Heart pounding, hands shaking, sinking feeling in your gut, mind racing with thoughts of panic, and an overwhelming feeling of impending doom. This is FEAR. Real, literal fear. And it’s something I would experience on a weekly, sometimes daily basis when I was in the darkest moments of my anxiety and panic attack disorder. I was at war with fear and I was losing every battle. I was in the middle of nursing school in my junior year of college and I was slowly becoming consumed by fear despite my best efforts to not let it take over my life. I remember needing to leave class on multiple occasions due to getting panic attacks for no apparent reason. And then I hit my breaking point when the fear became so overwhelming that I found myself crying in my instructor’s office because I had this awful feeling that something horrible was about to happen. Nothing quite says rock bottom like being a 20 something college student crying in her instructor’s office. Although this was particularly embarrassing for me, I know that this was a defining moment and it started me on my journey to leave my fear behind.
I went home that day and started searching for therapists who specialized in anxiety and found the woman who would change my life. Over the course of meeting with her and working through exposure therapy- I was finally able to be free of the fear that had a hold on me for too long. Now I think it’s important to note that my fears didn’t just vanish as I stepped into my therapist’s office that day. And they didn’t just disappear after the next visit or the following ten visits after that. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve been in counseling for my anxiety and honestly speaking- the fears still come, and they go- but they no longer serve as chains around my ankles holding me back from the life that I was given. And being free of that kind of fear is where life change happens.
But as humans, we’re all going to have things that we’re afraid of, fears that keep us up at night and hold us back from becoming who we were created to be. Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced the fear of failure? Anyone? How about the fear of not being good enough? Not a good enough mom, a wife, a friend or business owner? Or how about the fear of change or transition or taking that leap of faith off the edge of comfort and into the unknown? I don’t know about you, but my hand is raised about as high as it can go. So, if you find yourself in the same boat- well then, you’re in good company my friend. And I hope you know that having these types of fears is okay because again, we’re human and we’re all doing the very best that we can. But it’s what you do with these fears that matter.
The fears no longer serve as chains around my ankles holding me back from the life I was given. And being free of that kind of fear is where life change happens.
It’s so easy to let these fears slowly creep into our minds and our hearts and over time they end up consuming us without us even realizing that it’s happening. And before we know it, we’re merely living in the shadows of the life that we were destined to live. We’re staying complacent in our jobs because it’s comfortable. We’re telling ourselves that that dream we’ve had for all these years is exactly that- just a dream- not something that we can actually achieve. We’re not accomplishing our goals because we’re letting fear plant that seed of doubt that we won’t be able to do it. Think of all the plans that we’ve made, dreams we have dreamt, futures we have planned for ourselves that simply did not come to fruition because we were too afraid to try. When I think of that- I get sad because it’s not the way that we were intended to live. That’s the way the enemy wants us to live. He thrives when we let fear run our lives and to that- I say no more.
We have only one creator and He created us to prosper, to have hope, and to give us a future where we need not be afraid. In fact, the message of not being afraid occurs hundreds of times in scripture. And I don’t think that is a coincidence. He wanted us to know that there will be fears in this imperfect world, but they don’t have to define us. They shouldn’t define us or hold us back from who we were created to be. That’s not the plan that God has for our lives and to that- I say AMEN.
I wish I could give you a five-step plan to conquer your fears but just like you, I’m still figuring out what that looks like in my life. But what I do know is that you don’t just wake up one day and suddenly become fearless. No, you have to wake up and make a choice and I hope you choose to be brave in spite of your fears. I hope you choose to walk courageously through your fears and know that He is there walking with you. I hope you find the strength to tell your fears that this is the year, this is the moment, that you are saying enough is enough.
The good news friends, is that you get to decide what your story will look like because you are in charge of your own happiness and fear can longer tell you what you can and can not do. I hope you take that leap and open up the business of your dreams. I hope you accept that job that you told yourself you weren’t good enough for. I hope you move to that city that you’ve always wanted to live in. I hope you run that marathon that you told yourself you wouldn’t be able to finish. I hope you write that book that you told yourself no one was going to read. I hope you pursue your life’s passion and you find true happiness. I hope you fly, and you soar and you embrace exactly who you were created to be. Because the greatness you were destined for is waiting for you to simply leave your fear behind.
I hope you find the strength to tell your fears that this is the year, this is the moment, that you are saying enough is enough.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve started the new year off on some sort of diet.
Determined to reverse the damage from overindulging during the holidays, I’d resolve to cut back on sugar, eat more vegetables and get back to my normal workout schedule.
In most cases, I’d go pretty extreme—cutting out entire food groups for extended periods of time to “reset” my body and jumpstart a year of healthier choices.
And every year, it would backfire.
I’d do great for a few weeks, maybe even months. But eventually, I’d grow tired of the restriction. Then, I’d either rebel and eat all the things, or I’d resign as a failure.
This year is different: I’m not making any resolutions. None. Nada. It may be a new year, but this time around I’m not hell-bent on becoming someone new.
Change is Good. Growth is Better.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the word change. It’s important we learn how to embrace change and transition in our lives. And we certainly have thoughts and behaviors we can change. I just don’t like to use it broadly about ourselves. When it comes to setting goals for the new year, I prefer to look through the lens of growth.
I don’t know about you, but when I feel like I have to “change” something about myself, I feel judged. Like I’m doing something wrong. Like I am wrong. It also communicates a sense of urgency. Like this change has to happen now, or soon—or else.
It’s a lot of pressure.
Growth, on the other hand, feels more gentle. When I say, “I’ve got some growing to do in this area” I instantly feel more compassion toward myself. Growth doesn’t chastise me for where I’m at, or make any judgement. It focuses more on the positive of where I want to be, rather than on the negative of where I am. Plus, growth is gradual—not instant—which reminds me I’ve got time to get there.
I’m not a life coach or therapist. I’m no expert. But I do have a lot of experience failing. Which means I’ve learned what doesn’t work. And over the years, knowing what doesn’t work has helped point me in the direction of what does.
Here’s my best advice for how to grow in the new year, without making any resolutions:
1. Go Right to the Root
The single, most impactful practice I’ve adopted in the past year has been asking myself, “why?” about literally everything I do. Like a child seeking to understand the world around them, I want to understand myself.
It seems simple, but it’s very powerful. Asking “why” I was binge eating helped me identify the roots of the problem: my restrictive diet and my buried self-hatred. It wasn’t working to just commit to stopping the behavior. I had to go deeper to find out why I was doing it in the first place.
How about you? If you have a behavior you’d like to change, have you ever asked yourself why you do it? Why do you eat late at night? Why don’t you volunteer more? Why don’t you write that book/start that business/etc?
That’s the question we have to ask ourselves if we want to grow. Because there’s a reason you eat late at night. There’s a reason you haven’t started that book. Why?
Of course “why” is only the beginning. But you have to start there. We can’t change behaviors without discovering their cause. We can’t solve a problem without knowing the factors that contribute to it.
"We have to go to the root to address the issue of growth."
2. Start Small
It’s been my experience that extreme changes are impossible to sustain long term. (Especially if I try to change a behavior outright without taking the time to dig deeper and find the real issue).
I’ve also learned that the bigger and grander my commitment to change, the more shame and embarrassment I feel when I fail.
Any real growth I’ve seen in my life has happened through small shifts in my mindset, and little changes in my behavior.
Instead of eliminating dairy, gluten, soy, corn, sugar and alcohol for 30 days, I just started listening to my body and how I felt after eating certain foods. If I noticed I had less energy or stomach issues after eating something, I’d eat something different the next day.
Psychologically, small wins encourage us. If you normally wake up at 8:00am but want to start waking up earlier, start by setting your alarm for 7:50. The next day, try 7:45. Continue setting your alarm earlier every day and eventually you’ll get to a time that works for you.
But if you set your alarm for 6am the very first day, you’ll probably struggle to get up and it will be a negative experience from the start. Plus, you’ll be SUPER TIRED and might think to yourself, “I can’t do this.”
In our on-demand world, we want change now. But the reality is, growth takes time. So choose the actions that are most sustainable over time—which are most often the smallest.
"Any real growth I've seen has happened through small shifts in my mindset."
3. Commit to Imperfection
Growth is a process. A journey. Which is rarely linear. In fact, what we commonly label as “setbacks” or “failures,” are really just destinations along the way. And we often learn more from those experiences than anything else.
A good place to start when approaching your growth journey is to accept that it won’t be a straight shot. We may get temporarily lost, need to stop for a break, or even double back a few times before we reach our final destination.
It’s important that we don’t chastise ourselves for going “off-course.” Because I truly believe there really is no such thing.
"In life, sometimes we have to leave a little room for the wandering."
One way I do this is through positive self-talk. Most of the time, when we think of positive self-talk, we think about phrases that remind us of how capable we are. “You can do this, you’re amazing, you’re strong, etc.”
Which is GOOD—don’t get me wrong. We are far more capable than we could ever imagine. But we need to remember we’re also human. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to need an extra hour of sleep some mornings. We’re going to find comfort in the richness of a chocolate bar.
For me, positive self-talk usually sounds more like, “It’s okay if you can’t.” “Take a break.” “You’re still worthy and valuable at rest.” “You’re more than just the way you look.”
This is a far more forgiving and compassionate way to approach our growth journey.
One Final Thought
The world doesn’t need a new you.
The people that love you don’t want a new you.
By all means, seek to be the best version of you by learning and growing continually. But remember that that journey will take a lifetime, not just a year. So be patient and gentle with yourself.
Now there’s a resolution I can get behind.
How do you love the women in your life well?
Your sisters, cousins, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, girlfriends, wives, neighbors, etc?
Around the holidays, most of us show love to our favorite ladies with gifts and quality time.
Personally, I make a special effort in November and December to try and get together with my girls. As an introvert, my social life sometimes suffers as a result of prioritizing rest and recharging.
Thankfully, there's something about the giving season that helps me break out of my shell and be more selfless with my time and energy.
Plus, as someone whose love language is gift giving, I welcome any opportunity to show my friends and family how much I care for them.
But the women in our lives aren't the only women in need of our love and generosity this holiday season.
By donating and/or volunteering, we could change the lives of millions of women both across the world—and across the street.
Here are 10 charities—both local to Chicago and global—that help serve and support women around the world:
Local Chicago Charities
1. Chicago Books to Women in Prison
WHO ARE THEY?
Chicago Books to Women in Prison is an all-volunteer group that distributes paperback books free of charge to incarcerated people nationwide, focusing on all women and trans/non-binary people.
Incarcerated people send in their requests for books directly, then volunteers match each request from their stock of thousands of donated books. Each package of books comes with a personal note and a new order form so it’s easy to order again.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
“There are many ways you can help by giving your time, books or a monetary contribution. We especially welcome money for postage, which is our largest expense.”
2. Bridge to Success
WHO ARE THEY?
Bridge to Success provides high-end interview and workplace-appropriate clothing to help increase employment opportunities for at-risk, low to no-income men, women, and young adults.
They also offer personal stylists and coaching with a mission to build self-confidence through appearance, interview preparation and a sense of belonging at the workplace.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"Your talents, resources, clothing, and financial help are greatly needed and appreciated."
WHO ARE THEY?
Resilience is an Illinois not-for-profit organization that works to affect positive social change for sexual assault survivors through direct support service and by raising awareness through education and advocacy.
Crisis intervention, medical and legal advocacy, and trauma therapy services are available to anyone in need of support in the Chicagoland area. As an independent rape crisis center, Resilience partners with local hospitals and organizations to deliver services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"For sexual violence survivors to get the support that they need, and for our communities to respond with compassion, it takes all of us. Around the clock, day after day, year after year, Resilience stands ready to support and advocate on behalf of women, children, and men who have suffered sexual violence. Stand with us!"
4. Timothy's Ministry
WHO ARE THEY?
Since February 2004, Timothy's Ministry has been dedicated to reaching out with love and compassion to people struggling with homelessness. Caring volunteers gather together for biweekly potluck luncheons in Arlington Heights to offer friendship, food, clothing, Bible studies, and more. They also gather every Thursday and Friday at Tim's House in Chicago.
This organization is near and dear to our heart as it's run by the mother of our founder, Katie Simkins, and was inspired by her family's story.
While Timothy's ministry serves both men and women, they do provide support for housing, transportation, medical needs and clothing for women. CMW specifically gives to the women of Timothy's ministry by donating 10% of all proceeds from our shop to provide them with grocery and Walmart gift cards.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"Your donation makes it possible for us to keep our doors open in two locations so that we can provide not only the tangible gifts of delicious meals, a small food pantry, bus passes, and a clothing room, but most importantly, a warm and loving place to gather."
5. Hesed House
WHO ARE THEY?
While Hesed House is not exclusively a women’s ministry, many residents of this Aurora homeless shelter are women looking to break free of the shackles binding them to homelessness.
Today, Hesed House is the second largest homeless shelter in the State of Illinois, serving over one thousand men, women and children every year. With the help of professional staff and alliances with outside agencies, the shelter provides assistance to families and individuals in the following areas: identification, transportation, child services, life skills, benefits, legal, financial, physical/emotional abuse, mental health, physical health, employment, education and housing. (To name a few).
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
“Whether you choose to lend your time and talents by volunteering, writing a check, planning a fundraising event or coordinating a collection of food, holiday toys, and warm winter clothes, ALL demonstrations of support are appreciated.”
National and Global Charities
6. Women’s Global Empowerment Fund
WHO ARE THEY?
The mission of Women’s Global Empowerment Fund is to support women through economic, social and political programs, creating opportunities while addressing inequality; strengthening families and communities.
Women’s Global Empowerment Fund strives to develop programs that produce reductions in poverty and the marginalization of women and their families by providing economic, social and political opportunities for sustainability and self-determination.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"By donating or volunteering with Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, you can help women create a brighter future for themselves and their families. We need a dynamic volunteer force to build awareness about microfinance and our other programs in northern Uganda. Your action can make it possible for us to provide opportunities to more and more women."
7. Women for Women International
WHO ARE THEY?
Since 1993, Women for Women International has helped more than 478,000 marginalized women in countries affected by war and conflict. They serve women in 8 countries offering support, tools, and access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.
Women for Women International brings women together in a safe space to learn life, business, and vocational skills. The result: stronger, self-sufficient women who are able to create sustainable change for themselves, their families, and their community.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"There are many ways to ensure that women in our programs have stability and foundational support for years to come. We can do so much more together — join us!"
8. Running Start
WHO ARE THEY?
Running Start is a nonpartisan nonprofit that trains young women to be in public office. They empower women to get involved in politics, then offer them programs that will help them improve their skills and give them the resources they need to get further in the political world.
With over 100 training programs across the country, they've trained over 12,000 women (and counting!).
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
"Attend a special event, sign up to be a mentee/mentor, intern in our office, sponsor a program—or donate."
9. Girls Who Code
WHO ARE THEY?
Girls Who Code is an international non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.
With their 7-week Summer Immersion Program, a 2-week specialized Campus Program, after school Clubs, and College Loops program, they're building the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
There are quite a few ways to get involved with Girls Who Code. You can fundraise, start a club, download lesson plans, become a partner and of course, donate directly to their cause.
10. Girls for a Change
WHO ARE THEY?
Girls For A Change (GFAC) is a nonprofit youth development organization aimed at empowering Black girls and other girls of color in Central Virginia to visualize their bright futures and potential through discovery, development, innovation and social change in their communities.
GFAC programs focus on leadership skills, goal-planning, financial literacy, building a network, exposure, community engagement, skill-building, sisterhood building, and socio-emotional learning among other things. They also address important issues including institutional racism, sexism, the digital divide, and the glass ceiling.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Girls for a change also offers a host of different opportunities to donate your time, money and other resources, including becoming a coach, an ambassador, or a mentor.
We hope you'll consider making a donation or volunteering at one of these organizations, or another organization of your choosing, to help make a difference in a woman's life this holiday season. <3
"In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35
I don’t know about you but when I think of the Holidays, I get insta happy! I mean what is not to love about Christmas decorations, Holiday music, spending time with family, and all the cookies- am I right?? The Holiday season is such a special time of the year and one that I look forward to every year despite the bitter cold and snow here in the Midwest!
One of my favorite parts about Christmas is shopping for the perfect gifts for my friends + family! Giving gifts is definitely one of my love languages and it really does bring me so much joy when I see my loved ones get excited when they’re opening their presents! I like to really spend time thinking about each individual person and what gifts they would love the most!
If you’re someone who finds Christmas shopping a little stressful, don’t worry because you’re in the perfect place! Here at CMW, we’ve come up with some amazing gift ideas for the special women in your life. Whether your shopping for your mom, sister, friend, or coworker- we’ve got you covered! We’ve picked some of our favorite gifts for this Holiday season and in true CMW nature- we selected all businesses owned by women of course! Not only did we find some great gift options but we are featuring local + small businesses to well-established companies that are all about women empowerment and giving back! So grab a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy our take on this year’s Holiday Gift Guide!
1. Medium Moon Clutch by SSeko: Loving this moon shaped black & gold clutch from Sseko! It’s so cute and stylish and would be perfect to pair with any outfit! It’s also the perfect size to throw in your purse or travel bag to help keep your items organized! Another reason to love this clutch is because Sseko is such an amazing organization with a mission to support women in Uganda and provide enough income for them to attend University. Not only do they employ women in Uganda but they provide scholarships, create workshops, and are members of the Fair Trade Federation. This stylish clutch would make a great gift and you’re helping to support and empower women in a place where that hasn’t always been possible. I call that a win, win.
[ $59.99 ]
2. Warm + Cozy Soy Candle by Sweet Water Decor: This right here is basically my perfect Christmas night bottled up in a delicious smelling candle. This candle is described to have notes of: pine, orange, cinnamon, cypress and fir. They are hand-poured, made of soy, and free of gluten/lead/phalates. Sweet Water Decor has tons of amazing finds from candles to the cutest coffee mugs and so much more. Melissa is the owner + designer and started her business in 2014 from her basement. She’s now in over 3,000 botiques and continues to fulfill her dreams of motivating and inspiring her customers! [ $17.99 ]
3. Lana Woven Bowl by Tate + Tiegs: This basket is just beautiful and would be the perfect addition to anyone’s home. They have neutral colors like beige and white which I would typically be all about, but something about this sky blue is giving me all the feels. These baskets are handmade by female artisans in Rwanda and by purchasing one, you’re helping them “to raise healthy families, improve their living condition, and better their community”. Now that’s a mission we can get behind.
[ $35.00 ]
4. Slice and Bake Cookie Dough by Helen’s Cookie Dough: Okay, favorite gift on the guide right here, that’s right I said it. But seriously who doesn’t love some delicious Holiday cookies?! And the best part about these is that Helen creates the dough for you so all you have to do is thaw them in the refrigerator and pop them in the oven! That means your house not only gets to smell like freshly baked cookies but you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the mess in the kitchen afterwards. This girl is a genius, I tell you. I truly think this would make the PERFECT gift for anyone in your life because if you know someone who doesn’t like Holiday cookies well than, can they even be trusted?? She has six different options and be sure to check out her Instagram for more details on specifics and pick up dates! [ $25-$140 ]
5. Sincerity Blanket by Trade of: This cozy blanket would make a wonderful gift for someone special in your life! It’s black and white with fringed ends and gets softer with each wash. This blanket is made by women in India and each purchase helps to empower women so that they are able to earn an income, receive education and healthcare. Its neutral colors and diamond shaped pattern is a classic addition to any home decor and who doesn’t want to snuggle up with a cozy blanket on a snowy winter night? [ $38.00 ]
6. Grateful Sweatshirt by Caty + Rose Market: I stumbled upon Caty + Rose at last year’s UrbanFarmgirl Market and boy am I so happy that I did! They have the cutest t-shirts/ sweatshirts/ kids shirts with tons of sweet, Jesus inspired, uplifting, and funny phrases on them! There truly is an option for everyone and if you’re like me, you will want all of them! Caty + Rose was created by two women who share that they love Jesus, motherhood, style, and giving back. ( A portion of each item purchased is donated to charity)
[ $55.00 ]
7. Ennegram Primer by Ennegram Magazine: This magazine would make such a unique and special gift this Holiday season! The Ennegram Magazine was created by two women, Molly and Rebekah, who love Jesus and want to equip others with the tools that helped them find freedom through God. The Ennegram Primer is their first issue and the illustrations look so beautiful. This would look stunning on your coffee table and I love that it would be a great conversation starter! [ $30.00 ]
8. Holiday Wreath Soap by Happy Bath Bar: OH. EM. GEE. These hand-made soaps look absolutely incredible! I seriously didn’t know that soap could look so beautiful or so delicious looking! (cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, hot cocoa…need I say more??) Kellie is the maker of these wonderful soaps and all of her soaps are hand-made, vegan, and created in small batches. I’m so happy I found Happy Bath Bar and love that by purchasing one of their soaps, you’re supporting a small business owner! [ $7.50 ]
9. Wine Glass & Bottle Holder by Short Beach Woodworks (found at Wyckwood House): This hand-made wine bottle and glass wooden holder is a great gift option for the wine lover in your life! You can find this beautiful gift at the Wyckwood House in Aurora, IL or through their online shop. We wanted to feature the Wyckwood House because it is owned by Shannon Gutierrez and it’s a great way to shop small + local! The Wyckwood House features more than 40 local artisans with plenty of great items to choose from including: candles, coffee mugs, soaps, decor, and so much more!
[ $15.00 ]
10. 2020 Marble Dream Planner by Horacio Printing: This planner is just gorgeous and I love that it’s centered around God. The New Year brings fresh starts, new goals, and is often a time to reflect on the previous year and decide what it is that you want this new year to look like. This planner will not only keep you organized but it will inspire and encourage you to step into who God created you to be! And to top it off, 10% of every product sold is donated to A21 which is a non-profit organization that helps to fight human trafficking!
[ $45.00 ]
Well friends, I hope you enjoyed this year’s Gift Guide! I truly believe there is something here for everyone and if you’re anything like me- you will want all the things! Here at CMW we whole-heartedly believe in supporting women and you will do just that when purchasing any of these items. We also strongly believe in empowering women and that’s why it was so important to us to find gifts that you not only love but one’s that share our same mission. Whether the products are hand-made by women in countries like Uganda or India, or come from local + small businesses that help support female business owners, or companies that give a portion of their proceeds back to charities- they’re all working towards making this world a better place and that’s something you can feel good about this Holiday season!
Like Miraynda, I thought I’d share a few personal facts since I’m not very good at small talk:
As you can see, my heart is aligned with our mission to help support and empower women to embrace who they are, and go after their dreams. I’ve started over more times in my life than I could count, and am living proof that it’s never too late to change course and find happiness. I can’t wait to share some of what I’ve learned along the way—and am still learning every day—with you and the rest of the CMW community.
To get to know me a little better, I thought I’d share five facts about myself.
Again, I’m so excited to be contributing to the CMW YOUR STORY Blog alongside Michelle. Here at Common Mission Women, we’re all about empowering women and the "Your Story" blog will do just that. We’re here to share inspiration, spread encouragement, lift one another up, and strive to be the very best versions of ourselves! With lots of fun and a GIRL POWER mindset along the way! Stay tuned for some exciting posts coming soon!!