the annual REAL christmas letter

One of my favorite traditions for almost a decade has been to sit down and try to write a REAL Christmas letter.  Not just the highlights, but a few honest moments as well. It started as a joke with one of my friends, thinking how refreshing it be for people to share more than just their perfect lives that we are used to seeing on Facebook and Instagram. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Now, every year I look forward to sitting down and reflecting on what I have learned, what is still a struggle, what is funny and of course the things that still make my heart want to burst in the best and worst ways. I even tried to reflect that in my Christmas card this year (well....the ones I was together enough to get out). The front is a tight shot of my family looking oh so cute on the couch....but zoom out and ...well. Truth. Laundry to hang, empty cups and of course...pajamas. It is meant to be funny, but there is also some perspective here. We usually only see just a little bit. I am tempted to compare, just like everyone else, but there is usually more to the scene. This is my attempt to zoom out just a bit.

As much as my personal life changed in 2015 -- moving, starting grad school and surgery, this year stayed the same. Same house, same job, same school, same meds. The biggest decision my family seemed to make was whether or not Tess would get bangs. The world around us may not have followed suit - it seemed to be a year of violence and a shocking election. Humanity, or at least social media, somehow showed both its worst and best. I have decided to choose the best even when the news does not always show it. I suppose my year looked a little like that. Pain that resurfaced again in the Spring, this time without the hope of surgery. In the past I have always worked hard to push through and on and anyways. This little strategy seemed to stop working for me. I needed a new one. So, I started listening, resting and giving in. I take my meds, I mostly don’t do the things I am not supposed to do and I get plenty of rest. Miraculously, most days I am back on my game. I have tried to apply these same lessons to other places in my life. The idea that physical pain works much like the heart version. It is managed so much better when we listen to it, give it room and feel it when  we would rather ignore it. It is such a damn inconvenience, but still better than being flattened.

My graduate school work is still going strong. People keep asking me when I will be finished. When they can finally call me doctor. So let me clarify for everyone, I have forever left. This program is no joke and a finish line is hard to see. I have no idea when my weekends will be back to being my own and when I will help my husband do laundry again, but there will be at least two or three more of these yearly letters in between. I am loving like the things I am learning, as long as you don’t make me cite that in proper APA fashion.

These little people of mine keep growing, learning new things and losing things and losing teeth. I slipped earlier this year and Tess overheard me on the phone telling a friend how I forgot to put money under Owen’s pillow. I am sure Owen has known for years, but Tess was surprised to hear the news. I felt like a mom failure for a minute, but it has worked out quite nicely ever since. I just hand over a few dollars and we call it a day. Santa, she is not quite ready to give up on and I will try to let them hold onto as much magic as I can. I will keep those lies coming, as long as she thinks she has to stay off the naughty list.

I have always wanted to live a big and loud life, but this year I have moved towards a smaller one. (As for volume, I still only have one setting). I haven’t given up on dreams or anything like that, I have just learned that I have to do less. And by less I mean I can’t cook dinner grade papers, check my own kids’ homework, meet friends for coffee, write a 20 page paper, hang out with my family and binge watch The Crown on Netflix. Each year I seem to have to make more choices. Say more Nos. Let things narrow.  There is some mourning in that. I still secretly hate the fact that I have to walk instead of run, but walking has its advantages too -- like good conversation along the way. The narrowing is a loss, but I am choosing more intentionally and healthier when I really still want to choose all of it. This means I should know when to stop or turn back or that I will have to find that little voice inside that governs all the things. The one that I have been telling to shut up for decades and decades. My knees might sound 38, but that voice just isn’t quite there yet. It is getting louder though. Many of my text messages go unanswered. I go to bed early. I wake up early. Instead of dozens of people...many days I only  want just a few, some days only the three I share an address with. Don’t worry, I can still find that loud obnoxious version of me and bring her out for special occasions….but the rest of the time, this girl is going to be in bed before 10 o’clock. (ok 9:30...especially on a school night).

A few weeks ago I went on a whirlwind girls trip to NYC (thanks Rhonda!). I spent a weekend in the cold watching ice skaters, standing on top of skyscrapers, eating hot dogs from carts, riding around Central Park and having every hair on my body stand up when they hit the right notes on Broadway. My summer I found hope on the beach, floated the Comal and tasted as much wine as I could in Fredricksburg. So obviously my slightly smaller life is still overflowing and only boring when I want it to be. I mean there are some days you should never get out of your pjs (it is very possible that today might be one of those days!).

This is my yearly review, but I am not the only one in the story. Tess changes clothes, future careers and looks by the minute. She is quiet at school and more than makes up for that volume at home. She constantly has to be reminded to shower, brush her teeth and sleep in actual pajamas rather than the clothes she wore that day. She quit dance but is still playing soccer. I am begging this girl to take piano or violin or anything musical, but all she wants is to make things and ride horses.  Give her a few boxes and a roll of tape and she will have built herself a new bedroom downstairs. I suggested that maybe she make a cardboard horse…..She makes great grades, has won awards at school but I still have to battle her nightly to do her homework. Her room is a disaster and she would eat Easy Mac every night for dinner if I let her. (sometimes I do). But she is kind and fierce and trying to find her way in the world. I let her. Sometimes in overhauls, sometimes in sequins, rarely with hair that looks like it has been brushed.

It is a miracle that my husband is letting my son (the one just like him) see 2017. He loses everything. EVERYTHING. His homework, his gym clothes, money and all electronics. The more expensive it is --the faster he loses it. He is only in the sixth grade but some days it feels like he is older, mostly because he marches up stairs and only comes down only when I yell for him the fourth time. But he still looks so small and young and I can count all his freckles, embarrass him and make him laugh at inappropriate jokes. Recently he marched downstairs for church wearing plaid shorts, a long-sleeved striped shirt, both so wrinkled that they were barely recognizable. I told him to rethink the wardrobe choice. He responded by telling me that he was “unlucky” today. Stumped, I had him elaborate. He explained that when deciding what to wear each day he just grabs two things from his closet and hopes they go together, some days he is lucky and some days he is not. He wears them either way and likely doesn’t know the difference. Lord, help him.  He doesn’t have a clue what he wants for Christmas and I am sure it is because he thinks he is too old to ask for Legos, but I know for certain he isn’t too old to actually play with them. If he is, someone please tell my husband. He is getting old enough to pull away and talk to his parents less. I am trying to make sure I listen when he does, which means I hear way more about video games than I ever wanted to know. This is a complete foreign language to me, so I pray there is a special place in heaven for moms who can tell you all the Pokemon. (ok, Pokemon Go is pretty fun and I suspect responsible for me losing a few pounds this summer….I mean those eggs don’t hatch themselves). And have I mentioned that this forgetful, mismatched almost tween may not have the best fashion sense, but he opens doors for women, has a thankful heart and can flip a water bottle with the best of them. I, on the other hand have banned water bottles from my house in 2017.

Shaun has put the running on hold and these days only runs to Lowes. Nightly. He has more new tools and ideas than I can keep up with. He spends his night scribbling designs on graph paper and making things in the garage. He has taught my kids how to do the dirty work (sanding and staining). He has made some amazing things, some of which are for sale. What else he has made, like every year, is this family work. He does more than his share of dishes and laundry, and the worst job of getting kids up and off to school since my school starts most days before the sun comes up. When he is out of town, I have to make sure they don't miss the bus, eat breakfast and don’t wear pajamas to school. It is exhausting. I need a nap after Tess tells me how to do a ponytail thirteen times and eventually does it herself, and trust me everyone can tell she did it herself. This year marked 15 years of marriage for us, and we celebrated with a return trip to Boston. We spent our honeymoon there, where I spent most of it puking from food poisoning...which is not exactly the honeymoon anyone dreams of. Round two was much better and puke free. We had dated for what felt like ever before getting married, but we were still strangers who had no idea how to share a room much less a life back then. Fifteen years later, we know how to share a life, just not the covers.

Despite the fact that I have not written many words publicly this year, it has still been my most reflective one ever. In some ways that has been hard, but it has shown me hope, thankfulness and progress. I’m thinking those are things we could all use more of heading in to 2017.

break a leg

I do the math on my hand. This is my 5th end of the year dance recital and you think by now I’d know to remember to pack hair spray and snacks. Someone hands my daughter a bag of chips and I want to hug her. I want to tell her that I am not a total failure, that we did not lose the wristbands, we wore the right color tights and that I do at least have a few bobby pins in my pocket. I can not handle the crazy that is backstage. It is a whirlwind of squealing girls in sequins, lycra and tulle. Moms wielding curling hours and more eye makeup than the entire MAC counter, I start to sweat in my ponytail. I quickly look away as an entire row of dancers peel off EVERYTHING for a quick costume change. I was not made for this. I unashamedly let an eight-year-old I have never met teach me how to get my daughter’s hair in place and I make the fastest exit I can.

We sit in the balcony. Where we have been for hours. Dance recital day is all consuming. Rehersal, hair and finding the right tights. My kids are number 41 and 46 in a very long program. I joke with my husband and ask if anyone would mind if we had a pizza delivered. He watches soccer silently on his phone. I watch the stage, despite my discomfort backstage, I like the music and the art that someone has gone into to show me what it looks like. Song after song. I hear it differently because now I can see it. 

My son is up first. Yep, you read that right - my nerf gun shooting, goal scoring, video game addicted son takes the stage in what is usually only his sister’s dance recital. His hat is to the side, his Jordans laced up, his pants I swear — I wore in the early 90s. Well, I just wanted to wear them — but I wore boring Jordache instead. Kriss Kross starts to tell them to jump. And he does. How high - he almost hits the sky. And my heart has that familiar swell. The one where I think it is trying to bust out of my chest and down my cheeks in pride. I watched him at dress rehearsal just two days ago. Catching errors and uncertainty, eager to get home and take care of all the things I needed to do, but on stage, all I see is my kid out there kicking ass in front of an absolutely packed auditorium. They strut off the stage and the crowd claps louder than usual because these have been the first boys they have seen all day.

A few acts later, my girl in her sequins prances out. Like my son, I saw her dance in costume so recently, but it is a different thing entirely on this huge stage. Under the lights. A few counts in she practically does the splits. The splits. How in the….When did she learn that? I must have been watching it through the lens of my phone rather than with my big teary eyes the other day. We miss a lot like that. All this. The hours in my seat of a program that seems to never end and the million bobby pins. I’d do it again, for that feeling of watching my kids out there.

Tess has told me week after week that she is done with dance. That she wants to quit. WHY DID I EVEN SIGN HER UP, she whines. I remind her, sometimes at the same volume, that it is because she asked me to. I remind her that she told me assuredly at the recital last year that she wanted to do it again. I tell her each week as we struggle with tights and finding the other damn jazz shoe that this is what she signed up for and we are not quitting until after the show. Secretly I wish she would. It is not cheap and I’d love one less thing to chauffeur her to and from. 

At dress rehearsal, I see that my daughter, usually short and focused, is put on the front and that now she is in the back. I see her with new skills but less confidence and timing than the other girls. I want her to do well of course, but I tell her as we put on these tights for maybe the last time what I want her to do today. I don’t tell her the usual before recital things. Smile, watch your line, have fun, break a leg. Instead, I talk too much.  I tell her how proud it makes me watch her do brave things. How nervous I’d be in front of all those people, but that she has done it so many times before. I tell her to go out there and be brave. I tell her to stop looking around at the people around her. To just do her thing as best she can. I ask her what would happen if she wasn’t there? She looks at me funny. She might want to skip practice, but she never ever wants to skip recital day. I ask her again, what would it look like if you weren’t in your spot. She gets the question and tells me that there would be an empty hole. Yes, Tess. When we don’t show up, when we aren’t brave….that sometimes it leaves an empty space. A Tess shaped space. That they need her out there. That it won’t be nearly as good if she isn’t there. That that isn’t true just for dance recitals. I tell her it is true at school. I tell her it is true on the soccer field. I tell her it is the absolute most true right in our family.
I tell her that she is needed.
I tell her that she is important.
I tell her that she is brave.
And since I can’t tell her what I am really thinking - to go out there and kick some ass, I tell her what everyone else does.

I tell her to break a leg.


No one would ever mistake me for a dance mom.  Most men these days can do a better bun than me and I can’t tell the difference between a leotard and a swimsuit. Tess has been in dance for over four years now and I’d still rather vacuum than help her put on tights (which is saying ALOT). Her debut was at a Junior League Christmas shopping event where they had squeezed a stage in the corner and invited local dance studios to perform while women shopped for all things Santa and rhinestone. Tess was barely out of pull ups. I didn’t want to start her that young, but….if she heard music ….she danced.  In the aisle at the grocery store. In restaurants, she would “perform” while waiters dodged her dancing between tables. Occasionally she even got applause. The check-out clerks at Target would tell me, the table next to us eating would tell me and even my parents told me, “Get that girl in dance”. So finally I bought the tiniest of ballet slippers and the most annoying tap shoes and signed her up. Her class only had a few members, because only an insane person would put a three-year-old in dance.  While lining up for her Christmas debut I learned that one girl in her class was sick, and the other had a death in the family. That was it. Her class had three members and quickly her trio had fallen to a solo act. I was so nervous for her. I wondered what she would do when she walked out on the now seemingly huge stage. Alone. In front of all these people and the music started. My plan was this,  If she panicked or froze I’d climb up there with her and go through the motions. If any of you have seen me dance -- you know that this would be entertaining for all, but not for the right reasons.  Instead my girl got up there. Looked wide eyed and nervously into the crowd -- and nailed it.  I had made my way to the front, ready to rush the stage if necessary and instead I ended up weeping like the three year old.
Tess is older now. She almost has enough hair for a bun, but I think this is her last season to dance (at least according to her). I don’t weep at recitals anymore (except maybe because they are soooooo long), but today as I walked out of her elementary school I felt the same feeling. My heart in my stomach. Love and pride bursting me wide open.  Her school does an oratorical contest at the end of the year. Each year a single student is chosen from each class to compete. In front of the whole entire school, a bunch of parents who always get the good seats because they aren’t rushing from the middle of third period, and the most scary --- a panel of serious looking judges.  For the last year I have found my seat in the back of the cafeteria, once for Owen and the last two years for Tess. My son is quiet and shy and so I was surprised that he was chosen. I asked him to practice and he wouldn’t even read his poem to me, but he got on the stage and said it in front of hundreds of people. Again my heart swelled and nearly broke me open. He took last place, but it is one of my favorite trophies. Last year Tess was so tiny, only a kindergartener and I wasn’t sure if she would crack. She shook a little and rushed her poem, but the thought of grown up me speaking in front of that many people makes my knees wobble. Today she was even better, a little quiet but more confident. She took 3rd place, which sounds impressive - but the truth is that is next to last. Still I felt that same feeling as I walked back to my car. It felt just like every time my son stood at bat and I prayed he didn’t strike out. Every time they spoke at a school play. How I feel everytime my son runs across a finish line in a race, especially now that I can’t run with him. How I felt when he said a speech in a library full of parents as Ross Perot. He kept going even when his fake ear started to fall off. When their teachers have read kind words about my students at awards breakfasts where few are chosen. Those words have always meant more than any certificate or trophy.
They are older, they have changed so much and so quickly, but my heart feels the exact same. Like part of it is walking around on the outside of my chest. (like the Elizabeth Stone quote).

 It is awards season at the schools my children attend and my own. I will rush over between classes. Hug them and tell them I am proud of them. I will take a picture of them with their certificate. But the truth is my heart doesn’t feel the same rush. It doesn’t want to bust as each kid, mine included, receives a certificate. Getting an award, just like everyone else, doesn’t quite mean the same thing. My heart wouldn’t have felt any less proud if my kids had taken home 1st place trophies instead of 3rd or 4th. I realized that I am most proud of my kids when they do hard scary things. Things that require work, kindness or knocking knees.  When they have the opportunity to fail. When they are brave, despite a panel of judges or roomful of peers or suddenly find themselves alone. In ballet slippers, soccer cleats or church shoes. Rarely do kids get awards for being brave. These days most awards are handed out for performance or participation. Sometimes the best kind of trophies or certificates look more like 4th place than 1st place.

a mothers day repost

The first time I posted this wasn't on mother's day or even close....but it seems to fit today. I have written a ton lately....but none of it seems ready for public consumption just yet. So --instead there is this:

My Favorite Scar

When I was ten I fell on a piece of glass and sliced open my left hand.
The scar is thick and a little lumpy because I waited too long to get stitches.
On my other hand is larger white scrappy scar from a bike injury. The involved me trying to beat the boys.
My knees are thick with scars. More bikes, tennis courts and plain old clumsy.

My son has a few already and he gladly shows them off.
They are a testament to his toughness.  The one on his back shows that he did in fact survive jumping (and falling off the bed). There is one on his chin that the ER doctors glued shut – we no longer practice diving in the bathtub.
And a little one on his hairline that received a few staples.
Scars show us what we have survived and we have healed.
But I have a favorite scar that shows me so much more.
It is about 6 inches across and marks a thin pink raised line across my lower abdomen.
My son’s delivery ended in an emergency c-section.
After all the pushing and blood I really didn’t care how he got here.
Even if it involved slicing across my belly and eventually 19 staples.
Every nurse that came in and checked me commented on the incision.
They kept saying how neat it was and that it would leave a nice scar, one nurse even said a pretty scar.
A nice scar. A pretty scar.
I kept thinking they were crazy. That this was just their trained way to make people feel better. They kept saying that I could even wear a bikini if I wanted.
I wondered if they had been taking some of my morphine.
But the line was clean and neat and shrunk considerably even by my one month check up.

The second time around it was a little more scheduled.
My doctor encouraged another c-section so that I wouldn’t repeat what had happened the first time. I didn’t need much encouragement.
My first birth experience hadn't been a fun one.
So I had another c-section.
This one, was planned but wasn’t so easy.
There was a lot of scar tissue and she had some trouble stopping the bleeding.
This time, no one told me that I had a neat incision or that I would end up with a pretty scar.
Instead they just billed me for extra ER time and gave me plenty of morphine.

But still the staples came out and it shrunk down considerably. This time a little thicker, a little curved at one end and at least an inch longer.
I could still feel pain there for almost a year.
And sometimes it is still a little sensitive.
Occasionally I still trace my finger over this little pink line and amazed that my two children entered the world here. This little scar is where I became a mother not once but twice. Despite what the nurses said, it isn’t pretty. But it is still beautiful.  It doesn’t say anything about toughness.  If anything, my lack of. I don’t show it off proudly like my son does with his scars. (Trust me, no one wants to see me in a bikini).
But I treasure it.

I believe that Jesus was fully man once.
That he scraped knees and chins like the rest of us.
I’m sure he had his share of scars.
I don’t even want to think about the ones on his back.
And I’m just speculating.
But I imagine, sometimes, Jesus probably looks down at his hands.
Where the nails used to be, touches them tenderly.
And treasures those scars.
And the life that came from them.

around the bend

I like to do things fast. Knock them out quickly. Before I get scared or tired or bored or distracted.
(What was I talking about again??)

This morning, in need of some reliable wifi and peace to work on homework, I drove into Taos. It was only 24 miles but took me a good 45 minutes.
You have to move slower when the road winds and twists and turns and the other side is a steep drop off. Down a giant mountain. Most of the drive is a no passing zone. You can’t see down the road far enough to get out ahead. You are just stuck. Winding and turning. And following the advised speed limit or the car in front of you. Occasionally feeling your stomach lurch with another turn.
It is easy to not care about the time because it is so damn beautiful.
My husband is all about the mountains. He breathes easier in this thin air.
I am a water girl. Give me a beach or a paddle board and I am in my happy place. Even if I have to put on a swimsuit.

But I get it.
I get how much easier it is to feel alive here.
My kids drop their devices and play in the snow until their toes and noses are numb.
I stare out the window instead of down at my phone.
I read by the fire.
My coffee gets cold.

My son skis just like these mountain roads.
He uses the whole mountain. He goes slow and cautiously back and forth.
Winding and turning taking his sweet time.
Because really what is the rush? And truth be told I like to keep him in one piece.
My daughter is more likely to point her skis into French fries and head straight down.

I learn from watching my kids all the time.
I learn who I was and who I am from the parts of me that I see in them.
Genetics is so much more than my daughter having my freckles across her nose and my smart mouth.  I also see so much of me in their questions, reservations and insecurities. They are often mine.

I see my daughter rush and fight and resist.
I see my son wind carefully down.
Taking it all in.

These days it all seems a bit slower.
My brain moves at a different pace.
I run slower. I do less. I sleep more.
There is frustration in that.
Seeking a balance between what I know I shouldn’t do and will pay for with pain for days later and still living my life. Finding a difference between good healthy decisions and things that are worth the risk. I am sure that is probably a skill most people master by the age of 22, but it is still something I am working on.

This morning I hole up at a hippie coffee shop down a windy road instead of joining my family
on the mountain. ( I have papers to write).
I try not to mind.
But I do.

On Saturday I ran a race. Well…I slowly jogged a race.
I told almost no one. I got in the car – headed there –changed my mind went all the way home and then changed my mind again and got back in the car.
I was crazy nervous.  I used to run 5Ks as my warm up, but I wasn’t sure I could finish. I have never not finished a race. The fear of not finishing almost made me not even start. Ironically the big inflatable starting gate was backwards.
The first words I saw when I lined up to begin was “finish”.
I also cried for the first half mile. I was glad that it was raining a little so no one could notice. It is something I love and haven’t been able to do in well over a year.
Slow and steady. Paying attention.  Glad for my shortness of breath and stitch in my side. It probably wasn’t my best idea. My face went numb halfway through. It was my worst time ever – but after 3.1 miles I ran through a huge inflatable “start”.
And I couldn’t have been more ready for a new one.

This morning my daughter asked if I had ever skied (even though I skied with her just last year).
“Yes, Tess – last year with you and Owen remember?”
Tess: “Was it before your surgery?”
Me: “Yes”
This before and after that seems to separate so much of my life.
I’ve started making dumb decisions. That involve living instead of protecting.
Tomorrow I think I will hit the slopes.
I need to feel that alive.
I need my kids to remember me there.
I need my knees to ache and my cheeks chap from the wind.
I need to make my way down the mountain just like my son.
Slowly. Carefully.  Using the whole mountain. Soaking it all in.
I worry that I won’t be able to make it down or get my money out of my lift ticket.
I worry about the pain that it might leave me in.
But then again, it might not.

In a few hours I will drive back on those same roads.
Windy. A little dangerous. And slower than I usually drive.
I can’t see what is around the turn.
I have no idea if it will hurt or be fine.
I just have to go.

I will crank up my music.
And soak every damn bit of it in.

choose courage

My friend Rhonda spent months and all her creative energy shooting 12 beautiful women who also happened to be victims of domestic violence. On the night of the big reveal of their photos, I couldn’t wait to see these amazing photos and real life women. Almost all models were present and we sat in folding chairs in her backyard and watched the photos roll across the screen as the wind threatened to blow us all away. Each woman was stunning. Each shoot seemed to show something different. Strength. Beauty. Fragility. Fun. Resilience.  The photographer really  saw them and wanted to make sure everyone else did too.

Instead of talking about struggle and the past, we were looking at picture after picture of penetrating beauty. These portraits show that these women are to be admired not for where they have been or what they have survived, but for the courageous women that they are right now. Every one of these women had a different story, past and present. But they all had a common thread. They have survived domestic violence. Walked away and come out beautiful and stronger for it. It was hard to sit beside them, watch their images and know what to do with that.  Sometimes I think we get stuck in the struggle as well. Trapped in our past and in the battles that we let that define us. Where we have walked shapes us, but it is not who we are. It is not who we should see when we look in the mirror.
I wanted what I saw in the photos. I just didn’t want the hard past that has brought them there. I think if you ask anyone they will tell you that they want courage. They want to be strong, brave and kind. I started to think that the best thing I could do to honor these women, to honor myself was to make some of those same choices for myself. I could start choosing the beautiful present over the struggle. I could let myself be seen and do my best to see the beauty in others. Not all of us carry bruises and scars on the outside, but somewhere in our past we have all been hurt and broken. We have all had to make choices to leave things behind and move forward. No matter what the cause, big or small, walking away from what we know is always terrifying.

For these women, choosing courage meant calling the police or a women’s shelter, but for all of us - it means choosing the better. Choosing the uncertain. Choosing ourselves or are children. Choosing to walk forward despite paralyzing fear rather than staying stuck where we are.

Sometimes I think courage is this giant thing that only some people are born with. This super-hero power that allows the brave to risk their lives and show giant public heroics. These twelve woman sitting next to me in folding chairs might have told me a different story. That courage starts small and with knees knocking. That maybe choosing courage looks a little different than the movies. Brene Brown says this:
Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as "ordinary courage.”

Choosing ordinary courage might be
going first.
showing up.
calling a counselor.
saying yes.
saying no.
asking for help.
signing up.
saying you are sorry.
praying when the other end is silent.
telling the truth.
filling out an application.
trying again.
going home.
being seen.
putting it out there.
moving forwards. and then backwards. and then forwards again.

Somedays I believe this. I believe that I am brave, strong, courageous. I believe that I am worth it. But there are also days that I forget.  Sometimes for lots of days in a row, I forget. Ordinary courage is not a character trait that you are born with. That some people are just gifted with more than others, like a great metabolism. It is not a feeling you get, instead it is something that you choose and something that you practice. Every single day. Regardless of what happened yesterday or an uncertain future. You can choose to be brave right now. You can choose to have courage. You can choose to be kind. You can choose to love. You can choose to hold someone else’s hand while they choose it too.

Be brave. Have courage. Leave behind whatever is holding you back and find the beautiful.

Want to know more?


I have the best people.
I have people that save me seats at church, places at yoga and cupcakes.
I have people to work out with, not work at work with, talk Netflix with and not talk at all with.
I have people to drink coffee with, to drink tea with and to drink wine with.
I have people to eat sushi with, pie with and lunch after church with.
I have people to laugh with until my stomach hurts and people I can call when I want to cry. Usually they are the same people.
I have people that have seen my in my yoga pants, my pajama pants and even a select few who have seen me in a swimsuit.
I have people that I share good music with, good books with and good food with.
I have people to go on adventures with and people to do absolutely nothing with.
I have people I can count on — to show up, to bring coffee or to always be late.
I get to live with three of my favorite humans ever (except when they are fighting or snoring).
I could go on…but I think at this point I am just bragging.

I haven’t always. It takes time and intention to build and maintain this kind of community. Sometimes it even takes a while to notice. I know mine is there and I am so ridiculously grateful for it.

The last time I went to the doctor, he asked me about symptoms and medications. He did some tests. My voice did not waver as I talked about pain and surgery. Just before I left my voice shook a little as I told him that it was isolating. That I don’t know anyone else. That I don’t know who to ask questions or commiserate with. He didn’t have a prescription to give me for that. Sometimes I fork over a copay of 52$ a session to talk to someone else. I say all kinds of things, but mostly it comes down to this: I feel alone.

I had surgery in July. It helped. Most days are good, but some days there is still a significant amount of pain and there are so many things that I have given up or am now afraid of. Even simple things like the wind. I rarely want to talk about it. Most of the time I don’t even want people to know.

But I so want them to get it.

People can’t get what you don’t tell them.
I am only alone because I chose to be.
And the truth is I am not alone at all.

My thing is physical pain.
I know people whose thing is depression.
I know people whose thing is addiction.
I know people whose thing is body image.
I know people whose thing is singleness.
I know people whose thing is cancer.
I know people whose thing is a hard marriage.
I know people whose thing is fertility.

We all have our thing.

Yesterday I saw video on Facebook that nailed my particular thing.
The first half of the video was a girl talking about how she spent the first half dozen years with her thing not telling people, of hiding it. How she was less afraid of excruciating pain and more afraid of not being able to do things she loves. I wanted to, but I didn’t post it on my wall.  Which is ridiculous, because I post all kinds of funny embarrassing things about myself. Part of me wanted to share it, but then some other part wanted to hyperventilate just thinking about it. 
What I really didn’t want to do is own it.
What I really didn’t want to do is to admit the fear.
What I really didn’t want to do is burden others with my burden.
What I really didn’t want is for people to identify me with my thing.
My thing has enough power over my life that I feel like talking about it more only gives it more power.

But what gives our things power is silence.
What gives our things power is isolation.

I think I have been waiting on someone to have my exact same thing.
Everyone wants to hear “me too”, but maybe our “me too”s don’t have to be exactly the same to get it. To stop being alone.
We all have our thing.
If you are lucky enough like me, then you also have your people.

I am a girl that used to pride herself on going first.
So let me go first and tell you….
I have this thing. It eats at me. It isolates me. It exhausts me. 
It is not who I am.
Yours is not the same, but I bet you sometimes feel the exact same way.
I bet lots of people do.


Every February I host a Valentine’s brunch where I ask my guests to show up, eat my favorite baked goods and bring something in return for a women’s shelter: nail polish, makeup, socks, lotion, conditioner – any beauty item they choose. And not leftovers or things they do not like, but things that could make someone feel new and pretty again. It is a simple thing – emails to my friends and co-workers but it is one thing I look forward to hosting every year and almost do not mind picking up my house for. I certainly don’t mind buying 4 kinds of creamer, bacon and every kind of scone. There are no committees or sponsors or stress.  It is totally unofficial, I have simply dropped off the items afterwards.  People come. They bring their daughters.  There is no speech or sales pitch or request for money, we just eat and laugh and our kids play outside. It has sparked conversation after conversation and it amazes me how people want to help and do things and donate but are often unsure how or where to start. To that I say, it starts with nail polish (and maybe a mimosa or two).  I wrote the post below six years ago…and this morning the picture showed up on my Timehop. I can’t help but repost.

A while back I painted my daughter’s toenails for the first time. I know she is just a baby but I couldn't resist those little pink piggies. As soon as I set her and her new pink toes down on the ground she literally pranced around, beaming, and just stared at her sassy new toes. At 15 months old she already seemed to know what a fresh coat of paint can do for a girl.
Many spring breaks ago, the kind before kids, I went to Atlanta. I had a friend there doing some inner city mission work and I wanted to have my own pretend mission trip to the week. I played with kids after school. I filed paperwork. I painted a house. I ate some really good food. Stayed up late talking. On my last full day I went to a Women’s Shelter and met a women named Constance. She went every Thursday and told her story and then painted toes. And it may have been the best thing I did all week. Here is what I remember about that day:
Constance met me at the car. She was fifty or sixtyish African American woman who you did not want to mess with. She was dressed simply and elegantly. I suddenly felt a bit underdressed in my jeans and t-shirt. On the ride to the shelter she briefed me on what to expect. The kinds of people I would see. What to do if someone asked me for money. I was pretty nervous about what to do when I got there. These days I am well versed in how to behave at a shelter or homeless park, but this was my first trip. I was unsure how to engage these women in conversation, unsure how to love on them without pity.

The inside of the facility is really nice and it is kind of hard to tell the difference between the women working there and the ones living there. I am not ready to see all the kids. And they break my heart. They are cute and clean and missing front teeth and playing and totally normal. And homeless. And bruised –either on the outside or on the inside. The women are talking in groups, listening to their cd players, picking out clothes for interviews and playing cards until Constance began to talk and sing. Then some of the women begin to listen. Others just carry on their conversations louder and crank up their music. But the crowd starts to grow and a few people began to notice the tubs of nail polish sticking out from under the table.
Constance finishes up her story and you can tell a few women are really getting it. Because you see she had been here. In their very shoes. With sore and tired feet.

And then it is my turn. I am supposed to give pedicures to anyone who wants one.
I have a small plastic tub to soak tired feet in, some lotion and about a dozen assorted colors. Alice. A six year old with thick braids and a toothless grin is my first customer. She wants each nail a different color and I oblige while a line grows.
Before Alice I don't think I had ever painted anyone’s toenails before...except mine and I am really bad at it. Spots of pink end up on skin in addition to nails, but no one seems to complain. After Alice, I do about a dozen or so grown up feet.
Some of them are really gross. They smell and are rough and tired and yellowed and aching. Just like these women and so I smile while I lotion and rub them.
But I have to try and not think about it and breathe through my nose because these feet are so bad from living on the streets in the same pair of socks day after day.

As I soak and rub I wonder what the apostles feet must have looked and smelled like. And I paint toe after toe and wish that I was better at it. Because these women deserve something good. I take my time and try and paint a little love and warmth and encouragement into each toe. I know that painting toenails wasn't a very practical service. I wasn't feeding or clothing or training these battered and bruised women. But Constance was on to something. For at least a few minutes that day these women got to feel normal instead of afraid. Beautiful instead of bruised. Seen and cared for instead of invisible. Hopefully after we left they felt a little bit prettier and ready to take on the day with a fresh coat of nail polish and a clean pair of socks. Because sometimes, that's really all a girl needs, no matter how old you are.

In all the ways I have gone friend Rhonda has gone big. Watch this video and check out her event