“Not Meant To Be.”

Construction Trades I – Swiss Hills Vocational School, Woodsfield, Ohio – 1995

“The fall hurt like hell, but I found grace in the wounds and a version of me I never knew.“

Stephanie Bennett-Henry

I’ve come such a long way the past few years, in regards to personal growth and elevated thinking… and, yesterday, I caught a crystal clear glimpse of that.

While at the gym, in the middle of a workout, I told my trainer that “I’ve decided to give it up”… and he smiled at me, in obvious relief.

You see, 7 months ago, while feeling very high on life (and post-surgical painkillers), I made a hasty decision. I signed myself up for a 24-Hour/100-Mile Ultramarathon. I honestly believed, when the time came to run it, that I’d be in a position to do so. I mean, who doesn’t love a good comeback story? I know I do! And, at the time, I really wanted to be able to live this one out. But things have changed.

Despite the successful spinal surgery, months of disc regeneration treatments, physical therapy, continued chiropractic care, and 1-on-1 personal training, the cold, hard truth is, my body just isn’t the same… and neither is my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to the odds being stacked against me. Even when failure is imminent, I’ve never been one to throw in the towel. Win or lose, I stay the course, seeing things through to the very end. I would even go so far as to say that this is the reason why I’ve been so successful in accomplishing things I once believed I never actually could. Because I had the courage to try – and the determination to never give up.

The indoctrination of this critical life lesson, however, did not initially result in success for me. In fact, it came with a healthy dose of public humiliation and the bitter taste of blatant failure.

I was 16 years old and in my Junior year of high school. I had become a bit of a celebrity in our small school, being the first and only female to ever enroll in the Construction Trades program at Swiss Hills Vocational School in Woodsfield, Ohio. I excelled academically and, with the help of my classmates and the support of my teachers, was able to hold my own in the shop, as well as on the job site.

Every year, our school would hold a skills competition. The top 3 students in each vocational field would advance in competition against the winning students from other schools, at a regional competition. The winners at regionals would then advance to state. I don’t remember if the competition went nationwide or not because, as I am about to explain, I didn’t exactly make it very far.

Early on in the school year, I had become seriously ill. I tested positive for Mono and suffered such a severe immune reaction that I was hospitalized and forced to recover at home, quarantined for nearly 4 months. I had just recently returned to school and was hustling to get caught up with all that I had missed, so I wasn’t planning to participate. In fact, I hadn’t even considered it at all until, one day, as the window for student sign-ups quickly came to a close, my Carpentry Instructor expressed great disappointment that a “certain female student’s name” was still not on that list.

“I really had hoped to see one more person sign up for this.”, he said as he took down the final sign up sheet, looked over the list of names, and paced in front of the class.

I looked up from the textbook that I’d been reading as he turned to face us, his eyes now locking with mine.

“ME???”, I asked in disbelief. My face felt hot, as it flushed with embarrassment, and my heart began to race.

“Yes, YOU! You have the knowledge, you have the skill. It’s time to show them exactly what you can do!”

To my surprise, the guys in my class agreed. One of them even admitted that he was glad I hadn’t signed up yet, because he didn’t think he stood a chance in a head to head competition against me.

I was hesitant at first, but easily swayed because, again, who doesn’t love a good comeback story? And what an incredible statement it would be to the world (or at least to this little corner of Ohio) that anything boys can do, a girl can do better?

Mr. Palmer assured me that he would help me prepare. Mr. Ring, the senior class instructor (who I had the biggest schoolgirl crush on) agreed to help, as well. But, as the day of this competition approached, none of us knew the turn of events that were in store, as we assembled in the Lab and prepared to begin.

Classes were cancelled and the school campus was open to the public so that parents and family, students and teachers, alike, could all attend and show their support.

Before we began, the rules were read. We had 5 hours to complete a series of woodworking and framing projects. We were to frame four walls of a child sized playhouse – one with a window, one with a door, and connect them all together so that they stood erect, on their own accord. Finally, we needed to construct a stair string and attach it to the one of the outside walls. To our surprise, they then stated that no power tools were to be used in this initial phase of competition.

I could feel myself begin to panic. Never had we ever trained with hand tools, such as handsaws or chisels. I looked at the guys, but they just shrugged their shoulders like it was no big deal. Mr. Palmer rushed over to confer with the judges. His face was red. I could tell that he was mad. He walked away, shaking his head, and mouthed the words “I’m sorry”, making direct eye contact with me.

As we all moved to our assigned areas, I knelt down and opened my toolbox. I looked at my saw, all shiny and new, tucked securely inside the toolbox lid – just as it had been since the day the manufacturer produced it and placed it there. I crossed my arms against my body, as I stood to watch the boys. They, too, were opening up their toolboxes and preparing their work areas. I suddenly felt very small. I looked down at my own body then back up at the boys, now keenly aware of the size of their bodies, in comparison to mine. The bulging of “Chunk’s” shoulders muscles, biceps and forearms arms now seemed so profound – a stark contrast to my own waiflike and scrawny form.

Mr. Palmer approached the class, picked up the mic, and turned to face the crowd. He had a handful of long stick matches in his hand and he pointed to the Lab’s stockroom with the other. “The size of a sawhorse matters.”, he said, as the remaining students from our class (who had not signed up to compete) were pulling out multiple sets of sawhorses, all in various heights/sizes. “Since Aubrey is the only girl in this class, we have decided that she should choose her own equipment. The boys will then draw straws in order to assign the remaining sawhorses amongst them.”

A cold chill rushed up my spine and every hair on my body stood on end. My face felt hot and my legs felt weak. I hugged myself tighter as I walked towards Mr. Palmer, shaking my head.

“No… Mr. Palmer…”, my voice shook, “I’ll draw straws, just like the rest of them.”

I was so embarrassed and, as as he stared me down, the room stood very still and quiet.

“Chunk” walked up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Aubs, you’re gonna want the smaller sawhorses. You’ll need it for leverage with the handsaw.”

“No.”, I quivered. “I’ll draw my straw.”

I reached out to Mr. Palmer, as he extended the matchsticks. Our eyes locked, but neither of us said a word. I drew my straw and walked towards the sawhorse selection. As I found my matchstick’s counterpart, my heart sank even deeper inside my chest. I was now paired up with the tallest set of sawhorses in this entire shop. I did my best to show no reaction, as I grabbed a corner in each of my hands and dragged them back to my assigned work area.

The timer was set and the horn was blown, signaling the start of the competition. Someone turned on the radio, and another opened the garage bay doors. I held my copy of the project plans in my hands and read over the instructions. Surrounded by designated materials and tools, the music and sunlight filled the room, as each of us began to get to work.

I wish I could tell you that I found my groove. That the hours flew by, marked by succesful construction of these playhouse walls and lighthearted banter between me and the boys. The truth is, I immediately hit a wall. Never had I ever held a handsaw before, let alone been taught how to use one. So, as I watched Chunk from the corner of my eye, I did my best to imitate his ways.

A farmboy, born and raised, he was hefty and strong. Star player of our school’s football team, his movements were powerful, and every cut with the saw seemed effortless for him. I remember wishing we could have worked together as a team. As I was known to “measure twice and cut once” (using power tools!), Ryan (which is his real name) struggled with reading directions and often marked the wrong measurements. He made multiple cutting errors and had to redo his work. I, on the other hand, placed my 4×4 on the Empire State Building sized sawhorses that I’d been assigned, and began to make the most minuscule progress – sawing away the best that I could (which wasn’t very good at all) on this single piece of wood for the entire duration of this competition.

Am I over exaggerating? Maybe just a little bit as, nearly 30 years later, my memory may not be completely clear… but, you get the point. I didn’t make it very far. I continued to try, however, sawing away, listening to the music, wiping the sweat off my brow, and doing my best to ignore the coming and going of the faces in the crowd that formed our audience.

Blisters formed on my fingers and palm. The burning pain from one of these bursting open caused my grip to slip, slicing the saw through the flesh of my stabilizing hand. As blood trickled down my fingers and dropped upon the floor, I did not cry, nor did I panic. I actually felt a wave of relief wash over me, as my aching arms laid the handsaw down. I was escorted to medical, where they cleaned out and dressed my wounds. I returned to the competition floor with nearly two hours left to perform.

As I’m sure you can see, I did not succeed – not even by a long shot. But, upon conclusion of the competition, as the sound of the bell rang out signaling that the alotted time was up, I received a standing ovation from those in the crowd. My teachers and classmates, students and instructors from other areas of this vocational school, as well as, my dad for the mere fact that, even as I was losing, I simply refused to quit.

I used to remember this story fondly, recalling it from the archives of my mind, many times over, in the years since. Anytime I’ve doubted my ability to endure, I remembered that day and how I proved that I could.

But I’m different now – literally, everything has changed. My train of thought has completely jumped that track. I no longer resonate with this story and it’s clearly foreseeable ending. I no longer look at my decision to endure that day as a reference point, or roadmap, with which to decide my future. I no longer wear that day as a badge of honor upon my heart. In fact, when I look back now, my heart aches for the child that I was – struggling to find my place in this world, wanting to to make a stand, refusing to adapt or change when the scales of balance were so strongly tipped against me. If I could go back and speak to myself, I would hug the little girl that I was. I would hold her so tightly that she would feel our hearts beating as one, and I would tell her that “It’s okay”.

It’s okay to end the battle, to wave that white flag in surrender, and admit you’re in over your head. It’s okay to change direction, to change your mind, to turn completely back around – even if you’re already halfway there. It’s okay to leave the task unfinished, to refuse to pursue the goal – sometimes we have to try first, in order to simply see… that where we initially planned to go is not actually where we wish to be.

I’d hold that smaller, younger version of myself and I’d tell her that “It’s okay”.

Knowing everything that I know right now, I’d tell her… I’d tell ME… that it’s okay to quit, because not everything is always meant to be.


“Savor It, Don’t Suffer Through It.”

“Happiness is not something that comes to us when every problem is solved and all things are perfectly in place, but in the shining silver linings that remind us the light of day is always there, if we slow down enough to notice.”

Brianna Wiest

It occurred to me recently that, no matter what, it seems we’re never satisfied. We strive so hard to achieve one thing – but, once we do, we immediately become transfixed upon what’s next.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having goals and wanting to continually improve yourself, but I do believe that this can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. Surrendering to the lessons my life has been teaching me the past several years is helping me to realize the importance of creating a healthy balance.

Take my morning coffee, for instance. For years, I have been trying to find a healthier alternative to the sugar laden, whip cream topped lattes that I have grown to know and love. One that I enjoy as much as these dessert equivalent treats. Through repeated attempts and multiple fails, I have finally discovered that I prefer a light roast coffee or espresso. I’ve graduated through multiple “levels”, so to speak, decreasing cup size, withholding the whip, decreasing flavor syrups to half, and eventually eliminating them altogether. I now opt for ordering a “tall, coconut milk latte, using blonde espresso roast”. No cream, no sugar, no flavor syrups, no whip. And it actually is my preferred coffee drink when “on-the-go”.

When enjoying a cup at home, or brewing my coffee to take to work, I use a light roast coffee and carefully measure out a single serving of brown sugar oatmilk coffee creamer. It’s non-dairy and contains just a few grams of sugar, so it’s a healthier alternative to the dairy based, high sugar content, and oil laden counterparts sold in grocery stores worldwide. But the delicate sweetness and comforting texture that this option adds to my morning brew is something that I have grown to love and look forward to. It’s my morning treat, and I savor every sip. I limit my intake to just one cup – sometimes two on a lazy, Sunday morning.

Looking back, I’ve come such a long way, improving with this particular morning routine. Nonetheless, I’m continually looking to improve even further. So, there I was, standing in the refrigerated section of Fresh Thyme last Friday, reading more labels on “superfood” coffee creamer options. They outrank my current creamer on nearly every ingredient level, so I decided upon two flavors that I was interested to try – cinnamon and vanilla.

I went to bed that night, feeling like a kid again. Growing up, my mom used to let me pick out my favorite cereal at the grocery store. That’s how she got me to go to bed at night – by promising me that, when I wake up, I’d get to have my “Lucky Charms” or “Cocoa Puffs”. Now, as an adult, this is literally how I feel going to bed at night… excited to wake up in the morning, and enjoy my favorite cup of coffee.

Imagine my disappointment when, the very next morning, I tried the vanilla creamer and cringed at the smell, as well as, the taste. I immediately dumped it out. I brewed another cup, this time adding the cinnamon creamer. Same result. On the third attempt, I mixed them both together. I’ve always loved a good cinnamon vanilla flavor combination – but, NOPE! Not this time. In order to simply tolerate this “superfood combination” in my coffee, I had to add TWO servings of each flavor blend, which literally calculated to more overall sugar content than a single serving of my oatmilk coffee creamer – and I still didn’t love the taste or find comfort in its texture.

Long story, short? Totally not worth it to me.

I’m a big fan of the “when you know better, do better” concept… but I don’t believe in sacrificing anything that you truly love, for something that you never will.

In regards to my morning coffee, I am done with searching for more. I’ve decided that this morning brew is something to be savored, not suffered through… and I’m learning that the same should be true for my run.


“It All Makes Perfect Sense.”

“When you finally learn that a person’s behavior has more to do with their own internal struggle than you, you learn grace.”

Allison Aars
“The Wall”, Grand Turk, B.W.I. – the third largest reef in the world, with an immediate drop from 15’ to 7,000’.

One of the psychology blogs that I follow recently published an article on phobias. As I was reading over it, “thalassophobia” caught my attention. Never in my life have I heard of such a term. It went on to define this as an intense fear of large, open, naturally occurring, deep bodies of water and, suddenly, certain things made a lot more sense. Because, as the article went on to describe, it’s not so much the fear of the water itself (“aquaphobia”) as it is the fear of what lies beneath those waters… the unseen, the unknown, and the completely unpredictable.

Throughout our entire 20 year relationship, my husband has never cared very much for swimming in the ocean… or river, or lake, or any other large body of water aside from a man-made swimming pool. In the beginning, he’d laugh it off and say that the water was too cold. Sometimes he would wade in, but only up to his knees. Other times, I could coerce him into coming with me, chest deep, but only for a little while before he’d hightail it back to the beach to sit in his chair or lay down on our blanket.

One night, on my birthday many years ago, while on vacation to my favorite childhood beach destination, I talked him into walking the beach back to our hotel. He was reluctant, but did so just to please me. The closer I took us to the water, the more quiet and distant he became… until, finally, as the waves washed up over my feet, he immediately let go of my hand. It never occurred to me then that the sweat left to evaporate from upon my palm had anything to do with him, rather than the humidity of the thick, summer night’s air.

I remembered walking this same beach early in the morning, as well as, late at night with my sister and our parents, every summer, ever since I was a little kid. I wanted so much to share this pastime with him – to see him enjoy it as much as I do. But, as I called out to him over the crashing of the waves and the roaring of the wind, he retreated even further and further away from me, in body and in mind.

It would be easy to become offended by this behavior. To feel dejected or rejected. But, deep down, I’ve always known that this behavior had more to do with him, than it ever did with me. Sure enough, this pattern has repeated itself in our lives, year after year, to the point where I no longer pressure him to enter deep waters with me. I will always extend the invitation… yet, mostly, he just smiles and says “I’m good”. He stands there, on the shore, giving me an occasional wave, while he keeps careful watch over the area as I swim, float and dive to my heart’s content, exploring all that I possibly can, wherever it is that we go.

A similar incident happened on a flight back home from some adventure we had traveled to experience together. We were faced with a series of strong storms that our flight crew was unable to completely fly above. As the aircraft navigated through some of the worst turbulence either of us had ever experienced, I was giggling with excitement as the bottom dropped out from beneath the plane and butterflies danced in my stomach in response to this briefly simulated “freefall”. My Honey, however, appeared anxious and edgy, as he continued to check and recheck the weather radar, as well as, our aircraft’s altitude. I reached over, taking hold of his hand, and found it to be soaked with sweat. As beads of sweat also formed upon his brow, I realized, for the first time in all of our lives together, that he was legitimately scared. I immediately toned down my own energy, changing my excited demeanor to match his solemn one, in an attempt to quietly offer him comfort. I held his hand and squeezed his arm. I did not question him in regards to his fears or pressure him to relax. I simply sat with him, this man that I love, sharing in his silence and extending solidarity and support.

You see, this man that I love has spent his entire life building a career around public safety and emergency preparedness. Yet, in this particular environment, the potential dangers remain completely unforeseen… and there is nothing he can do to help or change that. Rather than relaxing into the moment, he may find himself overwhelmed with fear of all that he can neither anticipate nor control – the inability to protect himself, my self, and all of those around us.

I, on the other hand, have always been drawn to such adventures, intrigued by the unknown. Moments when I realize I have absolutely no control are the exact same moments when I feel the most alive, relaxed, and completely free – because, in my mind, when nothing is certain, anything is possible!

My husband and I, we are not the same… yet, we compliment each other very well. In fact, no two people are ever completely alike… and that’s not only okay, it’s precisely what make us all so very interesting. The intricacies of our minds and the idiosyncrasies of our personalities, the things that make us similar, but also very different. The simple fact that, even after all these years, there’s still so much more to learn about each other, not only excites me, it intrigues me, as well.

This man that I love, whom I admire, respect, and chose to marry is my anchor, my rock, my stability and my strength. He is quick to assess a situation, decide and act. He draws upon his acquired knowledge, training and experience in order to assist and save. Yet, the ability to control this environment, and others like it, is simply not possible. It’s no wonder that moments like these make him so damn uncomfortable.

Sure, I could point these things out, psychoanalyze him, encourage changed behavior, coach him through the processing of his emotions and all that lies beneath… but this decision towards personal growth is not mine to make. He has never tried change me, nor do I seek to alter him. We simply love each other for all that we are, and laugh about all that we may never be.

This is a lesson that I have been learning in regards to family, friends, and other loved ones, many times over, throughout the past several years. That you can still choose to love them, up close or from afar, strive to understand them, rationalize their behaviors, and accept them for all that they are, as well as, all that they will never be. Because to love someone unconditionally is to learn how to support them without stepping in to save them. To encourage their personal growth, yet remain detached from their ultimate decisions.

Compassion is the key – because everyone is fighting his or her own inner battles, and everyone harbors their own past traumas. It helps to remember that we are all of it. At one time or another, everyone is an asshole and everyone is awesome. When we’re acting unconsciously or not at our highest level, it’s because we’re responding from a place of pain or fear… and you can find compassion for a person who is in pain or one who is gripped with fear.

I no longer seek to challenge or influence the opinions or behaviors of others because I’ve finally come to realize that these are the direct result of their own reality, as filtered through the lense of their own perceptions.

It is not my responsibility to educate anyone or force any person to change. But, in my own personal growth journey, I am discovering how much better it is to LOVE people wherever they’re at, rather than simply leaving them where they’re at.

Seeking to understand where certain behaviors are coming from, and caring enough to see all the way down to the root cause, alleviates a lot of the negativity expressed upon the surface because, suddenly, it all makes perfect sense.


“Give Yourself Permission.”

“Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides. Just like hopes springing high, still I’ll rise.”
— Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

Give yourself permission. To stop. To quit. To shake it all off and simply walk away. From any job, any goal, any person, or any situation that no longer suits you or serves the greater good of your overall life.

Give yourself permission. To change your mind. To change direction. To turn your energy and attention elsewhere. To “tone it down a notch” while still pursuing that “next level”. Not every goal you set for yourself is best for you to continue – and all the others will rarely require you to maintain such a break neck pace.

Give yourself permission. To turn off all outside “noise”, and turn your focus inward. To be a little bit selfish. To choose yourself over any other person, place, or thing. You can not pour from an empty cup – so, go ahead, let go of anyone or anything that compromises your inner peace, imposes upon your personal boundaries, or depletes your soul of positive energy.

Give yourself permission. To let go of the past, and anything you can not change. To leave behind your guilt, and let go of your self-doubt. To move steadily forward, taking only the lessons with you.

Give yourself permission. To silence your mind and listen to your heart. To trust your instincts and always go with your gut.

Give yourself permission. To try, “just one more time”. To give a second chance. To offer up forgiveness, and give a little grace.

Give yourself permission. To take a little breather. To give yourself a break. Take a “moment” for yourself… even if it lasts all year.

Give yourself permission. To refrain from writing that reminder. To put down that pen or pencil, and leave that To-Do List undone.

Give yourself permission. To “silence your cell phone now”. To refuse to answer when it rings. To unplug, unwind, completely detaching the invisible strings. Disconnecting from the world around you is one of the best ways to reconnect with those who are actually with you.

Give yourself permission. To leave that message on read… or even completely unread. To choose how you will respond… or if, and when, you even want to?

Give yourself permission. To stand your ground. To refuse to bend. To remind yourself that personal boundaries are important, and the people who really matter are the ones who will rise up to meet them.

Give yourself permission. To choose your friends wisely. To disappoint some people, while going out of your way for others. The most expensive gift you can ever give a person is that of your own time.

Give yourself permission. To exercise patience. To take your time, and always be kind. Even the tallest mountain is climbed by taking just one small step at a time.

You are capable of anything, and can achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of… but only if you learn how – to give yourself permission.


“The Longest Distance.”

“Deliberation”, by Mario Sanchez Nevado

“When we realize that we don’t need to ask anyone any questions, we discover that we needn’t look outside ourselves for the answers.”

Stephen Levine, “A Gradual Awakening”

Lao Tzu said that the first step on the path to wisdom is the ability to say, “I don’t know.”

We like to believe that we know a great many things – but, the truth is, we understand far fewer of those things than we care to admit. Knowing a thing and owning it – being truly invested in the actions and the outcomes – are two completely different things. True wisdom then is not in the knowing – but in the actual doing.

That being said, the only thing worse than being on a sinking ship, is staying on board until it’s completely sunk. Which leads me to my current conundrum: how do I make a rational decision if all I can think about is the overwhelming desire emanating from my heart?

I remember reading somewhere that “the longest distance in the world is the eighteen inches from the HEAD to the HEART”… and now I know this statement to be true.

Taking what we know and turning it into a demonstrable action, something that will elicit change in our lives or the lives of those around us, is true wisdom. For some people, the ability to transform knowledge into action is quite the hurdle.

The willingness to change is driven by investment and emotion. No emotion, means no investment – no investment, means no movement. As long as we maintain a rational perspective on our personal condition, we will remain stuck.

However, for me, the exact opposite has been the issue. Because I am emotional. I am invested. And I am moving forward… yet, still, I remain quite stuck. My injury recovery progress has been quite remarkable – yet, the rational perspective of my PHYSICAL condition pales greatly in comparison to the size of the goals which I have set before myself.

I’d be lying if I said I have all the answers. The truth is, I’m still asking myself a plethora of practically unanswerable questions. Therefore, I am simply choosing to put the weight of this mental burden down. Let it be, whatever it may be – my (current) rationalization being this:

It’s okay to change your mind. To change direction. To change the plan. To admit that something is no longer right for you – to accept that it never really was.

It’s okay to be uncomfortable. To be completely unsure. To sit comfortably in the uncertainty of it all, not knowing which path you’re, ultimately, going to take.

It’s okay to change your mind – but also to stay the course. Sometimes, simply choosing to move forward, content with not knowing, is the only way to truly discover exactly how far you can go.