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Body image

The other night as I was perusing through a tray on my night stand, I came across an old high school prom picture in a pile of random photos. I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately. It’s funny how distorted the mind can be. When I was 18 years old, I didn’t think I was pretty, thought I was fat, and was afraid to talk to people. Oh how I’ve grown…literally (pun intended because I’m silly)! Here I am today, wiser, smarter, and the most ALIVE I’ve ever been, and my body is literally changing every day. If I could have my current mindset combined with the body I had back then, I’d be unstoppable! Alas, as fate would have it, life doesn’t work like that.

So at forty six years old, I must contend with this next phase of my life. In the past few weeks, I’ve added to my research: perimenopause, anemia, iron deficiency, and healthy aging. Of all the health issues I’ve had over the years, not one of my doctors told me about perimenopause. I broached the subject with my primary care physician and she didn’t offer much, except to say I was probably experiencing it, but no tests would confirm it…only if I were in menopause. As a breast cancer survivor, my health is my main priority. I put in the work daily to keep myself healthy by exercising, eating healthy, controlling my stress, sleeping, etc. In addition to all of this, I am striving for a healthy body image.

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LPC Summer 2019

I’m glad I can laugh about a recent, real conversation I had with my husband about body image. It went something like this:

  • Me (looking in the mirror, squeezing my stomach & pretending like it didn’t exist): If I didn’t have this stomach, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away from cropped tops. I don’t care about the other parts of my body, I just want a FLAT stomach!
  • Husband: If that’s the case, if I got rid of my stomach, I would never wear a shirt while on my walks, EVER again! (Inside joke: We can’t figure out why most men, no matter their shape or size, or where we are in Austin, jog shirtless.)

I made a deal with myself a few days after our conversation that I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I will focus on the positive parts of my body I love rather than the parts I don’t. Think about all the modifications we make to hide our imperfections. Think about how much energy that takes. Yes, I’ve had a pouch for 18 years (since giving birth to my 12.2 pound son), and I may never like my pouch, but in the big scheme of things, I have two beautiful children. Instead of looking at myself in the mirror in disgust, I will remind myself of the other parts of myself I love more. I’m hear to tell you, this is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. This may be too much for family members who may read this, BUT did I mention having a pouch hasn’t stopped me from having the best sex of my life? Yup, one of many perks of aging and aging with your love.

My oldest sister told me something recently which made me pause. She said, “You know, you’ve been through a lot in your short life”. Her simple statement rendered me speechless (for a few seconds). It’s true, but because I just move forward, I don’t spend time thinking about what I’ve been through. I focus on how else I want to grow and what else I want to accomplish. And because I’ve been through a lot, I no longer want to beat myself up or waste time thinking about how I look. I definitely don’t want to bring that negative energy into my fifties. We all have imperfections. These imperfections make us beautiful.

I want great health and great body image. I want the same for my daughter. I’m committed to aging gracefully, getting wiser, having a healthy body image, and inspiring others to do the same.

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LPC 7-21-19

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Be still

Sometimes, it’s the small things that go unnoticed, yet make the biggest impact. As I think about this upcoming week, I’ll share a quick story. This mug was a gift and sits on my work desk. I use it for tea…I’m not a coffee drinker. It actually took me a few months before I started using it because I have several “favorite” mugs on my desk. It quickly became my favorite because of the soothing color and the size holds just the right amount of liquid. I also love the bible scripture although I honestly hadn’t paid much attention.

One particular day, the feeling of stress was beginning to smother me. My self-care coping skills kicked in and I felt the urge to drink a soothing cup of tea. I leaned over my desk and grabbed the mug. I felt compelled to read it. The message was so clear. I didn’t know at the time I needed the verse. I opened my bible app, in that moment, while at work, and read the whole chapter (wasn’t very long) for context.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I, Lucrece, am not God. I’m not in control. I’m not the architect of my own life. But I have comfort, peace, joy, and strength in knowing God is God and God is in control. The stress subsided.

I’m not a deeply religious person, but I strive daily to be more spiritual, to listen, to be more obedient to what God calls me to do. Our lives are so busy today. It’s almost like a badge of honor to boast about how busy we are. However, I believe we need to make room to be still everyday. Be still to hear own thoughts. Be still to examine our hearts and desires. Be still to unplug from the clutter. Be still to solve a problem. Be still to read the bible. Be still to be grateful. Be still to hear God. I often have to remind myself I’m not in this alone. In all aspects of my life, I’m expected to solve problems…have the answers, but I don’t do it alone. God is on my side. I can lean on Him.

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The flame that burns from within

Some of favorite things about summer are that school is out for most, the reduced morning traffic (although normal, dreadful traffic ensues by evening rush hour), the long, hot days and breezy nights (not always guaranteed in Austin, Texas), and the opportunities to sit out on my porch in the dark. Tonight, I’m sitting on my porch next to my tabletop fire pit contemplating the commitment I made to maintaining my blog. I’ve been determined to experience this very moment all day.

It seems to me as though some bloggers are able to consistently produce an impressive amount of content…but not me. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of content swirling in my head, but it’s sitting down and actually doing the work of blogging that can be difficult. I have a full life of which I’m grateful, but there’s a flame burning within me that loves to write in any form. It’s how I express myself. I know I can help even just one person by sharing my stories through blogging.

The spark started when I was a little girl. I was in many situations I didn’t want to be in growing up, so as an escape, I developed a healthy imagination. I daydreamed constantly and I also loved to read. I really don’t remember when writing came into play, but I started journaling somewhere in my preteens. It stuck. In many ways, my blog posts are just me journaling my thoughts.

By actively participating in this particular activity which gives me peace and confidence, I’m attending to my self-care. When I go long periods without writing, I feel off kilter. I do write for work on a daily basis, but my personal writing is different. I get so much joy from blogging, despite few likes at times. You’d think I’d post more, but as I alluded to in a previous paragraph, it really is a matter of my time and energy. The best way, I can manage is to not overcommit, which I tend to do when I’m overzealous.

My initial plan was to post weekly on Saturday mornings, but my consistency with that schedule has waned periodically over the years. In the last month, I’ve been writing more, which, in turn, has fueled my desire to write more. However, I might have made another overzealous commitment about two weeks ago. I said to myself that I would post a blog post on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I did this last week. Tuesday of this week came and I completely forgot to blog. When I realized, I said I would write on Wednesday (my Friday before the holiday this week) and I didn’t feel up to it.

What I may do is commit to twice a week, giving myself some flexibility on the days within the work week. For my readers who prefer a routine schedule, this may not be helpful, but I’m trying to take baby steps to writing at least twice a week. I may increase the days, but I’m not sure yet. I’m attempting to have some self-compassion because I have other commitments.

Now, that I’ve pondered the frequency of my writing, what’s left is what I blog about. This blog is about self-care so I tend to focus my posts on implementing self-care strategies into my daily life. I also blog about my bout with breast cancer, my family, my work, travel, mental health, random thoughts, etc. I’m curious about what my readers want to read from me, so please feel free to let me know.

Writing in any form such as blogging is the flame that burns inside of me, so I’m always going to return to it. It ties me back to my younger self. It brings me peace. It gives me confidence. It makes me happy that I’m living a life congruent with my values and goals. My light lesson for this post is you have to nurture the flames that burn inside of you. You don’t want it to consume you…to engulf you in flames, but you want to embrace it, spend time with it, shape it, and honor it. I’m assuming that you will use the flames for depositing good in the world. If you’re like me, you may find it holds the key to who you truly are.

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DR Chronicles 2019: Would I go back?

I decided to write some of my preliminary thoughts on what is going on in the DR. Everyone knows that my team and I arrived back to the states safely and alive. The number of Americans dying in the DR continue to rise. I’ve read many articles online and have seen comments from people to the effect of “why do people continue to go there…it’s not safe?” I’ve heard from people I know that their people have been canceling scheduled trips to the DR. I saw a post on social media that an airline is working with customers to redirect their travel from DR to wherever else they want to go.

My people know I was recently on a mission trip through my church LifeAustin and Mission of Hope to the DR. Those in my circle were definitely concerned about my safety. For example, upon my return, my sister told me that she wasn’t going to say anything to me about what she had been seeing in the news while I was in the DR. Nobody knows truly what’s going on based on the articles written, but there appears to be commonalities and it does seem unusual for healthy, young couples to be dying at the same time, while on vacation. Not all of the deaths involved couples and now families whose family members died in years past while in the DR are wanting to know if the deaths are related to these current cases.

There is lot of speculation being shared, but key information is missing. I admit I’m on the speculation train too. My disclaimor to this blog post is what I write are my thoughts, so feel free to disagree, but don’t waste your time trying to beat me up on my thoughts. I’m not on the “never stepping foot again in the DR” train although I do have some thoughts.

Haiti occupies the same island as the Dominican Republic. In fact, my main purpose in being in the DR was to serve Haitians and there are many Haitians living in the DR. I’ve met a few. We were not in Haiti because the U.S. Travel Advisory had Haiti on a Level 4-No Travel status. The first reason I’m not willing to say, at this point, I’ll never go back to the DR is because many Haitians live there.

Of the two islands, the DR recieves way more funds through tourism and travel. I’m of the opinion that if these occurrences were happening in Haiti that the U.S. would have issued a Level 4 travel ban to Haiti by now. The U.S. recently downgraded Haiti from a Level 4 to a Level 3. Haiti was at a Level 4 travel ban because there was some rioting and protests a few months back. I checked moments ago and the U.S. still has the DR at a Level 2. It hasn’t changed. You can learn more about the travel advisories here.

Some commonalities of the deaths in the DR is that these were Americans on vacation, staying at resorts in popular tourist destinations, and possibly drinking alcohol. I was there on a mission trip, living in meager conditions on a beautiful property. My team, one of several teams, slept and ate in shared spaces. The women in my room slept in bunk beds and shared two showers and two toilets. We couldn’t flush toilet paper down the toilet due the the plumbing infrastructure. We were given lots of instructions and precautions prior to arriving. We didn’t drink any of the local water. On our daily trips to different communities, mostly impoverished, we assessed needs and prayed with people.

One of our Haitian translators did tell me that the Dominicans are not kind to Haitians and that Haitians are treated badly. He indicated this is the reason why he just goes to work and goes home and doesn’t hang out much. I’ve read social media articles and comments of people indicating they wouldn’t step foot in the DR because of how Haitians are treated. I’ve gleaned from the few Haitians I got to know on this trip (our wonderful translators) that even some of their family in Haiti don’t want to visit the DR because of how they hear Haitians are treated.

Haiti and the DR share a painful past and divisions amongst the people run deep. However, if people decide not to ever visit the DR again because how the DR treats Haitians, what does that do for the Haitians living there in the hopes of living a better life? That is, after all, why they are there…in the hopes of living a better life. I understand on some level people are saying not to continue to fuel the DR economy because they don’t treat certain people right. But what does that do for the people that live there if other countries stop visiting/touring? There are groups that the U.S., as a country, don’t treat right, but that’s not stopping people from touring, let alone moving to the U.S.

I had a beautiful, life enriching experience in the DR. I find the country wildly beautiful. There are definitely impoverished areas. The people we met were warm and friendly. Listen, I may go back to the DR. I was talking to a coworker yesterday and he asked me if I felt scared or unsafe while I was in the DR and the answer is no. We both agreed it’s hard to decipher what’s going on, especially when you factor in the media and their agenda.

Ultimately, I’m sad that people have died and sad for their families. I pray that the truth of what is happening is revealed so it can be avoided in the future.

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Lessons from Solange: Part Two

I’m behind on my blog posts, but I always return back to what brings balance and peace in my life: one such thing is writing. In May, I wrote the blog post Lessons from Solange: Part I. I had intended to complete my second installment sooner than now, but better late than never. I think about my mom often, but my recent trip to the Dominican Republic has me thinking about her and the lessons she taught me even more. My mom, Solange, passed away on 7/8/2017, so we’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary…another reason I’m thinking of her. I requested that day off work, so I can spend the whole day thinking about her undisturbed. I wrote about my grief and loss in these posts: Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen, Surreal-ality, and Family is everything. I hope these posts will help anyone who has lost someone close to them like a parent.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing the amount of influence mothers have with shaping their children’s lives. I’m more focused on my mother because I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father. He passed away a few years before my mom. My mom was my everything. She shaped my world. You only have one mother. Despite how complicated our relationship was and how much we disappointed each other, the bond was undeniable and cosmic.

A few more lessons Solange taught me that the world (more accurately, the people in my world) get to experience:

  1. Be a good cook – My mom was of the belief that you need to be a good cook to get a husband. My younger, rebellious self was not thinking about a husband. I was about 12 years old when my mom put her foot down and started to teach me how to cook particular dishes. Tears are coming down as I think about how much I respect her now for doing that and how ungrateful I was at the time. It was like participating in my very own cooking class and I didn’t appreciate it. Because I am a good cook thanks to her, I’ve had the satisfaction of pleasing my family with many delicious meals. Did I think my mom’s ideals were sexist…YES! However, I happen to have a family and I know they appreciate my cooking. I can feed them, which I think means something different when poverty was part of your history. I also am able to cook Haitian foods, which connects my family and myself to our heritage. I’ve shared my cooking with others such as extended family, friends, and coworkers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Dress well – If you knew my mom, you know she loved her suits, shoes and purses. For every shoe she had, she had a purse to match. After she passed away, I wrote a post about a pair of shoes I took of hers back to Austin. You can read it here: In her shoes. My mom passed on her love of dressing well to me. It was one of the few indulgences she was able to entertain and she deserved it with all the trauma she experienced in her life. I love clothes and I have many of them. A few months back, I binge watched “Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up” on Netflix and purged my supply. I vowed to only keep clothes that bring me “joy” moving forward. In a “not superficial way”, the lesson I received from my mom was to have pride in my appearance, to take care of myself, and to be aware of how I presented myself to the world.
  3. Be a giver – When I was in graduate school, I participated in counseling the last 6 months before graduation because I needed help with managing the stress of being a working mom in a graduate program and attending to my final internship. As I hashed out my stress to the therapist, she said something that I will never forget. As an explanation to my woes in a particular circumstance, she said, “it’s because you’re a giver”. Quite frankly, the comment floored me because I never thought of myself as a “giver”; yet, I had this insatiable appetite to give all the time. I’d often prayed to God to “use me for his purpose”. The therapist referred me to an article about givers and it made sense. It was at that point, I knew I was a giver. Now where did I get this trait? My biggest role model for giving was my mom because she gave so much of herself to her children. She also gave to others like her family in Haiti, New York and beyond. We didn’t have much growing up, but on occasion she would host dinner parties at our small apartment. I remember being so embarrassed because my brother’s bed was in the living room, but she wasn’t too proud to have people over to experience her cooking. She was my greatest example of a giver. I’ve learned to balance some of that giving to others with giving to myself.

A mother’s love is like no other in the cosmos and you only have one. I’m thankful Solange shared many light lessons with me, even the ones I didn’t want.

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Lessons from Solange: Part I

My upcoming birthday in a couple of days will be my second without my mom, Solange. Last year, Mother’s Day and my birthday was rough. These events are one week apart. I grieved a lot. I hadn’t really thought about how my mom’s absence would affect me on my birthday until the circumstance presented itself. The pain of her loss wasn’t as intense this year as last year. To help curb the pain of her absence on my upcoming birthday, I will honor her for all she’s instilled in me by contemplating and sharing the top greatest lessons my mom taught me, whether inadvertantly or not.

  1. Believe in God – There is an omnipotent force bigger than all of us and that is God. My mom made sure I knew there is a God. However, I didn’t agree with my mom’s religion. In fact, it made me very confused for a large part of my life. She didn’t understand why it didn’t appeal to me. I simply don’t believe God wants us to be miserable all the time by following a bunch of legalistic rules that have nothing to do with God. I did learn to have a relationship and faith in God, which caused me to seek him further as I got older. I was taught only ONE religion leads to God, but I don’t believe that’s true. Thank God I have a relationship with Him because religion would have kept me away.
  2. Work hard – To know my mom is to know she worked hard all her life. She had no choice. She came to the United States from Haiti without knowing the language, without much of an education and had to raise 4 children as a single parent because my father couldn’t/wouldn’t help. She retired from a¬†hospital in Chicago after 20+ years of cleaning hospital rooms. I don’t know how she did it, but she passed on her work ethic to her children. Our work ethic is rare.
  3. Be the bigger person – I used to get frustrated with my mom because people in our family turned their backs on us when my mom was struggling and some thought they were better than us, but she still tried to make peace with them even to her death. I’m not fully at my mom’s level yet, but I do tolerate people better than I see many other people do. It helps that love helping people, am¬†trained as a social worker, and understand empathy and the value in not being judgmental. I also exercise healthy boundaries.
  4. Save your pennies – I’ve struggled with managing my finances for a long time as an adult, often because my wants outweighed my resources. Then life circumstances, such as my husband’s health issues, caused us to rely on one income. One habit that has stuck with me to this day is saving loose change. This one little habit helped get us through some tight months. I used to beat myself up because I thought I didn’t know how to save, but I do know. I’ve watched my mom do it with her small salary. The act of putting money away consistently, no matter how small, builds up over time.
  5. Be early – I still struggle with arriving places on time, let alone early. It is a bad habit. When I was younger and had my first own car, I used to arrive at all the religious meetings late because I didn’t want to be there in the first place. My mom and stepfather made it clear that as long as I lived in her house, I had to go, so I went…VERY late. Admittedly, it was an act of defiance. Later on in my life, the tardiness posed itself as me multitasking to the point that I lost track of time, underestimating how much time I had. I’m still working on this one. It’s a work in progress.

Our relationship was not perfect. Solange was not perfect. I am not perfect. It was a complex relationship as most mother/daughter relationships are. However, I always knew that Solange loved me and loved me enough to teach me how to survive in this world. I’m using what she instilled in me to not only survive, but to THRIVE and be better every day.

Next week, I’ll share 5 more lessons Solange taught me.

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Reoccurring light lessons

How did that happen? January breezed by with me posting not one blog post. It was busy. Now February is in full swing. No, I didn’t make a list of resolutions. However, I have been fulfilling my commitment of ramping up my self-care. I completed a 30 day green smoothie challenge (simple green smoothies), got back to going to the gym and dancing with my Zumba fitness buddies on Saturdays, and reconnected with some special people. My husband and I got baptized. I hit a milestone with being in 2 years remission from breast cancer. You can read about how I first learned of my diagnosis here. I’m generally more optimistic this year than this time last year when we were dealing with my husband’s health.

I’m living, being, moving, doing, and am overall feeling good about 2019. However, as I’ve been minding my own business, trying to live my “best” life… BOOM!!! I’m hit with another familiar challenge. I blame it on the work culture where I’m employed because there is constant change and turnover. I’m faced again with the external pressure of moving up and deciding if job advancement is what I want. What bothers me about it is that I love what I do and I spend most of my work time out of my comfort zone, but I’ve gotten comfortable with the level of discomfort I’m in right now, if that makes sense.

Listen, no one is telling me I have to do anything. No one has assigned me to anything. However, as I observe people advance in positions, I have a moment, which could be a day(s), week(s) or month(s), of internal questioning. Why wasn’t I picked? What will others think of me because I wasn’t picked? At the same time, as a working mother that solely financially supports my family, I have to think of my family first and how my job impacts them. I can’t just pick up and go to another agency because three people depend on me. As the keeper of the insurance, I know we can’t have a lapse in medical coverage either given our combined health issues.

I’m not sure how many women can relate to my exact experience, but I think it’s a common experience to deal with multiple pressures. The tug and pull of being a working mom and the sole financial support for my family can feel overwhelming at times. I love my family, but have a demanding job. People have expectations of me at home and work, and I have expectations of myself. I work with very ambitious people, not that I’m not ambitious too. Thank God my husband, Bryan, is a constant presence for our kids during the week. I’m actually glad he isn’t working right now so he can be here for the kids and attend to his health issues.

I’ve been processing my thoughts on this topic in my head for a couple of weeks now. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know one of the most instrumental tools I use to process is writing. Putting “pin to paper”, so to speak, is a sign I’m ready to make some decisions and move past this. I’m also meeting with a mentor for tea this morning and I plan to talk it out.

The LIGHT lessons I need to re-eaxamine are evaluating my work goals and what I want, in my due time. I need to not let external pressure cause me to make moves that I don’t want to make because it looks good to someone else. A pivotal question is what do I want which can be blurred when raising a family that depend on me. Bottom line: I need to stop worrying about what other people think of me and do what’s best for me and my situation. I need to stop being so hard on myself.

What reoccurring issues present themselves in your life and how do you handle them?