Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Letter from Santa

Dear Sweet Sister, Mama, Wife, Daughter, Grandma, Auntie, Woman, Friend,

It was never true that I only watch the children.

I see you.

I see you working so hard.

I know you are staying up late to squeeze in as much as possible when the house finally falls silent after a long day.

I know you wake at night wondering how you will possibly accomplish all that the next day holds for you. I see you shaking your head at the tasks that got away. I see you wishing you could get back to sleep. I see you checking the time at 3:00 a.m. And again at 4:00 a.m. Then, I see you drift off to sleep in just enough time to wake again at the sound of your alarm.

I see your exasperation.

I see you use every last bit of your energy to get your children off to school, to walk the dog, feed the cats, and then pull from the reserves of I don't know where to get yourself out the door. I don't know how you do it.

I see you grocery shopping, gift shopping, meal planning, meal making, cookie baking, and house keeping. I see you pushing start on the dryer for the third time on the same load of clothes.

I see you volunteering your time to help others. I see you scrape a handful of change from the bottom of your purse so you won't arrive at the Salvation Army collection tin empty handed.

I see you wrapping gifts and sending cards. I see you wishing you had the resources to do these things when you cannot. I know you are working harder than ever before, trying to get everything done. I know you are making lists. I know you check them more than twice.

Homework with your children, homework for yourself, activities, dinner, and baths... I know bedtime is trying at your house. It all seems so impossible, and yet you do it.

I know you aren't sure what gifts to give your children's teachers this year. You wonder every year. I see you worrying, wondering how to make everyone else happy, and hoping you got it all right.

I see you planning... for work, school, church, village, town, city, state, and planet. From meals to parties. Trying not to exclude anyone. Trying to make sure everyone else's needs are met. Wondering what to wear. Hoping it will fit. Wondering how to squeeze in a trip to the mall in case it doesn't. Wondering if you can even afford that trip...

I see you rocking your baby to sleep in the middle of the night. Your eyes barely open. Wondering when you will sleep again... and yet, at the very same time, trying so hard to cherish this precious quiet you share with the tiny bundle in your arms. You know it will all be over in the blink of an eye.

I see you stumble to your child's bedside when she wakes and calls out for you. She is frightened, cold, thirsty... simply wanting to be near you. You want to hold her and make all her troubles disappear, and you want to go back to bed. You want your own space. All at once.

I see you do all of it - day after day.

I see you grieving the loss of a loved one. I know you are wondering what it will be like without him, or her. You know it won't be the same. It will never be the same.

I see you grieving the loss of a loved one's beloved. Her precious child. Her husband. I see your tears. Your heart feels her pain. I know your fears. I know you wonder what the future holds.

I see you putting off your next physical. And making trips to visit a loved one at the hospital. I see you receiving bad news on the phone, by e-mail, text, and on Facebook. I know you wonder whether it will ever end. I know your heart breaks a little with each blow.

I know that sometimes you feel so alone.

I see you caring for your sick child. And your aging parents. And your own beloved. I know you are "staying strong" and "holding it altogether" all the while feeling like you are falling apart. Bit by bit.

I know that sometimes you feel trapped.

I know that you aren't exchanging gifts with your partner this year... so you can give more to your children. Or your parents. Your siblings. Nieces and nephews. Friends. The community. Your favorite charity. You have everything you could possibly need. Right?

I see you struggling. I don't remember the last time you splurged on yourself. Without guilt.

I know you worry about the cost of everything. I know that sometimes you must make choices. Do you pay this bill or that one? What will that leave for groceries? I see you making it all work even when the odds are not in your favor.

I wonder how you do it all and I wonder how you keep going? You never cease to amaze me with your tireless effort. On top of it all, you are simply radiant. You keep smiling. I know you are grateful for all of it - all that depletes you.

I see you Dear One.

And, I wonder what you really want? In your wildest dreams. Do you know? Have you thought about it? Do you have the space or time to listen to the whispers of your heart and soul?

Dear Sweet Body of Love, I know that no matter how hard you are working, you will never accomplish all that you've set out to do if you keep trying to run on empty.

Sweet Woman, you. Must. Fill. Yourself. Up.

You can be your own Santa Claus. Gift yourself. Make your own magic. Just for you.


Please make sure to include yourself on your list this year. You'll be amazed at what you can do when you take care of yourself. First.


p.s. if you think a Springtime art and heart retreat on the shores of Lake Michigan might fill you up, consider the Heart Connected Retreat: In Honor of the Journey May 1-4, 2014. Anna and her co-conspirators take pure delight in making magic for you. After all, we all need a little help sometimes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

I took this picture right after Heather collected our first donation.
It was a beautiful moment.

 This is my friend Heather. We met in second grade. She has been a force of grace, comfort, stability, and love in my life ever since. Several years ago she invited me to her house for a Silpada jewelry party. She said the proceeds of her sales were going to The A21 Campaign, an organization she had heard about at her church. She told me that the campaign's mission was to help stop human trafficking. You know, human trafficking? It is one of those problems that belongs to OTHER people.

Since I love sparkly things and I love Heather, and it sounded like a good cause, I attended her party. I bought jewelry. She donated the proceeds of the party. She called us abolitionists.

Not long after that I happened to turn on the TV in the middle of a show about human trafficking. The survivor telling her story looked like any other woman I saw every day in the carpool lane at my child's school. Hmmm...

About a year ago, another woman I love and admire started talking about her work with the Full Circle Exchange. She is co-founder of the Brave Girls Club and someone I feel blessed to call my friend, Melody Ross. I took note. It didn’t seem like a coincidence that human trafficking kept showing up in front of me. I was being asked to do something about it. 

Melody wrote about partnering up with the Full Circle Exchange for a Truth Card Project on her blog. Recipients of the truth cards would be victims of human trafficking. I made truth cards and I sent them to the Brave Girls. Melody went to Manila, Philippines to work with a special group of victims of human trafficking and took the truth cards with her. She handed them out to the girls she worked with and girls on the street. They are girls. Very young girls. She wrote about it here. I saw Melody in March and she shared some of her story - some of what she witnessed in Manila.

As I allowed myself to be broken open by the stories of these girls and the people who perpetuate their pain and suffering, I began to see myself in their stories...

Last Thursday I moved a little further beyond making donations and truth cards. Heather and I had a benefit for the Manasseh Project in west Michigan. The Manasseh Project works to end sexual exploitation of young men and women in Michigan. Heather has envisioned us doing something like this for a while now and we finally pulled it off. We invited some of our friends (local artists and business women) to sell their goods and donate some of their proceeds to Manasseh. We pulled it together pretty quickly. It was a beautiful event - from the planning where we recruited our friend Sherry to help us - to the end of the night when Sherry's daughter handed me a box of money she had collected. She and her brother made bracelets on their Rainbow Loom and sold them at the benefit. 

Sherry and her daughter Amelia

We made truth cards for the girls at Manasseh. They need to know they have support, but they need bras and underwear the most. It's cold in Michigan in the winter. They will need coats too.

This is Alexa and the beautiful truth card she made - it gives me chills
just thinking about how excited she was when she made it,
and the love that will come through to the girl who receives it.
There were rooms full of women. There were friends with friends, sisters with sisters, and moms with daughters. There were moms with sons too. And a couple wives with husbands.

Pam and Jordan, inspiring mother and daughter, shopping
Missy and Shelli, two sweet sister

I felt a strong sense of community, even though not everyone knew each other. It felt like we were part of something bigger than ourselves, perhaps bigger than we could even imagine. A movement maybe...

I am so grateful for everyone who participated by making beautiful things, selling beautiful things, donating beautiful things, and shopping. Even the people who couldn’t make it sent sweet notes and I could feel them all with us in spirit. People are kind. People want to take care of each other. All we really want is to love and be loved. It is very simple. My heart feels so full when I think about the beauty that shone through the night.

On Friday, the morning after the benefit, it occurred to me that it takes a certain kind of bravery to show up for an event like ours. Human trafficking isn't something anyone wants to think about. It scares people. The whole operation is absolutely inconceivable. Many of us would prefer to believe that this is not our issue or our problem to solve, but theirs. Not a lot of people want to talk about it and so it takes courage to step out into the light and do anything to take a stand against it.

Friday morning Heather posted on our event page on Facebook. She said, "...Sometimes it is tough to be really honest about what human trafficking looks like. It has so often been relegated to 'those type of people'. Prostitutes or strip club girls - whatever. But the reality is much darker than that. And does not cover the whole issue anyhow. No little girl grows up dreaming of having her body used so that someone else can make money. No little girl wakes up one day and hopes that she will be forced to have sex with men or boys she does not know. No woman comes to the US looking to make money for their family back home and hoping that to do it she will have to dance naked and service multiple men in one night. It does not matter what circumstance a girl comes out of - this just was never planted in her heart. Plain and simple. And once a girl is trapped in that - someone must save her. Period. I think that is what we are doing. We, as a group of women who have hearts for those without voices. We, as a community that knows the least among us can be the greatest. We, as a bunch of sisters really - who deep down realize that a human being is the greatest thing we can invest in.”

It is hardly ever easy to face the truth. While I worry about what other people think when they hear about human trafficking - about what they think of the victims and whether or not they believe this is an issue that impacts them - I worry most about what the girls think about themselves. I worry that they blame themselves. I worry that they hate themselves. I worry that they will never forgive themselves. I worry that they will always believe the lies they are told - the lies that might forever keep them enslaved even if they are fortunate enough to be in the ONE PERCENT of victims freed from slavery. 

I worry because in some small way I can see myself in these girls. I was raped the summer after I graduated from high school. It took years for me to even be able to call it what it was. It took many more years to let go of the shame I carried with me since the night it happened. We're talking 20 years. 

For 20 years I believed the lies I had heard about the kinds of girls who get raped. I blamed myself for what happened to me and I was so ashamed of myself for allowing it to happen. 

It took years of opening to little bits of truth I learned as a volunteer for a shelter for victims of domestic violence - in receiving my own training and in training others, it took hearing other women's stories, and slowly sharing mine in tiny pieces and sometimes even in code, it took blurting it out, and holding it in. It took my dad dying and me realizing that life is too short to live under a cloak of shame. It took therapy and life coaching and finally it took me saying to myself: "That was a bad thing that happened to you, Anna. You didn't deserve it. It wasn't your fault." It took repeating that statement. Again and again. And then, finally it took me believing it - that a bad thing happened to me and it wasn't my fault. That I didn't deserve it.

In just about every single circle of women I find myself in, at some point, one of us shares that she was abused, molested, raped... Sometimes it is a secret she has been holding for years. Sometimes even though it has been years since it happened, she hasn't even begun to heal. Sometimes it is a story she shares because she knows there is someone out there struggling with the awful feelings she felt and she wants that person to know that they are not alone.

Not discussing things doesn't stop them from happening. 

In fact, sharing our difficult stories – bringing them out of the darkness and into the light – disempowers the stories and liberates us and makes space for us to help others do the same.

The truth is not that complicated. No matter what you want to believe about victims of human trafficking, or even rape or abuse or molestation - what is happening to the victims of these nightmares is not their fault. No matter how badly you don't want to hear about human trafficking or talk about it or deal with it, it is STILL HAPPENING. 

It happens everywhere. All over the United States. There are sex slaves in the United States of America -- the land of the FREE and the brave. It happens all over the world. 

The victims are just like us - just like our children, our nieces and nephews, and our neighbors. They are not OTHER PEOPLE. They are us. They are you and me. They are our sisters and brothers. 

They need us. They need to know they are not alone. They need their sisters and brothers to show up for them, to speak up for them, to stand up for them, and eventually, to free them.

Join us in taking a stand against this horror. Heather and I are continuing our fundraising efforts for the next few days. You can donate to the Manasseh Project online using this link: Home for the Holidays

Thank you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tradition with a Twist

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It involves all of my favorite things in the world: Autumn, my family, friends, and food. For a while now, my husband Dan and I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house. We invite all of his family, all of mine, and my sister's in-laws. Everyone is welcome.

When I faced my first Thanksgiving after my dad passed away - that would have been in 2011, I wanted to boycott Thanksgiving. I didn't want to host it. I didn't want to acknowledge it. I didn't want even a whiff of turkey.

While I was given a lot of grace in that first year after my dad's death, nobody would let me off the hook for Thanksgiving. I decided that instead of wallowing in my dread of the impending holiday, I would embrace the opportunity to give thanks.

On November 1 I used my Facebook status to share my gratitude for that day, and did the same for every day in November. I called it 30 Days of Gratitude. I'm not sure why I had to do it publicly, but I'm thinking maybe I needed some accountability. Once I committed to a public declaration of my gratitude for every day in November it was much harder to stew in the muck and much harder to disappear.

Several of my friends reminded me about 30 Days of Gratitude the following year and so it became a tradition for many of us to share our gratitude through the month of November.

This year, I'm trying something a little different. I've been keeping a gratitude journal for several months now, and it is something I've come to love - the actual journal itself and the practice of setting aside a few minutes each day to give thanks for the things that moved me that day.

The cover of my first journal (I'm on my second)

The journal itself is an old book I altered and made into an art journal. It was inspired by Jeanne Oliver in her class The Journey of Letting Go (Creating Beauty from Ashes). It's one of my favorite things I've ever made. In fact, at my fall retreat I incorporated an altered book workshop so my guests could make one of their own.

Art journaling is a really special way to combine words and art. Art journals aren't necessarily meant to be shared so it can be liberating to create just for the sake of creating. I love flipping through the pages of my art journals. There is so much going on in there!

I love the way watercolors look over the old book pages

It can be super simple or very elaborate. I've seen photos of some really beautiful art journal pages. I keep mine pretty simple because I want to get them done fast. It's more about the process than the outcome for me.

a Zentangle page

Sooooo, this year instead of sharing a few words of gratitude on my personal Facebook page I'm going to share last night's entry from my gratitude journal on my Heart Connected Facebook page. I will most likely share the post on my personal page too. I think it's going to be fun, and maybe even inspiring?!

AND, here's where you come in... When you "like" the Heart Connected gratitude post on Facebook, you will be entered into a drawing. At the end of the month, I will draw a name from the "like" pile and make an altered book journal for the winner! YAY! How fun is that?! I may even include a little art journaling kit when I send it.

I hope you enjoy my posts! xoxo

You're likely to see a lot of hearts in my journal. This page is with acrylics.

OH, one more thing! You must "LIKE" or have already liked Heart Connected on Facebook to win.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Where I Stop and You Begin

I've got boundaries on the brain. For many years, actually - probably since I was in grad let's say for the past 11 years, I've thought on and off about boundaries. Mostly because the concept of acknowledging the space between us is hard for me to grasp. In my family we were one big blob of togetherness. There was little if any separation between parents and children. We had a shortage of space between us. We lived in our own little commune out in the country on a dirt road (on a street with other families unaware that our home housed a commune, mind you). I think my parents designed it that way. Just the four of us sharing a small space, taking on each other's pain and joy, ganging up on each other, and determining our own sense of well-being by absorbing and projecting what was happening around us...

I thought that was how it was supposed to be until one day I was sitting in one of my graduate classes learning about families and the different ways they might function and the instructor said something about a "healthy" family dynamic being one where there was a clear boundary between parents and children. Flexible? Yes. But FIRM nonetheless. Ohhhhh......

We learned about terms like triangulation and about families who were enmeshed. My instructor explained individuation and self-actualization. I sat there thinking, "Shiiiiiiiit." I was a grown woman married and with a child of my own. I lived in a house with just my husband and our child - 50 miles away from my parents. AND, I was totally and completely enmeshed in my family of origin. We had been triangulating for years. I was, much to my surprise, NOT self-actualized. Shit.

So there is where I started my quest to develop and maintain healthy boundaries between myself and other people, places, and things. I've been working on it for 11 years and I feel quite sure I will be working on it until the day I die. There are VOLUMES of books written on boundaries, researchers who study them and professors who lecture about them. There are stones that protect them and sprays that cleanse them. Boundaries are kind-of a big deal.

This week Melody Ross discussed boundaries in her Soul Comfort class. She presented two short videos on the topic. My jaw was hanging open through both videos. I wish every single person on the planet could see these videos and hear her powerful words (read: if you haven't already, please take this class already!). The topic of boundaries is popping up everywhere for me lately and I am seeing this as a sign from the Universe that I need to tune in and pay attention.

It seems to me that when we talk about boundaries, we most often think about them in terms of the lines we draw between ourselves and the things around us. Mostly people, but also places and things. What I hadn't thought much about before is that creating good boundaries between me and what is outside of me is not where my work ends.

I also need to create good boundaries just for me. Sometimes making a boundary is about protecting myself not from others, but from me. Ouch. Drawing a line in the sand might be about deciding that I am done taking crap from myself. Deciding that I will no longer tolerate hurting myself with negative self-talk - being mean to myself, saying things I would never ever dream of saying to someone else. That could be one of the most important decisions I ever make. Maybe deciding that guilt is just not allowed to cross through space and time and into my bubble anymore would be a very healthy boundary to build...

It could be that maybe, just maybe, the key to creating good boundaries in relationships lies in looking IN, not out. Perhaps I need to start with me. Where on God's green earth do I get off telling myself that I will not take on your crap, but it's okay to stew in mine? I think that is crazymaking!

If I'm on to something here, and I think I am, creating boundaries is a lot about being really honest with myself about the ways I am holding myself back. It might also be about the ways I need to start taking responsibility for ME rather than blaming other people for the circumstances in my life (like a lack of boundaries, for example...). Admittedly, I have done a lot of work in this area and for the most part I believe that people (parents, partners, teachers, coaches - people we might blame for things) do the best they can with what they are given. Whatever damage has been done to me is my damage now and I get to choose what to do with it. I gave up blaming others for the crap in my life when my dad died three and a half years ago and I realized it just wouldn't get me anywhere. Mostly because the person I liked to blame for my crap was no longer around. That was hard.

I am way oversimplifying this and I am being kind, I think, in telling this story as if I am the only person I know who faces this challenge. The truth is, we all do this. We all, at one point or another, look outside of ourselves for the source of our turmoil and we tend to want to blame that source for our current state when really we will move beyond the turmoil much more quickly, if we start by looking within. I still do it too sometimes and that is why I think this boundary stuff is a lifelong job. This line of thought always leads me to one of my husband's favorite movie scenes. It's from Bruce Almighty and God asks Bruce, "You want to see a miracle, Son?" Bruce nods and God says, "be the miracle." (quick clip from Bruce Almighty) It is a moving scene and it chokes me up every single time I see it.

In a lot of ways I think creating boundaries makes way for miracles. It opens up space for a whole new way of living life. A freer and more spacious way of moving about the planet. Knowing when to say when is important. We even teach our kids to say when. "Say when!" we say and they tell us when to stop filling their cup. If we don't stop, the cup will spill over and not in a good my cup runneth over kind of way. I think that if I can start making some clear boundaries - a line between my heart and soul and my crazy monkey mind, I might just make way for myself to be the miracle.

You be the miracle too. Leave all that crazy talk behind. Let's do this together. When we're finished we'll work on staying out of each other's bubbles. That would be the next best thing to do.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Saying YES!

helping hands - my mom's and mine

I spent the last two days on my living room sofa coughing, blowing my nose, and watching HGTV. I had no voice. Even though I was in bronchitis hell, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to rest and take care of myself (thank you school bus and all day kindergarten!).

The neatest thing happened yesterday morning. I was feeling really sorry for myself and wanted my mommy. I texted her and asked her if she could bring me some chicken noodle soup from Costco - if she was going to be in town. Before I even set my phone down a very dear friend of mine texted me and asked me if SHE could bring me some of the chicken noodle soup she had made the night before! I couldn't believe it. We had made plans and I had to cancel them so she knew I wasn't feeling well. Isn't that the sweetest thing?

As I devoured the delicious soup my friend made and delivered later that day I remembered a time in my life where I would have said "No thank you" to my friend's kind offer. I never wanted to be a bother or make anyone go out of their way for me. I didn't mind helping people out when I could, but I preferred to take care of me all by myself. It just seemed less complicated, and again... I hated to inconvenience anyone. I even hated to ask salespeople for help. Um. Hello....?!!

After my first child was born, I slowly opened up to the idea of accepting help. First from my mom and sister, and then from my mother-in-law.  Eventually my dad and father-in-law joined the party. Once I saw how amazing it was to open myself up like that, it became easier to ask and then to receive. It never occurred to me that they might actually enjoy or want to help me. I still hated being a bother, and at the same time I so greatly appreciated the times when they were there for me and the ways they helped my family and me. I remember my sister bringing me a plate of sliced apples and dollop of peanut butter for a snack a few days after we brought little baby James home from the hospital. I was a wreck of a new mom. I can still see the plate in my mind. She made it look so pretty. I almost wept I was so grateful.

Over the years, and especially after the birth of my third child, I have continued to learn to accept offers from others to help and to ask for help when I need it. Sometimes it feels like memorizing lines for a new play in that it requires practice to say "yes" and "please" without feeling anything but grateful. I am appreciating opportunities to work that muscle - to accept kind offers and to receive the help that follows.

I am taking that online Brave Girls Club class I mentioned a couple few ago called Soul Comfort. It's so fun and still open for registration if you're interested. The journal prompt I chose last night was Today I know that it feels good when I... and I wrote "say yes to a very kind offer."

super goofy journal page from last night

Even at bedtime I was so grateful for my friend's kind offer. I felt nourished and even healed as my voice started to return. I was so happy I said YES! Opening up to that opportunity to be taken care of by my friend allowed me to show up for my kids last night in a more effective way. I felt better which made for a better night for all of us.

I understand that there are lot of people out there who don't want any help. It seems as if "sucking it up" is a bit of a badge of honor around town. There is a lot of value in learning when and how to muscle through life's challenges. That's for sure. And at the same time, there is a lot of value in learning how to say yes and how to accept help from others. Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is ask for help. Sometimes sucking it up gets you nowhere.

We live in this crazy world where we are so obsessed with doing things the RIGHT way. Sometimes there isn't a right way or a wrong way. Sometimes you just have to do things. It's not easy to let go of the stories we've written about how we will be perceived if we are a bother - if we feel like a bother. It's not easy to make a shift in the way you operate in the world. It's not easy to try something new, perhaps fearing that you will be judged. Nope, not easy at all.

However, I will tell you one thing I know for sure: it feels GOOD to say yes to a kind offer, and to simply accept what comes from that offer. It feels really good. I highly recommend giving it a try!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Desperately Seeking Clarity

Mmmm.... I am taking in so many different kinds of information these days. Everything from newsletters sent home from my children's teachers to rich course content in an online course I am taking. It's a lot and it is all part of my effort to get clear on a few things.

September is my January. It feels more like a New Year to me than the one that officially starts January 1 and so that is probably why I've been doing a lot of soul searching. Last year I felt like a complete failure on the mom front. It was a rough school year and I played a huge part in how rough it was for all of us. I will give you an example... Last year I drove my two younger children to school every day. Of the three of us, the youngest --who was 4 years-old for the first half of the year -- is the most motivated in the morning, AND this is a little girl who would sleep until 10:00 a.m. every day if she could. Our mornings were tough on all of us and I just wasn't very good at handling it.

This year, they ride the bus to school. The other day they missed the bus. When I told them they missed the bus and I would be driving them to school my son burst into tears and screamed, "I'M HAVING FLASHBACKS TO WHEN YOU TOOK US TO SCHOOL LAST YEAR!!!"


Now, I can't take full credit for the flashbacks. I think some of his horror was due in part to the teacher who greeted him in a not so friendly way each day. The ramifications of running a little late are intensified when the person to whom you are running isn't very welcoming. But still. I knew I had work to do to help rewrite my son's school story.

My work is around figuring out what I am capable of in the realm of being the primary caregiver for my family and starting a creative business at the same time. I am finding that it is necessary for me to be okay with baby steps in the business area. Last year I said yes to everything and tried to get myself "out there" as much as possible. I stayed up late working on multiple projects and had a hard time waking up most mornings. I taught a few classes after school and had to arrange for childcare for my children. This year I want to make sure I am home when my kids get off the bus each day. I need to be more selective when it comes to deciding how to put myself "out there." I am okay with that. I am clear on that.

What I just realized that I wasn't clear on was exactly what my intentions are in being home for my children or facilitating a retreat for a group of women. I thought I wanted to help people. You know? Because I am a helper. After last weekend's retreat (which was AWESOME by the way...more on that another time), I realized that YES, I definitely do what I do because I want to help people.

BUT, what I really want is to... people help themselves. There is a HUGE difference.

I want to help people.
I want to help people help themselves.

This is as true for my kids as it is for anyone I work with. I am not here solely to whisk in and chase all my children's problems away. I would LOVE to be able to do that! But I am not their fairy godmother, I am their MOTHER. My job is to give them everything I can to help them help themselves. Because I'm not going to be around forever.

I thought I set out to do the work I do because I want to help people. I was getting a little caught up in that idea - maybe even anticipating that I am way more powerful than I truly am - that I have some kind of magical helping wand and when I wave it all your problems will vanish (I wish I could do that, but it's just not real). With the work that I do there is really only so much I can do to help anyone. The rest is on them. I think what I want to do is inspire people, to empower people, and to share what I know in case it might help them to feel less alone or to solve a problem or to create something beautiful.

Now that I think about it, I think it is one of the most loving things you can do - to help someone help themselves. I like that.

So, this is what I am clear on now, thanks to all that soul searching... I show up here to share my stories and some tools that help me stay present in the moment and accomplish the things I need to do - for myself and for others. I hope that by sharing what works for me you may find a thing or two that works for you. That's all. I think sharing is so powerful. It has the potential to unlock doors and create flow where one is stuck. When I had this moment of clarity I knew I had to share it. Think about it - where could you use some clarity in your life?

When I show up here, I am committed to sharing - open, honest, from the heart sharing... the rest is up to you.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Give-Away for Soul Comfort! WOOHooooooo!

Jewel sings a song called Life Uncommon. The Brave Girls Club introduced me to it. It is a beautiful song. When I hear it, my heart stills. Maybe you could listen to it, if you've never heard it. Get it started and come back to me.

I don't want to spoil anything for you, in case you ever attend Brave Girl Camp (and I reallllllly hope you will), and honestly even if I told you every single detail of every bitty morsel of my camp experience, it would still blow you away (I attended in July of 2012). I must tell you this though... to sit in a circle of women whose paths, while so very different, intersected at Brave River Ranch in Idaho - women who started as complete strangers, but who over the course of minutes together became lifelong friends, and listen to Brave Girls Club co-founder Kathy Wilkins sing Life Uncommon as she plays the guitar... it is like living in heaven on earth. Kathy has the voice of an angel. It is an experience I will never forget.

Jewel sings "...We are tired, we are weary, but we aren't worn out...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery and we shall lead a life uncommon."

That is what Brave Girls Club is all about - filling our lives with love and bravery and giving us tools to lead magical, melodious, harmonious lives. When I think about Brave Girls Club and the ways in which their offerings have enriched my life, the shifts I have experienced since my first Brave Girl online class at the start of 2012 seem far from common. I had no idea that online classes that I could take from the comfort of my own home whenever it was convenient for me even existed and now, roughly a year and a half later, I am in the very beginning stages of figuring out how to offer an online class of my own.

What if something has simple and fun as an online class could change your life?

Somewhere I read or heard Brave Girls Club co-founder and Kathy's sister Melody Ross say that she believes in sharing things that can help people. I'm not gonna lie. I adore Melody. She inspires me. She is kind and compassionate, creative and incredibly talented, and she and Kathy and every sweet soul affiliated with Brave Girls Club embody LOVE. And, they are so real. Their love is soooo real.

So anyway, the whole sharing thing is what inspired me to jump on this blog-fest train. I also believe that goodness is meant to be shared. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me (even seconds. Even complete strangers. Seriously.) is likely to have heard me say, "Have you heard of Brave Girls Club?" I am a passionate sharer of all things Brave Girls Club.

Of course I want to share an opportunity TO WIN A SPOT IN THEIR NEW ONLINE CLASS: SOUL COMFORT! You can read all about it here.

In short, this is an invitation to...

To the tired, the exhausted, the overstretched…

Life can be simple.

What if we celebrated the brave act of….taking a break?
What if simplicity, comfort, and quiet were the goal?
What if there really was a way to quiet the chatter in our minds and let us
recharge our body & soul?
And what if it was fun, too?

Introducing a new eCourse . . .

Soul Comfort 

Really? Yes, really. Whatever Brave Girls Club offers, they deliver that, and always so much more. 

You can count on this class to be . . .

  • enlightening, enjoyable, fun, & simple
  • customizable with many choices to fit your exact style
  • interactive, encouraging, and supportive with a private community on Facebook 
  • and weekly live chats
  • a beautiful experience that will help you relax, simplify, and enjoy your life 
  • a place to learn simple new ways to journal, 
  • plus the  ”Brave Girl” way to use stitching and such 
  • to create both beautiful things you’ll love AND peaceful relaxing moments
  • a place to learn exactly what nourishes YOUR body and soul
  • how to fit comforting rituals into your day
  • something that you can finish without feeling overwhelmed
  • produced with the level of caring and attention to detail that Brave Girls Club is known for
I have a really good feeling about this because I recently assembled my own little toolbox that I use to make pages in my Blessings Journal each day (most days...). I have certainly seen the benefits of taking a little time to create something each day. I feel grounded, more centered, and whole. And since my focus is on gratitude, I feel grateful - grateFULL if you will.

a page from my Blessings Journal

I was so excited when I saw that this class was being offered. When I signed up I requested access to the Facebook group for students and the love and support being shared there is already so heartwarming. Class hasn't even started!


Why do you think women have such a hard time taking care of themselves in the ways they so lovingly care for others?

Post your answer in the Comments box at the bottom of this page to enter my drawing for a spot in Soul Comfort. It's that simple! I will randomly draw a name on Saturday, September 21. I will pass along the winner's name to Brave Girls Club and YOU will be ready for some soul comfort like you never imagined. I can't wait to see you in class! xoxo

p.s. click here to see a list of other blogs participating in this give-away - you can enter all of them!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11, Depression, and the Meaning of Life

Many people are remembering 9/11 today. It's hard not to remember. So many of us can recall exactly what we were doing when we first heard the devastating news - for me it was that a plane crashed into a building in New York City. I remember a group of students gathered around a TV screen in one of the Social Work buildings. It was one of our first day of classes. I wasn't sure what they were watching, but I cruised right by already late to class.

We moved our desks into a circle. There were a few people frantically pushing numbers on their cell phones. The instructor had the affect of someone trying to maintain calm. It turned out that several of my classmates' families were in New York and my classmates were trying to reach them. As the beginnings of the story of 9/11 unfolded, we exchanged looks of shock. Our professor asked that we stay for the full 2.5 hours of class. We thought she was crazy.

I remember going home and watching the news all day long. I remember going to bed terrified. I couldn't snuggle in close enough to my husband and I finally fell asleep wondering what kind of world I was bringing my firstborn into as I thought about him sprouting from a little seed inside my belly. Earlier in the day I had wondered if our new insurance plan would cover my pregnancy - we had just moved to Michigan from Arlington, Virginia. That seemed like a non-issue at bedtime. I couldn't stop thinking about how I had driven past the Pentagon every day on my way to work when we lived in Arlington. I couldn't begin to make sense of what had happened in our country - the land of the free and home of the brave - that day. Nobody could.

It is National Suicide Prevention Week. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday about a group call To Write Love On Her Arms. According to their mission statement, this is a  "movement is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide..."

Yesterday's call was to write the word "LOVE" on your arm to help raise awareness. So I did that, knowing that finding hope and help for these issues specifically is a cause that I hold close to my heart.

When I woke this morning to stories of 9/11 and LOVE on my arm, I began to think about graduate school and how I had diagnosed myself with almost every mood disorder I learned about in class. It was actually quite liberating to learn that there was an entire vocabulary for the feelings I had struggled with my entire life.

In a different Facebook post yesterday, someone I know shared a picture of LOVE on her arm. She included a note to her dad - I gathered he had committed suicide. I thought about my dad's sudden death about 3.5 years ago. He didn't commit suicide, but before we knew the cause of his death, the possibility that he did commit suicide wasn't out of the question. With drugs and alcohol, he certainly found other less severe ways to escape the pain he felt in his life.

After his death, I pretty much fell apart. With three little people to care for and my husband back at work, I knew I needed help. I decided to take anti-anxiety medication. While my grief intensified my anxiety and symptoms of depression, it is true that living with anxiety was something I had been doing my whole life. I didn't have words for the constant feeling that something could go wrong at any second until I learned more about anxiety and depression in graduate school. I thought I was "too sensitive" while the truth was I felt things really deeply. Maybe more deeply than other people. When the pain was too much bear, I looked for ways to hide it or dull it. 

When I finally decided to take medication for my anxiety it was in part because I remembered a friend saying to me "Anna, you don't have to live this way" referring to my constant state of anxiety. I never wanted to take medication, but at that point - after my dad died - I didn't think I had time for therapy and I knew from my studies that it would help me. It was a very small dose, just enough to take the edge off and not enough to keep me from crying my way through a year's worth of contacts in way less than a year's time.

The thing about living with anxiety and depression that is so hard, and can be debilitating even, is that you feel so alone. So hopeless. So isolated. And on top of all that, you can feel ashamed of feeling that way. You think the only way out of the pain is to stop it. People try stopping the pain in all kinds of ways.

I would never, ever tell anyone that the key to happiness is to take medication. That is a choice you have to make for yourself based on your own history and your own present situation. What I would do is to say what my friend said to me - "You don't have to live like this." You have options.

See, I have come to realize that while there is immense pain and suffering in this world - and while I am not immune to any of it - we are not here on Earth to suffer. We are here to enjoy our lives and to live them peacefully. I don't know what that means for everyone, but I know that it is true. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to trust me.

Sometimes I wish my medication would numb me to the pain I feel, and that's when I know that it is time to take it up a notch in other areas of my life. When I want to escape what I'm feeling, I have found that writing helps me to feel more grounded. Yoga reminds me to breathe and helps me to stay present. Meditation helps me to quiet my "monkey mind" - the what-ifs that can spin out of control if I don't stop them. Being outside soothes my soul. Taking walks and running (or trying to run...) helps me to clear my mind. Spending time with people I love helps me remember who I am - not a condition, but a soul doing its best to enjoy this human experience. When I can return to myself and what is most important to me, I can better handle whatever life throws my way. 

For me, art is a cure-all. Creating connects me to my core, the Creator, and all things created. I try to create something every single day. Sometimes it's just dinner (usually it's not dinner...). I have been keeping a Blessings journal for a while now and I love it because I can do just a little bit of creating very easily every day AND reflect on the things and people for which I am grateful. 

Yoga, art, and meditation are some of the tools I use to get to break away from the every day and get back to what matters most to me. 

We all have those tools - those things that can help us to slow down and re-focus on what matters. For a lot of people prayer will do the trick. No matter how much pain you are in, you must remember that life is not about the pain. Life is about JOY and you have the right to live in peace.

So, how do we get back there? What will it take to get you back to the peace? Here are a few steps you can try to take...
  1. Breathe
  2. Think of one thing that brings you peace
  3. Take one step, make one stroke, write one word, recall one memory, or reach out to one friend at a time - whatever it is that will take you to peace
  4. Keep breathing
  5. Keep going
  6. Get there

The only way through anything is to go through it. Seriously. Sit in it for as long as you need to. Feel what comes up for you. Yell, scream, cry, stomp your feet. Get as angry or as sad as you need to be. 

And then remember that you don't have to live there. You don't have to stay in the darkness. Let it - whatever it is - flow through you, then you too can go with the flow. You can move through whatever it is. It might take hours or days or even years. Choose one thing that brings you joy or peace and take one little step in that direction whenever you can. You will make your way out of it. And, know you're not alone. If you need help, reach out for it. It's okay to ask for help.

This world - one where true heroes sacrifice their lives to save others, where slowly we are raising our voices around issues like depression and suicide, where communities come together in times of despair to help one another, and where we recognize that we are all connected - this is the world I brought my now eleven year-old son into. It is a world filled with war and hate and hunger and pain and suffering, and it is a world filled with beauty and peace and joy. We have to learn to live with the good and the bad. It's not an either/or proposition. 

When you are suffering, you don't have to stay there. You don't have to live like that. You have options. My hope is that we all choose PEACE and JOY and do whatever it takes to get there.

With all kinds of love and big Anna hugs... xoxoxo