sprout for joy

emerge, spring up, grow


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my secret garden

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A few months ago, as I was scanning Craigslist postings for a place to live, my eyes suddenly met with an intriguing caption: “In-town Apartment in Grand Queen Anne Victorian… private garden-like grounds… bamboo forest… rooms with 13′ ceilings… original woodwork… vintage fireplaces… too unique to fully describe.” My heart leapt! And then the dreaded (all too familiar), “cats are welcome.” My heart sank. Needless to say, my beloved 14 year old shih-tzu companion and I are a package deal. I’d rather live in a shoebox with him than without him, which we actually did in Texas… a 450 sq. ft. box to be exact, and we were blissfully content.

Oh well, who wants to pay rent to dog haters anyway? It was also a tad out of my price range… and I swore I’d never live in an apartment again, especially not one without a washer and dryer. But at the same time, I knew this place would go fast, it was less than a mile from my new job, and on one of the most beautiful, historic avenues in town. And it did make my heart leap… I try never to ignore that feeling. Before I knew it I was typing a polite plea, explaining that my darling furry friend was in fact more like a cat than a dog (true story), one that doesn’t even shed. The posting had also indicated a subtle aversion to college students, so I made a point to explain my status as a quiet, responsible working professional.

Two weeks passed with no response, during which time I felt forced to look into some other possibilities. I found an immaculate loft space in a gorgeous historic home, much smaller than the Victorian apartment but slightly less expensive, and so artistically renovated it could easily grace a magazine cover. The owner was an architect; we quickly hit it off and it seemed like a sure thing, until I mentioned my little buddy. Nope, no go, no exceptions. What the hell is wrong with people?! I had to strain so hard to keep the hot tears hidden, my eyeballs almost popped out. Defeat.

The next place I checked out was also an old home with a crooked front porch and peeling, shabby chic paint. In the words of my practical mother, “People in Athens sure do pay a lot to live in crappy old houses.” So true. “It’s all about character,” I told her… she rolled her eyes. But this house happened to be right on the greenbelt… a six mile running path to a nature center. I started to feel a little spark returning, but when I excitedly told a friend the location, she made a face. “Is that area safe?” she asked. I knew it wasn’t entirely, but I was getting desperate. We decided to go for a run on the running path by the house before my appointment to scope out the area. The run was a disaster. I was sure we were going to get mugged or kidnapped in broad daylight. I cancelled the viewing immediately after, in tears again, wondering why I’d left Texas.

Time was running out, and I was starting to feel the strain from a number of factors. For one, my new job was off to a crawling start and therefore only part-time, with a promise but no guarantee of when it would become full-time. I was subleasing a tiny house (it was old, minus the character) for the short duration of two months, so I didn’t bother unpacking or decorating. It basically felt like camping indoors with a bathroom. I had decided that within those two months, I could find another more permanent place, or jump ship altogether and move somewhere else if I didn’t want to be in GA after all… I was scanning job postings in every corner of the country daily.

I knew that leaving room for this major indecision would keep me suspended in a very unsettled state (it has), but I’ve grown accustomed to feeling this way over the past few years. It seems strange, but I’ve learned to find comfort in the discomfort. Feeling insecure in the direction my life is going forces me to practice patience, especially when faced with the inherent pressures of this life stage. At a time when most of my friends have planted permanent roots and started having babies, I chose to start over. But I’ve never regretted my decision. I’ve felt stronger and more like myself each day since the moment I realized there was something better for me… I just didn’t know what. And truly, there’s tremendous power in the unknown… not knowing has taught me more about opening my heart and faith-based living than I could ever dream.

But, I can tell I’m growing weary, which means a turning point is approaching. I feel such an intense mixture of desires and longings… wanting to ground and establish myself in a good place, to feel secure, like I belong somewhere… coupled with an anxious urgency to never settle for less than I want, to make the most of this time in my life, to continue exploring and seeking. My feet are stepping in two different directions, unwilling to commit to either. While I enjoy the excitement of new possibility, at some point I must make a choice. I know I’m here for a reason, to learn more lessons, so I’ve decided to quiet my adventurous spirit (for now) and work on committing to being here. I’ve also gotten very far off topic…

In one last ditch effort, I sent a second email to the “Grand Victorian,” and this attempt met with success. I could tell by the response the owners were actually in no hurry to rent the place; they were waiting for the right fit. I met with the owner’s wife and instantly felt a unique connection. Within a few words, we were openly sharing far more than you typically would with a stranger. I felt the same casual, relaxed energy all around and throughout the house. She said the house was very special to them, like a secret garden. I was sold.

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I’ve moved seven times in the past three years, since I was 28, and never in my life have I felt more at peace. I’ve fallen in love with my new home, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else right now. The beauty of this place speaks to me, telling me I’m right where I need to be. For the first time, I find myself taking the time and care to fill each room with objects that hold special meaning, so that I’m always surrounded with love and protection. I’m creating an environment around me that reflects my soul, that touches my heart.

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001005 I can’t say that both feet are decidedly planted, I still feel homesick for a place I have yet to discover, but being here brings some security while I continue to allow life to unfold. In all of this, somehow I still have no doubt I will find what I’m seeking, and I’ll look back on this time with wistful, dreamy remembrance. I’ll know the years of uncertainty were all worth it, to get me to this place. I can’t see it yet, but my heart knows where I’m going. I’ll get there in time, and have gratitude for each moment along the way.

“At some point in the journey, we may become tired, weary, and confused. Homesick. All the mountains, the scenery, the food, the people, the experiences just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to go home. What am I doing here? we wonder. Nothing worthwhile is happening. Yet another part of us knows the truth and whispers, Yes, something is happening, something worthwhile

Feeling homesick is part of the journey. It can mean we’ve reached a turning point. When we get to that place, it means the journey has really begun.” – Melody Beattie

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trust in transition

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A wise teacher once told me to think of my life in terms of cycles, as gradual and ever-changing as the seasons. We may live in a world of lightning-speed, but our souls are connected to nature. Just as I can’t expect to plant a seed and immediately see a flower, I can’t expect myself to grow and change on demand, no matter how badly I may want to. It makes this whole growth process easier to accept; it makes it easier to accept myself. Living in harmony means allowing myself to weather changes with patience. It’s still easy to become frustrated when I can’t see what’s next, but I have learned to respect the cycles and seasons of my soul, and to trust my heart to tell me when it’s time to move on.

Two years ago I moved to Austin, Texas all on my own with a strong, clear purpose. I needed to reconnect with myself, to recover and heal from the trauma of leaving a marriage. I needed a fresh start. The wide open spaces and endless skies of Texas seemed like just the place, and it was. I met amazing people, ventured and explored as far as I could go, to my heart’s content. Opening up and pushing myself allowed me to change and grow more during that time than ever before. Austin will forever hold a place deep in my heart; it’s been the perfect adventure.

It seems strange to want to leave such a place, where I’ve spent the best two years of my life so far. But somehow I felt an ending approaching, an instinct kicked in telling me it was time to move on, to seek more change, new growth. So, I put the wheels in motion and began parting ways with my life in Texas. Now the dust has settled and I find myself in just about the last place I thought I would be: back home. That word… back… has been quite a struggle for me. I mean, who wants to go backward? I could have gone anywhere… and yet here I am.

I’ve been back in Georgia for about a month, and things are finally starting to make a little more sense. It’s only been in closing that cycle of my journey, my lone star state, that I’ve come to fully realize and appreciate the gifts I received, so many more than I ever expected to find. I’ve learned to value myself, to become fully and completely conscious of my feelings and take responsibility for them.  I’ve reconnected with myself; I’ve even found true love and trust for myself.

“Step into love for yourself, and the universe will reflect that love back to you.” – MB

It all begins here. I’m so deeply thankful for having had the chance to experience this fundamental truth in my life. This was the answer I was seeking, before I even knew the question. My heart knew exactly the lesson I needed to learn, and I was led to the places, met the people, and had the experiences to teach me. It has healed me, and given me a strong foundation to stand on for the rest of my life. Whenever I feel lost, I know how to come back to my heart, and have patience and trust that answers will come in the right time.

Oh the irony… to now find myself in just the right situation to test the lessons I’ve learned. The truth is I don’t really know why I came back, or what I’m doing here. I feel lost all the sudden. It’s strange to feel so insecure in such a familiar place. I feel more vulnerable now in moving back to GA than I did moving to TX all alone. I feel downright fear. It’s as if I’ve been stripped of the protective armor I earned, left defenseless. I’m back in the void, where my vision is limited to almost nothing, and my mind is waging war with unanswerable questions. Have I lost the strength I found? Does this uncertainty mean I’ve made a mistake? Will I revert back to the old me, now that I’m back in my old surroundings? Will I always be alone? My mind has been reeling for answers, searching for some sense of security. Maybe I should just go back to Austin… I have great connections there and could fit right back in… but I know that’s not right either. It would be like going back to a relationship after it’s ended, just because you can’t stand being alone. I wouldn’t really be dealing with the issue: me.

It took some time, but I finally asked myself something I knew the answer to, and instantly felt a wave of reassurance. Will everything be alright? My eyes welled up with tears at the answer, which made all the other questions fade away in significance. Of course it will. Which means it is right now, and has been all along.

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I am in a beautiful place; surrounded by giant shady trees, the ones I’ve missed so much. The view from every window and doorway is full from top to bottom with light filtered through lush greenery and bright flowers. The sounds of cheerful chirping birds, lawnmowers off in the distance, and rolling afternoon thunderstorms fill the air. I am safe, I am loved, I am home. I’ve entered a new season. All I need to do now is let it unfold naturally, and understand that temporary growing pains are necessary and to be expected. The lessons I’ve learned will never leave me, and more are on the way. I know that the wisdom of the heart is powerful, and while I may feel vulnerable, strength lies in having trust.490

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tapped in

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Today was one of those truly good days. I’m so grateful too; I needed it. I’ve been feeling a little beat up by the past couple weeks. I’m currently in full-blown transition mode, planning to move far away and change jobs, but not knowing exactly where, when or what yet. It’s a bit unsettling. Things were beginning to take shape, but then I went through a break-up… the kind that blindsides you, leaves you confused and very sad.

If this were an earlier time in my life, I’d be handling it much differently. I’d be avoiding my feelings, denying them. Pushing on as if nothing were changing, attempting to feel in control. I’d be ignoring the things my body was trying to tell me. I certainly wouldn’t talk to anyone about it, and I’d try to stay numb. I would be completely and totally miserable, consumed with a chronic sinking feeling. Yuck.

Thankfully, that’s not me anymore. I figured out, that way sucks. There’s a better way, it just takes a little effort, but the results are more than worth it. Even though the past two weeks have been difficult, I’ve been accepting things just as they are. I’ve let myself feel all the things I need to feel without judging myself. The old me would see that as weakness. I know now that facing myself, my weakness and vulnerability, is strength and it pays off.

Everyone’s different, but times of stress make my body feel extremely lethargic and slow, it takes so much more effort to get up and move. As an active person, it’s hard for me to give myself a break, but I have been. I’ve been resting more, skipping workouts, doing more meditation and yoga, and trusting my energy will return. It has. I know that if I had been forcing myself to keep up my normal routine, the heaviness would have lasted much longer and gotten worse.hike

I’ve been good to myself. Friday night, I went for a slow trail run at sunset on the Austin greenbelt, cooked a healthy dinner and went to bed early (the 25-year-old me would be gagging).  Saturday, I went with friends to an intensive yoga retreat in a beautiful artist loft space, away from town. By Sunday evening, I felt the blues setting in, so I jumped in my car and drove to a new park I’d never seen before, and went for a peaceful nature trail hike. By that night, I felt cleansed, clear, and connected. I had done the work to get there, and the Universe began to respond.door 2

Last night, I called the person I’d broken up with and we came to an understanding… I think it’s going to work out after all. 🙂 Before I could even leave for work this morning, I got a phone call from the job I want to set up my interview. I slept through the whole night, and felt energized and alert all day. At the grocery store, I got a $2 off coupon for the first time for my favorite (ridiculously expensive) organic bread. Work felt effortless and enjoyable. I randomly received a download for my phone that restored it from a slow, worthless piece of junk to lightening-speed. I’m caught up on communication with my family and friends (rare for me). I just. feel. good.

I know that everything will work out for the best, as it’s meant to. All I’m required to do is ask for what I want, have gratitude for whatever comes my way, and trust that it’s all for the purpose of leading me where I’m meant to go. By taking care of myself and staying clear through a difficult time, I’ve tapped into the “life force.” It’s a knowing, deep inside, that I’m on my path. There’s nothing else like it… it’s the best feeling in the world.

Too much pressure can take you out of the present moment. It can inhibit the life force, the flow of life within you. That kind of pressure can make so much noise that you can’t hear your heart… Let off some steam. Release your emotions. Clear the pathway to the heart. The answer will come.” – Melody Beattie

 


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one small act

I think about ‘happiness’ quite a bit. I know deep down I’ve found it, but I remember not having it before, so what changed? What is it about now that allows me to feel happy, and what was it about then that kept it out of reach? Simply stated, it’s me. I’ve changed, and as a result many aspects of my life which were perpetuating misery are gone. But I had to claim my happiness first, it was a choice. We have to commit to being happy, and that implies work.

My musing thoughts on the topic always lead me to that famous line from history. To paraphrase, “all men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable Right to the pursuit of Happiness.” Did you catch that? It says we have the right to pursue happiness. It’s not something the tooth fairy leaves under our pillow while we sleep.

I used to get caught up in the fact that I wasn’t happy, a state that led me to blame people, things, and events that were outside of myself. It’s so easy to justify our unhappiness, but when has that ever solved the problem? Never. I had to make changes to find inner peace before I could discover happiness. Peace was my gateway. Learn to cultivate peace and happiness will be close behind.

This is the best way I’ve found to do it: At any time I recognize that I am feeling a sense of calm, a lightness of heart, an easiness within myself… it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I immediately pause and savor it. I meditate on the feeling I’m having. I let it flow through me and I try to grow, cultivate, the sensation. The more familiar we become with peace, the more it becomes a part of us.

The next time you find yourself feeling peaceful or happy, don’t blow it off, cherish it. Make it count. Hold on to every last moment and feel gratitude for it. This one small act can change you.


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my story

Spoiler alert: this one’s not a recipe. If you happen to be following this blog (thank you by the way), you may notice I’m expanding a bit to share more about myself. I still plan to post my favorite plant-based recipes, but I keep finding myself wanting to say a little more, so today I will start with my story.

It’s taken me quite a while to find the courage to get around to writing this. I realize now, I can finally do it because I’m healed. The gratitude and passion I’m left with fill me with so much joy that I want to share, need to share. The things I’ve learned so far have changed me from the inside out; it just doesn’t feel right to keep it all to myself. I’ve realized that to keep growing and trusting in my journey, it’s time to experience a little more vulnerability.

In short, I’ve come a long, long way from where I started. My new journey began in April of 2012, when I saw a job posting for a dietitian in Austin, TX and instantly knew it was mine. Shortly after I packed up my car, my life, and little Shih-Tzu, Tucker, tuckand drove a thousand miles west to a city I’d never visited before (except for the job interview) and where I knew no one. I was nervous, but I hadn’t taken this huge step to just sit around and mope. So, I started going places and doing things around Austin, anything that sounded fun and interesting. I went to parks, festivals, happy hour events, a cave tour, boot camp workouts, and running group meet-ups. Within a couple weeks, I had made new friends and even been asked out on a couple dates. It didn’t hurt that Austin turned out to be an amazingly vibrant and welcoming place, full of new-comers like myself. I had one rule: if someone asked me to do something, I had to say “yes.” There were some tough days mixed in there, but once I dared to step into the unknown and open myself up to new possibilities, the payoff was undeniable. It was as if the Universe was reassuring me I had done the right thing. I was high on life to say the least, especially as someone coming out of a very dark time.

It’s hard to look back. It’s painful to remember things that have happened and how I used to be. I’m not one for dwelling on the past, but that’s not what this is about. It’s important to be connected with our former selves, it’s a part of us. Denying our past is like covering a huge hole with a blanket. It leaves an empty space, and a trap to fall in. My favorite writer and spiritual journalist, Melody Beattie, says that “sometimes to stay clear in the present we need to visit the past, to clear out an old feeling, to heal an old, limiting belief.”

At 28, I was completely disconnected from myself. I had been drifting through life for years. I was lost and totally unaware of being off course, or that there even was a course. My marriage was in shambles. The person I’d shared everything with for ten years had become a total stranger. We had been headed down the wrong track from the beginning, and ultimately suffered a train wreck from which we did not recover. We were careless, codependent, and both in a lot of pain. I tried for a long time to fix it, to fix him, to make him see… all the while growing more desperate and hopeless, and blind to the fact that I was subconsciously killing myself with stress and dangerously self-destructive behaviors. I was drowning under massive debt and dependent on prescriptions for depression and anxiety. I abused substances habitually to keep myself numb, and I starved myself until I was weak and frail to drown out my emotional pain with a physical one. My body, which I’ve learned is a reflection of the soul, was breaking down along with my spirit. The scary part was I just didn’t care. I felt alone and ashamed at what I’d let my life become. I felt trapped, knowing in my heart I needed to break free to heal myself, but terrified of hurting someone.

Then on March 25, 2011, an awakening changed my life forever. I was alone, at home staring at this laptop screen, trying to put my turmoil into words in an attempt to process what was happening and what to do. But all I could do was shake and sob. I felt at a total loss, and I knew I could not carry on that way another step. In the very next moment, it suddenly felt as if I were being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. A sense of quiet peace began to wash over and through me, and in that instant the blur of confusion snapped into focus. My mind was flooded with new thoughts of clarity and I was blown away by their simplicity. I had been holding on to people and things in my life with a death grip, trying to control and force and push… the answer was simply to let go. A phrase was repeating in the back of my mind: “You can only change yourself.” I’d heard it a thousand times, but on this day, it became my truth. I decided that sinking with someone else was not love, and it was not going to save them anyway. It was time to say goodbye, and get right with me.

I had to swallow a huge dose of pride, but from that moment on I became devoted to learning how to find a better path in life. Unfortunately, I had a lot of weeds to clear to get started, including the guilt and shame that kept me from sharing my problems with others. So, I marched myself to a therapist’s office and went religiously twice a week (individual and small group) for 15 months. It was quickly evident that all my “issues” stemmed from a deeper one; I was disconnected. I distrusted and judged my own thoughts, abused my body and denied my emotions to avoid having to feel. Ironically, I learned the only way to heal pain was to feel it, and then release it. It wasn’t easy, but gradually I learned to appreciate pain as the precursor to growth, and that for growth to happen I had to tolerate pain rather than numb it. The more I could fight through rough spots the better I felt.

It wasn’t all forward progress. There were slip ups, back slides and side steps, but I was moving. And little by little, I made my way. With a lot of hard work and the incredible guidance of my patient therapist, I learned to embrace change rather than fear it. The key, for me, was to find acceptance for everything in life as it is, including myself. I felt liberated from needing to control and fight reality. I became a new person with a second chance in life, and I decided to run with it.

Sitting here almost two years later, I’m still on the ride of a lifetime. I’ve advanced in my career as a Specialist in renal nutrition. I’ve transitioned to a plant-based, whole foods diet which makes me feel great and inspires me to cook and try new foods. By next month, I will have completed three marathons, a 30K, and six half marathons. I’m part of an awesome running club, an inspiring writing workshop, and a motivating boot camp group. I’ve traveled on my own to explore San Francisco, hike in the Colorado Rockies, and go rock climbing and trail running in Sedona, AZ.  I have established meaningful friendships I plan to keep forever, and I’ve learned what it means to be in a healthy relationship. It’s taken some serious soul-searching, spiritual cleansing, and tremendous growing pains to reach this point. The me sitting here today would barely recognize the me of a few years ago. At 31, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been. Most importantly, my heart is open, and I feel well deep down in my soul.

I have learned to hear and trust my inner voice, which enables me to know which choices and directions are right for me. It certainly doesn’t prevent mistakes, but by not judging myself I’m able to continue growing and learning. I love my life. I try to remind myself to feel gratitude every single day for all of it. I am able to find renewable peace in the idea that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, wherever that is. The following is my favorite line from a wonderful book, Finding Your Way Home, and how I now try to live each day:

“You don’t have to search so hard for meaning and destiny. If you focus on keeping yourself clear and in balance and you live from your heart, destiny and your highest-good path will unfold naturally at your feet. You’ll be led to where you need to go.” – Melody Beattie