Susan Tolles | 1010 Park Place

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— Life —

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Ah December. It’s a month when the “most wonderful time of the year” brings with it both joy and stress. We barely say goodbye to Thanksgiving before the frantic pace begins, with a push to get more done in our already-limited free time. As we entertain, shop and cook for family gatherings, the world tries to divert our attention away from the real meaning of Christmas toward the best deals. Retailers try to convince us they have the perfect gift, when the only true, perfect gift was given to us in the form of a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Continue Reading

— Life —

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A few months ago, I had the privilege of spending time in northern Uganda, leading women’s conferences in two communities, Pader and Soroti, where women are recovering from unimaginable trauma. I wrote about their hope in the midst of poverty and their true beauty which comes from their faith and joy, not their outward appearances.

These women have showed resilience, perseverance and a deep desire to make their lives better through learning simple crafts, providing income to support their families.

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— Life —

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It’s November (already???), the time of year when we pile additional responsibilities on top of our already-busy schedules. Have you caught yourself saying “I’m in survival mode?” Most of us have. In that state, it is so easy to overlook the small joys and successes that happen every day. Instead of acknowledging the good things, we get caught up in hosting parties, decorating, shopping and the year-end craze, letting these activities control our happiness and self-worth. Hope and joy are replaced by overwhelm and frustration, and we reach the end of the year wishing we had done things differently. Continue Reading

— Life —

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I was driving to meet a friend for lunch this week, and within a 10-mile stretch, I saw three new self-storage facilities. I was shocked and amused that Americans have become so attached to their stuff they’re paying rent to store it. A few years ago it was hard to find a place to store household belongings while in transition or over a college summer break. Now it seems there’s a self-storage building on almost every corner.

I did some research and found there are five times more self-storage units than there are Starbucks!

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— Life —

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I have the rare blessing of a lifelong friendship with my high school math teacher. Ms. Bowers taught me every level of math including trig, analytic geometry and calculus. When there were no more math classes to take, I became her aide, and she often reminds me of how hard I was on my fellow students. Occasionally she’ll call just to tell me how wonderful I am, and how much I still mean to her. I pour the love back to her, in deep gratitude for the way she mentored me through high school (without me knowing it). I always thank her for changing my life by insisting I leave East Texas and go to Austin to attend the University of Texas at the young age of 17. I shudder to think what might have been had I not followed her advice. Continue Reading

— Life —

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This week the nation has watched my state endure—and survive—a devastating natural catastrophe named Harvey. We’ve seen images of people being plucked from their rooftops, saved from rushing waters by human chains and hoisted by helicopter, holding their babies. Shock, sadness and overwhelming disbelief are understandably common among the residents. We’ve also seen resilience, hope and sheer determination as volunteers brought their fishing boats, kayaks and large trucks from all over the nation, with an “I just have to do something” mindset, working themselves to exhaustion. Continue Reading

— Life —

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I just returned from a week in Colorado with my family, trading the brutal Texas heat for 40 degree mornings, clean mountain air and roaring campfires under the stars. We were far enough away from city life that there was no internet, and the small cabin owned by my in-laws didn’t even have a TV. We were forced to “unplug” and it was divine.

Ahh, reminders of the good old days, when we spent long hours with friends and family—looking one another in the eyes—and used landlines for local calls because “long distance” was costly. Our mail was delivered once daily, six days a week, and life went on without having to see a picture of what a distant friend had for dinner displayed through social media.

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Esther Zimmer has written a brilliant series “The Pro-Body Project,” revealing her personal journey navigating self-worth, food and body image. Her insightful posts have given us a reality check as we consider what is most important in life, versus how the world dictates we define our own beauty.

As I reflect on my recent trip to Uganda, I think about the amazing women who have been through unthinkable tragedy and poverty, and have displayed strength and resilience that most of us will never have to muster. But they are liberated in many ways.

They don’t stress over the size of their thighs or what they look like from behind. They don’t worry about the latest fashion trend. They are lucky to have a change of clothes. They don’t have to talk themselves into getting daily exercise because they walk everywhere they go, tend their gardens with sweat running down their faces, and work sunup to sundown taking care of their own families and others. Thankfully, they are not immersed in Western culture, where we women are constantly comparing our looks and body parts to Photoshopped images in social media and magazines. They have no choice but to accept their bodies as they are. I have to believe there is abundant freedom in that.

As we look at what we get caught up in daily, let’s also look at what we can learn from women who live humble yet difficult lives.

  • Love the body you have. You were lovingly put together by a Creator who took special interest in the colors of your hair, eyes and skin. He gave you a unique shape, and whether you are a square, circle, oval or triangle, it was carefully planned before you were even born. Strive to be healthy, not perfect.
  • Support other women, don’t compete with them. The women I met in Uganda live in community and they know they can depend on one another. How many really good friends do you have? How many could you count on to take care of your needs when you are sick, struggling financially or dealing with depression? How many do you share your deepest emotions with? Women need other women to lean on—it is essential to our emotional wellbeing. Spend time cultivating deep, authentic relationships, with several BFFs you can call any hour of the day for any need you have.
  • Express gratitude every day. No matter how bad your day seems, there is always something to be grateful for. And it’s likely someone, somewhere, is having a worse day. Celebrate the miracle of your body, the beauty of the magnificent universe, having food on your table every day. I met women who had been widowed or abandoned, raising their children and others who had been orphaned due to HIV or malaria. I saw women who have been raped and beaten, still bearing the emotional and physical scars. They were all singing and dancing as they joined together in worship, with smiles that were contagious. I heard so many times, “Thank you for loving us enough to come here.” I felt truly appreciated.

True beauty comes from within. It is found in strength of character, courage, and a generous spirit. No matter what your shape or size you are, no matter how many gray hairs or wrinkles you have, you are beautiful, just because you are you.

— Life —

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I did it. I chased my lion. My two friends and I just returned from a trip to Uganda where we led women’s conferences in two remote communities. Instead of being confronted with a giant, I found a lamb, in an impoverished country filled with women who have so little, but who are rich in spirit.

My life will never be the same.

The women of northern Uganda possess inner strength and faith unlike any other women I know. Many were raped and beaten during the war, and many lost their husbands to Kony’s horrific murders, HIV or malaria. Many never had husbands, but were left behind by men who refused to commit to a pregnant partner. Continue Reading

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It’s here. The week of “chasing my lion” has arrived, and I am about to embark on a journey with so many unknowns. I’m headed to Uganda to lead women’s conferences in Pader and Soroti, remote communities where the majority of the women can’t even read or write. Their towns and their people were ravaged by Joseph Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army for 20 years, and many of their friends and family were killed. Those who remained were traumatized. Many were infected with HIV/AIDS. The war ended around 2008, but the effects remain. Poverty, AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and starvation are constant problems.  Continue Reading