A Tool to Shape A Life

“This pouring thoughts out on paper has relieved me. I feel better and full of confidence and resolution.” – Diet Eman

Journaling expert Dawn Herring invited me to write a blog post on life lessons that I’ve gained from journaling. The most important lesson I’ve learned from journaling is a way of living, which includes my efforts to be a Woman Making Strides.

Ironically, it was probably the example set by two men that planted the seeds for my desire to be proactive. Dad was a dedicated family man and had a great sense of humor. He would sit with a handkerchief on his head until my kids noticed and laughed. However, he was always overweight, and when he was elderly, he had diabetes and heart problems. I would bring him to doctors, and they would tell him to lose weight. Near the end of his life, he had intense pain due to a toe deadened by gangrene, but could not have surgery because of his high risk factors. He died in 2009 from a heart attack.

Then there was my friend Bob, who was the same age as Dad. Bob was passionate about his sports of running and triathlon. He competed in Ironman competitions (2½-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26-mile run.) Bob was in his seventies when he coached my running group, and he ran back and forth between the slowest and fastest runners. I learned a lot from him and his enthusiasm.

Reflecting in my journal about these very different lifestyles made me realize that people have choices in how they live. I had choices in how to live. Would I keep running or would I be sedentary? Did I want to keep my weight in check? What else did I want in my life?

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Much as I admire Bob, who is now in his mid-eighties and still doing Ironmans, I didn’t want to live like him or my Dad. When Bob was working and raising his family, he woke up at 3:00 in the morning to get his long runs in. Fitness and preparing for races are a major focus in his life. He eats his favorite ice cream only after running a marathon.

When I sat down and journaled about these two nearly opposite ways of living, I realized that I wanted a balance somewhere between what these men demonstrated. I wanted to do what I could to have good health without it being a major focus of my life. After journaling more, I started to exercise a few hours a week and try to keep my weight within healthy guidelines, while allowing myself occasional treats. (OK, more than occasional.)

I’ve learned from both of these older men; for instance, from my Dad’s a sense of humor. I remember him joking, “Don’t be a chicken all your life!” He’d grin as he said this, but I remember his words, even when I debated whether or not to write this blog post.

Through journaling, I continued to shape my personal mission statement. I realized the need to take care of my mind and spirit to attain the balance that I want. We all have trials, so why not accept mine, rather than complain and act like a victim? And I wanted to make a difference in the world during my short time here. This statement below is what I came up with through journaling:

A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.”

At first, this mission statement was solely for me, but as I started blogging about it, other women expressed interest in this way of life. I’ve not been perfect, but I’m making progress. If you are a Woman Making Strides, please join in so we can learn from you.

What life lessons have you learned from journaling? Do you have a mission statement for your life?

Find journaling resources at Dawn Herring’s website at www.dawnherring.net.

Posted in journaling, Motivation, personal leadership, Proactive, Running, self-care, Weight | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Choices Matter in the Long Run

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A few years ago, I signed up for a beginners’ running class at a local running store. It would be a great way to get back into running after several years off, and I hoped to meet someone to run with. The class lived up to my expectations on both counts. We began very gently: on the first day our workout consisted of 4 minutes walking, 1 minute running, five times. When the running class ended ten weeks later, we were well trained for a 5K Turkey Trot.

During the ten weeks, we ran once a week with the class and were given a schedule to follow on our own. Another runner, Chris, lived in my town, so we often ran together.

Although I followed the training plan for the most part, I was not as dedicated as Chris. She ran more often than I did, and it soon became apparent that she was more fit than me. Indeed, she ran the 5K race at a much better pace than I did.

I had a choice during this time. I could have stepped up my running so we could keep running together. Instead, after the 5K race, I essentially gave up. I had no one else to run with and didn’t have the ambition to run on my own as winter set in. Chris would have run with me, but I didn’t want to slow her down. My decision not to step up my running led to my not running at all.

Fast forward to about 15 months ago, when I again decided to get fit. I walked with another friend once or twice a week. Over time, the opposite of the above situation developed. I became more fit by running and walking, and my friend was busy with other activities. Some weeks, our walks were her only exercise. Although we walked up to 3 miles, it was at such a slow pace that it wasn’t a good workout for me. Eventually, we stopped walking together. My friend became too busy to meet, and I suspect she sensed my frustration. It’s been close to a year since we walked, and recently she told me she has gained twenty pounds.

In both of the above situations, different choices could have been made.

Now once again, I face a similar choice. My friend Muriel is a little faster than me and has more endurance. She runs more often than I do, and she often runs farther. Sometimes she runs twice a day. If I keep running only two to three times a week and if she keeps running half marathons, we will soon be mismatched for running together.

Will I push harder and rise to the challenge by running more often and working harder to stay fit? Or will I not?

The decision is up to me and so is the end result.

What choices have you made? What have been the outcomes? What decisions do you currently face? 


Posted in Challenges, personal leadership, Running | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Finding Beauty Wherever We Are

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” – Ashley Smith

In my visits to a local arboretum, I often see people I know. During the past week, two of them said to me, “This is my church.” These people are churchgoers, but I knew what they meant. There is something about the beauty of nature that touches us and changes us if we pay attention.

A few months ago, I had finished shopping at Aldi’s and was putting away my shopping cart. A woman said to me, “Look at that sunset!” The sky was the most beautiful fluorescent pink with deep purple clouds. I drove home marveling at how beautiful the sunset was, and that I’d almost missed it.

We get in our routines and forget to look. Recently I was running at a forest preserve and was preoccupied with checking my I-phone for my mileage and running time. I also was looking at the path to ensure I didn’t step on a squished frog or in a pothole. What I wasn’t doing was noticing my surroundings. So I paused and looked around me. A beautiful, large blue heron stood among greenery at the edge of the nearby lake. As I watched, he lifted up and flew away. I’d almost missed seeing him.

blue heron at Danada

We go to art museums to see paintings of landscapes but we forget to look at the real thing. God is the master artist. How often do we stop at look at His paintings and sculptures? And do we reflect on them as we do with museum paintings?

Being in nature lifts my mood and often puts my worries in perspective. Even when I start a walk feeling irritated or stressed, I end it feeling soothed.

In my post Dealing with the Doldrums, I wrote about how a visit to the arboretum lifted my bad mood. A reader commented, “Wish I could afford to just go somewhere too.” But we can find the beauty of nature anywhere, even at a retention pond. We just have to stop and notice.

In the U.S., Queen Anne’s lace is thought of as a weed, and there is a lot of it at a retention pond two blocks from my home. Here is a picture:

qeen anne's lace for blog post

Is that not lovely? If you really look at a dandelion, it is pretty also.

I wrote a poem, which was published in the Prairie Light Review literary magazine, about that retention pond and the transformative beauty of nature. I’m sharing it with you:

Stormwater Pond
Wind shrieks,
Brushes my cheeks,
Clouds of slate slide
Across the dreary sky.
Daring the storm to strike
I beat a steady pulse
On the pavement

Ducks with emerald heads
And golden beaks
Strut past dry reeds
Into the glistening pond.
Tiny silver peaks
Ripple across
And diamonds
Cascade from a culvert

Wind screams again
Pulling my hair
Up and back and sideways.
I stand tall
Shoulders back
Head held high
And stride

What beauty have you seen in nature recently? Has nature, or God working through nature, ever transformed you?

Posted in Beauty, God, Gratitude, Nature | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Journaling for Self-Improvement

Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind. – Natalie Goldberg

If you read this blog regularly, you know I talk about my efforts to become a Women Making Strides. “A woman who makes strides appreciates being alive and takes active steps to care for her body, mind, and spirit. She accepts challenges along her path and uses her God-given talents to better the world.” Journaling is one of the greatest tools I have to improve myself as I strive to be a Woman Making Strides. It is a way to care for my mind and spirit.

My quest to be a Woman Making Strides is an effort to be the leader in my own life. Life is short, and I want to make the best of it. I can’t do that if I passively go with the flow, never pausing to assess where I’m going. Or worse, if I follow other people’s ideas of what my life should be. For too long, I’ve been looking for answers from other people. I read various self-help articles, blogs, and books—but none are satisfying. That is because no one really has the answers for me except me. Sometimes I think I don’t know what I want or how to get there, but when I journal, I realize I do have the answers.

Journaling takes me out of my daily routine and allows me to pause. Otherwise, life just carries me along in its current. Have you ever thought about your last days on earth? What will be your regrets? What will you be grateful for? These are good questions to reflect on and write about in your journal.

Even if you’re not a leader by the world’s standards, you are the leader in your own life. It is too late when we’re on our death beds to say “I wish I had . . . .” Or “I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time doing such-and-such. . . .” or “I wish I’d been nicer to so-and-so.” Journaling gives us the opportunity to pause, reflect on our lives, and make changes as needed.  You can’t excel at being a leader in the world without first being a good leader in your own life.

Journaling helps me with clarity and decision making. I am honest in my journal pages because no one but me will see it. Seeing the pros and cons of a decision in black and white helps me clarify my thoughts and feelings. For example, when someone asks me to take on a new activity, I go to my journal. I list all that I am doing currently, and usually I am surprised. I have too many activities, especially for someone who wants to write more. This helps firm up my resolve to say “Thank you, but no.”

Recently, I knew I “should” go for a run or walk, but I didn’t feel like it. So I wrote down my pros and cons in my journal. Cons were:

  • It is wet out and more rain is forecast.
  • I’m not in the mood to run.

Pros included:

  • I want to maintain my running fitness so I can keep up with my running group.
  • I am seldom in the mood to run alone, but once I go, I never regret it.
  • If I don’t want to run in the rain, I can run indoors at the park district fitness center.
  • I could walk with an umbrella, and then I wouldn’t have to change clothes.

Ultimately, I wrote, “Sue, is this all that tough? Come on. Get off your duff and get moving. You’re trying to lose weight and running is a more efficient workout than walking. Even if you only run half an hour, that’s good.” And so I went to the fitness center and ran. Without journaling, I’d have stayed home because that’s what I felt like doing.

Woman running on a wet day

Woman running on a wet day

Life is not always perfect, and sometimes I feel moody or annoyed at myself. Or I’m irritated by other people’s actions. When I point the finger at someone, I need to also point that finger at myself and ask what I can learn. Is that behavior true for me, too? Journaling helps me get a new perspective on the situation—for example, I realize I can’t do anything about the other person’s behavior. The only person I can do anything about is myself. I can change my own behavior and be nicer to the person or resolve to be a good role model, even if that person doesn’t do the same. I can decide to put it all in God’s hands and accept that what will be, will be. Putting my worries on paper is a safe way to vent and let go, rather than lying awake at night worrying. And what seems to be free-floating anxiety can often be clarified and resolved.

Sometimes I journal at home using my computer. That is most convenient, and then I can read what I wrote (rather than struggling to read my handwriting.) However, I most enjoy journaling in nature, which lets me feel God’s presence as I look at the beauty around me. Many of my journal entries begin with “Dear God.”

I have a means of journaling that is probably somewhat unique—I go for a journal drive. I drive around my local arboretum, parking my car periodically. Then I write in a journal, either in the car or on a nearby bench, and I sip a beverage such as tea or a hot chocolate. Sometimes I have a series of questions and answer one question per spot. Other times I just write. Each spot brings a new perspective along with the new view and new sounds of nature. When I leave my journal drive, I have a new perspective on a situation, or I decide whether to do something, or I come up with an idea for a blog post. In any case, after doing a journal drive, I feel nourished and satisfied.

Do you keep a journal? What is the greatest benefit for you?

 This post is dedicated to my friend Dawn Herring in honor of the fifth anniversary of #JournalChat Live on Twitter and Facebook. Find out more about Dawn and her journaling resources at http://refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com.

Posted in journaling, self-improvement | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Race With Me

“Your biggest challenge in a race is yourself.” – Summer Sanders

I am standing with the other runners waiting for the 10K race to begin. We are at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. I’ve got this. I have so got this. I am normally not this confident in a race, especially on a hilly course such as this. However, I’ve run the entire route two times in recent weeks, so I know I can complete it. I also know the toughest part will be the first part. We are standing on flat ground but around the first bend we’ll be going up a hill, and then we will loop around and go back up that same hill.

The starting area - the day after the race

The starting area – the day after the race

 The excitement of the crowd is contagious. Everyone is stretching, talking, jogging in place. I can almost feel the adrenaline. It is chilly, but we will warm up quickly once we start running. I greet a friend, Regina, who is lined up in the same area because she runs near my pace. Regina inspires me, for she has lost 100 pounds and has kept the weight off for well over a decade. My husband Ken is a much faster runner than me, so he is lined up closer to the front.

The starting gun sounds and we’re off! My MP3-player is playing at a low volume, and Sheryl Crow is singing “All I want to do is have some fun, I got a feeling I’m not the only one.” Most people, including me, make it up the first hill OK. I come back around and face that hill again. Some people are slowing down here. I listen to a song from the Sound of Music: “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’till you find your dream.”

As I run, I look for signs of spring. The scenery is beautiful. Every time I spot something green or blooming, I feel uplifted.

Daffodils and scenery the day after the race

Daffodils and scenery the day after the race

Somewhere around mile 2, two friends from the Bolingbrook Fun Run Club are shouting “Sue! Go Sue!” Wow! I did not expect anyone to be cheering for me, but Leslie and Amy have gotten up early solely to cheer a handful of runners.

I feel strong throughout the race and run steadily, listening to music. “Rawhide” from The Blues Brothers:

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them doggies rollin’

I sing aloud softly with Frank Sinatra to “My Kind of Town”:

This is my kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of people too
People who smile at you

And each time I roam, Chicago is
Calling me home, Chicago is
Why I just grin like a clown
It’s my kind of town

The flow of everyone running carries me along and I never even think of walking. When I pass the Strength bench, I repeat, “Strength. Strength. Strength!”

Strength bench

Throughout the course, volunteers and spectators line the road. A man shouts “Keep going! You’re almost there”.

No, I’m not! He means well, but it is not good to give a runner false hope. An app on my I-Phone tells me I’ve run 4.5 miles, so I have 1.7 miles to go. I know there will be three hills in a row beginning at mile 4.8. By now, I am getting tired, and the hills will be a challenge. 

That's me in the green shirt - picture from Amy

That’s me in the green shirt – picture from Amy

Reaching the first of the three hills, a teenage boy is obviously struggling. He walks, hands clasped, then runs a few steps with his hands waving wildly. Then he walks, hands on head. It is obvious he needs support, so I run alongside him saying, “You’ve got this! You’re rocking this race! Keep going!” He perks up but indicates someone he knows is up ahead of him. “That’s OK,” I say. “You’re doing awesome. No worries!” I don’t know if I helped, but I hope so.

I run ahead and power up the first hill, along with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

 Surprise! There are my two friends from the running club again, shouting and cheering. You can see how much Amy and Leslie’s cheering perks me up.

Picture from Amy

Picture from Amy

With the last two hills ahead, I tell myself to just keep running steadily. Josh Groban and I sing,

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

I pass people who’d been ahead of me but who now are walking the hills. Perhaps I’m a little cocky, for I think, “You didn’t train on hills.” Thank goodness for those Saturdays when I ran on hills with the running club.

Flowers in the home stretch

Less than a mile remains. I have practiced finishing strong and that is what I will do. Around mile 6, I round a curve, and Ken is shouting “Good job! You’re almost there.” He finished the race a while ago and has walked back to cheer me on for a strong finish. That is just the boost I need and I cross the finish line with exuberance.

What have been your experiences in races? If you’ve never done one, what other challenges have you faced?

Posted in Challenges, Inspiration | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Living with Integrity

“Integrity means that you are the same in public as you are in private.” – Joyce Meyer

Recently I realized that if I wanted to have integrity, I needed to watch Season 1 of Downton Abbey. Does that sound strange?

I had never seen Downton Abbey and promised myself I would watch Season 1 as a reward for running a 5K race at my goal weight. I told people about this plan in Walking the Talk. Although I achieved my goal in November, in early March I still had not collected my reward.

I tried setting another goal for running but was unmotivated given that I never collected my reward from the 5K race. Setting another goal and reward seemed futile. I figured even if I met the goal, I might not collect my reward. Watching Downton Abbey became a high priority so I could set another goal and know I’d reap the reward. That is integrity as well as motivation.

Photo courtesy of deviantart.net

Photo courtesy of deviantart.net

I finally watched Downton Abbey in mid-March and loved it. I watched Season 2 just for pleasure, with no goal to meet. (We have to enjoy our lives!)

My step forward in integrity grew into other areas, not always tied to concrete rewards. One day, I told myself I’d run two loops at our local arboretum. I went there and found that my headphones were dead. My initial reaction was “I’ll do just one short loop.” But keeping integrity in mind, I realized, “I didn’t say I’d run two loops if I could listen to music. I said I’d run two loops.” After running five miles, I felt a sense of accomplishment for completing that distance alone with no music. That feeling was all the reward I needed.

photo courtesy of bishopsevents.com

photo courtesy of bishopsevents.com

Sometimes I have more integrity with others than with myself. If I told my boss I’d do something, I got it done. The same is true of my family—I feel responsible for tasks like getting dinner on the table and toilet paper in the bathrooms. Where I struggle, still, is with my writing.

Some of you hold me accountable—“Where’s your next blog post, Sue?” or “How’s your book coming along?” I appreciate your pokes as I share my struggles to take one slow baby step at a time. I say I want to be a writer but don’t actually write much. I hope as I grow in integrity with myself that I’ll overcome this resistance. Perhaps you have an area in your life where you need more integrity, too?

I’ve decided my next goal for writing is to write chapter 2 of my book and have it reviewed in a writers’ group. If I do this by June 20, I will celebrate by going to a creperie that I’ve wanted to try.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making progress with my running. For the past few weeks, I’ve been training for a 10K race, which will be held tomorrow. If I run the entire race without walking, I will rent Season 3 of Downton Abbey—soon. And I’ll enjoy every minute of the race as well as my reward.

Do you set goals and rewards? Do you have integrity with others? What about with yourself?

Posted in Challenges, Goals, Integrity, Running | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Making a Sanctuary

“If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth.”  – Alexandra Stoddard

I always enjoy the opportunity to tour lovely homes. Every year I go on a housewalk, where beautiful homes are decorated inside and out as a fundraiser to provide scholarships to high school students. Seeing such homes always makes me a little envious–but the home that made me most envious recently was not part of a housewalk. It was simply a house where my husband and I had gone to a party.

The rooms that had me drooling were a bedroom suite belonging to our host. The suite was spacious and had paintings, statues, and books on shelves. There was a comfortable couch that was obviously used by our host to relax. Why did this particular suite create a yearning in me? It wasn’t necessarily the spaciousness. The bedroom my husband and I share is the largest room in our house. It wasn’t necessarily the artwork. We have paintings that I like. They are not valuable, but I have no reason to think the artwork in that suite was valuable either. Books? No. I’ve got books—more than I will ever read, probably. The couch? No. My room contains a comfortable chair.

No, what appealed to me about the suite was the order and sense of peace. It was a place to get away from our noisy, busy world and read or reflect. Religious artifacts made it clear that it was also a place to pray.

It was a sanctuary.

Caribbean, British Virgin Islands, Scrub Island,  Guest Bedroom

A serene bedroom (Marina_Suite,_Scrub_Island_Resort,_Spa_&_Marina)

My bedroom has the basics to make it a sanctuary. Besides the comfortable chair, which belonged to my mother, I have a small bookcase from her, and a lamp and table from my mother-in-law. These women are deceased, and their items have positive connotations for me. I even have a few religious artifacts in my room.

The problem is that I have too much clutter. It is not a calm place to reflect or to pray. I don’t need to add anything to make my room a sanctuary, I need to subtract items. My books are stacked on night stands, on the floor, and even under my bed. These need to be cleared out and put in order. I have papers and magazines to sort through, and I need to hang up clothes I have flung over another chair.

So I’ve decided to do some “spring cleaning” now, while it’s winter. I live in the Chicago area, and the cold and snow make me want to cocoon. This is a better time for me to declutter than spring, when I will want to be out enjoying the weather.

I look forward to having a sanctuary of my own.

What about you? Do you have a place that serves as your sanctuary? How have you nourished your spiritual self recently?  

Posted in Inspiration, self-care, Spiritual | Tagged , , | 2 Comments