Because People-Love

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Every single day I’m reminded how beautiful my life really is. But every single day I’m also reminded how hard life can be. And hard times feel even harder during the holidays. My dear friend, Sister Johnice at the Response to Love Center in Buffalo, NY helps take care of people during hard times. And honestly? It’s so easy to make a difference. Way too easy to sit back and do nothing. This time of year wipes out the food pantry at the center. And when clients do come in, many of them have no winter gloves. Over the next few weeks I’ll be collecting canned food and winter gloves for adults.

If you’re a Buffalo local, would you consider adding to my Canned Food & Winter Gloves Collection? I’d love to have you join me.

Wondering how I got connected to the RTLC? Diapers. It was through Diapers. Read more here…

4 Words That Are Changing my Life

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Photo Cred: buffalorising.com

I always feel conspicuous when I do something like this. Driving down the well worn, depressed streets of Buffalo in my happy little Candy Blue car, wearing my Michael Kors parka and listening to Taylor Swift. Just add Ugg boots and a Starbucks’Pumpkin Spice Latte and I am the Ultimate Basic White Girl.

But my heart was in the right place, despite my uber-sterile style.

A few weeks earlier, I had read an article in the  the Buffalo News   about Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz and the Response to Love Center. The center serves its neighboring residents with a food pantry, hot meals, clothing, GED and ESL programs, as well as spiritual ministry and much, much more. But the focus of the article was their shortage of diapers.

Nearly 30% of parents in the United States cannot afford diapers, which can cost up to $100 every month per baby. And it is an expense not covered by food stamps.

(http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/10/us/cnn-heroes-cannon/ )

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After reading the article, it seemed simple enough:

Put a call out to my local friends on Facebook and collect some diapers. Drop them off. The end.

Except yesterday, when I dropped them off, it wasn’t really the end. As I cautiously pulled around to the side of the building and unloaded the haul with a volunteer from the center (who knowingly reminded me to lock my car doors), he asked if I would please come in and speak with Sister Johnice, “because she’ll want to thank you in person.”

I can’t explain it, but I felt myself getting choked up and at first I said no.

“No, that’s okay. I’ll just drop these off and be on my way.”

But he insisted she would want to thank whoever had brought the diapers.

And the whole thing was starting to give me big feelings.

For a few years now I have felt an unrelenting pull on my heart to be more involved in some sort of social justice or humanitarian work; To be involved in something bigger than myself, outside my usual comfortable little circle.

You can’t keep reading books and journaling and crying in your bed over the needs and brokenness of humanity but never actually get out of your bed and do anything about it. You just can’t.

I mean, you can. But it doesn’t make sense. And I think sometimes we just get so paralyzed by our fears or inadequacies or by not knowing quite WHAT to do or how to do it.

And then we do nothing.

But a diaper drive? A diaper drive seemed like such a simple place to start. Babies in my city need diapers. I can buy diapers and I can ask my friends if they want to buy diapers. And then I can bring them to the Response to Love Center.

I sat in Sister Johnice’s office with a life-size cardboard cut out of Pope Francis behind her, fighting back tears as she started to share with me detailed ways the center helps struggling families.

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I can’t lie– I also sat there fighting back the urge to ask if I could take a selfie with her and the Pope. Self-restraint and social dignity won this time. But when I’m there next time, I’m going for it. I figure why else would there BE a LIFE SIZE POPE FRANCIS, if not for the selfie op?

I listened to story after story of the way Response to Love Center changes lives every single day and I started feeling like maybe I had found my place. I confessed to her that I had been wanting to make a more thoughtful and examined contribution somewhere, somehow. I told her how I keep wrestling with so many different ideas and plans– because there is so much need EVERYWHERE. In fact, I was just about to get involved in a Livestock program to purchase goats for poor families in other countries for Christmas.

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But here I was, sitting in an outreach center in my own city. My own city that has hungry, needy people. My own city that has babies who need diapers. My own city with tired, scared, insecure mamas and daddies trying to figure it all out.

Sister recounted her meeting with Mother Teresa in 1985. Mother Teresa held her hands, looked her in the eyes and charged her with these words: “You must find your own Calcutta.”

Woah.

Find. Your. Own. Calcutta. 

And I feel like maybe I just did. And so I’m telling you friends. I don’t have an answer to the refugee crisis facing our world. I don’t have an answer for WORLD hunger or human sex-trafficking. But there are hungry people in my city and babies who need diapers, and that’s where I’m going to start.

What can you do, right where you are? 

Even When it is So Dark I Cannot See, You Are There {Healing from Grief}

{This post was originally published at Creative and Free as part of a ten day series entitled, Scary Stories. “Some hope only grows in the dark.” Thank you to Christina Hubbard for opening up her space and sharing it with other women to bravely tell our scary stories.


The night Mark died was such an ordinary night, which has always been so strange to me. And sort of curious. How can the night you lose your childhood love, your best friend, your husband, the father of your children be so typical? How can the night he is killed in a one car accident be such an ordinary night? But it was.

December 28th, 1998. We were visiting my parents and by 9:00 that night, my kids were tucked in tight, fast asleep and dreaming. We had even said bedtime prayers including ‘God bless Daddy and keep him safe.’ I would later struggle with that 10 second prayer for years to come.

The details I remember in hindsight are sort of amazing to me. I think maybe our minds take certain snapshots during traumatic events so that eventually, it’s a story we can relive and retell whether we like it or not. My dad was in the next room watching Seinfeld- his nightly ritual- and I was at the kitchen table with my mom, painting my nails Magic Mauve.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t really Magic mauve. Had it been magic, the phone wouldn’t have rung a few minutes later bringing the news of Mark’s accident and death…

Click HERE to finish reading over at Creative and Free.

Becoming the Real Me

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Someone going through a very tough time recently messaged me this question:

“How did you get past the rumors and people smearing your name during your divorce?”

And when I first read it, I sort of laughed. Because it was one of those moments when something is pointed out that you only knew to be half true. Like if someone were to say, “What’s it feel like to be fat?” and here you only thought you had a gained a few unnoticeable pounds.

So while I knew my divorce had been talked about and judged– and so had I– I was also convinced it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. (Oh, sweet blissful ignorance, how I love thee)

And so I told her the truth.

I used to cry. A lot. At the unfairness of it all. At the injustice of it all and the envisioned misrepresentation. I used to cry because my feelings were hurt. To think people who didn’t even know me well– or at all– were judging me and my decisions. Or worse yet, people who DID know me well. To think they were judging my divorce and my story. They walked in on a chapter and read a negative review without reading the whole story, and it stung. Bitterly.

Regularly, I would call my mom or best friends who would offer comfort and encouraging words. Often I would text my sister who would respond with fiery fierce words to remind me of who I am and how far I’d come.

And of course, like it does with most things, time and space began to soften the blows and toughen up the bruised and tender skin, which grew a little thicker,in the best possible way. 

But I had to let it go.

That’s the real answer.

I had to let go of everything people thought they knew about me and my life.

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I had to accept that my truth was enough. It was enough for me, and for my family and my friends and the people who know me and love me. I could never control what other people would hear or think or believe; I could only live my own truth.


But there’s a second part to the answer.

I had to be brave enough to keep becoming the real me.

I was regularly shamed for “changing”. But I think maybe it’s not so much that we change. Maybe, instead, we just become who we were always meant to be.

And I am becoming who I was always meant to be. 

The difficulties in my life and in my marriage didn’t create the new me; They helped carve out and uncover the Real MeIn such a hard-fought, ongoing and treacherous battle, I am digging out The Real Me. And I am proud of her.

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There is no shame in evolving. The real shame is in fighting so desperately to stay the same when everything around you is beckoning for change. For growth. For expansion. For freedom. If you’re still the same exact person you were twenty years ago, with the same thoughts, the same habits, the same beliefs, have courage. Take heart. Have the guts to uncover the real you. If there were no fear, no expectations, no system to conform to, who would you actually become?

For most of my life I lived within a community that valued sameness. There was so much safety in all the ways we agreed with each other; In our speech, in our values, in our dress, in our lifestyles. And it’s not that I didn’t prescribe to it at the time, but I outgrew it. The outside of my life no longer reflected the inside- which has got to be the shortest path to unhappiness.  A golden cage is still a cage.

I started to value my own thoughts and feelings and intellect.

I’d been conditioned to think so many of my thoughts and feelings were wrong, when it turns out, they were essential.

After my divorce, when I was free to dig deeper, to explore, to be authentic– come what may, expectations be damned– beneath all the layers of religion and dysfunction and heartache and loss, there was a weathered but solid and beautiful soul underneath. It’s as if I unearthed the foundation of my personality. And it has been the perfect space to rebuild myself and my life from the ground up. It is steadfast. It is strong. It is mine. It is the Real Me.

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I want to tell the woman who messaged me that after I publish this post, I will get a hate message or two.

But I rarely cry anymore. Instead I get back to creating my life.

Loving and enjoying my kids so hard I think I’ll burst. Laughing every single day with them ’til we can’t breathe.

Loving God. Saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘Help’. Meditating, reading, journaling. Searching for Him and everything divine in the Universe.

Treasuring my family and my friends. Having a beer. Dancing in my kitchen.

I think of Elizabeth Gilbert, (Author of Eat, Pray, Love, and her newest masterpiece, Big Magic) who says, “If people absolutely hate what you’ve created? Just smile sweetly and suggest— as politely as you possibly can— that they go make their own f*cking art.”

That’s the real me. I am making art with my life. And in my soul. And it takes my breath away. It is the happiest and saddest I have ever been, but nothing could be lovelier because it’s real.

What Kind of Story Would You Have Written?

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All-American girl grows up in a happy, traditional household with a postcard-perfect childhood.  She graduates from high school. Goes to college. Falls in love. Marries the man of her dreams. Has three babies, the career she always dreamed of and lives happily ever after.

I’ve been working on a writing project. And I keep thinking how much easier it would be to write this story if everything had just gone according to plan. Not that I had a Formal Life Plan, but I think all of us imagine how we’d like things to go.

But if things had gone according to plan, I’m not so sure I’d have anything to write about.

“Once upon a time there was girl who lived the exact life she imagined. The end.”

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And really, who wants to read about that? Who wants to read about someone’s life going exactly as they thought it would? It’s sort of anti-climatic, isn’t it? Where’s the meaning?   The struggle? The bravery? The victory?

Because instead, it went something like this:

All-American girl grows up in a spiritually split household, which leaned heavily on strict Word of Faith and Evangelical beliefs. Lots of struggle ensues. Girl graduates from high school. Goes to college. Gets pregnant. Has a baby. Gets married. Has another baby. Is widowed. Gets remarried. Has another baby. Gets divorced. (Does NOT have another baby). Dates. Struggles to figure out faith and love and relationships. Breaks a few bones.  And hearts, along the way– including her own. And THEN…

Then what? What happens next? 

You have to admit, the second version makes for a much more interesting story. I want to know what happens! (Ohhhhh I seriously want to know what happens!) I want to know details! I want to know the ins and outs and in-betweens! The first version actually sounds a little BO-RING.

Which on some days would be sweet relief, wouldn’t it?


Overcoming obstacles gives life meaning.

Searching for love. More than once.

Or twice.

Battling fear.

Pushing past insecurities.

Finding and losing… and finding… Faith and God.

Discovering and living out your true identity over and over again.

Wrestling with beliefs and traditions and mindsets that have just always been.

Building family and community and an authentic tribe of people you love and who love you back. And who like you, too

These are things that make life, well… alive. These are the things that create a great story. One worth reading about. (And writing about) And as it turns out, they’re also the things that make a great life. Living through the ups and downs of life has a way of reminding us that life is fragile. And special. And magical. And worthwhile.

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If we could write our own stories, most of us would leave out the most difficult parts. I know I would. And I think about this for my kids, too. l want life to be easy for them. But it’s not. It won’t be. It isn’t for any of us. But it can still be beautiful. It is still beautiful. I know this now. Easy would not make a better story- or a better life.

An easy life would be absent of the deepest, most beautiful parts.

What has your life been like? Did it go as planned? Was there one HUGE, completely unexpected plot twist in your life? Or a hundred little ones? Tell me, please. I’d love to hear about it.

First Day Fears

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There’s something about the first day of ANYTHING that combines to be one part fear, one part anticipation and one part bravado. My friend and fellow blogger Christina Hubbard of Creative and Free takes us on her First Day journey as her kids head back to school. Christina and I met last year at a writer’s conference in Chicago. I was immediately struck by her inquisitive nature and her open gracious spirit. She is a mother. A writer. An artist. And her soulful, deep-waters writing helps make me a better person and a better writer.  A few weeks ago I was honored to guest post on her blog. And this week, I am honored even more so to feature her on mine…


 How First Day Fears

Can Find Your Faith

When You Can’t 

First day fears feel so wrong, like looking up at a sheer rock face we’re supposed to climb when we’d rather slide back down the rocky scree to safety.Inline image 10

I didn’t want the first day of school to come. I thought I did. Really, I didn’t.

I wanted to be the fierce Let’s-Do-This-Thang-Mama. Pretending to have it all together is like telling you I like to eat worms for breakfast. A complete crock.

I thought I was ready for the first day. As it turns out, I wasn’t. 

Let’s face it. I was a mess before the first day. I couldn’t even lead my son in to meet his teacher when we got to sneak a peak at his new classroom. So he would be less afraid on the real first day, I was supposed to be strong. I had planned to be brave, but I wasn’t. My husband took his hand and carried the torch for all of us.

I didn’t know how this would feel. No one told me I would flash back to my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and feel tidal waves of missing her again. It felt like a double loss—sending two kids off to a new school for the first time. I wasn’t prepared for the surging emotions, but I don’t suppose anyone is. I longed for the sending off to feel like embarking to a new land, like our recent roadtrip, but it didn’t.

We made it home that night. While I consoled myself with courage tips from Bear Grylls, my husband tucked in the kids. They fessed to being nervous too. There’s strength in the solace of knowing we’re not the only ones who are scared.

I love what Bonnie Gray says about letting ourselves feel at the gut-level:

“…There comes a time when it takes more faith to fall apart with Jesus than to stay strong enough to stop it from happening.” (Finding Spiritual Whitespace)Inline image 11

My husband and I talked into the night about why our decision felt hard even if it was the right thing. It’s ok to feel broken up, to admit we have no idea what we are doing. Before he shut off the lights, Bobby said, “It’s going to be ok.”

The strongest faith grows from the most broken places. Falling apart helped me believe my husband’s words fully. Falling apart helped me believe the words God had whispered for months: “Trust me. It’s going to be ok. I love you.”

Let’s skip the part in the middle of the night where my thoughts raced like a rat in a wheel. (I remembered I hadn’t put my little Jedi’s pencils into his pencil box. Will he be able to open the package by himself? Dear, Lord… I must have prayed it fifty times.)

What transformed all of our fears into fortitude was admitting we couldn’t summit this mountain alone—not without God or each other.

Our whole family walked into the elementary double doors the first day. We came nervous, scared, and unsure—AS ISThis is the adventure our family has been preparing for, the change we prayed about, the step of faith we took. By God’s strength alone, they walked tall and so did I.

We didn’t have it all together. We held hands for a while and hesitated for a minute. All the kids were being ushered into the gym. Clearly, it was time to go. Our hands released, and I exhaled.Inline image 8

My husband and I went for coffee and sat together marveling at our composure and theirs. Clearly, we had nothing to do with it.

God uses weakness to give us the greatest strength. He takes our tied up, twisted up fears and uses hard things to make us mountain climbers.

Go ahead. Fall apart. Hold hands. FAITH FOUND.

The first day of school happened. Today is a few days after, and I’m still not prepared or happy about it.

We did it anyway, with God’s supernatural strength—nothing else. We came to Him at the end of ourselves—clueless and vulnerable. When we admitted our helplessness, the first day became do-able. We admitted our inability and the pressure in the can released. Bear Grylls has it right:

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.

Take it from the guy who really does eat worms for breakfast.

Take heart, fellow climber, you’re not trekking alone.

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Why I’m Not Hoping My Kids Love God

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My whole life I’ve always thought that loving God and raising my kids to love God was the highest form of moral and spiritual accomplishment. If I could just get myself and them to this head and heart space of loving God above all else, surely then we would live meaningful and happier lives.

But recently, in the middle of my own wrestling with faith and all things spiritual, I got to thinking, what if we all just learned to like God? You know, just get to know Him a little better and actually LIKE Him. And then see what happens after that?

It seems like when I’m commanded to do ANYTHING my natural inclination is to resist. I don’t think it’s all that different with love. I’ve perfected the art of loving someone without really liking them. We joke about it. You know the bumper sticker, “Jesus loves you. The rest of us think you’re an asshole.” Yeah. That. And He only loves you because He has to. He’s God. He loves everyone. The rest of us don’t really care for you. We care about you at the most minimal level so as to comply with the commandments. We tolerate you. We half-heartedly wish you well without really being invested in your well-being.

We teach our kids this same theology. Love God because we say so. Because the Bible says so. Love God because it’s the right thing to do. Love God because there might be scary consequences if you don’t. And by the way, do all this stuff He commands and expects of you. Because. We say so. This doesn’t really make God feel all that likable.



When I think about the people in my life that I
really like, I smile. Because they make me feel good about myself. They make me laugh. I love to spend time with them. I can count on them and I know they’ll always be there for me. They want what’s best for me. I trust them with my deepest thoughts and feelings. They know me. They hear me. They see me. The people I really like take good care of my heart.  They know I’m not perfect, but they keep coming back around because they see the value in me despite my shortcomings. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. They already like me just as I am.

This is what I really believe God is like. I really like Him a lot more than I used to.

And I’m convinced He likes me, too.

Religion and faith can be so complicated and messy. Talk about humanity screwing something up beyond all recognition. Sometimes I think God must look down and just shake His head as if to say, “This is so far off from what I wanted for you guys.” In the book Love Does, by the legendary Bob Goff, he says this about keeping faith simple:

“…I see myself floating in a massive sea of God’s love. The circle of His grace and forgiveness is big enough and the line leading to Him is long enough that I don’t always need to be measuring latitude and longitude to find myself. It’s a pretty easy calculation each day actually…I just stay somewhere in that circle.”

This. This is a God I like. This is a God I think my kids would like and want to know and spend time with. I want them to know that liking God is easy. Sure the Bible commands us to love God with all of our hearts. And I absolutely want that for myself and for my kids. But the path to loving Him is liking Him. And that’s where I’m going to start.