We are Meant to Shine

A couple days ago I had the opportunity to meet and be taught by an amazing woman. She radiated light by being her authentic self, and I felt energized just being in her presence for a short time. When she looked into my eyes, I felt seen for who I really am. She’s out there in the world making great things happen by influencing people to be their best selves. I had the thought that I wanted to be just like her. But then I realized that the world already has a Rachel. The world needs me and my unique gifts. I have my own purpose and mission. I bring things no one else can. And so do you.

For years I thought that the goal was to blend in and try to be like everyone else, not standing out at all, staying in the mainstream and going with the flow. I didn’t really have anything I wanted to do or be, besides whatever everyone else expected of me. And at the time I thought I was pretty content. It wasn’t a bad life, but I didn’t realize until later that I had been living in a cage, the bars of which were the limitations I was placing on myself. Although being a schoolteacher, wife, and mother are all great things, I was playing small because I wasn’t striving for anything more. I knew I had more to offer but was too scared to venture into unknown territory.

And then, a couple years ago, I came across this amazing quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I was going to say that these words are so perfect that nothing I can say could add anything to it. But that would contradict the very idea of what she is trying to say here! The reason I put off starting a blog for so long was that I thought other people were so much better at generating original ideas and expressing them. I got over that when I realized that it’s not about me and my capabilities; it’s about the messages burning inside me and the people who need them. Although we all differ as to our diverse gifts, every one of us is a genius in some way, and we all shine with God’s light.

When we see others who radiate that light of fearlessness and authenticity, we step up as we recognize that we can be the same. Being in the presence of this woman I met, Rachel, had that effect on me, as have all the other luminescent beings like her in my world. Because I saw the light of God shine through her, I took down a little more of my own barrier in order for the same light to shine a little more brightly through me. It’s just like the New Testament scripture in Matthew 5: 14-16:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city which is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

If you are hiding under a bushel, come on out. Get on that candlestick and shine. It’s not about you; it’s about everyone else who needs to see your light. But as you do this, or rather, become this, you will paradoxically find great joy for yourself. I know I have found this joy as I’ve let my own bushel fall away. No more playing small. You are a brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous, powerful-beyond-measure child of God. Never forget it!

Mama’s Masterpieces

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” – John Trainer, M.D.

It’s been one of those weeks as a mom. Kids constantly picking on each other, yelling, screaming, whining. A toddler who suddenly forgot he’s potty-trained. A baby who quickly goes to sleep in my arms, but won’t remain that way after being laid down. A sick child throwing up in bed all night. Overall constant neediness and inability to entertain themselves or to even be in a different room than the one I’m in. Sometimes. I. Just. Want. To be. Alone.

It’s all normal mom stuff, but when it seems to come at you all at once, it can be hard to handle at weaker moments. Although seeing their mother dissolving into tears momentarily distracts my little boys from fighting amongst themselves, crying is way too exhausting to utilize as any sort of tool. I had to get a grip and regroup this week.

And that happened when I remembered a simple little sign I had seen in the pump room of a Newborn Intensive Care Unit almost five years ago, which said something like, “Your healthy, happy baby is your masterpiece.” My first son, whom we’ll call Buddy, had had a pretty traumatic birth thanks to a rather forceful forceps extraction.

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Little baby Buddy ended up in the NICU for 12 days, which many of you parents out there know is no fun. For almost two weeks, all I did was drive back and forth to and from the hospital, pump, pump, and pump some more, and try to get my baby to feed so that we could get him out of there. All this while trying to heal from my difficult delivery while getting barely any sleep. When I saw this particular sign on the door of the pump room, I thought it was a nice idea, but didn’t give it that much thought at the time.

Funny that it came to mind this week, though, and that these simple words impacted me so much. These children aren’t just side projects that I attend to in my “spare time” while I get other things done. They are my masterpieces! They are my life’s work, right now at least. Shaping and nurturing and growing them is a privilege I wouldn’t trade for anything. This is not the perspective that naturally arises while cleaning up my three-year-old’s poop from the carpet, but just look at this sweet face:

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He won’t stay little forever. Soon the day will come when he can wipe his own butt. (Hopefully sooner than later!) But I’m so glad I have the privilege of being his mom. They’re worth it all. And much, much more.

Seeing them grow up from helpless babies into wonderful, loving, caring little people is one of my favorite things about being a mom. My sweet daughter, the next morning after throwing up several times in the night, came to me and thanked me for being there for her when she was hurting, and for cleaning up everything in the middle of the night. She said that she was sorry that I got even less sleep than I normally get waking up with her baby brother. What an empathetic heart in a girl only seven years old.

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And my baby, only 2 1/2 months old, so helpless and needy right now, but so pure and innocent. I’m so excited to get to know what kind of person he is, to see this new masterpiece unfold. When his cries wake me in the night, I just want to stay in my warm bed and go back to sleep. But then I remember that I’m his whole world right now, and it won’t stay that way. I love that I get to be everything to him. As tedious as it can be to be needed in these basic ways, it’s really wonderful too.

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I am so thankful for these masterpieces that are my whole world right now. The work may not be glamorous, but the products are more beautiful than anything else in the world to me.

30 Things I Love About My Husband

This is a great time of year to focus on strengthening relationships. One of the best ways to do this is being mindful about what we love about the other person and why we’re grateful to have them in our lives. While writing this list of things I love about my husband, I found that my love for him really grew. It was such a simple thing to do, but made a big difference in how I see him.

30 Things I Love About My Husband:

  1. He is a very loving father to our four precious children.
  2. He is awesome at human resource management and has a great career.
  3. He cares deeply about all people.
  4. He has a darling, infectious laugh.
  5. He is a great soccer player and is an awesome coach for our kids’ teams.
  6. He has a talent for cooking without a recipe and throwing ingredients together in a yummy way.
  7. He single-handedly made me a fan of blues music.
  8. He expresses appreciation to me and others often for the things we do.
  9. He gives great hugs.
  10. He thinks about what he is going to say before he says it.
  11. He’s a great fly-fisherman.
  12. He likes to hike and enjoy nature.
  13. He follows through in his commitments to others.
  14. He can speak Portuguese and loves the Brazilian people.
  15. He willingly looks for and jumps at opportunities to serve others.
  16. He is very sensitive and gentle.
  17. He (usually) does the dishes after dinner.
  18. He is very generous and giving, especially when it’s a cause he cares about.
  19. When he cleans the house, he is amazingly deep and thorough.
  20. He stays connected with friends and family.
  21. He is unfailingly honest.
  22. He changes diapers.
  23. His chocolate-brown eyes can make me melt.
  24. He is conscious about what he spends money on.
  25. He has great taste and valuable input in decorating our home.
  26. He has always been respectful toward his mom and sister, which is actually one of the first things that attracted me to him.
  27. He is really fun to be around. (When he’s not stressed, anyway!)
  28. He is a great planner and is detail-oriented.
  29. He is a people-watcher and “gets” people.
  30. He is a great example to our boys of the kind of man to grow up to be and to our daughter of the kind of man to seek one day.

I could have gone way past 30, but you get the idea. Valentine’s Day is a great time to try an exercise like this, but it’s good to do any time of the year, especially when in one of those ruts of relationship negativity. You could also write down one thing every day that you love about your partner, which habit will prime your brain to look for and be aware of more positive things about him or her.

Whenever possible, share what you wrote with the other person, or shout it to the world, like I’ve done here! It made me feel so good when he wrote this list about me last year and posted it to Facebook:

On her birthday, here are 29 reasons why I love my wife:
1. She rocks (as in her great taste in music)
2. She loves me even when I do dumb things
3. She has such beautiful eyes
4. She is great at expressing her thoughts and feelings through her writing
5. She is better than anyone I know at finding a good deal on things we need
6. She helps our kids learn by getting out and exploring their world
7. She deeply cares about her friends and family
8. She gives a great back massage
9. She has a great drive for learning
10. She is very conscious about providing healthy food to her family
11. She loves the outdoors
12. She started her own business this last year
13. She strives to increase and improve her spirituality
14. She loves to explore new and different foods with me
15. She has put up with me for over 10 years
16. She is good at recording the cute and funny things our kids do
17. She is very empathetic and caring
18. She has a gorgeous smile
19. She supports me in both my wins and failures
20. She has caught a fish on a fly rod
21. She is committed to helping others improve themselves
22. She loves making her own sushi and sharing with friends
23. She helps keep me in check and remembering what is important
24. She likes staying fit and exercising
25. She helps me feel loved every day
26. She has a passion for traveling
27. Have I mentioned how beautiful she is?
28. She is great at serving others when they are in need
29. She is the best friend and wife I could ever ask for and I feel extremely grateful to have her in my life

When he saw that I had literally one-upped him when he read what I was writing tonight, he said “Game on.” I think I know what that means, and I like it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

All Work and No Play…

“Always jump in the puddles! Always skip alongside the flowers. The only fights worth fighting are the pillow and food varieties.” –Terri Guillemets

Even though a husband and wife may be grown up, with jobs, college degrees, responsibilities, a mortgage, and kids of their own, they are really just a little boy and a little girl who want to play together and have fun.

This was one of my lightbulb moments last night at a marriage workshop series I attended with my husband. I realized that I have forgotten how to have fun and how to BE fun! When I’m around energetic, animated people, then sure, it’s easy to have fun in their company. But when it’s just my husband and me…hmmm. I don’t know what happened. We used to have lots of fun back back before we got married, so I know we’re capable of it, but somewhere along the way, something must have gotten broken or lost. I know I’ve got to turn this around, because having fun together is the secret ingredient in successful relationships.

Another lightbulb moment was learning about the Paradox of Efforting. Basically it’s that working too hard on problems and constantly focusing on resolving issues could actually harm your relationship rather than improving it.

Wait, what? Hard work and effort could be a BAD thing? Well, yes, if it’s done at the exclusion of creating positive experiences, such as having fun together and playing.

“Shared positive experiences build bonds.” -Dr. Randy Chatelain

It makes total sense, now that I think about it. Working on issues and problems are usually not positive experiences. Doing this rarely brings you closer to your partner, and creates stress and anxiety, which can increase the distance between the two of you and steal away your energy.

On the other hand, having fun together maximizes the energy between you and creates bonds as you form positive memories. These positive experiences, unique to the two of you, define your relationship as distinct and unique, providing a sense of mutual solidarity.

Without these positive experiences, you stop feeling like a couple, stop feeling like you’re on the same team. You start to doubt whether the other person really has your best interests at heart, so you start ascribing selfish and negative motivations to their behavior and stop assuming good intent. And from there it all goes downhill. Trying to resolve issues in this climate is worse than a waste of time. It becomes discouraging as more and more issues and problems begin to pile up.

In my marriage, for me so far, the answer has been to work even harder, to pour even more energy in to resolving these things so that then things will be good and positive between us. Has this worked? Absolutely not, and yet I have kept trying and trying to do this. I had it all backwards. Create the positive experiences first, and then a lot of the issues and problems naturally fall away on their own.

My recent experience has been that once I finally felt a connection with my husband, I was happy to forget past issues and grievances and just let them go, without dealing with them. And now, moving forward, the important step to maintaining that connection is having fun together. (So I need to start remembering how to play, ASAP!)

I’m not saying it’s not important to deal with problems; conflict and differences are a natural part of every relationship. Just make sure you have enough shared positive experiences so that when you choose to go there, you will care about your relationship and your partner enough to go through the unpleasantness of it.

Because it’s ultimately only satisfying to work hard on something that brings more value and good than difficulty and struggle!