First, and foremost, I have a God that loves me despite my daily flaws, and a family that loves me nearly just as much as My God does! It’s hard to fathom being absolved of my daily shortcomings over and over again, and yet still being blessed with enormous grace, but that’s the God I serve. This year brought me face-to-face with some eye-opening moments of personal failure, yet My God knows my intentions, and he knows those are genuine, and for that, I am thankful. He loves me despite how many times I mess up, and he even sent his own son to the cross so I could live a life of liberty here on this earth he created. Pretty amazing stuff!
What makes me equally amazed is that My God loves and trusts me so much he gifted me a man that truly is my soul mate, and two boys that our love created together. We aren’t “perfect”, but my family-of-four is pretty fantastic. I have two children that believe in God, and know where to find him. They pray every day at their school, and at home, and are becoming good Christian beings. They are two boys who would rather be home hanging with their mommy and daddy on any given day than anywhere else. They know where their heart is most content, and where they are always safe and sound.
I have a husband who is my very best friend, and that makes me the center of his universe on most days, including on my birthday, when, every year, he plans a little something special that includes family and close friends. Yesterday was no exception! In addition to a new car stereo for my Toyota Highlander that is approaching 160,000 miles (me and my Highlander are “tight”…I will be driving her until she kicks the bucket!), he arranged dinner downtown at Joe’s Crab Shack for my family and our “besties”. It was a festive night of celebration. Jack Sparrow serenaded me to “The Birthday Song.” I’m one lucky girl.
This year, I’m thankful to have discovered a peace of mind, body, heart and soul through meditation. I’d heard of the term meditation from many in Hollywood-and-beyond, who touted its therapeutic abilities. I had even known a few people through the years that gave it a whirl, but it was never in my realm of consideration. I was far too busy and harried with life’s daily demands to take time out for something like that each day, which in and of itself turns out to be counter-intuitive!
The basic act of meditation involves becoming present and aware of the now, and nothing else, which entails shutting down the constant chatter of the mind. Our minds truly can be our very worst enemies. I can attest that my mind has kept me vehemently stuck in the muck of the past, or has drawn me into a cycle of perpetual worry of the future, while my present continued to coast right on by without me.
I was first exposed to this our-mind-is-not-“us” way of thinking back in 2010 when I read Eckhart Tolle’s Practicing the Power of Now. Although Tolle and his writings were reinforced by Oprah and her acclaimed book club, his teachings were far too “zen” for me. Not to add, how on earth do you achieve that type of awareness when you’re a full-time working mom of a few real high-maintenance off-spring? And, so I continued on with my multi-tasking ways in the counter-productive existence I was leading.
In 2012, during a time in my life when the pain of the past had truly taken hold of my entire household, The Untethered Soul drew me back to this mindset of finding enlightenment through the path of spiritual consciousness, by reminding me of that adversary I had deep within - “my mind.” By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, this read was powerful at a time when I truly needed something to just carry me away, like an old Calgon commercial. It proposed a practical perspective that made complete sense to me – it clarified how the development of consciousness can enable us to become present, allowing one to let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization. I read it and completely agreed with so much of what the author (and spiritual teacher), Michael Singer, suggested. But, again, life continued to “happen,” keeping me trapped within the grips of the constant chatter within. I knew who I wanted to be, but had such trouble finding her and staying within that moment.
Then, 2015 happened with one sign after another that led me into the grips of this mindful awareness thing and the acceptance of my mind for what it is – my very worst enemy at times! Since harnessing the power of meditation a few months ago, I have seen firsthand some of the positive impacts it can have. Aside for a deeper sense of appreciation for life in general, and a longing to be a better version of myself each and every day, I have also experienced physiological healing I never expected from my regimen of just a few short daily twenty minutes of spiritual meditation. After only about a month of meditation each day, I discontinued my daily 50 mg dose of Zoloft (for anxiety and depression) that’s been in my system for the better part of the last ten years (except for during my pregnancies); I am back on a consistent workout regimen a few days a week that includes a combination of strength training at my gym and consistent 5k runs (often times without “my tunes”…I instead take in the natural beauty around me and focus on my breathing for three miles); and, I have less chronic aches and pains. But most importantly, thanks to the power of mindful meditation, I am currently far more focused and committed to daily prayer time with My God than I’ve ever been in my life. Additionally, I am far more aware of the patience I need to put forth in the presence of my boys and am trying harder with each day to be more available to them in mind, heart and soul. Talk about some Amazing Grace!
Jesus is My Peace mediation
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have partaken in God’s great earth in several awesome ways this past year. I visited St. Louis a few times for work (one of those visits included a “VIP” dinner on the field at Busch Stadium!), as well as one of my favorite states in our beautiful country – Colorado. I also enjoyed weekly excursions with my family aboard the Good Time’ing, where water therapy always takes firm hold of my soul and immediately drops my blood pressure in an instant! But, the greatest getaway of 2015 for The Murray’s actually occurred by happenstance.
This year was the celebration of 15 years of wedded bliss for Chris and I and we had that “once-in-a-lifetime,” all-inclusive family vacation planned to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. However, this over-committed mother failed to get the boys’ passport registrations into our government in time for our July departure. But, in God’s perfect way, he made it all up to us with a trip we will never forget down to Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast. We rented a Hurricane deck boat and traveled out into The Gulf from our home base in Cape Coral, and up to Sanibel Island and Captiva. We experienced dolphins, horseshoe crab and manatees in their natural habitat at several uninhabited islands along the way, and at the end of our days, docked the boat right up to our “borrowed” condo that some good friends lent us in the wake of my absentmindedness. Although Chris and I have been all over The Sunshine State, this was our first visit to the southwest corner of Florida, and it turned out to be one of our most treasured vacations to-date! Yet another fantastic opportunity God proved to us that he works in very mysterious ways…when we least expect it!
I am genuinely thankful for the blessing of gainful employment and fulfilling careers for both Chris and I. As Senior Marketing Manager for a Panera Bread franchise that encompasses Southwest Ohio, I have had various glimpses of how lucky I am to have a career with a company that does the right things for the right reasons…from the top of the “food chain” all the way to the bottom. For example, Panera Bread recently launched the Food As It Should Be campaign that emphasizes “clean food,” a transparent menu, and a positive impact in the communities we serve.
In my role with this brand, I have the opportunity to help the less fortunate through various outreach initiatives and events. Most notably, each September I direct an event called the Panerathon to Fight Hunger. This 5k / 10k event raises more than $30,000 in one day from the motivational deeds of nearly 1,300 others in the community, and is nothing less than inspiring! For as much effort as I put into this event each year, I gain all that much more back from the impact I know The Panerathon has on my local community's hunger outreach.
But, it’s not just what I do that makes me feel so blessed, but more importantly, what it allows me to do that makes me most fulfilled in my life. I'm field-based, so I don't have to sit at a desk...and moreover, my job is not the same from one day to the next. Not to add, I can be at school whenever my boys need me. I work from home several days a week, where in between conference calls, I can throw in loads of laundry, and vacuum, and go out in my neighborhood and run for 30 minutes. Each and every day, I thank My God, for what he’s given me in this career with Panera Bread. This year, my brand enabled my self-discovery to occur, and for that, I am very grateful.
Panera sent me to a life-changing seminar in April (that coincidentally happened to be the week after we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord on Easter). It's here that I came face-to-face with not only my wretched “mind” during the three-day “Mastering Performance” conference, but My God in a near-tornado at the airport as I was attempting my departure back home. I never made it out of St. Louis that scary Thursday night.
I saw the wall cloud coming straight towards me right there in the St. Louis airport terminal that April evening. There was no place to go. The airline attendant left the gate counter in a hurry once he saw it. And, many others scurried to the center of the terminal. I saw a Tornado Evacuation sign at the restroom entrance, and contemplated entering it, but opted to hunker down right outside of it. With Chris still on the phone, I slid down the wall of the bathroom entrance, and prayed for my safety and well-being. That was the first time in my life where I felt completely and utterly “alone.” I thought if this tornado rips through here, I know no one. Granted, my director, whom took the course with me that week, was in an opposing terminal, but most importantly, the ones I held closest to my heart and soul were hundreds of miles away. I could be blown away…right here and now. Or, in the least bit, torrentially blown into a nearby ditch with debris swirling all around me.
The weather passed by the St. Louis airport that night…by a mile or two. After a few hours, I settled in for the night over two delicious glasses of Chardonnay and room service at a posh airport Marriott. I was emotional, and exhausted. It didn't take long to fall fast asleep.I was awaken several hours later with an urgency to meditate for the first time in my life. So, I did so, in my darkened hotel room. And, during that session, God literally spoke to me right there. I was called to bring a song by Matt Maher up on You Tube immediately afterwards…a song I’d heard of, but never paid close attention to – “Hold Us Together.”
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I'll be my brother's keeper
So the whole world will know that we're not alone
This is the first day of the rest of your life...
This moment was what eventually broke me, in the middle of the night, alone in that hotel room. I recalled the terror I felt only a few hours earlier in that airport as I witnessed a wall cloud of darkness approaching me, only a few hours after the completion of three days that were meant to be what changed me. It was only me and My God alone in that St. Louis hotel room that April night. I felt HIS presence in the exact way he wanted me to...in a way I would NEVER forget. Life would not be the same from this moment forward.
I boarded my plane the next morning with much anticipation for who awaited me back home. I would arrive a day later than originally expected, thanks to the storms. It was Friday, and we had baseball games, and family time planned for the entire weekend. I felt so sure of the new direction my life was headed. I would be “better.” Although I always knew he was there, I truly felt My God for the first time during those few hours when I faced impending danger all alone. And, after being kept safe, HE spoke to me in the dead of night.
I was home, and safe, and in the arms of the ones who loved me most. I was ready to take on a whole new world. I turned everything "off" that weekend. No email. No voicemail. No "connection" to the outside world, because the connection I truly needed to focus on was right there in front of me. My world seemed still...and just right for a few days afterwards. Then, the devil attacked in the form of another mom, who was hurting in the same way I had hurt for so many years...from the depths of her soul. I was blind-sided, and stripped of my dignity. I was brought to my knees just as quickly as HE had lifted me up just a few days earlier. It left me utterly discouraged beyond my wildest expectations...in a way only the devil could produce. There’s no coincidence that this encounter occurred only days after my personal encounter with My God that night in St. Louis. And, I hope I can someday tell her about this time in my life, and what an amazing revelation it brought me, for it's in retrospect that we see our greatest growth. In the meantime, I pray for her every day.
Looking, back on the year, I know April was a turning point. I had the opportunity to grow both personally as well as professionally, thanks to that remarkable conference in St. Louis. I work for a company that wants me to be a better version of myself. This brand understands that if I'm happy, I am more productive, and if I am more productive, they are more productive. It's a win-win for all parties. I'm thankful for my company's "warmth" and the desire to make itself a more amazing brand with each passing year through its people that it helps be more amazing than we were the year before.
As for my husband, it’s been an exhausting career journey over the course of the nearly ten years he’s been striving to find his place. I always took his career for granted, as he was always the grounded one of the two of us. I never realized the foundation a man’s career has on his very existence until the crux of that existence was shaken in our household.
The road to this year has included three career changes for him since 2010, and much heartache and prayer. But, by the grace of God, he is back to the company he originally left Cincinnati Bell for in 2010, and his contentment in that career is what he’s been pleading to HIS GOD for many, many times over during the course of this career crisis for the last decade. He’s doing what he loves, and not only getting great accolades for his service and dedication, but getting paid more than he ever has to do something he truly enjoys. God had a plan for him this whole time. It’s amazing the road that’s brought him here…and only he can attest to that, but he’s finally “home.”
The upcoming Advent and Christmas season is something I am looking forward to with great expectation and joy this year. There’s plenty of traditions, like shopping on Black Friday, family gatherings, and my boys’ eyes on Christmas morning, that I look forward to experiencing this year. I look back on the holidays with my family growing up, and no matter the heartache or stress we were dealing with, it tended to be put aside during the holidays, only to be replaced with good cheer and hope.
My household will light our first purple Advent candle this Sunday evening, praying for peace that surpasses all understanding this holiday season. We will give thanks for all God has given us this year with each candle we light the following few weeks, in anticipation for that day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with much celebration and hoopla in late December. For the kids it means a little something different than us adults, but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless.
I am hopeful for an amazing holiday this year.That’s what this season is all about – hope. Despite our struggles and heartache of the year, Our God wants us to have HOPE for what lies ahead. He wants us to wait with anxious, happy anticipation for the birth of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25th. And, that’s what Advent is all about – anticipation for the HOPE of our LORD.
It’s been an amazing, blessed year for me and my house…and we will continue to serve Our Lord. Joshua 24:15 “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Happy Thanksgiving, and a joyous Christmas season to all!