Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Soup

After a few crazy weeks, I am so very happy to spend a Friday night in with Pioneer Woman’s Tortilla Soup and a Christmas movie marathon. Whoever said Netflix and chill means something other than sitting, eating, and watching TV is crazy because its literal interpretation is about the best thing going. And, I also love a good soup during the winter months. And this tortilla soup is just about the best tortilla soup I have ever had.

I love to cook, but, I am not a baker, even though I like baking. I can make a decent carrot cake or chocolate cake, but baking isn't really my thing. I only learned to follow the well-written rules even though I was never, ever good at math and chemistry and physics. I don't fancy these particular subjects, not just because I am a natural blond who loves her skinny jeans and boots, but because I can’t even handle their exactness. My mom, the ever-feminist lover and daughter supporter, expressed her irritation with my I suck at math sentiment. And then, a few days later, I asked her a simple math question and she said, “Wow, you aren’t really good at math are you?”. 

No, I am not good at math. I am not even embarrassed about it. I am me. It’s not that I don’t like structure and rules. Even cooking has a few necessities like, a good knife helps more than you can imagine, a really good dutch oven saves time, a fantastic stainless steel pan will heal the world, and it's best not to add the garlic until the last minute because it burns and tastes like bark on a tree. But, I must admit, like cooking, I prefer subjects and people and the human condition that allow for the almost bad bell peppers who end up making the soup even better in the end and the too much onion that, secretly, makes the soup its best. Oh, and if you cook the veggies a little too long...they are even better. Julia Child once said, about cooking, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Like Julia Child, perfection and exact chemistry are not my goals. Even though I greatly admire the chemists and the exact people. They are impressive, that's for sure. They heal us, find cures to heal our diseases, and they suture our wounds. However, making stuff out of the rotten, the discarded, and the forgotten - this is my goal. Like tonight, as we were so far into, A Family Stone, I paused from cooking, wooden spoon in hand, and stopped to watch my favorite part of the movie. That part when the Luke Wilson character says, "You have a freak flag. You just don't fly it."

And just as I teared up when Luke's cute face said this cute line, I realized I forgot to add the tomato paste to the soup...I didn’t need to stress. I just added it. I let the soup cook just that much longer and, while the soup simmered, I watched the tearful, yet heart-filled end of my favorite holiday movie. 

Allow the passing of time or don't. Get rid of most of the rules, except the ones you need. Adhere to your own version of creativity. Teach yourself. And enjoy the end result. We all matter...even the bakers and mathematicians..because they teach us the rules we choose to follow or choose not to follow. We need the rule makers and the non-rule makers. We need all of us. We need the calm and the exciting. We need each other because, together, we make the world go round. Just like soup - all of its ingredients are necessary and the time on the stove, while the soup simmers and marinates, is crucial to it becoming its very best version of itself.

And, by the way, I broke three of these darling glass bowls because I insisted on carrying them myself. And, oh well. Crate and Barrel is open all night long on line. Broken bowls are swept away in favor of a good night in, with a good soup, and favorite movies. That's just me. Perfection is not necessary for this Friday night. And, as my favorite four year old boy says, "The cute lady really makes a good lunch." ...or dinner. (Jack's assessment of Pioneer Woman on Food Network.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The quality of human life on the planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions. Forgiveness is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unraveling.”

-Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving

I love to Now is the operative word in this sentence. I didn’t always love to read. Just ask my mom. I learned to love to read. I even know the day and the very evening this love affair with books, finally, and, reluctantly, began. My mom banished me to my bedroom because I needed to finish reading, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I needed to finish reading the novel and write the paper for my ninth grade Honors English Literature class. I think Mrs. Draper knew reading wasn’t my first choice, but I think she, also, knew I loved to write. What Mrs. Draper and my mom knew is that reading is the key to writing. 

I am not the best writer and I don’t really care. Glennon Melton once wrote something like, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. This sentiment is one I can agree with, for sure. I love to meditate because I love to breathe. And the path to a fulfilling breath lies in the inhale and the exhale. I love the exhale - the end of the cycle. For me,the inhale takes practice. Neither needs to be perfect or textbook to heal, but, both, the inhale and the exhale need to occur for the breath to be complete. So, reluctantly, I learned to inhale, like I learned to love to read.

Right now, I read Desmond Tutu’s, The Book of Forgiving. Just like my practice to inhale, reading, I, also, practice forgiveness quite a bit in my daily life. I don’t practice forgiveness just because I experience betrayal or injustice or personal failure or doubt. I practice forgiveness because I am human and I need to breathe like every other human. 

I watch the news. I listen to NPR. I read the New York Times. I see the mass shootings and the wars and ISIS. I see the rape of children and the slaughter of communities. I see the mothers holding their babies and I see the babies left in the dumpsters on the side of the road. I hear the lies politicians tell on a daily basis and I see the lies about celebrities on the covers of the magazines. I see the mama who cries because her child lies in hospice and he dies from cancer and she begs for a reason. I see the man who enters the grocery store that cuts me off as I enter, or the teenager who is stalling at the traffic light and holds up everyone from getting where she needs to go. I, also, see the lies and betrayals and hurts in my own life. I see my own face in the mirror, daily, that asks her twenty-one year old self, why oh why did you get on the horse? And I see the face of the thirty-six year old in the mirror, daily, who asks, why oh why haven’t you done more or better with your life?

I really don’t have answers to these why questions. I am a person who doesn’t believe there really ever is an answer to the why. We can beg and plead and pray and cry to learn the lesson. The lesson might exist, but the why really never comes.

The only true answer to our cries lies in forgiveness. It took me a very, very long time to understand what forgiveness really means. I still don’t have the courage or power or level of understanding or articulation to adequately describe its truest meaning or most defining definition. The only thing I know about forgiveness is...but for the grace of God (or whomever) go I. I know we learn to forgive the human, not the inhumane act. We do not need to forget or condone the action, but we do learn to forgive the person. Or as Bishop Tutu writes, "Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation. " 

Once again, we learn to see ourselves in our sister and brother and friend and enemy.
Until we, ourselves, are faced with a situation, whatever this situation may be, we never really, ever know how we will respond. One of my very favorite mentors ever, Eileen Johnston, said after my accident, “I really can't judge parents of a child who is sick or injured. None of us knows how we will respond when one of our own is hurt or in need. Judgement is not necessary in this kind of situation. Understanding is the only option.”

Forgiveness. It’s a hard word and an even harder act. It requires an understanding of interconnectedness that far outweighs right and wrong. Forgiveness requires a faith in oneness. And this kind of faith is really, really hard. If we really want to heal the world and its children and its people, we need to forgive. We need to forgive, starting with the bank teller that hold us up because we think he is slow. We need to forgive the young girl at the stop light who is texting. And, we need to forgive the friend who betrayed us the most.

If we want to heal, we need to forgive. If we want to fix anything in this entire world, we need to forgive. This is not an easy answer to horrific problems. Forgiveness is a muscle that needs major, major work and this muscle cringes in pain as we build it. But, it has to be built. We must tear down the walls of hate and build the walls of forgiveness if we want the pain to stop.

I don’t have any answers when it comes to gun control. I am afraid of the damn sound of the gun. I, surely, don’t have any answers to war or ISIS or child rape. But, I can learn and vow to forgive the small things. I can start right now and, today -on a daily basis- and that’s something. Just like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Love is Not a Victory March

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley 

It is kind of a cold room. A room with four beige walls, a bed with white, stiff sheets, a simple cabinet, and a table on wheels. A girl, twenty one years of age, lies in her hospital bed, and she wears a brace that extends from her lower belly all the way up to her neck. She is not allowed to sit up beyond thirty degrees. Every night, a bearded and long haired boy, also twenty one years of age, walks down the halls of this hospital. He opens the door to this bleak room, walks in, kisses her on the forehead, pulls the nearest chair close to him, and sits next to her bed. He doesn’t say much beyond hello. He doesn’t need to. He, either, loads a CD into the CD player next to her bed, or begins to play the guitar he carries. And as he plays, whatever music he brings, she cries. Just cries. Not only because she is sad, she is sad, very sad, but, because she has a person. A person who takes the time to shut the door that leads to the outside world and sit with her.This person, he allows her to cry. He knows she is broken and there isn’t much he can do to fix it.
And then, the tumultuous years that follow, years filled with illness and depression and more illness and vomiting and surgeries and wounds and fevers so high she can barely focus to see Ina Garten on the television , he still comes to play his music. He doesn’t require anything of her. She just lies there, cold and broken, and he continues to play his music.

This girl was me. This boy was Justin. And even though he bears a striking resemblance to the American depiction of Jesus, earned a Master of Theology degree, and he, too, does good work - he is human and flawed - just like the rest of us. He is a teacher and a student. He likes music festivals, football, and a good beer. But, the most important thing about Justin is, he shows up. He cares about hearts and really, really cares about others. He cared about me when I needed it most. He cared about me when no one else did. He cared to show up and prove to me, that love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.

One of the songs, in his guitar playing repertoire, was always the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah. Always. And every time he played this song for me, I always heard the words - And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch And love is not a victory march It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah. And, man oh man, was I broken. My body was shattered, my mouth was very well practiced at setting forest fires, and my cries could tear down the strongest of wailing walls. 

I wasn’t sure what these words, love is not a victory march, It's a cold and broken Hallelujah, really meant. For a long time, I lived stuck in the fantasy that love looks like Hollywood movies or fairy tales or the end of a great novel. I thought love was supposed to be easy and fun and whole and bright and shiny and never broken. And thank the universe or the lord or Justin or Jesus - but I, finally, learned love isn’t any of these things. It's all of these things and more. It's everything. Our worst and our best. 
Great authors and poets and philosophers and songwriters go to great lengths to describe love. Love is even divided into categories and types. Love is ranked, one type above the other, or love is said to claim difference to one love over the other. We hear that love isn’t attachment, possession, or adoration, or appreciation. We hear it isn’t controlling, or angry, or deceitful. We hear it is kind and honest and free of judgement. We hear it is simple and complicated - all at the same time. And because it is such a mystery and deemed such an unattainable and enlightened goal, we chase after it at all costs. We sacrifice and fight and heal and comfort...all in the name of love. 

I don’t know very much, but after all of these years living as a person who is stripped down to not much more than a raw soul and a person who sits all of the time...I know love is just love. Love is just seeing our own eyes reflected back to us from our friend's, or enemy's, or lover's, or daughter's own eyes.

Love is simply the act of showing up and sitting with someone. Love doesn’t require some magic or some out of the box, extraordinary emotion. We spend lifetimes searching for the one we love or to be loved by our parents or friends or that cute boy in class. When the truth is, all love requires is a presence. A showing up. A willingness to see. 

But, the largest and most difficult trick to this whole love thing is - we must first learn to love ourselves. We must be able to look in the mirror and sit with the reflection who looks back at us. I needed to learn to love me before I saw my friend, Justin, as one who really loves. I needed to learn to love me before I could even begin the business of loving a friend. I needed to be able to sit with me and see and love the reflection that stares back at me, before I could even claim to love another soul.

Love is not romantic or’s just love. When we stop seeing love as special, or only available to those who find it, or birth it, or earn it, we will really see it. When we can finally look into our own eyes and hear our own cold and broken Hallelujah, we will feel love and see love and finally, finally we are able to give it to someone else.

You want to learn what love is? Look in the mirror. Look hard. See the Hallelujah in your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. See that you are loved. See that you are loved only because you are you. Because you are you. Just like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, "One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving."

My forever friend - not because I see him everyday or every week or every year, but because he showed up for me and taught me to see me. And when I finally learned to love the broken version of me, I learned to love ALL versions of EVERY ONE I see. I wanted to post a picture of his beard and long hair, but I know he loves these sideburns. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just Playing

"Close your eyes. Pretend you're ten years old again. Just playin'. You're just playing. I want to play football."
-Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights

I think living with intention and purpose is one of the hardest things, ever, despite what all of the self-help authors and super successful people in this world may think and tell us. Living this way, filled with intention and purpose, requires a kind of resolve that not much of us adults know because we are trying so hard to just keep it all together, to just keep the game of life moving forward. 

When I was sick, I had a purpose and an intention. My job was to get well. And while I, still, will always have medical issues - when half your body doesn’t work like it's supposed to, that's just the way life is - I hope and plan to live a life full of a purpose and intention. A purpose and intention that exists other than just achieving physical wellness. I want my heart and spirit to heal as much as my body heals. I want my soul to dance. And, more importantly, I want to serve my fellow seekers of the light.

I don’t really know how to get to this place of a purpose filled life, but I am willing to keep trying. We all want to anesthetize pain with what feels so good. Although, I believe, the grown up version of what feels good, isn’t always the catalyst to purpose. 

But, what I do know, though, when i was ten, I played house and I drew fake roads, with chalk, on my parents’ driveway so I could run pretend errands and rush my fake kids to pretend soccer practice. I was totally enveloped in my chalk drawing purpose. I know I danced with joy at the McGing Irish Dancers' studio. I know I played school in my basement. I know I was super into clothes and fashion and my mom always says, when she was nine months pregnant with my sister, I insisted she tuck her shirt in, despite her huge belly. I still love to play house and cook and clean and run errands and dance and teach and pick out the perfect clothes and mother everyone I know. Just like, when I was ten years old. 

Mary Oliver writes, Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

We knew our plan. We knew when we were young. We knew this plan when we made forts out of blankets and played house in the woods and pretended sticks were forks. We just played. We didn’t have an agenda; we didn’t require perfection. We didn’t judge our play. We just played.

As hard as it is to live from this place, especially, in a world so filled with hurt and isolation and illness and heartbreak and bills to be paid and babies to be fed and who is right and who isn’t - we must still be brave enough to insist we live from this sacred and innocent place. We must find that child in our own lives so that we may see that innocent child in others' lives. We all just need to learn to play and believe and trust and most of all, just love. Just love the child. Loving, ultimately, is the way we live from the truest of all intention.

This plan, to just play and live from our ten-year-old-selves, may not be the answer, I have no idea. But, for all of the millions of dollars spent on therapy, wars, protection, politics, and perfection, self-help books, lectures, and all avenues to feel well again, it’s worth a try. Please, this holiday season, if you are grateful for nothing else, be grateful for the ten-year-old who lives inside of you. For she knows the answer because she is just playin'. "

Sunday, November 22, 2015

High Expectations

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

-Albert Einstein

A few days ago someone told me my expectations of life were just too high and I have an all or nothing attitude sometimes.

I said, “Yup, I have high expectations and I do want it all or at least the possibility of it all.”

Because here’s the thing...I almost died a few times, and I learned this thing called life only comes around once. And when I woke up, on several occasions, from near death, I didn’t lie there and think my expectations were too high. I thought of all the times I soared. I thought of all the people that made my heart soar. I thought of all of the moments I reached for and grabbed my expectations. I have one shot to do all the things I want to do. I have one shot to be all the things I want to be. One shot. One time.

So, yeah, my expectations are high. I like them up there. There is where they should be. I learn to live from my imagination, just like some guy named Albert Einstein did. I am sure he, too, had some pretty high expectations.

To all of you dreamers and high expectationers - please keep it up. We ALL deserve it ALL. Every single one of us. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

You Are Amazing and Unamazing

I have a friend who often says, “You are an amazing person, Sarah.” 

I often reply, “Well that’s nice, but it’s not quite the whole story.”

Then he will list what he thinks is amazing about me. Like how I am very girly, but my hands are rough from pushing my wheelchair and cooking and doing dishes so much. He thinks I am amazing because I cook and eat so many vegetables. He notices and thinks it’s amazing I keep my house so clean. And how I light candles and make truffle popcorn while we watch TV, because these little things create a cozy atmosphere. I like hearing this list and I like feeling amazing for a minute. I am all for positive thinking and affirmations. Focus on the good parts and allow them to grow and all of that stuff. I am a big fan of and, constantly, practice building myself up and feeling worthy. I am also a big fan of building up others and making them feel worthy. I am all for the amazing.

However, I also feel pretty unamazing, sometimes. I do pretty unamazing things, too. I cuss like a sailor. So much so, Ashlea warns me not to drop certain words as she drives through preschool car line. I am sad, a lot. Like, really, really sad. I am happy to eat salt and vinegar chips and truffle popcorn for dinner, even though I know it is not healthy and is a pretty unamazing dinner. My depression can take over and make me feel withdrawn and lonely and disposable and abandoned and I find solace in too much TV. I can have an incredible and spectacularly unamazing emotional breakdown that involves gut-wrenching cries and a wrath of anger so unamazing I struggle to forgive the moment. And in that moment, I can say words I don’t mean. Words that tear down and make others feel unworthy. I feel pretty unamazing and like a failure in these moments. And all I can muster up to say is, what is wrong with me?

Nothing. Nothing is really wrong with me. I am a person. A person who struggles. A person who gets it right sometimes. A person who is both, amazing and unamazing. And just as much as I celebrate and water the amazing parts, I can work to take tender care of and forgive the not so amazing parts - except the bad words, I lost the use of my legs, I get bad words. Most of these unamazing parts are our wounds. These are the parts that need just as much care and nurturing as the other parts. Anger isn’t as much as an attack, as it is a cry for help. Even Jesus got a little angry. Feeling lonely or depressed or abandoned aren’t unlovable qualities - they are symptoms of our hurt and places where we need more understanding and compassion. This is the crux of this whole love thing. We must forgive what is worst in us, and in another, to truly love. We don’t have to love the bad stuff, we just have to forgive it, and love anyway, in addition to, and because the wounds even exist. 

No one is amazing all of the time. We each possess a true story that lives inside of us. This recognition that the truth - the amazing and unamazing - is the best version of the story is scary to face. It’s hard to recognize that the hurt is still there, yet choose to keep living and healing anyway. We must understand this balance of, hurt yet still living, can get out of whack sometimes. It takes time to see the hurt and mistakes and transform them into moments of forgiveness and calls for more love. This kind of understanding is hard to offer a friend, but it is hardest to offer to ourselves. But, we can’t give away what we don’t have. 

So, yes, l still look in the mirror and tell the person looking back she is worthy and lovable. But, I am not worthy and lovable because I am amazing. I am worthy and lovable because of all of my parts, just as I am - amazing and unamazing. And so are you. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hayden Charles

ACT II: The middle space. The part of the story where the main character is lost and struggling. S/he tries to find the way forward by taking every path except the ones that require VULNERABILITY. The struggle continues until s/he finally realizes that the only way home is through uncertainty and total vulnerability. Into the dark. I hate ACT II. I love ACT II. The middle is messy. But it’s where the magic happens. We live in the rumble. 
-Brene Brown

Hayden Charles entered this world. Ashlea had her fourth and final baby, naturally. Like, no drugs at all. Afterwards, she said, “It was amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Giving birth hurts. Ashlea said it’s like a burning sensation that takes over the entire body and you aren’t sure if you will vomit or pass out or die from so much pain. She said you hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream. And then the baby is born. The messiness isn’t over, but there is a peace that fills the room. He is alive and well and resting on his mother’s chest. She is exhausted, hands to her side, head tilted, and eyes slightly closed. He is born.

This is the magic of ACT II that Brene Brown writes about. That feeling when we think we just can’t take it anymore and we can’t see a single light or even lighthouse, but, instead of giving up, we clutch the side of the boat and enter the darkness of the night, trusting we will be guided. And it is in this trust, this vulnerability, that we find our way. 

Babies remind us of new beginnings and total forgiveness. They are vulnerable and trusting. They are open to love and they embody hope. We comfort and forgive their cries. We don't see their needs as weakness. They represent a fresh start. Magic is alive in their impending arrival, their actual breakthrough into this world, and this same magic breathes through their tiny bodies. This kind of magic, though, doesn’t come from certainty. There isn’t a guarantee with babies or with life. We just hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream and hope, against all odds, that all will be well. And just like Ashlea said about birth, we say about life, “It’s amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Welcome to the world, Hayden Charles. You give us so much light and hope and you've only been here for a moment. Thank you for blessing us with your presence. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Happy Place

I used to believe happy places are defined as such, because of the place. And, then, I learned happiness comes from within; the place we are in on the inside. Happiness does not grow from outside places, people, or things. Ultimately, happiness is a state of mind. 

We make places happy. We make our relationships happy. We make things happy. The energy and support we offer - undying faith in a person or place or thing are what makes it happy - whatever it may be.

Lately, I notice, I find a lot more happiness living inside of me and around me. I noticed this happiness after I committed to paying attention to the happy brewing in my heart and fluttering in my tummy. Now, I see my happy places multiply, instead of divide. Today, as I wheeled along the river path with my sweet, happy walker, Belle, my mind was clear and filled with ease. My joy, palpable, and my awe, immeasurable. I only saw, Beauty, living and breathing around me. Beauty in the brightly colored leaves and sparkling river water. Beauty makes me happy every, single time. A few days ago, I reveled in chopping vegetables, using good knife form, and recounted the countless hours I watched Ina Garten chop on Food Network and, better yet, remembered the knife skills class Kelly gifted me. Dinners I cook or eat out, with the very best of friends, rapidly increase my laugh lines and I don’t mind these well-earned lines one bit. My morning cup of coffee is a reason to awake and peel my body out of my bed. I, all but cheered the other night, as I hit play on my DVR because TV, my dog, and salt and vinegar chips are such a happy space for me. I watch, as my dad takes care of my lawn and flowers and Hydrangea bushes, and can’t help but feel joy. I sit, with my mom, at my kitchen table and just yack; exactly like we did when I was a teenager and I can’t stop smiling. I go to Ashlea’s and spend time with her family and feel a bubbling over of goodness. I sit, write to you and for me, and tears of gratitude and faith and love and hope fill my eyes. Because, I realize, we are all in this life thing together. We are all working to find our happy places, together.

Yes, it is true, a place or a thing or a person can bring us a momentary happiness. But, what brings us the truest and most undeniable, unflappable joy is what we bring to the situation. It is what we offer, what we seek to find, and what we choose to expand that makes the given experience what it is. If our inner peace is a fortress, the outside muck doesn’t have a chance. We create these happy spaces and moments when we are willing to visit our happy - these feelings of joy - again and again and again. Go find your happy place; it already lives inside of you. I was trapped inside my house and inside my mind for a long, long time. There isn't any shame in this kind of entrapment. The sadness is just as much a part of life as the happiness. The only way out, though, is to do what you love. Always do what you love and makes your heart sing...even if it is for five minutes. The rest of life will catch up with you, I promise. 

Doing what I love most. Sharing a meal I love, with a person I love, and in a place I love. And, Mary, I have two drinks because Kelly knows the bartender. And the bartender says we make her happy. See, happiness breeds more happiness. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fight Song

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

-Rachel Platten, Fight Song

I have this habit of listening to the same songs over and over. I fill up a play list with my favorite songs of the moment. I listen, until even I can’t bear to hear the same songs on repeat one more time. Currently, one of the songs on my repetitive play list of favorites is, Fight Song, by Rachel Platten. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but stop whatever I am doing and sing at the top of my lungs. I also will stop when Watch Me comes on and do my own version of the Whip/Nae Nae, using my arms for the Stanky Legg and Break Your Legs part. I am extremely grateful I only live with a dog most of the time. 

A few days ago, my friend was here with me. He constructed a few fantastic improvements to my home, planted a tree, and, naturally, I turned on my fantastic play list to help with morale. Well, to be perfectly truthful, I turned on the same play list several times...all in one day. Anyway, as he was sawing wood for a little ramp so I could finally get out to my deck, he asked, very nicely, if I had any other songs because he heard Fight Song just one too many times that day. And because I live alone and really have grown accustomed to having things my own way, I just added a few more songs to my famous play list; instead of deleting any of them

Later that night, this friend and I prepared a quick dinner together. While we were heating up leftover Garlic Potato soup and steaming an artichoke, we also talked about some pretty hard stuff. Stuff like my situation and circumstances and where I am now and where I was when I was first paralyzed. One simple statement led to the next, and as I do, I started hysterically and unreasonably crying. And because my friend is so sweet, he immediately sat on the floor and pulled my chair over to him forcing me to stop what I was doing and look right at him and just cry and talk through the tears. But, I wasn’t able to talk. I kept crying and crying and trying to talk. Not even wiping my nose with the rough paper towels could stop me. 

And for the record, I have no idea what he said or what I said that actually triggered the tears and hysterics. The words and uncontrollable emotion just poured out of me. However, what I do remember is that I started listing the methods and avenues and moments of strength I seized over the last fifteen years. I told him I was so alone and kept fighting anyway. I told him I was so sick and kept fighting anyway. I told him I wanted to give up every single day and kept fighting anyway. I shared the time I went to a doctor who told me I was better off dead and instead of leaving the office defeated, I continued to fight for a doctor who would keep me alive. I cried and listed my moments of strength, not my moments of weakness.

And when this crying fit was over, I realized, for the first time, I listed my strengths and only my strengths. I wrote my very own Fight Song. Maybe it is because I hear the song over and over in my house as I fold laundry or do the dishes or clean the bathroom. I don’t know. All I know, is out of no where, I chose to see all of the times I showed up for me, instead of all of the times I failed me

After I calmed down and we finally ate dinner and I went to bed, I fell asleep strong. I knew I still had weakness to overcome; weakness that may never go away. But, I wrote my Fight Song. I proved I was alright song

What if we all wrote a Fight Song. I don’t mean in a corny way; I mean in a real way. What if we all wrote down the moments we were brave and strong and scared and did it anyway. What if we just focused on this part of ourselves, the strong part, instead of all of the times we fell or disappointed or ran from something out of fear and shame. Just what if. We all have a Fight Song in us. We all have a take back my life song and we are all sending big waves into motion. It doesn’t matter our story or our weight class. We all showed up for a fight and chose to be strong. I suggest we focus on that part of ourselves a little bit more. So when the nay sayer part of us shows up, the part that feels she has fallen just one to many times to recover, we can sing our own Fight Song and belt it out and the top of our lungs. And, the best part is, we have the freedom to play our song on repeat as many times as we’s our song.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Window Boxes

About ten days ago, we built three of these window boxes. By we, I mean a really, really old friend and I. And by we built, I mean, he built them and I styled them. I went to the nursery, all on my own, picked out the plants, and directed the, nice and helpful, nursery man to load them into the trunk. Oh, and I did measure some boards even though numbers aren’t really my thing. But, my friend, he did most of the work. As my friend worked and I delivered coffee and water, he made sure to remind me he was diligent in honoring my request - show the knots and cracks and most weathered and uneven parts of the boards.

After a day of carpentry and planting and drink bringing and lunch making, we finally finished. I wheeled all the way out to the sidewalk and looked at these beautiful window boxes and started to cry. I didn’t cry because I was so tired from measuring and math, nor did I continue to cry because I am such a sap and things like window boxes make me sob. No, I cried because these once discarded and weathered pallet boards were, now, stunning window boxes that would make Joanna Gaines proud. 

These tears recalled so many hard years when I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was doing. So many hard years when I struggled to believe I was still the same person in this broken body. So many years when I thought the only way to power through this new challenge was to assume I was a bad person before and needed a jolt in order to become a new and good person. But, this way of thinking, this idea that we were once bad and need to see a tragedy as a gift is just wrong. Just so wrong.

Bad things happen to good people all of the time. And I am not saying I was the pillar of a good person. But, I was a real person. A twenty-one year old person with all kinds of knots and flaws and cracks. I don’t need to twist and turn my accident into some magical change of life; it just happened. Accidents and losses and tragedies are just part of the human experience. The good thing, though, is - this human experience - celebrates all of these crashes and burns. The human experience teaches us we are most beautiful when we are pieced back together and aren’t afraid to show off our knots and cracks and bruises and scars. 

We are all weathered. We are all pieced back together again. We are all beautiful. And if you water us, we will grow. Just like these plants in these window boxes - we will grow out of the garbaged and the forgotten, weathered wood. We will grow. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Want

I need. This is how my sentences begin now. I had an accident that forces self-discipline. A kind of accident that emphasizes a keen distinction between needs and wants. Fifteen years ago, needs absorbed my focus and wants became obsolete.

I dove into another Netflix series. Often, I keep away from the Netflix app on my Apple TV. All too easily, I end up lost in a series or a movie. I quickly start researching Penny Lane or Tony Soprano or Don Draper or Mary Crawley. I get sucked into their worlds and don’t want to leave. About two months ago, clearly ignoring this tendency, I finally pressed play on the show, Friday Night Lights. Years ago, when this show was actually on network television, Ashlea begged me to watch this cult classic. But, largely due to one of the story lines, I just couldn't bear to watch it. And then, recently, I heard engaging whispers and soon these whispers quickly morphed into shouts. Then, the whispers turned shouts, urged me to press play and give into the call. The call to binge on this fantastic sleeper series, called, Friday Night Lights. So, I did just that. I pressed play. And well, yet again, Ashlea was right. Friday Night Lights has heart. A heart that is honest and good. A heart who does what is right, over what it easy. This show celebrates the underdog and the overcomer. The person who falls, employs determination, and finds a way to still manage to show up and participate in the game. And, oh, it also has Tim Riggins. Oh, Tim Riggins.

In addition to the wonder that is Tim Riggins, this show also features another well-loved character. A character called, Tyra Collette. Trya is a girl who doesn’t know choice. She doesn’t know possibility. She only knows poverty and abuse and struggle. Despite her misfortune, Tyra tries to be better. Trya believes she is more than her past. Tyra believes she can change. She writes a college essay and her essay changed me. Tyra taught me it is okay to want, instead of need. Tyra gave me the idea to want. Tyra gave me the freedom to want. 

Two years ago, I was afraid of wanting anything. I figured wanting would lead to trying and trying would lead to failure. But now I find I can’t stop wanting.
I want to fly somewhere first class.
I want to travel to Europe on a business trip.
I want to get invited to the White House.
I want to learn about the world.
I want to surprise myself.
I want to be important.
I want to be the best person I can be.
I want to define myself instead of having others define me.
I want to win and have people be happy for me.
I want to lose and get over it.
I want to not be afraid of the unknown.
I want to grow up and be generous and big hearted, the way people have been with me.
I want an interesting and surprising life.
It’s not that I think I’m going to get all these things, I just want the possibility of getting them.
College represents possibility. The possibility that things are going to change.
I can’t wait.
-Tyra Collette, Friday Night Lights

Like Tyra, I decided it is okay to want. Like Trya, I decided it is time to be brave enough to ask for what I want. Dreams don’t have to stop because life throws us curve balls. No, the dreams don’t have to stop at all. The dreamer just has to work a little bit harder. The dreamer must be brave enough to ask for what she wants. 

I want to be brave enough to want.

I want to be better than I was yesterday.

I want to walk and run and dance again.

I want to travel to Paris and Greece and Spain.

I want to sit on the beaches of Kauai, one more time, and smell the saltwater and the Gardenias.

I want to hold my baby in the middle of the night and feel her heartbeat mingle with my own heartbeat.

I want to love and be loved.

I want to forgive and forgive and forgive again.

I want to make mistakes and try again.

I want to be kind and vulnerable and honest.

I want to honor my ten year old spirit and live from her dreams and imagination.

I want to stand up for what is right and just and good; even if I make a scene.

I want to show up for my friend and be her soft landing.

I want to cook more.

I want to laugh more than I cry.

I want to not be afraid to be me - flaws, designer skinny jeans and boots, and all.

I want to watch more sunsets and more sunrises.

I want to feel untethered joy.

I want to make the world more beautiful.

I want to be a cheerleader for everyone I meet. I, especially, want to cheer lead for all of the strangers I will never meet.

I want a house filled with love and dogs and kids and safety. A house where positive and loving energy surrounds and embraces each person who crosses my threshold.

I want to grow up and be generous and big hearted, the way people have been with me, just like Tyra.

And, mostly, I want to live. I want to live.

I can’t wait.

Please be brave enough to want. All you have to do is ask. 

This is who I want to be. I want to dance with people who knew me at my worst and never gave up on me. I want to continue to dance with them. I want to never give up. I want to never give up on me and never, ever give up on them. I want to dance with joy, forever, and forever more.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Yay, for the weirdos

My practice of finding the light phase is over. Instead, it is now time to commit to the light. I choose to bask in the illumination light offers and radiate its glow. This difficult and vulnerable commitment requires truth and an uncovering of the darkness that lives inside of me. This commitment forces a purge of pain that some people are not comfortable hearing. 

And just like most hard stuff, when we shed our darkness, we feel a bit of euphoria. But, as readily as euphoria arrives, it also quickly dissipates. Sometimes truth telling leads to pain. Sometimes truth telling is met with fear and burden. I understand these emotions, these fears, and these burdens of truth. Empathy challenges us. We don’t always get it right the first time. I know this because I don’t always dive into the empathetic and healing waters right away, either. When I feel wronged or hurt or burdened, I, also, can turn to fear, judgement, self-preservation, and cruelty. Empathy isn’t always the first response to pain and that is okay. Empathy is learned and practiced, too. Just like light. But, the tricky thing about light is that it covers darkness. Light needs darkness to truly shine. A sun soaked day is wonderful, but a dark evening with a glowing moon, well that’s just magical.

Last night, as we packed up a few drinks, grabbed IPads and IPhones, and headed out the door to watch the Lunar Eclipse, I paused to reflect and comment on some of the pain I felt over the last few days. The pain that rose to new heights and needed to be released in order to fully commit to the light. I turned to my friend and said, “I think I am kooky and weird. I believe in these words like love, reconciliation, redemption, hope, forgiveness, grace, and love. I really believe these words exist as actions. I really believe these words are possible to experience and live and practice. I believe in their possibility.” 

My friend gently replied, “Yes. You are weird and you are kooky. I knew this when we met over twenty years ago. You do believe in those words. You do think they are possible. This is why I love you, though. This is why I stand next to you on dark nights and watch the moon. You forgive and you love. You offer grace. You are weird and kooky and that’s not only okay, it’s pretty great.”

We gathered in the middle of the road; a few neighbors and friends huddled together to watch the moon’s glow on a black and dark night. As we sat and waited, I sent another friend, Kelly, a text message and asked if she could see the moon. She replied with a text message that read, “I can’t see it from my deck or my front porch, but if I stand in the middle of the yard, like a weirdo, I can see the moon.” 

Right away, as I read her words, I knew we all weren’t just waiting for the moon last night. We all weren’t just standing in the middle of the road and our yards just to watch the moon. We were ALL standing together, as a bunch of weirdos, waiting for the light to take over the dark. 

Our band of weirdos included saints and sinners. And addicts and recovering addicts. And the abused and the abusers. The fallen and the recovered. The liars and the truth tellers. The loved and the lost. The dreamers and the hopers. No one judged anyone, we all just stood together, looking up at the magical light, in the middle of the road, like weirdos. 

I guess it’s weird to believe love and forgiveness and grace really do exist. Historically, some of the world’s greatest weirdos, like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr., believed the antidote for hate was love. I guess it’s weird to think reconciliation is possible with all of the swirling pain, hurt, and fear that exists. I guess it's weird to think, with love, we can heal anger and prejudice. I do not believe we can’t wax poetic about our sick and hurting world without first being brave, or weird, enough to practice a little compassion and empathy and redemption. And I do believe we must practice these things in our own front yards, in our own neighborhoods, in our own homes, and in our own lives. If, as individuals, we don’t commit to these crazy words, nothing in this world will ever heal. Wounds will continue to bleed.  Burden will continue to win and perpetuate the myth that we are alone in our darkness. Peace and light begin with us, as individuals. And if that’s weird, well okay then. If grace is risky and kooky, then okay - I will gladly stand in the middle of the road with the other weirdos.

We can’t judge pain. A lack of empathy comes from our own pain. Hurt people hurt. Grace and forgiveness and hope and love are really, really hard. They take someone kooky enough to fight for them and preach them to the masses. 

When we shed our darkness; when tell the truth and uncover our secrets, we are free to be weird. You can’t fake forgiveness and you certainly can’t fake grace. God’s favor shines on all of us, not just the successful and perfectly put together armored humans. We shine and strengthen this armor to prevent hurt and imperfection. These lofty words are lived through practice and determination and a stripping of that armor. We must choose to allow them to shine above, through our own darkness, through our own chinks in our shiny and glistening armor. Because when we offer these gifts to others, when we take off our masks, we are rewarded in ways that are hard to grasp and measure in practical terms. We become the light workers and the weirdos, not because we are wrong and confused and tormented, but because we are brave enough to stand in the middle of the road and wait for the light.

Once again, I fail to practice empathy on many occasions. I sit with the hurt and pain and, only later, do I see my role, my part, my job in its healing. The craziest part of this whole offering forgiveness thing is I learned how to offer this this gift to others because it was once and continues to be offered to me. I only know how to be the forgiver because I am forgiven. The change begins with us, as individuals. We are the change. We are the weirdos who choose to believe in a better world. We don’t fear redemption. Instead of a burden, we see others' confessions of pain and hurt and darkness as a privilege. 

So, if you feel like a weird and kooky person who believes in love, come join us in the road. Just as suffering does not discriminate, our light of the moon doesn’t discriminate either. It shines, equally, on all of us. Each weirdo feels and sees the light. Each weirdo is healed by its magnificence, no exceptions. We are here, waiting out the darkness, and we will wait for you to join us. Come one, come all, we will wait and save a place, in the middle of the road, for you stand along side of us - the weirdos, the healers, the healed. Yay, for the weirdos, we will change the world. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Space Holders

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. " -Steve Jobs. This gal sent me a surprise card today. She sent it old school style and wrote it out by hand, put a stamp on it, and it ended up in that old thing called a mailbox. She included the quote I shared with you. This is what holding space for others means. Ashlea doesn't judge my pain. She doesn't expect me to fix anything. She just reminds me she is here for me. She simply listens to me and offers her heart. This is holding space. I am very grateful for her example and feel lucky to call her friend. We all know these people - the space holders. These are the people who deserve our energy. I need this reminder, too. To all of the space holders out make the world better. Please keep doing what you are doing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

YOU are not paralyzed

"There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise." 

-Brene Brown, Rising Strong via Kelle Hampton

Several months ago, I read an article written by a woman who survived cancer. She beautifully described the minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years she desperately struggled to survive. While I identify with many of her feelings and emotions, not until the last paragraph, the last few words, did I sit back in my chair and feel that tingle of whoa that’s me, that’s exactly how I feel. 

That last paragraph told the story of the first year as a survivor of cancer. That last paragraph recounted the crushing self-doubt and defeat that so readily comes along with recovery. That first year is spent stubbornly searching for the person inside the survivor body. The person who once lived and breathed and felt joy and precious hope. The author said it was probably the hardest year of her journey with cancer. She was forced to recover from the fall.

I fall a lot. Not so much physically, but quite a bit mentally. And lately, this first year - a year filled with promises of new beginnings and tangible hope - has been anything but easy.  Bold dreams seem possible, yet my mind twists these dreams into unattainable pieces of perfectly etched artwork. Glorious portraits and landscapes delicately hang on my walls, but can only be seen and admired, instead of lived. And in simple and basic language, I feel pretty crappy lately and really paralyzed. I listen to the can nots and will nots far more than I should. That cynic and critic, who lies is wait inside my head ready to pounce and crush these visions of hope, is louder than ever. All I can hear is you are paralyzed and you fell. You fell, you are permanently damaged. 

And then today happened. I left to get my haircut, pick up a few things at a cute little market, and returned home. I lifted my body out of the car and into my chair and sighed a huge, I feel sorry for myself sigh, like I do when I am really feeling yucky. I, reluctantly, gathered my wallet, keys, phone, and purchases and started to head up my never ending hill. And when I am feeling all icky like this, that hill seems so huge and so daunting. I started up the hill and noticed a neighbor waiting for me at the top of the hill. This former rabbi stood, at least six feet tall with majestic grey hair and piercing blue eyes, waiting for me to reach the top. He offered to help, but I insisted this climb is good for me. He laughed. I stopped for a minute to say hello and we started a conversation. At some point during this brief encounter I heard him ask why I used a wheelchair. I cavalierly said, "I fell off of a horse and I am paralyzed.”

Then he said it. His Israeli Hebrew accent eloquently spoke the words I needed hear. The very words filled with so much power, they crushed the cynic and the critic in one swift blow. 

He said, as he looked right at me and pointed to me, “NO. No, part of your body is paralyzed, YOU are not paralyzed. I see you. I watch you. YOU are not paralyzed.”

I was never more grateful for my giant aviator sunglasses. They hid the tears until they streamed down my cheek. I looked at him, I easily smiled through these tears, completely caught off guard, and said, “Yes, you are right. You are right.”

We all have a piece or part of us that is paralyzed. Cancer, fear of the unknown, the loss of a dream or loved one, accidents and falls, all paralyze us. And small, seemingly insignificant moments paralyze too. The are no limits to what can hold us back and keep us from fighting off the cynic and the critic. All of us, each and every one of us, has a part of us that is paralyzed. WE are not paralyzed, just this little part of us is paralyzed.

And as I rode on the coat tails of his euphoric words, I wheeled inside and went straight to my mirror. I looked in my own eyes and I repeated, “YOU are not paralyzed. YOU are not paralyzed. YOU will get back up again. YOU will recover from your fall.”

I may be all messy and vulnerable lately and searching for where I am going and wondering how I will get there. But, I will be damned if the cynic and critic, living inside of me, beats out hope and tenacity. I recover. It’s what I do. It’s what we all do. Recovery is forgiveness, it’s grace, it’s a second or third or twenty-seventh chance. We are so fragile, but we are also so strong. And I say to all of you who are stuck on the floor, who doubt recovery and resurrection, the words from the rabbi who waits at the top of the giant hill...

“NO. No, part of your body is paralyzed, YOU are not paralyzed. I see you. I watch you. YOU are not paralyzed.”