Dancing Daddies

I sat with a Martini glass in hand, sipping a pre-dinner drink.

The piano and violin cast a spell as I watched a mother hold her toddler close and whisk her across the dance floor. I was mesmerized, caught, captured. They danced to an instrumental version of Strangers in the Night, and I felt as though I was watching myself as a stranger. The mother I’ve never been with the daughter I’ve never had.

It was beautiful. Not sad, yet haunting.

And then the father stepped out on the floor and swept up his young babe. All at once, as I sat spellbound, I was the daughter, not the dancer. I was being spun in the air and tossed in time with the music. I could feel her giggle well up in my own soul as they twirled and danced.

It was as though I was watching a dance that was of my own young years. I had a Daddy who danced with me. Not literally you understand, as my sister is the true dancer in the family and I am a better wall-flower. But he was a Daddy who played, and who told me I was beautiful every day, including – and maybe especially – through the long awkward years.

When the father on the dance floor got down on one knee, down on her level, without complaint or groan, I saw all the times my father did the same for me. And still does.

And all at once, the images changed again. Heaven whispered in my ear, reminding me that my memories as a beloved child are just a glimpse of how God sees me. That He, too, is a Daddy who twirls and delights and patiently lifts up the little girl with outstretched arms who says “Again, Daddy, please … “

I don’t know if there’s anything more powerful than being a beloved daughter.

One song. One dance. Three images that moved me to tears. Three images that stirred the depths of both loss and gain.

The bar napkin had to suffice to dab my eyes when their dance ended. Because I know mine hasn’t.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dancing Daddies of the world – you are a great image-bearer of God Himself.

Dancing Daddy

 

That Time We Bought a House

This house and I have gone through a pretty major transformation this year.

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I love this house. Those are not words I ever expected myself to say. Walls are walls. Furniture is furniture. Kitchens are kitchens.

Except now I know how very much love can get poured into walls, furniture and kitchens.

To be honest, it scares me a little, because walls and furniture and kitchens are temporary things. Not just temporary to this life – though I’ve given God permission to just copy my new kitchen for my heavenly mansion – but also temporary IN this life. Not even two weeks after we closed escrow, my husband’s job took a hard left turn and he lost it a short two months later, a harsh reminder not to get too comfortable because things can change so unpredictably.

But now it’s a place I love. Opening our doors is one way that I open my heart. Come in and get tea. Sit down and tell me your heart. Stay for a night or two. Or six months. Mi Casa es Su Casa. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m also plenty selfish, and with a plethora of new things I’m thinking all the normal-crazy thoughts like Make sure your Tea doesn’t leave a watermark and don’t sit too firmly on the couch cushion, they’re new. How one would actually “not sit firmly” is a mystery to me, but I’ve still thought it. Let’s just give me a gold star for not surrounding it in plastic, shall we? And oh by the way, while you stay here can you make sure you don’t scratch or stain or break anything? K thanks.

Welcome. Mi Casa es Su Casa but really it’s Mi Casa so be careful, mmm-k?

Dangerous thoughts.

It’s actually hard for me to believe that this house is now a home. One year ago we signed papers and took responsibility for the mortgage. The next twelve months were a blur but between pictures and credit card statements I can interpret that it went something like this:

Month one was demolition month. Tearing out walls, cabinets, bathtubs, toilets, and general gross-ness. New windows and doors were cut into place, heating and air were added, and a few walls went up to replace those that had come down.

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Month two was design month. I know, I know, design usually happens before demolition. But here’s the thing – we were discovering new possibilities around every turn. Tear out this closet and discover a whole new possibility of how the kitchen can be designed. Yes, a closet became a kitchen. More on that later.

Months three through nine are like black and white fuzz on an old 9-inch tv box with a crooked antenna sticking out. I know I was a crazy person, that much is sure. I know I ate out of more plastic boxes and fast food bags than I can count. I know that I earned every pound I’m now working off and every gray hair I am now dyeing.Our construction crew was my amazing brother and his team, but they live out of town, so anytime they were working on our house it meant at least six air mattresses spread out and up to 15 people and two dogs squeezed into our little place. With one bathroom and no kitchen. To call it camping would be generous. Never before have I hopscotched around power tools and compressors to get to the one working bathroom in the morning.

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But in the midst of that were tea parties for my four-year-old niece with her Grandpa.

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And watching my one-year-old niece take her first steps.

And deep laughs and sighs and shrugs as we all learned to live together. In the midst of great change. I thought I was designing and remodeling a house. Turns out it was changing me.

All in all, we gutted, redesigned, and rebuilt two kitchens and three bathrooms. I never had a nice kitchen – I had no idea where to even start, but I can’t tell you how much I love the final result. We installed HVAC, upgraded the electrical panel, repainted, restucco-ed, repainted the entire interior, refinished the hardwood floors, installed crown moulding, replaced the outdoor sprinkler system, designed and created a beautiful master suite with custom built-in closets, and installed three new doors and eight new windows.

A bit too much for one wee blog post. So, I’ll be giving a room-by-room “tour” of our remodel, a couple of highlights on some of my favorite things, and some of the ways I was gutted and re-built, too. I’ll post a new room each week. And spoiler alert, it’s gonna get real messy – but then it will get better – a bit like life.

Heroes among us

I’ve written about heroes before. They are among us. Often in disguise. They could live right down your street, and you may never know it. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no age-limit.

So how would you know if you’ve ever met one? Well, if you’ve ever shaken the hand of a foster or adoptive parent, you’ve met a hero.  And don’t get me wrong – all heroes have kryptonite of some kind, none of them are perfect.  And no one should go into foster or adoptive care with hero-aspirations.

But the thing about heroes is this: most of the time the hero doesn’t even realize they are one until they’re needed most.

Heroes are most needed when the going gets tough, and there’s a hero in all of us, whether we know it or not. And the thing with adoptive and foster care parents is just this: they go into it knowing that the going will get tough – it’s an inevitable part of redemption – but what they may not know is what kind of hero they will find inside.

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One of my best friends is this kind of hero. She brought her baby boy home from Africa a few years ago.  He is beautiful and lovely.  He is vibrant and curious and full of life.  He is also wounded. He carries some emotional scars from his first year of life that is not uncommon within the world of an adoptee. Most of his first year of life is in shadow – they know pieces, but they may never know the full story, except that he was in need of a mom and a dad.  And my friends stood up and volunteered for the job.  But that isn’t what made them heroes.

What makes my friend a hero is the days and hours and minutes that she holds her son’s hand when he screams in terror at some unknown enemy in his young memory.  What makes my friend a hero is when she knows she’s not enough, and prays to the One who is. What makes my friend a hero is when she wants to run away, but she stays.  What makes my friend a hero is when she is brave enough to say “I need help.”

So when a hero like that calls, it’s amazing to be able to say “Help exists – let’s rally.  Together.”

I got to tell her about Finally Home Foundation, an organization that exists to “equip communities to rally around the heroes who are foster and adoptive families.”  Starting next month, I’ll be serving as the Southern California Regional Director for this great organization.

Equipping.  Rallying.  In community.

I mean, seriously, could there be a better job description?

To learn more or get involved, please visit www.finallyhomefoundation.net or email me at brooke@finallyhomefoundation.net

Life in the Lunch Line

There I stood.  One of hundreds.  Standing in line to satisfy one of the most basic needs of all.  Food.  We all just wanted food.

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The lunch line.

I’d just sat through Donald Miller’s encouragement on how to handle disappointment.  I’d heard Mike Foster talk about the difference between hurt and hype, and how hope is found somewhere in between.  Randall Wallace gave insight not only into the skill of kilt-wearing, but into the soul that he brought to writing William Wallace’s “FREEDOM!!!!!” in Braveheart.  I’d just finished sharing life across texts.  Important life.  Life that includes reminders of deep truth and questions about angels cradling lost babies.

And then I got in the lunch line.  By the time 60 minutes had passed and I made my way into the cafeteria – the altar at which I had waited to bow – I found myself in wall-to-wall people and I was ready to use elbows if needed.

I can’t tell you how many days of my life go just like this lunch line.  I hear/read/think something great, something inspirational, something revolutionary, something Truly Important.  But then I get in a line – often on the freeway, sometimes on the internet, or sometimes just in my own head.  I get busy taking care of basic things and basic needs.  And I get frustrated and annoyed and ready to throw elbows.

As I sat down with a plate full of food to finally satiate the beast, my husband asked me this most obnoxious of questions:  “So, how do you apply what you just heard to this moment?”  Grrr, the bane of a pastor’s wife’s existence.  Actual application of spiritual truths.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Well, Don just taught on facing disappointment – to list both the griefs and the blessings.  I can name a few blessings that came out of that hour in line – can you?”

“Wait, I get to list my griefs first,” I said.  Wait.  I get to list my griefs first.

While at the moment I was being snarky, I was about two minutes away from one of those deep “aha” moments.  My lists went like so:

Grief #1.   I grieve inefficiency.  Seriously, wasted minutes are like nails on a chalkboard to me, and I’d just wasted 60 in a line.

Grief #2.  I grieve feeling overlooked – all of a sudden I felt like a number instead of a person attending this conference.

Grief #3.  I grieve the loss of time with friends.  Meal-times were the breaks I’d counted on to debrief with friends at the same conference.

“Okay”, he said, “those are all valid.  Now list the blessings.”

Blessing #1.  It didn’t rain on us in line, even though it had poured all morning long.

Blessing #2.  A good friend that we hadn’t even known was at this conference stood in line with us for the full hour even though he’d already gotten his food.

Blessing #3.  I got a one on one lunch date with my husband.  These are far too far between in our daily lives.

Blessing #4.  I was looking at the ocean the whole time.  I mean, seriously, could there be a prettier campus than Point Loma?

I know, I know – it was a lunch line.  For an hour.  Epiphanies can show up in the oddest of places.

As I sat there, giving my husband snarky but real answers, I realized just how important both lists are – those of griefs and those of blessings – though blessings get more press.  “Count your blessings, count them one by one.”

And don’t get me wrong – counting our blessings can be crucial to mental and spiritual health.  But permission to list my griefs gave my list of blessings context. 

Here’s what I mean.  If I’d had to start with a list of blessings, I can guarantee you that they would have come out of my mouth with an undertone of resentment, because I was upset.  But not totally clear yet on what I was upset about.  So I would have shrugged and sighed my way through the blessings, and felt like because there were blessings, I wasn’t allowed to be upset.  I’ve done that a lot in my life – the “resentful blessings” list.

The two-list method is far healthier.  It’s like getting to exhale before I inhale. 

And sometimes the lists are small and take minutes – like griefs from a lunch line.  Other lists are much bigger and take much more time – like dealing with death and loss and major-life-disappointment.

I’d call Infertility my First Great Grief.  I started out to fill a need almost as basic as food.  I mean, let’s be honest, making babies is about as simple as it comes – until it’s not.  And I found myself in a seven-year line that has no end in sight.

For a long time, I didn’t give myself permission to list my griefs in this.  Because I knew my life had blessings, and I knew I was supposed to count them, and I had this unhealthy sense of equating grieving with whining.

But then.  Oh then.  God called me out.  A couple of years ago, He told me it was time to go INTO my grief, to stare it in the face, to dare to see what I could find by looking at it instead of stifling it.  He told me to air my griefs to Him, to list them one by one.  He can handle it.

And I’ve learned so much.  So.  Much.  About myself, my God, my grief, and yes, my blessings too.  See, when I tried to see only my blessings, my griefs were in the way and blocked the view.  But the interesting thing about looking at grief is that it’s a window, not a wall – it allows you to see through to the other side.   And yes, even infertility has its blessings.  Would I have chosen to learn them this way?  No.  But can I count them? Yes.  My life is so full despite my womb remaining empty. 

So let me encourage you in this today, friend – if you have griefs, small or large, on the lunch-line or life-loss scale, count them.  Count them one by one.  And then your blessings, too.  One rarely exists without the other.

P.S. I’m now rather passionate about encouraging others to “go there” with God – to dig into their grief and be willing to be surprised by what they might find.  If you or someone you know is walking through the grief of infertility or infant loss, share this link:  www.choosejoyevent.com – yours truly will be talking about choosing joy even when you want to punch it in the face.

The Day I was the Best Girlfriend Ever

Ten years ago today, I was the Best Girlfriend Ever.

Really, it’s true.  I said so.  Out loud.  To my mom.

See, I’d just come out of a traumatic relationship.  Not a romantic one.  A work one.  On March 18, 2004, I walked away from my job.  Another thing to cross off of my Brave Things I’ve Done list.

So come March 19, 2004, I woke up feeling like a new woman, enjoying her first Day Off in a long time.  I was excited to do whatever I wanted and answer to absolutely nobody.

Then Boyfriend called.  Would I drive out to see him in Riverside?  To watch basketball – it being the middle of March Madness and all.  Could I, would I, be the one to drive to him for a change?  Sigh.  Yes.  Yes I will, because I love you and I’m your Girlfriend and I have a Day Off and blah blah blah.

So, being the Best Girlfriend Ever, I readjusted my day, told my To Do List to wait, turned off Daytime TV, and called my mom to tell her how amazing I was.  How I was so flexible and selfless and was earning girlfriend gold stars and what-not.  How she didn’t snicker at me, I’ll never know.  Mom-powers are amazing and mysterious.

When I got to Boyfriend’s house, he came out to greet me and suggested a brief walk around campus (where he worked, not went to school – no robbing the cradle here).  He then casually suggested we take a drive up to Big Bear, my hometown in the mountains, an hour-ish away.  We’ve never before nor never since “just decided to take a drive to Big Bear.”  It’s always a planned thing.  But I was turning over a new leaf.  Flexibility.  And also, think of my alternative:  watching basketball.  Sure, why not? I said, only briefly reminding him that it was the middle of March Madness.  More girlfriend-gold-stars after all.  If texting had been a thing back then, my mom would have been getting a play-by-play oh my awesome-ness.

With each mile we drove up the mountain, I repeatedly thought this is so weird that we’re just taking a random trip to Big Bear.  But instead of thinking – even ONCE – about it in a suspicious manner, it only furthered my own sense of girlfriend-greatness.

A handful of hours after I graciously swept my day aside in favor of time with my Beau, we pulled into a parking lot near the lake “to take a walk.”  Still not suspicious.  Seriously?  Seriously.

Until I saw the candles.  Forming a path to the lakeshore.

And heard Boyfriend’s breathing change.

I caught my own breath as I realized this was IT.

He led me down the candle-lit path pre-set by his little engagement elves, back down to the lakeshore where years before he had turned me away, making today the day he’d reclaim that territory and ask me to say yes to forever.

Years before, I had prayed just one prayer about the day I might be asked to marry someone.  Please God, just let me KNOW the answer, whether it’s yes or no, I want it to be clear.  No doubt, no hesitation.  I simply couldn’t fathom being stuck somewhere in the middle and answering with an Uhhhh, ummmm, welllll.

And there on that fateful day, a resounding Yes! came out of my mouth as naturally as the air I breathe.

Sometimes Jason will whisper in my ear, Thanks for saying yes, and I always answer back, Thanks for asking.  I’ve never lost sight of just how amazing it is to be asked.

Somewhere in the darkness a ring was slipped on my finger – the same one that rests there today.

A little known-fact is that Boyfriend and I didn’t kiss, not even when Boyfriend became Fiancée.  A fact that shocked even my mother.  I’m pretty sure she said something about owing a guy a kiss if he gives you a diamond ring.  But it’s just something we decided to save for our wedding day.  Not in any holier-than-thou way, but more because we knew our triggers and didn’t need to add another one.  So I got a diamond but Boyfriend-turned-Fiancee didn’t get a kiss.  Yet.

When it all caught up with me, I felt a teeny bit chagrined about the self-applause I’d given myself all day.  Way to go, Brooke, you are sooooo selfless.  You were willing to clear your schedule and be available for a proposal.  Bravo.

When we then made our way to my family’s house for a pre-orchestrated celebration party, my mom’s grin said it all.

Wow, did I really just brag to you all day about what an awesome girlfriend I am?  Yes.

And you knew the whole time that he’d be proposing and not watching basketball?  Yes.

It’s a good thing that I was the Best Girlfriend Ever that day, since it was my last day as a girlfriend.

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(Also, we were just baaaabies!)

My Valentine’s Day Tip

Step one:  Locate a florist

Step two:  Pick up a phone

Step three: Do not order flowers.  Repeat:  do not order flowers. 

Step four:  Instead, ask if they need delivery drivers. 

Step five:  Show up valentine’s morning – whether solo, with a friend, or your valentine – ready to fill your car with the scent of long-stemmed roses, daisies and forget me nots.

Step six:  Enjoy guessing people’s stories based on the type of flowers and their reaction to receiving them. 

Step seven:  Return home with cash in your pocket and a smile in your heart.  

Delivering flowers is my favorite way to spend Valentine’s Day.  I’ve signed up as a delivery driver three or four different years.  196 million roses are delivered on Valentine’s Day.  Yes, one hundred and ninety-six million.   Whether you’re for or against the whole Valentine’s Day thing, that’s a whole lotta delivered roses.

I first jumped in on the action over a decade ago, back when I drove a shiny black truck and had to rely on a Thomas Guide to get me to the next address for delivery.  Yes, a THOMAS GUIDE, people.  As in, a map on PAPER – with no shiny blue dot to tell me where I was or a red one to tell me where I wanted to end up.  I can’t even explain how crazy lost I got in Mission Viejo.  If I had to use a Thomas Guide today, I’d probably end up in Denver before I could find Laguna Niguel.

And I still can’t believe how many vases of long-stemmed roses I crammed into the cab of my truck.  Confession:  someone somewhere received 11 long-stemmed roses that day, because one snapped off in transport and I umm, hid it among the others.  I know, I KNOW.

When I got married, I told Jason about this little trick and so instead of dropping a lot of cash on buying each other Valentine’s gifts, we turned it into a day to make cash together.  I mean, a whole day together making money by delivering beautiful gifts that other people paid for and a chance to see the first smile of surprise when someone realizes “you’re here to deliver those to me?”  Win!  

So, whether single or married or somewhere in between, my little Valentine’s Day tip is that you can have just as much – or maybe even more! – fun giving as receiving.  Seriously, so. much. fun.

This year, we will be up in San Francisco for a little getaway, but you better believe I’ll have my eye out for people delivering flowers, smiling at the memories they’re making for themselves.  Even if it involves a snapped rose or two.

Roots & Wings

I’ve never have a bad attitude at an airport.  Airports are my thing.  Redbull doesn’t give me wings – airports do.  The collision of stories, the endless possibilities, the myriad of colors and voices all in one place for that one moment, but literally spreading out to the ends of the earth the next moment.  Ah, chills.  Someday I plan to arrive at LAX and throw down a wad of cash for their next outbound international flight, wherever it may be.

I first found my wings when I was 18 and boarded a plane for Israel.  I can still remember walking down the boarding gate to my plane and turning for a look back to my Mom – back in the good old days when they let people come to your gate to see you off.  She was smiling through her tears – the kind of smile that came with a slight shoulder shrug, a long-distance nudge to keep going forward.  That smile brought me so much courage, just what I needed to board a plane to a new place with new people.  Wing-spreading quickly became my favorite pastime, be it locally or globally.

But two weeks ago, when a friend dropped us off at John Wayne, you would’ve thought we were headed to outer Mongolia.  And I guess in some ways we were, since we were on our way to the Midwest.  In January.  Just in time for a Polar Vortex.  All I wanted to do was stay home –  a brand new sensation for this girl.

See, when life brought a season of storms – a friend’s cancer, unemployment, infertility being among the fiercest – I looked for stability anywhere I could find it.  I looked for roots, and I found them.  I fell in love with things like security and comfort – or at least their illusions.  I discovered rich community and simple joy around a living room, perfectly content for it to be the same living room over and over and over.  When we bought our house I was so excited that I could stay in this place for, like, forever. But now, with two weeks off, I was leaving it, and Did. Not. Want. To.

I’m pretty sure I got on that plane purely out of muscle memory.  Or maybe my husband carried me.  It’s a blur.

But I had to get on that plane – even though it was headed to the tundra – to find a truth that I’d forgotten.  I didn’t want to get on that plane, but I’m oh-so-glad I did. photo-16

Boarding that flight meant I got to see what Chicago’s river looks like with ice chunks fighting for elbow room.  I got a five mile arctic walk in with my husband of nine years, holding gloves instead of hands.  I got to spend ten dollars to buy some Thai monks in sandals a hot tea, only to see them get in a cab before my actions could trump the language barrier.

I got to see what my friend’s kitchen looks like. And where she shops for groceries.  And smell her trees and play in her snow and drink deep of the life she lives day by day.

I got to taste the glory of St Louis’ Candy Kitchen and Chicago’s deep dish and know what melted ricotta and chocolate chips can do to one’s soul.  I got to bask in time with such good friends, and trade hugs that can say more than a Skype date ever can.  And I got to meet new friends, forging bridges that I know we’ll cross again in the future.

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As I was sitting in a Chicago Pizzeria, a place that looked like the quintessential “where-everybody-knows-your-name”, but where no one knew mine, I realized just how deeply I love having both roots and wings. Pictures of the 1921 Chicago Whitesox hung on the wall, and I imagined the team actually gathering in this place for a taste of the pizza pie I was about to indulge in (OMG Chicago’s food).  Thinking of their roots made me think of mine, and all the wonderful places where people do know my name.  And all the people that know the deepest truths of who I am, oftentimes better than I do.

Having roots doesn’t always mean staying home of course, but it does mean embracing the things that aren’t new, that change so imperceptibly that you might miss it if you’re not paying close attention.

And wings doesn’t always mean a plane flight – it means being ready for the things that ARE new, gifts you didn’t know you needed.  Even if you have a bad attitude about it at the start.

What about you?  Where (or who) are your roots?  How do you spread your wings?  And do you ever, like me, have to remember to reach for both? #truestself

Ringing in the True Year

There are some years that fade into the jungle of memories – When was it we went there?  Did that?  What year was it when … ? 

2013 is not one of those years.  2013 has kicked my butt.  It will not easily be forgotten.

2013 is the year we bought a house that I love more than a girl probably should love four walls and a roof.  It’s the year we “camped out” during a remodel and created priceless memories as (sometimes up to 12 people) hopscotched over skil-saws and lumber and drywall to find our way to the one operating bathroom.   The year that showed me what grace looks like in the form of an amazing construction crew.

2013 is the year my niece came into this world right before my eyes.  It’s the year I learned the art of self-injections and heard the surprise in our fertility Dr’s voice when we lost another hand of “poker” despite amazing cards.

2013 is the year my husband’s job loss opened up some deep ugly inside of me.  It’s the year I scrambled and clawed to grab onto just one more dollar and collapsed into bed each night hating myself for it.  The year my husband has never worked harder, and never worked truer.

2013 is the year I actually got paid a few pennies to write and speak and each time felt like I was getting away with something.

2013 is the year five sets of beautiful friends moved far away.

2013 is the year that life changed oh so much.

So this year, maybe more than most, the idea of a New Year is tangible.

There’s a question that started burning in 2013, and it’s illuminating my way into 2014.  It’s this:  Who is the truest version of myself?  When I’m stressed, is it about things that the truest me really cares about?  When I am successful, is it in things that the truest me really wants to succeed at?  I’m convinced that too many of us live with only hints of our truest selves.  

So what I’m looking forward to most as we turn the page to 2014 is a True Year.  I want 2014 to be the truest year yet.   The year of making decisions that give life to the made-to-be-me-me, even when that may be surprising.

So instead of new year resolutions, I’m making some true year resolutions.  Because I don’t need to be newer, I need to be truer.  And I’m only choosing five, because anything else is just absurd and I won’t do it.

1)   Stretching ignored muscles.  Not just my physical ones, though that’s where I will start.  And not just for the jean size, though that will be a welcomed benefit.  But because as my lungs expand I’m convinced that my perspective will too.  Truer, not newer.

2)   Spiritual food.  My true self can’t live on bread alone, but this year I’ve kinda tried.  I need some spiritual filet mignon.  Truer, not newer.

3)   Adventuring in story – mine and others.  For me, this means picking up neglected projects.  Not only accepting opportunities write and speak but even pursuing them (yikes!).  Creating space to tell story and create story and live with a view towards adventure, knowing adventure often requires more bravery, and that my true self knows how to be brave, even though sometimes she forgets.  Truer, not newer.

4)   Telling the dollar no.  This is a tough one.  But the almighty dollar is not the boss of me.  Truer, not newer.

5)   Savoring.  Rich doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel when I think of the people that fill our lives, whether from near or far, and 2013 allowed me to celebrate them and their truest selves.  I want even more of that in 2014.  Truer, not newer.

So those are my true year resolutions.  I’d love to hear some of yours.

Happy True Year, friends.  #truestself

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