My Precious Coffee & Inner Strength

Hands holding a coffee mug

I felt an uneasy feeling of guilt, the stillest of smallest voices, as I pushed the top down on my AeroPress. The delicious aroma of rich, fresh coffee filled the cold morning air with a warmth that welcomed the new day and reminded me that I could indeed survive out here in the kitchen, away from the comfort of my bed. I sat down in my favorite chair, clutching that hot coffee mug as though it’s contents held the secret to life. Ahhh, my precious

I wondered about that still, small voice that had recently made me feel uneasy about enjoying something so simple as a cup of joe. It had been tugging at me for a week or so. Was it some weird Puritanical urge to feel guilty at anything that brings pleasure? Maybe I should just suffer through the morning with some boring black tea to build character. No, that wasn’t it. Was I feeling guilty because I was worried about the caffeine when I am pregnant? No, my midwife gave me the green light to have one cup of coffee. Maybe it was because it was Lent, and although it’s not my practice to observe Lent, perhaps I was feeling that I should be doing so?  Nope, that wasn’t it.

After a few mornings of feeling funny about drinking coffee and knowing well the source of that still, small voice, I finally asked God – what’s up?

Do I need to give up my morning cup?
Yes, you do.
Ok, for how long?
Five days.
I can do that! I’m pretty sure that Lent thing is 40 days, so I’m getting off the hook easy!

Five days was how long it took for me to learn what I needed to. The lesson had nothing to do with coffee itself. It was about where I draw my strength from and where I lean when I am stretched thin and challenged. I think it’s one of the most important lessons I’ve recently learned because it spoke to the heart of my identity, showing me what I reach for to feel strong and capable.

I’m not going to say that being a mom is the hardest job ever, but for me, it has challenged me to grow (in sometimes painful ways) in a way that nothing else ever has. My sweet baby boy is now almost two, and although I LOVE him more that words can say, these days I have many moments of exasperation and of… well, not totally liking him. Anyone with a toddler knows that everything is a phase. The sweet, happy charmer one day can become a tiny tyrant the next, leaving you pulling at your hair and either praying for patience or cussing under your breath. The week I laid aside coffee happened to fall on a very intense week with the little guy, and dad was out of town on a work trip, so I was left to handle the midnight tantrums and public daytime meltdowns on my own. I really needed that flipping cup of coffee… or a dirty martini, but again, I’m pregnant, so that wasn’t happening. I had been reaching for the cup of coffee like it was my well-spring of life. I gratefully slurped down the hot liquid, knowing and trusting that it would turn my tired, pregnant brain back on, giving me super-powers to get the day going, despite that fact that inside I felt weak, tired, selfish, and not enough.

Under the illusion that my sacred cup of coffee was bolstering me up, I became weaker in my inner being, in my spirit. “IF I start the day with a good cup of coffee, I can handle everything with grace.” Of course I rationally know that’s not true. Coffee may perk my brain up, but it does nothing to strengthen my spirit. I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, where my true strength comes from. And yet I forget to turn there so easily. I so easily replace a vibrant, life-giving relationship with my Creator with cheap tricks, a quick fix, and crutches. As I came to understand the heart of my coffee issue, my eyes where opened to the other areas in my life where I misplace my security and strength:
If I always have a well-stocked kitchen full of only organic, whole foods.
If I know how to sprout my own grains and ferment my own sauerkraut.
If I learn everything there is to know about health and wellness.
If we have “X” amount of money in savings.
Then I’ll feel strong and capable. Then my family will be healthy and safe. Then I will feel happy and content.

Of course, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with putting an emphasis on drinking great coffee or eating clean or staying healthy or cooking well (or whatever your thing is). But we have to be honest with ourselves when our dependency on them becomes too heavy. I’m not talking chemical or physical dependency, I’m talking spiritual dependency. Our spirits have a much higher capacity to shape our outlook on life and our responses than any crutch we can dream up. And it’s easier to ignore our spiritual “health” when we are looking in the wrong places for help.

What’s your crutch or your cheap fix? How can you let it go, even just for a time, to discover or remember the richness of your true source of strength and power?

PS As a note of encouragement to other moms with little ones, since I wrote this post, Aiden had already moved on to a more enjoyable, easier phase. If you’re in a tough spot, this too will pass!!

“You just had a baby?!”

cwvDm9asA_Lw9YsGTQNy8vWzhk4

I really have used the whole pregnancy/baby thing to slack on my blogging! Sorry to both or all three of my faithful readers!! I thought it appropriate on my first blog back after baby to talk about what I see as our culture’s weird and somewhat twisted view of women’s bodies surrounding pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.

Let me begin by saying that I have always been thin. This is not the same as saying I have always looked like a supermodel. Au contraire! I love my healthy body, and I embrace it’s unique angles and curves, “faults” and strengths, but it’s just a fact that my figure is not the airbrushed “perfect” look of a Victoria’s Secret model. As part of my skinny loveliness package, I also come with boney knees and elbows, an itty-bitty bra size, and rail thin arms and legs. Would I like curvacious legs and bombshell boobs? Sure! But that’s not the body type the good Lord blessed me with! I eat rich, wholesome foods and I exercise every day, not to maintain a certain dress size, but because it FEELS GOOD! I want to live my life with ample energy and a healthy, strong body to carry me through life’s adventures.

So I feel perplexed and even a bit frustrated when people exclaim, “You don’t look like you just had a baby!” I know its supposed to be a flattering compliment, but I feel it reflects an untrue and sad cultural ideology surrounding women’s bodies after childbirth. I wholeheartedly believe that here is no more beautiful and powerful time in a women’s life than when she is teaming up with the Creator of Life to grow, nourish, sustain, and give birth to a brand new person! It’s totally an awesome metamorphosis to watch your body go through the amazing stages of pregnancy. Labor itself is an event that defies all logic, and the fact that women’s bodies are designed to go through that event with such rhythm and intelligence should give us all a healthy reverence and respect for what the human body is capable of.

I’m not going to completely romanticize the postpartum period and say that it is all bliss and overflowing love and shininess. No, sleep deprivation is a real thing, and it’s not very pretty. I remember a particular Facetime chat with our good friends the week after our son was born. When the call ended, my husband and I hoped our dark under-eye circles and generally dazed look hadn’t scared our friends into seeking out a permanent form of birth control. The feeling of being overwhelmed with a new baby and the high learning curve of caring for a helpless little person can be totally daunting and make you feel a bit crazy. And yes, a women’s body needs time to heal and recover from the insane marathon of labor and birth. Those “Tough Mudder” races have nothing on childbirth!!! Holy smokes, it is a grizzly experience. But our bodies are not wrecked from it! It will take patience, diligent self care, lots of love, and some precious sleep to come back, but if we care for ourselves and are offered loving care by those around us, it will. It is so damaging for a woman to buy into the idea that once she is pregnant, she is going to become unfit and out of shape and a slave to all kinds of unhealthy food cravings!

Healthy, well-loved bodies are beautiful bodies! Curvy, tall, short, petite, skinny, whatever. At any life stage (pregnant or otherwise), eat nourishing whole foods and exercise daily, and the best advice of all, from my midwife, “be in love”. Whatever shape your body type lends itself to, you are beautiful and radiant when you care for yourself. For those of you who are at the time of life that involves the drastic physical and emotional changes surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, keep the mindset that this is an incredible, beautiful, and magnificent time in your life, not a time to let yourself slide into a place of resigned apathy and negligence. One day I hope an old friend comes up to me in line at the store and says, “You look incredible, powerful, and strong! You look like you just had a baby!!!

Joie de Vivre and the Power of Coral Lipstick

www.visualphotos.com

Joy in the Kitchen

I’ve put off finishing this entry because I couldn’t think of a way to combine all the elements in an articulate way that would express how they are all related to me. I began writing while I waited for a pot of Beef Bourguignon to finish cooking. The most incredible smells of congnac and wine drench beef and vegetables filled the house, and I was feeling quite content and blissed out doing one of my favorite things – cooking – and feeling like a rockstar at it. (Thank you very much to Rea, my mother-in-law, for inspiring me and teaching me how to make this). The thing I loved most about making this dish, besides the incredible aroma that filled my house, is the flair and charisma that is so easily excited by simply following the steps of the recipe. At this point you might be thinking, “Wow. Poor Grace needs to get out more if following a recipe seems exciting and stokes her into a state of bliss and passion.” But come on! You get to poor cognac into the pot and light it on fire! When’s the last time you lit something on fire in the kitchen? Intentionally and with great results? Its fun!!! And you can not possible spark your pot of Beef Bourguignon into flame without some flair.

Bringing Life to Your Life 

Which brings me to my next subject – flair. In case you don’t frequently use the word and are rusty on the connotation, I will entertain you with some synonyms – aptitude, chic, elegance, genius, glamour, mastery, pizzazz, presence, shine. Those who posses an undeniable zest for life live life with flair. Its the difference between throwing together a boring pot of stew (ho-hum) and creating a French masterpiece with delight, passion, and a sense of excitement. Either way you will make dinner. But the living involved in the process is drastically different. Our lives are not only made up of the big moments – the weddings, vacations, firsts, births, deaths – they are made up of the little moments everyday. Yet we often become numb to this fact, to the beauty and magic of our everyday lives, and we lose our zest and energy for living in the process. We become stagnant, lethargic, and depressed. The funny thing about energy is that the level we become used to in our lives become our normal, and we are all addictive creatures at some level, so we go on creating more of what we have become used to. We get into cycles. Everyone falls prey to the negative cycle at some time. The challenge is to find ways to shift and get out now. Today. Because today is new, and it really has never happened before. We are constantly greeted with opportunities to shift.

Joie de vivre

The French have an expression – Joie de vivre, which roughly translates to “the joy of living” or “zest for life”. It is often used to express a cheerful enjoyment of life or exaltation of the spirit. In Positive Psychology, zest is one of the 24 strengths possessed by humanity. Zest is defined as living life with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and energy, and it is seen as part of the virtue of courage. Those who have zest exude excitement and energy while approaching tasks in life. Albert Einstein is quoted to have said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”  I think that having this excitement for life comes from seeing the miraculous in our lives each and every day. 

Get Your Game Face On 

And this brings me to the power of coral lipstick. Back to my mother-in-law. Two things you should know: She posses a boatload of zest for life and she wears the most outrageous coral lipstick. It looks lovely on her but quite startling in the tube. I’ve never been one wear lipstick, but the other day I saw her at yoga class, and she there she was in her usual state of flair, looking excited to be there and ready for anything, and I said to myself – I want that. Not necessarily the same coral lips, but that seemed like a good place to start. So off to the Sephora I went, and I discovered the power of lipstick. It’s such a simple thing, but pulling out that black tube and giving it a swipe gives me a sense of feeling ready, of expectation, of zest for life. Now I am not suggesting that everyone head to the cosmetic aisle on their path towards happiness and “exaltation of the spirit”. It could be anything that reminds you to live life with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and energy. Some of my other favorite tools for hitting the switch on the energy shift button are doing yoga, running, hiking. It could be buying a new dress that looks amazing on you (no, I don’t think this is shallow), making a fabulous recipe, or helping a friend in need. Topping the list of quick shift tools are dancing like crazy to your favorite song, signing in the shower, standing up straight and smiling, and committing a random act of kindness. Whatever helps you get your game face on for life because your life is made up of the way your live each moment.

Whatever it is you do, get out there and do it with some Joie de Vivre!