Good morning: Starting your day right (even when you're kinda not feeling it)

Even on our best days in the happy seasons of our lives, mornings can sometimes be challenging, no matter how well-rested we are or what wonderful things we have to look forward to that day.

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At least they are for me. I don’t want to say I’m not a morning person, but….. I’m really not, try as I might. (It's only taken me 40something years to admit that.) Even when I’m well rested and “meh”-fully positive, mornings can be emotionally and sometimes physically rough for me. How I handle the first part of my day, especially during seasons when life isn’t rosy, often sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Much like staying out of a rut, a proactive mindset and a few simple steps can help get mornings off to the right start, which as a result, can lead to a cheerier and more productive day, even if (especially?) when you’re just not feeling it.

Here's what's worked wonders for me:

Rather than grabbing your phone, start your morning by talking to God. What you feed your brain first thing in the morning is spiritually and mentally important. It can set the tone for the entire day. Total transparency: I struggle with this one on and off quite a bit but I'm working on it. Right there, while still in bed in disheveled hair and all groggy and grumpy, I make a conscious effort to turn my thoughts heavenward and say, “Good morning, Lord.” (Don't look at your phone). When I'm a wee more conscious, I talk to God some more. (Not yet...) It’s up to you how you approach your actual devotion and prayer time once you’re awake, but minimally, giving God the first part of your conscious mind instead scrolling through other people's drama, work emails, catastrophic disasters, and a political freak shows, is an infinitely better start than filling your mind with... well, all that other stuff. (Not yet...) From there, formal devotional times will vary but at least 15 phone-distraction-interruption-free minutes of meaningful prayer and God’s Word is good. 

(Now we can grab the phone and see what we "missed out" on during the last 8 hours. Probably not much....) 

Drink a big glass of water. Our brains get dehydrated during the night, even if we don’t “feel” it in the morning. According to this article on how dehydration affects the brain, mild dehydration sets in after 4 to 8 hours without water (How long have you been asleep?) There are many things we don’t necessarily “feel” wrong but it doesn’t mean that they’re not affecting us. Hydrating first thing in the morning does wonders for circulation and gets our system going, including mentally. I always have a bottle of water, if not a gallon, in my room so I have no excuse for not chugging some H2O first thing. I’ve personally experienced the difference hydration makes in overall mindset and productivity. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if you are, I respectfully challenge you to start with the glass of water first, before the coffee. I dare ya. BONUS: Add 5 to 10 minutes of some kind of brisk movement. Rebounder? Up/down stairs briskly a few times? Treadmill? 5 minutes, ya'll. That's it. (And if you're one of those people who runs 5 miles every morning before 7 a.m., I'm SUPER jelly. I will never give up the dream of being one of you.)

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Take a relaxing shower. Even if it means getting up earlier, non-rushed showers first thing in the morning can be like magic pills of positivity and sanity. I always shower in the morning, even if I showered the night before. I just feel cleaner and it and perks me up. Shower time is also a time to regroup, get your thoughts and ideas for the day in order, and talk to God a bit more. Your shower doesn’t have to be long, per se. Just not rushed. Be deliberate about using this time as part of an overall approach to wellness and productivity, not just smelling nice. BONUS: Finish off with a quick spray of at least cool, if not cold water. Wowzers!

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Make your bed and tidy up. There is empowerment, dignity and some real mojo in something as simple and old school as making the bed. You don’t have to do hospital corners or anything elaborate. Minimally, I smooth the sheets, shake off my comforter and toss it over the bed, and fluff pillows and place them on top of the comforter. Having said that, I’m all for actually making the bed the way it’s supposed to be made, that’s even better. I also tidy up by scanning the room to see what needs to be picked up, tossed, put away etc. Done in less than 10 minutes and, whether you believe in all that mumbo jumbo or not, you are in fact in a much better state of mind. Something wonderfully healing also happens in your brain (and heart) when, at the end of a long day, your tired eyes feast upon a nicely made bed that will shortly be welcoming you with a turned down comforter.

Don't skip breakfast. I am not too cool to admit that I can't go without breakfast. Eating a good breakfast is part of the legacy my maternal grandmother left us, and that continues through my mom. I can skip doing my skin or making my bed, but if I don’t have breakfast, I feel it the rest of the day, no matter how healthy or how much I may eat later. Breakfast truly is so important for more than physical well being. It doesn’t have be fancy or time consuming. Toast with PB and a glass of oj. Scrambled egg or two whipped up on the microwave with a piece of fruit and toast. What matters is getting some glucose to the noggin and your metabolism going. And whether you have a full brekkie, which is what I prefer and make the effort to do, or a quick one, there’s always room for a green smoothie. My favorite: banana/spinach/berries/flax in a bottled smoothie base. It’s like drinking liquid “Heck yeah!” (And for those who are way, way too cool or grown up for breakfast and can only do $25 drive-thru caffeine because anything else makes you nauseous and you feel just great without food so it doesn't matter... knock yourself out) 

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Do your skin. This one is more for women, but guys, if you have some personal grooming stuff you like, go for it; what matters here is the principle, not the actual stuff. I will do a whole other post on skincare because it’s something I’ve become very passionate about, but for the purpose of starting my morning off right, I have found that taking the time to do my skin is a great mood and mindset enhancer. The super quick version of my morning skin routine after cleansing is: toner, a few pats of essence, serum, moisturizer if needed, and a few spritzes of beauty water. Sounds like lots of steps but the after cleansing steps are done in less than 5 minutes. And then, if I want to simply enhance but not do full make up: dab dab light under eye concealer, bronzer and low-key blush, mascara and lips, be it gloss or lipstick. Done. It helps me feel put together and like I can literally, put my best face forward to face the day, because “Skin is the outfit you wear every day.”

Like everything else, I don't always do everything and sometimes I fail miserably. I just know that the more proactive I am and the more of these steps I take consistently, the better my days go. 

The goal is to become aware and proactive in taking life and time by the horns instead of being blissfully enslaved by our emotions or (sometimes silly) notions of time and stuff labeled important and urgent. 

The Bible is full of passages that begin with phrases to the effect of "Early the next morning..." or concepts centered around "early". I started looking up some of these passages recently as this blog post began to develop in my brain and it became clear to me that God truly does value "early" and a spirit of proactivity, productivity and getting on move on, over complacency.

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Rather than dreading mornings or no matter what icky things may lie ahead that day (and it's ok to admit that you're not looking forward to them) take a position of empowerment and control over the things you can change starting by taking mornings by the horns and having your way with them, rather than mornings having their way with you. 

Do you have any morning rituals and practices that help you get your day started on the right note? I'd love to hear them! Comment below. 

Life productivity: Getting out of a rut

Regardless of the reasons behind them, ruts can be demoralizing and they almost always crush creative and general life productivity.

I hate them.

What exactly is a rut?

For me, it’s those times when life just isn’t right; when life feels out of control, out of sync and I can’t figure out why. There’s a general yuckiness and I can’t quite put my finger on. And nothing meaningful gets done.

Various factors can lead to falling into a rut but sometimes it’s just about getting caught up in unfavorable circumstances or bad habits. Often, ruts creep up so insidiously that we don’t realize what’s happening. We come to accept negative circumstances and emotions as normal. It’s almost Stockholm Syndrome-ish; befriending the oppressor. But once we become aware, we can choose to get out by taking a proactive, pre-emptive attitude and a few practical steps.

There are a few things I have found highly effective in staying consistently rut-free in spite of circumstances.

Refuse to accept defeat — Once you suspect that you may be heading downward, refuse to roll over and accept negative emotions and circumstances as normal.

Choose to live life deliberately, with purpose and with an awareness of triggers. Reject anything that feeds self-pity or laziness. Refuse to believe that you are helpless. Take the bull by the horns and say, “I don’t think so!”

Fill your mind with usefulness — When I learned how recognize triggers and to stay focused on productivity, the darkness lifted. Rather than coddling negative emotions, I fill my mind with practical, positive, useful information and activities that cater to sanity and wellness.

I load up on writing and PR. I run to the grocery store to stock up on good eats. I go for a walk. I learn things that make me marketable and useful. Between having taken care of my body (next step) and mind, I end my day(s) on positive note.

There’s also a great sense of dignity that comes from knowing you did something proactive, small as it may be, in the direction of your goals.

Get healthy — Being proactive about your health can do wonders for overall productivity and state of mind. For me, staying healthy has meant, among other things, avoiding fast food, staying well-hydrated, green smoothies, walking, getting enough sleep and long showers first thing in the morning.

We are whole beings and what we do to one part of our being affects the other. Unhealthful habits breed negativity; healthful habits breed life and vitality. This step alone will do wonders for your state of mind.

Stay busy and connected — When you recognize the yuckiness coming on, make it a point to stay busy and connected. Get out of the house. Head to the mall or read magazines at the bookstore. Work on a creative or manual project. Cook something. Connect with the things that bring you joy.

There is so much healing power and spiritual value in even small amounts of manual labor. Idleness breeds self-pity, drama and bitterness, all of which kill the spirit and eventually destroy the body. Reject them. Keep yourself occupied, even if you don’t “feel” it. Your feelings will catch up.

Avoid drama — Drama will drive you further into a rut and bleed you dry of sanity and precious time. The best approach is to shun it like the plague. Mind your own business, don’t gossip, don't respond to every little provocation (no matter how right you might actually be) or engage in petty back and forth, even if it ruffles feathers.

Do as the prophet Nehemiah did when he encountered gruesome, envy-driven opposition when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Five times his enemies tried to distract and discourage him with fear and false accusations but he remained unflinchingly focused. “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’…” (Nehemiah 6 ). In today’s language he might have said, “Ain’t no one got time for that!”

The results of his focus were epic.

Stay focused on handling your business and let go of everything else. You ain’t got time for that either.

Manage your time — Be deliberate in how you manage your time. When we allow outside influences to dictate how we spend our time, we perpetuate our rut because more often than not those influences are not positive ones.

Set a timer for certain tasks so that no one activity hogs up all your time. Limit TV/mindless entertainment consumption. Screen calls and messages. (Also a useful tip for implementing #5.) Be mindful of the minutes. Knowing you managed your time rather than letting it control you is a tremendous mood, and productivity, booster.

Declutter your space (and heart) — The physical stuff we hold on to can wrap itself around our heart and weigh it down. Decluttering your life of the old and worn lays out the red carpet for the new and amazing; new people, new purpose, new opportunities.

Toss old furniture, ratty clothes and anything that takes up space without paying rent. When you’re focused on the future, the past loses its grip and the old stuff doesn’t mean much anymore.

Overall, decluttering does wonders for your state of mind and boosts general life productivity, even if it’s over a period of time.

Be proactive — Simply choose to approach life from a proactive mindset where you are living deliberately and with purpose. Learn to recognize triggers. Refuse to be a helpless victim of circumstance or a slave to emotions. You have the power to choose what you feed your mind and body, what you occupy your time and hands with, and what you do with your emotions. We can’t always control what happens to us, we all have down days, but we do have a choice not to allow ourselves to be dragged down by circumstances or feelings.

These steps can also be applied to daily life when you just want to be more productive or make changes. They can help you get your personal house in order so that you think clearly, stay focused and prepare your heart for bigger and better blessings that are surely on the way.

 

Hello, 2017

To more pens, pencils and paper, less keyboards and screens (starting *right after* I post this...) and to lots of other good stuff

To bowing our heads in prayer instead of over our phones.

To more books, less TV.

To more handwritten notes, less emails.

To more leisurely bubble baths, less rushed showers.

To more water, less soda.

To more listening, less talking.

To more sunshine, less fluorescent lights.

To more homecooked dinners, less take out.

To better relationships, less drama. Or better yet, NO drama. 

To more simplicity, less stuff.

To truth and authenticity over public image.

To childlike trust and faith over grown-up unbelief and cynicism.

To faithfulness “in that which is least” over personal gain.

To more Jesus, less everything else, including me.

May 2017 be a year of answered prayer and spiritual abundance.

And here’s to leaving a trail of hope and sparkle wherever you go.

Photography: Life lessons from deleting 1,500 photos

I feel life very deeply.

My environment, the weather, the people around me, friendships, images, words and tiny nuances that others never notice or aren't affected by. Good or bad, I feel it all very deeply.

One of my mentors told me that's the reason why I'm a good writer. 

Perhaps. 

But either way, it's definitely the reason I felt a huge burden lift when I deleted about 1,500 from my iPhone, including from a time period of what I just like to put in a big hazmat box called, "the bad stuff". 

They weren't images of the bad stuff itself but simply many daily life photos taken in that time period. Every time I scrolled past them, they just took me back to "that" place; a place that steals more than my joy and puts me "there" all over again in a very real way, no matter how hard I try to disassociate an image of say, a tree, from the bad stuff. If it was taken during that time, it's permanently associated with the bad stuff. 

Why did I keep them so long? In retrospect, I suppose it was out of the mindset that we take tons photos with our phones and just keep them forever because that's just what we do now. I had never questioned it until now. 

I'm so glad I got rid of them. We never realize how much even seemingly weightless digital reminders actually do weigh on our soul. I felt so much better after they were all gone, apart from the general freeing up tons of space on my phone. 

But in that process, I had spark moments of creative inspiration where I decided to go back to an "old fashioned" digital camera for most meaningful picture taking and use the phone as a secondary camera and even then, delete photos right away after sharing or serving their purpose. 

Unpublished draft from April 2016

A few weeks ago I bought a new "real" camera; a little point and shoot Samsung. And in my favorite color no less. I hope to one day buy a bigger and more professional one, but for now, this one is serving a great need beyond just taking photos.

For the last few years I've been using my iPhone camera, which is great of course, but I had really missed the experience of a "real" camera. And the iPhone camera just isn't able to capture some of the images the way my mind's eye caught them.

But the experience of using a real camera also took me back to a good time in my life that I really miss in the sense that I was in a very creative and authentic place, personally and professionally. It reminded me of when I first started learning photography and discovering that I had a passion and an eye for it; it reminded me of some of the timeless images I'd captured throughout the years. You can see some of them here. It took me back to 2006, when I first became a picture taking freak and took my small camera everywhere.

Over the last few year I've really missed that and having a camera again, small and humble as it may be, helped me reconnect to me and that "good place" of creativity, connectedness to the world around me and authenticity.

I started getting to know it immediately and was curious to compare differences between the iPhone and camera. Both were high quality and both serve a purpose.  But the camera photo was much more representative of what I see in terms of nuances and distances than the cell photo. That was the experience I missed not having a camera.

Having said that, I'm not at all against phone cameras. But I'm also really happy I bought a camera because... call my crazy or backwards.... until cell phone cameras, no matter how awesome, are actually "real" cameras, only the real deal will do, at least for me, and even if only for purely personal preference. 

Either way, it feels really good to reconnect with what I love. And it looks like I'm back go carrying a camera and phone again, just like I did back in 2006, even if 2006 is "ancient" in terms of technology.

It just makes me happy. What a concept.

That's the great thing about creativity. You do what works, what's authentic and what flows, even if your flow goes against the flow of popular trends. 

Back to today

I want to be more deliberate and thoughtful in my overall approach to photography, as part of an overall life purpose and organization process. I want to snap purposefully and critically. I want to travel light digitally. I want to keep the good and discard the bad, in photography and in life.

That means.... 

No more 1,500 photos on the phone ever again.

And that's something I feel very deeply and very good about. 

Writing: Letting go

What do you do when the things you really want to say; when the core issues, questions, dreams and hurts most on your heart are the very things you can't write about publicly? 

You write about a lot of other stuff.

True stuff. Real stuff. Stuff that matters. Stuff that you care about. Stuff that may or may not (but mostly may) be connected to the stuff you can't write about and hope others are able to read in between the lines and "get" what you can't actually say. Maybe you even write about not being able to write about it. 

But never what's really, really on your heart. 

Perhaps it's never meant to be shared publicly. Perhaps it is, but in the future. Either way, the only thing to do now, is take it to God. Day after day. Moment by moment. Over and over again. 

For one thing, He's the only one who can actually do anything about the real issues. He sees, hears and knows. And He "gets" it. He gets what our own human words could never fully articulate and that our fellow human beings could never understand or fix. 

He gets it. 

And sometimes, that's enough. Sometimes, it has to be. So we let it go no matter how unresolved, unfinished, unjust, uncertain it might feel to our shortsighted human heart. No one likes to just let things go without knowing how they will turn out or without an assurance that they will work out in our favor. But trusting God means just that; not knowing and trusting anyway. 

And after we've let it go, that knowledge that God is in control becomes the fuel to channel passion, energy and creativity into the stuff that actually needs to be shared here and now because it will serve useful purpose to others. 

Those are the things that need to be said. 

Devotional: Prayer of purpose

Lord,  as I begin a new day, please make me single minded and determined to serve and honor you in all I do and say. As I embark on today’s journey, help me look past petty distractions, tune out the mindless noise, walk right past the pointless drama and the people who create it and remind me that you are my standard of truth and proper conduct, not them. Keep my eyes focused on the road, my mind grounded in your priorities and my heart completely enveloped in your joy and peace. Thank you most of all for the abundant grace to accomplish your purposes through my life, which, at the end of the day, is the only thing that matters to me. Amen.

Becoming: It's ok to change

It's ok to change.

It's ok to not like things you used to like before. It's ok to like things you didn't like before. Big things and little things. Foods, activities, music, style. It's ok to change your mind about all of them, and more. 

It's ok to admit that you were wrong about a lot of things or to realize that the proverbial "it", whatever it happens to be, just doesn't work for you anymore. 

It's ok to grow up. It's ok not to think, behave and live the same way you did when you were 20, 30 or 40 or whatever number a long time ago was for you. 

Imagine that.

Yes, it's ok to change. Just like that.

Except, it's rarely "just like that". It could be in some cases, I suppose. But usually it's been a quiet process gently percolating just underneath the surface that one day, finally manifests itself.

It's called transformation. 

"Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may be able to prove what is the perfect and acceptable will of God." Romans 12:2  (emphasis mine)

When that change is a result of a conscious, moment by moment choice to consecrate your entire being to God, not only is it pretty awesome, it's very much God's will for you. And that includes every part, every detail of your life, inside and out. 

So yes, it's ok to change: your mind, your dreams, your goals, your lifestyle, your personal preferences. 

Because when God is behind it, it's not so much you changing as it is you becoming who He created you to be. And that person might be someone you don't know exists. And His plan might be something you've never even dreamed of. But you'll never discover either as long as you're listening to the "this is who you're supposed to be" police instead of following the guidance of the unchanging God who will never steer you in any direction other than His absolute best. 

Devotional: More than enough

In this world nothing is ever good enough. We are constantly bombarded by pressures to have more, accomplish more, to be better, be prettier, be more this, more that. Sometimes these messages are bold and "in your face". Other times, they are subtle or even seemingly worthwhile and noble. But the message is always clear: be more, do more, have more. And so we pursue them because they don't appear to be inherently wrong or evil. Yet somehow, we always end up back where we started: feeling like we "need" more. 

Why?

For one thing, it's because the world's standard of beauty and success keeps changing. What is beautiful today is ugly and worn out tomorrow; what works today, doesn't work tomorrow. Today's "it" is tomorrow's leftovers. Clothes go out of style, cars get old, superficial friendships fade away, lust fizzles out, companies go bankrupt, jobs are lost, etc. and one day we realize all our efforts have been in vain because it's never good enough. And we start over again trying to have, do and be more. But this time, we do it the right way, or so we tell ourselves. It's a vicious cycle of trying to fix our brokenness with the wrong glue and ending more broken each time. 

And to be clear, there is nothing wrong with pursuing excellence or seeking a higher quality of life. We are called to a life of excellence and to live and work as "unto the Lord." The problem lies when these pursuits become our identity, our purpose and our sense of worth, accomplishment and security apart from God, no matter how much we might attach His name to our endeavors. 

But if we pursued Jesus Himself with the same amount of time, intensity and unyielding persistence that we pursue people and things, we would find the authentic and lasting solution  that we think we are going to get through the other stuff: real love, real peace, real belonging, real satisfaction, real accomplishment; and they aren't swept away with time or circumstances.

Consider this: Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived admitted that all his success meaningless: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:10-11. 

The man who literally had everything.... brains, money, servants, worldwide fame and honor, unprecedented material possessions and success, 700 women and limitless sexual pleasure.... says, "Nah... wasn't worth it." 

In this world of "never enough" and "not good enough" Jesus is not only our "enough", He's our "more than enough." Forever, not just for a season. We find wholeness, healing, peace, belonging and rest for our weary souls in a way that people and things will never do, no matter how shiny or noble they appear today. People and things were never meant to fill and satisfy the "Jesus only" shaped hole in our human hearts. If they could, then Jesus would stand as an equal to them, not as the vastly superior life-giving Savior that He is. 

Of no human being, material possession or accomplishment can it ever be said, "For he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness." Psalm 107:9

In this world of never enough, you Lord, are more than enough!

Copyright 2016 / Cynthia Mendoza