So long, farewell…

Sunset over Grand Traverse Bay.

Dear My Sweet Hat Trick,

I am writing to inform you that you are being let go.

You were so good to me. I learned so much from you. You gave me a very safe space to practice sharing my story…and releasing it! Poof, into cyberspace my words went and I hardly ever knew what came of them. But, they are out there.

You came to me at a time when I really needed you. I needed a place to reflect on what it meant to lose someone I loved so very much and miss so madly. My dad. With each holiday and anniversary and birthday and little league game where he once stood, behind the dugout, waiting for just the right opportunity to give James an encouraging nod or ask Dan what happened in that last play, my heart breaks.

I can put the pieces back together now though. Funny thing about the heart – it regenerates. I’m sure of it. In the spaces left dark and cold by life and loss, love enters, settles in, and multiplies there. Hearts are really big. Much bigger than any of us can imagine. Hearts are resilient. They (literally!) take a beating day after day. Hearts are strong and tough, like warriors. At night, hearts restore themselves. If not at night, then in the daytime, or anytime when we are not looking. Our great big hearts bounce back from pain, fear, and hatred, and they make more room for love. And then, filled with love and forgiveness and gratitude, to ease the pain of all that hurts us, our hearts wait for our minds to catch up to them.

A heart’s love is abundant. A bounty, really. Believe me, I know. I tried protecting the open spaces in my heart, thinking there is not enough love for me, and sometimes even thinking that I was not enough – that I was not worthy of the love. Then, when I least expected it, when I thought I had it all figured out, the space filled with love again. Love doesn’t overflow from our hearts to the space that surrounds them. No, our hearts expand. It is true. For example, the longer I know Dan and watch the ways in which he gives of himself so generously and graciously, the bigger my heart gets. And, then there are the little hearts that came in to prove my theory. Three little, tiny, beautiful beating hearts – my original hat trick – filled the empty spaces right up and taught me that life is way too fragile, way too short, and way too fun to hold back. Even a little.

Thank you. I will never forget you. And thanks in part to my knowing just enough, but not too much, I think you may always have a special spot in cyberspace. You might have a new friend soon, like a blog sister or something. I’m not sure yet. There is something new coming, from me to the world, and while I don’t know exactly what shape it will take, I guarantee you that it will be about living and loving really super-duper to the moon and back BIG.

Take care my friend.
xoxo
Love, Anna

A Pledge to My Children

What do you want to do when you grow up?

It only took about 39 years. This includes four years of college, two years of graduate school, several years in the real world, and a little over ten years as an at-home mom to figure out…

I AM ALREADY what I WANT TO BE when I grow up.

That’s all it took.

It takes many of us a lifetime to answer that ever-present question: What do you want to BE when you grow up? I think it is true for everyone…you already are what you’ve always wanted to be.

So, here is my pledge to my children: I will never again ask you what you want to BE when you grow up. I will never again ask any child that question.

It is a really dumb question for one simple reason: Asking someone, especially a child, what they want to BE implies that what they already are is not enough. It is just the beginning of a journey down a very long road through a dark forest of trees that cannot be climbed because one is not strong, smart, tall, short, old, or young enough. As we move through the forest we learn from everyone we meet and all the feedback we get that what we want to be is far more important than what we already are. We get graded, we try-out, we make it, we get cut, we fail, we pass, and we graduate, all the time receiving signs and signals that we are not good enough as-is. We must learn more, eat less, and lift heavier weights to prove our worth. When in fact, all along we are worthy.

While I do have ten years in the field, I am sure that most “experts” wouldn’t call me an expert in parenting. That’s my disclaimer. I understand that it is really fun to ask kids this question. They say really cute things in response. Until just now, I thought it was a great question. Especially when followed with some heartfelt encouragement like “That is awesome! You can be anything you want to be!” There is value in challenging children to try harder, of course. We want everyone to be the best they can be, right? I think the way we say things matters though, so we need to be careful.

So, here is what I might say instead, if I really can’t help myself, which is often likely in my case. I might say, “What do you like to DO?” And I could follow that with “Wow, I know some adults who liked to [play with Legos] when they were kids and now they have jobs as [engineers and architects and math teachers]. Do you know any [engineers or architects or math teachers]?…” Stuff like that.

In many places I have heard the phrase, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I’m sure there is a really smart person I could give credit to for making that statement, but I don’t know exactly who she is (okay, or he). One of my favorite yoga instructors often says, “We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings.” It’s true. We are human beings, and as human beings we are implicitly given permission to BE. Actually, it’s probably more of a mandate. BEING comes with our territory as humans. It seems to me that us BEING has something to do with the architecture here on earth. I think BEING is part of our mission.

So why do we put so much emphasis on what we DO? It is not with malicious intent that we ask, What do you DO for a living? or What are you DOING right now? or What are you planning to DO? It’s because we are curious and quite often we care about the people to whom we ask these questions. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that if you aren’t too crazy about what you “do” it can be quite awkward, disheartening even, to be asked what you do for a living. I think in generations past, we weren’t so obsessed with what people do. I think we understood that what we do all day doesn’t necessarily define who we are. I also think if we spent less time focused on what we are DOing and more time simply BEing, we would be much happier people.

I think one of my mom’s most lucid moments after my dad’s death was when we were composing his obituary. Someone at the funeral home drafted something for us and we sat around a table reading it. It said something like James Shields Hodges was a Sheet Metal Worker…. My mom looked up and said, “that’s what he did, but that is not who he was.” And then she listed all these really wonderful things that he was, like an artist and an activist and a musician. And yes, you could argue that these are things a person can do, but really, if you know an artist or a musician, you know that what they DO in that case is very much who they ARE too. You are an artist in your soul. You create art because you have no choice, but to create. You feel like you might die if you stop. Creating connects you to all that surrounds you and everything beyond that. I was never an administrative assistant because I thought I couldn’t go on if I stopped filing papers or writing memos. Quite the opposite, actually. But administrative work was something I did because it allowed me to support myself when I graduated from college.

When I was a child I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I also wanted to be a teacher, a nurse, and even a parapsychologist. As I grew up, even though I wrote all the time, I lost touch with my dream to be a writer. When I revisited that dream, I knew I could never be a writer because I didn’t have a degree in writing, I didn’t have a portfolio of beautifully crafted writings, and there were people out there who were much better writers than I ever dreamed of being. I was so programmed to believe that what I did every day defined who I was that I didn’t even realize I was a writer all along.

Some people are really lucky and they have amazing jobs that allow them to express themselves. Some people have jobs that allow them to make a living. I will not stop encouraging my children to dream BIG, but I think we need to be more careful when we talk to children about great big things like THE FUTURE. Notice, I’m roping you into this one. Please consider it an invitation, as I understand you might think I’m full of it. Honestly though, you just never know what a child might hang on to as little he or she continues to travel through the dark forest of life. You never know what dreams will get squashed when he or she hears the message that they can’t do something because they are not qualified in whatever artificial way society has created to qualify them for that particular job. And in the meantime, simply being every once in a while…every day even, has so much more value than doing tons of crap anyway.

Each and every little child, and all of their parents, and every other human out there, is enough. Understanding that and allowing ourselves more time to BE, rather than trying to DO more, will go a long way. There is really no need to ask a child what he or she wants to be. Most of them really just want to be taller. Every other thing they are already, is all that they will ever need to be…a sweet little soul having a human experience.

Let them BE. Let yourself be while you’re at it.

Whoa.

Oh my gosh! I am so excited right now. I have been waiting for this moment for two days. Thoughts, words, and ideas have been swimming in my mind, begging to be called forth into my blog (insert big smile). And now, it is time.

So, I’m taking another online class through the Brave Girls Club – this one is called SOUL RESTORATION. I’m really really behind in the class. Like, I’m on week 6 (of 8 weeks) and I think it ended a month or so ago. That doesn’t really matter. At all. BUT, I had to mention it because the lesson for week 6 – No Shame, No Blame – came at the perfect time for me, during this week in my life. I love it when that happens. Incidentally, the project assignment was to create a timeline. A timeline of my life!

I love timelines.

I took this picture to give you an idea of what the timeline looks like.

The Accordion Book Timeline of my life!

The timeline takes shape over the span of an accordion book. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to make an accordion book on Tuesday, but now I know.

Before I tell you more, like why I am so excited, I need to make a confession. I am IN LOVE with the Brave Girls Club. This is how the Brave Girls describe themselves “Brave Girls Club is a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly live…and that means something different to every single one of us.

First of all, I LOVE places and people who recognize that being ANY ONE THING means something different to every single one of us. It’s one of those things that makes me go “DUH” but really, let’s be honest, not very many entities are all about honoring that one singular word can mean a whole lot of different things to different people. Right? I love it when I find a place or a person that does, because it makes me feel very warm inside. Sometimes living a brave life means getting out of bed in the morning. That can be very brave. And sometimes, it means saying a final good-bye to someone we love. That requires a hell of a lot of bravery. Trust me. I love that no matter how I define brave on any given day, I can still be a brave girl. It takes me back to the days I pretended to be Pippi Longstocking in my backyard. Oh, how I loved Pippi!

Second of all (is that a legitimate phrase?), The Brave Girls Club has given me the HUGEST gift ever. I had forgotten how much I love to be covered in glue and paint. I forgot how much I love to cut things out of one thing and create something new on another thing. The online classes are all about doing all that and so much more, meaning I am in Soul Searching Mod Podge Scissor Paper Acrylic Paint Heaven. I never thought I’d have time for something like this, you know, since having children, but I find the time in secret places. Like when I’m supposed to be doing laundry. It’s all good.

So this is why I am excited… in the process of creating my timeline, I came in contact with one of the great truths of life. This is big. As is typical for me, this is not the first time I have encountered this particular truth, but seeing it come alive in the form of my LIFE packs a lot of power. The truth hit me in the face this time.

Here it is: The truth of who you are does not change.

This comes compliments of Melody Ross, my class instructor, who I also adore even though I have never met her. Weird, but true.

Closer-up of the beginning of my timeline.

Closer-up of the middle of my timeline.

Closer-up of the end.

This is my favorite part, I think. I made a little book on the timeline! I included a picture of me with each of my children on the day they were born. Love.

As I glued the bottom part of the timeline, my dates and ages, to the book, I started thinking about all the different things that have happened in my life. It’s a lot. What I found is that my darkest of dark days took place over the course of about four years. Four? FOUR! Four of (almost) FORTY?! That is nothing. What is it? 1/10 of my life? I couldn’t believe it. From those years, which were very formative years in their defense, I created a whole story about who I was from then until the end of time, and I went back to that story in times of trouble. The sad thing is, it wasn’t really a true story. See, I’m not really, truly a drunken school-skipper just because I’ve been drunk. And skipped school. I assigned all kinds of meaning to what kinds of people do the things I did and they were really bad people. Therefore, according to my logic, I was a really bad person. Yikes. I know.

So then, when my second son was born very ill and he survived and thrived and we all moved on, life got hard for me to handle. Looking back, I know I didn’t deal with the trauma of his birth and his recovery from his illness properly. I didn’t recover from childbirth properly. I stuffed all my grief and fear and pain and sadness. I didn’t fully address the questions I had running through my mind – like, “did I somehow cause my baby to suffer…?” because I thought I really was responsible and I didn’t want anyone to find out (in case you are wondering, I was not at all responsible for my son’s illness…). I was so incredibly elated to bring him home from the hospital that I had to believe all is well that ends well.

And, secretly, I was so afraid that someone might try to take him back. It is unnatural to give birth to a baby and not be able to hold him, to cuddle him, to nurse him, to examine his little body parts, and to get to know him and fall deeply in love with every inch of him on the day he is born. It is unsettling to have someone tell you that you cannot touch your baby while he is hooked up to machines and looking so helpless, like he needs to be touched. After experiencing all that, and finally getting Alexander home where he belonged, I didn’t want to risk losing him again. When I made mistakes, like all parents do, I was SO HARD on myself. I drew from those four dark, formative years and said things to myself like, “of course you can’t handle a child, you couldn’t even make it to class on time in college…” Things like that. And other mean things I don’t even want to mention.

Two quick years later, my daughter was born! It all happened so fast. It took everything I had to make it look like I was keeping it all together – three kids, a home, a husband, etc. I didn’t come up for air. I looked really happy on the outside, but on the inside I was torturing myself with the same awful messages I had come to know as the truth about me.

Then, my dad died. It all came out. Every little bit of grief, pain, guilt, shame, and fear that I had been stuffing in neat little packages and storing in my soul. It bubbled up and out of me. Fortunately, I had graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Work and read enough self-help books to know that when all those old scripts surfaced, something wasn’t right. To feel the love that I felt from the people I knew and loved and respected and admired, I knew I had to be worth something. Since then, I learned that I have been the same bundle of love and light that I was on the day I was born ALL ALONG. I am not my mistakes or even my victories, none of those things that I do define me. The truth of who I am does not change.

Likewise, the truth of who you are doesn’t change. That’s why I was so excited. I just couldn’t wait to tell you that, just in case you didn’t know, or you forgot, or you knew but would like a reminder. As sweet Melody says, “no matter what mistakes you made, no matter how others have hurt you, no matter what happens, the truth of who you are does not change.”

It was a huge realization for me to see that I let those four little years of being lost and a bit broken define me into adulthood. Ugh! But that’s okay because I like me now and I wouldn’t be who I am had I not taken that journey.

You don’t need Mod Podge or acrylics, but do make a timeline. Or, at least consider the possibility that you are giving all your power to one little blip in time. You are not that blip. The truth of who you are, which is all the good stuff, does not change.

YAY!!!

Keeping it Real on Valentine’s Day

Here we are – it’s Valentine’s Day. For some it’s all about love sweet love and for others, it’s just another day. When my daughter was born on Valentine’s Day four years ago, February 14 became a permanent LOVE day for me. I’m a sucker for romance. I love chocolate. Love it! I love roses and sparkly things, and I of course love my husband, but more than anything I love this day because it is Sophia’s birthday.

That said, I’m still thinking about love today. I have been trying to imagine what love looks like? I have a few ideas…

This is a picture of Dan and me on our wedding day (August 16, 1997). This was after the ceremony in the backseat of our getaway car – the 1969 Chevelle SuperSport that he and his dad built together. His brother, Max, was getting ready to drive and my sister, Sarah, was riding shotgun. I love this picture. When I look at it, it reminds me of what it felt like to have our whole lives in front of us and all the people we loved most in the world around us. It felt like we could handle anything as long as we had each other. I was probably being goofy when the picture was snapped, but I think I look like I adore him. And he looks like he adores me. Love looks like this, I think.

Love also looks like this:

Oh my gosh, I love this picture! My sister took it last year after my niece’s birthday party. Maybe my mom took it? Anyway, I love that this moment was captured to enjoy for the rest of time. Or however long it lasts. No matter how I’m feeling, I can’t help but to smile when I see this picture. Look at it – my three kids laughing together in my arms and me holding them tightly as if nothing else matters. We are in our own little blissful mother and child utopia at that moment. It’s like a commercial for motherhood. All smiles, all laughter, all hugs!

I think love looks like this too:

Yes, I’m sure of it. This is from Thanksgiving, 2009. The last Thanksgiving we had with my dad. This picture captures the complete chaos that ensues wherever children go. We try to contain them, but they cannot be contained. Kids embody life in all of its glory, with their goofy smiles and random poses. Kids don’t worry what people think about them or whether they have food on their faces. If they don’t feel like smiling or looking at the camera, they don’t. No matter how you try to bribe them. They are impulsive and uninhibited and I love that about kids. They LIVE.

I think love looks like fun. In these pictures, love is about laughter and living and sharing and feeling connected to others. Love has its hair done, mostly, and it is dressed well and it probably smells good too. I just remembered my dad’s friend, Andy. At my dad’s funeral Andy shared that during their gigs (my dad played the guitar and Andy was the drummer), my dad would say, “We may not be good lookin’ but we’re sure looking good…!” Love looks good here.

We are BOMBARDED with images in our lives. Most of these images make love look good. In commercials and television shows and in movies we may see a glimpse or two of heartache, but mostly love looks good. And then there is Facebook! Love always looks good on Facebook. Okay, maybe not always, but for the most part, let’s be honest, with the exception of the picture I saw today of a cupid laid out flat with an arrow – presumably his own arrow – sticking up out of him and blood all around him (seriously People, why the face?), love looks good.

This is where my mama bear springs into action today, on Valentine’s Day, on Love Day. I know there are people out there, and you may be one of them, who see these images and think that what they see looks so good, beyond good, to the point where what they have in their own lives looks bad. Really bad.

So, we don’t typically post pictures of the moments, right before a wedding, when a bride might be acting a little bridezilla-ish in the dressing room, perhaps. I don’t post pictures of myself on days like today where I look like I have two black eyes because I stayed up way too late last night doing God only knows what because I hate going to bed when Dan is out of town. Concealer’s got nothing on these dark circles. I NEVER post pictures of the look on my face, every afternoon, when I am about to sit down for a cup of coffee, and the coffee is actually hot, and Sophia screams out from the bathroom, “MOM! WILL YOU WIPE MY BUTT?” And I think I might just go the opposite way, out the door, and away… To someplace warm, maybe? But far, where nobody ever asks me to wipe his or her butt. And, thankfully, I have not yet posted a picture of Sophia’s butt. And there are no pictures of less lovely grandparental moments, like when my son used to kick my dad under the table at restaurants and after about the six thousandth kick, my dad would look like he was about to blow. My son kicks me now. It’s karma for wondering how my dad could possibly lose patience with my perfect little son, while knowing full well that little kids kick hard. And, all those people on TV, well, we know by now that they are not even REAL anymore with all the millions of ways they are made-up and digitally “perfected,” so while their love looks good, it’s not REAL either.

I think this is so important to remember, as sweet spiritual beings, in our human bodies, surrounded by images that make love and life look so good and words (i.e,. “status updates”) that make it all sound SO GOOD, that what we see isn’t always real. There is a place where we can celebrate along with our friends and family members and even strangers, and that is a nice, happy place. There is another place where we begin to feel badly when we see people looking really good and hear that things are going well for them. We might feel like we don’t measure up, or wonder if there is something wrong with us because we aren’t looking or sounding so good – because while they are on a beach in Hawaii we are wiping butts in snowy Michigan. We might ask, “Why can’t I have that (that love, that family, that child, that spouse, that body, that house, that job, that vacation…whatever that is)?” That place is a little darker, a little sadder, and it doesn’t really feel good. Not at all. Sometimes we get stuck there. We might think it is our destiny to stay in that dark, sad, uncomfortable place forever.

I know now, like I have never known before, that each of us, all of us, each and every single one of us, is worthy. We all measure up. We are all lovable. I want you to trust me on this one. I may have dark circles under my eyes and I don’t love wiping butts, but I am trustworthy. I can say with all the confidence in the world that you measure up. You absolutely, positively measure up. That dark place? You can go there if you must, but please don’t stay there.

We all hurt. We all have bad hair days. We all make mistakes. We are all learning. Please tell me we all have bags under our eyes? Sometimes? We all have not so picture perfect moments. Even if we don’t share them. Even if we pretend they don’t exist. Oh, they do. Some of us lie. Some of us are fake. Some of us aren’t keeping it real. All things considered, it’s not fair to compare our worst with someone else’s best, or someone else’s attempt to look their best. You know what? It’s not fair to compare. At all. When you compare yourself to someone else, for better or for worse, your own light dims. We need bright, shining lights on this planet.

On this day, this LOVE DAY, I would like to invite you NOT to compare your love or your life or your light to anybody else’s love, life, or light. If you are wondering what love looks like, like I was. Look in the mirror! What you see there is love. Don’t look online or in magazines or in books or on television, look at yourself. YOU are LOVE. You are worthy. You measure up! You have talents and dreams and a beautiful mind that can make them all come true. You are lovable. You are a knock-out and an AMAZING soul. Love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Be your own very best Valentine. YOU are what love looks like. Take my word for it.

Me and Sophia Pearl, my little love girl.

I’m too sexy for my…BODY.

So, it’s February now, Folks. Time to ask ourselves how we’re doing on meeting our goals for the New Year? Specifically, the goal of achieving great health and fitness! Are we kickin’ it’s butt? Have we fallen off the wagon?

“Lose weight” makes my list every year. Over the last few years, I have lost weight, just like I wanted to. And then I gained it back. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it is supposed to work. As I thought about what might happen in 2012, I wondered what I could do differently.

In November, a friend of mine forwarded a message to me about an online Body Restoration class being offered by the Brave Girls Club at www.bravegirlsclub.com. I knew about the Brave Girls, but I hadn’t heard about the class yet. If you are unfamiliar with the Brave Girls Club, they describe themselves as “a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly live…and that means something different to every single one of us.” It was founded in 2009 by Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins. While they offer many amazing opportunities, I think they are best known for their Soul Restoration workshops and Brave Girl Camps. Their website is beautiful – filled with gorgeous images and inspiring words. I am in love with it.

The class sounded intriguing, and fun, so I registered. Before the class even began, I figured out what would need to be different in order for me to meet my great health goals by the end of this year. First, I knew I had to want it. I knew that because my Weight Watchers leader told me so when she heard me say, “I need to…” She told me that if I thought I needed to lose weight, I wouldn’t, but if I wanted to do it, I would. That made sense to me, especially since most anything I think I need to do gets put off until the last possible second. Second, I knew in my heart that if I was going to change my lifestyle, it had to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-hate. Ouch. It hurts to even think about how much I have hated myself at different points in my life. This requires going to a dark place and until recently, I was afraid of the dark. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences – I’m not sure I do), as I figured out what needed to be different, I also figured out that the Brave Girls’ Club Body Restoration class might very well help me to bridge the gap between self-hate and self-love. Ahh…huge sigh of relief. Not even a brave girl should have to go into the dark alone.

The objective of the class is to “make peace with your body through art and journaling.” Obviously, I love journaling and the art part entails making collages. SO FUN! My mom is taking the class too. She is a master journaling artist. Her journals are beautiful. She cuts things from magazines, newspapers (God help you if you discard a newspaper while traveling with her), and catalogs to make wonderful collages right in her journal. Then she journals around them. She makes cards too. I am in awe of her artistry. I covet her journals. I convinced myself that I would never have time to journal like her. I rarely get to reading my magazines, let alone cutting them up afterward. Although now that I think about it, maybe cutting them up in lieu of reading them would save me a lot of time? Anyway, one of the many aspects of beauty in this class is that Melody Ross and her team have already spent hours creating art and words to use in the class collages. Melody is a fabulous artist. I love her style. And I love love LOVE having the opportunity to take her work and incorporate it into my very own collages. Let me tell you something else too, on the few occasions that I actually committed to making collages with my mom, I quickly learned that one can literally spend HOURS in search of the “perfect” word for a collage. Especially one who may exhibit signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’m not mentioning any names. So the brilliance of the idea that all the words and images I need are provided for me on .pdf files that I can download and print at home is not lost on me. At all.

Okay, so the whole point of this post is to process the collage I just finished. There was so much involved that I need to debrief. Last week’s lesson was about how we objectify ourselves and other women. Hard pill to swallow. I received many a training in relationship violence back in the day, I have a degree in Social Work, and I’ve worked with young girls as a Girls on the Run Coach (www.girlsontherun.org). I have both received and given lessons on body image and the multiple ways in which we objectify women in the media, especially in print. I’ve done my fair share of ranting about the injustice of it all and the disallusioned men who buy into it. I don’t remember ever really taking to heart the possibility that I buy into it.

It’s very simple. When we pick apart our bodies and other people’s bodies, we objectify ourselves and others. I’ll use my breasts as an example. They are big. See? When I say they are big, I am seeing them as objects. The point of the lesson is to really see that we, nor any parts of our bodies, are objects to be looked at and picked apart. This is what I LOVE and what really hits home for me: we are not our bodies, WE ARE SOULS. Admittedly, this is not the first time I have heard this message. There is something that happens though, when you spend time cutting out images and words. Then more time figuring out how to lay them out on paper. Then more time handling them, covered in Mod Podge, placing them each individually on the collage. Then more time brushing them again and again, with Mod Podge, so that they stick. Sealing them, securing them. I come to treasure each little piece of paper and the image or words it contains. We develop a relationship, in the quiet of the night, when my children are sleeping, and it’s just the images, the words, (the Mod Podge), and me. I handle each piece with care. I am deliberate. Sometimes I cry.

Here is the collage I’m talking about, No Woman is an object to be looked at and picked apart…We are all souls:

You’ll need to piece it together because it covers two pages.

I used Melody’s images and some of my own. Here is a picture of me when I was pregnant with my first child, Sweet Baby James:

Even though I loved being pregnant, I had fears, like any woman on the brink of motherhood. Like anyone really. In pregnancy especially, we need to know that we are more than our bodies. My mom took a lot of pictures of my belly. I had no idea what a luxury it was then to have SO MUCH time to just sit, rubbing my belly, or waiting for James to move around in there. We took pictures with the other two, but it was much more of a blur, in the midst of caring for the person or people who were already born. I might sit for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before I needed to get up again.

The woman in the middle here, the middle of the three in white, she is Minka Kelly:

I had to put her on my collage as a reminder that she is indeed real. She played one of the love interests of Tim Riggins, my fake boyfriend, on Friday Night Lights. I was real-life jealous of a fake person. Whatever. She is real. Not an object.

Here is Oprah. I had to have Oprah on my collage!

Although she doesn’t know it, Oprah and I have a love-hate relationship. I started hating her when I walked into a bookstore in the mall once, many, MANY years ago, and saw a huge display of journals with a sign above them that read: “JOURNALS, AS SEEN ON OPRAH.” I was offended. No, I didn’t invent journals, but for the love of God, Oprah didn’t invent them either! I loved her again when James was first born. I was at home with him and Oprah was sometimes the first adult who spoke to me each day, at 4:00, from the television set. One day she had a show about the reality of motherhood. I have loved her ever since. I don’t care what the haters say, Oprah does good stuff. And she is real. And she keeps going.

This is a picture from two summers ago of some of my goddesses and me.

I love this picture. My goddesses are a really special group of friends. If they weren’t entering right along with me, they were there to welcome me into motherhood. They have supported me through my three pregnancies and births, through mothering and married life, through the loss of my dad, and just about anything else that comes my way. We don’t all share world views, but we are all very good people, and we provide a safe space in which to explore our differences – with no judgment (okay, maybe a little judgment, sometimes, but we still love each other at the end of the day). I don’t know if my goddesses know this, but I think they are mostly responsible for showing me the value of taking special care of myself. Come hell or high water, we have gotten together at least once each year for a Girls’ Weekend for the past 12 years (roughly…). We always treat ourselves to a spa treatment. I had NEVER had a massage or anything outside a manicure from the local beauty school in my home town until our first weekend together. Even when it only occurred once a year, that hour or so of being pampered has been pure bliss and I am so grateful to my goddesses for showing me that I am worth it.

From left to right, we have Paige – she is a teacher and she thinks a lot. She thinks about teacher stuff, and other stuff too. Then, Michelle – she is hilarious! She can impersonate Molly Shannon. She makes us all laugh, and so she laughs. Next is Janelle – she is a photographer, so she creates. Then me – I give. I thought that was appropriate because I hosted that weekend. I gave out goody bags. Then Libby – she tries, really hard to be the best person she can possibly be. My wish for Libby is that she will see that she already is the best person. And finally, Holly – she hurts. She was the first in the group to lose a parent. She lost her dad and she misses him and it makes her heart hurt.

Now, look at this woman:

I have no idea who she is, but I think she is beautiful. Look at her eyes. She has stories to tell.

Here is my sister and me:

She IS a beautiful human being. I want her to know that she is okay. She is a-okay.

And this is my mom.

Isn’t she lovely? After my dad passed away someone told her that rather than torturing herself with the unanswerable question: Why did he die? Why not ask, “Why did I live?” Torturing is my word. The person who made that suggestion was much less dramatic. So, here she is after climbing to the top of a dune, something she wasn’t able to do the year before. She IS alive! She also deserves a loving chance. Oh, she has so much love to give. More than anything, I want her to find love again. She definitely deserves that.

Creating this collage was so incredibly powerful. I was moved to tears. Even now, looking at it and thinking about it moves me. I love every woman on my collage. At the end it was so much more obvious to me – the point of this particular process – to really, truly, tangibly see that we, all of us, all the women in the world, are definitely NOT objects to be looked at and picked apart. We ARE all souls. And, the beauty of it is that we are ALL alive, we all keep going, we all think and laugh and create and give and try and hurt. We are all beautiful human beings, and we all need to know that we are okay. We ARE all okay. All of us. For real.

Time will tell what 2012 holds for me and my body. But, I can tell you this, I PROMISE not to pick myself apart anymore and I promise not to pick you apart either. When I look at you, or at myself in the mirror, all I see is a big, beautiful, bright, shiny, super smart and sexy soul. Did you hear me? That’s a promise.

Oh, and you can still register for the Body Restoration class, if you are interested. Go to http://bravegirlsclub.com and look for Body Restoration. There is also a link to their site on the left side of my homepage – the one about whimsy and inspiration. Their daily truths are wonderful.

It’s the little things

My mom and sister and I do this thing. One of us comes up with an idea. Like, let’s say we’re taking a road trip and someone says, “Let’s start a road trip journal!”

Then someone says, “If we’re in a bad mood, we’ll write in blue and if we’re in a good mood we’ll write in greeeen…and we’ll include pictures!”

And someone else says, “We have to take it on all our road trips!”

And then, “And if we forget it, we have to pay a fine!”

And then, “We’ll pool all the fine money and start a foundation!”

And then, eventually, I think to myself, “If you want to start a journal, just start the fucking journal, for crying out loud!” Because we do that too. We swear in our family. We really like the f-word.

Within minutes, we’ve taken a simple idea and turned it into something BIGGER. One might say we complicate things. It’s certainly not a bad thing to expand and expound and think BIG. But sometimes, I just want a simple journal. Sometimes, the smallest things end up being not so small after all. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days (okay, I think a lot almost every day) and I realized that I do this thing a lot. I think of something simple that I want to try, and over time, I make it really complicated. I make rules. I develop guidelines. And eventually, I choke. My little thing has become so mired in details that it’s just too much work so I stop and I file it away with the rest of my uncompleted projects. Then I feel bad about myself for never following through. It’s an ugly cycle. I think I might be headed down that road with My Hat Trick. In the beginning, I just wanted a place to write freely, like I would write in a journal. I decided not to edit what I write. I get it all out and then I click Publish and then I go on with my life. Over time, though, I’ve come to a place where I wait and I wait and I wait because if I’m going to write something, it better be good. It should be divinely inspired! It should be life altering! And it should all be written in green!

The fact that the forthcoming declaration is more for me than for you is not lost on me. I am making it anyway. I’m done thinking. I just want to play! From now on, I will come to the keyboard like a kid being let out the doors at recess. All in, with reckless abandon. I will jump in puddles! And I won’t even think about spending the rest of the day in wet shoes. I may write nonsense. Who knows? I’m not going to think about it. Fair warning: my blog is my playground.

I attended a funeral on Thursday morning. I am tearing up just thinking about it. It was a sad day. I had a horrible headache when I got home and I went right to bed. Our amazing angel of a babysitter was with my daughter, Sophia. Sophia, who will be four on Valentine’s Day. Amazing angel had to leave to pick up the boys from school and Sophia wanted to stay with me. She crawled into bed with me. She wanted to cuddle. I was sitting up by then. She sat on my lap facing me and buried her head in my chest. Then she turned around and leaned back into my chest. Then she laid down next to me with her head on my lap. Then she fell asleep. When I looked down at her sweet sleeping face, I remembered nursing her as a baby. She looked just as she did then (she even had a huge boob looming over her head). She looked like she had been nursing and then she just fell asleep – fell off my breast, drunk with mama’s milk, to rest her sweet head. I stared at her. I played with her hair and stroked her cheek. I traced her eyebrows. I even took a picture and posted it on Facebook. It was a gift. It’s rather unusual for her to fall asleep on me these days. It’s hard to get her to sleep anywhere, actually. I can’t remember the last time she fell asleep in my arms. I felt so lucky, like a new mom, with permission to just sit and stare at my sleeping baby.

Sophia was born ten days after her due date. Yes, that’s right, TEN. Those ten days were tenuous. I had excess fluid in my amniotic sac and there was concern that if my water broke, Sophia might be in danger. Dan, my husband, took me to work with him. He was on high alert! Of course now, it all seems very funny, but we were concerned. She wasn’t even Sophia yet. We called her Lola. We had a long list of potential names for our baby girl, but I couldn’t commit to any of them. I had to see her. I wanted to meet her before I gave her her name. Three inductions were planned for Sophia. The first time: nothing. By the way, I didn’t know that could happen. I arrived at the hospital. I had pitocin, I knitted, I bounced on the birthing ball, I had a few contractions, and hours later I left with my baby in my belly. The second time I went to the hospital and Sophia was breech (since she had lots of extra fluid to flip around in) and I wasn’t really dilated and it didn’t seem worth the trouble to proceed. Sophia was born about 20 minutes before we were scheduled to arrive for our third induction appointment. I went into labor the night before and we went to the hospital. She came on her own. That is how I knew Sophia was the perfect name for her. Sophia means wisdom. Following her own wisdom, she came when she was ready. At the same time, she reminded me to trust in my body’s wisdom. Sophia’s birth was a beautiful lesson in trust and I was so grateful that the health care providers working with us believed in letting the birthing process unfold, rather than intervening when an intervention wasn’t really necessary.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect birthday for Sophia because she is a love if there ever was one. She hugs tightly, smiles hugely, and laughs from the depths of her little belly. She sings songs about whatever is on her mind. She twirls and jumps and plays with her whole heart. She embodies love and all of its beauty. She came on her day, a love day.

My sweet, sleeping Sophia.

As I look again and again at this picture, representing what was for me a magical mother’s moment with my sweet Sophia, I remember that these tender little moments are often far more life altering than anything else that might happen to me. When I saw Sophia asleep in my lap, my heart blossomed from the darkness where it hid, back into the light. I may still mourn what was lost and what will never be in my life and in the lives of my friends, but I must also be grateful for what IS and what is yet to come. Sometimes those messages seem so trite to me. I think yeah, yeah be grateful for what IS. I get it. Maybe that is why I was waiting for something bigger to share? In as much as I get it, I often forget it. I think it is the simplest messages that bear repeating. That could be why, no matter how many times we’ve said it before, we say “I love you” often in our family.

It’s for the Best.

Happy New Year!

Ah, the holidays…another season has passed and Target has the Valentine’s candy on display and ready for us to stash away until February 14th. In a blink of an eye, the holidays have come and gone and I can safely say that I made it through my second Christmas without my dear old dad here to see his grandchildren’s faces light up under the tree. In some ways, I think this year was even harder than last. Last year, I knew it would be tough to face the holiday season. I dreaded Thanksgiving, I dug my heels in, and I served the turkey kicking and screaming. And crying. Facing the holidays this year didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I was actually looking forward to it and having lots of fun preparing for it. I didn’t expect to miss my dad so badly. But, there I was, one minute humming Christmas carols down the aisles (of Target), and the next minute feeling weepy at the sight of the holiday cards “For Dad.” Holidays really stir the pot. One can never be prepared for the one little, or huge, thing, event, or memory that will trigger sadness. Suddenly, a memory that I thought was neatly tucked away, rises to the surface. Out of nowhere, I remembered the morning after my dad died as vividly as if it were this morning. I woke up crying, laying next to my mom and sister in my parents’ bed. It felt like I had had a nightmare, but when I woke up, it wasn’t over. That morning, and for several mornings afterward, I simply did not want to get out of bed. I couldn’t imagine facing Visitations and the funeral. I didn’t want to see the sea of sad faces that awaited me. I couldn’t imagine life without my dad or with the new, very sad and hopeless version of my mom. I couldn’t imagine my kids’ lives without their Papaw. I didn’t know how we would all go on. I didn’t want to go on.

And here we are, almost two years later. In times of doubt, people often say, “it will all work out” or “it’s for the best” or “it’s part of the plan”. I know they mean well. I know these words are meant to instill hope and to comfort those to whom they are said. But sometimes, they just aren’t all that comforting. Now though, I think the people who say those words are right. It will all work out. Had I seen my dad’s death as part of the great, big picture, or as part of THE PLAN, I might not have feared getting out of bed. Maybe.

Over time, I saw that my dad’s death bestowed many gifts upon us. Like, if he had to die, thankfully he didn’t have to suffer. And, if he had to die that night, thankfully he was at home and not on the road with my son James, like he had been earlier that night, on the way to and from James’s guitar lesson. And, if he had to die that weekend, thankfully it was on Thursday, before my mom left for the weekend, as she had planned. And eventually, we were thankful that he lived a full life before he died. He was a father and a grandfather and those were two accomplishments that made his heart sing. I was thankful that I even had a dad – for 38 years. The biggest, boldest, most beautiful gift he gave us though, was the gift of life. Not just his life. Sure, in preparing for my dad’s funeral, the gifts he shared through his art and his music and his kind and gentle spirit were more obvious than ever. But, he gave us a second chance at our lives as well. My dad’s death shook me to the core. It woke me up. It made me think about what I was doing and how I was doing it and whether or not I wanted to keep doing it all the same way. My dad’s death changed the way I live. I am a much better, more peaceful, more balanced person now than I ever was before. I thank my dad for that.

Years and years ago I told my mom that I had heartburn. I think I was in college, so it was probably the mid-90’s. She went to her bookshelf, without hesitation, and turned to page 175 of Louise L. Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. She read from a chart that listed physical ailments, their probable causes, and new thought patterns with which to proceed. She said, “You are holding on to fear, Anna. Say this: ‘I breathe freely and fully. I am safe. I trust the process of life‘.” Until my first pregnancy, when I experienced heartburn like none I had ever experienced before and only Tums even had a chance at wiping it out, I would repeat Louise Hay’s affirmation for heartburn, “I trust the process of life” over and over at the earliest sign of heartburn (I have a bad memory so I had to shorten it). My heartburn always went away. In all honesty, nobody really, truly knows that there is a PLAN. A lot of us believe there is. Some of us think it’s God’s plan. Some simply feel better thinking we’re part of something bigger, something like a plan, whether it be God’s or someone else’s. I think we can all agree that there is a process though. Everything we do is a process, from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, we are in the process of life. I think our challenge is to trust in that process. When someone dies unexpectedly, or we receive a diagnosis we weren’t prepared for, or we get a flat tire on the way to work, or our kid refuses to eat his dinner, let’s remember the process. Let’s commit to trusting in the process. If we trust, we know for sure that everything will be okay. Life will unfold exactly as it was meant to. There is no need to worry or move forward in fear, just trust.

I think trusting the process is especially relevant as we enter the New Year. I made my New Year’s resolutions and I am excited about a fresh start. A new beginning is upon us and it is filled with promise. What does 2012 have in store for me? If 2012 goes by even half as fast as 2011, it won’t be long before I know the answer to that question. In the meantime, I won’t get discouraged when I’m suddenly overcome with grief. I won’t give up when my plans are derailed. I’ll try not to worry when things aren’t happening as I had hoped they would. In the meantime, I am committed to trusting the process…I trust in the process of life.

Don’t Be Afraid to Sparkle

It was never my intention to be preachy or sanctimonious while blogging. My only intention was to share some of the highlights from my journey toward a deeper connection between my mind, my body, and my spirit. To be clear, this is an ongoing journey. I have wondered if sharing my thoughts is a worthy pursuit and I have decided that it is only my job to share because sharing is what I do best. Determining the worth of what I share is your job. Today, it may be worth nothing to you. Another time, maybe I made you laugh, or think, or cry. It might be different every time. Once, when I shared my doubts with a very sweet friend of mine, she said, “If you can touch just one person with your words, isn’t that worth it?” To touch just one person would mean a lot to me, so I will continue sharing. But this time, I’m putting on my preacher’s robe so please forgive me if I sound sanctimonious.

Here is my sermon: Don’t be afraid to sparkle. I stole that from the Brave Girls at http://bravegirlsclub.com/. A lot of different people have said it in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways comes from a print that hung in Your Heart’s Home, a place I stayed while visiting Sedona, Arizona in January. It is attributed to Nelson Mandela and it goes like this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, Our Presence automatically liberates others.

www.bravegirlsclub.com

When I first read this, from the print, it sort-of took my breath away. I had spent most of my life feeling as if I didn’t measure up and that I wasn’t good enough. The idea that my deepest fear was not that I actually was inadequate, but rather, that I might be powerful beyond measure startled me. Could it be true? Well, the print said it was true and according to everything I had been taught, prints, books, authors, teachers, parents, coaches, talking heads on television, and any and all “experts” don’t lie. I, like just about everyone else I know, was trained to look outward – beyond myself, to look to other people and to look to other things to see if I measured up. What I have learned is that if I look outward, I am sure to find that I am inadequate. There is always someone who appears to be better, smarter, stronger, faster, thinner, prettier, and more clever than I.

So there I was, looking outward, at the print, and all I saw was “…who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” And I thought, “Right. Exactly.” Then I saw, “Actually, who are you not to be?” And the first thought that came to me was, “Fuck yeah! Who am I not to be?”

And a new Anna was born. Well, really, that little Anna, that little seven year-old Anna as Ken the Angel Life Coach calls her, came into her own. She was there all along, but over time, her light grew dim and eventually went out altogether. Instead of skipping down aisles in the grocery store like my little Sophia does now, singing her own songs, and twirling to her own tune, instead of sparkling, little Anna went still. She was silent. I grew so comfortable waiting for other people to speak and listening to what they said, that I lost the ability to hear my own voice.

But here’s the twist: my light was shining all along, I just didn’t know it. I couldn’t see what everyone else saw. I saw a big gray blob where others saw kindness and warmth and well, light. If I did see the light, or even had a little glimmer of hope that it was still there, I squelched it immediately. When I heard a compliment, I blew it off. I said things like, “Oh no, that messed up pumpkin cheesecake with the crack down the middle? It didn’t turn out right (even though it took the extreme skills of a domestic goddess like myself to extract it from the special spring form cheesecake baking pan).” Or “No, no, my house isn’t spotless (because I got up before the sun to clean it), it’s a mess.” Or, “Oh yeah, thanks, but you must be losing your eyesight because I look fat (despite the fact that I did just receive the “I LOST TEN POUNDS” ribbon at Weight Watchers and I had to work like hell to do that).

I wonder, when you give someone a compliment, like “Oh my God! This cheesecake is to die for! Did you make it? Can I have the recipe?” and her response is “Uh, yeah, well, you can, and hopefully yours won’t have a crack down the middle…” how do you feel? When that happens to me, I feel a little like shit. On the other hand, when I give a compliment to someone and she accepts it graciously with a smile and a thank you, it warms my heart. This is a small example of what I think it means for this person to let her light shine, thereby giving me permission to do the same.

Try it.

Oddly, giving compliments isn’t nearly as hard as accepting them. So try both. In this time of giving thanks and getting ready for all the winter holidays and traditions that come with them, try both. In this time of what sometimes seems to be never ending to-do lists and no matter how hard you try or how late you stay up, you still feel like you’ll never finish all there is to do (both imagined and real), try both. In this time of minimizing Herculean efforts to make magic and memories that will last a lifetime, try both. Give compliments and accept them. Play around a little. See what feels good. Try it because if you close your eyes for a minute and imagine a world where we all let our lights shine, where each of us was liberated from our darkest fears, and where we celebrated and honored one another’s grace, wit, and charm, I think you would see an incredibly beautiful, colorful, wonderful, super sparkly place. Complete with picture perfect cheesecake.

I will meet you there.

New Beginnings and Miracles All Around!

When I walk into Staples, I am instantly aroused. The pencils, the pens, blank notebooks, sticky notes, whew! I love all of it. So, naturally, going back to school, or now getting my kids ready to return to school, is a very exciting time of year for me. I love making resolutions at the start of the New Year and I am a sucker for the promise of new blooms in Spring, but Autumn rings true as a time of new beginnings for me. I feel most invigorated and most inspired as the leaves begin to show signs of turning colors and the crisp scent of fall wafts through the air. This year, I am wide open, eager to welcome whatever this fresh start brings.

I have also been feeling nostalgic as my son Alexander prepared for kindergarten with great anticipation of joining his older brother, James, at “his” school. We do drop-off, as opposed to riding the bus, and today, when he leaped out of the car, I don’t think he could have been any happier. He was thrilled this morning when I confirmed that he would be going back to school today. So anyway, the other day my mom came over and we listened to some of her saved voice mail messages from the past (please tell me we are not the only saps who do crazy things like save old messages). With her summer tan aglow and her blue eyes sparkling, she said, “oh, this is one of my favorites.” I listened as my very own voice began to speak. I was crying. I said something like, “Hi Mom, this is Anna (sniff). James started kindergarten today. He got on the bus and he didn’t even look back (sniff, sniff)…” So many things came to mind. First, the image of my husband Dan and I coming home from the bus stop that day and literally sobbing together on our love seat. Second, disbelief that that little kindergartner would be entering fourth (say it with me, FOURTH!!!) grade this year. And third, both disbelief and disappointment that my dad wouldn’t be here to share in Alexander’s first day of kindergarten as he was for James. I pictured my mom sharing the message with my dad and both of them reflecting on the fact that their first grandchild was ready for kindergarten. That he got on the bus and didn’t even look back.

I know, I know – my dad is still with me. I do know that, I swear. But even with that knowledge, I yearn to hear the enthusiasm in his voice when I share these bits and pieces of my life with him. I want confirmation of his pride in Alexander, and frankly, in me. He was a great cheerleader, my dad. He would be (is) so proud.

With all my anticipation of a new beginning at the start of the school year – for my kids and for me, I find myself feeling sad too. And as with so many things I’ve experienced since losing my dad, I find that this is a time where bittersweet is about the best we can do. Do I sound like I’m whining?

Enter miracles. Yesterday was the first day of school and the morning was filled with miracles. I got up, showered, and made a delicious, nutritious breakfast for my little ones (as opposed to throwing a granola bar and string cheese at them with five minutes left before we have to run out the door). Then, I marched them outside for a First Day of School photo shoot. Nobody complained (I began to think something strange was afoot, bud didn’t dare question it). Everybody smiled. Everybody posed. I was in Mom Heaven.

We got in the car and Somewhere Over the Rainbow was playing on the radio. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. I was a somewhere over the rainbow kind-of girl as a child. The Coffee House version, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’ has become one of the songs that remind me that my dad is always here with me and it has come on the radio at the most opportune times. As we pulled out of the driveway, we stopped to talk to our new neighbors. They were sweet and smiling and my heart was simply singing with joy. Then I heard my dad’s voice singing. My daughter had found my husband’s iPad on the floor of the car and somehow found her way to my dad’s recordings. AND, he was singing Summertime, which was my lullaby when I was a little girl. Let’s not even get into the fact that I have no idea how the iPad got left in the car, or how Sophia could have possibly found Summertime, especially since she usually goes right for Beyonce’s “I’m a Singlet” video. At that point, I knew my dad was speaking to me.

Sophia said, “This is a Papaw song!” Putting to rest my fears that my little girl, who wasn’t quite two when my dad died, would have no memories of her Papaw. Then she said, “Mama, my butt is shaking and my legs are swinging!” I look back to see her moving to the music, Alexander glowing, and James clapping his hands and swaying his head back and forth. I was in awe. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad was with us. I so much as heard him say, “I’m here. And I’m proud.”

Later, I told Alexander that I wanted to tell him something very special. He looked up at me with his big, blue eyes and I said, “I have been really sad that Papaw isn’t here to see you start kindergarten because I know he would have been so proud of you.” He nodded and I continued, “And today, when we heard his song, I knew he was with us and I know that he is very proud of you.” Heart-melting smile from ear to ear on that kid. God, I love him. There must be so much wisdom in that little five year-old head. And even later, when we got in the car to attend his orientation, These Are Days was on the radio! This was the song that Dan and I danced to at our wedding. And through the years, it too has come on the radio when I’ve needed comfort the most.

So that is my morning of miracles. Later, when I was feeling extremely disgruntled, along with my tired out, over-stimulated children, and trying to get dinner together, a penny from heaven appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the counter. Nope, we didn’t save a life or cure a disease yesterday morning, but we were definitely in the midst of miracles. I spoke out and someone “up there” was listening. This all reminds me that we are always surrounded by miracles. Big or little, there are messages for all of us, everywhere, saying “you are never alone. I am here with you.” And all of that makes me even more excited for this new time of new beginnings…what’s next?!

Eureka!

Guess what?! I struck gold!

While maintaining that the main objective of this blog is to share some of my experiences on this journey through life, I will admit that I have been hoping that anyone who reads my blog finds something to take along on his or her own journey as well. We are all in this together! I only say this now because if you are reading this, you are someone I care about or someone who someone I care about cares about and I really want you to pay attention.

So today is all about sharing my gold. I am very new to this, so bear with me. I am no expert, I can’t take credit for it, and I’m not even sure I fully understand it, but I think I am on to something HUGE! I am beginning to see that any journey worth taking (i.e., life) must begin with a healthy practice of self-compassion. Of course, like many things I’ve encountered lately, this is something I have read or heard about in the past and thought, “Well, of course! Duh!” while not putting it into practice.

My last post was about truth and how being authentic, or honest, might be painful, but can open the door to compassion for others, and for myself. I knew I was balancing on the very tippy top of the iceberg because I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts on the matter. Since then I have learned a little more about self-compassion and how there is so much more to it than a simple acknowledgment that all is well.

It started with this article that Ken the Angel Life coach asked me to read. And, of course, I didn’t read it when he first suggested it. I was too busy (or, enter Twilight Zone theme music – this is something my parents always did when I was a kid – I was resisting it…). Anyway, here it is Self compassion may matter more than self-esteem. So, basically, this woman Kristin Neff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, researched self-compassion and found that (drum roll) it matters more than self-esteem. Sorry, I am feeling punchy. In all seriousness, there are elements of self-esteem that are desirable and those that are not. Cultivating self-compassion allows for all the desirable elements and none of the undesirable ones. This is really important for those of us raising children, and even more important for those of us shuttling said children from competitive sport to competitive (insert sport or other event) in hopes of instilling a strong sense of self in these children. We all want the best for our children and frankly, it seems to be a bit of a crap shoot as to whether or not we are achieving “the best” in our efforts. Only time will tell.

Cultivating self-compassion is not just for our children though, my friends. The article mentions Neff’s recent book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (William Morrow, 2011). Being the book whore that I am (punchy!), I immediately searched for Neff’s book on amazon.com. And this is where I think I found gold. As I poked around, I found a multitude of other books about self-compassion and…weight-loss, among other things. The funny thing is, I even remember writing about how my own desire to lose weight, or get fit, or however you want to say it, would need to come from a place of self-love, rather than self-loathing, in order to be put into action. I knew that then, but somehow I haven’t incorporated it entirely into my journey. Just last week I was telling someone about my inner punk who keeps insisting on french fries. Um, call me crazy, but I don’t think calling myself a punk is very compassionate?!

According to Neff, compassion entails recognizing suffering and feelings of kindness for those who are suffering, so that eventually we feel an urge to help or stop the suffering. Compassion also means understanding that we all suffer, that suffering is part of the human experience. Read: when you are suffering, YOU ARE NOT ALONE (I am yelling for my own benefit). Self-compassion involves all the same things.

I think one of our challenges is to show the very same compassion we show toward others to ourselves. And, I think this is what I really meant in my last post…that by virtue of practicing compassion toward others, I learn to practice self-compassion. It sounds so simple, but if we’re being honest, we know it is not that simple. I know not a single soul who lets herself off the hook with the same gracious spirit in which she would let me off the hook. Or her children, or her mother, or the grocery attendant at VG’s. We are all so hard on ourselves. We come by it naturally though. We live in a very competitive society. We grew up competing in sports, competing for good grades, competing to get into college, competing for jobs, competing to raise perfect children…we are competing all the time. Have you ever told someone what a bad day you are having only to have them respond with the details of their own much worse, much more complicated, much more trying bad day? We even compete for compassion! I’m not saying that participating in healthy competition doesn’t have value, of course it does. It is worth mentioning, however, that a competitive culture such as ours encourages us to feel as if we don’t measure up to others when we fail at something. Perhaps recognizing that sense of failure as “suffering,” instead of proof that we aren’t good enough, opens our hearts right up to understanding that as humans we all suffer, we all fail, and we are all worthy of compassion.

Speaking of suffering, I have to say that celebrating Father’s Day without a father sucks. There is no way around it. As I practiced self-compassion this weekend, I first recognized how lucky I am to have had a dad worth missing. He was such a great guy. I thought about all the little kiddos out there who don’t have dads and I realized just how blessed I am to have had my dad for 37 years. I started to think that maybe it was time to suck it up, you know, that this was my second Father’s Day without a father so I should be really good at it by now. But then I thought of myself as a little girl. I know that no matter how old I am, there will always be a little Anna inside me, longing to run to the solace of her daddy’s arms. He had the biggest, strongest arms. He gave the best hugs. I miss those hugs…

That little girl will never be expected to suck it up. That little girl is suffering still. That little girl has my utmost compassion. And that too, is golden.