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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

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love

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Planning a Wedding in your Forties Rocks.

“You must be so stressed with all the wedding planning!”

With our May wedding quickly approaching, I’ve heard this from just about everybody. I don’t think they even believe me when I tell them how stress-free and fun the process has been. Traditionally, weddings can be quite stressful. They’re expensive, there are lots of personalities involved- and it’s impossible to make every single person happy- there are so many decisions to make, and an unspoken expectation that everything must be absolutely perfect. This can be overwhelming for couples at any age. But, there seems to be something kind of magical about tying the knot in our forties.

First of all, we’re real grown-ups now, which means we get the bill for the whole thing. While this might sound like a downside, it is actually wonderful because it means we have complete autonomy. We don’t have to choose the venue where so-and-so got married, or use the caterer who went to hair school with our mother, or settle for silk when we really want fresh flowers in our centerpieces. We get to be in charge, which means we get to make the day whatever we want it to be. We get to choose all the special little details that will make our wedding unique and personal, without any of the stress that comes from having other people run the show via their checkbooks.

Because we’re a little older and wiser, we’re better at setting boundaries. We don’t have a problem telling Aunt Edna that we don’t want to get married in her church, or choosing non-traditional dessert options instead of the expected wedding cake. We don’t have a problem doing some DIY to save cash on the big day, so we can have a fabulous honeymoon, and don’t care what anyone has to say about that. We know who we are and what is important to us, and get to make decisions that make us happy, without trying to please everyone else.

I think younger couples fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the Jones’ with their weddings. Because so many members of their peer group are planning weddings at the same time, younger couples may feel enormous pressure to have that designer dress, the most coveted venues, and the most over the top parties. This pressure only adds to the stress couples feel while trying to plan a wedding that will stand out from the rest.

In our forties, none of those things are as important to us. Our biggest wish for our special day is that it is fun and easy for everyone. We chose a holiday weekend to make it easier for people to travel and not have to use vacation time at work. We chose a beautiful venue that is just a couple miles from our home, and very nearby to lodging, shopping, and food so our guests will have an easy stay. We hired a wedding coordinator to make sure all our vendors show up and do what we need them to do so nobody has to worry about that on the big day. We chose elegance over extravagance, and casual over fussy, because we want everyone to come relax and enjoy with us.

There’s no drama in our friend groups. Planning a wedding in your twenties can be a nightmare, because of everyone else’s immaturity and poor life choices. This is not the case in your forties if you’ve surrounded yourself with awesome people. Our people genuinely love us and want to see us happy and thriving together. There’s no jealousy or infighting, everyone gets along, and everyone is ready and willing to step up and help with whatever we need. Having a circle of supportive people who are genuinely happy for us and want to help make our day special makes such a difference. We are super grateful for our tribe of mature, rational, generous, beautiful people.

Having a bit more life experience keeps things in perspective. When you plan a wedding in your twenties, it’s a huge undertaking. We don’t necessarily understand how everything works, or what we really want versus what other people make us feel pressured to do. For the young couple, the wedding might be their only focus for months as they obsess over every detail, and by the time the big day comes they are totally over it.

In our forties, we have day jobs, kids, schedules and all kinds of balls to keep in the air. While the wedding is definitely a big ball, it’s one of many. Since my fiancé proposed to me, we have built a house, moved, remodeled and sold a house, I changed jobs, sent my son away to college, his daughter started high school and we’ve had all kinds of things to do.

On New Year’s Day, we had a day off with nothing planned. I got in the bed with my laptop and a bottle of champagne, and scheduled a month’s worth of tours and tastings. By the end of January, our wedding was basically done. We had a blast visiting venues, bakeries, and caterers, and didn’t stress over any of it. We knew what we were looking for, we had discussed our budget and knew how much we wanted to spend, and genuinely enjoyed the process of everything coming together. The decisions were super easy, because we worked together to find options that made us both happy.

That’s probably the best thing about wedding planning in our forties: we just want to make each other happy. Younger couples might get stressed out and start fighting about the little things. We tend to focus on the bigger things, and work  to make sure we are both getting what we want. We communicate well, and don’t mind taking our time and exploring all options before making a choice. At the end of the day, we realize that our relationship and commitment to each other is more important than the party we are planning to celebrate it, and would not allow silly things like place cards, musical selections or rented folding chairs to come between us.

Getting married in our forties is super awesome because we both know what we’re doing. We’ve been married before, and endured painful divorces. We’ve both been single parents, and worked tirelessly to give our children nice lives. We both understand the commitment we are making to each other, and neither of us takes that lightly.

Our relationship is strong and supportive, and much like the wedding we’re planning, it’s easy and fun. We know that the party will be exciting and special, but the after party is where the real focus should be- and I’m not talking about our honeymoon. The next fifty trips around the sun together are the main event we are preparing for, and at our age, I think it’s much easier to keep our focus there. We have solid priorities, common goals, and great big dreams for our life together. Our wedding is just the beginning.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit

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

 

He Helps Me Believe.

Five years post-divorce I thought my healing work was done. I thought I loved myself with the full capacity of my heart and soul. I thought my outlook on life was as rosy as it would ever be. I thought I had everything figured out. Then, life sent me a wonderful surprise, and I fell in love.

Falling in love seems to be the worst thing that can happen to a writer like me. Where does one find inspiration in a happy heart? And, how does one convey in words the deep swirling, ecstasy, bliss and fear that occur simultaneously while opening our hearts to a new partner? If I were to try to put that complex emotion into words, the most simple, honest way I could describe my new love, is this: He helps me believe.

He helps me believe that there are still good men in the world. He shows me every day that chivalry is not dead. The Southern gentlemen I thought only existed in movies are real life unicorns who walk among us. It’s more than opening doors or buying flowers. It’s holding me in the safety of his embrace while I sleep. It’s his strong arm pressed against my chest when the car comes to a sudden stop. It’s the way he keeps his promises. The way he jumps up from the dinner table to wash the dishes after I’ve prepared a meal. The way he creates space for me to be exactly who I am, and encourages me to follow my crazy dreams. These romantic gestures come so naturally to him, sometimes I don’t know if he even realizes he’s doing it. But each time he does, he helps me believe a little more in the power of  those little, everyday things that make a person feel honored, respected, and loved.

He helps me believe in the power of real, raw, passionate, beautiful physical pleasure. Sex that does not hurt. Sex that does not demean or degrade. Sexual expression that allows for fantasy and fun, and deep soul connection.

He helps me believe that my satisfaction is important, and my body is wholly adequate and desirable.

He helps me believe that I am ok, after years of believing I wasn’t. And in that, I see how very wrong I was to hate my body, and punish myself for the misdeeds of others who failed to see her as sacred and perfect.

He helps me believe in daddies. Daddies whose hands don’t hurt their children. Daddies whose words empower and encourage. Daddies who provide for, protect and nurture their little ones.

He helps me believe in daddies who read bedtime stories, kiss booboos, build erupting volcanoes for science projects, and get a little choked up when their baby nails their flute solo.

He helps me believe in daddies who stay. They stay because leaving their children would be like cutting off their own hands. They stay because they intuitively understand that their engagement in the lives of their children is vital to their wellbeing. They stay because they know how their relationship with their children will influence all future relationships they have with men.

He helps me believe that the kind of daddy I wished and prayed for as a child was not something I imagined, but something very real that a few really lucky little girls get to experience in this lifetime. This gives me infinite hope that the husband I dreamed of is also real.

He helps me believe in fairytales and super-heroes . Even though this princess is totally capable of saving herself, it sure feels nice to have a prince hold my hand through the hard stuff. Sometimes, he rescues me and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way he gives himself to me so selflessly. The way he protects me, and supports me through life’s challenges is something I’ve never experienced. He reminds me that sometimes home is a person, not a  place. That safety, comfort, and love can be embodied by those who wish to extend such things to the ones they cherish.

He helps me believe that we can build a life and a future from a place of pure honesty. Our only motive to share a big, happy adventure together.

He helps me believe in love. Real love. The kind of love where both partners give and take equally. The kind of love that allows both partners to be exactly who they are in the world and inspires them both to be the best versions of themselves. The kind of love that allows for disagreements with kindness and respect, and celebrates milestones and victories for each individual as victories for all.

He helps me believe in me, in us, in families and forevers. He helps me believe that the best years of my life haven’t happened yet. He helps me believe that we are an unstoppable force, and nothing will keep us from accomplishing all we desire together.

 

Photo Credit: Le pont des Arts

What it Means to Stand in my Truth.

In the spring of 2011, I traveled to India. It was the most exhilarating and terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I got so far from my comfort zone, I came back changed. I began to question everything. I was thirty-three years old, and had absolutely no idea who I was. Motherhood seemed to be my only purpose on this planet. Though it was a noble one, I knew that I was meant for something more. But, what?

I had always felt that something was missing in my life. I struggled with depression and anxiety. I was surrounded by friends, but felt so alone. A year after that fateful trip, I was ready for a big change. The life I was living was a lie. All of it. In my heart I knew it. Our perfect little picket fenced suburban existence was little more than a house of cards. If I was ever going to be happy, it was time to knock it down.

Since starting over and finding my way back to myself, I’ve been obsessed with truth and authenticity. I write and speak often of “my truth”— standing in it, owning it, accepting it, embracing it. But, it occurred to me that while I’ve put little pieces of my story out there, I haven’t really explained what it means to stand in my truth, to own it, accept it, and embrace it completely.

My truth is pretty fucking messy. I guess that’s why I lived a lie for so long. I went around trying to convince everyone that I was ok for three decades. I wasn’t ok. I was a liar. I was a coward. I was doing what I thought I had to do to survive. Mostly, I was trying to tell the sick, scared, broken little girl inside myself to sit down and be quiet. I neglected her. I neglected us. But, ignoring the gaping hole inside me would never make it go away. Filling it with addictions, distractions, eating disorders, toxic relationships and self-punishment would never help me heal.

Healing would take some work. Hard, honest, real, raw, soul work. I would have to rip the scabs off all of my wounds and allow them to bleed again. I would need the light of day to kiss them, and oxygen to surround them. The things I’d worked so hard to conceal and avoid would have to be revealed for my healing to begin. I would have to finally admit that all the years I thought I was battling my demons, I had really only been running from them.

Standing in my truth means not being afraid of my darkness or ashamed of where I came from. Owning my truth means sharing all of who I am with the world, without fear of judgement. It means looking for the gifts and lessons in the ugliest parts of my history, instead of trying to conceal or avoid them. Living my truth means being exactly the same person at the office as I am when I’m home with my family or out with my friends. It’s offering the world an honest expression of my soul every day.

My truth is: My first childhood memory is being molested. I was three years old. It happened at the dinner table in my parents’ home. I was sitting on the neighbor’s lap. My daddy was right across the table. I told my mother that it was happening. She didn’t know how to help me, so she didn’t. That man was invited into our home over and over until I spoke up at age sixteen.

My truth is: My dad is schizophrenic, and my mother has her own set of issues. In my childhood home, I learned that abuse feels like love. I learned that grownups cannot be trusted, promises are seldom kept, and there is never, ever enough time, money, food, love, or attention to go around. I learned that I was bad, loud, bossy, fat, and annoying. My baby sister, however, was none of those things, and that is why I hated her.

My truth is: The only substance I could turn to for comfort in my early childhood was food. I began binge eating as a little girl, and continued with that until high school. In high school, I desperately wanted to be pretty, and to be pretty, you had to be thin. I became anorexic. I gave up my food rituals and replaced them with cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cutting, and sex. I struggled with one or all of those for the rest of my life– and still struggle to this day.

My truth is: I feel like an orphan child with living parents. I remember standing in the window of our trailer as a little girl, waiting for my real parents– the ones who loved me. I just knew they would come back for me someday, and they must have had good reasons for leaving me there with that family where I didn’t belong. I began mourning the loss of my parents when I realized the ones I wished for were not coming.

My truth is: I got pregnant in high school by a drug head loser who couldn’t be a father. I went to my high school graduation in a maternity dress, which felt like a great big scarlet letter. People were not kind to me when I was a pregnant teenager. I felt like a failure, like I would never be a good mother, and like no man would ever want me with the giant pile of baggage I was dragging around.

My truth is: I married one of my best friends from high school when my daughter was two years old. He loved us both to the best of his ability, but, there was always something missing in our marriage. We distracted ourselves with money– chasing it from job to job, state to state. We reached a point where no new house, car, or extravagant vacation brought us any joy. We were miserable. We were making our kids miserable. I finally asked for a divorce a year after our trip to India. It was the first time I was honest about how empty our home felt to me. When I got honest, he did too. That’s when he came out of the closet.

My truth is: I was relieved to learn my ex-husband is gay. It meant that there was nothing wrong with me. It meant I could stop hating my body. People often asked me if I was angry with him for concealing his sexuality. I never felt I had a right to be angry with him. We were the same in that relationship– both hiding who we really were because we thought we had to. I’m grateful for the ways our marriage changed my life, for our children, and everything I learned from our years together.

My truth is: I made a lot of mistakes with my children I wish I could take back. I was young, impatient, and for the first several years poor and barely surviving. I was living to please another person instead of being who I am. I didn’t give them the best of me until after our divorce. That’s my biggest regret in life. Thankfully, we have wonderful, open, loving relationships today.

My truth is: I don’t hate any of the people from my past. I know that my parents did the best they could with what they had to work with. I know the man who abused me did so from his own pain and sickness. Being a survivor of sexual abuse has not been easy, but it has made me damn strong and resiliant. Sharing that part of my story has been incredibly powerful, and connecting with other survivors has brought me peace and healing I never imagined.

My truth is: I used to belive that there was something wrong with me that made other people treat me badly. I thought I was born with an inherent flaw that somehow made me worthy of abuse. As the abuse piled up over the years, I began believing I was damaged because of the things that were done to me. I let shame keep me from realizing my potential. I didn’t think I was worthy of love, happiness, prosperity, or respect. Today, I know that I am now– and always have been– perfect. I know that the people who hurt me did so from their own fucked-up-ness. It didn’t have a thing to do with me.

My truth is: I know who I am now, and I love that girl. I know my past only defines me if I allow it to. I could choose to be a bitter, angry, hateful person if I wanted to. Who could blame me? Instead, I choose love. I choose peace. I choose happiness in each moment. I choose to be grateful for my life, and embrace all of who I am. I know that each experience brought me here to this moment, where I can see my own courage, strength, and fortitude.

My truth is: I am a badass motherfucking warrior princess. I survived a hell most people can’t imagine. I didn’t just survive there. I learned how to thrive. I am the pioneer who stepped into the unknowns of life beyond the edges of my hometown where the world is still flat. And when I did, I left the cycles of poverty, abuse and dysfunction I grew up in behind. I had some angry years, and some difficult days fighting inside myself. Then, I learned the beautiful arts of forgiveness and surrender. I learn to extend unconditional love and acceptance to myself. I learned to put myself first. I found my power, my voice, my ability to manifest the life I desire. Finally, I realized I was worthy of such things.

My truth is: I am perfectly imperfect. Like every human being on this earth, I make mistakes. Hopefully, I learn from them before repeating them too many times. I still fall into old habits, still have the same old fears sometimes, and still have moments of wishing I had a “normal family”, whatever the fuck that even looks like.

My truth is: From my pain, I’ve learned deep empathy and compassion for others. I am a better person because of my struggles. Knowing that my story gives a little glimmer of hope to another human being is my greatest joy.

Standing in my truth means awknowledging all of my scars. It means owning every single thing that happened to me. It means knowing that those things do not define the woman I am today, and yet, I couldn’t be who I am without the lessons and gifts that came from those experiences.

This is me– beautifully broken, perfectly human me– standing in, owning, and embracing my truth. This is me– healed, whole, happy, healthy me– leaving fear and shame in the past. This is my story, I am the author, and I get to choose my very own happy ending.

 

 

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