Wednesday, November 22, 2017


A month before my 38th birthday last year, I laid in bed staring out the window into the dark night.  My mind wandered in sleeplessness, and my heart ached in confusion.  My life had ended up far south of WhereIAlwaysHopedVille. I had a couple decisions in front of me – give up or fight.  I was in a little Airbnb in Portland, ME with a beautiful bay of water out the back door.  Giving up meant I could walk right out into it and float away.  Fighting meant I could lay right here until the sun rises – until there is light again, and I see a way to do this.  At that point in life, I had thankfully learned to look for light no matter how dark. So as I gazed out the window, I locked my eyes on a streetlamp.  I imagined Jesus himself had just erected it there for me to remind me He was there. I watched that pale glimmer until I finally let myself fall asleep.  The next morning I made a pot of coffee and drank all of it and made the decision to fight – mostly for the love of the woman inside me. 

I just looked back at my social media post on my 38th birthday last year – the month after I made that declaration to fight for her – I was bare faced, messed up hair, and embracing the vulnerability and bravery of the woman I was becoming.  Today at year 39 I’m still celebrating that 38 year old. At the darkest time, she made a choice to hope. At a time when I felt like I could lose so much, I decided it was the best time to gain ME.  So I prayed more than ever – (but don’t lose me here, folks – this isn’t the “pray your way to getting good news and happy things” kind of cookie cutter spirituality).  This was my desperate plea for God to remind me who He was, who I was, and what we were together.  I knew I could pray about all those dark things, and they may stay dark, but I needed to know what the Light could do in the midst of it.  For instance, when people thank God for answering their prayers of removing their cancer while another Jesus-loving person with praying friends dies from it, how do we reconcile this? I can’t, and I don’t even try to anymore.  What I know for absolutely sure is that Jesus shows up to bring comfort in the dark. He brings the Light even if the dark stuff still comes. And that’s how we can make it when things aren’t going our way.  That year I looked for streetlamps, car headlights, and flashlights. I lit candles, plugged in nightlights, built fires, and lit matches and just stared at them – and then prayed a prayer heard from one of my favorite writers, Ann Lamott – “Help me.  Help me. Help me.”  I knew it may quite possibly stay dark, but I knew I would find Light every time.  This process woke me up.  I came to know Jesus and the Holy Spirit – not just a “Heavenly Father” who I thought needed me to perform and do things right. I sat in my favorite chair a lot and practiced nothing but being there and letting Jesus be there too.  And I always lit something – a candle or maybe a fire under my own ass.  I was learning to love myself and others from the place Jesus already loved me - in a complete mess.  It was crazy. 

I was delivered blow after blow last year, and I just kept looking for Light and finding love and comfort every time. I kept loving harder from a bigger place and presence outside my humanity.  At some point I may share more specifically about those hard times (it’s all simmering appropriately), but my most important lesson on this 39th birthday is that it is always worth seeking Light and fighting for mySELF – it spills out into my other relationships in a way I could never have done out of my own human strength.  I love myself and my people more every day. I forgive myself and my people more every day.  Happy year 39 to ME.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


I eyed each pumpkin in the patch trying to determine which ones would perfectly stack on each other to make that pristine gourd tower.  You know – the one on every southern home porch that shouts “It’s fall, y’all.” Even though that phrase makes me cringe for a variety of reasons, I somehow still “fall” into the expectation that my home in Tennessee should follow suit and don this autumn awesomeness.  Eventually they started growing some kind of fungus on them, the top pumpkin fell off and broke its stem, and one of my kids just snuck in a blue one he painted in the mix.  Not what I expected.  But somehow it’s more honest and representative of me now.  And it made me laugh at how “perfectly” it goes along with what I had just been writing on a recent trip to NYC.

We grow up with a list of expectations.  There are developmental stages we are expected to meet – first steps, first word, first day of school.  There are expectations about being a spouse and parent – stay present, keep dating, show up to soccer games.  There are unspoken expectations about being male or female – wear this/not that, stay strong/stay silent, do this type of job.  There are the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves and others.  And what happens when we miss these marks?  At almost 39, I’m learning the important difference between expectations and dreams.  Dreams bring hope and can guide us to our heart’s deepest desires.  Even if they don’t “come true,” they leave room for more exploration and creativity. But expectations, when not met, foster resentment and rob us of our truest selves. I have been living most of my life with a list of unmet expectations.  And it’s exhausting.

I was going to be a famous singer.  I was going to get married and have a baby or 2 or 3.  Instead, I am a therapist.  I am married with 3 adopted boys.  And even those roles are riddled with expectations.  For example, because I am a therapist, I’m “expected” to be a good wife and a good mom because I have a degree that says I know about relationships.  I am sitting here in a courtyard hotel in New York City grieving all the ways I have missed those marks.  I even have an expectation of myself right now that I should be out walking around the city taking in all the sights.  Internal dialogue is “Why are you sitting here writing? You can do this at home. You don’t have the Statue of Liberty at home!”  And this is the internal dialogue that keeps me trapped.  I start obeying it, and I move away from my heart and soul that is whispering softly what it really wants. But today I did not.  I sit here wrapped up in my new cozy scarf doing what I NEED to do to honor a voice inside me that gets muted too often. Life is too short and too hard to keep operating in the expectations.  I want the dreams. I want to sit right here and write.  It takes courage to move toward dreams and away from the expectations.

As both a child and adult, I like resolving conflict.  I became a therapist, because I love the role of helping people find emotional health.  Early in my career I had an expectation this would also mean a guaranteed life of health and happiness because I would have all the “how to’s” as a spouse and parent.  No way I can mess this up if I’ve got the rule books. I’ve grown to love this “Performer Part” of me that so innocently studies and achieves.  She is determined and beautiful.  Her heart craves balance, love, connection, and validation. Yet where she was sadly unaware is that this could not be all up to her.  No amount of reading, no diploma or license, no LMFT credentials behind her name on a website or office door could keep her from the pain of living.  And when things started going completely awry, she mistakenly believed she had failed.  This part of me took on the shame of where my life had landed – that somewhere I didn’t “cross the t or dot the i” and now it’s all my fault.  Then the shame spiral spins out of control:

Who will come see ME for therapy?
What if I had only done a, b, c…?
What will people think of me?
How did I mess this up?
How can I make life “right” again?

All these shame thoughts come because my lovely ambitious Performer Part thinks she failed.  She had expectations to meet, and she didn’t.  She thinks all those expectations were squarely and primarily on HER shoulders. 

You know how a football player gets injured and can’t play anymore, or a writer breaks her wrist and can’t type, or a singer loses her voice?  Do you think those people failed?  Author Jen Hatmaker spoke straight to my Performer Part in her most recent book “Of Mess and Moxie.” She writes: “The main thing is attacked, and no amount of devotion could stop it. It is a watershed moment when we start bargaining with God. Anything but this, Lord. I did everything right! I invested wholeheartedly. I sacrificed greatly. I nurtured this specifically. I need this particularly. I love this especially. How could this go down despite my dedication?...The problem is life.”

We can know everything there is to know about our field or given profession. We can study it, do it, and nail it.  And life still freaking happens to us.  So today I am telling my Performer Part what a brave and beautiful woman she is. I want her to know how hard she has worked and what good things have come from her determined and well-intentioned efforts. She read all the books, got the 4.0, won competitions, ran the marathons, kayaked 12 miles alone, got her Master’s degree, worked tirelessly to bring her 3 kids home from Haiti, walked through painful events with her clients, and now she is courageously fighting for the hurt parts of herself.  And today she must know – there are no more expectations of her except to honestly show up with her heart. I want her to lift all that shit off her shoulders. You did a good job.  Don’t do this by yourself anymore.  It was never all up to you, and it still isn’t. You do your part, and let others do theirs. You can’t be held responsible for the choices of others or the storms of life.  Serenity prayer yourself through this. 

As I move from expectations to dreams, an important shift happens. I remember I have help.  Expectations say it’s all up to me and that any mistakes or hardships mean I’ve failed. Dreaming means I have good ideas and gifts to offer the world, and I can do my part to be the person I want to be. I can trust the pain of life will be used to keep growing me. I have a compassionate Jesus who strengthens me. I used to believe He was up there waving a wand and making good things happen for people who were doing all the “right” things.  But now more than ever I realize we were never promised easy, good, happy, perfect lives free from pain - no matter the level of performance. But we were absolutely promised He would love and comfort us in it. From this perspective, here’s how that shame spiral mentioned above levels back out:

People will want to see ME for therapy because I am an imperfect person who gets life with them. I have done (and still doing) my healing work too.  I have some great tools and resources to share, and yet my compassionate heart outweighs the books I’ve read and skills I’ve learned.

I could have done a, b, or c….and other life things could’ve still happened.  There is actually freedom in knowing I am ultimately not in control, yet always loved through it.

Some people will still absolutely question or judge me. That’s just life.  But there will also be people who think I’m brave and are thankful I’ve walked in their shoes and can sit in the pain with them. 

I didn’t mess this up.  Another of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, says “I am a feeling person in a messy world.”

There’s no making life “right” again. Because it never was.  I just keep dreaming and rearranging the pumpkins.

~What expectations did you have of yourself or something in your life that did not get met?
~Can you grieve those losses and accept human imperfection and the hardship of life?
~Are you carrying a burden of responsibility that isn’t really yours? How can you release it?
~How can these “failed” expectations be turned into dreams now?
~ What rearranging needs to be done in order to be who you truly want to be?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Wonder Woman

I had a conversation with a friend recently who also likes to write.  We both desire to be transparent about our stories, but sometimes there is a risk of that story exposing too much and potentially being harmful.  It’s a fine line we walk to stay honest and vulnerable, yet protective and respectful.  The telling of our stories is for healing, not harming. It’s not healthy for me to lay all my dirty laundry out for everyone – at least not before the rinse cycle.  What is healthy is being honest about painful experiences yet seeking resources to heal and grow.

So when I sit down to write I ask, “What will help someone? How can I be vulnerable, yet careful?  Honest about the hardship of life, but also inspirational and hopeful?” It is crucial to me to connect with others in the hard of life, because that’s also where the good stuff grows from later.  So in probably one of the hardest places of my life right now, I’m summoning courage to start telling the story – honestly, safely, respectfully, and with hopefully appropriate timing and grace.  I’ll be writing about it in pieces as I trust each part to show itself ready.  I am starting with a super hero story. Because I need her in order to do this. Because I am her. 

My son Woody had been asking me to go see Wonder Woman for weeks now. While I loved everything about this, I was having a hard time finding a good day to make it happen. I trusted it would work out at just the right time – as most things do.  One day it felt like something that had to happen.  It wasn’t just a request from my son but a plea from my insides to have inspiration from a woman in a cape. It was one of those days where I felt like I might not be able to “fight” another thing. I was exhausted, helpless, and hopeless.  I was waving the white flag. 

I found myself weeping in the middle of a scene where Wonder Woman goes into “No Man’s Land” to fight for love against the enemy. Click here to see the clip on youtube.  She is crouched down holding her shield in front of her being pummeled by arrows and bullets.  She is leaning in, bracing herself, gritting her teeth, and standing her ground.  I was in awe of her strength in defense of herself and everything she was fighting for. Guarding yourself is a necessary part of the battle. Eventually she is joined by her fellow soldiers.  When I was in my own counseling session recently (because, YES, counselors needs counselors too – this is how we help you. Circle of life.), I shared how this scene moved me and that I felt like Wonder Woman in that moment – trying to stand strong and not be hurt.  So then my therapist asked me to picture who would be joining me on the battlefield.  My powerhouse team of women came rushing out on the front lines with me. They weren’t there to fight the battle FOR me, but alongside me in support.  We all have our own battles to fight, so we show up together to fight them.

If you don’t know Wonder Woman’s story, she was fighting for love – true love, love for the marginalized, love for self. That is an exhausting battle.  And sometimes all you can do is put up your shield and lean into the enemy fire. Although Wonder Woman could have fought alone and still won, even this super hero had her people by her side. 

I put my shield down just for a minute to rest.   I pictured my platoon standing guard with their shields while I took a nap with my cape around me and let Jesus comfort me. I wrote this part of the story. I ate my favorite coconut milk ice cream. I called one of those soldiers to get a glass of wine with me. I cried and prayed a lot.  I’ll join the battle again when it’s time to fight, and the fight will continue to be for love – the truest love for mySELF and my people.  Right now I am loving and honoring myself for the fierce protection of my shield and the ground I have stood.  There is a time for everything.

What I continue to learn is that all growth does NOT happen in my time or way.  Just when I thought I was at my "best," along came another season - another layer ready for peeling. Growth always involves pain, courage, strength, rest, fighting, and eventually joy.  It always involves a team of people who love you.  In the past I have hurried toward the joy – to get to the end of the battle the quickest and easiest way possible – no time for pain or rest.  But pain and rest are great teachers.  We must honor their timing, lessons, and gifts.  I want to believe true joy and strength awaits after true grief and loss - that "face down in the arena" moment that author Brene Brown talks about. 

One of my fellow soldiers gave me my own version of Wonder Woman bracelets that say “Braver than you believe. Smarter than you think.” Yes I am. So are you.  Trust your trial to grow and teach you, and don’t go into battle alone.    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Just Keep Swimming

“Attention, you have 15 great white sharks near you.  Please calmly exit the water.”   This was the alert from the Officials in Orange County, CA to a group of beachgoers – see full article here.  Thanks for the heads up, but CALMLY exit the water?  But the reality is that when in crisis, in the middle of trauma, in the midst of danger, we are advised to “stay calm.” Why? And what does that even mean?  Our hearts are pounding. We are scared. We are possibly hurting. We feel crazy.  We think we might die.  How are we supposed to stay calm? But somehow we do. 

This specific kind of thing may not have ever happened to you. But we have all been surrounded by “sharks” at some point – in the middle of danger, fear, crisis, hurt, pain, and uncertainty. And we panic – naturally.  How do I get out of this? Where do I go?  How will I survive this?

Last Saturday night my husband and I drove past a truck in a ditch – horn honking and lights flashing.  It was obvious the accident had just happened.  I yelled to Todd to pull over.  And I ran to meet a young boy stumbling out of the truck.  I asked if he was okay, and he was crying and obviously drunk.  He begged me to stay with him until more help came.  I did.  Through his beer breath he told me how mad his mom would be, how much trouble he would be in, how sorry he was. He was surrounded by his “sharks.”  I asked him to take deep breaths, tell the truth, and keep taking the right next step.  I said, “We’ve got to get you to safety first, and the rest will be figured out later.” Police showed up, but I held his hand until his mom came.  When we are in trauma, we need the nearness of others.  And when his mom arrived, after holding her son, she buried her tearful face on my chest.  Her sharks were circling too.  I told her she was a good mom, doing a great job, and she would get through this – that more would be revealed.  And then I cried too. 

Many of my favorite writers and bloggers advise not to write about things you are still processing.  We take huge risks to put our mess out there in public when there’s so much debris still flying around from our shit storm. Until the debris has landed and we sift through what is trash to dispose and what is a treasure to repair, we keep the work of the trauma and its aftermath safely close to us and with the people we love.  We stay “calm.” We calmly exit the water and turn to our safe people and ask "What the F just happened?” And then we get still and rest for a minute…or the next year or 2.    I recently experienced my own shark story.  It feels like they are still circling. But I am calmly getting out of the water. That’s the piece I can write about right now.

I started writing a step by step process for “calmly exiting the water.” I am now laughing my butt off, because that’s impossible.  We are not going through a checklist as we get out of shark-infested waters. We are just getting the heck out of there.  The beauty of our human nature is that we do inherently know what to do in crisis.  Even though we go through fight, flight, or freeze, we instinctively do what feels natural to survive. “Getting calmly and safely to shore” for me has been breathing, asking for help, and to keep swimming. Remember good old Dori from Finding Nemo?  “Just keep swimming” means I breathe, go to bed, breathe, wake up, breathe, drink coffee, breathe, drink water, breathe, eat, breathe, pray, breathe, connect with a safe friend, and breathe.  I keep my vision on the shore as I swim – the place where I feel safe from the sharks – and trust its provision for me there.  Decisions do not have to be made right now.  I’m not swimming to shore thinking about all the next steps once I reach safety. I’m just getting to shore. And after all that swimming, I need rest. 

People who have been through trauma are often asked, “How did you know when you were going to be okay?” The answer to this question is most likely their place of hope and resilience.  It’s their “shore.” They have landed safely away from the sharks. And as they reflect on the pain and fear, they can also remember what it was like to land safely – their bodies and hearts lying tired and broken on comforting ground.  At some of my hardest places during crisis when I was crying and “swimming,” I remember seeing a beautiful Iris that had just bloomed open in the middle of weeds. I saw a female Cardinal gathering twigs.  I opened my puffy eyes to the sunshine outside my window now warming my tears. I got a million messages from people I love offering comfort, love and encouragement.  All these places are my shore. So now I lay here and just rest in their comfort until next steps are clearer.  That is enough right now.  Just keep swimming with your eyes on the shore, and then rest your weary souls there.