Foundational Character

Character. 

First, let’s start with the definition. Character is what you do when no one is watching. If this is the case, what does that even mean anymore? We post everything we do on social media. We post what we eat, what we wear, what we’re listening to. The only things it seems we don’t post are things we are ashamed of, which honestly, if you spend too many hours on YouTube you’ll realize is not much. 

As a high school teacher, I can tell you that positive reinforcement is drilled into teachers in almost every training we go to. Studies show that positive reinforcement tends to work even when the reinforcer leaves the equation, so we started using it in education all over the place. Teacher buy loads of candy, do treasure chests, have games with prizes, all so that students can feel an immediate positivity about reaching some kind of goal or exhibiting some type of desired behavior. This, of course, is a push back against old school academics with paddles and other punishments or negative reinforcement (when you withhold a reward) for example no recess. 

It sounds simple enough, and works a lot of the time. Students will respond quicker if they know they can get something out of it. So, great! That’s the answer then! …Right? 

Let’s take a minute before jumping on board here. What are we teaching children when we reward them every time they exhibit the behaviors that we prefer? Are we teaching them to value hard work? Are we teaching them to enjoy doing the right thing? No.. we are just teaching them to keep their eye on the prize. At best that leads to self-indulgence, cowardice, or short-sightedness. At worst, moral bankruptcy. 

See, we’ve stopped teaching children about integrity and character. Not all parents of course, but this, sadly, is the trend. We have learned that everything we choose has a consequence. We make our choices based on those immediate consequences and that’s that. What we are missing is who we are becoming in the process. Life is not about what you can accomplish, what grade you end up with, how much money you make, or anything else. Your job, your family, your schooling, your children, everything in your life is only the means to an end. That end is not any of those things in and of themselves but rather who you spend your life becoming. When we are hard pressed, that’s when we show our true character. What happens when cheating gives you more of a benefit than studying hard and ending up with a lower grade? What happens when having an affair gives more of a short term benefit than being loyal to your spouse who is struggling at the moment? What happens when you adopt a child who is exceptionally difficult and it would be easier to just give them back? Who will you be when the going gets tough and the positive reward doesn’t always come along with the morally correct choice? 

I will tell you that the end, and all the means to that end, will leave you with one thing: on your death bed, will you be proud of the life you lived? Will you know that you made a difference while you were here? Will you be confident that when you enter heaven, God says “well done my good and faithful servant”? 

Next time you are faced with a decision ask yourself: Which choice will make me more of the person I hope to become? Make that choice, not because of what reward you will receive or punishment you will avoid if you do… but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Character and integrity, they are the only things no one can take away from you. Protect them with your life because when character is lost, everything is lost. 

Wisdom from Everwood

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not sure who the first person was who said that. Probably Shakespeare. Or maybe Sting. But at the moment, it’s the sentence that best explains my tragic flaw: my inability to change. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The more I get to know other people, the more I realize it’s kind of everyone’s flaw. Staying exactly the same for as long as possible, standing perfectly still… it feels safer somehow. And if you are suffering, at least the pain is familiar. Because if you took that leap of faith, went outside the box, did something unexpected… who knows what other pain might be out there, waiting for you. Chances are it could be even worse. So you maintain the status quo. Choose the road already traveled and it doesn’t seem that bad. Not as far as flaws go. You’re not a drug addict. You’re not killing anyone… except maybe yourself a little. When we finally do change, I don’t think it happens like an earthquake or an explosion, where all of a sudden we’re like this different person. I think it’s smaller than that. The kind of thing most people wouldn’t even notice unless they looked at us really close. Which, thank God, they never do. But you notice it. Inside you that change feels like a world of difference. And you hope this is it. This is the person you get to be forever… that you’ll never have to change again.”

Everwood

I love myself: An open letter to millennials in search of confidence

Dear Millennials,

imageWe grew up in a generation where we were told we were not enough. Not smart enough (maybe you have ADHD- get some meds), not happy enough (Prozac), not creative enough (take every lesson on the planet but also have time for homework), but at the same time make sure you don’t pursue all that creativity and choose a job that is not too unrealistic. Most of us were brought up in a lose lose situation. Here are some examples from a Kacey Musgraves song I just love.

“If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore.
If you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a whore-able person.
If you won’t have a drink, then you’re a prude.
But they’ll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one.”

It’s hauntingly relatable. This is what we were taught! These are smaller examples but at it’s core the message is: we are too much and not enough all at once. Self confidence is almost impossible with these standards. And the irony? The ones who fake it till they make it are the ones with the most success in this world. The ones who feign confidence until they’re putting down everyone in sight because it’s the only way to keep the pseudo confidence alive. There is something seriously damaging about this upbringing. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in life it is that you are responsible for your reactions to everything. You are not responsible for what happens to you, but you are always responsible for your response. And this goes for our cultural responses as well.

I was a huge fan of Meghan Trainor. I seriously listened to her last album on repeat so many times on my long runs I probably have every word memorized. It’s almost embarrassing.. but also not, because it was a GREAT album. Very clever, musically brilliant (the 1960’s feel was the bomb), and right with the times as far as the message about loving yourself exactly as you are. So, I went to listen to her new album today and I have to say I was sorely disappointed.

“I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.”

Yes, we all heard the bass that she was all about. She is very confident and it was inspiring. I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years about learning to appreciate and love yourself. I’ve learned that you can’t give to others when your well is running dry. You have to take care of the source and you truly have to protect your self image. Create boundaries. Learns to say no, learn to say yes, and all of that. But this? It wasn’t just this song either. It was the whole album. One was about her friends and how they’re the best friends in the whole world, which is great until you hear about how her mom is better than everyone else’s mom and her life is better than anyone else’s life and how you should be jealous because of how famous and awesome she is. And then, “I love me. I love me, hey. I love me.”

Is this what our upbringing has turned us into? I know older people are constantly referring to our generation as narcissists with all the selfies and posting on social media about every second of the day. AND I know how belittling that is and how they don’t understand our generation or technology as a whole. But the root of their complaint comes from a true place. We act like narcissists to mask how small we feel. How unimportant we feel.

Brene brown did a study on narcissism in our society and this is what she found:

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

So this isolating image of overconfidence with a complete lack of humility, this is our solution. We are all feigning confidence to the greatest extent possible (because apparently it works- #1 on the Billboard charts). And we become this. “I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.” We become the people that make others feel less than. We become the people that told us our whole lives we weren’t good enough through hidden messages like “maybe she’s born with it… or maybe it’s Maybelline.” Only, we’re worse. We’re not hiding behind these cultural messages.. we’re walking billboards that you are not enough, because if I am not enough then you can’t be either.

Listen, I know confidence is not easy to find. It’s not. It’s maybe the hardest thing on this earth to find. But I believe we are all better than this. We ARE enough. We are capable. And we are also responsible. Let’s create a world where everyone is allowed to be beautiful and everyone is allowed to love different things and have different dreams, just like we wish we had growing up. Let’s stop putting others down because of our own insecurities and becoming ugly people in the process. I always say the most beautiful people in my life are the ones that make me feel beautiful just by being in their presence. The same is true with confidence.. true confidence makes me feel confident as well. There is no scarcity in this. There is enough to go around.

I love me, but I do this so that I can love you.

Because you are also enough.

-Joy

I Remember This Part

imageOver the past 6 months, I have been practicing what it feels like to be alone with myself. Not just alone, but really spending time with myself. I realized that I’d never in my life done that. Yes, I’m an introvert and love spending time in the quiet with my cat, with Netflix, with a glass of wine, but always WITH something.

I was going through something really rough and trying to make some big life decisions so I decided to rid my life of distractions for a month. No Netflix, no alcohol, no going out with friends, no Facebook, nothing. The only things I allowed myself to do other than work was school, reading, and exercising. Let me tell you, it was painful. Listening to the thoughts that go through my head and letting myself stop and feel the grief. It’s not fun. It’s not fun to let the tears fall and not allow yourself to call someone to hold you through it. But it’s real.

It’s the realest way to live. It’s authenticity, and it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to know yourself and to start feeling beautiful in your own skin. To hear your own thoughts louder than the world’s opinions. To know what hurts  you and what boundaries to set in the future. The low times are painful. But once you’ve gone through it, the release is worth it in every way.

Avoiding all the distractions was a strange thing. Of course I realized how much time I waste on things like Facebook. But I also realized how much time I spend running. Many times the things I do as a distraction, I don’t even really enjoy. I’m simply doing it as a cheap distraction, when I could just face it and then start being productive again. The other thing that was most surprising was finding even more distractions. I realized the people I choose to spend time with when I am down, I realized the little things like cleaning and eating and music even. I wasn’t even enjoying the things that I would usually enjoy because I was simply using them to avoid myself.

I encourage you to start spending time with yourself and journaling, keeping records of your thought process and emotional status. There are so many things that you don’t even realize you’re letting yourself think, or things that seem logical when you’re upset that you can look at the next day and realize are completely irrational. But, mostly importantly you will notice cycles.

Life is made up of cycles. Almost everything in life repeats. You may not notice it because you’re stronger the second time around and it feels different, or it’s in a different context, or enough time has lapsed that you’re unaware. But everything in life comes in cycles. You will not always be at the highest point, but you will also not always be at the lowest point. Nothing lasts forever, not even pain. You are not a slave to your circumstances, but also nothing in this life owes you eternity.

This may be a  hard truth, but for me it has been liberating. I’m going to be honest and tell you these past few weeks have been wrought with heartache. I’ve been feeling myself grasp for the distractions and I’ve been hearing the lies going through my head. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re cursed. You’re a fool for believing it would be different this time.” “You made the wrong choices.” “You trust too much.” and on and on and on. But what’s surprising is that these thoughts don’t have the power over me that they used to.

I just finished reading Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. The book is about cultivating your creativity, but it is so much more than that. One of the things that spoke to me most was the discussion of the tortured artist. She talks about taking stock of your emotional state during the creative process. And the sentence I underlined and promptly taped to my mirror was, “I remember this part.”

I’ve been telling myself this. When I hear the thoughts that are oh so familiar and I feel the cycle starting to repeat, I just tell myself, “I remember this part.” I remember that I’ve been here before and it doesn’t last forever. I remember this part of the process. Maybe I’ll write a good song from it and then it will hurt less and less each day until I can eventually laugh about it or remember it with a smile. When you’re in the throes of the emotional pit, it is so hard to imagine things getting better, but when you can remember back to the last time you felt this way, oh how freeing that is!

Life is truly a series of cycles. When you’re feeling the joy, let yourself remember the last time you felt that same joy and that it didn’t last forever. Experience every bit of it and don’t take it for granted. And when you feel the pain, let yourself remember that too. You are stronger than you think. Don’t let your mind take over,  don’t romanticize your past. Take stock of the moments that make up your life to help yourself see more clearly. Remember this part, and keep an account of that as well so that next time you can even remember yourself remembering.

Keep your head up,

Joy

A Perfect Fit

I was in a yoga clinic the other day getting increasingly frustrated when I blurted out, “I just think my arms are too short.” I’d been trying to do many different balances over the past few months feeling like I’m constantly overcompensating for my short wingspan. The teacher stopped me from my next attempt and got the entire class’ attention. Then she asked another girl come to the front of the room.

Extended-Side-Angle-Yoga-PostI’d been watching this girl since the beginning of the class secretly envying her practice and her body type. She was very tall and slender, and of course had very long arms. The teacher says to the other girl, Joy thinks her arms are too short. The girl responded, “I’m always saying my arms are too long!” We both had to laugh a bit, and the teacher had us get into a side angle position (pictured to the left if you’re not a yogi) and showed us how we fit into ourselves. She said touch the ground and see how your arm fits the exact length of your leg? I looked at the other girl, and it was true. Then she had us stand back up and put our arms next to each other and hers were almost laughably longer than mine. The teacher reiterated, yes their bodies are made differently, but they fit into themselves.

To be honest, I teared up. I’ve been feeling such a burden lately seeing how we treat each other, particularly as women, which is my biggest inspiration to start this blog. We are so quick to compare ourselves. We inhibit our relationships with one another because we somehow think that each other’s beauty is a threat to our own. Instead of having beauty that is contagious and making the people around us feel valued, we feel threatened and are (consciously or subconsciously) create a rift. Some people tear other’s down in what looks like conceit or overconfidence to mask their feeling of inferiority. Some just make small remarks emphasizing the comparison to make themselves feel validated. And some just choose to avoid being friends with certain people because they feel they can’t measure up.

Why do we do this? Women in particular. Think of your best friends. Think of the most beautiful people you know. Why are they beautiful? I’ll tell you, I know plenty of pretty people. You know, the girls you go to high school with that ended up working at Hooters or started doing beauty pageants. I know plenty of pretty girls, but, the ones that come to mind when I think of the word beautiful are the ones who shine from their souls. Their beauty is contagious. They love themselves, and can love me back without threat of competition. They love me so hard, I love myself more when we are together. Some of them are blonde and hollywood approved looking, and some are moms who’ve gained 100 pounds. Somehow, that part of it is entirely irrelevant.

They are the perfect fit and they know it. Beautiful women fit inside their own skin, and they are confident enough in theirs to make you feel beautiful in yours. I think we all have our moments, moments when our beauty shines, and moments of weakness when the world starts to get to us and our bitterness spreads. There are times when we feel like we don’t quite fit into our lives, our dreams, our relationships, our jobs, and that is a part of life. But remember: you are the perfect fit. If your arms were a different length, they’d be too long or too short for your legs, but it doesn’t stop there. If you didn’t have the parents you had, the divorce you faced, the music you wrote, the heartbreak you experienced, the death of the one you loved.. if you didn’t have all of that, the pieces that make you you, you wouldn’t fit.

Your life was built for you. The people that come into your life were built around you, and you fit exactly there. All of your experiences and all of your difficulties including the moments you felt like you weren’t enough. Including the moments you felt like you didn’t fit. These are the parts that have built you, and they are perfectly assembled for you to make your mark on the world. You are always always enough. And you are always exactly where you need to be. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t hide your beauty away. Let’s feed that beauty that is contagious. It is inside every one of us.

Your life is a series of perfectly crafted pieces. It’s what you do with the pieces that lets your beauty shine and lights others on fire. You are beautiful. And you are a perfect, perfect fit.

From my heart to yours,

Joy

Midwives for Haiti

“If we don’t do this, who will?” -Nadene Brunk, Founder

Midwives for Haiti was founded by Nadene Brunk, an American midwife. After a trip to Haiti, she was shocked by the lack of prenatal care in the country and felt the call to do something. “In rural Haiti, only 25% of mothers have access to a skilled birth attendant during childbirth.  For the poorest women, this number falls to 9.6. (UNICEF 2013).” While most women can’t afford health care, even those who can are often turned away due to the severe understaffing of Haitian hospitals.

While speaking with Nadene, she explained their “multi-faceted approach to trying to get women, in rural Haiti especially, to be able to get prenatal care and have a safe delivery.” Midwives for Haiti are currently seeing 22 rural villages per month and serve about 700 women per month. They currently have 5 programs. 

  1. Skilled Birth Attendant Training Program-Midwives for Haiti provides a one year training program that trains nurses from government approved nursing schools to become skilled birth attendants. They have trained 124 birth attendants since 2006.
  2. Mobile Prenatal Clinic– Midwives for Haiti has a prenatal clinic that travels around the country providing prenatal and postpartum care as well as diagnosing and treating various diseases that puts the lives of mothers and babies at risk.
  3. Matwòn Outreach Program– Traditional birth attendants currently deliver 75% of the children in the country. “Our programs educate and empower Haitian women and men to improve the health of their communities, creating lasting change in their lives and the lives of the mothers and children they care for.”
  4. Carrie Worthom Birth Center – Located in rural Haiti, an hour from the closest hospital, the mortality rate is roughly three times the average in the country. This birth center provides 24/7 access to care they would otherwise not be able to access.
  5. Maternity & Hospital Support – Support the salaries of midwives at a local hospital that is government owned and doesn’t have enough staff or supplies.

The most incredible part of this interview was to hear that they employ 52 native Haitans who are helping to aid in bringing down the mortality rate in their own country and who are now able to have a salary to feed their families and give their children an education. This is an remarkable company who are truly making a difference in the lives of hundreds of families every month in Haiti.

Click here to read some of their stories from Haiti. If you would like to help, you can start by creating a kit with a few basic items. You may do this with a group of friends or neighbors and send them in. They also take donations and are always looking for volunteers to help support their amazing ministry. Click here for more information. 

 

When Dreams Become Dangerous

Dreams are beautiful, right? They help us to reach farther, try harder, never give up on ourselves. So they must be a good thing. But what happens when trying harder and not letting go starts to suffocate you? That’s my story, and I know this same story belongs to many of you.

To everyone reading this that has “the one that got away,” maybe this will finally bring you some peace. I’ve had my own. He’s a wonderful, amazing person and I will always love him in some way. He taught me so much in the time that we were together and in the times inbetween. I learned how to be vulnerable, how to fight for things instead of allowing myself to be the victim, how to truly selflessly love, how to hold on, but most importantly, how to let go.The-notebook-couple-the-notebook-35620978-500-343

It all started with a dream.

I met this boy for coffee. We had this amazing talk, you know.. one of the ones that change your life. One of the ones that make you see the world turn to color for the first time. It’s not that I fell in love with him that day, it truly didn’t have anything to do with him. It was my seeing myself through his eyes. It was my seeing myself for the first time. In that moment, I met the first person that ever saw the world the way I did. And in that, I saw myself in him.

As the months passed, we saw each other as much as we could handle without running the other direction in an overwhelming fear of what we were feeling. It wasn’t enough to form anything real, but it was enough to form a dream. I built this dream subconsciously, like some kind of inception. I don’t even remember when it happened. It was just that I knew how the story would end. At least, I thought I did. I knew how I expected the story to end, at least.

And when we finally stopped running, we found something truly beautiful. We walked on the beach. We asked each other real questions as we got to know eachother and ourselves. We laughed and wrote music and danced and everything you might find in a Nicholas Sparks book (minus the 1950’s bathing suit and the tragic death of your favorite character). We were perfect.

For 10 days.

Ten days later I left for an international trip for an entire month and things started falling apart almost immediately. But the dream grew. Somehow the dream grew inversely to the pain. When things got bad, I had even more fervor to “fight for it” because what we had was “so worth it!” But it always hurt because I always ended up empty. On the best day even, I wanted more. I wanted everything with him and it was never enough. It could never be enough because of the dream.

So the dream grew and the relationship poisoned both of us one day at a time. We forced it to work for about 6 months and then inevitably, a devastating break up where we were both broken to the core. Then we got back together a year later when the fantasy of what we had lost had gotten to us, and it ended with the same result. And we seem to revisit the idea every so often when enough time has passed to forget.

The dream was destructive. The dream was the poison.

You would think a dream like this would be a perfect thing because you would never give up on the person. Unfortunately, in this story and many, many others I’ve heard over the years, it doesn’t work that way. It is all emotion and nothing real. You give up much more easily because you stop being able to love where you are. You stop being able to love the simple things. You stop being able to love the one you’re with because they will never measure up to the vision you’ve built of them.

You stop being able to love even the good and great things because you are blinded by this dream of brilliance. This dream where you are part of a movie where you’re the ingenue and he’s the perfect prince in shining armor. The dream of the house you’ll live in and the kids you’ll have and the way you’ll dance when you’re both 80 years old. This isn’t what you have. What you have is pain. But you convince yourself to suffer through the pain because.. the dream.

You tell yourself, we might not we happy right now, but we will be soon. Once he figures out _______. Once we move out of this town. Once we find ________. Once he finally lets me in. Once I finally let him in. And that’s the dream. The blank to be filled in. And the dream remains a blank.

On the topic of Nicholas Sparks books: In the book Three Weeks With My Brother he says, “Dreams are always crushing when they don’t come true. But it’s the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You’re always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it’s enough to break your heart.”

That’s why these dreams are so dangerous. They seem so reasonable. You think, he’s not a bad person. I’m not a bad person. We love each other desperately. When he hurts me, he doesn’t mean to. When I hurt him, I don’t mean to. So this dream, this one I can have. If I just hold on, if I just give him another chance. You don’t realize that telling yourself this is only bringing you farther from the dream.

The more you hurt him, the more you let him hurt you, the world in which that dream lives is dying. The trust bridge under your feet is on fire and you are fanning the flames. You are both fanning the flames. A good friend gave me the best advice of my life, “If it hurts you put it down.” She said, “it doesn’t have to be forever. It doesn’t have to mean you put down the memories with it or the feelings. But you do have to put it down.” You do, you have to. For your sake and his.

Set boundaries to free yourself from resentment. Set expectations because you are training people how to treat you. And set limits so that you know when to let go.

Let go of the dream so you can find a love that is based on truth instead of hope. Encouragement instead of pain. Investment instead of sacrifice. One that doesn’t leave you empty, but fills you with gratitude for the things you’ve found that you could have never even dreamed of.