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June 2019

Kindness Kits 101: How to spread love around your city and beyond.

When we see a problem too big to fix, we often throw our hands in the air and say, “Somebody should do something about this!”

Maybe, we do this because we want our government, world leaders, big corporations or other “powers that be” to take care of it. Maybe, we feel like we’re too small to make a difference, or don’t have a solution for the whole problem. Or, maybe, we’ve forgotten that we are somebody.

We don’t have to be wealthy, or hold a position of authority, or have a large platform of influence to make a difference. Maybe we can’t change the whole world all at once. But, small acts of kindness can change the world for a one person- and the ripple effect of that positive change can start an avalanche of other good things we may never even realize were due in part to our willingness to do something, anything to make things even just a little bit better for someone.

I started making Kindness Kits a few winters ago, when we had record cold temperatures. It absolutely broke my heart to think about all the people right here in Nashville who didn’t have a warm bed to go home to at night. People were literally freezing to death in the streets. Our streets. My streets.

I felt totally helpless. There were so many of them, and just one of me. There are resources here, sure. But, they are limited. I spent some time thinking about what I could do to help. I went to the store and gathered all the handwarmers I could find. The idea grew from there, and I started assembling bags of toiletries, hand warmers, gloves, and snacks. The icing on the cake was adding a little love note, because some warm fuzzies on the inside certainly couldn’t hurt. I wrote “You Are Important” on an index card with a little heart. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then I’ve delivered hundreds of bags of goodies to people all over Nashville and beyond. I’ve had lots of help from my kids, friends- even my bridesmaids came over to make Kindness Kits with me! At the end of the night, we split them up, and everyone takes a supply to keep in their cars. It’s a fun, easy, inexpensive way for us to do something helpful. It’s a small thing, but the reactions from people who receive them range from smiles to tears- and that feels like a big thing.

If you’d like to join me in spreading some love, here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Gather Supplies

KK2

Each bag will require a quart sized zipper bag, a 3×5 index card, and an assortment of personal care items, seasonal supplies, and snacks. Be as creative as you want with your bags- they are your gifts to offer to people who might need them.

Suggested supply list: (Think travel sized items and individually wrapped stuff.)

  • quart sized zipper bags
  • 3×5 index cards
  • markers, pens, stickers
  • hand sanitizer
  • hand warmers
  • facial tissue
  • deodorant
  • flashlight/batteries
  • first aid kits/supplies
  • crackers
  • trail mix
  • granola/protein bars
  • baby wipes
  • travel toothbrushes/toothpaste
  • note pads
  • sunscreen
  • puzzle books
  • lip balm
  • bug spray
  • pens/pencils
  • hand/body lotion
  • comb/hair brush
  • candy/gum/mints
  • feminine hygiene items
  • fast food gift cards
  • cash

Step 2: Write Love Notes

KK1Use your markers, pens, stickers and anything else you’d like to write an empowering message on your index cards. My go-to message is, “You Are Important”. I write it in big, bold letters so it’s the first thing the recipient sees when I hand the bag to them. Grown men have shed real tears on the side of the road when given these words- they are very powerful. Sometimes when making bags with friends, everyone will choose their own word to complete the sentence “You are _____________.” Some good ones are: worthy, loved, beautiful, strong, brave, resilient… anything that speaks to you will work just fine.

Step 3: Assemble Kindness Kits
Fill your zipper bags with an assortment of personal care items, snacks, treats and the messages you wrote. I like to use items that are practical for the season, like sunscreen in the summer/hand warmers in the winter, for example. Include anything you feel might be useful and appreciated.

Step 4: Spread Some Love!
Keep Kindness Kits in your car so you’re always ready to deliver them. Don’t look away from those in need. Acknowledge their humanity- look them in the eye, engage in conversation, use your words to inspire hope and extend genuine compassion- this is more valuable than anything else you could give someone. Truly, this is what people crave even more than a warm meal or shower. Human connection is vital to our health and happiness. Just a few minutes of connection can make a huge difference for someone who might otherwise feel isolated and alone.

Step 5: Pass it on!
Why not give your tribe an opportunity to spread the love, too? Have a Kindness Party! Invite your friends and family to make kits together. Play some music, make some snacks, and ask everyone to bring items to contribute. Write your love notes together, make your Kindness Kits, divide them up, and keep spreading love around your city and beyond.

Love is a very powerful vibration. When we put it out into the world, it amplifies, multiplies and inspires. Anything we can do to put more love into the world is a step in the right direction. Making kindness kits is a fun, easy way to spread a little love to people who need it most. It’s also a way to get people engaged and inspired to help those in need.

Please, share your photos and stories with me when you host your next Kindness Party! You can connect with me on Facebook  or Instagram to show me how you share the love. I can’t wait to see what we can do, together.

Where did “You Are Important” come from?

I live in an affluent little bubble in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee. The poverty and hunger here are well hidden, tucked away behind strip malls and subdivisions with cul-de-sacs and swimming pools. But, if you pay attention, you’ll see it. Panhandling is forbidden in suburbia, so you have to look beyond street corners and exit ramps to find our homeless and hungry. Or, sometimes, you don’t have to go looking. Sometimes, they jump right out at you. That’s what happened to me.

I was working for a large health care company as a claims adjuster. I was a single mom with two teenagers at home, and often started my work day before the sun came up. There was a Starbucks on my way to work, where I stopped frequently before my six o’clock shift started. I thought nothing of the five dollar coconut milk latte I enjoyed several days week— a necessary luxury to begin my long day of staring at spreadsheets and medical claims. That’s where I saw him.

I was sitting in the drive-through waiting to order my much needed cup of motivation when I noticed one lonely car in the strip mall parking lot. All of the stores were closed, and would be for hours. Maybe that’s why it looked so strange there, all alone, in the well-lit space between the Starbucks and the Bed Bath and Beyond. It wasn’t the typical car you see in that particular part of town. It was older, and showed more wear.

As I examined the little, red car in the early-morning-empty-lot, I found that the driver of the vehicle was reclined in the front seat, asleep. It was strange. Not something you see every day. But, certainly, he had chosen a safe place to rest. I assumed he was a traveler who had pulled off the nearby interstate for a nap. That is, until the next time I saw him there in the same spot, sleeping in the rain a few days later.

On the third occasion I saw this stranger sleeping in his little red car, he had the driver’s side door propped open, his bare foot extended out onto the ground below him. That was the morning I made an agreement with myself: If I was going to take my privileged ass through that drive through for another latte, I had to bring him breakfast.

I had an appointment one morning, and was driving to the office late when I remembered the stranger. This was the perfect day to make good on my agreement. I drove by to see if he was there, and my heart jumped at the sight of his little red car. I drove across the street to  McDonald’s and ordered a little bit of everything. I had no idea what this man might like for breakfast, or how he took his coffee, or if he drank coffee at all. When I returned with a bag of breakfast foods, coffee and juice he was awake, sitting up in the front seat. I pulled up next to him, gathered the items, and got out of my car.

I was suddenly nervous. I felt my heart speeding up with each step I took toward his driver side door. I quickly noticed that his car was full from floor board to ceiling with clothing, blankets, trash and all kinds of things. He was talking on a cell phone when I knocked on his window.

“Um, just a second,” he said, placing his phone on the pile of items in the passenger seat. He was a young man, maybe in his twenties. He had dark hair, dark features, kind eyes. 

“Good morning! I brought you some breakfast.” I said, extending the bag and cardboard cup holder toward him.

“Thank you so much!” He took the items from my now trembling hands. “You are so kind! I don’t know how to thank you. What made you want to do this today?”

The honest answer to his question was guilt. I felt guilty sitting in that drive through every day waiting for my coffee while he slept in his car. I felt guilty for having the luxury of my latte habit, and the comfort of the bed I had just left to go to my job that afforded me a life that did not necessitate things like sleeping in my car in a well-lit strip mall parking lot. Probably, this stemmed from my deeper guilt of leaving my family behind in rural Michigan to go make a better life for myself, and being mostly absent from their daily struggles. It was like survivor’s guilt. I could’ve been the one sleeping in my car, but by some miracle, I wasn’t. I had more than I needed, and felt compelled to share my good fortune with this young stranger.

When I opened my mouth to speak, guilt was not on the list of things that came out. The words that fell from my lips were as much a surprise to me as they were to him.

“I want you to know that you are important, and your life matters. People care about you— even some you’ve never met. So, you have to take good care of yourself. Ok?”

“I don’t know how to thank you…”

“You don’t need to thank me. Just pay it forward someday.”

“I will. I promise. Thank you so much for breakfast. This is really nice.”

“You’re very welcome. Have a great day,” I said, turning to get back in my car.

I felt the lump in my throat growing. Where did that come from? By the time I closed my car door tears were rolling down my cheeks.

“You are important. Your life matters. People care about you- even some you’ve never met. Take good care of yourself.” I repeated the message.

I was sure that something bigger than me had spoken those words. I was so shaken by it, I forgot one very important thing: I didn’t ask the kind stranger for his name- the one way for me to really acknowledge his existence, his humanity- and I forgot to ask. I made another agreement with myself- next time I would bring him a meal and ask his name.

I looked for my friend in the little red car every time I stopped for coffee after that day, but I never saw him again. I never had the opportunity to ask his name or bring him another hot breakfast, but our relationship was far from over.

On my way to the Starbucks, when I looked for the little red car each morning, I had to drive by a large construction site. At first, I thought it was going to be another strip mall. I watched all the trees vanish from the lot, which made me infinitely sad as I thought about all the little creatures who were pushed out of their homes. When the  building began to take shape it was massive- definitely not a strip mall. Then, a sign went up, advertising a new mega church. If there was anything we needed even less than another stupid strip mall, it was another stupid mega church.

I googled the church and found that it came with a price tag of twenty-two million dollars. Less than two miles away from the twenty-two million dollar mega church was the parking lot where the young man in the red car slept. The juxtaposition of these things infuriated me so much, I had to write about it.

I had been blogging for my own personal entertainment for several years. I had just started a little series on my blog called “Buddha Girl in Jesus Town” where I  talked about my personal spiritual journey, and how strange it was to live in the Bible Belt as someone who does not identify as Christian. I began writing a piece I thought I would add to the series, called, “Why Mega Churches are Mega Bullshit”.

As an existentialist, I am always looking for purpose and meaning. As I wrote about the new twenty-two million dollar mega church, I was filled with indignation. I could not fathom how an organization that was supposed to be based on the teachings of Jesus could justify building an arena to honor him— something he would not have wanted according to the teachings in the new testament— instead of feeding our hungry, and housing our homeless. It was a shining example of the kind of superficial, misguided, self-serving hypocrisy I had come to expect from modern Christianity- and the epitome of everything I hate about organized religion.

In the article, I broke down twenty-two million dollars into the number of meals our local homeless shelter could provide. I truly believe this would have pleased Jesus, who taught on hillsides and in the marketplaces, and did not need a temple to make himself look important. As I finished my little rant, I felt a nudge. It was a gentle, familiar push. I had been flirting  with the idea of sending my work out to actual publications for some time. Before clicking the “publish” button on my WordPress site, I went to Elephant Journal’s homepage to read their submission requirements, again.

The toned-down-a-bit version of my piece, “What Mega Churches are Missing” became my first published article on Elephant Journal. When the editor sent me my published link, she said, “This is great writing. I can’t wait to see more from you. Congratulations!”

I cried tears of joy for about three days after the article went live, as people read it, sent me notes, commented, and shared it all over social media. The article was read over five thousand times, and even people who identified as Christian reached out to tell me how much my words resonated with them.

This opened the door to my writing career.

 Over the next 3 years, I would go on to publish more than one hundred articles. My face was added to the Elephant Journal homepage as a Featured Author, and stayed there until I decided to branch out and send my work to other publications. I self published my first book on Amazon- a collection of short stories from my first little blog, Dysfunction Diaries.

That first article about the man in the red car and the bullshit church changed my life in ways I never imagined. It gave me the opportunity to share my personal story. I wrote about mental illness, sexual abuse, feminism, parenting, relationships, and all kinds of current events. I wrote about all the things you’re supposed to avoid in conversation- religion, politics, sex and death. I wrote little love notes to people I had never met, reminding them how perfectly wonderful they are.

I was amazed at the ripple effect that happened as I shared my story. Strangers reached out to tell me how much my words helped them. People who had carried their painful family secrets their whole lives shared those secrets with me. For the first time, I saw the purpose for my suffering, and how sharing my painful past could help other people. I watched as people I loved began to open and share their own stories, many of them even started blogs, and some began submitting their work to Elephant Journal. I felt incredibly humbled and grateful to be part of each journey that intersected mine.

Sometimes, I wonder if the man in a little red car was an angel, sent here to help me find my voice, purpose and power. Sometimes, I wish I could share with him how my life changed after meeting him. Sometimes, I wonder what became of him, and send love into the universe with wishes for his comfort, peace and prosperity.

That was four years ago, and the words are still with me. I still make bags to keep in my car for our local homeless population with hand warmers, toiletries, snacks and a note card with “YOU ARE IMPORTANT” written in big, bold letters. Sometimes, when handed a bag of treats with this message inside, grown men put a hand to their chest and ask, “Me?” It brings me to tears every time, and I say, “Yes. You.”

I thought I was delivering a gift to someone in need that fateful morning. As it turns out, I was the one receiving a gift. This work is my way of paying forward the incredible inspiration and healing that began that day. 

You Are Important is now the working title for my current work in progress. It’s a book about how to overcome our circumstances and create a life we love. It all begins with realizing that we are perfect just the way we are, and that we deserve to have all the things we might think are outside of our reach. But, it’s more than just a book- it’s a call to action. It’s a little push to get uncomfortable and look at the things we may be avoiding so we can resolve them once and for all. It’s a reminder that we get to choose who we will be in this life, and create our experiences through the things we do every day. It’s my challenge to everyone who’s ready; to live authentically, leave our excuses behind, and become who we were born to be.

Most of all, You Are Important is a message of hope and universal love. Our worth is not determined by our bank accounts, job titles, clothing, zip codes, or any other earthly measure. Our worth is inherient. We don’t need to earn, prove or beg for it. It’s woven into the fabric of who we are. We are important because we exist- all of us. When we begin to look at ourselves as worthy, we open up to new ideas and opportunities. When we recognize that all humans are worthy, we might begin to see people differently- we might even treat them differently.

As I work to complete this project, and seek publishing opportunities, I’ll be sharing some little nuggets here to get us thinking about how to make our lives, and the whole wide world around us, even more amazing. Please, join me.

How Liz Gilbert Kicked my Ass.

I have a handful of badass lady authors who I absolutely love. I love them for their realness, candor and unbelievable talent. I love them for their examples of what it means to live authentically without apology, to be who you are, do what you love, and fearlessly bare your soul for all to see. On my shortlist of lady author heroes is, of course, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Elizabeth Gilbert is probably most famous for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It’s a beautiful story about getting out of our comfort zone to find out what we’re really made of. And, though I’m always fascinated with memoirs and true life stories, my favorite Liz Gilbert book is not her memoir. It’s a book called Big Magic. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about the creative process, and how to give ourselves permission to be creative and follow our ideas where they lead us. After publishing  Big Magic, she made a podcast called Magic Lessons, where she talked to people about their creative projects and the roadblocks they experienced. She would then bring in a famous friend to help mentor that person and help them overcome their obstacles.

As a baby author, I was incredibly inspired by the stories in Magic Lessons. It was amazing to hear peoples’ stories and all the different ideas and the absolute confidence Gilbert expressed in everyone’s ability to make their dreams come true. With laser precision, she would identify what was holding them back and why. Then, she would give them homework to do until their follow up. I listened to every episode, then I listened to them again, and again.

I had the fortuitous opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak in Nashville last night. She’s currently touring with her new novel City of Girls. I’m not even going to try to lie, I was fan-girling super hard. I almost cried when she walked in the room, because that meant that I was in the same room as Elizabeth Gilbert, and it’s not every day you can sit in the same room with one of your heroes and listen to them talk about their life and craft. She was just as I imagined her. Beautiful, poised, eloquent, and sassy. She’s an expert public speaker, and seemed totally at home in front of that podium.

She talked about City of Girls, and all the reasons why she wanted to write a book about women and sexuality, and the loose girl who enjoyed her life without ruining it. She read to us for a  little while, then, offered time for a Q&A. I thought this was a very brave thing, as you just never know what someone will ask in a situation like this. But, she’s Liz Gilbert, and she’s fearless, and somehow always knows exactly what to say.

Naturally, I raised my hand when she asked for questions. I had about one hundred questions for her, this hero of mine. When she pointed at me, I stood to speak and chose one that only she could answer. I told her how much I loved her podcast, admitted that I listened to every episode at least three or four times, and asked if she planned to bring it back, or do something else in that format. Then, maybe without even knowing it, Liz Gilbert kicked my ass.

She thanked me for listening, and said how much she enjoyed the experience of making the pod cast to go along with Big Magic. She explained that she stopped recording the pod cast when her partner, Rayya Elias, was diagnosed with cancer. Of course, I knew this, because she’s freaking Liz Gilbert. But, then she said something I didn’t expect. She said that she’s on an “integrity cleanse”, something her friend Martha Beck wrote about, and during such a cleanse, she has to always tell the truth.

The truth she shared with us, was that she got bored with the podcast, because every story was basically the same. It was someone with an idea, a talent, a project they couldn’t seem to finish. She would help them figure out what was holding them back, make suggestions, “write permission slips” as she says, and set them up with someone she thought might also have good advice or expertise in their craft. After two seasons, she felt that she had said all she could about the creative process.

“People have all kinds of excuses, but it all comes down to fear. It’s about feelings of unworthiness, not being good enough, or worrying too much about what other people think.”

She laughed, pushing her hair aside and said, “What I suggest you do, is listen to those episodes three or four more times, because I’m just saying the same thing over and over.” She joked that she was all out of famous friends, and couldn’t make any more episodes anyway. Then, she admitted that by the end of the podcast, she was starting to resent her time in the studio doing podcast stuff, because it was keeping her away from her true love- writing.

So, there I was, in the same room with one of my heroes getting a big ol’ gut check. She was literally speaking directly to me when she said, we have lots of excuses, but it all comes down to fear. So, I had to ask myself, what am I afraid of? In all of my procrastination and distraction, there had to be some fear.

I know what my excuses are:

  • Time – Our schedule is packed, too many commitments, too busy doing all the crap we need to do to do the things I really want to do…
  • Energy- Too tired to be creative at the end of the day, need downtime for relaxing and writing feels like work, my day job is sucking the life out of me…
  •  Inspiration- Waiting for the perfect time, place, situation to write. Feeling like I’ve said it all before and I’m bored with it. Wondering if anyone will ever read this book if I finish it, or is it all for nothing…

My writing partner and I call our excuses “stomping and lamenting”. If we spent as much time actually writing as we do with all of our excuses to not write, we’d both be able to quit our day jobs by now. Instead, we whine and throw little pity parties for ourselves, and honestly, it’s kind of pathetic. We frequently talk about this, and ask ourselves and each other, “why?”. Why do we cling to our excuses and allow them to keep us stuck? Why do we fill up our days with other stuff, at the expense of the things we say we really want to do with our lives? The answer, as Gilbert said, always goes back to fear.

So, what am I afraid of?

  • The unknown- The publishing process/industry is still a great mystery to me, and I have no idea how to navigate that world. I’m a baby author, not a marketing guru, and the numbers games and selling myself are things I just don’t know how to do. There are no guarantees that my book will ever be published, or that I won’t get ripped off my a scammy publisher, or that I will even finish this thing at all.
  • Success- Who will I be if I become the best-selling author and public speaker I imagine I could be? How will my relationships change? How will our family change? Will Liz Gilbert become my new BFF instead of just my lady author idol? (Call me, Liz!) I don’t know what will happen, how I will handle it, or if I’m even cut out for that lifestyle. What if I get all the things I think I want, and realize I don’t really want them after all? Then what? What if it’s more fun to have the dream than it will be to do the work?
  •  Failure- What if I give my whole heart to this dream and it never works out for me? What if my book sucks and everyone hates it? What if nobody hates it because nobody ever even reads it? What if I crash and burn? What if this is a monumental waste of my time and energy?
  •  General insecurities- What if I suck at writing and this is a stupid dream? What if I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to do all the things I think I want to do? What if it’s too much for me? Who am I to tell these stories? Who am I to give advice? Does anyone even care? Have I lost all my momentum? Did I peak with Elephant Journal? Is it too late for me?
  •  Legal issues- If I tell my whole truth will it ruin my life? Will people freak out and try to destroy me? Will I have to wait for everyone to die before I tell the whole story? Can I do it any other way?

So, there’s all of that. Lots of excuses to not be who I want to be, which is perhaps the woman I was born to be. At the end of the day, it’s up to me to choose: either push through the fear and drop all the excuses, or spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been if I had dropped the excuses and pushed through the fear.

Gilbert went on to talk about her own creative process, and how when she’s actively writing a book she has to do it all at once, and with almost complete isolation. “Dogs are fine,” she said, “but no other humans.”

This gave me some validation on my own process, as I also require almost complete isolation, and prefer to just go off and disappear somewhere all alone to do my thing without interruption. When I was single and lived mostly alone, inspiration was with me every day. I had ample alone time, and endless hours with my thoughts, and though my teenagers were in and out, they didn’t need much from me, and were very respectful of my need for quiet time to be creative. Since moving in with my husband and step babies, writing has become much more challenging. I think a large part of that is that I get significantly fewer hours by myself to contemplate life, the universe, and the human condition. Inspiration is fleeting, illusive, and sometimes just plain absent. But, as they say, a writer writes. So, excuses be damned, if I’m going to do this thing and give my heart to it, I have to find a way to move it back to the top of my priority list, and make it work in my new life with my new family.

I guess that brings up another whole set of fears for me. What if everyone thinks I’m a selfish bitch for putting myself first? What if I can’t be everything to everyone while also pursuing my dream? What if I sacrifice family time, and things that are also important, in the name of making this thing happen and I fail anyway? Will I regret the friction that might come from me doing me if it doesn’t work out as planned? Will I embarrass myself and everyone who loves me?

Thankfully, my husband is incredibly supportive. He’s an author, too, so he understands the creative process, and the time it takes to write a book. He is much more accomplished that I am, and has this ability to make writing appear to be effortless and carefree- which is truly maddening! But, also, I think he sincerely loves me and wants me to be happy and successful, which is a lot to take in for someone like me, because I’ve never experienced love like that before. There’s no competition or insecurity with him, no criticism or judgement- just encouragement, and sometimes frustration with my excuses and lack of motivation. But mostly, he gently nudges me back in the direction of the dream when I wander off and get distracted. He always says I’m a better writer than he is, which I completely disagree with, but it’s high praise coming from him, and it makes me feel like maybe I’m not totally insane for thinking I can pull this thing off.

After Gilbert’s talk, we went to dinner together. (My husband and I- I’m guessing Liz had a plane to catch or something, or we surely would have invited her.) We talked about how flawlessly she spoke, how well she knows her craft, and how wise she is about life in general. I asked him if he is ready for his next book tour, and if he would do the terrifyingly unpredictable Q&A at his future speaking engagements. “I think you kind of have to do it!” he said, though admitted that he may not be as articulate as my new friend, Liz. We talked about our excuses, our ridiculous schedule, and how important it is to make sure we both get to bring our dreams to fruition, so we can abandon our day jobs and write on the beach together, forever. That’s when I made a confession.

“I have romantic visions of riding a train cross country all by myself someday, sitting in the little sleeper car all alone, and writing a book while watching the world go by my window.”

“Then, you should take some time off work and do it,” he said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too. But…”

“But?” he laughed.

“But, it would just be for a couple of weeks, and I would come right back home to you.” I smiled.

“If it makes you happy, baby, do it.”

And, I realized that even with all my bullshit excuses, and all the fear, I have something most people just hope and pray for. I have a partner who loves me, who will do anything to help me be my best self. Even if it seems selfish, even if he doesn’t love everything I have to say, even if I fail, or if I succeed and our life changes because of it, I know that he’s here, and he has my back, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do for me. I only hope that I can be everything to him that he is to me, and support him as completely as I feel supported.

So, Liz, if you’re reading this, and I just know that you might be, I’m ready. Maybe I just needed you to look me in the eye and tell me that fear is the only thing holding me back. I know that it’s ok to be afraid, but if I don’t push through it, I’m just another person with a half written book and a pile of excuses not to finish it. I don’t want to be another boring episode of a podcast you don’t plan to continue. And, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might have happened if I was brave enough to drop my excuses and get serious about doing the things I say I want to do.

I guess this is the beginning of my own integrity cleanse, where instead of saying, “I’m too busy to write today,” I will say, “I didn’t make my dreams a priority today.” Instead of “I don’t feel inspired,” I will say, “I didn’t take time to look for inspiration.” Instead of the excuses, I will acknowledge my fears, and take them along with me on this journey. And, maybe someday, I’ll stand at the podium as you did last night, and give people permission to be creative and afraid, to retreat into quiet to bring forth their masterpieces, and to honor the stories that live inside them.

Today, I choose to stop my pathetic stomping and lamenting, to drop my excuses, and acknowledge that big dreams are scary things to have. I choose to make my writing a priority again, to move it back to the top of my list, and to make sure I have the quiet time I need to create. I choose to push through my fears, so I can find out once and for all how my life will change when I step into the future I imagine for myself. And, when I make it someday, and some journalist asks me what my secret to success was, I will tell them that I had a story to tell, a husband who loved and encouraged me, and Liz Gilbert kicked my ass one night when she was in Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

Walking My Talk, Even When I Don’t Wanna.

Our lives have been mostly consumed with wedding planning for the past couple months. We had a beautiful wedding, with all of our most favorite people there to celebrate with us. We spent a glorious week in Jamaica for the perfect honeymoon, then came crashing back into the reality of our everyday life. We returned with sun-kissed skin, the happiest of memories, and new vigor for making our dream life a reality in the years to come, together.

I am nearly finished with my next book, You Are Important. I’m hoping to publish later this year, and so excited to see what I can do with it! Writing the book is huge, but my real mission is much bigger than the book. I truly hope to impact people’s lives- to help people see their potential, find their purpose, and foster unconditional self-love and acceptance. So, I decided to start a Facebook page where I can start some groups and gather people together so we can get some conversations going.

Of course, when you start inviting a bunch of strangers to an online forum, anything can happen. Typically, it’s wise to establish some ground rules, so I wrote up a little post and pinned it to the top of the page for all to read. In it, I asked participants to approach unfamiliar ideas with curiosity rather than judgement. I asked that people educate each other gently and with kindness, because we want everyone to feel comfortable. In our group, we are to speak openly, share honestly and agree that everyone is entitled to their values, opinions, and ideas. We don’t have to agree, and we don’t have to conform, but we do have to be kind and respectful toward one another.

Naturally, after you’ve put a statement like that out into the world, there will be a test. My test came this morning at the gym. I woke up early to do my favorite classes. I’ve been gone for a couple weeks with all of the wedding craziness, and didn’t know there would be substitute teachers in both Barre and Yoga.

I walked into Barre and got my equipment set up as the substitute introduced herself to the class. She seemed nice- friendly and enthusiastic. Then, she turned on the music to get started and I cringed. Hard. My ears were asulted with christian worship music, and my little atheist ass was not happy about it.

Number one, this is a secular gym. It’s actually a recreation center that is owned and operated by our local government. So, the separation of church and state thing should definitely be a thing there. Number two, it was early and I was un-caffeinated, which makes every annoyance extra annoying. Number three, I’m a Midwest girl, and this is a Southern thing. I’ve been in the South for almost twenty years, and I still can’t get used to the bible belt stuff. People in the South are used to christianity being ingrained into the culture- it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. But, for someone like me, who is neither Southern nor christian, it just feels disrespectful. People have no problem forcing me to sit through their prayers, worship music, and preaching- they don’t even ask if I’m comfortable with it. And, if I speak up and tell them that I’m an atheist, they clutch their pearls and promise to pray for me, because in their minds there is only one God, one religion, and one way to get to heaven. Their way.

So, it’s early, I haven’t had my coffee, I dragged myself into the gym for an 8am class on a Saturday morning, because I want to recommit to my fitness goals now that we’re back to real life. I’ve just made this public statement about allowing others to be who they are and respecting their beliefs even if we disagree. And now I’m stuck on a yoga mat fighting with myself. In the past, I have walked right out of classes like that. At my old gym, I knew which teachers played Jesus music in their classes, and I made sure not to go to them. I didn’t get a choice today. I didn’t even know we had a sub, and certainly didn’t expect her to come in with her worship playlist on full blast.

I’m in all black, tattoos out, looking like a pagan witch, ready to crawl out of my skin listening to this music. But, if I react poorly, if I allow my temper to get away from me, if I berate this poor lady who just showed up to fill in for someone so they didn’t have to cancel class today, then I am the asshole. I can’t go out like that. If I make her feel uncomfortable for being herself, I am a hypocrite. I hate hypocrites, and I hate assholes. I don’t want to be either. But, mostly, I want to be in integrity with myself.

I want my thoughts, words, and actions to always be in alignment, as this is my personal definition of authenticity. So, I have no choice but to suck it up, let the music play in the background, and just do my workout.

But, Renee! If you’re not christian, and christian music offends you, are you being fake if you just sit there and don’t say anything? Is that really being authentic?

In my mind, staying in class and choosing to ignore the music was the most authentic choice. One of the things I hate most about religion is the arrogance it breeds. Everyone is so sure their religion is the best one, right one, true one, only one… This is why religion creates so much division around the world. Think about how many people have died in holy wars, in the name of someone’s god. And, think about how judgmental people can be where religion and the implied moral code therein is concerned. If you don’t practice the same religion, or call your god the same thing someone else calls their god, they are likely to turn their back on you, to write you off completely, or try to convince you that you’re wrong and you have to learn what they know if you want to be saved or whatever. Walking out of class or demanding she change the music today would have been equally arrogant and dismissive. Even if I was totally justified to request secular music, calling her out in front of the class would have been a dick move, and that is why I chose to let it be.

Being in integrity with myself today meant being kind and accepting of someone who unknowingly made me feel uncomfortable. In the end, the way we make people feel makes a greater impression than anything we say or do. Even though her insensitive music choice made me cringe, I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or judged. About halfway through class she switched to disco music- which felt like a huge upgrade. I thanked her at the end of class, and went about putting away equipment and getting set up for yoga.

When the next substitute teacher walked through the door, I was nervous. I adulted for 30 minutes of worship music already. Could I take another hour of it? Or worse, what if she was one of those white people who only teaches “christian yoga”. That’s an actual thing in the South, because the ancient art and science of yoga is considered “witchcraft” in many churches. So, they totally rape the ancient traditions, remove all the language and teachings that don’t align with their flavor of religion, and replace it with English words and junk from the christian bible. It’s completely insufferable, and I definitely didn’t want to end up stuck in there for an hour of that.

I half considered packing up and going home. But, I made a commitment to myself to get my two hour workout in today, to atone for the champagne and cheese plates in Montego Bay. I decided to stay and take care of my health- even if the soundtrack was not to my liking. Thankfully, the yoga teacher played quiet, secular music and the class was perfect. I sweat my butt off and left feeling fantastic.

Being in integrity with myself today meant honoring the commitment I made to my physical health. I know that staying active is important, and that I always feel better after I exercise. I could have used the early start time on a Saturday morning, the absence of my gym buddy, the christian music, the substitute teachers, or any number of other excuses to get out of my commitment. The only one I would have hurt by doing so is me. I could have ripped that teacher a new one for playing her worship music in my Barre class, but it would have made us both feel bad, and wouldn’t have changed either of our minds about the validity of religion.

Sometimes, we have to get pissed off and roar. Sometimes, we need to shout from the rooftops about this injustice and that tragedy. Sometimes, we have to say the hard things to people to help them do better, even if it hurts their feelings. But sometimes, it’s better to protest silently- to be offended without reacting- to choose our battles wisely, because being kind and open is the only way to start real conversations with people who don’t know what they don’t know.

Authenticity comes from being true to ourselves. Sometimes, that means standing up for what you believe in. Sometimes, it means behaving like the person you want to be. If you can do both of these things at the same time, that’s some next level shit.

Please, come join the discussion at You Are Important and help us navigate all kinds of topics. Let’s come together with purpose, to expand our minds, to learn and grow together, and change the world with love.

 

 

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