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Kids are Resilient, and Unicorns are Real.

My kids are incredible humans. They’ve been through a lot in their lives, which has shaped them into kind, compassionate, wise young people. My son and I were up late the other night talking about relationships, when he said something amazing to me.

“I don’t want to settle, mom. I see how happy you and Matt are, and I want that kind of love. I want to wait for something like that.”

His sweet words brought tears to my eyes, and I realized that he has watched me come full circle.

My kids had a front row seat for some of the worst years of my life. One of my greatest regrets as a mother was that I stayed in a toxic, broken marriage for many years longer than I should have. I was weak, depressed, lonely, disengaged, and hopeless. I felt trapped. Lost. I wasted precious years believing that I deserved to be miserable, and wore my wedding ring like shackles, all the while believing that I was doing something good for my kids. I didn’t want them to be from a broken home, then I realized that it was even worse for them to be living in one.

I hated the example I set for my kids. Having grown up in a home full of dysfunction and abuse, I knew that unhappy parents couldn’t raise happy kids. I really wanted to give them the healthy, happy home I wished for all my life. I wanted to give them the mother I needed when I was small. I wanted to model a healthy, loving, supportive marriage for them.

Instead, I allowed things to happen in our home that never should have. I avoided our problems, just like my mother did, just like I always said I wouldn’t. I was little more than a doormat for most of their childhood, unable to stand up for myself or for them.

I felt like a failure.

When I finally left his father, my son was twelve. He watched me twist in the wind, hollow and afraid. I thought leaving would be the key to my happiness. I didn’t know that just beyond our picket fence was the wilderness I would have to wander through to find a version of myself I could stand to look at in the mirror.

My kids watched me claw my way through returning to the workforce after nearly a decade of being a stay at home mom. They watched me pull myself out of the pit of my own self-loathing, go to therapy, and learn how to love myself, express my emotions in healthy ways, and find my voice. They watched me become empowered, confident, and free. Magically, we all began to heal and adjust to our new normal as a family of three.

Mid-metamorphosis, I took an intentional year of celibacy and solitude. I put a ring on my own finger, and I dated myself. I spoiled myself rotten with little gifts. I bought fresh flowers every week to keep on my kitchen table. I tried new things, met new people, traveled alone, took myself out for solo movie nights, and fancy dinners in pretty places. I took all the time, attention, energy, and love that I would have poured into a relationship, and poured them into myself . I got to know myself without the expectations and opinions of others, and let go of years of pain. I discovered interests and talents I didn’t know I had. I started building the life I wanted to live with intention and purpose, instead of letting life happen to me.

When I emerged from my chrysalis of self-care, I was a completely different person.

I didn’t think I would ever get married again. I was prepared for a long happy life with a herd of shelter cats in our modest home with a small library in it. I think in our culture we assume sometimes that single people are lonely. I was never lonely. I was active, engaged in a community of wonderful friends, volunteering, practicing yoga, dancing, becoming a published author, advancing in my career, and going on all kinds of adventures. I was finally happy- happy with myself, and happy by myself. The last thing I wanted was to fall down another rabbit hole to hell and end up in another miserable marriage.

But, then, I met Matt. As hard as I tried to analyze and over analyze everything he said to find the lies, there weren’t any. He was genuine and kind. When he made a promise, he kept it. When he said he would do something he did it. When he said he would be somewhere, he always showed up. It was super weird. I had never seen anything like it.

Matt is the quintessential Southern gentleman. As it turns out, chivalry is not dead. He opens doors, he pulls out chairs, he holds a strong arm across my chest when the car comes to a sudden stop, he treats people with respect and goes out of his way to help when there is a need, he calls me Beautiful like it’s my name. He’s an amazing dad to his daughters, and has become a huge part of my kids’ lives as well.

As our relationship grew deeper and we peeled back the layers of our lives and began to mesh them together, I realized that I had waited my whole life for him. He is the gentle, loving father I wished for as a little girl. He is the attentive, affectionate, sweet, supportive man that I wished for all the years my soul atrophied in the hands of a man who couldn’t love me. I had lived my whole life believing that my expectations were unrealistic– that kind, loving, honest men didn’t exist. Then, I met Matt, who is basically a unicorn, and my wishes came true.

I can honestly say that my relationship with Matt is the first healthy relationship I’ve ever had with a man. We come to the table as equals, we communicate effectively, we support each other in everything we do, we work hard together, and oh my gods do we play. Life is fun, and exciting, and we just seem to get better and better together. I never thought I would get married again, until I saw how wonderful a marriage could be if you find the right partner and invest the time and attention it takes to cultivate a happy life together.

I still regret that I wasted so many years being unhappy, and that I wasn’t fully present for my kids. I wish I had given them the best of me, and a better example. But, I am so grateful that they got to watch me fight for my life and become the woman I was born to be. I’m grateful that with my husband-to-be, I can show them an example of a strong, healthy marriage now. Truly, knowing that my son finds our relationship worthy of emulation is an honor. It makes me feel like I finally got things right.

I’ve heard children of divorce say that they will never get married, because they don’t want to live through the hell they watched their parents suffer, or put their own children through the pain that comes from unraveling a family unit. It makes my heart happy to know that my children are resilient, and that our divorce didn’t destroy their desire to find love and make families of their own someday.

In 78 days, my sweet son will walk me down the aisle, where Matt will be waiting with our daughters. Matt’s dad will read some pretty words, and tell us to exchange rings, and we will promise to love and cherish each other until we are parted by death. I will make that promise and mean it with my whole heart. Because, if life has taught me anything, it’s that unicorns are real, and when you find one you keep it and take really good care of it. Marriage can be tricky, and life is never certain, but when you have a partner who is willing to get in the trenches with you and help you find your way back out, you do everything you can to meet them with the same level of compassion and commitment.

It is my hope and wish that seeing the changes in me, and the contrast of my life today as compared to a decade ago will help my children find their own unicorns out in the world. (I’m pretty sure my daughter already has.)

I want them to love themselves enough to enjoy their own company until their perfect partner arrives to elevate them and take them to that next level of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. I want them to experience honest, unconditional love and mutual respect. I want to continue to show them what a happy, healthy marriage looks like, and how to work with their partners to make all of their dreams come true.

I’m grateful for every experience that brought me to this place in my life, where finally, I feel like I’m giving my kids an example I can be proud of. I hope that if nothing else, they can look at my life and see how powerful it is to invest in yourself and make necessary changes. When we do the work to become our best selves, we attract the right people to help us continue growing and evolving. And when we find that perfect partner, literally anything is possible- there are no dreams too big when you find your unicorn.

 

 

 

Photo credit: PxHere

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Wait. Life Happens Now.

I lost a dear friend this week to a sudden cardiac event. It happened without warning, leaving us shocked, and so very sad. He was not an old man- just a few years older than me. He was not the guy you would look at and think, “oh, he’s a walking heart attack”. He was fit. He ate well. He loved people with his whole heart. And, finally, he was happy in his life, married to a man he adored. The world will never be the same without his light. Precious few souls on the earth are as kind, generous and sweet as he was. I hope there is a heaven for him, full of wine and kittens. And, I hope he knew how much he was loved and admired while he was here on the earth.

I’ll never forget the way we became friends. We lived across the breezeway from each other in a little apartment building in the suburbs a few years ago. We had a terrible ice storm, and were iced in for a few days. By the third day of being trapped in our little apartments, we were all stir crazy. We couldn’t get our cars out to drive anywhere. But, there was a little Mexican restaurant just about two blocks away. My girlfriend in the apartment below and I bundled up and walked there for tacos and Margaritas. As luck would have it, there was also a Kroger in the same shopping center. We filled a shopping cart with beer and snacks, and pushed it all the way home. We knocked on every door in the building and invited everyone to my place for game night. 

Jim was one of the neighbors who came to our little snow day party. He showed up with a bottle of Fireball and a nervous smile. We drank and played cards, and for the first time ever, we all talked and really got to know each other. We were all in transition phases of life. One couple newly wed, another couple expecting their first little one, myself still healing from a difficult divorce, and sweet Jim starting over after his divorce, too.

Later into the night, after much drink and laughing, one of the gentlemen began boasting that he’s very good at reading people. Jim piped up and said, “That’s great, but you didn’t read me very well.” They went back and forth for a minute, the other gentleman repeating that he knew Jim was a great guy, he was a professional type, probably a nerd…

“Well, sure. But you missed something ,” he said. “I’m also gay.”

He stammered, “but… you have kids?”

“Yes. Two kids. I was married to a woman for thirteen years.”

My jaw hit the floor. “Oh my God! You, too?”

He looked at me confused. I explained that my ex-husband is also gay, we also had two children together, and were also married thirteen years.  He put his arms around me and right there in front of the whole group, we cried together.

He was the first person I had ever met who had lived through the same twisted confusing hell of unraveling a life that was never meant to be. I had so many questions, and so did he. Though our experiences were very different, there were so many things that were the same- and so many things for us to talk about. We were friends from that moment, and Jim quickly became one of my favorite people. 

I’ve said before, there is nothing more healing in the whole world than realizing that you’re not alone in your suffering and struggles. I wholeheartedly believe that the universe conspired to bring Jim and I together so both of us could heal and move forward in our lives. And, that’s just what we did.

We both advanced in our careers, our financial situations improved, we both found love, and eventually, we moved out of our little transition apartments. We cheered each other on through the growth and change that came. Somehow, we ended up on opposite sides of the city. We stayed in touch, but regretfully, hadn’t seen each other in months when he passed away. 

We spoke occasionally, always ending the conversation with, “we should get together soon.” And, certainly, I think we both meant it. We loved and missed each other. We had every intention of meeting again. We were both planning weddings. Both needed to talk and laugh and cry and drink wine and look at cat memes. But, sadly, we will not meet again in this lifetime. This is my deepest sorrow in losing my friend. I let days turn into months of “we should,” but never did. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson I can take from this tragedy, is that tomorrow is never promised to us. Tomorrow is a wish, a dream, a whisper of what might be. We spend our lives taking tomorrow for granted, expecting that it will always come. But, sometimes it doesn’t. This is why we must live every single day we’re alive. We must love those we love every day, and express our gratitude for their contributions in our lives. We must do the things we’ve set out to do- chipping away at those long held goals, or illusive dreams- lest we die with our songs unsung, our books unwritten, our mountains unclimbed. 

Losing a friend so suddenly has me facing my own mortality, health, and relationships. I’ve been in survival mode too long. My days are better spent in pursuit of wellbeing and service to others than in pursuit of money at the cost of everything else. All the things I’ve dreamt of doing “someday” must make their way to my calendar now- before I run out of somedays. All of the people I love need to know-  today and every day – how important they are to me, and how much I value the ways they shape my life. And, all my dreams need to be placed permanently at the top of my list of priorities, so I don’t leave this earth with my story untold. 

Tonight, I will celebrate my friend, Jim. I’m so grateful for his friendship, his impeccable pet sitting services, his ability to steal my cat photos from social media and turn them into hilarious memes before anyone hit the like button, his kindness, openness, and dedication to living a life he loved. It’s my greatest sadness that his time here was cut short- right when his most authentic, happiest life had begun. 

Tonight, I will wrap my arms around Jim’s husband, Billy, and right there in front of everyone, we will cry as we remember the great man that Jim was. We will cry for the somedays that never will be, and the dreams that will leave the earth with Jim’s sweet spirit. I will tell Billy, “we should get together someday,” and I will make damn sure that we do. 

Life is short. Don’t waste a minute, friends. Life is now– now is the only guarantee we get here.

Godspeed, sweet Jim. You will be missed more than words can say. Thank you for helping me heal through some of the toughest years of my life. Thank you for sharing your unmasked truth with me, and always listening so compassionately. Thank you for leaving me with these lessons, though I wish they could have come another way. You were a very important person in my life, and I will always remember you.

 

 

 

Resolution Revolution

As the new year quickly approaches, many of us are preparing for the same old, tired resolutions as every year before. Most of us probably want to lose weight, quit smoking or drinking <insert applicable vice here>, pay off debt, save for something special, or accomplish some illusive goal we’ve had our eye on. Here’s the thing: That whole “New Year New You” thing doesn’t work. We don’t magically become different people because we threw away last year’s calendar and hung up a new one.

We’ve all been through the process of setting a resolution, starting strong with changes on January 1st, and returning to business as usual by the middle of February. No matter how well intended, our plans for change often do not lead to the new lifestyle we seek. We find all the excuses we need not to follow through with the commitment that seemed like such a great idea in December.

Why is it so difficult to follow through on our New Year’s resolutions?

Usually, that thing we want to change is something we spent a long time enjoying. Our habits, routines, and patterns don’t just happen overnight. Just as it takes a long time to learn and reinforce our “bad” habits, it takes time to unlearn them, and replace them with “better” habits. When we make that resolution to change on a dime, and don’t find immediate success, we may become frustrated, throw our hands in the air, and pick up that cigarette, glass of wine, or donut, or whatever our thing is. Sometimes, gradual change through a series of  carefully calculated baby steps is more realistic and attainable.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. Just making the resolution is not enough. If we want to make a change, or accomplish a goal, we need a plan. We need to know what steps to take to get where we want to go. This might mean reading up on different eating plans, researching the different smoking cessation programs, or learning about new investment options. We may need to  break our big goals into smaller steps that feel manageable. We need a timeline, and benchmarks, and ways to measure our success along the way. And, dammit, we need some little rewards built into our plan to celebrate our progress, and our continued commitment to our goal. Like, if I get my office cleaned and organized, I can go to the used book store and shop until my little heart is content. (I do not recommend rewards that are counterproductive to your long term goal, like food rewards for weight loss or spending sprees for debt reduction.)

Many times, our resolutions are things we intend to accomplish all by ourselves, so we plan to go it alone. When challenges come, and they will, we need the support of our friends and family to keep us going. Sometimes, we need advice from professionals, mentors, or experts. Whatever our intended change, it will feel easier if we assemble a team to keep us going. This might mean picking a workout buddy so those long nights in the gym don’t feel so lonely, choosing a meal plan that the whole family can live with, or setting up accountability check-ins with a friend. This might also look like hiring a financial advisor, attending a workshop to sharpen a skill, or finding a group or class to join.

Resolutions aren’t always authentic. Sometimes, we make resolutions to change the things we think we “should” change. Maybe, we decide to change for a parent or a partner. Maybe, we feel pressure from a specific person in our life, or from society, the media, or another external force. Maybe, we’re getting drug along on our partner’s resolution, or making a resolution with a friend that we are less passionate about than they are. Here’s the deal: You have to want to make the change for you. It has to be your commitment to do something to improve your health, quality of life, financial security, or sense of life satisfaction. No amount of prodding from our loved ones is going to motivate us to change. Our motivation must come from within.

Resolutions are typically negatively focused. We want to quit something. We don’t want to be overweight. We don’t like something about ourselves, or our situations, so we decide to change it. Shifting to a positive focus can help us become more successful in meeting our goals. Instead of beating ourselves up with propaganda from diet culture, “earning our meals” in the gym, and otherwise starving and beating ourselves into shape, what if we just make choices each day that support our health? Instead of a list of forbidden foods, what if we focus on the foods we know make our bodies healthy and strong? Instead of workouts we dread, why not find ways to build physical activity into our days in ways that we look forward to? Instead of cold turkey, white knuckle, giving up that thing we’re addicted to, why not start by setting some limits and gradually working toward quitting for good? Focusing on the benefits of the change, and ways to do it that feel nice will always yield better results that trying to force ourselves to give up what we love and do stuff we hate.

Finally, big changes happen in little steps we take every day. If we want to make changes that last, we have to build routines that support them. This takes time, patience, consistency and commitment. Diving into something this January full force is great, unless we’re burned out with it by March and go back to our old habits. If we want to see real results this time next year, we have to plan little steps we can make each day, to meet our realistic short term goals we’ve set, that will eventually lead us to the big goal we desire. Yes, this likely means making some sacrifices, forgoing some short-term pleasures, and maybe even walking away from some things we enjoy. But, if we focus on the satisfaction we will feel by accomplishing that big thing we want to do, the short-term sacrifices are worth it.

2019 is our year to revolutionize the resolution by replacing our empty wishes with real life action plans. If we can take our big dreams, break them into small, reachable goals, and commit to baby steps, in the form of little changes to our daily routine- there is literally nothing we cannot do- especially with the support of a few good friends. Shifting our focus away from the things we do not want, and toward the end result we desire will help ensure our success. Your best life is right on the other side of your comfort zone. This is the year to go get it.

 

 

 

 

What if we’re all just doing the best we can?

I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother at age thirteen. “I’m going to get out of here, go as far away as I can, and never look back.” I said, with the kind of absolute certainty that only an angry teenage girl can proclaim such a thing.

A decade later I made my first cross-country move. I thought that removing myself from the place I was born and raised would fix everything. But, as they say, “wherever you go- there you are”.

I hauled my emotional baggage around for two more big moves and at least a decade of miserable marriage before getting serious about unpacking all that shit and dealing with it. When I was finally ready to heal, I had to burn everything to the ground and start from scratch. It was a gloriously awful time of self-reflection, evaluation and love. I learned, grew and thrived more than any other time in my life. Still, forgiveness felt just out of my reach.

I felt my anger was justified. People were not kind to me when I was small. The ones who should have been there to love and protect me failed. I suffered abuse and trauma that no little child ever should. Even worse, I was told that I deserved to be treated that way. As little children do, I believed the grownups who told me I was worthless. I believed that there was something wrong with me, that I deserved to be abandoned and abused. I believed that I was not worthy of love.

It was from this place that I chose abusive relationships with men, punished and sabotaged myself constantly and held myself back from the good things in life. I didn’t believe I deserved to have anything good. I didn’t feel worthy of love or success. I gave my power away without a fight, without even realizing I was doing it.

I spent a lifetime feeling alone in my pain, separate from all the “normal people” and their pretty little lives. I kept myself isolated in a cage built from my own shame and self-loathing all those years, suffering in silence. When I finally found my voice and began speaking my truth, I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and support from friends and strangers alike. I was shocked to hear the chorus of “me too” echoing all around me.

Suddenly, I realized that I was not alone. I was never alone. There are so many of us in hiding, afraid to share our true selves with the world around us. No matter how terrible our stories, we are never alone in our suffering. Knowing this helped me see my childhood in a different way.

Looking back on my life, I now see that the ones who hurt me did so from their own pain. Maybe they were also abused when they were little children. Maybe their lives were difficult and stressful, and they weren’t able to cope. Maybe they lacked the foresight necessary to know how their actions would change who I am. Whatever the reasons, forgiving them was vital to my healing.

Forgiveness is not making excuses for people who treated us badly. Forgiveness is not saying that we were not harmed by their actions, or that what they did was okay. Forgiveness is making the decision to let go of the anger, hurt, resentment and fear- the emotional attachments we have to the events- so we can move on, unencumbered.

As I let go of years of resentment and hurt, I began to see people with more compassion. As I accepted the apologies I would never receive, I also accepted that the terrible things that were done to me, didn’t have anything to do with me. I didn’t deserve to be abused- no matter how many times people told me I did.

I was not born with some great flaw that made me less whole or less worthy than anyone else. Knowing this allowed me to love myself more completely, and live more authentically. I stopped holding myself back, and stopped letting other people choose my boundaries for me.

I realized that the ones who hurt me did so from their own wounds, and the ones who failed me did so in their own fear and avoidance.

We’re all just doing the best we can.

In our human limitedness, in our small perception of the universe, in our egos, our denial, our own wounds- we all fall short of perfection. Perfection, after all, is a myth. It’s an ideal we are sold to foster our insecurities. Perfection is not possible, and therefore, not a fair expectation for ourselves or anyone else who is just doing their best in their limited human form.

Today I feel more at peace with my past and my family. I know that I am whole. I am worthy of all the most wonderful things life has to offer.

I know that surviving my past has helped me become the strong, resilient woman I am today.

I know that sharing my story has helped many others like me reconcile the terrible things they’ve endured, and find their own fortitude.

Today I know that forgiveness is freedom. And, freedom is attainable when we accept that people are imperfect by nature. When the failures of other people hurt us, we are not to blame. We can let go of our pain and shame and live the big beautiful lives we deserve.

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

 

We need a Hero.

Do you ever feel like we are totally doomed?

Does watching television or reading the morning paper fill you with anxiety and feelings of dread?

Do you schedule important events around your quarterly existential crisis?

Do you find yourself in a state of perpetual outrage?

Have you ever considered faking your death and running away to a remote foreign land to escape the idiocy that surrounds you?

Have you ever wished the apocalypse would just hurry up already? Or, wondered if we’re right in the middle of it? (Zombies, everywhere!)

Do you ever wonder if the world would be a better place if run by baby chinchillas, unicorns, kittens or goats?

Do you ever feel like you’re too small to make a difference? Like, your voice isn’t heard or doesn’t matter?

Do you feel hopeless about the future, or helpless to change it?

Do you use dystopian novels and movies as an escape? Do you later compare said dystopian works of fiction to the shit show that is our current reality and feel even worse?

When asked where you’re from, have you ever lied and said, “Canada” instead of “‘Murica”?

Do you frequently wonder how we got so lost? Or why we seem to waste all the amazing technology, resources and opportunities available to us?

If you said, “yes” to any of the above we are in the exact same boat. And the good news is, it’s a great big boat, and there are lots of smart, reasonable, frustrated passengers on it. It may not feel like it– especially if you’re watching the news or spending a lot of time on social media– but, there is still intelligent life here.

Here is the problem: we’re segregated.

It’s human nature to organize and categorize things into neat little piles. It helps our brains process all the chaos around us. We’re bombarded with stimuli: sound, color, energy, responsibilities, emotions, a million thoughts a day… if we didn’t mentally sort things and put them into little buckets, we would be constantly overwhelmed by it all.

Putting things in buckets is a subconscious thing we are all doing, all the time: Cold things go inside the refrigerator, school notes go on the outside of the refrigerator, cars drive on the right side of the road, coffee is an appropriate beverage choice while at work,  pineapple pizza goes in the garbage can… 

This process requires us to make little judgements about almost everything we see in the world. If we can identify something and make a quick judgement about what it is, we can move it neatly into our little mental bucket and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, in our very limited human perception, we’ve categorized and divided ourselves. 

We make the same quick judgements about other people based on very limited information, and sometimes no personal interaction at all.

We judge on appearance: young, old, short, tall, fat, thin, race, color, ethnicity, gender.

We judge on circumstances: relationship status, zip code, level of education, title at work, religion or lack there of, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation.

We take stereotypes, attitudes passed down to us from our families, or things we learned in the place where we are from, and maybe some past experiences into account when making these snap judgements. They happen almost without us realizing we’re doing it. But, somewhere in the background of our mind, it’s there.

Because we’re all sorting people into little categories to make sense of the world, we’re simultaneously looking for “our people”. The ones who look like us, think like us, talk like us, like the same things as we do, have the same belief systems and values and so on. In the pursuit of our own personal tribe of likeminded awesome folks to share our human experience with, we may decide that the folks who didn’t fit into our little bucket on first glance don’t belong there.

This is what is wrong with the world. 

Dividing, judging and categorizing ourselves into neat little buckets has basically turned the world into a giant high school cafeteria. Think about it: Preppy kids at this table. Band geeks at that table. Stoners over here. Jocks over there. Wanna sit at a different table? Good luck with that. 

And, so is life in America today. White church over here. Black church over there. Feminists at this table. Men who are terrified of feminists at that one. Young folks way over there away from the old folks. Hippies in the patchouli section. Asthmatics as far away from the patchouli as possible. Divide, divide, divide.

What happens when we’re divided up into groups? Competition for one. Sometimes the big group will even divide in smaller subgroups and create drama within the group. Ever sit at the nerd table and listen to the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate? DC vs. Marvel? Superman vs. Batman? 

We want to be right, we want to be the best and we want that thing we love to be honored for the awesome thing it is. This creates an atmosphere of us vs. them.

Just like the high school cafeteria, we look at other humans and say, “you can’t sit here,” because our snap judgements have told us that they don’t fit in the bucket we are sitting in. We think our bucket is the best one. We think our beliefs are the only way, our values are the only ones that are right, and we dismiss everyone who doesn’t honor them.

The other product of all this division is conflict and fear. We may try to convince people who don’t think the way we do that their beliefs are wrong, bad, immoral, unjust, offensive, sinful or hateful. We may go around pushing our beliefs and agenda on others. Usually, this does not inspire change, it just pisses people off. We may jump to wild conclusions about people who think differently than we do. If you just go to the internet for half a second, you’ll find all kinds of examples of this.

We often fear the unknown. Most of the hate I witness in this world is driven by fear. People can be passionately ignorant– rejecting the unfamiliar without any education or experience simply because they fear the unknown. Maybe they’ve been indoctrinated by religion, or grew up in a racist family, or picked up misogynistic attitudes from the media. Maybe they’ve never left the place they were born to experience other cultures, languages, religions and people. People have all kinds of ridiculous reasons to treat others like trash. It’s unacceptable, and it’s eroding our society and respect for humanity.

Here’s the question: How do we fix this shit?

Step 1 to saving the world right now: We have to take all the little buckets we put people into, and dump them into one giant bucket with one giant label on it that reads: HUMAN.

This means every other label disappears in our minds, and instead of man, woman, old, young, black, white, gay, transgender or anything else we see a human first. We honor the human. We respect the human. Appearances don’t matter. Bank accounts are not important. Country of origin makes no difference. Because, we’re all just humans. We’re all basically the same. We all want the same things. We all have the same basic needs. We are all flying through space on a ball together in our little meat suits, and the least we can do is treat each other with kindness and respect.

If we want to create peace and unity on this earth, it begins with every individual making a conscious decision to extend empathy and unconditional acceptance to others. If we could learn to stop judging and dividing ourselves into us vs. them situations, all conflict, competition, and fear would subside, and we could refocus our energy in more positive directions.

If you want to save the world today– go out there and be kind to people who are not just like you.

Smile at strangers.

Speak up when you see injustice.

Be an advocate for change, a voice for the voiceless, a light in the darkness that is our world.

When you’re introduced to an idea that is unfamiliar, be curious.

Educate yourself.

Travel far and wide and experience life in different cultures.

Celebrate all the things that make us unique and special, while remembering that we all belong in the same big ol’ bucket.

Be a cool kid. Invite someone new to sit at your table.

This is how we fix what’s broken.

This is how we teach others how to be good humans.

This is how we change the world, one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you looking for Love?

We  sat across from one another, ordered appetizers to share, and just started talking. We talked about the day, and plans for the rest of our busy week. We talked about the house we’re building, and plans for our wedding next year. We talked about the kids, and all the good stuff they have coming up. We fell into our own little world talking, laughing, and enjoying a few uninterrupted moments together.

Each time our server stopped by to check on us, he lingered, joining in the conversation for a bit. He was a sweet young man, bursting with enthusiasm. He spent a few minutes at our table telling us stories about the restaurant business, and some of the crazy things he’s seen people do.

When it was time for us to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug. He looked at me earnestly and said, “Hold onto what you two have. I see so many unhappy couples come in here. They spend the whole time on their phones ignoring each other, or they argue the whole time and it’s super awkward. But, I can tell y’all really enjoy each other’s company. I can feel the love over here, and that’s really special.”

His kind words surprised me. I thanked him and gave him a hug.

After a year of cohabitation, blending our family of six into one functional unit, co-sleeping, co-mingling finances, and planning the next phase of our quickly changing world- we still dig each other. We communicate well, we treat each other with kindness and respect, we play like kids, and plan wild adventures together. Life is truly wonderful– so much so that strangers can see it in a few stolen moments together at a local chain restaurant.

That’s the thing about love: when it’s organic, pure, and real–  it’s unmistakable. It’s undeniable. When we see it, we can’t help but smile. When we’re near it, the vibration is almost palpable. And, with all the shitty things happening in the world right now, isn’t it refreshing to see love instead?

If you pay attention, it’s everywhere.

Love lives in the corner booth where the happy couple is planning their wedding, and also in the coffee shop where three college students make a pact to pass that calculus class together.

It’s in the eyes of every little child who is innocent and unaware of the atrocities that surround them every day. It’s in the hands of moms and dads who work tirelessly to make a nice life for those little ones, and the hearts of the grandparents who treasure the days  that slip by too quickly.

Love is the string that ties us together through distance, years, and change.

If you listen closely, love is the subtle humming in the background of all the noise in the world. If you can be still and silent even for a moment, you can hear it. It’s always there.

Love keeps the earth on its axis in times of war, tragedy, disaster, plague, and pain. It gives us a reason to fight through our hardest days. It keeps us reaching out for connection, looking for purpose, and creating everything beautiful in the world.

To love, and to be loved are the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Not just romantic love, wonderful as it is. Unconditional acceptance, the kindness of strangers, friendship, philanthropy, and passion for anything that makes the world a better place are all rooted in love.

Love is the force that drives positive change. Change in society, like greater equality and social justice begin with our capacity to love others. It’s the antithesis of fear, hate, judgement and discrimination. Love inspires us to reach beyond the familiar to experience new cultures. Love dissolves barriers built by ignorance.

All self-improvement is a product of self-love. Every good decision we make, every effort to become happier, healthier, and more authentically “us” begins with our ability to love ourselves. This is nearly impossible in a culture so determined to tear us down and make us feel insecure or inferior. To love ourselves is to accept every part of who we are, to embrace our perceived flaws, and make peace with our pasts. True self-love means unconditional self-acceptance. It’s speaking to ourselves as we would a dear friend- using words to encourage and not harm. It’s carving out time to do what we love. It’s taking care of our mind, body, and spirit in the way that only we can.

When we see love in the world, it is a reflection of the love that lives inside us. We recognize it effortlessly, because we are a literal embodiment of it. It’s the force that make our hearts beat and our lungs breathe.

I stopped by the grocery store on my way home that night after dinner with all of this swirling around in my brain. A woman stopped me in the frozen foods aisle to compliment my tattoos. We talked for a few minutes about local tattoo shops and the meaning of all the pieces of art on our bodies. She hugged me when we said goodbye.

These brief moments of connection- the server in the restaurant, the stranger in the store- these are expressions of love for humanity. People are hurting. We have more technology for connection than we ever have. But, we’re more lonely and isolated than ever before. We are inundated with images of violence, and sound bites of fear. The world is a harsh, scary place. There is much uncertainty, and despair. Just beyond the distraction of it all, love is still there. It radiates all around us. If we’re looking for darkness and doom, that’s what we will see. But if we look for love instead, it will find us over and over again.

Photo: Pexels

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

It’s strange times, to say the least.

It seems the whole world has gone mad. Or, maybe it’s not the whole world. Maybe it’s just ‘Murica. Our president is a twat, violence is more rampant than ever, and the news ranges from depressing to downright frightening. We’re more segregated, more afraid and more polarized than ever before.

I’m a sensitive girl. When the world gets too harsh or scary for me, I retreat into my little bubble. I don’t read the news. I avoid social media. I stay as far away from the negativity, fear porn and hype as I possibly can. It’s a good place for me emotionally and spiritually. Just all nestled in my little bubble, where I can just focus on rainbows and puppies, taking care of my family, and just generally ignoring the world around me.

Then, I see something shocking- like the babies in cages at our border, or the white supremacist who advertised their political campaign with the slogan “Make America White Again”, or the homeless people baking in the sun on the hot Tennessee asphalt, or the bill congress passed making it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. This shit infuriates me to the core. There are no puppies and rainbows when I’m in that headspace. Just sadness, rage and guilt.

Sadness, because goddammit, it’s 2018 and I just feel like we should be more evolved as a collective body of human beings. If everyone could stop trying to divide, devalue, degrade, dehumanize and disrespect others the world would be a fucking spectacular place to live. I don’t understand why we haven’t all figured this out, or why people put so much energy and effort into trying to hurt other people. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

I’m sad because I want to help and make a difference, and I just don’t even know how. How do I comfort the families who lost their children in a school shooting? How do I support gay and transgender people whose families are too indoctrinated in the hate of their chosen religions to show unconditional love and acceptance to their own children? How to I convince our government that people matter more than money? How do I convince my children that the world is a safe, lovely place while also teaching them how to protect themselves from acts of violence?

I’m sad because I know people are hurting, and I can’t fix it. I wish I could just sprinkle some glitter around and say some magical words to make all the hate, hypocrisy, judgement, fear and pain vanish. As it turns out, glitter and pretty words can’t change the world over night. Knowing this makes me feel helpless, hopeless. I’m just one person, and sometimes it feels like I am too small to make a difference. In my frustration, I do nothing. I sit back complaining instead of trying to do something- anything- positive or productive.

The rage comes after the sadness. I am a pissed off little hippie, because my utopian dreams depend entirely on everyone getting their shit together. This is not fucking rocket surgery- it’s basic decency and respect for human life.

Here’s the truth about people as I know it: we are all different, and we are all the same. Each of us has a story, a past, a gender, a race.  Our skin is a certain color, and we speak a certain native language. We have as much education as we have, and we make as much money as we do, and we live where we live. We have unique gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses. We believe in god, or we don’t. All these things shape who we are, and how we experience the world around us. None of these things are good or bad, right or wrong. It’s all just part of our individual human experience. Being individuals is so important- we all need to have our own identities, beliefs, values, and things we do that make us who we are. That’s good shit.

Everyone has the same basic human needs. We need food, water, shelter and safety. We need love, community, family- a place to belong. We need a purpose- something to do that brings us joy. Everyone deserves to have the same opportunities for success- education, health care, and jobs. Everyone is entitled to respect, dignity, and freedom. Everyone is searching for these same things in the world- and no one has the right to take or keep us from them.

The guilt is real, and heavy, and sometimes almost too much to bear. I feel guilty for having so much and giving so little to those in need. I feel guilty for sitting idly by while everything goes to shit. I feel guilty for not making more of an effort to be a voice for the voiceless. I feel guilty for complaining instead of taking action. I feel guilty for not dropping everything to go to Texas to rock those babies who were taken from their mothers, or spending time with the elderly people wasting away in nursing homes without any visitors, or serving more meals at our local homeless shelter. I feel guilty for staying out of politics, instead of joining the activist efforts that are at least trying to influence social changes.

Most of all, I feel guilty because I know that my inaction is a product of my privilege. I am a straight, white, cis-gender, middle-class woman. I live in an affluent area. My kids have great schools. Our daily needs are met. My life is comfortable, and outside of the occasional chauvinist or judgey religious person, people generally treat me well. It is a privilege for me to be able to choose ignorance over action. It is a privilege for me to look away when the world gets too scary and dark. It is a privilege for me to choose silence, when I should be screaming from the rooftops about the atrocities I see. It’s a privilege to turn off the news and ignore the pain of other human beings, who are just like me, who are searching for the same opportunities and comforts I so easily take for granted.

Ignorance comes in different flavors.

In my privilege, I choose to look away from the terrible things in the world. I choose to be uninformed, and unbothered by the pain of other human beings. I choose to be ignorant to the events in the headlines, because it hurts me to look at them. This ignorance insulates me from the fear and hate out there. It gives me the illusion of safety. Unfortunately, problems don’t just go away because we choose to avoid them. This chosen ignorance, or avoidance, feels like self preservation. But, it’s actually part of the problem. If we don’t do something, who will? Maybe one person can’t change the whole world, but small acts of kindness and speaking up for what is right certainly can make a difference for those around us.

The other flavor of ignorance that seems to be fucking rampant in our society is the fear-based kind that breeds hate. This one is also a choice, but I don’t think some people even realize they are choosing it. Most of them probably learned it from their families, churches, and peers. This is the malignant kind of ignorance we must challenge as a society. We do this by traveling, moving around the country, leading by example, exposing people to new ideas, and sharing our stories.

Racism is a fear based ignorance that we can no longer excuse or tolerate in our culture. Discrimination or degradation of the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of religion is antiquated ignorance that must stop now. The chronic objectification and dehumanization of women is no longer acceptable. Xenophobia, and all the ways it shapes our politics and our attitudes is absolutely not ok.

As much as I would love to remove myself from all the unpleasant things happening in the world, I can’t do that anymore. My little bubble may be cozy and warm, but there is a great big world out there that needs me to care enough to participate in making it a better place. Maybe I can’t change the whole world. But, I can use my voice. I can stand up for what’s right. I can contribute to efforts in my local community to feed the hungry, educate the children, and influence our leaders. I can be a support to people who are hurting. We can, and we must.

No, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a privilege I will no longer allow myself. Ignorance is a source of fear of the unknown, and hate of the unfamiliar. Ignorance is the antithesis of the love, community, safety, and shelter we all crave. Ignorance is not bliss, and it’s not acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fight for Your Life.

When someone is critically injured, or is diagnosed with a serious illness, we often say that person is “fighting for their life”. As a healthcare worker, and hospice volunteer, I’ve watched many people fight these brutal battles. Whether a heart attack, cancer diagnosis, or a serious accident, patients have some common things they do while preparing to fight for their lives.

First, they assemble their teams. Or as we say in the South, we circle our wagons. We get our crew together, because, this is not a fight we can win by ourselves. No. We need help. So, we call our insurance company and find out what we can depend on them for. We research and find the best doctors, the most renowned hospitals, the most sought after  specialists. We make friends with the nurses, the pharmacist, the kind lady who delivers our meals. We gather our friends and family, and though it breaks their hearts a little bit to see us hurting and afraid, they suit up for battle. They will be our strength, our translators, and probably our sanity for as long as it takes to walk away from what are likely some of our worst days ever.

Once the team is all in place, and loved ones have gathered at ground zero, the planning begins. It’s time to make a treatment plan. We trust our doctors, the experts, to lead this process. We trust our intuition to tell us if they are on the right track. We get second opinions, third opinions whatever it takes until we feel comfortable.

We disobey our doctor and go to the internet. We Google our condition and read all the internet horror stories we can stomach. We look at the pictures. We can never un-see these awful pictures. Why did we go to Google after our doctor specifically said, “Hey, do yourself a favor and don’t consult Dr. Google.”?

Well… we can’t not go to Google. Google knows things, and what we need now is information, education, reassurance. And, we need to see those terrifying  pictures. We’re preparing. Planning. We can’t take anymore surprises. It’s time to go to war. We need all the help we can get.

When our team is in place, we’ve learned all we can, and a treatment plan is complete, the battle has only just begun. Now is the time to find out what you’re made of. Maybe, you begin chemotherapy, and quickly understand what people mean when they say that the treatment is worse than the disease. Maybe, you go to surgery to have your body cut apart and stapled back together. Maybe, you learn to walk again, talk again, how to swallow and speak. This is the dirty work. The nitty-gritty, gut wrenching chore of fighting through the pain, fear, set backs and sometimes unbelievably slow process of healing.

This is when your team is your lifeline. They make sure your needs are met. They don’t let you suffer alone. They’re right there in the trenches sharing your struggles, and marveling at your strength. They hold your hand, and your hair. They remind you how utterly capable you are. And when you sleep, they lean on each other. They cry. They pray. They take turns sitting at your bedside while the others run errands, and try to get some rest before their next shift of bedside watch.

Sometimes, things go exactly as planned. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes your victory is swift and sweet. Sometimes, it’s hard fought and bitter ’til the end. Sometimes, we have to surrender to what is, and accept defeat. Win or lose, this fight changes us. We begin to look at our life in a new way. A line of demarcation is indelibly drawn, neatly compartmentalizing our life into the things that happened before the event that changed everything, and everything that happened after.

Before the cancer.

After the car accident.

Before the stroke.

After open heart surgery.

Somewhere along this road, something really important happens: We finally start getting our shit together.

We reprioritize everything. We get focused on what’s most important. Facing our mortality, being vulnerable and needing support, feeling weak and afraid– these are huge motivators for rethinking all of our life choices.

In the days and weeks that follow, we become masters of self-care. We are forced to listen to our bodies and examine every single thing that goes into them. We may give up our bad habits, our favorite foods, anything that stands between us and our healing. Because, we know without a doubt that we would trade anything in the world for the healthy body we probably took for granted right up until this terrible thing happened. We wouldn’t trade any number of pizzas, bottles of wine, or packs of cigarettes <insert applicable vice here> for the opportunity to have our health and wholeness restored.

Usually, we begin to focus on relationships. We find a new appreciation for our team, for all the things they sacrifice to take care of us when we need them most, for the ways they encourage us, support us, keep us laughing, and sneak us in our favorite take out, even if the nurse says, “no”. We know who our real friends are now. They are the ones who didn’t run when shit got difficult. They stayed, they loved us through it, and we cannot wait to return every single favor just as soon as life allows us the chance.

While fighting for our lives, we make amends with those we’ve wronged. We ask for forgiveness. We forgive others. We mend our fences, because we have to be ready for the unthinkable, and we can’t leave any unfinished business behind. We take a good look at our lives and take an honest inventory of the person we have become. We engage in life review- revisiting our favorite memories, our most painful moments, our regrets, and maybe even that list of things we always said we wanted to do “someday”.

You know, someday.

That day in the arbitrary future when whatever perfect world scenario we’re waiting on is supposed to come to fruition. When work calms down, when the kids are bigger, when we have more money, or time, or focus, or whatever limitation we’ve imaged is keeping us from doing that thing we want to do.

When we realize that we might not get another someday, those experiences, goals, accomplishments- whatever we were putting off- might just be our motivation to keep fighting. We start doing whatever it takes to make sure we get to see the sunset in that city we always meant to visit, write that book, stick our feet in that ocean, or hold that grandbaby we just know will be on the way just as soon as the kids are ready. Whatever it is suddenly consumes us. It gives us hope, purpose, comfort.

This thing we return to on the days when we think we can’t fight anymore is there to remind us that we’re not done living yet. It becomes our touchstone.

Sadly, in our culture of chronic busyness and distraction, sometimes it takes something dramatic like a heart attack, or a car wreck to wake us up. Sometimes unthinkable things happen to make us fight for the privilege it is to exist on this earth. To remind us what’s important, or teach us how to take care of ourselves.

Life throws us all kinds of curves- they don’t have to be health scares. They can be anything that makes us turn off our autopilots, stop coasting, wake up and really get serious about creating the lives we truly desire.

My life has lots of these lines of demarcation- and moments that changed me.

I was a different person before my first child was born.

After I left my hometown.

Before my grandmother died.

After my divorce.

Before returning to the workforce after a decade at home.

After meeting my husband-to-be.

The process for major life changes is pretty much exactly like navigating a serious illness or injury. The same gathering of important people and reprioritizing everything else needs to happen. And, holding onto our touchstone reminds us why we need to do the very important, difficult, sometimes heart breaking work of tearing down our life and rebuilding it.

While fighting for the life we most desire, we need our team. They will remind us that we are utterly capable of dealing with whatever we’re going through. They will listen, they will hold our hands, they will remind us who we are, and why it’s so important to keep on keeping on the journey. They will be right there in the trenches while we gut out the hard days, and when we rise victorious, they will celebrate with us.

We need a plan. Not just dreams or goals. Actual plans that do not begin someday.

If you want to buy a house, change jobs, lose weight- whatever the practical things are you’ve been putting off- make a plan. Consult the experts, read, learn all you can about the things you want to do. Then, do them.

Do the practical things and the fun things you’ve been putting off.

Do the things you wish you could do, but fear has kept you from them.

Do the thing you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail.

Do it all. Make a plan, and do it soon, because  someday is not promised.

Our someday is today. Right now. This is when life happens. Now.

Become a master of self-care. Take all the time needed to take care of yourself, improve yourself, and make yourself the happiest, healthiest, best self you can be. Examine every single part of your life and decide what makes you better, what depletes you, what feels good, what makes you feel satisfied. Listen to your body, your intuition, your spirit. Then, adjust accordingly. Leave the job you hate. Move to that city you’ve always wanted to call home. Open the restaurant, do the open mic night, hang your art on the walls of your favorite coffee shop. That’s your touchstone. That thing- the idea of it, the feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, fulfillment that you know will come with it- that’s your motivator for rethinking all your life choices.

You see, we don’t have to be sick or injured to fight for our lives. We can fight for them everyday, through the sea of distraction, and the mountains of excuses we make to stay stuck. We can assemble our team, learn everything we need to know, make a plan, and go to war until that impossible thing we thought we might never do becomes a line of demarcation in our life.

When we look back on the time we fought for that thing, we see our courage and strength. We see how life seems to give us everything we need, right at the time when we need it most. Most of all, we see what’s really important, what makes us feel happy and safe, and how utterly capable we are to handle any challenge.

Circle your wagons. Find your touchstone. Mend your fences. Make a plan. Get in there and fight for the life you deserve.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

Choosing my legacy- the saddest funeral ever.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
Everyone in the room agreed. Her cookies were the absolute best. They were the perfect ratio of crispy edge to chewy middle. Soft, but not doughy. Crisp, but not too crunchy. Buttery and sweet, with just the right amount of chocolate chips. If you wanted the perfect cookie, she was your girl.
Normally, this would have been a kind compliment. But as we sat in the cold little church that November afternoon in rural Michigan, it was nothing short of tragic.
The words still haunt me today.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
My aunt lived a difficult life. She did the best she could with all of her challenges- that’s all any of us can do. She raised four children without a partner to help. She worked her whole life beside her mother and sister at the family business. She lived in poverty, and did what she had to do to survive as a single mother with no education. She was tough as nails, but sadly, addiction ruled her. She lost her life to an accidental opioid overdose, just years after losing a son to suicide.
When she died, a handful of friends and family gathered in the tiny corner church near my family’s farm to say goodbye. The minister of the church gave an odd little service- a mix of things from the Christian Bible, and Janis Joplin music. (She would have loved the second one.)
When we reached the part of the service where the preacher asked if anyone would like to stand up and say a few words about the dearly departed, the room was silent and still. We looked around waiting for someone speak.
The preacher began coaxing us. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Surely, someone there wanted to stand and share something– a memory, a story, something we would miss without her presence on this earth. Surely, after approximately fifty trips around the sun, somebody wanted to say something. Anything.
“She made the best chocolate chip cookies, ” someone finally offered.
Heads began to nod in agreement. “She sure did,” someone added.
Her surviving children were called upon to speak briefly about their mother before we were ushered into the little room behind the sanctuary for the Midwest version of a covered dish supper.
I stayed behind for a moment with my sister. We approached the little box on the altar that held my aunt’s ashes. I was so sad– not because she died. I was sad because in those moments I realized that she never really lived. She left the earth in debt and disease, having scarcely ventured past the corners of the family farm. Her legacy was a cookie she made from a recipe printed on the back of a chocolate chip bag.
When I returned to Texas after that sad trip home, I began thinking about my own legacy.
What will people say about me when I die?
Will I have lived a life worth remembering?
Will my children have fond memories of me?
Will I have made a mark on the world that will last when my physical body is gone?
Will my life have meaning and purpose beyond my front door?
In my heart of hearts I know my aunt’s life had purpose and meaning beyond her cookies. (Did I mention they were damn good cookies?) But, when it really mattered, on that cold day in November in a tiny country church where my family gathered to remember her, “She made the best chocolate chip cookies,” was all we had.
More than a decade later, I’m starting life over again, again. This memory came to me as I was feeling lost and unsure of what the next stage of my life should look like. I want to make my next steps with clear, focused intention, because in those steps, I know I am building my own legacy.
The workaholic, burnt out, tired, crabby, disconnected person I see in the mirror is not the woman I want to be. And so, I must choose carefully a better path. A path to happiness, health, and prosperity in every area of my life- and leave this worn out version of myself behind.
I want to be remembered as a cheerful wife, who loved my husband selflessly with my whole heart and soul. I want to be the mother (and step-mother) who had my babies’ backs through every stage of their lives- a teacher, a friend, and an example of what it is to be a strong, educated, independent, successful woman in the world.

I want to embody compassion, empathy, and love.

I want to share my experiences with the world in a way that brings comfort and validation to others who share my struggles.
I want joy, peace, creativity, and freedom to be part of everyday I spend on this earth. And when I die, I want people to say that I lived and loved every single day I was here.

Beyonce- I Was Here

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