divorce, gratitude, single parenthood, travel

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.

 

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writing

on being human

I spent yesterday afternoon sweating and writing my way through Jennifer Pastiloff’s Atlanta workshop titled On Being Human, and I was still humming a little on the inside this morning as I sat down with my coffee in a quiet house to flip through my journal and put all the pieces together.

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Jen at Form Yoga here in Atlanta, photo cred @nadenoughyoga on Instagram

This is the second time I’ve attended one of Jen’s workshops, and the last was two years ago when I was in the midst of such major and difficult transitions. It was enlightening to be there again in this next chapter of my life where I feel so different than I did in August of 2015, so much stronger.

I managed to recruit two friends to join me because I’ve bragged on Jen so much and explained the transformation that happens when you attend one of her workshops. But even so, I find it hard to really explain the alchemy that happens in the room. 76 women in attendance yesterday, yoga mats laid parallel and touching one another. Jen explains the rules when she walks in — only two things: tell the truth and listen. And somehow it works and people do just that.

Though she is a yoga teacher and it was held at a yoga studio, there is pretty minimal yoga involved. She uses the poses (and the warm room) to break through the shell of the body, so to speak, and come back to ourselves so that we can write the truth instead of the buttoned up version of the “truth” we carry when we are dressed in our finest and sitting comfortably in an air conditioned space. Before you know it, the magic comes along and it’s 76 of us laughing and crying and sharing and nodding in that way you do when real resonance happens and you can say yes, me too. The thing that astonishes me as I sit here putting the pieces together is that it is such a simple formula and yet so transformative because we never get this in our daily lives. You shed every last bit of your ego and look someone in the eye – a stranger no less – and tell the truth and listen. That is all. And it is somehow so terrifying at first, but unbelievably liberating when you drop into your body and out of your head and get out of your own way.

Some of her journaling prompts were the same as when I took the class in 2015 and some were different. I used the same little journal I’d carried to her 2015 workshop, so I can flip back a few pages today and compare my lists when she asked us to write what we were afraid of. Some things ring that bell both times, then and now. But I also see ways my life has expanded and some things that were overwhelmingly terrifying to me then have completely fallen away. I can see it so clearly in my scribbled handwriting.

What I fear (2015)

  • love
  • men
  • judgment
  • failing my kids

 

What I fear (2017)

  • messing up
  • not making the time to focus on the big things because I am always drowning in the little things
  • waiting too late
  • not finishing the work I know I am meant to do, the book I know I’m meant to write

 

What a shift that is, right? I think sometimes we change in huge, monumental ways, but they happen so incrementally that we don’t feel it in real time. It’s only when we look back that we see that staring back at us in undeniable ways. It’s one reason I love writing and one reason this blog has become one of the most cherished things I’ve created in my life. I can get caught up in my own bullshit stories, as Jen calls them, and I can neglect to see what is actually written in the beautiful details of my own life. You know the bullshit stories; we all have them. The ones that say You should already have this figured out. You are always failing. You’ll never get where you want to be. You’re just a ___ (fill in the blank – just a mom, just a teacher, just a woman.) But as I look at what I’ve written and recorded here and in scribbled notes from Jen’s workshops and other raw journaling I’ve done, I can see these stories for the lies they are.

I left feeling so full and inspired and curious about the faces I encounter everyday. Everyone in that room had a story, and everyone in that room echoed the fears or worries of someone else. Here we all are, slogging through the difficulties of our daily lives and feeling alone in our struggles, and as it turns out, so many of us have the same things tumbling in our hearts all day long – the same fears and bullshit stories on repeat. We all need friends who will tell us our stories are false, and I’m lucky enough to have a few people like that – one of whom came with me yesterday. Both of us left feeling full and happy and ready for whatever comes next. (Also ready to stuff our faces with Indian food at a local favorite spot.)

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One of Jen’s prompts yesterday asked us to write what we are saying yes to. Mine is a list I think I need to read every morning in this season of my life, a daily charge to do what I am here to do. Today I say yes to sweating, listening, feeling, dropping judgments, letting go of expectations (and of my bullshit stories), working harder than ever, new pages, better chapters, what I sometimes think I should have been doing all along, but it took there to get here. And here is good.

What is it about a pen and paper that offers something so magical? I don’t know. All I know is that when I lie to myself in my own head and offer these untrue assessments of my life or untrue evaluations of what is in my heart, I can sometimes take them to be the truth. But the second you write something that is not the truth of the matter, you can tell. It literally jumps off the page for me and feels stiff. When you write that truth inside, it feels soft and real and puts all the pieces together. It clarifies my intentions and my feelings every time. That’s the power of the pen in getting to the heart of the matter for all of us.

 

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I’m opening registration in October for my online writing workshop designed for women who want more insight and clarity and offering some guidance patterned after my own journey as I’ve written through my life’s challenges. I’m so excited to get started with this new project! Details here, and get on the email list for upcoming news and free journaling prompts by signing up here.

 

 

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gratitude, Life and Randomness

body and soul

I can feel my life changing all the time as I grow and evolve and as my kids grow and change as well. We are sailing far past the baby and toddler days. I don’t monitor anyone’s bathroom habits much anymore. (Thank you Lord sweet baby Jesus. So glad that is over.) I don’t wake in the middle of the night unless there’s a nightmare or a sickness. I don’t keep extra clothes in my car for accidents. I don’t structure my days around nap time. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with this new era, and I’m finding that I’m relieved to see it arrive. It’s no secret that I loved my days with tiny babies, but it’s only magical because it’s a passing season. Now we are on to something new.

But the thing I didn’t foresee with this new chapter is the busy school schedule. School-aged kids always have something going on, it seems. This month alone brings two birthday parties, a field trip, a school-wide field day, a class breakfast, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, and a ballet recital. It’s always something.

I got Norah to her ballet dress rehearsal on Saturday, and the two of us took a moment to get her dressed in my office since it’s a few steps from the university theater where her performance was held. She was so sweet with her tiny tutu and tights that never quite fit without a few wrinkles at that age. She met her class backstage, and their excitement was tangible. You could see that each of them felt so special, but they also loved the camaraderie of their matching ensembles. It reminded me so much of my backstage ballet memories and friendships.

 

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She rehearsed her piece twice over, and I changed her again and brought her to her dad’s where she was staying this weekend. After that, I went to the gym and headed to the grocery store, and was generally feeling exhausted from the crazy pace of May and resigned to a night of take-out and pajamas on my couch as a result. My phone buzzed in the check-out line though, and a friend urged me to head out with a large group of us. I’d originally thought I needed to take a pass to focus on mom duties this weekend, but it didn’t take much nudging to change my mind, so when I got home, I threw the groceries in the fridge, changed clothes as fast as I could, and raced out to meet my carpool.

What is it about a group of strong women that makes us capable of getting straight to real talk right away? My friends have always been significant to me, but I think as I age and experience life, I get even better at recognizing kindred spirits. I’m grateful for all of them. It sometimes seems like the universe plops these people right in front of me, and maybe it does. But I know I am responsible for that, too. The energy you send out returns to you. If you focus on the right things in life, those ideas always rise to the top of whatever other noise there is, and you eventually find yourself surrounded by like-minded people.

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We ate and laughed for hours, and no topic was off limits for conversation. Someone decided we should head nearby to a basement dance club that plays old 90’s hip hop, and even those of us who swore we were only coming for dinner and were headed home by midnight (famous last words, right?) followed suit with a little convincing.

Is there anything better than the combination of girlfriends and laughing and dancing and music that brings nostalgia? I really don’t think there is. Dance is such a life force in the same way that yoga is for me. It feels like meditation in a different sense. There are so few experiences in life that force you to focus on exactly what is in front of you at that moment and nothing more. We spend so much time thinking about what our bodies look like in our day-to-day lives as society continually screams these messages at women particularly. What we forget to notice is what it feels like to be in your own body. Dance does that like nothing else can.

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I took it for granted, growing up inside the walls of a ballet studio, that my body would always feel that familiar to me. I spent at least five nights a week for well over a decade dancing with friends in one way or another. Life is different now, but sometimes you get the chance to do it all over again with a familiar soundtrack, and it fills you up in the best way. When I read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection last summer, I noted a passage where she explains how her research reflected that dance is a necessary part of whole-hearted living; she claims that “laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” It’s those communal moments with different individuals moving to the same music that place you inside your own body in a way that is necessary and often forgotten but somehow also allow you to tap into something greater – that emotional and spiritual connection Brown speaks of.

I only got something like four hours of sleep before Norah’s show the next day, but it was all worth it. After dressing her and dropping her off backstage, I studied the program while I was seated in the theater and waiting. I noted when her dance was scheduled and was preparing myself for the usual happy-sad mom tears that come at moments like this. But I surprised myself that I didn’t shed a tear at all for her piece.

Instead, I choked back a swell of tears that caught me by surprise when the first piece in the program began. It was a modern ballet performed by dancers I do not know at all. But something about the combination of the choreography, the lights, and the swell of music softened me in that place where good art always resonates. That deep recognition “your bones recognize as if you’ve created it,” as Andrea Hollander says. That missing piece that connects you to something outside of yourself. We are body and soul – all of us. And dance in any form reminds me of that every time.

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Norah seemed to enjoy her time on stage, and I snapped a few pictures outside the theater. When we were home later last night, she asked if she could wear her costume the rest of the day, and I said yes. She played inside and lazed around on the couch in her lace and crinoline. And as I was making dinner, I looked out the patio doors to find her outside in the backyard twirling and twirling all by herself. The May sun was slanting a bit in that way it always does a couple hours before dark, and it would catch a glinting sequin every now and then. It felt so real and true to see her living in her own body and her own world without regard to anything else.

At the end of the day, as I turned off lights and headed upstairs to bed, I stopped to scribble a note for my gratitude jar like always. I was surprised as I reflected on the day that my best moment was not the big performance or the dressing room excitement or seeing her proud face with the flowers; it was the shimmering sunlight and the twirling dress and her quiet joy as she went round and round all by herself.

 

 

 

 

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood, writing

April Insanity

Weeks are passing by incredibly quickly lately. Work is on overdrive; I can’t even begin to explain how insane April feels for those of us in higher ed. We got home Friday afternoon, and my kids ran straight outside to play with neighbors and enjoy the late daylight. The season is a welcome change, but I’m finding that my energy level doesn’t match theirs lately. I feel tired and depleted while they are gaining momentum with the growing sunshine.

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Both of them are away for a few days at the end of this week, and I will miss them and feel on-edge about their being states away, but I need the time badly. The ability to work late without the afternoon shuffle and exhale a minute when I get home instead of the usual routine of packing lunches, making dinner, cleaning up, bathing kids, and bedtime cuddles. Thinking about their absence brings that old familiar tension of relishing the time alone but also dreading the distance and heavy silence in a house that is usually full and busy.

Life has been so busy lately that I haven’t been catching up with friends in the way I’d like. I squeezed in a birthday celebration three weeks after my actual birthday with friends who are worn and comfortable in the best way. There are six kids among us which means it almost takes an act of congress to convene us together these days, but we never forget to celebrate each other’s milestones and successes, something I’m incredibly grateful for.

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People are not always good at recognizing someone else’s achievements, and I think that’s rooted in the idea of comparison and scarcity. If you land a good job, that means there is not enough for me. If you move into a gorgeous new home, mine is somehow less. If you are finding happiness in a new relationship, that somehow means I’m eternally single. I’m grateful that, as I’ve aged and refined my priorities a bit, the friendships that remain for me are those where we can celebrate one another’s successes and be honest and solid in the face of each other’s challenges as well.

I wrote about this a bit last summer when I talked about compassion and bodhichitta, but the events of my past few years have really worked as a filter to mine the gems of true friendship in my life. It’s been interesting to see that the same women who never forgot me and offered real support when I was in the trenches of the hardest moments are also the women who find genuine joy in the good things as my life mends itself on the other side. It makes me see my own self in a different light and strive to offer the same to those I love.

Our conversations have changed a lot in the last 9 years – from work troubles to questions about pregnancy to frustrations about nursing babies and lack of sleep and now to kindergarten curriculum and that strange aching gratitude you feel watching kids grow independent. You never know what life holds, but it is such a relief to me that though I don’t have that box to check anymore — no legally recognized next-of-kin, the absence of “my person” as I’ve spoken of it before — I have a handful of others who would step up in a heartbeat for any little thing. Or any big thing. I feel lucky that I got to rest in that for a bit this week with a marathon dinner and endless conversation.

There are so many other things I want to write about, ways that life is changing and opening up for me. I listen to ideas float in and out all day while I’m engaged in other tasks. But life intervenes, as it does for all of us. I’m hoping to commit more time to writing when the rush of April is done.

I have been writing a bit here and there though. An essay about motherhood and forgiveness and how those two intersect everyday is up over at the March issue of Mothers Always Write. And my latest on Huffington Post was just published this week as well. Read and share if you’d like. More soon.

Happy April, friends. Spring is here.

 

 

Georgia Love, gratitude, travel

mountain weekend

I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.

 

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It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
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We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.

 

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Saturday was drizzly and gray all day, but it didn’t bother us in the least. We ventured to a couple of local wineries and enjoyed back country roads.
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The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.

After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.

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The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.

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A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.

 

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I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places.  And nothing feels better than a new season.

gratitude

keeping the pulse

Thanks so much for the kind comments, texts, and emails after my last post. It’s natural to become overwhelmed and feel buried beneath the weight of the everyday mundane sometimes, but we all forget to be kind to ourselves. Just hearing, “yes – me too” from a few of you plus the encouragement to take care of myself helps so much. Thank you.

This weekend picked me up a lot, and though it wasn’t restful with two kids and a busy schedule, it was a good reminder of what I’ve got. It’s more obvious to me in recent months that I am a part of a larger whole, a larger community, in a number of different ways. And a sense of belonging can make such a difference.

Friday afternoon brought Norah’s first soccer “practice” – or really soccer play time if we are being honest.  She mostly wanted to do this simply because her brother does it as well. It’s a 6-week session for 3-year-olds, and it’s cute to watch.

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They are both getting to these ages that are obviously still very young in the grand scheme of things, but feeling big to me in the immediate moment. We have real conversations and they are their own unique little people. Aside from that, I also see them developing their own relationship between the two of them as well. They know each other in a different way than I know them, if that makes sense. Their little world with their specific perceptions and observations.  Sometimes I just try and stay out of the way as they feel that out.

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When we got home, our neighbor was having an impromptu tea party that was decided the night before and casually mentioned in the driveway as the kids played. I’ve touched on this before, but I got so unbelievably lucky landing in this little spot. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was divine intervention guiding us here. Anytime I feel alone or overwhelmed in this parenting journey, I need to remember to open my back door or look out my window. It’s a village, and my kids feel the comfort of belonging here in the very best way.

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Sunday brought a baby shower for a college friend of mine, and a few of us got to catch up over lunch just before the party. Including baby boy yet to arrive, there are ELEVEN (How did that happen!?) kids among us, I realized. We each have our own stories of triumph and loss and disappointment and new beginnings, and it’s created such a safe space free of judgment. I can tell these girls anything — and I often do. We talk parenting and life and nonsense when we are together. And we laugh a lot.

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I ran across an Anne Lamott quote a week or two ago that I shared on Facebook that explains, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.” I’m gripping to this idea and knowing it has to be true, right? I keep doing the next right thing, and the next, and the next – as best I can with every move. And I know sometimes I miss the mark because I am human. But I’m trying hard.

I have no vision of exactly what my future will look like, but I assume if I keep stacking up all the good things around me, it has to work and all come together. Right now, I am waiting and watching and working, as Lamott says. The waiting is the hard part. It’s harder than the work. But sometimes I forget that I am not waiting for some blanket of grace and wholeness to cover my entire self all at once. It never works that way. It comes in tiny drops and little waves, and you have to keep your eyes open to see it.
UntitledRight now, I just have my finger on the pulse until the rest unfolds. I can hear that rhythm –  thump, thump, thump. Good things are there when my eyes are open to see them.  I’m still keeping up with my happiness jar and scribbling notes each night before I head up the stairs for bed. Sometimes I grab a handful and read what I’ve written. These tiny beautiful seconds I might have forgotten otherwise. How funny that they are what glimmers at the end of the day. August 23rd Clean house, rainstorm, midnight, in bed alone with a new book. // September 19th Grocery run with kids after dinner on a Saturday night. Both helpful, so sweet. Late summer sun perfect on them as they skip across the parking lot. // September 13 Kids back after a weekend away. Downstairs clean, soup in the crockpot, all of us home. // September 10 Jude drawing at the table while I wash dinner dishes. Quiet concentration, long eyelashes looking down at his paper. Last weeks of late daylight.

How strange that we all focus on the big things, those big moments of achievement. When really the pulse of my life – the moments that remind me I’m safe and alive – it is all held in the seconds we forget.

gratitude

imposter syndrome

Have you heard about “imposter syndrome?” If not, a quick google will show you. It’s essentially a fear that though you are accomplished or successful or admired, you are somehow a fraud and don’t deserve it. It’s especially common among high-achieving women, and I’ve read a good bit of commentary about it online in recent months. The term was first coined by two researchers who noted that women were often under the impression that they were not as intelligent or deserving as their position would suggest and they had somehow been over-evaluated by others.

I do this  – as I think a lot of us do. I do it at work or when I am describing my job to someone else. I usually say I am an English teacher or “I teach English classes” at a nearby university. I hesitate to say “College Professor” as a title to someone in conversation. Feeling like an imposter or overblown somehow. I can remember being in graduate school at an excellent university with some challenging classes, and I’d think I was somehow an imposter. Like a “how did I get here?” feeling. Even in the days of teaching high school, I’d wonder if I was really all that great of a teacher. Do I really deserve the Honors classes? Am I actually succeeding in teaching them something? As a writer, I do this as well. I’ll hesitate to post something because I feel like it is boring or disorganized and difficult to follow, but then I’ll receive a kind email or comment praising that particular essay.

I’ve had so many outside confirmations that I am smart and capable and the real deal. Solid student evaluations. Recognition and compliments from bosses I see as far superior to me in intellect. I can remember when a particularly scary graduate school professor (He left one girl crying in the midst of her class presentation!) emailed me to ask if he could keep a copy of my essay as a sample for others who are lost or less inclined to write analytically. It was a compliment, yes. But I remember it was also a little confusing for me. Like he has to be kidding, right? It was just my essay; I’m sure there are better ones out there.

I’m not certain what it is about women that makes us do this. We are socialized in a million ways to always give someone else the credit for our accomplishments. We are made to think from a very young age that charm and looks are our currency, and I think it can make a lasting impact. We neglect to see what is in front of us and inside of us when everyone else sees it so clearly.  I find I do this not only with professional accomplishments but with my personal traits as well.

I commented on this phenomenon a little when I wrote about the manifestation workshop I attended a few weeks ago — how we tend to focus on that one person out of 100 who doesn’t like us. It sucks so much life out of you.

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On the list of a million other things I’ve learned in this season of my life is this: When someone tells you something about yourself that you don’t recognize, listen hard. Internalize it. And especially when more than one person says it and you hear that sentiment repeated, know that is is real. It is true. You are not an imposter or lacking in substance. Their reactions are valid and warranted.  This is HARD for us as women. Admitting our faults? That’s easy. Taking credit for our positive traits? Not so much.

I’m open and honest in this space, but I am more tight-lipped on most social networks. Here you only visit if you want to and if you are interested in my life’s growth or the conversations happening in this space, but I feel like Facebook or Instagram followers are sometimes more surface level. I’m not going to bombard you with personal musings as you just want to scroll through cute kid pictures.

But this week, I was feeling especially challenged, and I opened up more than usual, and like always, people respond to honesty and vulnerability. (Another lesson that it has taken me far too long to learn.) As some heartfelt comments lifted my spirits so much, I started to think about all the other moments this has happened in my past year. It prompted me to go back and re-read emails and messages that pulled me through some very dark moments, and before long I found myself copying and pasting countless affirmations onto one document that I am printing and placing in my bedside drawer.

Some of these comments are long-lost friends from ages ago whom I hardly speak to much anymore as time and distance have separated us. The way you are handling this journey, in all of its weak and shaken moments, is so inspiring to me as a mother and a friend. You are stronger than you know. Or another old friend… I respect you so much for the way you’ve told your story. You’ve done so without painting her as a slut, him as a villain, or yourself as a victim. Your softness and wisdom comes through so honestly. As your sister from what seems like a lifetime ago, it is comforting to feel a feminist kinship with you from afar. Your children are so fortunate to have you shaping their lives. I admire your sincerity and grace.

Or for all of us, there are people we barely cross paths with, yet we make impacts we are not aware of. From the day I met you. I’ve always known that you were someone special and amazing, and it is no surprise to me that you have remained classy throughout this entire awful ordeal. I know that you are showing your children how to handle things with grace and dignity. — I don’t have anything worthy to say about how inspiring you are. The word “inspiring” alone doesn’t do justice to the way I actually see you through the little glimpses into the window of your soul that your writing reveals — I don’t know your struggles down to the details, Katie, but you’ve got grace and strength girl!! And you’re one hell of a writer.

I’ve got old college acquaintances and friends — I wanted to reach out and tell you that I think you are an incredible, fabulous, super smart, kind and graceful person. Katie, you continue to amaze me in the best ways. Stay strong –I know that real love is coming for you someday. So few people have the capacity for that kind of love (or friendship). But you certainly do, and I believe God/the universe wouldn’t prepare your heart like this and not answer.Thank you for your willingness to express your pain and vulnerability to the world. Please know that you’ve helped other people by sharing your own journey. While our stories are different, I have found so much comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in many respects. Reading your piece has helped me understand so much about my value as a person and the beautiful self-awareness which often accompanies pain and growth. Thank you…Darling, you are a BEAST….and I mean that in the best way possible. Bravo, Lady. So proud of you. Stand tall. I can feel your strength from 3000 miles away.  

And even old grad school classmates from a decade ago who have reached out. You are smart and kind and strong. One thing that particularly sticks out about you is that you always approached life so gracefully. I’m sure this situation will be no different.I’ve lived long enough to recognize rare beauty in the world. You are one of the rare and beautiful people we get lucky enough to meet in life.You are one of the ones who thrives and doesn’t just survive.  I was struck with how much growth and wisdom you’ve accumulated. … You will live a fuller and richer life because of it. You already are, dear. Breaking out of the molds others have made for us or the narrow minds of loved ones we once trusted is extraordinarily painful – and so necessary in order to become your best self. You have been saved. Keep going.

I’ve heard from former students I taught when they were so young, and now I see them as adults nurturing me with their words in the same way I nurtured their growth almost a decade ago. You’re a rock star and inspire me so much – I admire your positive outlook through the tough times. Thanks for being a wonderful mentor over the years, even if the last have been virtually. Norah and Jude are so lucky to have you as their mom! — You are an incredible human being, role model, mother, and friend! I have always admired you and know that there is no insurmountable task that can stand in your way of what you dream not only for yourself but also for your children. You’ve always been such a role model for me and glad to say you still are.

And even distant family states away whom I never see anymore, but offer kind words and prayers and thoughts — I know that it’s been years since we’ve seen each other or even spoken, but I’ve always thought you displayed such strength and grace. Sometimes those two qualities are most obvious when we feel our weakest. I hope you can continue to see in yourself what so many other see as you begin a new path.

That last comment hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it? It’s so hard to see in ourselves what others see when they look at us.

And this is not an exercise in conceit or Katie-praise. Here’s the thing: if you are reading this right now, you’ve heard these affirmations, too. (Yes, you! I’m talking to you.) Somewhere, at some point, you’ve heard someone echo what is the very best about who you are. And though we have a hard time internalizing all that we are, I’m realizing that this many people cannot be lying to me or putting themselves out there on a limb after years of no contact to say something that is inherently untrue. These people span two decades of my life and do not even know one another. This many people cannot be wrong about who I am.

Say it with me friends. All of us: I have value. I’m strong. I’m capable. I’m loving. I am enough.

And this honesty and accountability? It works both ways. If I am doing something unkind or seeing life through some other distorted lens and a friend calls that to my view, I need to pay attention. If I’m in a relationship or engaged in habits that don’t serve me and a friend brings that to light, I need to listen hard. Let’s stop looking at ourselves through some weird distorted view and see our lives for what they really are in the faces of those who know us.

Your homework this weekend if you are reading this: dig up those comments and affirmations you’ve buried or neglected to give yourself credit for. Emails or text messages or Facebook comments or conversations in your memory. I’m not talking about someone’s compliment that you looked cute or baked a pretty cake. But the real stuff. Those moments of connection when someone has assured you that they see the very best parts of you. Dig that up, dust it off, and when you see a common thread, let me explain something to you. It is real. It is you. This is who you really are. Write those down. Hide them somewhere. And when you feel like you aren’t quite sure where you are headed or how to move on, take that paper out and read every single word. That is who you are.

And the best part of all of this is that the good traits just keep growing. When people tell you that you are strong? You just grow stronger. When people tell you they appreciate your honesty? You grow more honest and more accountable. And when people tell you that you’re loved? That one is the very best. You grow in every way. Bolder and bigger and more loving than the day before.