This month Holstee is examining the theme of Reflection and is featuring my work! Go check it out. It's so meaningful as a writer to see my words get out into the world and to feel supported by other creatives.
For giving me opportunities and asking nothing in return
For reading my work
For allowing me a space in your inbox
For stopping my scroll
For providing beautiful images
For your words of encouragement
For your belief in me.
The number one reason why I write is for myself. To get in touch with my thoughts, to process my emotions or sometimes to simply get something out of my head. Because I also want to share my writing and build my business, getting published is important to me.
We hear stories of rejection, we know rejection is part of the writing process. My kids and I went to see prolific children's author Dan Gutman who told the story of his popular My Weird School series getting rejected 10 times!
When rejection comes knocking on my door (and it does, often) it feels awful. I question myself and my writing. I wonder if I'll ever get established as a writer, if people will take me seriously. In many cases the publication to which I'm submitting doesn't even send a rejection letter. Simply nothing in response to that piece I poured my heart into for 20 hours over the last three weeks.
Alas, there is a silver lining if you pull up your bootstraps and keep writing. An email actually arrives in my inbox! Better yet, they've said yes! This feels so good. And it happened this week!
Go check out my article, There is Always a Choice, on the beautiful site Kind of Matter. I started writing this article on October 16, 2015! Wow, that is a long time for a story to percolate. I'm proud of myself for not kicking it to the curb and allowing it to exist in purgatory for so long. Patience is key in writing, and if patience is a daily practice for you (like me) this is not an easy task.
So to all of us out there with writing dreams in our hearts - to you and me both - keep going.
A fall rose,
beautiful and imperfect
strong and weathered
brave and bruised.
All I'm striving to be.
Another tough week here in America. Even for those like me who have not been directly affected by a natural disaster or a horrific act of violence, these events touch us on a deep level. We are trying to grapple with the enormity of these occurrences and we are also trying to figure out how to work through our own personal hurricanes and forest fires. Those that rage behind closed doors in our homes or consume our minds.
How to deal with it all? We need to figure out how to be present. We need to figure out how to slow down. We need to figure out how to serve our community. We need to figure out how to speak up. We need to figure out how to find joy. And on and on.
It's enough to make anyone want to hide in bed or head straight to the freezer for the Snicker's ice cream that's lying in wait. (Or the kids' Halloween bags - I know you are with me there.) I know what works - get outside for a walk, write in my journal, find things I am grateful for. But there are moments when I can't conjure the energy even for these things.
So, here's something I did that's helping in these moments of stuck-ness; when I feel the raincloud over my head and it just won't go away. I bought myself something that I knew would make me feel good. We could argue that spending money on material things is not a healthy way of dealing with feelings. But I'm not going to. I'm here today to say that it might boost your mood to purchase something for yourself for the sole purpose of your own enjoyment. I bought Bella Grace Magazine, pictured in my photo. The images and words within conjure a sense of peace and spaciousness everytime I pick it up. It will surely not solve all the problems of the world, but if it can get me out of shutdown mode, it is worth it. I encourage you to find something that does the same for you. Because we have work to do. xo
One of my earliest memories is celebrating my dad's 40th birthday. It was a surprise party and I got to lead him around to the back of the house where all of my parents friends were waiting on the deck. There were circular cement stones on the side of our house - a little path leading to the back. This is where my memory is clear, leaping from one stone to the next, each of them surrounded by bright green summer grass. Feeling joyful and special to be involved in a secret. An adult secret no less. It was 1987 and I was eight years old.
Over the next year my husband turns forty and my daughter will be eight. I can't help but to compare and contrast my parents lives to ours, my childhood to hers. How do you measure a good life? Compare it to your parents, I guess.
Most parents want a better life for their children than they had for themselves. What does that mean, exactly? Materials things - like a fancier house, better paying jobs, a bigger retirement account? By those comparisons we are falling short. When I dive into the details of my past - that's where I can see comparisons that make sense. Like how, in his 20s, did my dad get to Yale for his doctoral degree from Buffalo, NY where his mom had recently died and his father was not exactly a model of support?
That journey must have taken determination and a deep belief in himself. I hold those values dear to my heart and try to keep them in the forefront of my day to day. It does make me feel close to my dad and like he is still part of my life when I can act in the light of his best qualities.
Naturally, I also observed and internalized other aspects of my parents' lives that I did not want to emulate. In this instance, I'm trying to bring something different to my life based on what I absorbed from theirs. Both are important - the values we adored in our parents and the ones we have known for a long time that we wanted different for ourselves.
What values are guiding your decisions? Where did they come from? Are they similar to the values in which you were raised or different? Maybe you were raised mostly by your single mom because your dad left when you were five. Maybe you were adopted after ten years of infertility struggles.
Whatever it is - your story began with your parents. Reflecting on how their choices and actions influence you today is critical to understanding who you are as a person.
Your Story is Your Strength - I so firmly believe this.
We are pulled in a million directions each day. You barely have the bandwidth to remember to get your kid's Cliff Jr bar in his backpack for snack let alone sit down and write your personal narrative. I get it.
And, I want you to know that telling your story is for you. As in, not for your kids, your spouse, your parents, your boss, your friends. Y-O-U. The reason to care is because this process provides real benefits. Science backs this up. The reason to care is because you are in control of your story. Yes, there are events in your life that happen to you. The power is in the retelling. You can decide how to put the pieces of your story together, the feeling you want to convey, the lessons you've learned.
Have you ever been hurt? Have you ever been let down? Have you ever felt conflicted? (Are you human, because we all answer yes, right?)
Then you have an interesting story to tell. The healing part comes from diving into the details. Why did that comment bother me so much? What's the source of the conflict?
Creating our own narratives reminds us that we can overcome adversity. This in turn builds resilience, which leads to increases in life satisfaction. The beauty of increasing your own resilience is that you become a model for others in your life. Double win!
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.
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 couple of weeks ago a new friend who runs live storytelling shows invited me to participate in an upcoming one. In the spirit of building relationships, building my business and building my skillset, I accepted the offer. Then the panic set in. I’m a writer. I write. I like a script. Standing in front of real people without a paper in my hand or a powerpoint slide? That is a whole other can of worms. Queue major feelings of doubt.
Still, I do want to fulfill my promise. So here I am, four days out from the show, the paper still in my hand as I practice. My piece is about my daughter (jumping in pic) and the challenge of allowing her to become who she is meant to be. So for her, for Carly, I'll get up in front that audience. Just me, no paper.
The show is $15 with all proceeds benefitting the Walker Nature Center in Reston, VA. You can get tickets here.
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.
I'm telling one of my favorite all time stories about one of the scariest days of my life over on the Dukes Take Five JMU Alumni Association blog. Plus some tips for finding and listening to your intuition. Love the opportunity to work with my alma mater. I'll be back in September doing a webinar with them - join me if you're a Duke!
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.
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".
This essay was originally published on the blog at Mindful Healthy Life. Happy summer to Jessica over there and thank you for the opportunity!
Here's a confession: part of me has been dreading this summer. It sounds rather awful, I know, but the thought of my kids tearing down the stairs at 7am demanding my full attention while I try to write one last sentence at my computer and then have a whole entire day laid out before us for which we have to fill, well, it strikes a bit of fear in my heart and stirs up my anxiety.
This summer is going to be a new experience for me. For many years I've been a full time working mom, kids in daycare and then camps and then babysitter and then a hodge podge of cobbling together whatever I could for summer. My professional life shifted significantly this past fall as I took my dream job. The thing with big goals and dreams is that they don't always show up the way in which you expect. So, while this opportunity was my dream job, it was also part-time.
It aligned perfectly with another, newer dream of mine that had been percolating - the idea of starting my own business. It truly felt like the stars had aligned and the universe was handing me a beautiful gift. I could take a chance facing drastic changes in family finances, new childcare decisions, and some pretty long days getting cozy on the beltway and 95 instead of getting the kids off the bus and making dinner (I was working full time from home). Or I could ignore the beautiful gift and keep doing the comfortable thing that wasn't bringing me the fulfillment I sought. So I leapt. I took the new part-time job and I launched my personal storytelling business,.
I've loved it. I've grown as a person, coaching myself to do new things and put myself out there. I've met amazing people in the DMV that I never would have had the opportunity to meet had I stayed where I was.
And now, summer. We all know that Washingtonians start thinking about summer plans for our school age kids in early winter, just as the holidays end. For several months now the voice inside my head has been challenging me with questions like, How are you going to keep up momentum with your business and take care of the kids? I've been responding by growing increasingly anxious with, I have no idea? How can I do all of these things? It will be impossible to find the time I need to get work done!
Meanwhile, I have always wanted to spend time with the kids over the summer outside of our one week of beach travel. To be at the pool instead of the computer. To have a real summer. One like those I remember from my own childhood, my mom relaxing on a lounge chair on the back deck, iced tea brewing in the sun, while we ran wild in the neighborhood. I'm also keenly aware that this time is a gift. This may be the only summer I have with days where I am not expected to be reporting to someone else.
I've been writing about how we all have stories on repeat in our heads that convince us of things, true or not. With some time and attention, we can rewrite these stories. You know where this is headed, I'm sure. That story about how the summer is going to be so hard and it's going to be a struggle to get any work done? It's time for me to rewrite it. I teach that the first step is recognizing the story floating around, so I'm already on my way through the process. Next step is the re-frame, where you ask yourself if the story is true. Since I've never had a summer with this set-up, I suppose I don't know how hard or not hard it will be. It's definitely an opinion of mine and since it's my opinion, I guess it's not a fact. Which moves me towards constructing my new version, something like, I'm going to do my best to live in the moment this summer and think of this time as a gift.
It sounds all well and good, but wow, tough to implement. Just this week, one morning before school, the kids had an argument over who would get the last of the milk for their cereal. There was screaming and insults and slammed doors. From all three of us. The bus pulled away and I took a deep breath of relief for the quiet that enveloped me. Then the voice said, How are you going to manage full days this summer?
Part of this internal work is going easy on ourselves. I won't be able to respond to the harsh critic inside my head with my new story every time. My hope is with practice, I'll start coming around to it before Labor Day.
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.