How to Thrive–and not just Survive–This Holiday Season

The holidays should be a time of fun, memories, and celebrations. But, all too often we scroll through  Facebook, finding our friends snuggled by the fire with glittery lights and hot cocoa.

While our day consists of kids arguing, the third batch of burnt cookies wafting through the air and the realization the gifts we haven’t ordered my not be here by Christmas.  Check out the video below to watch my second Toastmasters speech.


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 I became quiet and withdrawn, covering my anxiety by acting silly and poking fun at myself to get a laugh.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.

When I don’t trust God

A few years, as a homeschool mom, I convinced myself I should teach not one but two history curriculums in one year. I was afraid if we only used one there would be gaps in my kids’ education. As I was puzzling over my options, a wiser, more experienced homeschool mom assured me that one history curriculum was more than enough for a year.

Fast forward to their junior year in high school. We enrolled both kids in our local high school where they took all their classes at the local college and graduated top of their class.  The other night as my husband and I were boxing up the books to sell, we agreed if we had it to do all over again we would relax more and laugh more. Everything worked out just fine.

But, as I sit here in the new season of our lives, I find a new set of things to be anxious about. Which colleges are the best? What degree should they get? Are their choices leading to the best life possible? Because that’s what a good Mama does, right?

I bustle around as if my child’s success is dependent on my choices, actions, and endless worrying. Why? If I’m honest, it’s because I don’t trust them or God to handle things. Ouch. The green pride oozing out of that last sentence burns.

If I’m honest, it’s because I don’t trust them or God to handle things


God —their Creator loves them more than I. He knows their thoughts and hearts, while I only know what they share with me. God, is not defined by time, knowing all their yesterdays and all their tomorrows. And yet I sit afraid to trust because everything might not work out “right.” According to Nancy.


I’ve fought surrender for many years. The fear of not being in control felt like a prison sentence. But I wonder, is surrender the greatest gift we are given? You might say salvation is the greatest gift, and I agree. But, aren’t we talking about the same thing? God who draws us to himself at salvation is willing to guide and direct us through life.

Surrender is letting God lead by not needing controlling the outcome. It comes from a place of love and trust, not fear.  I recently heard that rest is a form of worship because while we sleep we are trusting God to handle life.

I am humbled and awed that God, the one who made the universe, is working all things for good. Why do I fight that? Why do I work hard for God’s or man’s approval instead of resting in God’s purposes and plans?


God, I see now that my desire to make everything work out perfectly comes from a place of fear –fear of disappointing others or you. I need your drawing and enabling power to increase and abound my love. I recognize I am powerless to do this and I believe you can. Would you work in me what is pleasing in your sight? Thank you that I am your child and that you put a desire in me to trust and live from a place of love, not fear. To God be all glory forever. Amen.

How about you? Do you have a hard time trusting others? God? Is there an area of your life you need to stop trying to control the outcome?