words.
Going to Colombia was my most life-changing experience ever.

 It has become a marker in time like none other in my mind. I have had several pivotal moments in life- we all do. The moments where time seems to stand still, if even for just a brief second, and we capture an experience so life-changing it is difficult to explain to others. The experience can be bad or good. In this case for me, it was most definitely good.

 When you remove yourself from all you know  (in essence, as the quote above says- losing yourself),  the experience becomes one which reshapes you and helps you see yourself in a whole new light. Such was Colombia for me.

 For 10 days, I packed up very little clothing and headed to Brisas del Mar, Colombia in February 2016. I really did not know my teammates, as they all were from Cincinnati. I certainly did not know anyone in Colombia. And I was endeavoring into a completely foreign experience, but one that has completely redshifted my life perspective. I did not know what to expect. I would not have cell service or email. I would not be "mom" for those days - to my children, anyway. I would not be the wife. I was simply "Rachael". And I needed that experience. From the time I was 19, I have always had a role to play in life which has become part of my journey and story. I was married young. I had babies young. And while those are part of who I am, they do not define me. When you chose those experiences at age 19, I will not lie- it is hard to discover who I am. It's something I have wrestled with for years. I had desires to do things- like travel overseas or go get my college degree- but in light of being a wife and a mom, those desires felt selfish and out of the question. I have always been a dreamer, but I did not always put those dreams into play. I hold a job and felt it strange to take time off to do something I really wanted to do.
 But 2016 changed all of that.

 Because in 2016, I knew I was called to go to Colombia. Without a doubt in my mind, I endeavored into the trip. Not knowing the people never frightened me. I was more intimidated about raising the amount of money and hesitant about leaving my family behind for a bit. However, they were on board with the trip and I knew if it truly was a place God was calling me, then He would provide the money. I have told the story in previous blogs back in February, so I won't repeat myself, but it was such a neat answer to prayer how God provided those funds at all the right times. My faith became bigger than my fear. And little did I know how much my time in Brisas del Mar would change me.

 I really want to capture the depth of the moment, but like any other experience so life changing, it is so challenging to put it into words.
 When I left everything behind, even if just for a few days, I was really able to discover myself.
 I am still Michael's wife and Elizabeth and Joseph's mom of course, but on that trip, I was able to really see myself through God's eyes for the first time in years. I wasn't worthless or stupid or incapable. By His grace, I was confident and able. I wasn't labeled or trapped by the emotions of anxiety and depression, but I was free to laugh and be me. I wasn't scared (well, maybe a little bit) to speak the language, but I found courage to translate. I didn't hesitate to share myself with others, but I opened up in all new ways. Just typing these words brings tears to my eyes for how marvelously God has worked in my life through this year and this experience. It's true, I didn't have my normal responsibilities for a few days,  but in serving others, we often find our true selves. That was the case for me.

 The people of Brisas ,who have nothing, taught me everything I needed to know. They saw me for who I am, not for what the world tells me I should be. They loved unconditionally. The children who don't know what it is like to have a different pair of shoes for every day- or even a pair of shoes for some of them at all- taught me what possessions really count. It's not about things or titles or money or positions. Life is about people and time and memories and love. Life is too short to be consumed by fear (I am working on this one still....) 
  The people of Brisas taught me it's ok to make mistakes and laugh at myself. They taught me what service means. We went there to serve them, and they served us. One woman washed the feet of a few others. The youth faithfully served our team snacks every day. The men worked alongside us in the dirt, some of them with no shoes on their feet at all.

 In Brisas, I found healing from some wounds that had marred the vision of my path. They became healed scars that now tell a story of redemption and grace and beauty. In Brisas, I remembered a long-ago calling I once had laid on my heart to serve those of the Latin culture, which has now turned into my return back to college to get my degree in Spanish so I can translate, in whatever capacity the Lord may allow. In Brisas, I wept tears of joy as I found new strength in letting go.

 Coming back to the States after such an experience, I was determined to apply all these beautiful lessons I learned. When immersed in our own culture again, it is hard to do this, as we Americans live so differently, but it has been neat to to see what I have been able to apply. The transformation of my heart has not always been an easy one to display, but as the year has gone along, the transformation has continued.

 I do not know if or when I will be able to go back to the village of Brisas del Mar, but I do know that the people there and my time in that third world village changed my perspective forever. My time in Colombia was most certainly the highlight of my year. I lost myself for a few days, and in essence, found who I am. I am of course a mom and and a wife and an employee and a runner and a writer. Those are parts of what make me me. But at the core... I discovered the beauty of what makes me me. Not my responsibilities or "labels" but the core values that exist within me. Applying them to my life has its own set of challenges, but I have learned to lean into the strength of God through that.

 It is becoming harder to sum up 2016, but this experience for sure reshaped my vision. And I will forever be grateful for the people of Brisas del Mar. And the team with whom I got to experience it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TRX Strong

   As part of my ongoing end of year reflection time, I want to share about how the word "Strong" played into my life in a physical sense this year. I was amazed at how it became a part of my emotional well being just as much.  I want to back up the story a little bit and start from the beginning.

   When I began 2016, as I chose the word strong, I knew that part of that for me was going to become strength training with my running. I'm great at sticking to my runs, not so great at implementing the strength part. However, strength is just as vital to being a healthy runner as getting out and running itself. So, I was determined to implement that.

   When I returned from Colombia in February, that is when I was ready to begin getting serious about it. So, I wandered my way into the YMCA. I had every intention of just using the weight machines and creating a rotation for myself. However, when I went the first time, the girl at the desk asked me if I was there for TRX class. I said "No, but that sounds interesting. What is it?"
    And as she explained it, I became interested. I went to the class and watched for a few minutes. It looked hard and slightly intimidating, although the instructor invited me in. I wasn't ready and I said "maybe next time."   And when the next time came around, I decided to attend.

   Mind you, this was a little out of my comfort zone. I didn't know any of them and they seemed to all know each other well. And while I am an extrovert, in a new group I can be pretty quiet and reserved and insecure. But it was time to break those habits and push past fears and work on becoming strong- physically of course; but getting over comfort zone things was also an emotional strengthening for me. So, I went to the class and was welcomed from the get go. And I have been going since. 9 months later, the class has become a huge part of my life.

   On that first day, I had no idea what I was doing. I felt a little silly and I got tangled up in the straps more than once, but Steck was so gracious always in his helping me, and the other people in the class were super encouraging of my efforts and presence. I felt at home right away, even if completely silly in my execution of the exercises. I was very weak, and very aware of that. I did not know what TRX was, but I fell in love with a new "sport" if you can call it that. Some days I am tired and have to talk myself into my morning run; but the truth is, I have never had to talk myself into TRX class. 
   I have grown to love it as much as I love running. In part because I can feel how it has strengthened me through this year. I may not be super muscle woman (I am far from it...). I am still looking to find the tone there, but I can FEEL it. I have been able to go from a plank of only 30 seconds to now holding it nearly 3 min and 30 seconds (and hopefully I can continue growing in that way, but whew, it is really hard!)  Perhaps in 2017 I will grow strong enough to make it through one of the song challenges (which is to say we do all kinds of core "moves" during a song, called out by Steck, and try to make it through the whole song. I have a very long way to go to make that happen....) I used to do very weak push-ups- that is to say, girly push-ups and not well at that, to now being able to push out the real deal in sets. The list goes on. TRX works pretty well any muscle you can imagine.....and then some you didn't know existed.
   So, when I began this year, I did not know what would come in the way of strength training. I certainly did not expect to find a class to utilize that. Nor the group of friends that come along with that. Which I want to address for a moment. Because honestly the people have helped me grow stronger emotionally as much as the class has helped me physically.

 I didn't know any of them to begin. But I had been praying for friends. Real friends in faith and people who could become a support system for me in a healthy way. I went to Colombia and got a taste of that and so I wanted it more. God always knows the perfect timing and the perfect ways. I would not have found TRX on my own or even been brave enough to try the class prior to Colombia. But I was beginning at that point to come out of my little comfort zone and expand. And God had all these things lined up.
    I did not get to know them right away, but I felt at home immediately. And as the year has gone along, they have become my family. They truly have begun to fill that role. They are an answer to my prayer of finding a great support group. Tammy makes me laugh when I want to cry and she's been there every time I need to share anything. Aaron has been faithful in asking how he can pray for me and supports me greatly in that way. Steck has helped me to learn to love who I am in my own skin and mind and body. Tracy inspires me to grow individually both in a physical sense (because truth is, she is one beautifully toned lady) and to blossom on a personal level. Joe is always interested in what I have going on and lets me drone on about my races. Kristi is out right now because of physical therapy but she is always so kind and loving and encouraging. The group has really become a little family to me and I look forward to every Tuesday and Thursday morning of working out with them. I didn't use to be a group fitness person, but I have changed my mind about that. These friends help me grow stronger every week.... physically and emotionally. They challenge me to be a better me, to never quit. (thank you Aaron for challenging me to keep going on the plank challenges...and to Steck, who has figured out what makes me want to fight harder.) 

   One last thing to share is that the class has taught me that I can do more than I thought possible when I keep pushing myself and that has grown to apply to not quitting on who I am growing to become as a woman as well, and to allowing Christ to work his strength through my weaknesses. Because let's face it, I have learned through this year that while I have strength within, the real truth is that I am totally weak without Him. I am nothing without Him. Through my study of the word strong this verse has continuously come up, and it seems to apply to all areas of life.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Run Happy

Yesterday the snow fell steadily, leaving us with trees kissed by the first blanket of white for the season. I found it beautiful, and I grew eager to go for a run in the soft fluff coating the ground.
 Now, if you know me, you know I do not really like winter. But there is something about a snowy run that brings out the kid in me. It refreshes my soul and helps me find beauty in the season I inwardly dread. So, as the flakes fell, I was dreaming of my morning run. (Come on runner friends... I know you can relate!) 

 Maybe dreaming is an exaggerated term, but it is true I was looking forward to my morning run today.

 Before 6 am this morning, I stepped out into the frigid morning air, but immediately felt my soul refresh and my mind become a little less cluttered. I have said it before, and will likely say it many more times in my life, but there is something so serene about a morning run. No one is out yet. The moon hangs in the sky as my light. The stars wink at me as the clouds pass by them. The air is fresh. And it's just me, nature, and God. It's often times where He meets me best. It's a piece of why that's my favorite way to start out the day.

 As my lungs adjusted to the burning sensation that comes with the bitter cold, I smiled. Not because I was flying fast or saw something that created laughter. I smiled because I felt free. For 30 minutes (give or take a few) I was carefree. No one was asking me to do things. I wasn't feeling the anxiety of opinions. Tasks had not placed themselves on my plate. It was just me running with Jack Frost and the cold morning air. A beautiful moment to begin my day.

 You might even say I felt like Rocky when he was running the streets of Philadelphia in the dawn hours. (Because Phili and Fairborn are so similar, right? As if I am akin to Rocky Balboa either... but hey... in my head, that is how good it felt.)

  I breathed in the winter and enjoyed the scene of the snow weighing heavy on the branches and Christmas lights twinkling. Yes, it was cold. But I smiled in spite of that. 
   A smile of confidence.
    A smile of peace.
      A smile of freedom.
        A smile of truly being me.
A Run Happy Rachael Smile.

 Besides a cup of coffee with my Bible and journal and pen, there really is no better way to start my day.

                                               Run Happy.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Never Give Up

Some people process by talking. Others do it by meditating. Some prefer not to process and just keep moving. But me?
 I'm an analyzer. I like to understand, and so I am constantly processing lessons, interactions, verses, and relationships. That can be viewed as bad, but for me, usually it's very healthy.
 I process by writing. And then going back over and reading things I have written to help me see even months later what I learned. You'll see some of those things in this month, as I want to share them to go along with what I have learned through the year.

 In the mean time, back to the word "Strong" that I chose at the beginning of this year. I did not know what that word would come to mean for my life. It really has applied to so many areas. So many, in fact, that my head is sort of all over the place with it. (You may find my writings to be a little all over the place the next few weeks. I apologize now for lack of order...)

  But today I will share that one of the ways I came to see that word play out for me is I truly learned this year how much of a fighter I am. Not verbally or physically, but more so mentally. I have learned what it is to truly embrace the Bible verse in 2 Corinthians which says in my weakness His strength is perfected (which I will come back around to in another blog.) But it was interesting to me in talking with my younger brother, how it seems to be a trait that runs through our family. He is the same way.  We have learned to fight for what is right, to fight for our worth, to fight for what we stand upon as our belief system.

 That does not come without struggle. And honestly, much of the struggle is not seen. For me, anyway. Some days I am so mentally drained from anxiety, from the battle my mind fights of telling me one thing, but trying to embrace another. I run through scenarios and play what if's and have to convince myself of the truths rather than believe the lies.
 I want to share that this year in particular has been one which I have grown the most personally. Maybe every year should end by being able to say that. But I have not been able to honestly see that the last many years. But this year I can.

 I have struggled through the mental battles more this year than ever. Mostly because it's not that I'm trying to prove to others who I am, but I myself, am allowing myself to be the true me without others dictating that. I am a people-pleaser by nature. I really love to see those around me happy, and if I can somehow play a role in that, I want to do so. However, as this year has unfolded, it's been a time for me to learn who I truly am in God's eyes. Not what others say about me or who others think I should be... but the woman God has really designed me to be.
 While that should not come with battles, for me, it does. Because I hold on to words so tightly, care so much about what others around me feel or think, and want to please everyone. But guess what? The One I need to please first is God. And not everyone can understand that.
 But, as I embrace that woman in me, I have found new strength, through Him.
 I have grown to dream bigger dreams (if you can believe that about me!)
   I smile bigger, even when the fight is harder for that some days.
     And along the way this year, I have gained some new beautiful friends through the process. Friends who have come to help me fight for who I am as well on days when I can't.

 So, in essence, I have learned a new strength through my weakness. My weakness is anxiety. But His strength shines perfect through that battle. And He has taught me to never give up.
 I may struggle, but I am coming out more beautiful in the end. Stronger through the struggles, His strength perfected through my weaknesses.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Beginning of the End of 2016

It is the beginning of the end of the year. As the year is wrapping up in these last few weeks, I am working on winding down. I love this time of year. 

 However, my head is full of reflective thoughts on what this year has been for me. I am an analyzer, likely to a fault some days, but at the same time, I've learned to embrace that about myself. Being that way helps me to dig deep and grow. Of course there are times I do not like what I see, but nonetheless, being that way helps me become a better version of me. And this year has been no different. 

 2016 has been a year full of new for me. This year has held events I never anticipated. I suppose over the next few weeks I will reflect and share. Of course, if you have "traveled" with me all year long on this blog, you will likely hear a few repeat stories. But that is where my head and heart are in my quiet moments. I've been reading some various pieces I wrote but never shared, and perhaps it's time those get "published" on here, too. So the next few weeks will have a variety of topics. 

 At the beginning of the year, I chose a word by which I wanted to define my year. I wasn't going to do that, but when a thought gets pressed upon me enough, I have learned to listen to it. The word I chose for 2016 was strong. You can read my blog from January here, where I first wrote about my ideas on the word. The word has come across my path in all new ways this year. I will be getting raw and real the next few weeks to share more details about how it exactly played out. As I did in the January blog, I'll work on breaking it down into topics to make it more manageable and not too wordy. (Who am I kidding? This is me we are talking about... )

 I think as I am reflecting on the year, I can now better understand why that word was in my head and heart. It's no coincidence. I think God had His plans with it all along. Only now can I step back and realize what some of those were. Of course at the beginning of the year, I had no idea how strong would play into my story. And so, the journey of sharing about the depths of this year begin. For today, I will say that many "new" things and people came to be part of my life, which have reshaped me to be a stronger, better version of me.

 This year I : traveled to another country, finally began my college schooling, experienced new races, met some incredible people, let go of others, learned new abilities that live within me, realized some old habits that needed shed, discovered TRX, implemented a new eating lifestyle and have begun the process of finding a new church home. It's been a big year for me, a marker in time. I found healing.  And I am excited to share in the next few weeks the lessons of 2016. 


Friday, December 2, 2016

What I Learned in November

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year..... as the song goes. 

 I cannot believe that it is the last month of 2016 already. Doesn't it seem some days like time stands still and it takes forever to get through a day? But then, in hindsight, time is flying. Here we are on the heels of closing out another year. 
 I always get super reflective this time of year (ok, if you know me, I'm always being reflective, but this time of year brings it about especially).  I think it's important to reflect on life so we can see how we have grown and figure out how to keep moving forward, keep growing. 
 Here is what I learned in November:

 1. Blogging every day is not practical for my life!
    I gave it a good shot, and I knew it would be tough, but some days, there just isn't time to blog. Between school, work, family, chores, exercise and social things.... some days there is little room left for blogging ;) But, all things considered, I enjoyed writing as much as I could about what I was thankful for.... there were so many things left unsaid. 

 2. The Hot Chocolate Run will be a new November tradition for me and Danielle
   We had so much fun hanging out and enjoying some good girl time and getting exercise in in the process. Danielle wasn't thanking me so much while we waited in the cold, but once we got going, it was worth it. We had a great time. And, honestly, I've never tasted better hot chocolate in my life! (could it have been the cold? or that I was hungry? perhaps, but it doesn't matter. I will choose to believe it's the best ever!) 

 3. Black Friday shopping is not hateful.
   First of all, why does the phone auto correct Black Friday into capital letters? It doesn't seem it should be a holiday? Second of all, my daughter asked if we could go out. I have never really wanted to brave the craziness, but, bless her heart, she has made some of her own money this year and wanted to buy for us, but wanted good deals as she only had so much money. So, I agreed. 
 But you know what? Me and the kids had a lot of fun together. We made memories, we laughed, and we did find some good deals. So, all in all, it was worth it. 

 4. Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best movies I have ever seen.
   I highly recommend this movie. I won't give it a review or a recap. I just say.....go see it. It's incredibly inspirational and moving. 

  This website is a compilation of topics covering mental illnesses and/or disabilities. Many of the articles posted there are written by various people fighting the battles. It's real. If you know someone who battles anything like anxiety, depression, autism, or a variety of other things, you can find real life information here describing it, perhaps lending you some good insight into their struggle which they have a hard time putting into words for others to understand. 

 6. Websites
  So, listen, technology is not always something I am superbly wonderful at navigating. However, I really try to learn it. For my English course this semester, I had to put together a web portfolio. If you want to look at it, you can find it here. It's not amazing, but it gave me a good place to start learning some new technological ways. On it you will find some boring things we were required to post, but you will also find a few other writings I got to choose to put on there. Let Go is a very personal piece I wrote, but I think it's time it is shared. 

   And while this didn't take place in November,  I am now wrapping up semester 2. I have made it through a difficult fall of learning, but I have grown in my writing and I have a brand new appreciation for Art. What did you learn in November?