Welcome, Spring!

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Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”

Robin Williams

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It’s officially Spring in the mitten state and this girl could not be happier! Following some pretty bitter cold days, I am ready for fresh air, fun in the sun, and the warmth that this lovely season brings!

Although I appreciate experiencing all four seasons here in Michigan, I really have come to love spring, and here’s why …

Spring signifies fresh starts and new life. That which was dead and barren just weeks before comes to life and brings with it the feeling that anything is possible and the hope that good things are in store.

Spring ushers in sunshine, warmer temperatures, and the opportunity to open up the windows and enjoy the outdoors. I love the warm days and cool nights, perfect for backyard bonfires and peaceful sleeping.

Spring means baseball. (Go Tigers!) To me, baseball is one of the most relaxing and family-friendly sports. I love going to games, watching games on tv, or even just having a game on for background noise while I drive or do work around the house. There’s something about it that I find calming, and it plain just makes me happy!

Spring is also exciting because it means it’s time to start going back up north and living the weekends up at our “home away from home.” There’s nothing better than escaping town at the end of the week to our little slice of paradise, being near the beauty of the Lake Michigan, and taking the time out to focus on what matters most in life.

In the days, weeks, and months to come I look forward to the little things – driving with the windows rolled down, grilling out and reading on the back deck, planning out the arrangement for my flower beds and pots this year, and wearing skirts and flip-flops again.

Spring brings with it many little joys and I intend to make the most of this season, enjoying every moment, the big and small.

What does spring mean to you and what are you looking forward to most in this season?

Colorado 2015

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For those of you who have been following along with me for some time now, you know that travel is a huge part of my life. It’s a necessary component to my self-care and well-being. For me, there’s nothing like breaking away from the routine, escaping the demands of every day life, and venturing out into new territory to refresh my soul and renew my perspective. It doesn’t matter if it’s an overnight trip, a long weekend, or a whole week away. I’m a woman who needs the occasional breather and change of scenery to stay grounded and keep my focus on what matters most.

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Last weekend marked my annual trip to Colorado. This year, I traveled with my dad and step-mom, in order to spend quality time with my brother and nephew. As much as I wish we lived closer and could see each other more frequently, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to visit them once or twice a year in a state so rich in beauty and things to do! And this year’s trip, for being only three days, was full of fun and activity!

As usual, the weather was absolutely gorgeous – more spring-like already than my beloved state of Michigan is currently – with temps in the high 60’s and 70’s, bright blue skies, and sunshine. Because the weather was so perfect, this gave us the chance to go explore quite a few places, including the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Cave of the Winds, Rainbow Falls, Manitou Springs, Royal Gorge Bridge, Phantom Canyon, and the panoramic views of Cripple Creek. We also got to eat at one of our most favorite places, Hacienda, the BEST Mexican food you will ever eat. Period.

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Getting away last week was just the thing I needed after a very busy and bitter cold month at home. It felt so good to be outside in the sunshine, to take in the amazing view of the hills and mountains, and to snuggle with my nephew, listening to him talk and having him hold my hand as we walked around the various areas we visited. It was also good to see my brother and reconnect with family in general. I cherish these few times a year we can all be together and certainly do my best to make the most of every minute of our time together. And I feel all of us did just that!

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While it’s never easy to leave, I’m so thankful for the time each of us had to be together. In coming back home following the short break, I feel lighter and better able to focus on what’s ahead for me in the coming weeks, personally and professionally. As winter turns to spring, I feel the winds of change coming in my own heart and life, and although I don’t know all that the future holds, I feel confident that what is in store will be good and purposeful, and for that I am grateful.

I look forward to more getaways in the coming spring and summer months, but in the meantime, will treasure this past weekend and all of the memories that were made with my family. Thank you, Colorado, for sweeping me off my feet once again! Until next time … <3

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This Lenten Season

ntd lent

This Lenten season, I’ve been working my way through the #NTDLent devotional, a collection of writings and verses to read and meditate on over the 40 days leading up to Easter. Each section begins with a devotional and is followed by five days of Scripture with space below each passage to brainstorm, create, pray, and/or write. What I’ve appreciated about this process thus far is that its relaxed and it allows for open communication with God – for me to present my heart to Him and for Him to in turn reveal Himself to me – just between us. In this way, I’m not simply reading another’s revelations, but am receiving my own. I’ve enjoyed beginning my days like this – drawing close to Him, inviting Him into my heart and life, and letting Him speak His promises and truths over each day.

While Lent is most commonly marked with the sacrifice of things in order to facilitate increased closeness and devotion to God, I decided to use Lent as an opportunity to take something on (vs. giving something up) to express my adoration and worship of Him instead. That something is ‘bible journaling.’

I’ve always been a note-taker, as evidenced by numerous journals on my book shelf and composition books from college, as well as folders and files I keep both at home and at work. As an avid studier of God’s Word, I have never hesitated to highlight scriptures and write notes in the margins, inside the covers, and on the blank pages at the beginning and end of each translation / version I own. Putting prayers, thoughts, revelations, and insights into writing on the pages of God’s Word somehow makes the Bible come to life for me, as well as applicable to my every day existence. As a girl who also enjoys making my own cards and who also used to do a lot of scrapbooking, it’s probably no surprise then that I’ve taken my love for creativity and writing to spend time with God and learn from Him in this season.

There’s a whole community of women artists out there on social media who are doing bible journaling, and I am in awe of some of their work. I am by no means a drawer or painter. My style is more in line with paper crafting – using embellishments and stickers and markers to further capture the beauty and essence of God’s truth.

Here’s a peek at what I’ve been up to …

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My ESV Journaling Bible (custom cover made by me).

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A full pack of supplies to get me through the 40 days of Lent, complete with stickers, embellishments, washi tape, arrow shaped paper clips, and markers.

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Some of the passages I’ve captured in the past couple of weeks.

So far, it’s been a fun adventure in exercising my artistic spirit. As you can see, my “art” isn’t anything complicated, but it does make opening my Bible more thrilling as I work on crafting together pages of reflections and statements that are both colorful and inspiring.

This has been a very refreshing process for me the past few weeks, as it has allowed me to intentionally make space and time for those things that fire me up – faith, creativity, and writing – and spur me on to live life with purpose each and every day. It’s soul-care in the very deepest sense of the phrase and it’s been oh so good for this girl who desperately wants to cultivate more of this in my life.

There are many ways to commune with God in the Lenten season. I’d love to hear how you’re drawing close to Him in these weeks leading up to Easter and what things inspire you in your faith.

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I’ll be back on the blog in two weeks following a trip to Colorado to visit family.

Have a blessed week, friends! <3

The Call to Wholeness

At the start of this new year, I felt God speaking the word BRAVE over my life as I thought about the previous year and what I wanted to work toward in 2015. In meditating on what it means for me to ‘be brave’ in my life, I’ve been reminded of these words from the book Daring Greatly

courage

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As I talk with other women – family, friends, co-workers, clients – I’m learning the truth of this quote. To ‘be brave’ is to be authentic and vulnerable in telling our own stories, which in turns invites others to tell theirs, allowing for connection, healing, and ultimately, opening up the path toward wholeness. I don’t exactly know where to begin today, but I have felt God urging me to write about a part of my life that I have only recently begun to share with others. My prayer is that by telling the truth of my story, it will help someone out there to know they are not alone and that it’s okay to be honest about who you are and where you are in your journey. So here I go …

I’ve mentioned before that I am, by nature, a Type-A, perfectionist. I’ve been this way my entire life. I’ve held myself to a very high standard for years, and when I do something, I do it with everything I have within me. There is no half-way. It’s all or nothing.

In some ways, these are great qualities to have as I’ve accomplished a lot in my thirty years of life and have a lot to be proud of, shown by two degrees and several medals hanging on the walls of my home and work offices, just to name a couple of things.

In other ways, these qualities have been a major stumbling block as I’m often my own worst enemy, beating myself up for “not being enough” or “being too much,” and holding myself (and others) to impossibly high standards, which causes the endless cycle of doing and going and trying and working to be the best, all of the time.

The truth: Type-A and perfectionism is exhausting, and it’s not working for me anymore.

A few months ago, this happened …

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A Monday morning meeting out-of-town turned into me driving myself to the emergency room of the closest hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack. Upon walking in, tears streaming down my face, and telling the medical receptionist what was going on, I was immediately rushed back to a private room where I was hooked up to a bunch of machines and would be evaluated for the next four hours. The diagnosis: a severe panic attack.

Let me back up …

I think it would be safe to say that I have struggled with anxiety for a very long time. Anxiety is what drives the Type-A, perfectionist personality in the work to accomplish and succeed and ensure you absolutely do not fail. Ever.

But if I had to pin-point when the symptoms of my anxiety started to manifest themselves, I would say it was the summer of 2010. At that time, my current job was at-risk of losing all of the funding that supported my position and if we lost those funds, I would be laid off. We had just moved into our new house, so the pressure was on to stay financially secure. And following a period of unemployment after grad school in 2008 due to being “overqualified” and yet “not qualified enough,” I was terrified to go back to square one and have to job search again. I couldn’t sleep, I could hardly eat, I stopped running for a short time, and I didn’t want to do anything. On one of my worst days, I came home from work at 5:30 and got into bed, in my business suit and dress shoes, and just laid there exhausted but unable to sleep.

I went to the doctor and in describing my fears and symptoms, was diagnosed with anxiety. I believe “common and manageable” were the words used to give me comfort that this too would pass and I was indeed, okay.

I did end up getting laid off, by the way, in the fall of 2010. After six months of tireless searching (including a month’s sabbatical to Florida to get my head together) I finally found another job. I was doing well, feeling great, and eager to get back to work after the time off at home. Things were good for about four months when one day at work I wasn’t feeling so well and decided to leave early to get some rest. On my drive home, I started to feel a tingling sensation all over, and then I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and then everything went black. When I ‘woke up,’ I was pulled over in my SUV on the side of the two-lane highway, with absolutely no recollection of how I had gotten there and completely freaked out at what was going on. I called my husband, not making any sense and sobbing, who came and picked me up and rushed me to my doctor, again.

This time, it wasn’t just anxiety. It was a panic attack. And it felt like death. And this girl was not okay with it. At all. But I went on living life like I always had, believing that if I could just “get it together” I would be fine.

From then until about 8 months ago, I actually had managed to keep the anxiety under control for the most part. A few minor panic attacks at times – nothing to the extent that I had before. I had what I needed to take care of it if I felt it coming on in the course of a day. Some days were good. Others not so good. Such is life.

This past summer marked a year in my new (and current) job. Those first twelve months were an up and down series of events as I learned the dynamics of not only a new position, but an entirely different culture of work and of the community in which I was serving. I was putting out fires left and right, fixing things that had gone wrong in the past, and working to establish myself as the leader of this organization and department overseeing services in three different counties. But I was doing this thing, day in and day out, giving it my all, and just keeping my nose to the grindstone, trusting that eventually things would level out and get to normal.

And things did settle down. For a little while. It was during this time that one day I woke up with a headache that started at the base of my neck and worked its way up, covering the entire top of my head, and with it came horrible bouts of anxiety. This lasted for a month. No joke. The pain, tension, and panic felt debilitating and for the first time, I can honestly say I was depressed. I was so ashamed that I was feeling this way. I couldn’t understand how I felt so out of control on the inside, and yet everything on the outside was fine. It was the worst feeling in the world and it took everything within me to get through each day.

At this point in the story, I can hear you saying, “Hannah, enough already. Get help.”  But when you’re a Type-A, perfectionist, the lie you believe is that you have to keep it together and that to admit this is an ongoing problem is to admit that you are a failure, confirming your very worst fear. And for this reason, it took me awhile to admit that I had a problem and that I needed help. I’m a Social Worker by occupation – I work with people all of the time who deal with things like this and give out the best advice and support I can – and yet, I wasn’t living by what I preach to my clients and staff – the concepts of “self-care” and “self-love.” The truth of it hit me like a terrible smack across the face. I was lying to myself. And if I wanted to get better and work on overcoming this, I was going to have to do the honest, messy, and hard thing – talk about what I was experiencing and commit to the process of transformation for the long-term.

After talking to my very loving and supportive husband (he’s a saint, truly), I made the decision to call and make an appointment with a counselor. I also went back to my doctor. I explained to both that I could not live anymore with this weight of anxiety and panic on my shoulders, never knowing when it was going to happen, and that I wanted to change. For good. I also went to God about all of this, and instead of asking Him to take away the anxiety and panic, I asked Him to work out His good in the face of these challenges. I confessed my lack of trust in Him and His control over my life and that I knew the path I was on was leading to death and not life in Him. I asked Him to come and change my heart and my life for His glory and purpose.

And since taking these steps, I haven’t looked back. The very thing I was afraid to do – own up to this issue and face it head on – has been the very best thing for me to do. It’s not like all of my problems went away. But through small steps, I’m learning to cultivate grace over perfection and love over fear. I’m feeling more at ease and more like the self I want to be – a woman who is alive and free and full of life, in whatever comes my way, the perfect and the imperfect.

These days, in 2015, I’m trying to live by this …

purpose over perfect

 :: purpose over perfect ::

I am learning to let go of things that are not important in the grand scheme of life, and put my focus on what matters each and every day. I’m working on being gentler with myself and others, and embracing the imperfections of life as opportunities for God to come through in amazing ways. It’s a changing of perspective, a process of being made new, and a refreshing way of doing life because I’m realizing I can’t be and do it all, and that if I say “No,” everything will still be okay.

I know now that I’m not alone in my struggles with anxiety, panic, and even depression. I’ve talked to enough women recently – some of whom may be reading this blog today – and have been surprised to find out that many of them have faced the feelings I have. And as we talk to each other and tell our individual stories of this issue we’re dealing with, it’s been amazing to see and feel the relief that comes from opening up this part of ourselves and the connection that is made as we share our hearts with one another.

I’m still a work in progress and have a long way to go in my journey. But me writing this today is my way of saying it’s time to throw off whatever is holding us back and follow the call to wholeness. Let’s stop playing perfect and let’s just be us. Let’s be kinder to each other and to ourselves by being honest about our lives. Let’s love like never before – right here, right now – the good and the bad. And let’s live out loud, showing the world who we really are – brave, confident, lovely, wild and free women who have purpose and are not afraid to look adversity in the face and go after the abundant life God calls us to with everything we have within us, even if it means a complete 180 degree turn from where we were before. It’s time to take our joy back and live with reckless abandon for His glory.

There is hope. And it really will be okay.

Girls Day Out 2015

The winter days here in Michigan can be awfully blustery, bone-chilling cold, dark, and long. For those of us who have lived here our entire lives, we’re used to it, and manage to get through it knowing that our beloved state will eventually grace us with her majestic spring and summer seasons. But there are days. Days when it feels like the sun will never shine again and this season will never come to an end.

The cure for days like these?

Break out of the routine, get with your people, and have some fun!

For three years now, my best friend, Emily, and I have hosted a “My Favorite Things / Girls Day Out” party – inviting the wonderful women in our lives out to the ranch for an afternoon of food, fun, fellowship, and favorites! Each year it’s grown in attendance, and this event has become something all of us look forward to as a way to connect and be reminded of the good things in life!

This year, we hosted our party on Valentine’s Day! There were thirteen of us ladies who each brought four of our very favorite thing(s) – food, drink, health and beauty product, etc. After each woman described her favorite item, we wrote our names on a slips of paper and drew names until every woman had four new favorite items to take home with her! (What’s better than coming to a party with gifts and leaving with gifts too?!?)

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This year was by far our BEST Girls Day Out yet! Fabulous women, a variety of items to choose from, and delicious food to munch on (i.e. Emily’s famous homemade BBQ Chicken Pizza … YUM!) made our afternoon a huge success, and we’re already thinking ahead to what we’ll do next year!

Hosting and planning this afternoon was just the thing to cure the winter blues and break up the monotony of the season. I’m so grateful for all the women who drove out to the country on such a cold, windy day to enjoy this time together and share in some fun!

If you’re looking for something different to do – something to bring others together and learn about new things – this is a great way to do it! There’s no doubt you will all have a wonderful time and be blessed by the experience!

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A Prayer for Valentine’s Day

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On this day, and every day, I pray you would know love.

The love of God,

who accepts you just as you are, right where you are, today and always.

The love of others;

who encourage, help, and inspire you to be your best each and every day.

And the love of self;

treating yourself to things that light your soul on fire and make you feel alive.

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I pray you would know how beautiful and unique you are, inside and out,

and how much you make this world a better place just by being in it.

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May you be blessed richly in the love today, friends.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! <3

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A Return to Running

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When I began running in the spring of 2010, I had no idea of the future impact it would have on my life. At that time, I was determined to eat well, exercise, and drink tons of water in efforts to lose the weight I had put on through undergrad, the first two years of marriage, and grad school. I ran cross country for a few years in middle and high school, but had lost my fervor for it once I became involved with choir, musical theater and professional voice lessons my freshman year. So, getting back into running for me over 10 years later wasn’t exactly easy, but I was intent to keep at it because I knew it would help me shed the pounds and that I’d feel great just running any length of time and distance.

As I began running that spring, I lost an average of one pound per week, and was feeling confident and better about how I looked and felt, inside and out. From January to October 2010, I succeeded in losing a total of 40 pounds. Typing that (and saying that out-loud) even now sounds so weird. That’s the weight of a child. Crazy and amazing at the same time.

Running for me became so much more than an activity for the purpose of losing weight. It became a way to maintain health and wellness, and ultimately a therapeutic passion. Running on the open road, whether alone or with fellow runners, in the city and out in the country, made me feel empowered, invincible, and strong – like if I could run this long distance, then I could do anything. The sky was the limit. Nothing was impossible.

From 2010 to the spring of 2013, I worked my way up to running well over 20 miles per week and had managed to run numerous 5Ks, a 7K, 10Ks, and five half-marathons, accumulating various medals and achieving personal records I never thought possible – like winning a 5K and running 13.1 miles in 1 hour and 47 minutes. (If you would have told me I’d ever do these things in my life when I first began this journey, I would have laughed in your face. Seriously.)

The week following my fifth half-marathon in the spring of 2013, I went out before work on a routine training run, four miles around our country block. I was in the home-stretch when all of a sudden I felt this terrible sharp, stinging pain in my left ankle. I literally shouted out in pain and stopped. And with no cell phone on me of course, I limped the last mile home, the whole time cursing under my breath at the pain and stupidity of this, not understanding what was going on. Never before had I had anything like this happen, and I certainly was not going to let anything stop me from doing what I love. (Yea, I know, I may or may not be a little stubborn and bull-headed when it comes to my priorities.)

Later that week, I was seeing a doctor explaining my issue and getting X-rays, which revealed nothing. He diagnosed me with a bad case of tendonitis, a common problem resulting from overuse and told me to not run for six weeks, come back following the break, and then we would go from there. So I took his advice and didn’t run, and remarkably, started feeling much better. Six weeks later, I was back in the office with no symptoms, and he told me I was free to run again, easing back into it of course, and listening to my body if I experienced any discomfort.

It wasn’t long before I was running just a couple of miles, working my way back up, when the pain came on again, but this time even more severe. I felt sick to my stomach. I knew in my gut that something was not right, and I had to stop running for good and get back into the doctor immediately. So, there I was again, this time with an MRI being ordered. And lo and behold, the results showed I had a very clear stress fracture stretching the entire diagonal length of my heel on the left side. Lovely. The plan? Wear a big boot for eight weeks, don’t walk or run, and go back to see the doctor.

So I did just that. And the pain was still present after eight weeks. Sigh.

So the last plan of action was a full cast and crutches for another eight weeks. I made it about six weeks in the cast, when on my birthday of all days, it got wet in the shower from my cast protector getting a hole in it and had to come off early. (That was a fun day. NOT.)

Even after taking all of that time to rest my foot, it was still in horrible pain. To stand and walk felt like I had stepped on a nail and it was stuck in the bottom of my foot. I was devastated at the time that I had spent trying to get healed and feeling like it had all been for nothing. At that point I was no longer interested in this particular doctor’s treatment ideas, and therefore sought out a new doctor, this time an Orthopedic Surgeon. Let’s just say, this was the best decision I ever made. I wish I had gone to him sooner.

I’ve been with him since the late fall of 2013 and although it’s been a long journey, he has by far been the best person to work with on this issue. He explained to me how challenging stress fractures are on their own, but that the heel poses another issue because of the hardness and denseness of the bone. It takes a long time to heal and is known for getting better, then feeling worse, getting better, then feeling worse. Part of the healing and strengthening process will involve going hard followed by periods of rest. Not something us runners like to do, but a necessary something if we want to overcome this injury.

It’s now February 2015 and although I am still very much in recovery, I am beginning to work my way back to regular running. It feels incredible! To get on the treadmill at the gym, after months of riding a bike and lifting weights, is a breath of fresh air. I start slow, a walk at first. And then I gradually increase my speed until I get into my sweet spot and I go for as long as I can; and at the feeling or sense of any tenderness or soreness, I then back off to a walking pace. Following this, I stretch, hydrate, and then rest and tell myself, “You did it. Good job.” And then I do it again. Three times per week. Two short workouts on the Tuesday and Thursday, and a long workout on Saturday.

For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling excited about the sport I love and have missed so much. I feel hopeful that I will indeed run again and get back to training and racing again in the future. And I feel grateful for the ability to even run a mile or two (versus the four to six I would do on an average training run). Right now, it’s all about appreciating this physical gift God has given me and enjoying every opportunity I have to get out there and do it.

There is no doubt that running very much became an idol to me. As great as the sport is and as much as I love it, I often put this above anything else and made it my god versus giving God the proper place in my life. In not being able to run, I’ve had to find other ways of getting my exercise in, and I have come to really enjoy spinning, yoga, and more recently this contraption called the ARC trainer which will kick your butt and make you sweat like you wouldn’t even believe. Using that machine makes me hurt all over, but in a good way. LOL.

In taking my focus off of running, God also has enabled me to develop in my other gifts and passions – like revamping this beloved blog space, writing / publishing my eBook, and connecting with other creatives who share my heart for faith, inspiration, leadership, and serving. I’m so thankful for the Influence Network and the women I have been introduced to who spur me on to go after my dreams and accomplish the mission and purpose God has for my life.

I can now look back at the past 20 months of dealing with this challenge, and see God’s hand over all of the ups and downs that come with both the injury itself and the recovery process. While I believe God will allow me to run again, my heart toward the sport has changed. I still love it. It’s still a passion of mine and fires me up. But it’s not my everything. It’s simply a means to living a balanced, fit, healthy, and whole life in Him. It’s truly a gift. And for the time that He has given me to do this, no matter how short or long the distance, or how slow or fast the speed, I am going to honor Him in this and praise Him for it all.

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Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV