I am a sacred being.

You know one thing we all have in common? That life is hard. It's full of ups and downs. Sometimes it's in the day to day - that colleague who isn't pulling his weight, who backs out of a meeting last minute to leave you in the lurch and in charge of his hour long presentation. Other times it's a pretty huge transition, like saying goodbye to the family dog who was your first child and an integral piece of your everyday. 

I'm on a quest to find more effective and healthy ways of dealing with these ups and downs. Because they don't stop coming - so I don't have time to wait until this thing I'm dealing with now passes. Writing has been huge in this. Another thing? Making a conscious effort to put myself in the same space as people who make me feel good. Who lift me up. And not in the all "everything's going to be ok" way, but in the "this shit is real and I hear you" way. 

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It's in this spirit that I share this inspiring quote from my friend Dr. Vickie. I wrote down the words during the interview for her storytelling session. That word - sacred - it stuck with me. Who me? Sacred? Vickie explained that sacred is not reserved for the extraordinary or for when we are spiritually enlightened. Sacred is allowing your 7 year son to sleep in your bed because you realize it's only a matter of time until he's grown and out of the house. Sacred is the acceptance that you are enough, even in the moments when it feels like the total opposite. Especially in those moments. 

I encourage you to listen to Vickie's story. I hope it touches you in some way like it did for me. 

A Special Birthday

A few years back I became friends with one of the most beautiful souls I have ever had the honor to meet. I truly believe our paths crossed for a singular purpose: to connect over her son Matthew's journey. I've written about our special friendship. Today I am thrilled to introduce a moving piece of writing by my friend, Kristin Theobald. My heart is full of gratitude that Kristin is my first guest essayist. Today is Mathew's birthday.


One Foot In Front of the Other by Kristin Theobald

Mike and I had a four-day long date in Denver last month. Like all good parents, we saw the opportunity of a dear friend’s wedding and ran with it. We are lucky that our kids have grandparents willing to indulge that type of adventure.
 
We talked, we laughed, we saw old friends, we drank, we hiked and hiked and hiked, and we danced some too. We experienced the breath-taking glory of Rocky Mountain National Forest. I stared from the top of mountain after mountain, at thundering waterfalls, in sun, snow, and hail, four climates in one walk, with awe, admiration, and wonder.  Along with the array of emotions brought on by the magnitude of the presence of something so much bigger than myself re-emerged the crushing understanding that the God who created this vast glory, the architect of all beauty, didn’t build Matthew’s internal organs in a way compatible with the life I dreamed of for him and for us.   
 
My sweet partner is in his element here. This man was made to hike mountains and has a deeper appreciation for nature than one might think humanly possible. And on long, arduous hikes, away from technology and rules, it is very easy to remember that we are both very funny and rather strong.  After hiking 15 miles, as I was traipsing down what I thought was the final path, Mike said, “What if I told you we had to do it all over again?” Without a moment of hesitation I said, “Of course we could. It’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.”
 
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized this is who I have become.  The line in the sand of my life is September 18, 2014.  My whole being straddles the line of before and after.  Surviving the after is literally putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of my internal monologue. 
 
Most days, I am quietly re-playing moment after moment of Matthew’s life at CHMC.  Replogle, Vent, G-tube, TE fistula, Craniectomy, ECMO. May you never know what these words mean.  Some days, I am paralyzed by the deafening voice in my head screaming at God that He got it wrong.  Tonight, I am seeing 3 a.m. because the sheer panic of living life without him has stolen my breath and brought me to my knees.
 
But the truth is, the after has to be more than that. God and I are a work in progress.
 
September 18. Bed-rest and contractions followed by the epic gush that few women will know of water grossly breaking. The rush to the hospital, the ambulance to Children’s, the abruption which aptly describes not only our lives on the edge but the way we crossed the line forward into the beginning of the after.   But most of all, the “sqwauk”. The very unexpected, against all odds moment Matthew “sqwauked” for an operating suite of 30 of Children’s finest nurses and surgeons. The sqwauk that let me know that we would both live to see another day. 
 
The rest of September is a blur, but if you have the time I can describe for you every moment, every difficult conversation, every rounds, every ounce of breast milk pumped and delivered by G-tube fortified with preemie “jet-fuel.” More medical drama than the average medical student will witness in a lifetime.  But we made it to October and November, our sweet spot.
 
Matthew spent October and November growing and getting to be a baby.  Between Enterovirus and flu season, the CHMC restrictions meant that many of the people I love in this world never had the chance to hold him or even meet him in person. We are lucky that they carry him in their hearts although they were banned from holding him in their arms.  I would literally cut off my arm to go back to those days. 

He was so smart and so darling and so fragile.  I believed that his visual tracking skills of his obnoxiously large crib mobile were beyond compare! Like his siblings, he was strong-willed, but uniquely Matthew, he was much more sensitive.  I wondered what it would be like to bring him home to the chaos of our crazy house because he loved the quiet and the calm. 
 
My dream life centers upon the nights there were nurses willing to look the other way and we **gasp** snuck all six of us, four pajamm-ied children, into his NICU room for movie nights.  The hand sanitizer I would bathe the older kids in to make them “safe” is still used in the entire Children’s system and the smell brings me to hysteria these days.  James and Abby, then six and four, could not have been more proud. It is hard to explain though, what it means to have a six-year-old who can adeptly interpret a pulse-ox monitor.  If I could return to any moment in my previous life, you’d find me in mid-November, in a rocking recliner with Matthew snuggled into my chest. Yes, we were dragging a replogle and a nasal cannula, yes, we were accommodating a G-tube, yes, we were 10 miles from Madeira, but we were HOME.
 
Matthew had big, gorgeous, ancient eyes. He had the deep, wise, eyes of my grandfather, and if I am honest, I always knew his eyes and his soul were very old for this world.  He gave Mike and I the gift of his first smile at the same time, which with Mike’s job and three kids at home, for us to both be present to witness was amazing and perfect. He gave us hope. The kind of hope that buys bunk beds and makes plans.  The kind of optimism that we were going places. That HOME could become one location.          
 
December meant surgeries, but I believed in Matthew, and his penchant for beating the odds.  Our Christmas gift was to be one last surgery and our ticket home.  December 16, after a 9 hour surgery, Dr. Lim brought us in and told us the surgery was successful, his esophagus was connected.  It was long but had gone well.  I was able to breathe for the first time in 3 months. 
 
The following days and weeks are the works of nightmares.  Ultimately, his one lung was never able to recover.  Matthew Glasgow Theobald died from complications of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January 14, 2015.  He had left us.
 
So here we are three years later.  One foot in front of the other.  Looking for meaning, but mostly just surviving. With a side of awe and beauty and wonder.
 
Matthew’s life was a gift. Parenting a child in heaven makes me a different parent to the three I have at home.  Every parent cherishes their child, but having Matthew has forever altered our appreciation of tiny moments and good health.  One foot in front of the other takes us on this journey back to him.  Being witness to his life shapes our understanding of the universe and our need to connect with those we love.  The road is long, and I struggle every day to understand how to honor Matthew in our life along the way. But I am pretty sure the love of our people will guide us along the path and bring us all home. 

The Bell is Ringing

I can't recall the first time I was asked to give a lecture. Surely I've given hundreds at this point; to undergrads, graduate students, medical students, colleagues. I've even taught Interfaith religious education to kindergarteners (a favorite group but quite possibly the hardest). I do know that every time I've stepped in front of students or sat down at a conference table with them, my entire being lights up. It's the feeling of knowing that I am in the exact place where I need to be. It's the feeling of doing inspired work.

Being the over-preparer I am, I take tons of time developing the curriculum, getting the Powerpoint slides exactly the way I want them. I get in front of the class with my carefully laid plan and five minutes into it, I realize I'm so enraptured with the students sitting in front of me that I still haven't moved past my intro slide. No matter - I've learned that time and space cease to exist when I am in the teaching zone. It's something about the connection between teacher and student, that these people have put their trust in me to give them knowledge, to tell them something that might be useful, that might resonate. Something that might change the way they look at the world or approach their work. 

Something similar happens when I am in the groove of writing. The world slips away, my mind quiets down, and my fingers glide easily over this keyboard. It's harder for me to enter into writing bliss compared to teaching bliss, but the pure sense of feeling that I am doing something worthwhile and meaningful is similar. 

Recently, an opportunity arose to combine these two loves of mine. To teach personal storytelling. Am I qualified to teach students how to write their story? Has my writing been published? Well, I've certainly published a lot of scientific papers. My list of personal essays that have been published is much shorter and much less impressive. Could I put off teaching a writing course until I had more essays published and experience as an entrepreneur under my belt? Sure. But I'm ready for the challenge now.

I've honed the skills of managing a classroom. I've honed the skills of planning a curriculum. I have hundreds of hours of experience actually teaching in front of students. Most importantly, teaching and writing are my passions. They inspire me, which means I show up to my class full of energy which in turn inspires and energizes my students. 

What are you ready to do that you have not yet stepped into? Maybe it's learning photography or reading your poem at an open mic night or setting boundaries to free up 15 minutes of your day to sit in quiet. Maybe it's writing your own story. You don't need an MFA or scheduled writing time on your calendar for the next month. I promise. I'm giving you permission. Put a sticky note in your pocket and write one sentence today. Talk into your voice memo on your phone as you are driving home tonight. I'm giving you permission to start. I'm also inviting you to take my class starting Sept 20th. Absolutely no writing experience necessary. If you've ever said to yourself I'd like to tell my story (and you live in the vicinity of Vienna, VA) this class is for you. Come join me.

Trust and Faith

When you whisper "I love you" to your dear, beautiful child every morning, every goodbye, every evening. She usually looks away, she may occasionally shout "bye", but the three words you long to hear don't come out. You keep it up; every morning, every goodbye, every evening.

When you stand at the front of the church, the church he took you to every Sunday, except this time, you are standing in a different place. It is you in the pulpit, speaking to the people in the pews. And you are talking about him. He is gone. The people in the pews are a blur, but you notice curly blond hair in the back that you would recognize anywhere. You didn't know she was coming. She drove eight hours to be there. You find the strength to finish the eulogy.

When you know you've tried all you can and it's still not working. The day is a marathon and you're only on mile three at 11am. It hurts to come around to the realization that you are not able to figure it out on your own. Because you are the person who is always able to figure it out. You pick up the phone, in spite of this, and make the call for help. 

When you look your girlfriend in the eye and you see the same pain you feel in your heart. The specific pain of being a mother to a specific kind of child. You've been looking around for this spark of recognition and it feels like a homecoming to see it. You bring her a cup of coffee and say, "I know". 

 

Re-thinking the Skydiving Mindset

This essay was published by Holstee's Mindful Matter blog. I'm so grateful for their support - this is my third piece they've published.

During my younger sister's senior year of college I planned for an epic graduation gift. I worked a second job outside of my 9-5 for months for the sole purpose of building her gift fund. We were in our early twenties, with what seemed like the entirety of our lives before us. I wanted something memorable, something to kickstart our adult lives. On a bright summer morning we took off on the extreme adventure which was her gift: skydiving.

To be sure, the experience lived up to the hype. Simply sitting in the rickety vehicle they called a plane was enough to get my adrenaline flowing. It was a thrilling, once in a lifetime experience. It was worth every bit of time, energy and money that was poured into it. 

We often have a skydiving mindset when we seek new experiences. We have visions of ziplining above the rainforest in Costa Rica or white water rafting down the Colorado River. While there is certainly a place for those adrenaline pumping events, I've learned you don't have to get a second job to foster the sense of adventure that many of us seek as an escape from the everyday. Although the carefree, untethered 20-something still lives inside me, here are some lessons I'm learning in the years since jumping out of a plane.

Embrace your personal sense of adventure. If you find a thrill in scoping out a new restaurant in town or achieving your goal of running a mile for the first time, revel in it. Soak in the experience, feel it with all of your senses. We don't have to travel to a foreign land to find excitement. People have different views of what qualifies as adventure. Don't apologize for your own.

Cultivate adventure in the everyday. Figure out what excites you and find a way to bring it into your life. Maybe it's trying a new recipe from an exotic cookbook every Tuesday night or taking an online photography class. The anticipation and planning alone can improve your mood. Science has shown that anticipating an experience can bring us more happiness than awaiting the purchase of a new possession.

Surround yourself with adventurous friends. If you are anything like me, seeking new experiences can sometimes feel like another to do on your growing list. That's where adventurous friends come in. These are the ones who invite you last minute to a weekend getaway just because it sounds fun. Get out of your own way and go along with the plan, especially if you aren't the one doing the planning. 

Follow the ease. We set off on our travels with high spirits and hopes. Then, when things don't go according to our schedule we feel frustrated and disappointed. Trying looking at what is working instead of what's not. Some of the most cherished moments happen when we drop our agenda and lean into the ease. 

 

Re-write your story 101 video

I made a video! As I start thinking about next steps with my business (a class, perhaps!) I want you to get a sense of who I am and how I teach. In this video I give 3 steps to re-write the story that is weighing you down and a real life example I'm currently working on. Plus, bonus!, how this stuff actually works and shows up in your life.

Thank you Abby Wambach

I spend a lot of time with my kids in the public library. As an avid reader it's always been a place I feel at home. I can remember the library of my childhood; an old building with squeaky wood floors. My memories of the the adult section convey a dimly lit room with actual lamps and an old wingback chair covered in velour fabric. I still get a thrill walking out the doors of the library with a new book in hand.

I've enjoyed experiencing the library through my kids' eyes. My daughter, recently emboldened with a library card of her own, does something I have never done and have avoided like the plague. She enters the library and heads straight for the help desk. Sometimes I follow behind and other times I go hide in the stacks. She tells the librarian what she's looking for, graphic novels being the current favorite, and off they go, on a quest to find a new book. We've discovered wonderful new authors and series using this method of actually talking to a person, (imagine that!), at the library. 

So, when faced with a complexity in my own life, I frequently turn to books. Over time I've learned that I often stand to gain more from fiction and memoir than from instructional how-to's that promise to get your baby to sleep and harness your strong-willed child. 

We all need strategies to help us cope and one that has been so useful to me (and free to everyone with a library card!) has been books. Often I'll be reading along and happen upon a sentence that resonates so deeply it'll jolt me out of my heavy-lidded almost asleep state. That's it exactly, I think to myself. You read my mind. And all of a sudden I am less isolated in my experience. Here are some of those words.

Forward by Abby Wambach. This conversation between kid Abby and her mom could have been spoken between my daughter and me.  

"Abby, " she says, "you scored a lot of goals today. Don't you think it's important that your teammates become part of it?" I look up at her, confused, and ask, "Isn't the whole point to score goals?" She thinks on that for a moment and admits, "It is." "Well, I am the best one to do that. So if that's the whole point, I don't see the problem."

Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Oh, I love all of Dani's work so, but in Devotion I felt like she was literally walking inside of my brain and teaching me more about the why behind Orchid Story. 

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story - a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. 

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. A gorgeous and heart-wrenching journey of friendship and addiction. This passage strikes right in my heart to all the times I've frantically grasped for control in the midst of uncertainty. My eyes well up every time I read the last line. 

I wouldn't give Lucy money anymore, but I'd buy her things or send an emergency rent check directly to her landlord. After we talked for an hour, I went online and bought her everything I could think of: pot holders and vegetable peelers and plates and pans... I bought her Tupperware. It was my own special brand of insanity that made me think the trials of Lucy's life could somehow be eased by the order of Tupperware. 

 

 

It's Time to Fly

Download a free pdf version of Orchid Story's latest hand lettered quote. Simply submit your email address below and click Yes Please!

its time to fly

Lead with Empathy

New this week: you can now download a free pdf version of Orchid Story's latest hand lettered quote. Simply submit your email below!

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Do you have a phrase about telling our stories that you want to see hand lettered? Let me know! 

You do not have permission to yell at my kid.

The last day of the week-long summer day camp. The day when the parents are asked to come in for: "An opportunity to see what we've been busy doing this week and celebrate with your child!" Aren't we paying copious amounts of money for this camp precisely because we need someone to care for them while we are working? And that missing an afternoon of work completely defeats the purpose? So, maybe I arrived with my feathers already up. I will say that.

The campers and parents are sitting around tables while the director calls out each child's name to come to the front. There are withering mounds of snacks and a musty, unpleasant smell in the air. The kids, ages 6-12ish, are restless and hot because it seems the air conditioner is not really working. My own camper is melting before my eyes. Her back is on the chair, arms flailed off to one side, legs to the other, backbend-esque. And she's kicking me. Not in an I want to hurt you way, but more in the I'm about to lose it and if I engage in some repetitive behavior that also forces mom to pay attention to me maybe I won't

This part of my life as a mother, this out in public with a child that's not behaving how everyone around her wants her to behave, has held some pretty painful moments. They've been some of my biggest parenting aha's. It takes every. single. ounce. of my self-control to not start screaming at my child to just do what I'm asking you to do and behave like every other kid in this room. But, most of the time and especially when I've had coffee and good sleep, I've trained myself away from doing just that. And when I say trained myself, I mean it's as if I've never walked across a balance beam and somehow came up with the goal of mastering the backflip on those four inches: it's taken years and endless piles of parenting books and a good therapist and many, many scenarios like these that did not end well. 

Another mom decides she can't possibly take it anymore, my methods are ineffective and she needs to intervene. "You need to sit up, stop kicking and start listening to your mother."

My heart skips a beat and every hair on my arms stands up straight. Simply because you are a mother does not qualify you to understand what is going on here. Simply being a mother does not give you permission to parent other people's kids. 

So often we don't know the struggles that other people face. Just like I don't fully understand lots of parenting experiences, many parents don't understand my child. Be mindful and lead with empathy. Our words can be knives that carve deep wounds into the hearts of others. 

Three Reasons to Reveal Your Personal Story

1. Gain a sense of closure

When you are able to sift through your tough experiences and weave together a story with a sense of completion you become released from the emotional grip that the experience held over you. 

2. Free up space in your mind

Gaining closure and moving on provides space for new things. New experiences, new energy, new joy. You need more of that.

3. Increase resilience

This process of creating your story reminds you that you can overcome tough times. You can get through it. This idea of bouncing back is called resilience. The more resilient you are, the more content you are with your life. Sounds good, right?

Ready to tell your story? Let's get to it!

This old fridge door

You're still here, seven years later

Would've thought you'd be replaced by now

By one of those gleaming stainless steel guys

The one with the water dispenser I use with envy at my friend's

But here you are

Nondescript and how old I wonder?

You have stories of your own from back before my family invaded your space

And now you hold mine, proudly displayed on your chest

My cheering squad, my Reason

My belief that love remains, light remains always

Nieces and nephews, weddings and godchildren, sons and daughters

My promise to four beautiful souls - I will not forget you

I will carry your love, your goodness in my heart

This old fridge door is the shoelace tied around my finger

I will not forget you

I will not take this day, this moment for granted

But of course you see that I do

The hundreds of time you are opened and closed without a second glance

But I know you forgive me, you let it slide by 

Knowing I will come back around, when fear strikes deep

When I worry that another soul will be added

Because it will happen, because this is life

You remind me, there is always love