Susan Tolles | 1010 Park Place
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Susan Tolles

— 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

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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

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There’s always something to celebrate.

As I write this, it’s National Blueberry Cheesecake Day. If you don’t like cheesecake, then you can celebrate National Don’t Fry Day. There’s a reason to party every day.

Too often, we get caught up in the busyness of life, failing to notice our blessings and express gratitude. We let little annoyances get under our skin as they take over our thoughts, and we allow them to ruin a perfectly good day. We trade an attitude of joy and abundance for stress and anxiety. Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the wonder of childhood as we strive to accomplish  rather than experience. Continue Reading

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May brings a time when we think about Mother’s Day. Some of us have warm memories of a mother who nurtured us from newborn to adulthood. She loved unconditionally, disciplined firmly and taught valuable life lessons from how to do laundry to how to love. The older we get, the wiser she’s become, and we are so grateful for the role model she was.

For others, Mother’s Day is tough. There are “unmothered daughters,” raised by mothers who were absent, abusive, or narcissistic. There are women who’ve battled infertility or miscarriage, and some have longed to be a mother but have yet to find the right husband. There are women who’ve become content as doting aunts and others who’ve poured out their motherly love through volunteering.

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A few years ago my husband built a butterfly garden in my backyard. It’s a beautiful space that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and it’s a place of renewal for me. Every spring I pull out what the harsh winter has killed, and prune the perennials that need a boost. I plant new annuals for added color and fill pots with fresh herbs for summer meals. After the first major “haircut” the garden looks dreadful. But within a few weeks there’s new green growth and flowers that I consider are God’s special bouquet just for me.

The flowers in my butterfly garden are like the woman I want to be.

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I  just finished reading In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by one of my favorite authors, Mark Batterson. It is based on a not-so-familiar Bible story about a young man named Benaiah who was confronted by a lion that threatened his life. However, unlike most of us who would have run the other way as fast as we could, Benaiah chased the lion into a pit and came out the victor. Instead of letting his fears get the best of him, Benaiah took a giant risk, not looking at how big his foe was, but claiming just how big his God was. He chased the lion into that trap with a simple spear, and provided a lesson in faith and courage that speaks volumes about how we should approach opportunities today. Continue Reading

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My, how times have changed.

There are two budding entrepreneurs in my neighborhood who occasionally have a lemonade stand close to my house. I always try to stop by, encouraging them with my words and my money. I’m not sure how much they actually sell, as we live in a pretty rural area, but these elementary-age ladies are showing early signs of the creativity, risk-taking and drive that makes self-starters successful.

However, when I stopped by over the weekend, there was something new on their table. When I asked what they were selling, the “boss lady,” who is probably 10-years-old said, “stress balls.” Stress balls? There on the table was a lineup of brightly colored balloons filled with cornstarch. Continue Reading