How to Nourish the Mind

In a few short days I will be leading a group of 38 students and parents on an international trip of a lifetime. We will visit seven major cities in twelve days: London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. Needless to say, we are all excited.

At a recent group meeting, one insightful young man asked a valuable question: Do you have any tips for slowing down time? How do we remember the details when we are constantly rushing around?

While the answer I gave was specific to the trip, I think much of what I communicated can be applied to life in general.

Slow down. Recognizing the problem is always the first step. Since we know life is speeding by, we can now become more conscious of the world around us. Rather than always looking straight ahead with laser-lock focus, glance to the left and right to see what lies next to you.

Occasionally lift your head to the heavens and marvel at the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the warmth of the sun. Scan the path beneath your feet and notice the texture of the ground and the smell of the earth.

Allow your imagination to wonder who else traveled this same road. What did they experience? How was their life the same or different from yours?

Engage the senses. Don’t just walk around on automatic pilot, looking but not really seeing anything. As much as possible, try to notice specific elements, particular smells, distant sounds, unusual textures, and mouth-watering tastes.

The more we engage all five senses, the more likely we are to remember the moment in vivid detail.

Prior to writing his chef-d’oeuvre, Remembrance of Things Past: Marcel Proust wrote, “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it … but … as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine … which my aunt used to give me …. the memory suddenly revealed itself.”

Monsieur Proust then went on to write more than 3,000 pages of memories. Do not underestimate the power of the senses.

Journal. We are far more likely to remember events or information if we write them down.

In her book, Writing Down Your Soul, Janet Conner reminds us, “When you write, you use several modalities at once: visual – you see what’s on the page; and you also see the events you are writing about in your mind. Auditory – you hear yourself talking about the events you are writing about; kinesthetic – you feel the pen, the paper, the whole physical experience of writing. That alone – using all three modalities – makes writing very, very powerful.”

When dealing with the hectic pace of an international tour – or everyday life – we don’t always have blocks of time to sit and write. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky to grab a spare minute here and there. But that is plenty of time to quickly jot a note, a thought, or a fleeting emotion.

The act of writing is what matters, not the perfect prose or the elaborate description.

At another time, when life is less chaotic, we will have the opportunity to review the journal entries, relive the experience, and add specific details as they come to mind.

When we take time to slow down and savor the moment, we are living in a state of mindfulness. It is in this space that routine tasks can become a source of joy.

For example, rather than grumble about the sink full of dirty dishes, shift the paradigm. We can be grateful for food to eat, colorful pottery on which to eat it, and indoor plumbing.

Rather than stand at the sink, mindlessly pondering our task list, we can emerge our hands in warm water, feel the bubbles tickle our forearms, and gently scrub away the grime.

Mindfulness is holistic, meaning, it focuses on life as a whole rather than the specific goal of the day. The latter emphasizes tyranny of the urgent, whereas mindfulness helps focus on life’s priorities – deliberately choosing what will bring long-term peace and joy.

Mindfulness also means living in the present. If we focus on the here and now, we have no time to think about the past, regretting things we cannot change; and we have no time to think about the future, worrying about things that may or may not happen.

This present moment is really all we have. And it is enough.

While present in the above context means the here-and-now, another meaning of mindfulness is gift. Imagine a large package, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a festive bow. Excitement builds as we carefully remove the pieces of tape to discover what lies within. Such an exquisite package always contains a precious treasure.

This image is nourishes the mind. It helps us remember to never take a single day for granted. It keeps mundane chores in proper perspective. And it slows our steps so we can vividly live in the moment.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Develop Self-Care

Everywhere I look this month I see reminders of the upcoming holiday: bouquets of red, pink or yellow roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolate or other sweet confections, expensive greeting cards declaring love to a perfect valentine.

While I’m not necessarily cynical about this holiday (and will probably enjoy a nice dinner out to mark the occasion), I plan to celebrate a bit differently this year.

My word for 2017 is “Nourish,” and in that spirit I plan to focus this month on Self-Care.

The saying goes, “You can’t love others without loving yourself,” but I like Joyce Meyers’ expansion of that thought: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

For me, the first step in learning to love myself is to accept God’s love for me.

I grew up in a legalistic society, where a good Christian girl followed all the rules and “Thou shalt nots” and never voiced any contrary thoughts. To me, God was a big accountant in the sky, keeping track of my debits and credits in his ledger book of life. No love or grace survived in this equation. Only harsh judgment and the wagging finger of shame as I continually fell short of heavenly expectations.

It has taken a long time to erase this warped view of my heavenly Father. And I must confess, at times it still comes into clear view. But over the past two years I have focused my Bible study on His Love for me, and His Grace and Mercy extended to me because of the blood of Jesus.

I now carry two verses of scripture in my heart at all times to remind me of this powerful love.

The first verse is found in John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus did not die on the cross so I will feel defeated, despondent and hopeless. That is the voice of the enemy beating me down with his lies.

And Jesus did not die on the cross so I can merely exist or simply go through the motions. He came that I might experience the joy, excitement and adventure that life with Him offers.

A God who desires I live a full, rich, abundant life is a God who truly loves me. I can trust Him. The fact that the God of the universe chose to create me and desires to fellowship with me, means I am lovable.

The second verse is found in Matthew 23:12. I particularly relate to The Message translation: “If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

All God asks of me is that I be who He created me to be. I don’t have to be someone else. I don’t have to compete with others. I don’t need to change my temperament, physical appearance, or personal interests . I only need to accept myself (my strengths and weaknesses) and my life will have purpose. What a wonderful way to show love to myself as well as to my Creator!

While I continue to meditate on these scriptures, I have also adopted some pragmatic methods of promoting Self-Care.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

Treating my body and mind with love and respect.

  1. Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  2. Eating more nutritious foods that feed the body and the soul.
  3. Staying disciplined in an exercise routine. I want a strong core to help me overcome physical, mental and spiritual adversity.

Taking time to relax and rejuvenate in a purposeful way.

  1. Relaxing in a hot bath
  2. Reading a good book with a hot cup of tea
  3. Writing in my journal at a local coffee shop
  4. Taking myself on a date … window shopping, the library, the local museum, a movie
  5. Meeting a friend for lunch and sharing life stories
  6. Taking a stroll through the park – not a cardiovascular walk, but a leisurely stroll to admire nature and allow my thoughts to wander
  7. Purposefully spending money, rather than buying what I don’t need in an effort to fill a void
  8. Learning a new skill (like speaking Italian) rather than watching mindless television re-runs
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal – focusing on one positive event for each and every day
  10. Lighting a candle and enjoying its fragrance
  11. Playing soft music in the background (or loud music and dancing)
  12. Breathing deeply

Taking control of internal self-talk.

  1. Choosing to be joyful despite the circumstances
  2. Focusing on what is going right rather than solely what is going wrong
  3. Replacing critical thoughts with positive affirmations
  4. Acknowledging my effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome
  5. Thinking the best of myself (and others) rather than the worst
  6. Forgiving myself for making mistakes and being imperfect.
  7. Forgiving others for their imperfections

Eliminating unhealthy thought patterns

  1. Stop caring about what others think; focus on what God thinks of me
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. It is an impossible task.
  3. Stop comparing myself to others
  4. Stop fearing failure; the only real failure is not trying
  5. Stop taking everything personally; sometimes it isn’t about me
  6. Stop taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own needs
  7. Stop worrying about the future and instead trust God
  8. Stop squelching my dreams and instead believe Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What about you? What are some practical ways you can develop more self-care? Accept God’s Valentine to you this year and show yourself a little Self-Love.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Finding A Word for the Year

words-have-powerWhile December is typically a festive and sometimes hectic time of year, it is also a reflective season.

Perhaps it is a residual effect of the Thanksgiving turkey’s tryptophan, or it is the anticipation of starting the New Year with a clean slate. Whatever the cause, I find myself reviewing the previous eleven months with an analytical eye.

For the past several years I have joined thousands of others in selecting a Word of the Year: one word to help me focus on a particular attribute or virtue for a full twelve months.

One year I chose the word BALANCE. I knew my workaholic life needed a major overhaul, and I thought balance would help me keep things in proper perspective.

What I learned, however, was balance is an elusive goal. Perhaps it can be achieved over the course of several months… but on a day-to-day basis, complete balance between work, family, personal and spiritual life is simply not possible.

But I was not discouraged. I reasoned my true goal was PEACE. Balance, I mistakingly thought, was a means to that end.

So the next year I focused on peace, and it was year of personal spiritual growth.

I had hoped peace would mean a year free from conflict, but I quickly learned true peace only comes from trusting Christ as my personal savior. As long as I kept my eyes on Him, I was at rest.

But if I focused on circumstances, fixating on finances or personal relationships, peace disappeared.

Last year I knew I needed to relax. I am a serious person by nature, always responsible, accountable, and hard working.

While these can be admirable traits, I take them to an unhealthy level. I wanted a word that would help me release anxiety and find joy.

After a bit of word deliberation, I settled on DELIGHT.

I loved the layered meaning of this word. Delight means extreme joy, and I wanted to focus on finding joy in the moment.

The “light” portion of “delight” can refer to weightlessness – learning to let go of things that hold me down and adopting a more carefree lifestyle.  I wanted to balance my need for productivity with a need for play – doing what I enjoyed doing simply because it brought me pleasure.

And I love how the word brings to mind the metaphor that Jesus is the Light of the world. By focusing on this word for the year, I also focused on my savior.

As I came to the end of 2015 and reflected on my year of delight, I realized it was a stepping stone to what I really needed: FUN. While I could find the joy in the moment, I was still too serious. I focused too much on being productive and too little on play.

Armed with coloring books, markers, and a resolve to smile more in 2016, I began the year with great intentions.

Then on January 10th I fractured my hip and broke my left humerus (yes… the irony is uncanny).

I kept a positive outlook, however, and healed nicely… until June 26th when I fell once again and broke my right humerus.

As my eldest recently stated, “Mom, your body literally rejected the idea of fun.”

So much for the “fun” of 2016. This weekend I began my annual self-reflection. I’m still too serious. I still work to find joy in the moment. I still struggle to play.

Which word would help me overcome these weaknesses, while at the same time focus on my need for physical healing?

At first I thought RELEASE might be appropriate – let go of my constant need to be productive and my impossible pursuit of perfection.

I then pondered the word INTENTIONAL. The second accident taught me to slow down and be mindful of my actions rather than going through life on automatic pilot.

Lately I’ve discovered self-talk is a hindrance to spiritual growth. I cannot love others because I do not love myself. I need to guard my thoughts and bring them in line with God’s love.

Words such as TRANSFORM or RENEWAL seemed to address those concerns. But ultimately, I settled on the word NOURISH.

The definition is spot on for this time in my life: to supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up, and promote.

NOURISH is all-encompassing and I believe it is necessary to bring this broken body back to wholeness.

I need to nourish my physical body through regular exercise and nutritional diet. No excuses, no cheating. I want the time I have left on this earth to be quality life, not mere existence.

I need to nourish my mental health through accurate thoughts of God’s love for me – just as I am. God calls us to love others as ourselves, but I cannot obey this command until I learn self-acceptance. This will strengthen my spiritual health as well.

And I need to nourish my emotional health by pursuing creative endeavors simply because they bring me joy – no productivity goal needed.

NOURISH. I love the sound of the word. The long, lingering vowel reminds me to slow down and rest. The quiet “sh” at the end literally tells me to be still and listen to the Lord’s quiet guidance.

Do you have a word for the year?

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of HopeMolly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

 

 

Transitions and Traditions

This past weekend I took a day trip to Branson, Missouri, home of the Ozark mountain amusement park, Silver Dollar City. For those unfamiliar with the area, Silver Dollar City is built around the theme of an 1880s farm town.

With a few thrill rides for the kids and some musical theater shows for entertainment, Silver Dollar City is an opportunity to step back in time and fondly remember a simpler life.

While I enjoyed meandering the streets of the old-fashioned town, admiring the artisan workers and their crafts, I especially liked visiting during this time of year. Nobody does Christmas like Branson. branson-christmas

Every building is outlined with festive lights, and Christmas Carols play over loudspeakers, joyfully announcing the Christ child’s birth. I left the park in a better mood than when I arrived, excited to return home and embrace the holidays.

On the three hour drive back to Kansas, I reflected on the day’s activities. Yes, I enjoyed visiting the past, viewing the idyllic life of a less stressful era. People seemed to smile more with little rushing about and harmonious peace filled the air.

But I would not want to return to that lifestyle.

I’ve grown accustomed to the modern conveniences of the 21st Century. I like my washer and dryer, which allows me to complete a week’s worth of laundry in just a couple of hours.

I enjoy my dishwasher, microwave and convection oven. I cannot possibly live without my computer and internet access.

No, as much as I admire a simpler time, I would never choose to go back.

So why do I hold on so tightly to my own past? I have a way of romanticizing how life WAS rather than embracing how life IS – especially this time of year.

In our household, November and December were steeped in holiday traditions, mostly involving food. Typically, I began cookie baking before Thanksgiving and kept them in the freezer – impromptu snacks for the kids and their friends.

We are an empty nest now with no children around to share sweet treats, and our figures certainly don’t need them. My baking days are now limited to a single afternoon.

During past Thanksgiving weeks, I would make a double batch of sausage balls and monkey bread for the holiday breakfast. We all sat around in our pajamas watching the Macy’s Parade. I especially enjoyed pouring over the newspaper ads as I carefully planned my Black Friday schedule.

Now I bake only a single batch as my husband and I, along with the basset, watch the parade.  It is becoming increasingly more difficult to surprise children with Christmas gifts. We now give them much-appreciated gift cards.

Decorating Gingerbread Houses was an annual event. I would make one house for each child and we would often invite at least one other family to join us.

The smell of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg would fill the house for days. The candy houses remained a part of the household decorations until January first, when the kids devoured them.

Now that the children live out-of-town and have full-time jobs, it is difficult to coordinate schedules to include this old family favorite. We have great intentions, but follow-through is difficult.

Christmas morning was always magical. After waking up and reading Luke chapter 2 together, we would all head downstairs to see what Santa brought. No matter the family finances, Santa never failed to disappoint, and the smiles of delight made the sacrifice worthwhile.

Christmas morning is no longer magical at our house. It has moved elsewhere. My eldest creates the magic at her house for her daughter, and the other children spend Christmas with their in-laws.

It is easy to think back to the way life used to be and long for the days when we were all together. But to do that would negate the joy of the present.

I am grateful my children are now happy, independent, flourishing members of society. My job as Mom the disciplinarian has now transitioned to Mom the friend.

In addition, I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on self-care. I gladly sacrificed money, time, and resources while raising my children. But sometimes at the expense of my own needs.

The empty nest phase of life allows me time (and a bit of extra money) to pamper myself. I can now pursue my creative interests without embracing the guilt of ignoring them.

Lastly, this new season of life allows me to focus on the needs of others outside the immediate family. By giving to Toys for Tots and the Angel Tree Ministry, I spread the tradition of Santa magic throughout my community.

Our family of five is now a family of nine, with the hope of more on the way. This growth and change means the joy of Christmas is no longer about the presents, but rather, about our presence.

We relish time together. And while it may look different than it did in the past, it is no less precious.

In this season of transition the one tradition that remains unchanged is our love for one another.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly TotoroMolly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Replace Fear

I’ve always struggled with the concept of denying self. It sounds so austere, like I’m supposed to give up all aspects of fun and forego any dreams of happiness.Molly Totoro

But isn’t that in complete opposition to the concept that Christ came that we may have abundant life?

Denying self reminds me of a tyrannical task master, demanding I keep strict allegiance to the do’s and don’ts of life, or suffer extreme consequences. Legalism at its best. But I am a rule-follower, so I try to obey.

Recently I read the following scripture that caused me to rethink my position:

“Don’t you realize that you can choose your own master? … The one to whom you offer yourself – he will take you and be your master, and you will be his slave.” (Romans 6:16 TLB)

I paused to ask myself: Whom do I choose as my master? And the answer surprised me.

I choose Fear.

  • I fear failure – and I fear success.
  • I fear what others think of me.
  • I fear making a mistake – I fear not being perfect.
  • I fear disappointing others – I fear disappointing God.
  • I fear rejection.
  • I fear lack of control.
  • I fear dependence.
  • I fear having too much fun; I fear not being fun enough.

And I realized… I am indeed a slave to fear!

Not only is this a miserable way to live (and contradictory to living the abundant life) but it is not biblical. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 – NIV).

So I prayed and asked the Lord to help me reconcile these disparaging commands. How do I deny self and yet live a bold, joyful life?

His answer surprised me.

“You are indeed too focused on self, Molly. It is time to release its negative control of your life. Let go of Self-doubt, low Self-esteem, Self-consciousness, and Self-deprecation.”

At first I didn’t believe I heard correctly. I mean, denying this kind of self is not austere or punishing. It is a command filled with love and compassion. It promises a life of acceptance and purpose.

For someone who has been entrenched in religious legalism for nearly half-a-century, this is too good to be true.

Or is it?

What if I replace self-doubt with faith? Faith that God has created me for a purpose, and faith that He will equip me to fulfill that purpose in His time.

What if I replace low self-esteem with faith? Faith that God does not create junk. That He has indeed given us gifts and talents. Faith that humility is acceptance of these gifts, not denying them. And faith that God wants us to use these gifts and share them with the world.

What if I replace self-consciousness with faith? Faith that God accepts me, and He has promised to never leave or forsake me. As long as I do my best in obedience to His will, I do not have to fear what others think of me. I only need to concern myself with what the Lord thinks.

What if I replace self-deprecation with faith? Faith that God commands us to love our neighbors AS ourselves.

Faith that I am enough. I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but instead be content with whom God created me to be.

Simple faith is the antidote to legalism. We can’t earn favor with God by keeping the law because we will never succeed.

But we can put our faith in Christ who makes us righteous. This is the Good News. This is the truth.

The truth will liberate us from the shackles of self and allow us to live an abundant life.

©2016 Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Why the Pre-Step is Most Important

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

This popular Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu is often quoted to those who feel overwhelmed – whether it be undertaking a new life habit, embarking on a large project or navigating difficult emotions such as grief or depression.

When faced with these situations, it is natural to become bogged down by the details. Often this leads to thinking the effort is futile. The goal is simply out-of-reach – impossible.

Molly TotoroBut this negative thinking occurs when we are solely focused on the end result. Instead, we need to break down the process into bite-sized portions – baby steps.

For example: For years, I desired to develop a healthy lifestyle. I managed my diet fairly well, but exercise was non-existent.

I still carry around those mental tapes that scream I’m not coordinated enough, fast enough or strong enough. I vividly remember being chosen last for any P.E. team. I associate exercise with shame, and therefore I want nothing to do with it.

But those old tapes need to be replaced. I’m not trying out for a varsity sport. I’m simply wanting to develop healthy habits so I can lengthen and enrich my life.

To help me achieve this worthy goal, I decided to implement a daily walking routine. This goal required no specific talent nor additional equipment: a decent pair of sneakers was the only prerequisite.

A bit of online research indicated a 10,000 steps-a-day regimen was adequate to maintain good heart health. That sounded reasonable, until I measured my daily steps and realized my sedentary lifestyle yielded half that number.

I would need to make a conscientious, focused effort to add 6,000 steps each day in order to meet this goal. For me, that meant a three-mile walk.

While this was a bit outside my comfort zone, I knew I could do it. I was committed … for about a week. Then the excuses began: the weather was too hot/cold/rainy/cloudy; I didn’t have time to walk and shower; I didn’t want to sweat.

I had an honest conversation with myself: did I truly want a healthy lifestyle, or was I just pretending because I thought walking was something I should do?

Interestingly, it wasn’t the exercise I avoided, but the other inconveniences that came with it. Once I started walking, I rather enjoyed it. The fresh air helped clear my head, which typically resulted in a new insight or perspective on the world.

I persevered, but resistance was a constant companion. One morning I had a particularly difficult time motivating myself to get out there.

Just put on your shoes, Molly. You always feel better after you’ve laced up your sneakers.”

That’s when I realized this simple truth: The journey does not begin with the first step; it begins with the pre-step.

Before I could go on my daily walk, I had to get dressed. Once I laced up my shoes, there was no going back. I was committed. Walking those 6,000 steps was as good as done.

In reality, putting on shoes is a no-brainer. It is almost an automatic response that causes no anxiety. And yet, it was the necessary link to my success.

When I taught writing, I used the the 5-step writing process. The first step is called Pre-writing. Before we write, we must first give thought to the topic. It doesn’t require talent or even effort; just a bit of time. And yet this is the most important step to writing a well-crafted essay.

Sales training seminars advocate cold-calling potential clients, but they often warn: “The hardest part is picking up the phone.” The pre-step. In reality, a phone weighs very little; it requires no  strength to pick up. Yet that is the resistance point.

So today I ask you: what is the pre-step you need to take to start on your journey? Is it putting on a shoe? Picking up a phone? Or some other simple task that prevents you from achieving success?

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50 and check out her blog at MyCozyBookNook.

Why We Should Slow Down

Whoops… I did it again.Molly Totoro

I was about 95% recovered from my January accident, when I tripped over the dog in the kitchen and broke my right shoulder.

We sat down to an Italian anti-pasta dinner and a glass of Chianti, but I decided we needed plates. I hopped up from the table, took two steps towards the cabinet, tripped and fell.

In hindsight, we did not need the plates.

I love symmetry, but this was ridiculous. The break was almost identical to the shoulder break in my left arm. The second I went down, I knew I had done it again. I didn’t hear a pop, I didn’t feel the break, I just knew this was the worst possible déjà vu.

Fortunately, I wasn’t home alone. My son helped me off the floor and into the car. We drove to the ER just like we did five months ago.

While waiting for the inevitable news, I asked him, “What could I have done differently?”

His first comment was kind and consoling: it was just an accident. Then he thought for a moment and added, “Maybe you could’ve slowed down.”

Two weeks later, those words continue to ring in my ears. Out of the mouths of babes they say. They are right. My son was right. I need to slow down.

I have studied time management for years. I am an organized person by nature, and addicted to busyness. “I don’t know how she does it all,” is the highest compliment.

My daily challenge is to complete as much as possible in as little time as possible. Efficiency is the name of the game.

It wasn’t all that long ago, a decade perhaps, that I was in the thick of life. I was a full-time teacher, a full-time parent to three teenage kids, the caregiver of my aging mother. My day began at 5 AM and I collapsed in bed around 11 PM.

Nearly every minute of every day was filled with responsibility. I could barely take a step without looking at my planner. I felt as though my life were a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. My planner provided the guidance to fit each piece.

I wouldn’t run an errand, even take a trip upstairs, without taking the time to consider if I could combine activities for greater efficiency. Life was hectic, and my brain was on constant high alert.

Old habits die hard.

I am retired now. We are officially empty-nesters. I am no longer the caregiver to aging parents. Yet I still strive to be as efficient as possible. My planner is still my guide.

When I stood up from the table to get those plates, I was in a hurry. It was time to eat and I had to keep to the schedule.

Be efficient, Molly. Get it done, Molly. Don’t dillydally.

In reality, how much time did I save? One second? Five?

I’ve been looking at life all wrong. It is not the time I save that matters.

It is the time I savor that is important.

No one cared about the plates but me. We could have eaten without them. I could have taken my time to bring them to the table, and no one would have thought less of me. The meal would not have been ruined. The relationships would still be strong. And I would not be out of breath and mentally exhausted.

How much of life have I missed by rushing around trying to complete the tasks on my to-do list?

I find satisfaction in checking off the task rather than joy in doing the task itself. In fact, I’ve been known to add tasks to my list just so I can check them off.

stress - relaxWhat do I gain by living life in a constant horror of motion?

I may accomplish much, but at what cost? The accident taught me this frenetic lifestyle is harmful — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

It is time to get off the self-made roller coaster. I can no longer believe the lie that busyness is next to godliness.

Busyness, in fact, robs me of God’s peace.

There will always be chores to do, responsibilities to accept, and people to serve. God has equipped us to accomplish His purpose. But He has also given us adequate time to complete that purpose.

Each day is a gift from the Lord, and He desires we find joy and beauty in every moment. We can’t do that if we treat life as a sprint, rather than a marathon.

It is time to slow the pace: stroll a little, linger a while, take a few extra moments to savor the joy in the everyday. Saving a few extra seconds is not worth the sacrifice.

©2016 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Practice Endurance

In January I had an accident. Nothing life-threatening, but I did break my arm (now put together with a titanium rod and two pins) and fractured my hip (knitted together with three titanium screws). My friends now call me the bionic woman.

All this additional hardware required three weeks of convalescence, and then I began physical therapy. While it takes 21 days to build a habit, I discovered we regress even faster. exercise

Newton’s Law is true: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, but a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Last summer I walked 10,000 steps a day with little effort. After the accident, twenty simple leg lifts left me winded. Typically I reserve one day a week for errands, running around town to stock up on food and various household items. But now I barely walk the aisles of the grocery store before I have to return home to rest.

The pain is manageable, but I have lost endurance.

And the longer I stay I at rest, the easier it is to wallow there. I find myself justifying the choice rather than trying to overcome it.

However, if I sit too often or too long, my joints grow stiff, my clothes feel snug, and projects go unfinished. I try to convince myself I need to take it easy, but the reality is… I’m not willing to do the work.

Rebuilding endurance takes effort. First, I must purpose to increase my stamina. This requires setting aside a certain amount of time each day to retrain. By giving time to this, however, I must give up something in return.

 What am I willing to sacrifice in order to succeed?

Second, endurance requires patience. I can’t start walking 10,000 steps a day; I must work up to that goal. This requires I begin slowly and accept temporary limitations.

I must look forward in the direction I want to go, rather than staring back at my past. I must pace myself, pushing as hard as I can tolerate, but not beyond. Trying to do too much too quickly will only result in setbacks.

Third, endurance requires determination. The effort was rewarding when I saw measurable results. It didn’t take long to increase the number of leg lifts without struggling for breath. And I was soon able to return to errand day without problem.

But it takes resolve and determination to keep on track when results are not forthcoming.

Synonyms for endurance include: fortitude, perseverance, persistence, tenacity, and courage. These words imply it is not a matter of “if” I will face challenges, it is a matter of when and how often.

And I know the greater the initial determination, the greater frequency of trials and roadblocks. I must prepare mentally as well as physically to succeed, no matter what.

After three months, I have regained about 90% of my arm/hip function. While it is tempting to accept this as “good enough” I refuse to settle. It will take another four months of sweat, inconvenience, persistence, tenacity and fortitude before I see any measurable results.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Don’t settle. You are too valuable in God’s sight to settle for anything less than His best for your life.

Just take one small step today and you will discover: a body in motion will stay in motion.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

“… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

©2016 Molly Totoro – for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Finding the Authentic Self

Molly TotoroFor years I lived life for others, molding myself into roles I was expected to play: wife, daughter, mother, teacher, cook, chauffeur, church volunteer. I was ensnared in the trap of self-worth based on what I DO and in the process, lost sight of who I AM.

I used to think this was God’s will, after all, He counsels us to “value others above ourselves” (Philippians 2:3 – NIV). But I came to realize that God does not call us to value others instead of ourselves.

Ignoring our own interests leaves us as empty vessels, no longer fit to serve, and if we are not careful, this can lead to resentment, bitterness, and depression.

I had to learn to let go of some activities that defined me (and earned me external praise) in order to learn to accept myself the way God intended.

I had to release internal criticism that told me “I’m not good enough” and instead discover the gifts and talents the Lord so graciously gave me.

And I had to do some prayerful soul-searching to identify my core values.

My process was quite systematic. First, I found an online list of 400 values. I then read through the printed list with a highlighter, indicating any words that resonated with me on some level. This narrowed the list to about 50.

Next I reviewed the refined list and eliminated any that were not truly at the core of my identity OR values I thought were similar, such as responsibility and accountability. This brought the list down to ten.

Finally, I made one final run-through to bring the list to a manageable total of FIVE.

Balance – I believe in moderation of all things.

Contentment – I believe practicing gratitude is key to cultivating a joy-filled life.

Family – I believe the importance of family relationship is second only to a personal relationship with God.

Spirituality – I believe in a sovereign God whose omniscience is superior to my limited perspective. I am grateful He sent His only son as my savior so that I may readily accept His gift of Grace. I am no longer a slave to perfectionism, trying to earn His favor.

Significance – I believe we are put on this earth for a specific purpose, which is not self-seeking, but rather to help and serve others. Life-long learning and teaching others what I have learned is how I achieve this significance.

Once I identified these values, I began to incorporate them into living an authentic life. I now seek to make all decisions through the lens of these values.

It is becoming easier to say “no” when asked to do something I know will cause imbalance in my life, and it is more bearable to do unpleasant tasks that I know will lead to long-term contentment.

©2014 Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Stepping Stones Publications, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations.