Why I Got a Tattoo

 I gave my first Toastmaster’s speech this morning. Thank you for all your support and encouraging words from yesterday’s post.   While it wasn’t perfect, I am happy I showed up and finished.  🙂

In my speech I shared why I got a tattoo.  I think this may surprise many of you that know me. This year has been one of many changes for our family and me personally.  A few months ago, Catie and I chose to get tattoos together, representing the beginning of new chapters in our lives.  I share in my speech some of the deep meaning behind my tattoo.


Here is a written copy of my story, if you would prefer to read it.

Why I Got a Tattoo

If you would have asked me a year ago, I would not have imagined I would be standing here today or that I would have a tattoo. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.

The black monster called fear has plagued me since my earliest memories. For instance, as a child left alone with my younger brother and sister late into the night, I felt responsible for protecting them. I was afraid to fall asleep because if I did someone might kill my parents and impersonate them and I wouldn’t know.

As I grew, my fears grew with me. I became quiet and withdrawn, covering my anxiety by acting silly and poking fun at myself to get a laugh. At age 17, on the day I took my driver’s test, I writhed in severe stomach pain on the kitchen floor—pain that went away immediately after I passed the test.
In speech class, my teacher called me Caroline the entire semester, and I was so shy and scared I never corrected him.

In adulthood, fear continued to sap me of opportunities, and joy. I tried to control my environment and those around me so I could be free of germs, crowds, spontaneity. Fear, my constant companion choked my life, and I wasn’t even aware of its presence.

There is a saying that says, “Real change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” I reached that point about a year ago. My family began to plan a three-week vacation overseas—and I dreaded going. Try getting sympathy from your friends when you tell them you are going on vacation to Europe. I reached out for help and attended a Making Peace with Your Past Retreat that began a new chapter of my life.

To overcome fear, you must face what you are afraid of. In May, we took the vacation to Germany, Greece, and Italy. Over and over, I repeated affirmations I’d written ahead of time.

I will pack – fly and arrive. There will be long lines, tight spaces and lots of people. I have tools. I a strong. I will go into the uncomfortable because freedom is in no other place. I will love lavishly. I will care well for myself. We will return with memories. It will be stressful. It will be fun.

I faced many of my fears. On crowded buses, people push into me on every side. I clutched my purse as I feared strangers would steal it. There were long lines at TSA. And I had to deal with germs in public bathrooms. We took eight flights in twenty days and on the seventh flight, I didn’t burst into tears as the plane took off. And I found what is on the other side of fear–freedom and life.

In the process, I discovered who I am. A few years ago, I would have described myself as a teacher, a writer, a mom, and a wife. I am married to my college sweetheart–25 years this coming May. I have a degree in elementary education, and I homeschooled my two children for over a decade. I built a blog called Filled to Empty that encourages busy and tired women to care for themselves so they can love well.

I’ve learned those words are nouns that tell you what I do—not adjectives that tell you who I am. To find adjectives the phrase needs to start with “I am” not I am a.” The three words I use to describe myself are I am curious, passionate and optimistic.

My curiosity drives me to learn as much as I can about everything. As a young child, I dreamed of living next door to a library so I wouldn’t have to wait for mom to give me a ride. I could walk over and return 50 books and then check out 50 more. Now my Kindle and the Internet are dreams come true.

I am passionate as fire. I have a progressive retinal eye disease that made functioning in daily life increasingly difficult. My eyesight even while wearing both glasses and contacts at the same time would no longer meet the minimum requirements to renew my driver’s license. I was heartbroken because whatever I do at life I do with all my might. To my delight, two years ago, I became a candidate for a surgery that restored a good portion of my vision, and I am now able to drive and function relatively normally. That has spurred me not to waste a day I am given.

I chose to live life like Winnie the Pooh with optimism, and joie de vivre or the joy of life. Winnie the Pooh has some great quotes. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” And “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”

After living too many decades chained by anxiety and depression, breath and joy taste so sweet. This drives me to encourage those my life touches. I want people to know that they matter, that they have value and worth. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent, I’m only passionately curious.” My passionate curiosity has lead me to a life-long love of learning and books. I enjoy writing non-fiction, short fiction stories and have joined a writer’s group. I dream of being a published author. I think that writing and speaking are two sides of the same coin. I’m excited to join Toastmaster’s and follow the path wherever it might lead.

My tattoo is a symbol of the new me. It’s a physical reminder that I have put a stake in the ground and I am not my fear. I am not my panic attacks. My tattoo says, “Breathe”. When I panic I can’t get a breath. My tattoo reminds me I have the power to overcome. I just need to take a breath.

The T is a cross because my ultimate freedom comes from my Christian faith. I couldn’t have found life and hope without it.

The word Breathe is followed by a semicolon. The semicolon tells me that could have chosen to end the sentence with a period, but I didn’t. It’s not over. I am not powerless. I am no longer a victim. I have a choice. I have a voice.

I am here at Toastmasters today as a step in my journey, facing my fear of people. I lived too many years wearing a mask of who I wanted to be–curious, passionate, and optimistic on the outside while turmoil and pain wracked my inner life. I could teach and lead meetings, but when I went home, I spent the rest of the day in bed with a migraine. One of the quotes I read on the Toastmasters website was that this is a safe place to try new things. I used to lead and overachieve as a way of coping with anxiety. I am excited to try and not be perfect. My tattoo reminds me that I am not chained to my past but I have the power to fully love and be loved. Thank you for welcoming me to Toastmasters, I’m excited to take the next step in my journey.

How to Gain Confidence (Part 2)

Last week I shared a post about confidence. Tomorrow is the next step in my journey–I am going to give my first speech at Toastmasters.  If you aren’t familiar with Toastmasters, is a place where members develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.

So, last night I’m reviewing my speech for probably the 20th time and I start feeling anxious.  “What if I get up there and freeze? What if I can’t remember what to say?” The what-ifs bring back all the old emotions and sensations of anxiety.

Before I let my mind disintegrate into what-ifs, I told myself–I might freeze. And if I do, that’s ok. I didn’t join Toastmasters because I had confidence and was a great speaker, I joined Toastmasters to gain confidence and learn to speak in front of people. I’m not there to give a perfect speech. If my gestures aren’t great or my time is too long—or even if I freeze and have to catch my thoughts, that’s ok. If I show up and finish my speech tomorrow—I win.

I wonder, to gain confidence do you have to show up and do the thing even when you feel like an impostor? That has been true in other areas of my life. I felt like an impostor the first time I stood in front of a classroom–like I was pretending to be a teacher. Then, as a young wife, I felt like I was playing house. When the elevator closed at the hospital, and I was left alone with my newborn, I didn’t feel at all like a mom who was prepared to care for this helpless child.

To overcome fear, I know you have to do the thing you are afraid of. I think the same thing might be true for confidence. Confidence isn’t something I can read about, take a course in or follow a step by step program. To gain confidence, I have to show up and do the thing when I feel like a fraud. Because if I don’t, I’ll never be what want to be. It’s a vicious cycle.

Action breeds confidence, and inaction breeds fear.

So tomorrow I’m going to:

  1. Act like I belong, and I know what I am doing
  2. Be prepared (Prior planning prevents poor performance)
  3. Have fun. Smile.

Do you have any tips for me?  What do you think? How do you gain confidence? What thing do you need to stop waiting to do perfectly and just do?


How to Gain Confidence

I recently joined Toastmasters. There are five core competencies Toastmasters teaches.

  1. Public Speaking
  2. Interpersonal Communication
  3. Strategic Leadership
  4. Management
  5. Confidence

On the handout, the fifth one is grayed out with an asterisk that says, “Confidence is unique because it can’t be taught, but it is gained in every path.

My first thoughts were, “Lovely. I joined Toastmasters to gain confidence, and there is no manual, no sequence to follow, no directions?” But after a few weeks of showing up and participating in meetings, I am beginning to agree that confidence isn’t something you teach; instead, it is gained by doing the hard things.

I prefer texting to phone calls because on the phone you don’t know what the person might ask. I like to have time and space to process my answers. I’m working on going into the uncomfortable and not panicking or trying to control the outcome. For me, that means repeatedly volunteering for a two-minute impromptu speech.

Today my topic was climate change—a subject I don’t know much about. I stood up there and spoke about how I had hoped I wouldn’t get that question and how I could relate to someone else who spoke on liking the climate in her home to be a consistent 74 degrees.

When I finished, I realized I succeeded not because I gave a great speech but because I showed up. Even if what I show up for is messy or things happen out of my control, I win when I show up.

What hurdle are you facing today?  You just need 20 seconds of insane courage. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just done. Show up and you win.

153 Years Ago Today: Thanksgiving Became National Holiday

On October 20, 1864, President Lincoln signed a proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.  As I read the proclamation I was surprised at what it said.   I was sad racism is still a part of our country, and God is not–at least on the governmental level.

But then I realized we, as a people can and should look to our past, to the overarching themes of President Lincoln’s intent in his Thanksgiving proclamation.  I love the turkey and pumpkin pie as much as the next person, but I want to pause this year and remember to thank God for every blessing He gives and humble myself to ask for peace, unity, and blessing over our land for generations to come.  

Thanksgiving 2017

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

As we approach the 153rd annual Thanksgiving Day let us thank Almighty God for prolonging our nation for another year. He has defended us from our enemies and from ourselves. He has shown us favor and health in our homes and to our soldiers and sailors abroad. He has given us freedom and opened up opportunities for wealth and has abundantly blessed us. He has also encouraged us to fortitude and courage, bringing us to a place of hope for deliverance from our dangers and afflictions.

Let us remember as did our forefathers this last Thursday in November as a day when all citizens pause to thank and praise the Almighty God, our Creator, and Ruler of the Universe. On this day reverently humble yourself in the dust and offer up prayers of repentance and fervently pray and ask God’s blessings of peace, unity, and harmony throughout this land which God has given us as a dwelling place for ourselves and our future generations.

What three words describe you?

Grab a pen and paper, set the timer for ten minutes and write down everything you can think of to describe you. There is no wrong answer; the key is to keep writing for the full ten minutes. When the timer rings, stop and look back over what you wrote. What three adjectives stand out to you?

I recently attended a workshop on podcasting. The instructor described himself in three words. Witty, Gay, Entertaining. He didn’t say he was a podcaster (even though he has a following of 35k), he didn’t say professor or writer either (even though he was both of those too).  Podcaster, writer, professor —those are things he does. Not who he is. By being crystal clear about who he is, it carries over into every area of his life. The workshop on podcasting was witty, gay and entertaining as I’m sure are his podcast and book.

When I did the above exercise, I kept coming up with nouns. Teacher, reader, writer, scholar.  I needed adjectives which tell what motivates me –why I do, not what I do. My husband showed me an easy way to identify the difference between a noun and an adjective. If you need ‘a’ after I am, it’s a noun.  With an adjective, there is no ‘a’.  It should read, I am happy; not I am a teacher.

I am a ______________ (noun)
I am ________________ (adjective)

My three words – Curious, Passionate, and Inspiring.

Curious.  My earliest memory is standing outside our front screen door, holding up three fingers and exclaiming to my mom that I was three years old and in two more fingers I would be a whole hand. I remember looking at my hand and being amazed that discovery. That insatiable desire for knowledge and discovery has led me to a life of studying, researching and reading.

Passionate. There is a fire in my bones that can’t be quenched. I tend to dream big and don’t quit easily. One boss affectionately referred to me as a bull dog.

Inspiring.  When I get to the end of my life, I want to be a woman who loved lavishly and extended grace upon grace.  I often find myself coming up short, but that is my goal. I love to encourage people and am driven by the desire to live a life that inspires people to be the best version of themselves. Life is a beautiful and precious gift –I don’t want to waste it.

It took me a long time to settle on these words. They extend back to my earliest memories, yet they also encompass what I want my remaining days to be. They are what motivates me, fulfills me and are the core of me –no matter what I am doing.

Another exercise is to email five friends and ask them to describe you in three words. It’s interesting to see how others see you and it helped me clarify my choices.

I’d love to know if you do the exercises and what your three words are. You can leave me a comment here or find me on facebook and twitter.