“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson
I’ve woken up to the shaking of a nearby explosion. I’ve been lost in dark alleys in the wrong parts of town in strange countries (don’t tell my mom that one). I’ve been caught unprepared in a blitz snowstorm on the top of a remote mountain, stranded on another mountain in a severe lightning storm (the metal in the toes of my boots actually smoked from being so hot), and was lost underwater in the hull of a sunken ship. Each of those were moments where I was scared and even if just for a moment, feared for my life. But nothing prepared me for the sort of fear I experienced a few days ago. I was driving up to Denver getting ready to fly out to Los Angeles the next day to visit my grandpa – incidentally my most favorite person in the universe – when I got a call from my OB/GYN (aka baby doctor). She explained calmly that my last ultrasound – which disappointingly didn’t reveal the baby’s sex – did reveal an inconsistency in the heart which was an indication of Down Syndrome and that I needed another blood test to confirm whether that was or wasn’t the case…but that it could wait until I got back from my trip. I struggled to be as polite as possible while I tried to process what she was saying and still keep the car between the white lines on the highway. After she hung up, the brunt of what she just said started to hit. I may be looking at being a single mom of a baby with Down Syndrome. Did I just hear that right?! At first the tears started slowly, but within a couple miles, they turned into steady streams and were quickly accommodated with loud and uncontrollable sobs and hyperventilating. Can I just take a moment to beg healthcare professionals out there NEVER to give less than positive news to patients WHILE THEY ARE DRIVING?? I couldn’t breath, couldn’t think, and couldn’t see – because of the tears filling both eyes and the fact that my one eye can still only open about halfway from the recent surgery.
What I just can’t wrap my brain around is: what if it’s true? What if I’m going to be a single mom with a challenged baby? HOW THE HELL DO I DO THAT? Since that phone call, I’ve been more scared than any other life-threatening moment in my life. It’s more than just me here on the line now – it’s a whole new person depending on me – me the sporadic, fly by the seat of my pants, try anything once, risk-taking “mommy” who is now scared shitless into a stagnant state of dread. The only answer that keeps coming to me is, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” Thanks a lot, subconscious, that’s all you got? Not, “this too shall pass,” or, “you are only given what you can handle.” Nope – no such reassuring thoughts – just “I can’t do it.” I’ve had an unending stream of prayers that consists of one sentence…”Please let this baby be healthy. Please let this baby be healthy. Please let this baby be healthy.” I know in my head there are resources to help people like me to adjust to a special needs baby like that, but I just don’t think I’m that strong.
Incidentally, I turned around and went back to the doctor’s office to get the test done. I’m in LA now with my grandpa and trying to think about other things until the results come in a few more days. The Price is Right is on with volume level 50 – not exactly a way to clear the mind from troubling thoughts – or maybe it’ll turn out to be some untapped sound therapy I’ve never tried.
The truth of the whole matter is this potential reality is so big that I can’t wrap my brain around it – not yet. I suppose it’s good self-advice in that we humans can and often do drive ourselves crazy with fears over what may or may not happen. If I were to leave my thoughts to their own demise, I’d be laying on the floor in a pool of my own saliva mumbling and paralyzed from fear. I’ve often heard the saying that 90% of what people fear in life never happens. Now if I can just internalize and pause with a little patience before I have to face whatever lies ahead. It’s not ignoring fear; it’s letting that fear sit next to me but not consume me. It’s breathing in one breath at a time and when I feel shaky and unsure and scared, to steady myself until I know just what my new reality will be. This is definitely a life lesson in the works – one we’re all faced with. Once again I find myself on the stage of life – my setting and obstacles may be a little different than other people’s, but we’re all dealt the same big lessons. And you know what? This too shall pass…written appropriately with fear tears filling my eyes…breathe, Amy, breathe.
I have a lot to reconcile in life, but I’ve always learned from my mistakes and somehow I’ve kept going, pushing through the challenges and obstacles in life. I have come to believe that strength is in every one of us…that inner push that comes from something so unconscious in us that we don’t even know it’s there until it’s called upon.
I went to Afghanistan in search of something…a new start, some adventure, insight into this 12-year war…maybe it was a little of all of those. In many ways I identified with Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat Pray Love when she went off on a journey in search of living a fuller, more meaningful life…of course she chose Italy feasting on wine and pasta and I chose Afghanistan and war and barbed wire. Although her route was slightly more appealing, the missions were similar – to embark on a 1/3-life-crisis journey to reset and begin anew.
In Afghanistan I did find adventure, saw new lands, and met new friends, but my new start came in the most unexpected of ways. I was laying in a hospital bed shivering in a surgery gown waiting for surgery on my eye – an inexplicable infection – when a nurse came in with a funny look in her eyes. She explained that while I still needed surgery, I could no longer have pain medication due to the fact that I was pregnant. I was cold, in pain, and most of all, stunned in a state of segmented and incomplete thoughts except for the one clear memory from over a year prior when a doctor told me I would need science (fertility medicine or in-vitro fertilization) to get pregnant. I’m pretty sure my confused look urged the nurses to say something soothing, but all they managed to say was, “Congratulations!” In hindsight, a hard slap to the face and yelling “Surprise!” would have been so much better.
With an additional confirmation blood test, I went into eye surgery – only there had been an attack that day and I was low on the priority list for the operating room, so I got moved to the dental clinic. The doctor fumbled as he had no choice but to convert dental cleaning tools into surgical instruments for an eyelid. Without pain medication, I was alert and gripped the vinyl chair arms with all my strength to stay still as the doctor made incisions in my eyelid with the scalpel…or whatever he was using to cut. I felt tears streaming down my face, but I couldn’t tell whether they were from the shock of the news or the pain.
The doctor finally finished, patched up my eye, and sent me on my way. I was still in my one-eyed hazy shock on the helicopter ride back to my base unable to see the hills and mud huts below or even think past each successive minute. I got out of the helicopter when it landed, the deafening sound and wind coupled with my one eye fog made everything feel like a distant dream. I shuffled across the landing area to my tiny room, opened the door, and flung myself onto my bed for three days of crying. No food, no interaction, no work (they thought I was still up at the hospital), just crying. Have you ever cried for three straight days? It was a far cry (so to speak) from my strongest moment. I was confused, ashamed, regretful, angry and scared…and nowhere in all of that that could I even begin to reconcile a baby.
I always wanted to have a baby eventually with someone I loved, but I didn’t want one like this. The dad was not someone I was even in a relationship with, and I was suddenly looking at the reality of being a single mom. It’s taken me months and months to come to grips with this new beginning, this new journey. It’s only the start of a very new and scary and unknown journey, but it’s a start nonetheless.
I never pictured my life would turn out this way, but then again when DOES it go the way we plan? I’ve heard the saying more than once and have said it even more often, but if you wan to make God laugh, just tell him what you’re going to do tomorrow. I’m pretty sure He had a good laugh with me, and I had a few choice words for Him at first too. But my actions were clearly what leapfrogged me onto my new path and I couldn’t blame God or anyone else. Well, I could blame the dad, but as I’ve been reminded by friends when I’m all fired up, it takes two to tango.
Whether I agree with Mother Nature or not, this baby is coming – I find out tomorrow if it’s is a boy or a girl. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, and I know I’ll probably stumble along the way as I’ve done in the past, but I’ve accepted that this is indeed my new beginning.
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
As I stop in the middle of this sand and heat, I think about the lessons of life – the many lessons of life that we will at some point inevitably learn, and I ponder which one was most significant in getting me here to this place I’ve dreamt about for years. I think it’s the importance of listening to and believing in myself. When I began to voice what I wanted – which was to come here to Afthanistan – I faced some confused and strongly opposing opinions. If anyone has read prior posts, they know that I’m a default people pleaser…or as I like to say now, a recovering people pleaser…so expressing an idea that is in opposition to others took some lady balls. It took a long time to voice even to myself what I wanted, and longer yet to boost up the courage to say it out loud. At first I felt silly and I would add disclaimers like, “I know it’s a stupid idea, but I think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Thank God I found the fire in my belly to keep listening to myself and take action on doing the thing I could barely speak. I couldn’t tell anyone in my life – wait, I told my sister because she could tell something was up – and felt like I was living a deceptive life when I submitted my employment application to various companies. Then when one was interested in me, I would break out in a nervous sweat in replying back that I would like to continue forward with the hiring process – like I was committing a crime or some awful act.
But I stuck with it. I think part of me was afraid that I’d buckle if I told people too early – that I would listen to unsolicited advice about what a dangerous idea it was and I wouldn’t go through with it – so I protectively stayed silent. But I listened to my heart when my words weren’t even there yet and pushed on. It didn’t feel wrong, but felt good and exciting and right when I pushed “send” on those employment emails.
I’m not promoting living a double life in order to do the things you want to in life in a careless fashion – that’s not the lesson at all. I’m putting out the voice of encouragement to trust in your own dreams and don’t shy away from them because of other people’s criticisms. Listen to yourself. Listen to your heart. And if you think you’ll buckle, then yes do what you need to do for you to dodge those fire hoses (that’s what my high school running coach used to call people that like to squelch dreams). Ultimately, everyone in my life got behind me and is supporting me now. But even if some hadn’t, I was prepared to ask them that if they didn’t agree with me, could they just love and trust me?
I regret that I held back on jumping off my cliff and doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for so many years. I tried to accept the life I was in before and become the person that I needed to be to make that life work, but ultimately I wasn’t very good at it because I was so restless and unhappy and living counter to my dreams…which would always seep in again and permeate my imagination. Now I can stand here and smile a smile from the inside out – a contented smile of happiness with myself that I did this – I took the steps to put me here. I finally listened to myself.
It’s September 11th. It’s both an honor and a reality check that I find myself on my second day here “in country,” as they say. Looking around, you would have no idea that today is different from any other day here on base. Soldiers get up, eat breakfast, and head to work. I hear sirens in the distance as I write this, but from what I’m starting to understand, that’s a pretty normal thing around here.
Yesterday I found some shade to escape the HOT HOT sun and was drinking an iced coffee smiling to myself at the two songs that played through nearby speakers – “Walking on Sunshine,” then, “Come On Baby Light My Fire.” Haha, real funny, I thought. Suddenly an all-base alarm went off and all the soldiers around me calmly but without hesitation laid down on the ground. I’m learning to follow the crowd in learning the ways of life here, so I followed suit. Though I knew it in my head factually, it struck my heart for the first time that I was in a war zone and that this was no drill. Somewhere on the base there was some sort of incoming fire from a distinct enemy outside the base. We all laid there quietly and upon some cue I missed, they got up all at once and walked calmly to the nearest bunker. I must have looked confused because a couple of them directed me with them. We sat there baking for a while in the concrete bunker – me thankful for my rapidly melting iced coffee – until the “all safe” announcement blared throughout the base.
Today of all days I’m reminded of this decade long face-off we’ve had with this enemy, and the fight in which we find ourselves to help make this world a safer place by not succumbing to the enemy. As I look around me in the chow hall (aka cafeteria), the majority of soldiers I see are very young…so young, in fact, that 9/11 was probably not a big moment in their young lives when it happened. There are guys as young as 19 and 20 here, which means they were 7 or 8 years old on 9/11…hardly a life-changing moment for them…yet here they are serving their country far away from home trusting that there is reason behind their work. I believe there is, or else I wouldn’t be here out of my own volition.
Last night I had the honor of laughing and letting loose with some of the soldiers. Every Monday night here is karaoke night. There is no alcohol allowed here, and cause I generally like to have a little liquid courage to belt out my very bad singing voice, I snuck in and sat in the back to watch the brave souls getting up on stage. Some were bad, some were good, but none of that mattered because everyone was smiling and having good time. My favorite songs were a young, skinny white kid belting out “Baby Got Back” complete with dance moves, and another guy singing the entire “Come Sail Away” song in an Eric Cartman voice. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.
It’s a great privilege to wake up in Afghanistan on September 11th and to look around first-hand with appreciation at the work being done. To see these men and women serious when they need to be as during the alarm, and then laugh when they can while belting out “Livin’ On a Prayer” in unison.
I’m proud to be here on this day, proud to serve my country, proud to be surrounded by soldiers doing the same thing, and honor all the innocent lives lost 11 years ago today. May their deaths, and those of the people who have died in this fight since that day not be in vain. I send out a warm prayer of love and peace to all the families of those lost in this war.
I have a bit of a confession…I’ve been intentionally NOT writing that in the past couple months I decided to take the adventure of my life and go to Afghanistan for a year. I continued to blog about the feelings and issues I was going through, but in much more vague entries – partly because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off and go, and partly because I hadn’t even told the important people in my life of my plans and I didn’t want them finding out from my blog. I started double-blogging by writing my own personal story into a word document which I have saved and have continued to add to all along the way – through the fear of telling my family to the preparations and in-processing and travel overseas. I woke up this morning to my first morning in Afghanistan, so I guess I made it! After this, I will post entries about my journey to this point now, and onward about many stories I have yet to experience. There have been many tears and funny moments and loving conversations and memorable times in the last couple months that have gotten me to this point now, and I would love nothing more than to share those…though there is one port-a-potty incident that my mother warned me to “clean up” before posting.
In essence, I decided to take my own advice over these last few months of blogging, and get out there and do the undoable thing that I never thought I could do. Many people didn’t understand and said, “Yes, but WHY Afghanistan?!” Of all the crazy things to do! I simply asked them to love and support and trust me…and told them to read my blog because I will try to answer that along the way.
Since I left my home over two weeks ago, I have had a soaring sensation in my heart, and I know that I made the right decision for me. Jumping off my own cliff was right for me, and now I’m off in the adventure of my life to discover who knows what!
More to follow once I figure out how to find wifi and hook up to my own computer – there’s a time limit in this internet cafe and I’m nearly out of time.
Best wishes and happy reading!
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen (one of my favorite authors)
“It’s the heart afraid of dying, that never learns to dance; It’s the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance; It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give; And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.” ~Bette Midler “The Rose”
In high school I tried a front flip on our trampoline we just got for Christmas. Because it was cold, my socks slipped on the slick surface and I dislocated my ankle. That injury not only put me out of the swim team season that year, but it also instilled in me a new fear of throwing my body around in any flippy way. I haven’t tried a front flip of any kind since that day…until today. I don’t know if it was all my research, contemplating and blogging about stepping up and taking chances or if it was just simply time for me to try again. Either way, I felt a surge of courage in me and I couldn’t pass it up. I started by trying to roll into my grandpa’s pool. Once I did that without incident, I got another boost of courage and tried jumping a little higher of the side of the pool in a flip sort of maneuver. Same thing – I felt better and wanted to try it again – but this time off the diving board. And on and on went my flipping journey – each time I tried and realized I wasn’t dead (like my fear tricked me into thinking would happen), I wanted to try it a again but a little bolder. Granted, my flips are no Olympic caliber with a crooked torque to them, but I did it! At 34 I finally did my first front flip off a diving board!
I can’t help but wonder if my experience today isn’t a lot like the rest of life. I didn’t wake up imagining I would do a front flip into the pool, but with little steps, each a little more bold than the one before, I achieved something I didn’t think I could. We’re scared to go for the big thing – the flip off the board – but it can start small, and with each successive step we inevitably get bolder and bolder. And it’s SUCH a great feeling doing something you started out thinking you couldn’t do!
For my gymnast sister, doing a front flip is something very simple, and she would not have the same birth of boldness unless she did something challenging to her. So don’t compare what’s a big deal to you with other people, because it’s equally as significant and emboldening. It’s your front flip, and you can be bold and do it! Don’t listen to that voice that occupies a hunk of your brain and tells you that you’re too old, or too weak, or too ANYTHING. You’re not. I’m not. We’re not.
GO FIND YOUR FRONT FLIP AND DO IT! IT'S WAITING TO HAPPEN; YOU JUST HAVE TO OPEN YOURSELF UP TO YOUR OWN BOLDNESS!
“Training of female athletes is so new that the limits of female possibility are still unknown.” ~Katherine Dunn
In celebration of the Olympics, I would like to honor the women out there who have overcome odds and won medals through the years.
Don’t Let Being a Woman Ever Stop You…2012 Olympic Muslim Women
For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei all entered women athletes into the 2012 Olympic Games. Each of them had to fight for the right just to train in their sport to get to London. They were used to being heckled and screamed at to get back to their house where they belonged. In countries where women are banned from driving and cannot leave the house without a male chaperone, let alone compete in the biggest sports event in the world in front of millions of people. Their families have been threatened and shunned, the clergy called them “Prostitutes of the Olympics,” but they fought on. Imagine what the cheers of the crowds celebrating their courage as they stepped into the arena in their Muslim-adapted athletic clothing sounded like to them.
23 year old Afghanistani 100 meter sprinter, Tahmina Kohistan, commented, “I faced a lot of challenges in my training for the London Olympics. One day I was coming to the stadium and the taxi driver asked me where I was going. I said ‘I am training, I am going to London Olympics’ and he said ‘get out of the cab, I don’t want to take you there.’ Whenever I train there’s a lot of people who want to disturb me. They say ‘just leave these things, it’s not good for Afghan females to do these things.’” She then boldly declared, “I have a message for the women of Afghanistan. Come and join me. We must be ready for the next Olympics. I’m going to do my best to be in Brazil, I am going to give reason for other athletes to follow my way.”
Although none of the women placed, they achieved a far nobler prize.
Seeing Yourself is and Inward Action…Marla Runyan
For a woman who cannot see, Marla Runyan certainly has vision. After macular degeneration stripped the runner of her sight at just nine years old, she became the first legally-blind athlete to compete in the Olympics when she placed eighth in the 2000 Games in the 1,500-meter event. Her Paralympic record is even more impressive: five times she left the medal circle wearing gold.
Her doctors told her they didn’t have many expectations for her life when she lost her sight as a young girl. She not only disproved all expectations, but she did so with grace and speed, and with the determination to live as normal a life as any other Olympic female athlete.
Your Motivation Must Come 100% From You… Penny Heyns
She is a South African swimming star, who is a double Olympic gold and Olympic bronze medalist. She is the only woman in Olympic history to win both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke events in Atlanta 1996, bronze in Sydney 2000 and by breaking a total of 14 individual world records during her swimming career.
The first thing her coach said to her when he decided he would coach her was, “If you’re willing to give 100%, I’ll give a 100%. But it’s all up to you. The commitment must come from you. I don’t want you to come to the pool because I’m standing there. You must come because it’s from you!”
Defy Others’ Expectations of You…Alice Coachman
In 1948, Alice Coachman was the only U.S. woman to win a gold medal—despite the fact that segregation prevented her from training in white-only facilities. She was also the first African-American woman to ever win a gold medal. She was so obsessed with achieving track and field success that she trained wherever and however she could, including running barefoot in fields and jumping over rags and sticks for hours each day to improve her high jump, the event in which she took the gold.
Even after she stopped competing, she continued to break records. She benefited from endorsement deals and was the first African-American female athlete to do so. In later years, she formed the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to support young athletes and provide help for Olympic veterans. When Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics, she was honored as one of the top 100 greatest Olympic athletes. Since the end of her career, she has been inducted into eight different halls of fame.
You Must Be Tough in Spirit… Sara Reinersten
“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” ~Anon
American triathlete, writer and motivational speaker, and former Paralympic athlete 1992. She was the first female leg amputee to complete the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Setbacks and Difficulties Must Be Overcome…Natalie du Toit
Natalie du Toit is a South African swimmer who lost her leg in a car accident. She is best known for the gold medals she won at the 2004 Paralympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games. Natalie impressively became the first leg amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics.
I say, “If I’m able to go out there and achieve a dream, then anybody can do it.”
Age is Just a Number…Dara Torres
Gold Medal champion swimmer, Dara Torres. At the age of 41, Dara took home her 12th career Olympic medal in the 2008 Games as part of the U.S. 4X100-meter medley relay team. This is a remarkable physical achievement, especially given the fact that the average age of U.S. Olympic team members at the Beijing games was 26.8 years.
She has set three world records and has brought home twelve Olympic medals, including four gold. Dara Torres is arguably the fastest female swimmer in America.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~Calvin Coolidge
Some of these highlights were found from the article 5 Famous Female Athletes Reveal Attitudes Needed for Dream Achievement.