Gratitude

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” ~Seneca

I feel gratitude right now. I have felt it before, sometime in college when I realized how lucky I was to have the family I have. Not everyone is so lucky. I didn’t always know that. As is so often true I suppose, I didn’t know it until I needed them. You don’t realize that someone is there to catch you until you fall.

I felt that same gratitude with every hardship I faced, until slowly I learned to stand on my own two feet. I stopped falling, or at least falling so hard.

I feel gratitude again now. I waited a long time for the man who would elicit such a feeling. Truthfully, I didn’t know exactly what I was waiting for, just as you don’t know what the best day of your life will be like until you’re living it.

My sister-in-law gave me a card once. I can’t remember the reason for the card… a birthday maybe. But I do remember what it said. I saved the card and committed the message to memory. It was meant to encourage me–to give me strength to continue waiting. She had waited and found my brother. She knew I was waiting too. The quote was from the movie “How to Make an American Quilt”. It was an excerpt of this:

I know our marriage has as good of a chance of being wonderful as it does missing the mark.  However, I’m banking on our love for each other to weigh a bit heavier on the wonderful side. As Anna says about making a quilt, you have to choose your combination carefully. The right choices will enhance your quilt. The wrong choices will dull the colors, hide their original beauty. There are no rules you can follow. You have to go by your instinct.  And you have to be brave.

Today I’m stepping back to look at my quilt. It’s wonderful. I chose my colors well. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s warm and comforting. At the center of the quilt is the man I chose. Surrounded by him are a wonderful and bright little boy, my step-son; a loving mother-in-law who would give us the world if she could; her husband, who is endlessly patient and kind; and two dogs, full of personality and quirks.  The backing of the quilt is my family, who support and love the colors I’ve chosen. In pieces, we’re chaotic, but sewn together, we make sense. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s my quilt.

I am walking through life, wrapped in soft armor. And I know who to thank for it…

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Life is so, so sweet

For the second day in a row, at 6:30 pm, give or take 10 minutes, I opened the door to our house and was hit by the smell of a hot, home cooked meal. And I was greeted by smiles from the most handsome man I know and his precious little boy. Tension melted off my shoulders and I became acutely aware of how happy I was to be home.

How happy I was that this was my home.

How lucky I was that I found him.

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If you had asked me a year ago where I would be this July, I never would have guessed that I would have moved to Colorado Springs, be engaged to a Navy fighter pilot, and be learning to be a mom. My life has shifted 180 degrees, in the direction I’ve always wanted it to go but couldn’t take it there alone. And I can now confirm that what I always believed turned out to be true… that it would be easy when I met the right man. That everything would fall into place and I would “just know”. That my priorities would shift and I wouldn’t be so career-focused. That everything would make sense.

What I didn’t know, however, was that it is possible to be in a relationship and to be in love every day. It is possible to be in a relationship and to be perfectly content with life… to be free of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know what it was like to trust someone fully. I had always felt the need to hold something back… love or time or (sadly) money… to protect myself. I had never met the man I could invest in fully and throw caution to the wind. Until now.

But now, here I am, coming home to a home cooked meal on the days that I work and he doesn’t. And I sometimes come home to find flowers on the table for me, just because… or a refrigerator stocked with foods that he doesn’t eat, like Greek yogurt and hummus. And I always come home to a man who greets me with a smile and is as excited to spend the evening together as I am.

And have I mentioned how handsome he is??

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I have found such joy in simplicity. Such fulfillment in being a part of a family. Just this morning, Little Man followed me around the kitchen, still in his pajamas, giving me hugs every few minutes. I stopped what I was doing and knelt down for a full-on hug, where he rested his head on my shoulder, and overflowed my heart. Just a hug. Who knew that was all it would take.

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Life is so, so sweet. I am so blessed.

 

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The Search for a Cowboy

If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you know that I appreciate and attempt to live by an old-school value system that came from my old-school upbringing. I don’t run across a lot of other people my age who grew up on a ranch, attended a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade….  and ate lunches comprised of vegetables from the garden washed in water from a livestock tank to avoid going to the house and being put down for a nap. So now that I’m an adult (and a contemplative one at that), I’ve thought a lot about how my upbringing has translated into my search for a husband.

Or really… my search for a cowboy.

I’m speaking metaphorically when I say that, because I’m not actually looking for a man with a big belt buckle who saddles up a horse to start the day’s work. Rather, I’m looking for a certain mentality. I’m looking for the way in which a man conducts himself, and the standard he holds himself to. You see, there are certain traits that I associate with cowboys, and those are the traits that capture my attention and command my respect. Those are the traits that cause me to put a man on a pedestal and look at him with admiration in my eyes. This list is not comprehensive, by any means, but it’s a good start.

A cowboy lives by a code of honor. Somewhere along the way, people pick up a set of rules or principles to live by. Sometimes their parents give it to them. Sometimes it comes from an influential figure, or maybe even the military or an amazing coach. But this code of honor guides a man to do what is honorable, whether or not it’s easy. For example, a student’s code of honor requires that the work he turns in be his own. A soldier’s code of honor requires him to stand and fight rather than deserting his fellow soldiers. A father’s code of honor requires him to protect and teach his children to the best of his ability. A cowboy looks for the appropriate honor code and upholds it without needing to talk about it or be praised for it. He does it because it makes him a man.

The code of honor really encompasses everything that follows, but I think it’s worth detailing them anyway.

A cowboy has good work ethic. He does what is necessary to get a job done. He takes pride in his work. Simply good enough is simply not good enough.

A cowboy is compassionate to children and animals. He recognizes that he has a duty to those who cannot help themselves, and he gladly shoulders that responsibility. I’ve never met a true cowboy who didn’t play with children or love a good dog. I’ve never met a true cowboy who was cruel to his horses. In fact, a cowboy will take any measures necessary to correct a man who is abusing his power and strength with those weaker than himself. He defends the weak, and he’s not afraid to teach a lesson that needs to be taught to those who don’t.

A cowboy respects women. Men and women are different by God’s design. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that society has worked so hard to mask those differences. But a cowboy sees and appreciates them, and cherishes a woman for the ways in which she differs from himself. Now don’t get me wrong… not all women conduct themselves in a way that warrants respect, in which case, a cowboy simply moves on. But when he does find a good woman, he knows how to treat her.

A cowboy respects his elders. At some point in his life, he will slowly take over the responsibility of caring for his parents in the ways that they used to care for him. He will value their wisdom, listen to their stories, and cherish the time he has to bridge the gap between generations before that opportunity is gone.

A cowboy makes no apologies for being a man. Even in the midst of a society that has devalued masculinity, a cowboy remains masculine. He recognizes that it’s in a woman’s nature to test him and make sure he won’t break… make sure he has the strength to be her man. (Forgive us. We don’t even know we do it sometimes.) Men are naturally more inclined to be competitive, to enjoy sports or the great outdoors or whatever their particular “thing” might be. A cowboy embraces what’s in his nature, pursues his interests and desires, and is a better husband, father, friend because of it.

A cowboy is prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually to fight for what is right. That means he protects his family, stands up for what he believes in, and fights for his country if necessary. And he takes the steps necessary to make sure that he can.

A cowboy is humble. He recognizes that even if he has spent a lifetime working tirelessly toward his goals, he is still thankful for his health and good fortune. He doesn’t look down on others and doesn’t forget to count his blessings.

A cowboy has quiet strength. I’ve found that the strongest of men are sometimes the ones you’d least expect. That’s because they’re humble (see above). And you only learn how strong they are when they are tested. You learn just how much of a rock a man is when you push on him, attempting to move him. A cowboy will allow you to push, but when you reach his limits, you’ll be stopped in your tracks and no amount of pushing will budge him. The loud one in a room… the boastful one… is not a cowboy.

Lastly, a cowboy has courage. Winston Churchill said “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Without courage, a person cannot hold themselves to any of the standards listed above, because inevitably his convictions will be tested. Courage will be required to stay the path, to uphold his code, to fight for his beliefs, and to withstand pain because sometimes life delivers pain. To recognize your own faults and correct them requires courage. Even to love requires a great deal of courage. A cowboy has enough of it.

So there you have it. The man I seek is a cowboy, not by occupation or dress, but by the qualities I’ve listed. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of cowboys in my generation, but once in a great while, one will appear. He might be a business owner, a salesman, a construction worker, an accountant, or a pilot. But regardless of how he looks on the outside, he’s saddling up and riding for the brand… a true cowboy at heart.

Bravo to all of you who are.

My grandfather and his brothers, the Blair boys. Their parents are on the left.

I walked across the highway and stepped back in time

This is my second day at the ranch and it’s a beautiful day as South Dakota winter days go. Forty degrees and sunny, with a chilly breeze. I decided it was a perfect day for a walk, and even before I made it up the hill leading away from the house, I knew it would be more than just a walk. It would be healing. It needed to be healing.

I’ve been heartbroken once. Recently, I went through another failed relationship, and while I can’t say that I was broken, I was bruised. I was hurt enough to have a few tearful days and some bitterness. Today I’m content, but not yet at peace. I’m limping back into cautious optimism, but I’m not there yet. So I set out on today’s walk, seeking healing.

I first walked south, past the barns and shops, past all the ranch vehicles and horse trailers and tractors, toward the mailbox at the highway. It’s about a mile long walk to the highway, and all the way there and all the way back, I just thought. I looked inward and I thought. I searched for fault in my actions and lapses in my judgment with this most recent relationship. I searched for the answer to the question ‘what should I have done differently’. I didn’t find the answer, maybe because I was not at fault… or maybe because I can’t yet see the forest through the trees.

I made it back to the barns and shops and decided I wasn’t done yet. So I headed west, up the other gravel road that leads away from the house. I walked past Dad’s cows on my right. They barely looked up at me as I walked by. Then I walked past the two-year old heifers on my left, on the other side of a barbed wire fence. They’re young, pregnant for the first time, and “spooky”. I sneezed and one heifer jumped, causing the entire herd of them to turn and run away from me, toward no particular destination. A few hundred yards later, I came to the highway again, and the “Blair ranch” sign leading into Dad’s place. I stopped and waved at a semi with a load of hay bales driving by. Then I crossed.

Halfway across the highway, I decided that I would walk to the old house… my childhood home… and see what state it was in after being empty for a number of years. So halfway across the highway, I had the distinct feeling of stepping back in time. I had made that walk a hundred times as a little girl, between our house and Grandpa’s, and here I was, walking it again. I slowed down and took it in. I walked past the little pond that I skipped a million stones across. It was iced over, but a layer of water was over the ice. I picked up a stone and threw it high in the air to see if it would break through the ice. It didn’t. I picked up a bigger stone, and then a bigger one.

The ice was solid though, and I walked on, leaving rocks scattered across the frozen pond. I walked up the hill above the pond toward the old house. As I walked up the hill I asked myself what I was searching for, not just today, on this walk, but in general. The answer I gave myself was ‘the happiness I felt as a child’. But even as the thought crossed my mind, I knew that I’d never find it. The happiness that children feel comes from being innocent and unburdened by life’s stresses (if they’re lucky enough to have a stable home life). But after the first broken heart… after the first wound that leaves a scar… that happiness can’t be regained. A new one must be found.

I found myself standing in the shop at the old house. This is where my first buck was mounted on the wall. This is where my dad taught me to fix a flat tire before I was allowed to drive a car. This is where we built Mom’s picnic table and where Dad came running from when I crashed my bike into the cattle guard nearby on the day I (sort-of) learned to ride a bike. I kept walking, and crossed that cattle guard, looking down at the iron slats that permanently scarred my forehead. I walked up the driveway to the old house. The little shed where our dogs always slept was still there but the tree house Dad built us was gone. The lawn had turned to weeds and the house didn’t look welcoming anymore. I went in anyway. I didn’t shut the door behind me.

For several minutes, I just stood inside the doorway. It was my house, but it wasn’t. It smelled musty and unlived in. It was dirty and empty and different. But I stood there and allowed a million memories to wash over me, and I let the new sights and smells give way to the old ones. Once again I could smell lemon Pinesol from Mom’s cleaning. I could smell supper in the oven.

(In rural South Dakota, the meals are breakfast, dinner, and supper. If lunch is a home-cooked meal, it’s called dinner. If it’s just a sandwich, it might be called lunch.)

It was no longer there, but I could see the TV stand Dad made and mounted, holding up the old TV with knobs to change channels and rabbit ears to find stations. I could see the orange carpeting and ugly wood paneling on the walls. I could hear laughter at the dinner table. I walked into my old bedroom, just past the kitchen and turned a circle in the middle of the room, amazed at how small it seemed. Even the closet seemed tiny… the closet I made into my personal hideout where I would read. I stared at the floor of it, seeing myself as a little girl, with a lamp for light, a pillow and blanket for comfort, and a stack of books that I couldn’t wait to soak up. It didn’t seem tiny then.

I did this with every room in the house, until I was thoroughly lost in a previous lifetime, and I was hesitant to stop when I made my way to the end of the second story of the house. No more house to walk through. So I slowly made my way back out, and stood just inside the door for a few more minutes before stepping back outside. I closed the door, put my headphones back in, and started walking back toward the highway. Back toward today.

I said before that I was seeking healing… and happiness. As I made my way back to the highway I brought God into the introspection I was doing. And I started saying my favorite prayer, the Our Father. There’s a part that always resonates with me.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….  Lord, forgive me and help me forgive. Help me let go of the bitterness, because it feels like poison inside me.

Lead us not into temptation… God there is so much temptation in the world. I struggle to recognize what temptations I should avoid. In seeking love, we face temptation. Isn’t it ok to move toward it? So far, that has only led to pain. How can I recognize when it is right?

…but deliver us from evil. Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day.  I pray for peace for others, but never for myself. Lord, today I’m asking for peace in my day.

In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety.  I always say that part twice. Lord, protect us from all anxiety, because I feel like once we leave childhood behind, it’s one anxiety after another, and it’s exhausting. This, I believe, is the greatest challenge we face as human beings. I believe it’s the reason we’re here… to accept the life we’re given and let go of the anxiety we feel. Trust in God that He has a plan for us, and that it is never what we assume (or want). That is the happiness I now seek… the freedom from anxiety.

More than an hour has passed and I’m about to go back down the hill to the new house. It’s time to bring this healing session to a close. It’s been good. I could use another hour but it will come, all in good time. Before I go home, though, I put one last song on my iPod (and think to myself that my iPod doesn’t belong in such a peaceful place).

Galileo.

“And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode, I try to trace them to my youth.

…I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime.

…How long till my soul gets it right? Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?”

Perfect By Design

I’ve noticed a trend among my fitness-enthusiast friends lately, which culminated in seeing a giant tractor tire propped against the wall in a small 24 Hour Fitness near my office recently. The way people work out is changing, with the new school workouts actually being very old school ways of staying fit. Now it’s not uncommon to see a group of people in a gym parking lot pushing cars, carrying buckets full of weight either in their hands or hanging from a bar across their shoulders, moving big tires from point A to point B, and so on. And the kettle bell phenomenon is the same idea. They are a bunch of weights of varying sizes with handles so people can do explosive movements designed to imitate throwing stuff, usually over their heads. (Anyone else reminded of square hay bales?) New research has also taught us that the optimum cardiovascular exercise is moderate enough to raise your heart rate, but not so much that your body switches to anabolic mode and begins burning muscle for fuel. In other words, walking at varying inclines (like you might find outdoors) is pretty ideal. Who’da thought?? So it seems that the science of  exercise has come full circle, and we are now doing what people have done since the beginning—moving our bodies in the way they were designed to move before innovation made it possible for us to be lazy all day long.

And so I started thinking… and I realized… pretty much everything comes full circle. We, as a species, keep getting smarter. And we’re learning that the changes we make as a result of new discoveries often need to be undone because when we finally uncover the whole picture, we realize that things were better off left alone.

Remember when everyone thought that eggs were bad for you because of the cholesterol in them? And red meat was banned from the list of acceptable foods for anyone hoping to lose weight. Innovative companies started producing sugar substitutes and fat-free everything. The goal was to allow people to eat and drink to their heart’s content without adding pounds. Fruits and vegetables were genetically engineered to be bigger (but somehow lost all taste). Preservatives were added to everything so no one needed fresh food, ever. Chemicals were sprayed on crops to kill bugs and produce the maximum output per acre. Hormones were given to animals so they would be bigger and produce more milk and meat. The wonder of innovation!

What has been the result of all that innovation? Staggering increases in the rate of mental health issues, including among children. More people than ever are dying of cancer. Dysfunctions that mimic MS are seen among diet soda drinkers. The rate of Alzheimer’s has increased dramatically. Society is depressed, can’t concentrate, is malnourished and disease-ridden, and there’s more obesity than history has ever seen. Innovations in curing disease haven’t kept up with the rate at which innovation has caused disease. So now we’re being told to revert back to the way humans ate a century ago. Eat organic food. If you need to sweeten something, use real, raw sugar. Avoid the fat-free stuff, because it actually causes more weight gain. In other words, eat and drink the way people used to eat and drink… the way God intended us to eat and drink. We haven’t improved upon his creation at all. As it turns out, eggs are one of earth’s perfect foods. We should eat whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables, and avoid processed stuff. “Stay in the outside aisles at the grocery store” is the modern-day advice. God even gave us caffeine and alcohol! What more could we need?? Food was perfect by design.

Humans seem to have a need to understand and then alter everything. Scientists discovered the smallest particle on the planet, the atom, and then wanted to break it into even smaller pieces. What did that lead to? Nuclear fallout and atomic weapons of mass destruction. Chernobyl and Hiroshima. Oops! Granted, nuclear power is nice, but I’ll still argue that we should never have messed with it. It was perfect by design.

We have even decided that the human body wasn’t good enough as it was. I won’t get into the topic of whether or not it’s morally acceptable to grow organs from stem cells. If I ever need a new organ I’ll make up my mind about that topic. But let’s talk about this on a smaller scale. I grew up in the 80’s, and as a little girl, I remember seeing actresses and models that didn’t look like any  of the women I encountered in daily life. Don’t get me wrong… my mother and her sisters were beautiful women who took very good care of themselves. But they were real women. They didn’t have visible ribs or porcelain skin. I got a very clear message that it was important to be skinny. And just as women were shrinking, men were growing. (Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger.) It become just as awful to call a man “skinny” as it was to call a woman “fat”. Both genders began using substances to help them achieve an unnatural appearance, some legal, some not. And I’ll admit, I fell victim to the pressure to achieve the “ideal” body. I held myself to an unrealistic standard and hated myself when I fell short. Thankfully, those days have given way to a much more content place of moderation. I personally have come full circle, and while I still work out and eat healthy, I also indulge in my favorite things. That includes the occasional burger, sweet potato fries, movie theater popcorn, Crown Royal, and of course, ice cream. You only live once!

There’s more media attention given to the pressure put on women to be “ideal” than the pressure put on men. But they feel it too. A lot of men put a great deal of time and energy into being bigger and more muscular than their genetics intended. I can’t say that I speak for all women, but I think I represent the vast majority when I say that women don’t like the “steroid look”. When I see a man who looks like a real life version of Johnny Bravo… who might tip over and not be able to get back up because he’s so top-heavy… it’s not attractive. You know the look. It’s as if his shoulders and arms have been inflated with air. Sorry, but I don’t want to cuddle up to that! There’s no room for me! I can fully appreciate a man’s physique when he takes care of himself, and has that V-shaped torso, with broad shoulders and a lean waist. But his delts alone should not command attention. It’s distracting. An overall athletic appearance will win out every time. So guys, chill out! It’s ok to weigh less than 200 pounds. You’re still bigger than us and can carry the heavy stuff that we can’t, and that’s all we need.

Regarding my own gender, I read something written by a man about the things he loves about a woman. He wrote about the way she smells and the primitive manly thing in him that ignites when he sees her in his shirts. He wrote about “the look” that she  reserves just for him, when she suddenly realizes she adores him and is wildly attracted to him all over again. He wrote about the fact that it’s slightly more charming than annoying that she worries about his health and safety. He wrote about the way she fits in his arms, with her face buried in his neck when he hugs her, as if she was designed just for him. What he didn’t write about was physical perfection. In fact he said he liked that her body was soft, and he thought she was crazy when she criticized herself in front of a mirror. She was womanly, with womanly parts. And the “flaws” she saw in herself were the things that made her different from him in exactly the ways she was supposed to be. She didn’t need cosmetic procedures or Botox or even make-up to be beautiful in his eyes. In fact, lots of makeup makes women less approachable rather than more attractive.

My girlfriend took a trip to LA recently, with plans to go out every night and enjoy the LA “scene”. She packed really tall heels and really short skirts. She took every beauty product and tool in her arsenal, planning to be dressed to the 9’s. And when she came back she told me that she was so busy having fun that she spent no time getting ready for the evenings. She went out to nightclubs in jeans and a tank top, with barely any makeup on. And she got more attention from men than she’d ever had in her life. It was probably a breath of fresh air for the guys (especially in LA) to see a woman… I mean really SEE a woman undisguised by all our crap that we think makes us beautiful.

So this blog kinda started as one thing and ended as another. But I guess it all relates. And it all stems from an idea that I was mulling around in my head, which is this:

The world and all things in it are perfect by design. God designed us in a way that is functional, and we are attracted to each other because of the very things that help us get by in the world and produce more human beings. The food he gave us fuels us and keeps us healthy and lean. The improvements we’ve tried to make have actually been steps backwards. God must feel like the parent of a  two-year old… patiently waiting for us to grow up and stop make messes everywhere. But then again, he designed us to be slow learners, so I guess that’s perfect too.

Finding My Nurturing Side

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve thought to myself, “I don’t think I’m very good at being a woman.” I’d have a lot of dollars. I don’t really believe that I’m BAD at being a woman. I just seemed to have missed the boat on a few things, and some of them I’m glad to have missed. For example, I never think to buy a cute card, fill it with words of encouragement, and send it to a female friend of mine after talking to her about a difficult time in her life. Women have done that for me and it’s wonderful. Instead I fully engage in a good conversation and then try to infect her with my “do-er” mentality. Forget about it and DO something. I’ll help. If we can do something to fix the problem, great, but if not, let’s find something different to throw our energy into and get our minds off of it. This approach is not exactly nurturing.

I never wake up on a Saturday morning and have the urge to fill my house with the smell of freshly baked pastries for people (I’m not sure whom) to enjoy over the weekend. I have a mother and aunts and cousins who do that and it’s wonderful (but not good for my waistline). Instead, I wake up and decide whether I’m going to work out before or after breakfast, and I hurry to the gym to put my body through as much physical strain as possible while I pump the week’s stress into some iron and then sweat the rest out on the stair climber. When I am sufficiently exhausted, I go home and eat a high-protein meal, clean up, put on more workout clothes, and get on to the next physical activity, preferably outdoors. At no point am I fixing my hair or shopping or doing my nails or tying on an apron. Those things are irritating necessary evils to be avoided whenever possible.

I do not give off an impression of softness and sweetness. I’ve been around women like that, and they’re calming and wonderful. They have sweet voices and a tenderness about them that makes you want to be gentle toward them. When I’m around women like that I become acutely aware of the fact that I sometimes sound like a foul-mouthed sailor. My movements and thoughts and voice are not like that at all. My drinks of choice are beer and whiskey. I love muscle cars and motorcycles and hunting deer in the frigid South Dakota cold. I own power tools and a shop vac. I prefer black coffee over tea and hiking boots over high heels. And I’d rather throw away a pair of pants than get out a sewing kit and mend them.

So you see, I have plenty of reasons to think that I’m not very good at being a woman.

But a funny thing happened when a man came into my life recently.

I wanted to feed him.

I’ve been contemplating this phenomenon… examining this funny urge in myself that seems to have come about since I met this irresistibly handsome and oh-so-manly man who is wonderful to me. From the very first time we had a meal together that wasn’t at a restaurant, I have wanted to prepare and serve food for him. I couldn’t help but chuckle at myself a little bit as I shop-vacced the dust off my spice rack (kidding) and tried to remember how to make food look and taste good rather than simply act as fuel. I found myself spending time thinking about meals ahead of time and taking twice as long in the grocery store as I resurrected mom’s best recipes. Soul food. Hearty food. Fill him up and leave him satisfied. Nurtured.

Make no mistake, I’m just as rough around the edges as I’ve always been. I still haven’t pulled an apron out. But I found a nurturing part of myself that hadn’t shown itself in a while. Maybe I’ll fill my kitchen with pastry smells someday soon…

after my workout.

To a Strong Woman… and Back Again

I mastered it. The art of being a strong, independent woman. Somewhere in my early 20’s, I figured out how to not need anything from anyone. I didn’t need to waste my time on a relationship. I was busy getting my education. I had a goal in mind… a successful career that would require a graduate degree, publications, long hours in a high rise office.

I would make money, I decided. I would be able to provide a good life for myself and if the time ever came, I’d be able to send my kids to Ivy League schools if they chose to go to one. The idea of a husband didn’t really come into the picture, although I knew it was a necessary detail. I would do it. That’s all that mattered.

Why would I do it? Because I had something to prove. A sheltered childhood left me ill-equipped for the world that would greet me when I struck off on my own, as a barely-18 year-old girl who weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. I learned the hard way that not everyone has good intentions. I learned that your first love might cheat on you with a woman of questionable morals. That you might get your heart broken because someone’s addiction is stronger than their love for you. I learned that you can’t keep a routine, because someone might study it. I learned that it’s not safe to go places alone at night. That you have to worry about parking garages and dark stairwells and telling people where you live. I learned that a lot of men aren’t like my dad. I’d been hurt. I’d been scarred. And for a while, I’d been beaten by life.

But you can only live that way… feeling beaten… for so long. Then you decide that you aren’t going to let the trials of life win. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and decide that you’re stronger than that. I began a journey to build a fortress around myself. I became smarter. I became tougher. Harder. Stronger. I faced my fears head-on. And before I knew it, there I was… a strong, independent woman. I had my career. I owned my home. I learned that with perseverance, I can overcome anything that might stand in my way.

I did it on my own. And as a result, I was alone.

Men, you’ve all met a woman like I described above. There’s not much you can say or do to convince her to let her guard down. Most men walk away from a woman like that. Or they latch onto her because her confidence makes up for the confidence they’re lacking, and eventually, she walks away from them. Men have told me I’m intimidating. Men have told me they feel they have nothing to offer me. How wrong they were. But still, it kept me alone.

But the pendulum always swings back in the other direction. My defenses served me well, as they do all women who are trying to protect themselves. But my perspective has changed again. I’m in a different place in life and the tint on the lense has changed once more. I’ve healed. And now I realize… I don’t want to be so strong.

Men, take note. When you meet a woman, regardless of how tough her façade is, treat her as if she’s delicate. Because she is. Recognize that even if she’s the CEO of some big corporation, she still worries about what you think of her. She still feels insecurities and is thrown out of her element by hormones from time to time. When she questions you, open your eyes to the reason behind her questions. Even if she’s a beautiful, intelligent, seemingly confident woman, she still wants/needs that one man to show her kindness and affection. She needs his reassurance. If she walks away angry, she wants him to follow. She’ll show her insecurity with defensiveness. Ignore her walls. Let her know that you see through them and that you’ll walk through them and that you’ll be there to catch her when she needs you.

Even the strongest woman needs a man who lets her be soft and sensitive. We want to be the weaker sex. When a man recognizes this and treats us accordingly, it’s like a sigh of relief. A burden taken off of us that we’ve been carrying since the first time we caught a glimpse of how cruel the world can be. When you see what’s underneath our tough outer shell, you give us permission to be the person we really are… be the thing that comes natural to us. Feminine. And it elevates that man in our minds to be the only one who ‘gets it’. The one who makes us feel safe. He is the man; she is the woman.

His woman.

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