Have Faith in Yourself – Remove the Mask

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I often tell my children that no one gives as much thought to their insecurities as they do. No other people are panicking about a blemish on someone else’s face. Nobody else stresses if another person gets a stain on their shirt during the day. Those moments of imperfection make my children feel like they are under the magnifying glass of their peers, but the reality is that those incidences are quickly replaced by alternate distractions and concerns of other people. I tell my kids all of this, and I remind them that no one is perfect. We all have embarrassing stuff, and we all carry insecurities. They don’t have to hide who they are ever. It’s solid mom advice, and I genuinely believe those words. But do I heed this wisdom in my own life?

The really short answer is no. The still short but not quite as short as the latter answer answer is not entirely, but I’m working very hard to change that. Putting my own challenges out there for public review isn’t the easiest task for me. Frankly, it’s extremely difficult, but I believe that it’s important. We share our lives with each other, and we should never feel isolated in our struggles. I have survived dark days, and I want others who are hurting to know that they aren’t the only ones to have ever felt that way.

To be abundantly clear, I don’t believe that being honest about yourself means that you have to share every heavy detail of your existence. Not at all. I also recognize that we reveal different parts of ourselves to various groups of people in our lives. But that is about discretion, not dishonesty about who we really are.

If you can’t own the reality that your life is not perfect, you aren’t alone. Sometimes I feel like I am walking around in a giant suburban masquerade ball. Fancy clothes and jewelry. Made up faces and unnaturally wide smiles. Peals of raucous laughter and endless bottles of wine always a-flowin’.

Maybe balls aren’t your style. Perhaps you would prefer the idea that we are all playing a giant game of strip poker. If you don’t play your hand correctly, you may find yourself peeling off those thin layers of protection that hide all of your unmentionables. Then again, if you aren’t into balls, strip poker is probably an even worse scenario for you, so back to the masquerade analogy we go.

We all wear masks. They shield others from seeing what is really underneath. Removing the mask would leave us exposed. The fairy tale would vanish, and a normal human would be revealed. The facade of perfection would vanish.

The problem with masks is that they aren’t really part of us. They may serve to shield us at times, but the clock will strike twelve and all of our coaches will turn back into pumpkins eventually.

We all have blemishes – imperfect marriages, parenting problems, body image issues, health challenges. We all have stains – choices that you shouldn’t have made, friendships that you lost, jobs that didn’t work out, addiction, mistakes. Everyone has experienced some version of that. If anyone needs you to be the kind of person who doesn’t have that kind of reality in their life, recognize that they are wearing a serious mask as well.

We have a path, and we are here to learn how to walk it. It wouldn’t be much of an experience if we arrived on the scene, already knew everything, didn’t have any ups or downs, and then left the planet again. What would be the point of that journey?

Choose to find the learning opportunities in your experiences. Know that you are allowed to be perfectly imperfect. Do good and be well as often as you can. Forgive yourself whenever that doesn’t happen as planned, and tackle the good / well dynamic once more with the next step you take.

And do all of that with honesty. Own who you are. It’s alright for others to know that you move to your own beat and that sometimes you miss a step (or if you are cool and graceful like me, you fall flat on your face). I can assure you that everyone else stumbles, too.

You don’t have to pretend to be someone else. You may need to work on your choices – we all do – but you must remember that you are an intentional and important part of the divine plan. You are a stunning piece of this beautiful design, and you are where you should be right now. If another person doesn’t get that, or more accurately, if they don’t get you, set their expectations free.

Your true light lies cloaked beneath those false layers. Release the fear of judgement and of not being accepted as you are. Have faith in yourself. Remove the mask, and reveal the raw beauty that lies within you.

Love and light always – Joanna

 

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Brave

Take Flight

Stepping out of your comfort zone is disconcerting for anyone. If it wasn’t, we would call it walking. But leaving that place of emotional security while also anticipating that every person in your life will understand your perspective is not simply unsettling. It is unrealistic.

Very few people have the ability to openly embrace change. Even fewer have the capacity to actively seek it. When they see someone in their inner circle bucking the system, it rankles them and scratches their own fears to the surface.

While I am displeased with this admission, the raw truth is that I can most certainly be one of those inflexible and easily rankled buzzkills of a human. Seeing someone I care about do something that doesn’t fit their normal pattern concerns me. I take a marathon sprint down the mental worry path and start listing various possible barriers to their success (hopefully these thoughts occur via my “excessive and overthinking” inner voice but unfortunately the ponderings frequently happen through my “excessive and needs to shut up immediately” outer voice).

It’s not that I don’t want the people whom I care about to do well.  That’s not it at all.  I absolutely want them to be successful. However my desire to protect that person from any harm becomes entangled with my own insecurities, hurts, and memories of past disappointments (a.k.a. My Issues and Me – The Less Sexy Shades of MoJo).

My focus on any potential negative outcomes shadows my ability to recognize the other equally possible positive outcomes. I worry about their chance of failure, but in doing this, I miss the reality that their willingness to get on the playing field at all means that they are already taking part in the game. Thankfully I almost always manage to get on board eventually. I just need time to realize (once more) that my self-imposed limitations need not apply to anyone else’s hopes and dreams.

So when the tables turn and this happens to me – when I say that I want to venture further away from my own comfort zone and I find myself feeling the sting from a response that pushes me to stay with the status quo – I recognize the source of that other person’s reaction. I am reminded once more that my belief in myself cannot be diminished by another person’s insecurities.

image000000_65No one in this world has the right to deny you your hopes and dreams. No one. And if they are doing that, it is only happening because you are handing them that power. Don’t ever sacrifice your light to someone else’s fear.

Always dream, and when you do, always dream fantastically big.

This is your journey, and there are endless choices you can make. Just be sure that the ones you select are truly yours.

We may not always succeed with every attempt that we make, but we will never even get the chance to find out what we can achieve if we continually refuse to try. Don’t allow the words of another to weigh you down.

We each have something wonderfully unique and wildly special within us. When you feel like you are stepping into the zone and that you are kindling the spark within you, that is the divinity of your soul cheering you on.

Listen to that voice. Follow that feeling. Release the fears, find your wings, and take flight.

Love and light always – Joanna

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***Photos in this post were taken from my airplane window while traveling to San Diego for work this week.

Windows

Deny

The Things We Don’t Say

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My husband took this picture of my daughter looking back at him from my car rear view mirror layered with dust. At that moment, we were lost on a country road in New Mexico. The scenery was amazing and the adventure unforgettable. I love everything about this photo.

Several years ago, I started a blog called Momentum of Joy. Almost no one knew about it, and I was adamant about keeping it that way. I didn’t write for long, and I was never comfortable with the idea that someone who knew me might read about my struggles. It got to the point where I felt like I could no longer find my voice. The words just disappeared. I allowed the domain to expire, and my desire to write faded away.

The stress of this past Mother’s Day led me (and my family) to the brink of ending up on the 5 o’clock news, so I decided to blog about it. I supposed that I did it for grins as well as self therapy, but that post unexpectedly reopened a part of my life that I had assumed was long gone until that very moment (https://momentumofjo.com/2017/05/20/mothers-day-a-day-of-relaxation-unless-of-course-youre-an-actual-mother/).  When I went to reactivate the site, I discovered that someone had nabbed my old domain and was effectively holding it for cyber ransom (Yeah – I’m looking at you China!), so Momentum of Jo was born (basically because it was available and close-ish to the original name).

Most of my initial posts were primarily comical or satirical in nature, but I still refrained from sharing it in a broader format with those in my life.  As I wrote more posts, I began to dig deeper, to delve beneath the surface layers, and to get more personal. There was no reason not to because so few people even knew about the blog. It was safe.

When the hurricane hit a few weeks ago, many of us became instantly connected in a way that I can’t adequately articulate. We shared extreme anxiety and fear for our families and homes for days, and we were deeply saddened at the losses that followed. We wept with friends and strangers, and we united to help those whose lives were devastated by the storm. That continues even now. Even though life will progressively fall back into the old patterns, something extraordinary happened in those days that changed me.

The protective walls I had been holding firm for years started to crumble, and to my own complete shock, I began to share my posts with family and friends. I recognize that this may seem inconsequential, but countless bloggers can confirm the freedom that comes with anonymity. No judgement. No questions. No explanations. Or at least none of that from anyone in your daily world. You can share the raw parts of yourself without having to worry about harsh whispers a few blocks over.

But after everything I have seen over the past few weeks, I’m tired of residing in the shadows. I see too many people hurting.

The more honest I become, the more people reach out and tell me that they have been or are in that emotional place as well. We all struggle with the nuances of being a human, but we rarely talk about the parts that hurt us the most – the fears, the losses, the despair. We paint over the pain as we cover social media with platitudes and plastic smiles.

I live a life that is overflowing with blessings. My children are wild and crazy and incredible. My husband is an amazing father, a wonderful husband, and a true partner in my life. I love all of my family more than they could ever imagine. I have genuine friends that have been at my side in my best moments and my darkest hours. I have a great job, and I sincerely love my colleagues. Our dogs are goofballs, but they are our goofballs. It’s the American Dream at it’s finest.

Except when it wasn’t and except when it isn’t.

I struggled desperately with depression when I was younger and almost did not make it out of my college years with my life. I still catch myself reeling from unexpected panic attacks, I feel consumed by loneliness at times, and I must work constantly to mitigate the irrational fears and behavior patterns that go hand in hand with anxiety disorders and expressions of OCD. As a bonus, I currently have split ends coupled with a serious mani / pedi deficiency. I’m a reflection of reality.

Most days are pretty good, but sometimes, I just get knocked on my emotional ass.  We all do. But we don’t talk about it.

So often, those raw and real aspects of ourselves and our lives are not reflected in the things we say.  Those can only be found buried within the things we don’t say.

If one person receives a minuscule level of validation or healing from something that is difficult for me to share, it’s worth my facing my own insecurities. If someone is in a dark place, and they can find a spark of light or a gleam of hope in my words in that heavy moment, I can handle judgement from those who don’t understand. I don’t need or ask for their approval or validation anyway.

Our struggles forge our characters and bind us together, and our lives are too important to be lived disingenuously. Life is like my family’s journey down that dusty country road. We get lost at times, but we are never alone. It may take us a good while to figure it out, but we will find adventure along the way, we will always have each other other, and ultimately, we will find our way back home. This journey is meant to be shared, and all of our experiences happen to help us to grow. If we can stop hiding so much of our true selves from the world around us, perhaps we can embrace more parts of this human experience we are having.

Hopefully my truth will resonate with another who still can’t find the words. I’ve found my voice again. Maybe I can help someone else find theirs, too.

Love and light always – Joanna

Layered

The Surreal Life – Moving Forward After the Storm

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Nothing feels the same here.  Chinooks fly over our houses.  SWAT vehicles roll down the streets.  Military trucks and personnel are common sights.  I greatly appreciate their presence, but it’s not something that we ever saw before.  Each time I hear or see them, I remember once more that everything is different.

Given the inaccessibility of the roads, the potential unavailability of the staff, and, in some cases, the flooding of the campuses themselves, school has yet to get started.  Consequently I have enrolled the kids in impromptu day camps that sprung up to avert further local disasters (the kinds that spontaneously occur when your kids have been home too long and repetitively utter that most dangerous of phrases…  “I’m bored.”).

image000000_48 - Copy - CopyWe have been in a collective daze struggling just to remember what day it is, but time has most certainly taken on a new distinction.  There is time before the storm came through, and then there is every moment after that.  Even our weather reports have changed.  We watch river, reservoir and bayou cresting reports.  We know our specific location elevations and where our properties fall with regard to those crests.  We pray for Hurricane Irma to miraculously disappear into nothingness as we can’t even contemplate the concept of going through this again.  It’s terrifying.  Merely typing the thought of it makes my pulse quicken, and I feel myself growing anxious.

I’m angry because I can’t sleep, and although I want to see the news discussing storm predictions, the Weather Channel is showing a fluffy program that sensationalizes storm chasing instead.  I don’t want to search the internet because it will lead me to further sad stories about people returning to their destroyed homes all around the Houston area.  I just want the basics on the current storm predictions.  The other major channels are consumed with gazillionaires yapping away about nothing while laughing at their own hollow tales.

Where is the latest hurricane going to go?  Why don’t they recognize what this will mean?  Don’t they understand what could happen to their family and friends?  Don’t they know that the stats become irrelevant the moment you find yourself living in the impossible?

No.  They don’t.  We didn’t either.  But once you live it, you can’t forget it.  No matter how much you want to, you can’t shake the reality that although it may be unlikely, it could happen again.

IMG_4704I’m waiting for the waters to recede all over town as I struggle to return to regular life via some kind of predictable schedule.  I went to the grocery store yesterday evening for the first time since the storm.  I found myself feeling irrationally angry at the other shoppers casually milling around the isles.  They were loading up their carts like nothing had changed.  I just couldn’t wrap my thoughts and emotions around that most innocuous of moments.  Why were we restocking our refrigerators while our neighbors were busy pulling out sopping carpets and destroyed sheetrock?  Had everyone already forgotten the loss all around us?  Was I the only one who felt that thick ache in my chest?  I plastered on a smile to veil the heaviness in my heart and guard me from the threat of tears.   Maybe they did, too.

Today I began to tackle the work that stacked up in my absence over the past week and a half.  My head felt cloudy, and I struggled throughout the entire day to remain focused.  All I could think about was the relief work around me.  I want to be actively helping families rebuild their lives, but there is a part of me that recognizes that I must also address my own.  I don’t desire to further elevate the trauma of it all.  I just don’t know how to release it.

I’ve never been a big fan of normal, but I now feel like I’m floating through surreality.   I want to clear the haze and move past the confusion.  I want to rise above the heaviness of this moment and fix the pain.  Mine.  Theirs.  All who are hurting.

It comes in waves.  I see tremendous beauty in the strength and unity of my town, state, and fellow man.  But I can’t talk about it.  Not yet.  I can’t get into the emotion of it all – good or otherwise.  I keep the conversation on the surface and seek humor where I can.

I hope that peace will find its way into in my heart and into the hearts of all affected by the storm.  I pray deeply for the safety of those in the path of this and all other destructive hurricanes to come.  They change you.  They change everything.

Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Much love to you.  Joanna

Elevate
Waiting

Texas Still Stands & We Stand Together

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The last few days have been akin to falling into the dark end of the rabbit hole.  We have been living in a surreal nightmare that kept us in fear while caging us with wind and water.

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This is not a river.  This is a street.

As I have lived in Texas my entire life, heavy storms are not unfamiliar territory.  However, from Friday through Tuesday, we received more than one hundred forty tornado warnings as well as dozens upon dozens of flash flood alerts.  Those are actual numbers of alerts, not exaggerations.  Spending hours worrying if you are going to lose your home is exhausting. Spending those same hours worrying if your family is safe is exponentially worse.    rescue

I was so afraid for my children’s safety that we set up little mattresses in my husband’s closet, and that’s where they slept for the past few days.  They are just returning to their rooms tonight.

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This was taken in a nursing home to the southeast of us.  They were rescued and relocated, but my heart feels raw when I see this.

The news just said that we received 52″ of rain in this storm.  52″.  It seems unreal, but the deluge was impossibly heavy and pummeled our homes relentlessly hour after hour.  I joked to my friends that I expected to look out my window and see pairs of animals walking toward a big boat.  It was beyond belief.

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God bless the Cajun Navy.  I can’t put into words my love for these people.

Incredibly, our home and neighborhood never lost power.  We were able to keep track of the news while keeping in touch with our friends and family.  We quickly learned that we would not be facing this alone.

cajun navy2Before the rain showed any sign of stopping, many dear neighbors from surrounding towns and states were in the water rescuing those in need all around Houston.  I have friends who were picked up by boats and oversized construction vehicles at their flooded homes.  Firefighters, police officers, members of the military, and overall amazing people continue to risk their lives to help us here.  A few beautiful souls have lost their lives in the process.  I cannot express my sadness at these losses.

Countless people have lost their homes.  Hurricanes are known for their destructive natures, but Hurricane Harvey drew a tremendously broad stroke of destruction unlike any other we have experienced.

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This neighboring family was extremely lucky.  They lost a beautiful tree, but it fell away from their home.

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These dear friends were less fortunate.  It makes my heart ache to see this.

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This photo was taken by a close friend of my sister.  She took the picture right before first responders transported her and her family away from their once beautiful home to safety.

The three images above are neighbors and family friends.  There are thousands upon thousands more homes that have been terribly damaged or destroyed.

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I saw multiple military transport planes overhead as I left the neighborhood today.  I was overjoyed to see them.

Although the rain stopped at last today, we found ourselves facing yet another complication from all of the water.  The flood control authorities have initiated controlled water releases from the reservoir dams in an attempt to maintain the integrity of those critical structures.

Certain neighborhoods are expected to experience additional flooding given these releases, but I understand the need to sacrifice a small area with controlled water releases for the sake of preventing a very literal tidal wave of water flowing over miles and miles of heavily populated areas.  Despite my ability to understand the need, this does not change the fact that my parents live in the high risk zone impacted by those releases nor does it change the fact that their home will be washed away if the dam fails.  Water is already spilling over the top and around the sides.

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I wish I could tell you that this was me in my car, but it was another rescuer in a better vehicle.  Thank you for coming to our town!

So I did what any tenacious girl with stubborn parents would do.  I jumped in my 4×4 Texas mom-mobile and headed to their house to drag them out while they raged.

A dear friend (I love you K!) stayed on the phone with me as I drove.  She guided me to the best possible (and sometimes only possible) routes to allow me to avoid the innumerable streets that were closed due to high water or road failure.  My parents are about fifteen miles from me, but it might as well have been a hundred.  I weaved back and forth and backtracked repeatedly.  There was water everywhere I looked.  Thankfully there were military trucks, high water vehicles, and boats in abundance as well.

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The raw truth is that my tenacity did not make the trip any less terrifying.

Meandering through high water on unfamiliar streets and knowing that you are deliberately driving into an area with rising water that may turn catastrophic is incredibly scary.  I tend to be rather steely in a crisis, but this one had me on edge.  When I arrived, I was met with angry parents who didn’t want to go.  No surprise there.

My father recently had knee surgery and can’t walk well, and my mother has somehow hurt her shoulder.  They have no power at that house and aren’t expected to get it back for several days.  It isn’t the safest area to begin with and looters are likely to begin their hunts.  The water is rising – not receding – in front of their house, and they are within tidal wave range of the dam if it blows.  Naturally they would want to stay.  (Argh!!!  Seriously people??  Do we really have to discuss this??)  Thank heavens my rabid bulldog style of encouragement worked.  No surprise there either.  Off we went once more to head back to my house (the house with power and without rising water).

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I thanked God every single time I saw a military chopper or truck.  I said a prayer of protection for all of the people I saw working to help others.  They were everywhere I looked despite the incredible water levels, and we were blessed to make it home safely.

The drive to help others has been amazing across the board.  The rain did not cease until mid-morning, but the shelters were already bursting at the seams with donation items and volunteers within a couple of hours.

donationsPeople are doing everything they can to help those in need around them.  The response inside and outside of our community is stunning.  On a personal level, I can’t tell you how many people have invited us to their homes should we need a place to go.  They have offered everything.  Family, friends, coworkers, and total strangers – all have stood with us.  It overwhelms me emotionally.  I can’t adequately articulate my feelings, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is more goodness in this world that we could ever imagine.

The news should cover the beauty I have witnessed here.  It is truly a spectacular sight to behold.  I am captivated by your kindness and your love.  I am enamored by your strength and your courage.

When I say that Texas still stands and we stand together, I am saying that Texas still stands and we stand together with you.  In our greatest time of need, so many of you have served as our shelter in this physical and emotional storm.  You have extended the lifeline we so desperately needed, and now we are able to continue that with you as we move to help each other.

There is no division of economic class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, or politics.  We are one united people, and we are all here for each other.

Texas still stands.  Thank you for standing with us.  We truly stand together.

Much love to all of you. Joanna

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Enamored

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We Are Never Alone

 

Over the past year, we have experienced many difficulties. I have witnessed extremely hurtful infighting in relationships, our town, and our country. I have seen divisiveness and anger so often that I now refuse to turn on the news. But this storm that has flooded our little corner of the globe has shown me the very best in people. We have received kindness after kindness.

People worldwide have reached out with offers of assistance and much needed prayers. Family and friends we have known for years as well as absolute strangers we have known for moments have offered to allow us to stay in their homes if it comes to that. I have seen so many stories of people working to help and protect each other. This disaster has revealed how wonderful and amazing people truly are. Hope is powerful beyond measure. Regardless of what happens to our home, I know that we will be alright because we will never have to get through it alone.

Thank you for sharing your love, your strength, and your hope. Despite our differences, we stand together and we will always protect each other. We are blessed to have you in our lives.

Thank you. Truly.  Joanna


***I took the video at the top of the post yesterday morning.  This is a teeny creek that catches runoff water in our neighborhood.  On a normal day, you could jump over it in a couple of hops (if you felt like braving the alligators).  It has been raining nonstop since this shot, so no telling what it looks like now.  There is flooding all around us, but we are dry at this point.  Much love to all of you.

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Sleepless Nights

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I have faith, and I believe that life falls into place as it should.  Of that I am certain.

While that belief fortifies my soul, I still feel tremendously tired and extremely worried.  I very literally have dozens of voicemails and emergency warning messages on my phone for local flash floods and tornadoes touching down around us.  My children are sleeping once more in the closet for their safety, and I find myself mentally circling all of the “what if” scenarios as I lay here listening to more rain pummeling our home and our town.

I get up every few minutes to see if floodwaters are creeping toward our home. I read the news and learn of more catastrophic occurences as well as further worsening predictions.  I watch the radar constantly.  It feels like this should be ending any moment now, but we know that there will be several more days of this still to come.  I wonder if we will still have a home once it’s over.

No matter what happens, we will be alright, and we will get through this.  I’m just ready to be at that point.  Thank you for all of your love, kind wishes, and prayers.  Your friendship and support have been such lights in this fearful darkness we have been in the last few days.  I appreciate each of you more than I can possibly express.

Much love to you all.  Joanna

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