Let me paint you a picture…

I have a small gallery of canvas paintings from various “Paint & Sip” nights growing on my dining room wall.  
You know what I’m talking about right?


You pick the painting online that you and 5 of your friends agree  would be a good one to attempt to copy.  You pick the date and gather at said place…anticipating FUN and a night out with your girlfriends!  Lets be real, this is a modern day quilting circle, but with alcohol, and we all LOVE IT.  And in theory, you order drinks and excitedly sit down for a few hours of some much deserved (and expensive!) creative fellowship.  If all goes well, you’ll have a beautiful, medium sized piece of original art on canvas to take home and wow your family with.

Right?

I proudly bring them home and hang them all in one place, because they don’t match and I obviously don’t take my decorating too seriously.  They look ridiculous, but I think its hilarious and “my gallery” ALWAYS starts conversations.  I have a blooming, swirly tree, a glorious ocean wave breaking at sunset, and my most recent addition: a majestic winter stag standing in falling snow amidst wintry trees.

My sister and I went with some friends last week to this holiday themed paint and sip night.   We settled in with our drinks and got ready to begin.  I looked around before we began, trying to make conversation and jokes with the women around me. ( I drive my sister nuts when we go out in public because I always like to talk to everyone!)

This particular painting venue I hadn’t been to before.  I noticed immediately it was in a nicer part of town, and since I had to go there directly from a full day at work at the gym, I felt a little “under dressed” amidst all the other women who seemed perfectly dressed and accessorized.  It didn’t matter, we were all wearing the same dang paint splattered aprons and managed to break the ice while waiting for the instruction to begin.  It’s not hard for a room full of women to start to talk to each other within minutes and settle into a comfortable vibe with each other.

Pretty soon, all of us ladies were offering up commentary on what was happening on all of our different canvases. By the sounds of things it was getting pretty rough in there. Slowly, I became very aware of all the little nasty, negative things that were being said.  And once it started, it seemed to catch on like a wild fire across the room.

“I can’t mix this color to look right. Yours looks so good, mine is so ugly! Looks like vomit.”

“These trees are terrible. I cant even draw a strait line! I knew I couldn’t do this. I cant even paint trees. If they were real trees we’d have to cut them down.”

“My deer is so fat! He looks so stupid. I just ruined mine!”

“My deer looks anorexic. It doesn’t even look like a deer!! I may as well paint black over this and start over.”

 

You get the idea.

 

The saddest part is, that everything being said was in a very “light hearted” way.

Joking. Not taking it too “seriously”.

And yet…I knew better.

“THIS IS WHAT WE DO TO OURSELVES.” I thought.

“We as women…this is what we do. We dress nice, we show up, we have the best intentions, and then we slowly rip ourselves to shreds with a smile on our face.”

Despite being beautiful, stylish and seemingly put together women…the urge to surrender to that deep self loathing that haunts most of us, showed up and robbed some of us of good memories and $45 dollars.  Some of us were absolutely miserable.  Didn’t seem to be enjoying  the experience at all.  I’m not really sure why this grabbed me so strongly  on this night, but it just seemed  so extreme and so alarming…It made me feel so sad.

It also made me feel grateful that  I no longer live imprisoned to doubt.  I may not yet be where I want to be, yet..but I KNOW that I am able.  Even if it takes me 5 years.  Even if I don’t lose lose one more pound.  I know that I am changed.  If I surrender to that loathing…I don’t stay there for long.

I CAN’T!

If there is one thing that I know FOR SURE about fitness…it’s that it shows you how CAPABLE you are.  Once you learn that you can push yourself beyond what you ever imagined…you feel UNSTOPPABLE.  Not just in the gym, but in LIFE.

The way you start to think about yourself and talk about yourself starts to change.  You start to appreciate yourself and your body.  You start to show kindness to yourself the way you do with your friends.

I had the strongest urge to stand on the table and yell, “COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!”  Which is ironic because I was most likely still one of the biggest women in the room.  I know that most people would assume by looking at me, that I would be the woman with the least amount of confidence in that room.  Appearances are so deceiving. 

To people who don’t know me or where I’ve started from,  I’m just a funny and fat lady.   They don’t know what I can lift, or how long I can sprint, or how many burpees I can do, or how I feel when I’m able to run freely with my kids. They don’t know how hard I’ve fought for the confidence I’ve gained.  And they don’t realize that they can have it too.

I wish all women could tap into that source of strength that is buried deep down within all of our hearts and LIVE THERE.

That strength that we all have that keeps us going when we want to quit.

That will and faith to make things happen when all seems impossible.

That drive that pushes us MAKE IT HAPPEN when our loved ones need us to come through?

That strength, and fierce love that I know burns in the heart of every woman?

There’s enough of that in there for you to spend on yourself too!

In fact, its crucial that we do.

We can’t let the next generation of women who are watching us, see us and hear us do this to ourselves anymore.  We have to stop this cycle.  It’s the same thing that we’ve inherited from our mothers and grandmothers about having our picture taken.  Why do we all cringe and hate having our picture taken?  Like nobody knows what we look like?! We must be in the pictures!! We must DO the things without tearing ourselves down! Why is this so hard for us?! 

I didn’t know I had that love in there for ME until I met her in the gym and saw that she was worthy.  Sometimes I still forget, and I fall into that trap of doubting and loathing…but am so grateful for these kind of reminders in my life to show me how far I’ve come.

It’s just like these dang paintings we’re all paying to make.

You’re not going to get it exactly like someone else’s.  Yours will have its own flair.  Not every line is going to be strait, or every curve just right.   You’re going to mess up, and it might not look the way  you want it to…but it’s beautiful because its yours.

OWN IT GIRL.

(P.S. This must be shared: As in life…when in a room of 57 winter stags, my sister emerged as a brooding and beautiful storm on an ocean.  Her painting has also been pictured here, and proudly hangs in the bottom right of my gallery.) 

 

Girl Empire 

This past Saturday I was invited and challenged to write a poem for a conference here in Reno called Girl Empire.  (Check it out here: http://girlempirecon.com/program/)

It was for girls ages 9-19 to gather together with some of the leading women in our city to learn what it means to be bold, play big and dream big for their future. 

I was absolutely honored to be a part of this day and even more humbled that I was asked to share my writing.

After some deep soul searching and picking the brains of the most brilliant women in my life, it became clear to me that there is SO MUCH we want our young girls to know! I kept asking myself and my friends, “What would you want the 13 year old YOU, to know?”  So many sharp, smart, wise and IMPORTANT things came into laser focus.  Here are just a few of the responses from these ladies that have now become a little treasure trove of girl power that I will save forever. 

“I would tell 13 year old me that she is loved and that no matter what she is going through, no matter how far away an end to the situation seems, tomorrow is always a new day. And I would encourage her to fully apply herself at school and to set goals and believe in them.”

“Always lead by example; if you see something about the world that you don’t like, then don’t allow yourslef to do it.”

“Pay attention in Math class!  You will need it if you want to go anywhere, trust me!  If you can pay attention in Math, the rest will come easy.  If you don’t understand it, get a tutor, stay in at lunch with a teacher, do whatever it takes.”

“No matter how bad it seems at times it’s just a nano second in a long string  of life you have yet to live. So just keep living because the bad doesn’t last forever.”

“There is money to be made off of teaching you to devalue and distrust yourself. You will have to actively push back against this. The good news is learning to sift through all this will make you wise and graceful.”

“Embrace not being good at stuff and failing.  Like, not getting something right the first/millionth time is actually how its suppose to be, so its not that big of deal to not be great at something.  Keep going!”

Never be Jealous of anything or anyone. What you are and what you have is always enough. The right person will come along for you because they will be interested  in who and what YOU are. Never compare yourself to anyone else, not who they are or what they have.”

“I wish my 13-30 year old self knew that she was not obligated to please ANYONE.  That it isn’t selfish to follow her own dreams/desires.  Being liked and approved of isn’t life’s ultimate goal.”

“Guard your body and protect your heart. That’s the advice I would have given to my 13 yr old self. I was raped when I was 13. It changed my life forever.”

Not everyone needs to go to college, but college is never a waste. You need to understand math if you ever want to be independent. If you want to be an artist or run any kind of business – math. Want to get a good deal – math. Want a marriage of equals – math. Politics, poetry, technology, math will help you with it all. I wish I’d paid more attention to math.”

I would tell my young self to love yourself and don’t let people influence you to do harm to yourself and others. Accept who you are. Look inward for acceptance, believe in yourself.”

Laugh at yourself. Not only because we are all ridiculous but because it disarms bullies and makes your enemies look like asshats.”

You are not what other people say you are. If people treat you poorly that is a commentary on them, not you. You are valuable and unique.”

I wish I could post ALL of the wisdoms I have heard in the past week.  I wish I could encapsulate it in some sort of multi vitamin and make my daughter take it every single morning with breakfast. I wish I could carry all of these and the experiences gained under my belt, back in time and show my 13 year old self that we end up kind of awesome. 

In the end, I wrote from the heart.  Here is the poem I shared. 

“We are Girl Empire”  
By: Mandi Holden 


When they put my newborn daughter into my arms for the first time, 
I was instantly in love 
and instantly terrified. 
I studied her face 
and her fat little hands. 
I was frightened she would forget that she was galactic, 

like I almost did. 


A girl. 
A galaxy, 
a canvas huge and vast. 
One of us. 
Beaming with brilliance. 
Made of Stardust. 
Fibers, minerals, 
skin and bones. 
Heart of the earth,
wrapped in a blanket and sent home. 
I read her face, and saw myself. 
I remember you.   
I remember you well. 
I remember and I pray that you’ll remember to:
find the time to learn. 
Find the time to twirl.
Find the time to build.  
Find the time for YOU.

And in the perfect and lonely moments of pretend,
while you’re still content with being your own friend, 
Enjoy! 
And remember the way it feels…
so that you will know that it’s okay 
to take pleasure in your own company. 

When you’re deep in play and everything is just so, 
and no one else gets a say…
Will you remember? 

The satisfaction. 

So when people call you bossy, 
you can assure them they’ve come to the right place. 
Birthright capabilities, 
replaced with 
inherited insecurities.
 
Growing up and growing taller.

Do not trade in your backbone 
when you need it the most.
Shooting up through the cracks. 
Breaking free from expectations. 
Unfolding our fears away from our hearts and blooming. 

Faces toward the sun. 
Alive with possibilities 
and blanketing the world with our beauty. 
And here we are, 
sleeves pulled up-
ready to lift the rug of the world
and peek underneath. 

Because we are not afraid. 

We remember who we are. 



The sisterhood of the ever-changing status update

“We’re connected as women. It’s like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there’s trouble, we all know it. But most of the time we’re all too scared, or selfish, or insecure to help. But if we don’t help each other, who will?” – Sarah Addison Ellen from “The Peach Keeper”

Gosh dang it, I’m surrounded by incredible women!

That seems so hokey seeing it typed out like that but that was exactly the cry of my heart this morning when receiving an awesome text of support from a dear friend. Tons of sister love and messages flowing this morning. Emails and tagging me with encouraging articles showing how invested they are in me and my success. Lots of you checking in with me over the past couple of weeks and making time to talk with me and share this burden with me.

So often I complain about the woes of social media upon my generation of women. The pressure of “presenting” a sparkling veneer, worthy of being “pinned” and feeling like always coming up short. It can feel like a real epidemic sometimes! But AWESOME things are happening too!

Women sharing hilarious hiccups from their crazy days of work and mothering and wifedom. Or navigating through days filled with exams, finals, work schedules, school schedules, homework and bill paying all while having to answer awkward questions of when they plan on getting married and having babies?!?!
Literally doing it ALL…while causing us to chuckle with each other and not take it all so seriously. That is one thing I love about social media. It knits us together daily in a way we wouldn’t be otherwise.
Scrolling through my fb newsfeed and seeing beautiful things that are being created, accomplished by my friends. Women conquering the beasts and dragons in their lives. Encouraging each other moment by moment on the virtual “web”. Sharing talents and triumphs abundantly. Poetry and photography and art. Goal setting and goal reaching. Inspiring.
I’m humbled.

I am hungry each day to find an update from a sister friend of mine who gave birth recently to a beautiful baby boy who has to remain in the NICU for a while. Her strength and faith is contagious. I’m sure she doesn’t feel this way, but the strength she’s had for her baby and her other babies waiting at home is nothing short of amazing. She has had to be courageous and charge through her entire pregnancy and delivery and remains faithful now that he’s here and enduring surgeries. I am humbled by her unbroken spirit, even though I’m sure she has felt broken, she has been an example of trusting in God who holds us together.

I have a dear friend who had to move far away. I know that being so far from home has left her feeling lonely. Sometimes depressed and unmotivated. But I also see all the ways that she is thriving! The ways she is rising above and tackling her obstacles. I’m very proud of her to be so brave even though she feels lost. She is not alone. We all get to check in constantly thanks to the marvels of modern communication.

All of my sisters are an example of badassery. My baby sister is graduating from high school (4.0 student!) in a couple weeks and has her whole life ahead of her, unblemished and wild with possibilities. My other sisters both work full time while in college full time. One of them, living in a big ol’ ugly, urban city by herself! Where she chooses to ride her bike everywhere and act like a pioneer of the Wild West. Traveling, playing music, making friends, living well.
I’m so proud of them!

Friends that are pregnant, growing life. Friends that are preparing to send their babies out into the real world after preparing them for 18 or so years. Real women, raising children, planning events and parties and gatherings. Planting gardens. Keeping houses. Creating meals. Supporting many. Loving those whom at times are difficult to love. Sharing our hearts and struggles and pains. All of us dreaming of what the future will unfold.

I’m so proud to call all,of you my friends.
My sisters.
Now lets go run the world.

#mygirl was the official photographer for my club @anytimefitness_northreno free workout event today...she got some great action shots and video...but this sneaky selfie she took is my fave.  #mybaby #mydaughter❤️ #thosefreckles

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