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Burnt Toast and Coffee

I think that it goes without saying, this year has been a "one of kind" year for many people.

For months, when trying to write a blog post, I would sit down and eventually would find myself... well... speechless!

I have felt numb, stunned, and mentally and emotionally too tired to write anything that I felt would have been worth reading.

Many have admitted to feeling stuck in an ocean of negative feelings, so I know I haven't been alone.

For me personally, I'm still trying to catch my breath from 2019.

Last year was a tough year for us as well. So, life has been quite the whirlwind, and to be honest, I haven't always been the best at coping in highly stressful situations.

However, I am ecstatic to say that throughout all the challenges we've faced this year, individually and collectively, I have overcome very strong anxiety issues.

One of those issues was being able to drive a vehicle without a mountain of fear inside of me.

Even though I have been driving for years despite the fear, I have fought overwhelming anxiety about being behind the wheel.

I'm not sure exactly where this fear came from, but it was almost debilitating to where I would have to "psych" myself up just to drive across town.

It has felt nearly impossible to shake this fear until recently and I am grateful to say that I am now free and I enjoy driving!

Overcoming anxiety may feel impossible most times, but freedom of the mind is possible and life-changing!

To overcome anxiety, it takes...

  • consistent effort,

  • awareness of who you are,

  • determination toward where you want to be,

  • a lot of patience and self-love, and

  • many changes in mindset

You must unlearn old habitual ways of thinking and re-learn a new life-giving mindset for each struggle.

Don't rush yourself though. Take it one day at a time and one struggle at a time. Eventually, you'll begin noticing that the things you were once afraid of no longer control your life and that is one of the best feelings in the world.

Becoming the best version of yourself is a beautiful process, even though it doesn't feel beautiful most of the time.

If this year has taught us anything it is that life does not care if we are ready for a life-altering challenge or not. But...

What if we sought to become the greatest version of ourselves while in the middle of our greatest challenges?

Sometimes when life gets hard and I want to stay focused on my forward progress, I will go for a walk or sit outside.

Doing this helps to quiet my mind, calm any anxiety, reconnect to love, and refocus my thoughts on letting go of what is no longer serving me and my future self.

This morning I was transported in time by a memory of my childhood. Despite all the negative feelings surrounding this year, this memory made me feel love, warmth, and safety again.

While sitting on the deck of my in-law’s home overlooking the meadow just beyond their backyard, something caught my eye.

Mornings in the meadow are quiet and serene, and some mornings almost feel like a fairytale.

There are days a thick mist covers the ground as the sunlight spreads into

rays through the trees making the misty

meadow appear enchanted and mysterious.

This particular morning has been rainy, so I enjoyed the serenity of fresh rainfall while in complete admiration of nature. To say that I love living on planet Earth is a vast understatement! I am in awe daily of its wonder and beauty!

As I gazed into the far distance of the meadow, my eyes fixed upon a tree, the only tree, in which the leaves had already begun transitioning into a deep orange-red.

Immediately, my mind went to a time in my childhood when we visited my mother’s parents in Fort Mill, South Carolina, during the Fall Season.

My grandparents lived in a little yellow house on a hill in a rather quiet neighborhood. I loved that house, especially in the Fall and Winter!

Of all the memories that my mind would go back to, it would be memories of the interesting mornings in that little yellow house.

Every morning, upon awakening, I would hear my parents and grandparents talking in the kitchen, while the aromas of burnt toast and strong black coffee filled the air.

You may think it strange, but I loved waking up to this smell!

My Papaw loved his burnt toast and coffee in the mornings while reading the newspaper.

Strangely, he liked his coffee in a bowl, and occasionally as he would sip out of the bowl he would also sop his coffee with his toast.

It was an interesting way of doing things, but to this day I still love the smell of burnt toast and coffee. It reminds me of him. Occasionally, I'll intentionally burn my gluten-free slice of bread and be whisked away by memories of Papaw, while others in my family whisk themselves away to another room!

I mean, it's the little things, right?

My Papaw, Mike Balbi, was an Italian man. His parents migrated from Italy to America before he was born in Wilmington, Delaware. Papaw was a strong man but had struggled with a disability from childhood. Due to an unfortunate fall from a two-story balcony and with no immediate medical attention, he was left unable to walk properly for the rest of his life. The traumatic injury eventually led to both legs and feet to turn inward, causing a great deal of pain. However, he never let the disability slow him down.

Papaw loved his family. I still remember the sound of his voice and his bushy Italian eyebrows covering his eyes as he squished his face together just to make me giggle.

I remember how his pot belly would jiggle when he laughed, his missing front teeth where he earned the nickname “snaggletooth”, his love for olives, and his addiction to Star Trek every night.

Papaw was also an amazing artist. He painted murals and backdrops for the studio of a major Christian television ministry in the 70s and 80s, as well as beautiful paintings that hung on the walls of that little yellow house.

Papaw painting, September 17, 1991

Every day, after his burnt toast and coffee, he went straight to his art studio to work on his latest project. His studio was a shed in the backyard filled to the brim with every color of paint and various sizes of canvas you can imagine.

I loved walking into that dusty shed that smelled of linseed oil and fresh paint. His clothes and hands were always covered in multi-colored streaks and blotches.

Not to mention the black smudges from hours of sketching with his charcoal pencils. I can still clearly see him working on them in my mind.

An original Mike Balbi painting

My grandmother (Nana), who is now in her 80s, is the complete opposite of Papaw. Every morning she drinks black tea with sugar, toast, and a bowl of cereal. She always has a book to read that stays firmly in her book holder on the breakfast table.

Growing up, when we would first arrive at her house, everything smelled of Lemon Pledge and Pinesol. The carpets were a shag green and orange, the couches and chairs were a velvet beige with brown, yellow, and orange fruits and flowers.

Nana and Papaw

My Nana always had things tidy, and she cleaned every chance she got. She never seemed to complain about it unless it was Papaw who made the mess. I can still hear the way she used to say his name. It still makes me smile.

Nana is a spunky, strong-willed, independent woman with fiery red hair and Irish blood. She’s not afraid to be blunt and to the point, and I have always loved that about her.

This morning, that one tree in the meadow transported me back to a place in time, to a moment, when life wasn’t so hard. Where the smell of burnt toast and coffee made me feel warm and safe. The world, for a time, didn’t seem so big and the beautiful days lasted a little while longer.

Many things have happened in my life that are not lovely or good. However, remembering the beautiful things, the moments frozen in time, that are cherished for a lifetime is beyond's a miracle!

Maybe it’s the quiet rainfall on a soft meadow that will silence the negative talk in your head.

Maybe it’s the trees changing colors in the Fall that will bring serenity to your weary soul.

Maybe it’s the memory of a loved one that wraps your heart like a warm blanket.

It may take some time, but you can find the beauty in life. It is possible to live an open, abundant, and radiant life! The only catch is that you have to be intentional about every thought in your head.

You can't have lazy thinking. Lazy thinking is when you allow outside influences and circumstances to determine the course of your day or life. Our inner truth must guide us above all else.

Humanity at large has walked away from our natural innate ability to discern and follow the truth within us.

We rely so heavily on outside opinions and cultural mindsets, that we've lost the ability to hear the quiet guidance system that we are all born with.

Consider the influences (friends, family, teachers, leaders, etc.) in your life and ask yourself how you feel after being around them.

  1. Do you feel constricted, weighed down, anxious, or nervous?

  2. Do you feel open, light, happy, refreshed, and at peace?

I encourage you to daily ask yourself these questions keeping the people in your life in mind.

We must take an inventory of our lives and search out areas of where, and with whom, we will give our energy. I know there are some instances where we may not have control over who is in our lives, but we can choose how much of ourselves we give to those people.

We must also stop choosing to look through the narrow view of the media, social media, and daily influences that take us off the path from our own truth.

It's time to open your heart and mind and see life through the light that has always lived inside of you.

I believe we have been given the gift to mentally and emotionally choose how we live every day despite what's going on around us. That freedom is a gift not to be taken lightly.

Yes, there are struggles that take time to overcome. Yes, there is ugliness in the world and even in our own lives. Yes, we will always face challenges and trials, but the beauty of the journey is the process.

It's the time between the hardships and the victories that make the most impact for change. It's what we've learned and how we've learned that gives us the motivation to continue moving forward into the next challenge!

As I learned from my Papaw,

...every little detail of a painting is unique and necessary in order for the finished product to be a masterpiece.

Have patience with the unfolding of YOU. If you're still breathing, then it's never too late to work on your mindset and overcome anything that would hinder you from being the best version of yourself.

I am so thankful for my journey. I am thankful for Fall, for the deep orange-red tree in the meadow. I'm thankful for my grandparents and I am so thankful for burnt toast and coffee.

I dedicate this post to the memory of Papaw. He will always live in my heart.

Thank you, Papaw, for the wonderful memories!

I love you!

It's an honor to share with you just a few more of Papaw's paintings below!

Thank you for your time and I hope you have a great rest of your day! :)

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