trust

It is a little past 10pm on New Year’s Eve. I’m alone, and the house is quiet. A neighbor invited me to stop in for a drink and an appetizer, so I grabbed a flashlight and my heaviest coat to walk over for a little while and home again now to find my warm bed and a book. It is cold – for Georgia anyway. A solid week of freezing temperatures ahead. Tomorrow begins 2018.

I drove 45 minutes today to spend a few hours at Atlanta’s Korean Spa and Wellness Center. My friend introduced me to this spot earlier this year, and today I went alone. It seemed to make sense to end the year this way, and I needed the physical element of self-care today. It’s gender-segregated with nude areas, and as I sat there in the hot tubs – not knowing a soul around me – I considered how much change I have seen in my own self in the past few years. Most of my timidness is gone, and what is left underneath is someone I genuinely like. This is important, I think. To like yourself. At 36 years old, here in 2017, I figured that out.

I had a body scrub where I laid still while someone scrubbed every bit of outer skin from my body to leave me feeling like velvet. Then I laid in various saunas – charcoal and salt and clay and jade – for hours, stepping out only to cool off a minute and refill my water. I sweat out and sloughed off every last bit of 2017 today. My body is ready to begin the new year.

When I got home, I took a minute to relax a bit more and light candles and pull out my journal. I made a list of the most beautiful and meaningful moments or experiences in 2017. There are so many. I will forever remember this year as the year I got out of survival mode and ran forward in a real way. I scribbled a list that runs the length of the page. … The kids learned to swim. I began my online writing workshop. I deepened my yoga practice. We spent a weekend alone in the woods that was perfect. I embarked on a relationship, and it broke and was mended again in a different way and left the two of us with a deeper friendship now that we are on the other side.  I began my book. My confidence grew in a million tiny ways that somehow add up to something big.

Then I wrote a list of the things I want to leave behind in 2018. They are no surprise. All the shoulds. Needless apologies. Self-judgment. Fear. Timelines.

Rather than abide by regular formal goals and resolutions, I’ve been looking to theme words this past few years. 2016’s was write. 2017’s was intention. This year, my word is trust. I want to lean into the unknown with the assurance that I am held. I want to trust that everything is right on time.

I added a Rilke quote on the back of our Christmas cards this year. And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. I have such high hopes for you, 2018. For abundance and clarity and trust above all else. So many things lie ahead. Things that have never been.

 

 

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keep on keepin’ on

Somehow nearly three weeks sped past since I last wrote here. I am not even certain exactly what I’ve been doing that has had me so busy. Just regular life, I suppose. Wrapping gifts and prepping Christmas traditions and school parties and the everyday life that already leaves us feeling busy as it is.

The Christmas anticipation was fun, and the day itself was lovely, but now I’m glad it’s over. Am I allowed to say that? I am grateful for the next week or so to decompress and reflect and restore order, and I’m ready for the blank slate of a new year.

We spent Christmas Eve with my family, and the kids played with cousins. They ran around outside playing hide and seek until the food was ready, and then they returned inside to eat and play games until late. They got a few toys to play with, but the adults in my family stopped exchanging gifts years ago when we realized that we have all we need and kids are a lot more fun to shop for. (This change improved my holidays ten times over, by the way. No stress of shopping for anyone other than kids.) But this year, my granddad surprised us with one of the best gifts I have ever received. He’d found a box full of old quilt tops my grandmother had packed away. Most of these were stitched by her own mother, and a few were even pieced by her grandmother. So if you’re counting generations, that is my great-great grandmother. (!!) They were the tops only, and the rest of it was unfinished, so he found someone to finish them and one-by-one had them completed. There were enough for each of the girls in the family to get one.

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No store-bought gift could compare to this. It blows my mind to think about – each stitch completed with love and care, and it laid unfinished in a box for decades only to re-emerge as something whole and real and beautiful. We never know where our story ends, do we? We never know how what we create today will live on and on. So many things in my life feel unfinished, and I’m grateful to have this reminder to take the long view.

When we got home on Christmas Eve, my kids put the cookies out for Santa and hurried to bed as quickly as they could. They don’t always get along easily these days, but the best Christmas Miracle imaginable is that they have really played together so well these last couple of weeks. It has felt like such a gift to me when I’ve grown used to more sibling bickering than I’d like.

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They’d written letters to Santa earlier in the week. Norah’s list was a random assortment of all kinds of things that just occurred to her with no warning (typical five year old) — a stuffed animal, a doll, a pretend pet bird who can fit on your shoulder, and pineapple from the North Pole. Jude’s contained only one item that he’s been asking for since September — a Nintendo Switch.

They ran down the stairs on Christmas morning at 5:58am (yawn), and waded through their gifts. But they paced themselves on opening them and talked a little about each one which pleasantly surprised me. Jude was beyond surprised to get the Switch even though it was all he has asked for. He didn’t expect it somehow. But it cracked me up that the gifts that brought the biggest smiles and the most excitement were the North Pole Pineapple ($2.65 at Publix) and a package of root beer (impulse buy for a boy who loves it but never gets to drink it at home). You just never know what little things will bring joy.

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Christmas is so heavily laced with nostalgia and meaning. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it – especially as a parent. We try to make it perfect enough to leave some indelible imprint in their memory, but one thing I’m understanding as I begin to string chapters together for this book I’m working on is that memories are actually not made in isolation. When we remember one thing or one moment, it is actually laced with meaning and layer upon layer of association — not just that one day in time.

I’ve made such a conscious effort this past few years to see Christmas as any other day – with a few extra celebrations. I do the best I can to show them the traditions that can ground us, the reason for the holiday, and the value of both giving and receiving. And then I let it go. I do not compare to what it looked like before or what it might look like in the future or what it looks like in homes outside of my own.

All I know now is that I do the best I can and that somehow the three of us fill the room with enough light to drown out any shadows of inadequacy or comparison that may be lingering in some dark corner of my own mind. 2017 is the year I figured out that fear and negativity and dissatisfaction do not grow when you don’t feed them.

Some holidays are hard and some years are hard, and we just have to accept that sometimes. Life doesn’t look like exactly what we thought it would, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we just move right along to what is good about right now and perhaps even what is better than we expected as a result of the unforeseen. I recently ran across a Maya Angelou quote on Instagram and some commentary relating it to the holidays and what they can feel like when we lose ourselves in some expectation of comparison and think we have failed if we do not make it The Best Christmas Ever. Angelou says, “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

The holidays became a lot easier for me when I realized that, in actuality, they are just another day in a series of 364 other ones where we get to create magic and possibility and joy and comfort and peace and fulfillment. What Maya seems to be saying there to me is keep on keepin’ on. And so I am. With root beer and North Pole pineapple and cozy nights at home under my new quilt. The best is yet to come, and there is always more. Christmas joy is like no other, but that same peace waits for me all year long when I slow down enough to see it.

on making magic

The holidays are officially here. It is snowing outside (!!!) in Georgia as I type this. We occasionally have icy snow in February or so, but these are fluffy flakes that are melting as they hit the roadways but covering branches in white this morning. As a native southerner, I will never think it’s anything less than magical to see snow out my window. I’m drinking coffee to armor up for a long day of grading essays while the kids are at school, but I wanted to take a minute to write first.

I took Norah to a Nutcracker tea party last weekend hosted by her ballet studio. We had treats and tea and watched the “big girls” perform Nutcracker variations. I caught a glimpse of her face watching them, and it is everything I love about ballet condensed to one expression – the awe and the dreaming and the bewilderment at the grace of it all.

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She watches the older girls practice in the studio sometimes and looks at them like they are celebrities. I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about hard work and perseverance, but she mainly just sees it as some kind of magic they have that she hopes to grasp one day.

I see parallels there in my own self. As humans, we tend to look at success in any area – career, health, relationships, anything – as some kind of magic sauce, but when we break anything down to see the smaller pieces, it’s clear that we make our own magic, don’t we? Or at least we make it bloom where the spark began. It starts like some magnetic thing we can’t quite put words to, and it grows when we decide to lean in and make it our own.

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Our elf is not typically very exciting or creative, but he brought a skittle rainbow today. (I can’t take all the credit. I had help on this idea.) Both kids stood enamored this morning with their bed heads and sleepy eyes watching the colors swirl. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of kids is such a reminder that enchantment is there for us if we are just willing to open our eyes to see it. And as a parent pulling all the strings, it also emphasizes my role in creating my life’s magic.

It always requires leaning in a little past where I normally would, laying bare what I usually shy away from showing, and letting that spark ignite without judgement or expectation or cynicism. I think as I get older I am finally understanding that magic does not simply fall from the sky fully formed and ready to bestow itself on the lucky few. It starts with a spark, and it evolves to some kind of fascinating alchemy when we show up for our own lives with a true curiosity, a clear voice, and an open heart.

mostly standing still

It’s Thanksgiving Day, mid afternoon. The kids return to me at 5, and then we will head out to celebrate with my family. I woke up alone today after the best night of sleep I’ve had in ages. I sipped coffee and read a little bit before breakfast, and then I did a yoga session twice as long as my usual one before I began cooking cranberry pie and putting a few sides together to take to my family potluck dinner.

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Tonight we will eat with cousins and grandparents, and four generations will be together. Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. It’s just food and fun and no pressure to wrap gifts quite yet. It signals the start of the advent season, and for the kids, it’s the signal to get started decorating in our house. We will pull out the Christmas tree this Sunday and sip hot chocolate and eat leftover pie and watch movies in our pajamas.

My hope for the rest of the year is just to notice the ordinary, the everyday. I ran across Mary Oliver’s “Messenger” this morning, and my eyes ran back to the first line of the poem as soon as I reached the bottom to read it again and again. She insists, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” Standing still is hard. Especially for me with the never-ending motion of that reel inside my head that spins and spins. I think maybe I just need to remember that I cannot mess anything up if I just stand still and be astonished. I think maybe in the past my expectations are actually what missed the mark because goodness can’t always find its way through the tough exterior of perfectionism.

Holidays find me faster and faster every year. And every time they say the same thing. All you need is right here.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

ambition. bedrock. spirit. soul.

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There’s only one week left to register for my online writing workshop before it closes for the year. Head on over to Truth Collaborative to take a look and sign up if you want to join us. Registration closes November 18th.

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We are wrapping up the soccer season this weekend and watched the final game yesterday in the chilly wind. There are three weeks left of my semester. December is almost here. I know I’m not alone in this, but 2017 feels like it just began. I can hardly believe it’s almost over.

I love the reflection that the end of the year brings and the goals it prompts us to make for the future. I’m thinking a lot about what I wish for my 2018. I mentioned on Instagram yesterday that I’ve thought lately about that Zora Neale Hurston line when she tells us that “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” After years of questions and hardship and confusion, 2017 was finally an answering year. Everyone in my house learned to stand a little taller somehow. We are steadier on our own feet than we were a year ago – all three of us.

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I think the big answer that 2017 gave me is that I can handle it – whatever it might be – and I can do it on my own. When I think back to the past three years of my life and the catastrophes that seem to tumble one after the other, big and small ones, it seems like some divine storm. What other explanation can there be for so many things happening at once? And there are moments in all of that when you think you are not okay and you maybe will never be okay again. But this weird thing happens eventually when you just suddenly find yourself in the most mundane of tasks – grocery shopping, or stepping out of the shower, or stirring dinner on the stove, or sitting in a boy scout meeting or a neighborhood festival – and you are suddenly struck with how okay it feels now. It quietly swells in me in the most simple moments sometimes. 2017 showed me the other side of the storm.

I’m using this last few weeks of the year to ready my own self to take on 2018 with what I hope to be a combination of intention and surrender. I’ve got big ideas and little pockets of time, but sometimes the most fulfilling things can happen with that simple combination.

I think I’m ready to remember myself again now that the seas are quiet and I have a rhythm. I can feel this brewing in big and small ways. I updated my ancient iPhone 5 this week. I ordered clothes last month to freshen up my fall wardrobe. I cancelled plans to do things I want to do instead of heeding the call of a guilt-induced yes to someone else. These things are no big deal really. … The phone adds $20 a month to my budget; the clothes are simple and second-hand; the scary no felt not scary at all once I did it… I find myself wondering why I didn’t do these things before, and I don’t really have a good answer except that I was treading water for quite a while, and it’s easy to forget yourself when you are in that mode. And now it’s time to remember me again.

I caught Rob Bell’s podcast on ambition last week on my drive to work, and it’s worth a listen.  It was a message meant to find me at this particular time. (I love it when that happens.) I’ve struggled a bit with wanting things for myself and my own future, I think. I didn’t even realize that I was resisting that until recently, but now I see it so clearly. It’s hard to sort out our ambitions sometimes – what we want and why we want it.

I’ve been feeling the call to greater goals but also feeling both overwhelmed and a little guilty about pursuing them at this season of my life. Rob Bell noted on the episode that the New Testament tells us that it’s only selfish ambition that gets you in trouble. The original translation refers to a mercenary which is so interesting to me – a reminder that doing things for no reason other than your own interests without a nod to a greater purpose and framework will lead nowhere good. But as Bell says, “Proper ambition will move you beyond yourself.” 

I took a big leap of commitment, and my Christmas gift to my own self is a series of sessions with a professional book coach and editor. I’ve worked myself to the bone this semester teaching overloads to earn extra money for my household, and I set some aside for this purpose. I’m something like 10,000 words into a book manuscript that is disjointed and incomplete, but it’s a start. And every finished thing begins somewhere. My commitment with these sessions is a commitment to my own self too, a nod to that proper ambition I own. It’s both exciting and scary for me.

But Bell’s show made me feel a little better about that fear as well because he reminds me that “When you own your ambition, what you will notice is how humbling it is. Because when you properly own it, it will – if it is the deepest desire within you – inevitably tap into the divine within you which is the divine within everybody” Or as he says later, “When you go far enough into your own ambition, you strike bedrock, spirit, soul.” I dabbled for years without going deeper into that ambition. I guess it took the storms to find the bedrock, but I’ve found it now. Here we go.

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I have things I am meant to do, which doesn’t make me special or more important than anyone else because we all do. But I think the difference for me now is that I am listening and that the call is for the purpose of a greater framework and not a mercenary life. We all have stories that can open the eyes and hearts of other people, and I think mine is meant to make its way to other people as words on the page. I feel that thread between my ambition and the spark in others, and I want to watch it grow. 2017 paved the way for that, and maybe 2018 can finally be the year I can hold that ambition without question or apology and just heed the call. I’m listening. I’m ready.

 

**** Photos on this post are by my friend Michelle Andrews this fall. If you are in Atlanta, check her out!

 

Love Story

I flew out last Friday morning to Austin, Texas and home again early on Sunday. I’m still recovering from a whirlwind of a weekend spent celebrating the wedding of one of my closest longtime friends. I’ve spent half my week a little delirious from the travel exhaustion and the excitement and the beauty that was all of it.

Traveling mid-semester is no joke. I carried a bag full of student essays with me through airports and airplanes, and I had to work hard to turn off the teacher-brain and the mom-brain living inside of me with that constant voice of rush and guilt and worry. But I managed to quiet those voices for a day or two as I celebrated with some of my oldest friends – some of whom live close or traveled with me and others spread from Texas to New York City.

We celebrated Friday night at the rehearsal dinner and an after party downtown, and then we woke early on Saturday morning and ate breakfast in a a little cafe before stopping by the LBJ Library for a while. Eventually Graffiti Park and Mount Bonnell followed, and the climb up gave us a beautiful view of the Colorado River. Austin is such a unique place, and I already find myself wanting to go back and explore a little more. It was full of so many fun and funky spots.

We walked the few blocks Saturday evening from our hotel to the wedding venue, and I had the best kind of butterflies in my stomach. I’ve seen this friend through something like 18 years of ups and downs and dating questions and heavy moments for the both of us where we thought we knew where the path was going but found soon enough that our assumed outcome wasn’t in the cards for us.

Weddings are almost always beautiful, but this one held its own kind of special for me. A reminder that sometimes the most uncomfortable bumps in the road and the very biggest heartaches are actually exactly what lead us to what is real and true. A reminder never to settle. A reminder that real love is always worth the wait, no matter how long that is for us. A reminder that we never really know where the story ends.

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Weddings can bring all kinds of sticky things for you when you are divorced, that first year or so especially. It’s hard to watch others make promises when you are emerging from the shreds of your own that were left unfulfilled. But this one was easy for me. It felt soft and real and not sharp or sad in the least. Maybe that means I have healed, or maybe that means they are the real deal. Or likely both. Whatever the reason, only love was there.

Krista Tippet writes about her own post-divorce wreckage in her book Becoming Wise. I’ve underlined and noted certain passages in that book and reread them so many times. She echos my own experience; “When my marriage ended, … I became one of the walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love. After my divorce, I created a welcoming home, took great delight in my children, … invested in far-flung friendships, and drew vast sustenance from webs of care through the work I do. Yet I told myself for years that I had a hole where ‘love’ should be. This is the opposite of a healing story — it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. … I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word.”

This season of my life has shown me how narrowly I’ve seen that word love. How much bigger it really is from what we perceive it to be. How much it stretches beyond the reach of two individual people and moves far and wide through the circles that make our lives what they are – if we are lucky.

These women are so much to me. Even as a writer, I can’t really describe it in words – which is something I don’t say often. We have seen it all in the past 18 years. They are there through thick and thin. The real thing. I knew it would feel good to see one of our own celebrated like this, but I didn’t expect it to feel this good. I think you know that friendship has reached that magic place when your sadness is truly my sadness, and on the other side, your joy is my joy. It was all joy last weekend, and it felt like such a gift to watch it happen.

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We stole her away for a minute during the reception to step outside for a second and get out of the madness of the crowd. The tears of gratitude wouldn’t stop for me. That joy that hums deep down inside where it is so much fuller when you’ve seen the other end of things. Who knew heartache could make your happy happier? Love is sweeter when you’ve had to wait it out to find it, and love is better when you have friends who see you like a sister. Someone’s husband snuck this picture, and it’s my new favorite thing. I’m the luckiest. 18 years together is something to be grateful for.

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I’ve stopped reading that script that tells me love is somehow less present in my life because I sleep alone. And it’s such a liberating thing to see my life for just a moment from the outside eye – from the camera lens or through the eyes of a friend. I’ve got more love than I can handle, and it overflows sometimes in the very best ways.

I was revisiting some of Laura McKowen’s writings recently, and I stumbled again on her musings on love. She resonates in all the right places for me and reminds me to “keep faith in the larger story….there is a through line that runs deeper and is more benevolent, surprising, and magnificent than you can conceive. … no matter what, do not be mistaken: this is a love story. Your entire life is a love story. It’s just not the kind you think.”

I feel that line running through the undercurrent of my life, and everyday that I get more solid on my own two feet and more grateful, it gets stronger. I don’t know where it’s headed, but it’s taking me with it.

I know there is a more typical love story happening one day in my life, too. The kind with two people and a white dress and all that comes with it. I can’t even explain why I know this except that I just do. The way you know the sky is blue and trees have roots. I can feel it pulling so clearly sometimes in a way that is more real to me than almost anything else in my life.

But I’m waiting it out. And in the meantime, this love story I’m in right now is not the kind I thought it would be, but it is as true as anything ever was for me and anything ever will be. Love is love is love is love.

 

that higher order

Fall has finally arrived in Georgia. We’ve bundled up this week to walk to the bus stop, and afternoons are that perfect breezy and 75. It’s over in a blink, but that makes it sweeter. We have two weeks left of Daylight Savings Time, and dark is coming fairly early even now. We are finally moving to a new season.

We had a neighborhood festival yesterday afternoon with a cake walk, kid games, a ticket booth, a chili cook-off competition, and a hayride. It’s an annual event here, and it gets more comfortable for us every year. Faces we know well and a place that feels like home. Every afternoon, the kids are outside with friends on bikes and scooters or playing “capture the flag” in the grassy area beside the playground. Life is stressful beyond belief for me on some days, but I have to pinch myself sometimes that this part is even real. We created a home that somehow feels more solid than any other home I’ve had as an adult. Sometimes it really is possible for things to turn out even better than you ever dreamed. It’s so incredible to bear witness to things like that unfolding in your own life. The miracle of it doesn’t go by unnoticed for me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things I care about and the things I don’t, about where I spend my energy. I caught an interview with Joan Halifax this week on the latest On Being. She talks a lot about “compassion fatigue” and the general sense of helplessness and burnout we can encounter in the face of what we see around us everyday – sometimes in our own lives and sometimes on the news. It’s hard to care sometimes. It takes a lot out of you to care about things that you cannot easily change.

She encourages, as she calls them, antidotes for these moments we are pushed to our edge. Beautiful spaces that are safe for us to retreat to can be an antidote, as can stillness and meditation and spaces of contemplation in our own lives. It occurred to me as she was talking that writing is my antidote certainly. It functions as a space for me to retreat and a form of stillness. I’ve seen this work with all kinds of situations I cannot easily change, all the continued difficulty of a blended family where my idea of boundaries is entirely different from the view of the other adults involved. I feel pushed to my edge a lot these days, but the blank page is where I sort it out.

Halifax talks about how we can deal with the despair we feel looking at the world at large, but I hear echos of my own life’s path in her answer, too: We can look back through history … when systems break down, the ones who have the resilience to actually repair themselves, they move to a higher order of organization. And I think that this is characterized by something the complexity theorists call robustness, that we can anticipate both a time of great robustness, which we’re in, with tremendous potential to wake up and take responsibility … we need resilience to make our way through this change. 

My own resilience and robustness are what enabled me to move to a higher order of organization, as she calls it. So I can say, as I did earlier, that I’ve watched a miracle unfold as I feel such solid ground beneath my feet. But when I look a little more closely at the past few years, I see why. Everything about my present life operates on that higher order of organization that I was forced to reinvent. And I was given this gift of time to thoughtfully put it all together piece by piece with no rush and nothing to prove. What I’m left with is something that can never be shaken. It’s no wonder this home feels more solid and true than any other place I’ve been. I built it with intention.

I’m so excited to pass along to you a closer look at the writing workshop I’ve completed. I’ve spent the past couple of years answering a lot of questions and building friendships across wide spaces as a result of this blog. And I kept finding myself again and again answering some similar questions — How do you find clarity in the middle of all this? Do you ever move past pain and onto something else? How do I get there? I want to write, but I don’t know where to begin.

I’d answer when I could and offer little pieces of my own experience here and there, and it finally occurred to me that I should just put together a more polished path to share the tools that worked for me with anyone else who needs them. I’ve worked really hard on this over the summer and spent the last couple of months having a few friends do a trial run for me and offer honest feedback. I wanted it to be something I felt good about sharing with all of you and something I could potentially build on in the future.

It’s a 5-week course where you are given a theme each week to write about and consider. I created these by looking back on my own path and seeing what worked for me, how I made it through from one end to the other in a major transition. The result is a string of lessons and writing prompts that carry you through the process from asserting and exploring your own independent identity to reconsidering past experiences that shaped you to capturing a better presence in your everyday life and eventually setting goals that you want to manifest for your own life. It’s a path that can offer clarity and empowerment for anyone – not just in the throes of grief or major transitions, but in life’s more subtle storms as well.

Registration will open on November 1st, and I’ll be sending out a 15% discount code to those on the email list, so be sure to sign up there if you haven’t already. I use that list to update on the course enrollment and also send along writing resources and journaling prompts every now and then. I’m thinking I’ll do another run of this workshop in 2018, but this will be the last one for the year. I hope you’ll join me if you have an honest curiosity about your own life’s questions and want to shape whatever lies on the other side. You can build it with intention, too. And I know from my own life that writing is a powerful tool to get you there.

*** A closer look can be found here, and the email sign-up is here. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions over email as well.