Living in What Really Matters


Image source: The Odyssey Online

Twenty-four hours ago I was finishing up the exit exam for my nursing program. A year and a half of stress, sleeplessness, and processed microwave dinners was coming to an end. I finished the final 160th question of the test and hit ‘submit’ and expected to feel a wave of relief and excitement. But in reality, it was a little anticlimactic.

What a lack of perspective. What a vision so full of trees, that the forest can’t be seen.

I set very high goals for myself. Sometimes too high. See, the thing is, there comes a point where you can’t do much better except to be perfect. And perfection is a myth, a finish line that never comes.

Doing any better on my exam wouldn’t have made any difference. I couldn’t score all that much higher, and it wouldn’t have changed my grade anyway if I had. But in my mind, I had missed my goal by a small fraction of a point. It was easy for my brain to start obsessing about this. To wonder if that one question I submitted at the exact second I realized I selected the wrong answer, unable to go back, would have made a difference. Or what that other senseless miscalculation was worth.

That little voice inside, mostly silenced for years now, still rears its ugly head once in a while- the voice that says, “It wasn’t good enough.”

I compete with myself. But the problem with a competition is there is a winner, and a loser. And if you’re competing with yourself, you will always lose.

And here’s reality: I didn’t go to nursing school to be perfect. I went to nursing school to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. Imperfect, human people. Studies actually show that nurses who are the kindest to patients are the ones that they rate as the ‘best nurses.’ As a healthcare professional, I need to know what I’m doing or at least who to turn to for help. I need to not make mistakes. But I also need to be someone my patients can look to for support, for strength, for hope, for compassion, for empathy.

Perfection is not relatable, because it doesn’t exist. It can’t empathize, because it lacks perspective.

My patients won’t care about fractions of points, they only care that I can take care of them when it matters. They care that the 23 hrs. and 55 mins a day their doctor isn’t in the room that I can put into practice what I’ve learned and meet their needs. This isn’t even about me, it’s about them.

Becoming a good nurse is not a race that can be measured. I am not a wind-up monkey. It’s okay for me to tell that voice in my head to be quiet. Silencing that voice isn’t usually as easy as flipping a switch. More often it’s like turning a dial and fine-tuning until we overcome the fuzzy stations that keep fighting to break through. The music on those stations is laughably irrational, as it plays yesterdays on loop and begs to be tucked in at night.

It’s not easy, but it is simple. We have a choice. We have a choice what station we listen to, whether we feed the lies or the truth, see the trees or the forest. We can spend our lives picking apart the mirror or living in what really matters.

After leaving school, I called my Dad. I said for the first time out loud, “I just finished my college degree. I just graduated,” and I was so overwhelmed with emotion, with joy, that tears started spilling from my eyes and for a moment I couldn’t speak. Right then, it started to feel real. That matters.


Image source: spreadshirt(dot)com

Through commitment and sacrifice I did something I used to never think I could do. That matters.

My chosen profession may allow me to make other people’s lives a little better, a little easier. That matters.

Nursing school has given me such incredible, humbling experiences. Experiences in which life entered this world, and in which it left. Experiences with people in a variety of walks of life, in a variety of areas of treatment.  That matters.

Playing the game of ‘not good enough’ is no way to live. I choose grace over chains, and mercy in place of a hearse.

I choose to enjoy this. To enjoy every bit of this. Pending my diploma being printed, I have a college degree. Pending taking state boards, I’m a RN.

It IS good enough. It is so much more than good enough. And it matters.


Image source: nursetogether(dot)com 

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7 Simple Rules for a Happier Life

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1. Live Deliberately.

Choose to wake up each morning and pursue the day. Live for, not against. Focus on the good things, the blessings, the things you love.

2. Forgive.

Let go of resentment. Don’t judge other people because they sin differently than you. Humans will disappoint other humans. Release them from the pain they caused you, and you will find the one you are really freeing is yourself.

3. Don’t Worry.

No one has ever been able to add one single minute to their lives by worrying. Actually, the opposite is true, as stress can have very negative effects on the body and shorten your lifespan. Worry won’t accomplish anything, push it out of your mind and focus your thoughts on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T.

4. Focus your Energy.

Focus on productivity and creativity. Focus on the things of value you can bring into this world and into the lives of others. Empower yourself and those around you. Choose to always see the good. If you can do this, you won’t feel like you are constantly fighting the negative things and winding up drained.

5. Accept Responsibility.

Don’t preoccupy yourself with pointing fingers and placing blame elsewhere. There will always be obstacles. Do the best that you can with what you have. Strive to be better today than you were yesterday. That’s all anyone can ever ask of you.

6. Don’t Complain.

We often don’t realize the power of the words we speak. Sometimes things don’t go our way and situations aren’t ideal, but speaking them out loud gives more power to the situation and makes matters worse. Speak life with your words or don’t speak at all. If you don’t have something nice to say, keep it to yourself.

7. Be Grateful.

Count your blessings each day and take time to appreciate the people you do have in your life and the things you’ve accomplished and acquired. Even things that seem more like a curse than a blessing, say, “Thank you” for them anyway. There will always be someone out there that wishes they had it as good as you, that would trade places with you if they could. Once we start counting our blessings and being grateful for what we have, we begin to see treasure everywhere.


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Acceptance Starts With Self

lovethyself_1 At times as a child, I could be a liar.

In 2nd grade a fellow classmate got braces. Everyone thought they were cool, probably just because they were different and no one else our age had braces yet, so they seemed to make her more ‘grown-up.’ So I told everyone I was getting braces too. They started asking me every day where my braces were, eventually figuring out I was lying. But no, no, I insisted I was going to be cool just like the other girl.

In 3rd grade I copied an excerpt from my book obsession, “Lassie.” I wrote it out by hand and brought it to my teacher and told her I found it in my grandmother’s journal from under her old bed. I said my parents wouldn’t let me bring the old journal in because it was delicate and falling apart so I had to copy it to that piece of paper. My teacher read to the class all about my grandma’s desires for a real sheep farm someday.

In 4th grade my parents took me to The American Girl Place in downtown Chicago. One of the perks offered for little American Girl doll lovers was being able to get your picture on the cover of an American Girl magazine. It wasn’t a real issue that people would find in their mailboxes, but it was a real magazine that you could hold in your hand and take home with you as a keepsake. I brought it to school and kept it in my desk and showed half my classmates. I was a model.

In 5th grade I started a journal of funny stories about my cat, Whiskers, and her adventures. I showed my teacher. When my cat wasn’t doing anything very interesting, I made stuff up. It was important to me that I contribute this little dose of humor to my teacher’s life. I thought it would make her like me more.

In 6th grade I decided I wanted a sister, so I told one of my friends that my parents were adopting one for me.

In 7th grade I wore an ear wrap around the cartilage of my left ear, and insisted it was a piercing. I didn’t even have my ears pierced at all. And I felt like I was lacking somehow because I didn’t have any holes in my body.


I guess the point is, I never thought I was good enough. No matter how much I had, no matter how much my parents gave me or did for me… No matter who I was, or what my cat did… I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t interesting enough, fun enough, pretty enough. I fully believed I couldn’t just be accepted for who I was, so I had to take control of how others’ perceived me by painting whatever picture I thought they wanted to see.

Fortunately, the process of growing up, and the help of a little  a lot of therapy, I discovered that the flaws were not in me, but in my thinking. I discovered I was wrong. I didn’t need to change the truth because the truth was enough. I was enough.

Somewhere along the line, the world feeds us the lie that we aren’t good enough and we eat it up like a delicious afternoon snack. The percentage of people we meet each day who don’t feel like they are “enough” in one way or another is alarming. We’re not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, strong enough, successful enough, talented enough, etc.

In this constant drive, we never appreciate the moment we are in now. We never embrace who we really are. The competition isn’t between us and someone else, it’s between who we are today and who we were yesterday. We are called to take what we have and do the best we can with it, to strive to better ourselves each day, and through that, inevitably leave a positive impact on those around us. That’s all we can ever do. Do the best with what we are given. And that is enough.

I’ve come across some people that still do what I did in grammar school, even as grown adults. For one, it saddens me. For two, it shows me that this isn’t always just some phase one will eventually grow out of. Sometimes it’s more about insecurity and a lack of self-acceptance. People don’t magically know that they were made exactly the way they are for a reason, because that’s not what the world tells us. The world tries to tell us what we are supposed to be, what we should be. But this is what God says:

Psalm 139:13–16

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

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So the whole point of this, is to tell you, in case no one ever has, that you were made for a reason and with a purpose. Your life may not look like someone else’s but you have a purpose all your own, even if you haven’t found it yet. You are beautiful, and you are loved beyond measure. The Creator of the universe, the One who placed the stars in the sky and can count every grain of sand on the beaches, knows every hair on your head and He calls YOU by name.

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Happy New Year

It feels like we were just here. An ending and a new beginning. A chance to remember and a chance to start over. How strange is the passage of time. It’s always the same, always ticking away, a second at a time. It is constant. Yet to us, it’s always changing, slow or fast, speeding up. Almost never appreciated enough.

As the ball drops and the new year manifests, I close my eyes and first hit pause, then rewind. Images of 2013 play and I can’t help but be humbled and in awe. It seems like it flew by, it’s too fast. Much too fast. Yet, so much is held in this one little chapter of time, of life.

Changes, small and big, all significant, all indicating growth.

In retrospect I can see how God is always directing my steps. I make plans, and think I know how things are supposed to turn out. I get discouraged, because I’m not yet where I think I should be by now in life. I get stressed and filled with worry. Yet there He is, always, just asking me to trust Him. He’s gotten me this far, you think I would learn to just trust and let go. He’s got it all figured out.

I am thankful beyond words for how blessed I am, for how loved I am. I am grateful for my life, for every day in it, every day I’m allowed to be and breathe.

A few 2013 moments:

  • -moving from GA to FL to be with the love of my life
  • -3 new jobs
  • -getting my new horse Toby & trading Bandit
  • -writing 60,000 words into a rough draft of a manuscript
  • -visiting the GA aquarium, Harry Potter @ Universal Studios, and St. Augustine
  • -spending the last week of the year with my wonderful parents
  • -my golden birthday, I’m 27!

2013 was a great year. And I have a feeling 2014 will be even greater. 

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In the new year…

Well hey, 2012, welcome!

What is it about a new year that gives us hope, that lifts downward eyes and stirs fresh air into the daily contentment we’ve found in the previous year? New years give us chances to want to be better versions of ourselves, to improve. A new year is a catalyst for change. An opportunity to finally tackle a goal we’ve thought about or strive to achieve something we’ve always wanted. It’s also a time for reflection. A time to look back at our accomplishments and failures of the prior 365 days and acknowledge our actions, whether we would keep them the same or change them if we could.

For me, 2011 was a good year, as good as any at least. Of course I made my mistakes, but I am determined to learn from them. Learning from those mistakes creates growth, turns negative into positive, and makes us better people. We live, we learn. We hear that phrase often, but that’s because it’s true.

2011 brought some great things. It brought a year of experience leading to greater maturity and better handling of responsibility. It brought a great job, the best I’ve had thus far in my life. It brought me love unlike anything I’ve known before now. It brought major lessons learned in an apartment, and a new rental house, emphasis on house with a fenced in backyard for the dogs, where everyone is happier. It brought 3 beautiful puppies into this world, gave one of my best friend’s the love her life, a little furball companion, and gave a nice couple a pair of gorgeous, huge, hunting dogs. And it marked the end of an era- getting Selah spayed and Rameses neutered. It brought another move for my horses, someplace much better and much less expensive all at the same time. It impacted the life of a little girl in Colombia, it began this blog, 3 wonderful visits with my parents, and a trip to Nashville with my best friend. It brought me an unexpected brand new car. It gave my parents a 28th year of marriage, my mom a 60th and dad a 71st year of life, Chance and Bandit 9 yrs of life, Selah and Rameses 3 and 2 respectively, and 25 for myself. 2011 brought joy and happiness, confusion, hurt, lack of understanding and surrendering of things I don’t understand, questions, some answers, peace, contentment, sadness, perspective, love. Most important of all, love. Love from Father in heaven, love from my parents, love from a great man, love from friends, and unconditional love from my animals.

No matter of the above, 2011 brought me another year of being alive, another year as a gift from God. And that cultivates an incredible amount of gratefulness and thankfulness in my heart.

When I say “being alive” I truly mean being alive, as opposed to merely existing. It has now been over 3 years since I walked out of treatment for the last time, 2 and ½ since I last spoke with a therapist, and 2 years of full recovery- of freedom. 2 years of the best of my life. And this year brought me what I call my final test-seeing my weight for the first time in 3 yrs. Leaving the doctor’s office after a routine appointment, in which I stepped on the scale backward as always, something new happened. They gave me a printout with the date and time of my next appointment at the time, but what I didn’t know was that my blood pressure, pulse rate, and weight were all on that printout. It was such a shock to see it that immediately tears ran down my face, but they were short lived. Those tears were truly shock, not self-hate as in the past. And the shock was short-lived.

Within a few minutes I was able to shrug at the number and go on with my day. I’m at the highest weight I’ve ever been at, much higher than is healthy for my height and body type right now, but I already knew that. After I recovered I discovered how much I actually love the taste of food and started eating a lot more, plus it took my body some time to adjust after a decade of starvation. So… cool. So what?  I guess I haven’t looked at my weight these past couple years, even knowing I’m recovered, because somehow I guess I still didn’t fully trust myself. But it’s a number just like anything else. It’s a number, just like my age is the number 25, or the number of the miles on my car, or the numbers of the time I have to be at work that are 3:30. Numbers change. All they are is a measurement at that point in time, but so? My brain registers it, but then…nothing.

It’s hard to explain this, because people who have never suffered from the mental illness of an eating disorder can’t even fathom the incredible authority and power that number holds for people in the clutches of the disease. If I had weighed this much a few years ago I have no doubt I would’ve probably gone and tried to commit suicide. It’s so tragic and awful that it just about brings me to tears just typing this. Because it’s also ridiculous. Ridiculous to me, now that I’m healthy, now that my mind is my own, that my heart is free and my decisions are rational and my own. To those who have never had your own mind turned into a civil war battlefield between your true self and a “demon” who has taken up residence within you, you can’t understand. But if you have, and I’m sorry if you have, you understand why I call this my final test.

And I passed.

Redemption is available. Transformation happens. Love changes people.

I’m not so much into making a list of specific New Year’s resolutions this year, because I’ve realized that most of those resolutions, for myself and many, many others, last 2 weeks then seem to be forgotten. I think for some, picking a word or even a couple words, as a theme to live by over the coming year, can be more successful. So for 2012 my word is health. Health: physically, financially, mentally, and spiritually. The goal is to pursue greater health in my life.

Physically: Getting back to the gym, eating more healthfully and paying more attention to what and how I’m eating, getting back in shape, taking care of my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit that it is, and to take more seriously caring for this one body God has given me and commanded me to care for. I’m sick of my legs being in such pain after each day at work, to the point where I’m near tears or can barely walk, and I’m sick of not having more energy-needing to sleep so much to feel rested.

Financially: Taking steps to greater control and reduce my debt, pay greater attention to the spending of my money and where my money is going, to think of my financial future, bringing about more responsibility within myself and greater maturity, preparing to have great flexibility in my life to have the resources to be able to do things I want to do for myself and for others, to be able to live a little more.

Mentally: Read and research more when it comes to what is going on in the world around me as well as those things I am passionate about such as horses, photography, animal behavior, writing and publishing, mission work, counseling, coaching, and equine assisted therapy. Getting my hands on any info I can, creating a greater span of knowledge and educating myself whenever it is I have the opportunity to learn. Also pursuing greater self-discipline in all areas of my life.

Spiritually: Pursuing a more substantial prayer life. A lot of times I feel like the words don’t come and it’s hard for me to focus to just talk to God, but as I believe prayer is the greatest answer, greatest weapon, and greatest force we have access to in this life, I want to broaden and strengthen my prayer life and talk more in conversation with my Father. This includes continuing my interest in reading more published Christian books and works to increase my knowledge of my faith and God’s word. To better know my facts in matters of faith and to be able to defend and spread God’s word more efficiently.

This year I will keep health in mind.

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Surfing the waves of life

It really is quite a beautiful ride isn’t it…?

How often we get caught up in life and forget to see the bigger picture, lose perspective. I would think by now I’d know as well as anyone that attitude is everything, but even I go through days, weeks that I let my experiences and emotions win out over truth, knowledge, and faith.

Contrary to popular belief, happiness is not a result of circumstance. It is not left up to chance. It is a state of the heart that comes by choice. When we’re miserable, it’s hard to hear we’re choosing it. Really hard. I’ve known, intellectually, for years this simple fact, this fact that our attitude controls us. By our attitude, we either fall or fly. Yes, it’s simple. Simple, not easy.

If you have a passion, pursue it. If you have a dream, dare to believe. If you want something, reach out and take it. Marianne Williamson once said, “ 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.”

Fear holds us back in life, a lot actually, doesn’t it? What if we can’t do it? What if we won’t measure up? What if we fail? What if we look stupid? What if we get made fun of? What if we’re misunderstood? My question is, “So what?”

In the movie Soul Surfer, teenage saltwater queen, Bethany Hamilton, doesn’t understand why after blowing it at regionals, her first competition after losing one of her arms to a shark attack, she gets letters from fans who are cheering for her and looking forward to her future competitions. She wonders, “Why?” Bethany’s movie mom, played by Helen Hunt, replies, “You tried.”

Isn’t that really what it’s all about? Isn’t that what we are called to do in this life? Try? Maybe it’s less about succeeding or failing and more about what we learn in the process, the experience we gain, the smarter we get, the stronger we become. As Americans we are so focused on the success, and I think we miss the whole point in between. It’s like having tunnel vision.

I’ve had so many ups and downs over the past few months in my life. It seems like there’s been days where I’m feeling so low and alone and I just don’t see a way out, and yet there’s other days, like tonight while watching this Soul Surfer movie that I just find myself in tears, not only because of the incredible story and example set by Bethany Hamilton, but by the sheer beauty of life. I feel like something is slowly awakening inside. The light shines brighter than ever before, Satan pushes back and I’m miserable for a few days, then the cross shortly wins out over the darkness, and again, and back and forth. But in the end, the cross will always win. Light will always win. Truth. Life.

A smile spreads across my face as I think of the world of possibilities ahead of me. It’s so incredible how there will always be more to learn, more to explore, more to do. And I don’t know anything more exciting than spending every day learning, exploring and doing. Whether it’s riding horses charting unknown trails, running through sprinklers with the dogs, getting a scuba diving license, standing in the small shelter given by a life guard stand on Tybee in the middle of a thunderstorm witnessing the unforgiving beauty and power of mother nature, dancing-especially when you know you look ridiculous, singing even though you can’t carry a tune, smiling at a stranger, seeing a kid make a new discovery about the world, just LIVING.

Life is too precious to waste a single second of it. No matter who you are and where you come from. God doesn’t care where you come from, He only cares where you’re going. Even, as Bethany demonstrates with brilliant grace, if you only have one arm. ; copyright: Sheila Smart

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The List

The Challenge:
Complete 101 pre-set tasks in a period of 1001 days.
The Criteria: 
Tasks must be specific (ex: no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (ex: represent some amount of work on my part). Blog posts will be written about each task accomplished.
The Clause:
I will complete each task ask written, but I reserve the right to change any tasks (most likely due to monetary concerns). If this happens, I will replace the chosen task with a new one.

The Dates:
Tuesday, August 26, 2011 to Tuesday, May 23, 2014

The List:
1. Finish and publish 2 books: my memoir, and The Strength to Stand-in a fallen world
2. swim with dolphins
3. get licensed to scuba diva
4. complete at least 2 mission trips
5. complete a 5 mile run
6. continue salsa dancing classes
7. complete p90x
8. start an eating disorder support group
9. learn about edible plants and survival skills for living off the land
10. complete certification for biblical counseling specializing in addictions & recovery
11. start life coaching and biblical counseling career
12. complete EAGALA certs for levels 1 & 2
13. do an Out of the Darkness walk one year
14. get Bandit started on barrels and run with him in an official show/rodeo
15. start showing Chance in hunter under saddle
16. have a visit with my friend Meredith in Kentucky
17. visit my sponsor child Dayana in Colombia, South America
18. revisit my learning of Spanish and be able to speak fluently
19. rent a jet ski and enjoy some fun on the water
20. whether I’m still renting or I become a home owner, find a place where I have my horses on my own land
21. learn all info necessary to help my dad with harness racing handicapping on a reguar basis
22. complete selling of softball bats and decorative plates for my dad
23. make a font out of my handwriting
24. get lasik surgery on my eyes
25. do a full study of the bible from Genesis through Revelations, start to finish (either a class or independently)
26. learn how to do equine massage
27. find a part time photography job for at least 6 months
28. go parasailing
29. learn how to operate a sailboat
30. visit the Holocaust museum in Washington DC
31. see a show at the Grand Ole Opry
32. see a music on Broadway
33. hold a monkey
34. learn to play a keyboard and/or guitar
35. learn astronomy
36. build my credit
37. learn to shoot either a gun or a bow and arrow, or both
38. stick to a new year’s resolution for an entire year
39. volunteer for something at least once a week for 6 months
40. make home-made ice cream
41. be an extra in a film
42. save enough money to take my dad to Medjugorje
43. be debt free
44. learn more about nutrition and which foods have healing qualities for which ailments
45. grow a garden
46. learn to make knots and snares to survive in the wild (goes with #9)
47. work or volunteer at a marine center for at least 3 months
48. see a tornado from a safe distance
49. get a job in a ministry at church
50. participate in a flash mob
51. eat only home cooked meals for a full month
52. teach Selah and Rameses 25 commands/words each
53. take an art class at SCAD
54. take a culinary class
55. become financial/business management literate
56. play a chess game with my dad like we did when I was a kid
57. learn how to jump (horses)
58. go camping
59. learn to sew
60. one Christmas, make every single gift I give a homemade one
61. donate blood
62. have a photoshoot with my dogs and horses
63. buy a pick-up truck
64. learn at least 3 of each type of wine and be able to tell info about it
65. write a song
66. start motivational speaking (to girls and schools about eating disorders and self-image)
67. experience a drive-in movie
68. send a message in a bottle
69. finish reading every book I own
70. publish a photo in a magazine
71. reconnect with an old friend
72. see my long, lost, childhood friend Dana
73. take a self-defense class
74. learn to start a fire without matches
75. see a wild sea turtle
76. try a new food once a week for a year
77. learn how to use different herbs in cooking
78. learn to do henna
79. see my friend Sunny who I haven’t seen since h.s. graduation
80. experience Pirate Fest at Tybee in October one year
81. protest something
82. spend several hours one night on the beach under the pier in the middle of a storm, and just witness the unforgiving beauty of nature
83. learn a new word every day for a month
84. learn to drive a stick shift
85. take a ballroom dancing class with a partner
86. introduce someone to Jesus
87. learn 50 words in ASL
88. go to the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in Wyoming with Amanda one year
89. learn kick boxing
90. apply/audition/whatever you call it to be on Survivor
91. start a savings account that I actually use and put money in
92. get paid to blog
93. attend a black tie event
94. learn how to speak well in 2 accents (ex. british and australian)
95. go on 5 Savannah ghost tours
96. do a 365 day photo project
97. stop biting my nails
98. go to a masquerade ball
99. pay for a stranger’s meal
100. rescue a starving horse, nurse back to health, and rehome
101. watch the sunrise on the beach
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