I like to wait a few weeks before sending out my Newest Year letter, since most folks I encounter during the month of January seem to be vibing a mix of post holiday exhaustion and frantic, zealous intentions for implementing immediate/permanent life changes. By the time all 62 days of the month have passed (seriously though, why does it feel so long?), I sense that many of us are needing to come up for air.
So, deep breath. We made it.
I have been blessed to begin working with a handful of new clients, after a beautiful maternity leave spent doing what all new mamas should have permission to do: snuggling, reading, walks with our pup, giggling, playing, learning, and just generally being in awe of my love for Saylor, which continues to grow, despite a steady rhythm of less sleep, faster showers, and questionable fashion choices. (Oh, it’s 8pm? Allow me to change from my daytime pajamas into my evening pajamas)....
Her life shows me the way, every day. With her tiny joy beam self at the heart of it all, the word that keeps coming up for me as a 2020 energy intention is permission.
Having Saylor has gifted me with permission to make choices that resonate most with my family, without concern of judgement. Permission to ask for what I, or we, need without guilt. Permission to set even more firm, healthy boundaries. Permission to trust myself. Permission to put myself out there more, to grow my practice and connect with women in a deep, meaningful way. Permission to fail, even, as I never want her to feel afraid to take risks or make mistakes.
Where do you crave permission in your life?
A few things vibing with permission for me...
We Are the Luckiest, by Laura Mckowen: You do NOT have to have any questions around alcohol consumption to love this book. I cannot emphasize that enough. Laura’s honest, gorgeous words will take you on a journey of self reflection, forgiveness, hope in a way that personally moved me to my core. I was gutted by much of her perspective. This is by far my favorite piece of writing I’ve come across in at least a year.
This meditation: From the entrancing voice of poet Sarah Blondin - it is the ultimate guided meditation on permission. Stunning, stirring, beautiful.
Gua Sha Facial Tool: Added this step to my nightly routine and am loving it as an ancient practice of self care. I am giving myself further permission to dive into the “woo-woo” arts that have always called to my soul.
Winter is alive and well (including twelve degree and windy days here in Columbus, woof) which means there is still plenty of time to use the TGL Holiday Bucketlist (see previous post) to help guide you in doing good, being well, and filling your heart.
My family was able to check off a few items prior to heading home for Christmas, but are still working on a couple others. As the spark of the New Year begins to fade into the rhythm of everyday life, I know it can be hard to stay inspired and carry the heart of the holiday season forward. I really hope you'll continue to join me in focusing on all the small ways we can be intentional and generous with our days. Like most other efforts for positive change, a lot of practice is required. In fact, I would argue that keeping a soft, giving, grateful heart is forever practice! There is no check box marking the finality of accomplishing this way of being. Instead, it is a commitment we make to invest our time and energy into for the rest of our lives.
This may sound daunting, but it's actually a freeing permission slip filled with relief -- there is no pressure to get it perfect, ever. Just the invitation to come back again and again to efforts that yield our most meaningful ways of being. To the efforts that live in alignment with our values and our purpose. And truthfully, I think you will find there is a magic ripple effect to these efforts. I think you'll find that the motion in these small gestures will always be more valuable than the stasis of no effort at all, and you will be delighted by how it begins to feel easy, with sweet, unexpected connections to be made at every turn.
10 years ago (TEN!!), I launched a tiny website/blog called The Grateful Life. It was intentioned as a space of positivity, and as I scrolled through some of my oldest posts this morning (cringing at only a few, but maybe you just don't go searching), I’m happy to report that I feel it has stuck to that goal over the years. Whether I was posting regularly or with wide gaps between visits, I see my vulnerability, clarity, heart and grateful spirit grow, even in my more challenging days. As a mother, this made me smile.
In my very first post, I shared a note that had been emailed to me from one of the many spiritual “gurus” I’d been following at the time. It says:
"What if, my darling, loneliness was simply a feeling of impatience, telepathically sent to you by friends you've yet to meet, urging you to go out more, do more, and get involved so that life's serendipities could bring you together...Would you still feel alone?" - the universe.
This season of life has cracked me open like a pinata full of feelings. Y’all...if you thought I was emo before….Lordy. All the feels, all the time, is my constant state of being.
My daughter’s existence reminds me of the need for a gratitude practice daily. We have so very much to give thanks for, and it is important to us to share that good fortune with others, and to model these truths for Saylor. Motherhood requires connection, support, community. It demands so much of self, that it is absolutely paramount we go out, do more, get involved so that this life’s serendipities can bring us what and who we need. More than ever, I see the truth in motion over stasis. Meaning; One step at a time, curiosity led movement is the ultimate antidote to the festering fears + doubts so readily fed by stasis.
Because of this, I wanted to collaborate with a friend to create a mini bucketlist of sorts, to keep me accountable for this very intention over the holidays. I am sharing it here with you in the hopes you will join my family and I during the month of December by checking off each item on this list. Keep coming back to TGL for photos and thoughts on our progress, as well as info on various organizations we support!
Download our beautiful list for printing here or here. HUGE thanks to dear Katie, for doodling my vision to fruition. (You are truly an artist. Never stop creating!)
And finally, I would love to see your bucket lists in action. Please share your experiences on social media with the hashtag #TGLBUCKETLIST (or feel free to tag me @thegratefullifelab)!
With love and gratitude,
Papa was out of town for a few days this month, working on a rental property we own, so it was just us chicks kicking back and running the show at home.
I almost feel guilty typing this, because I know how it could be misconstrued as quite the mom brag, but it really wasn’t a big deal to fly solo in parenting for a bit. Even though you ran a fever after your 4 month shots, vetoed any naps, and sister Ivy puked all over the house from eating goose poo (after she painfully twisted mamas wrist by yanking on the leash to say hi to a neighbor), I’d say we pretty well held it together and managed to look good doing it!
Sweet, smiley Saylor: Truly. You have made this transition into motherhood so...dare I say...easy.
Sure, there have been moments more difficult than others. Some have surprised us (you’re telling me it’s natural for my nipples to feel such immense pain at the start of nursing?) and others are kinda “duh” (living far from family/help is a freaking drag). Motherhood has felt like slowly unpacking a mysterious treasure. My approach thus far has been to remain as humble, present, and grateful as possible. This mentality works for us. You are a breeze, a joy, a gift to care for.
Quite a few well intentioned folks have made off-hand comments when I tell them about your gifted grace, saying things like “Just you wait until her sleep regression!” or “Wait until she is mobile!” or my personal favorite; “That just means your next kid will be a nightmare!”. And I gotta tell ya, these don’t sit well with me. I started letting these words seep into my mind to the extent I actually found myself describing your easy going nature recently by including a disclaimer. Placing a verbal asterisk next to our truth with an awkward “but I know that means our second will be super hard, haha!” - essentially attempting to beat them to the punch or down play our good fortune so as not to offend anyone. I started to accept the projection of hard times ahead in a way that implied we deserve them, versus expressing deep gratitude for the positive rhythm we have now. Worst of all, I started to let myself believe it was necessary to feel anxious about whatever may lie ahead.
Now, the most generous assumption I can make in these instances is that folks are striving for some combination of misplaced connection, a place to vent struggles, a desire to share experiences or “wisdom”.
Sure. I get that. I know there will be tough stuff on our journey. I know we will be excruciatingly tired or stressed or scared. I know this without many months of mamahood under my belt because what I lack in parenting experience, I make up for in having fully lived my own life. And that is part of the trade; to experience this new kind of love that aches and pulsates in my chest, I must also roll the dice on fresh potential for pain.
It’s what I signed up for.
Recently, while volunteering at one of our Young Mom Connection meetings for teen moms, I fell into this pattern of negative future talk in response to a fellow volunteer saying “the first one tricks you into having a second - and then the second is way harder!”
Ms. Connie, the founder of the organization, overheard this. Gently shaking her head, she firmly whispered to us “oh, no. that won’t be true”. I’m not sure what it is about Ms. Connie (other than her absolutely beautiful, generous, soft spoken soul) but her simple words and loving energy behind them set us free. I physically felt a weight lifted, Saylor, as though she had passed me a secret permission slip to not buy into any narrative that didn’t feel true for us.
And so we practice being here and now with you, instead. We shake off any invitation to fear your growth or the path of your life, understanding that worrying in the present won’t help alleviate struggle in the future. Brene Brown (you’ll hear mama quote her A LOT) has a perfect way of speaking on this. To summarize: she teaches us that joy is the most vulnerable emotion we can feel, and 'practicing the hurt' is simply a way of engaging with foreboding joy. It tricks us into thinking we will be more prepared for struggle if we spend time obsessively thinking about it, but it simply isn’t true. Hard times will be hard, no matter how much you future trip on them. Anxiety strips us of the full potential for joy in the moment and therefore negative planning is hardly ever worth the mental bandwidth. Practicing mindfulness each day doesn't have to be perfect for it to be worthwhile, either. Just know it is a choice you can always return to.
How does that silly Bobby McFerrin song go? “In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double"
One of my favorite moments in any yoga class I’ve ever taken comes at the very end, when we bow to one another as a symbol of acknowledging our shared life. Namaste, we croon in unison. Roughly meaning: The light within me sees the light within you. Some folks simply dip their chins at this time, or lean slightly forward, but I’ve always felt compelled to bend all the way over my lap until my forehead just about grazes the floor. There is a humility that washes over me after I practice, not unlike the humility I feel each day with you.
In this space of deep gratitude for the experience of being your mother, I feel compelled to say:
Mamas of sick children - I bow to you.
Mamas parenting solo most, or all, of the time - I bow to you.
Mamas whose babies need extra help learning and growing - I bow to you.
Mamas of multiples - I bow to you.
Mamas who love their babies so much that this love aches and pulsates in their chests, reverberating out into the world with a purity unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, but who also just need a gosh darn MINUTE every now and again - I bow.
May the present offer you all the goodness you are worth, Saylor. May you trust yourself enough to believe it.
Loving you always, my girl.
Here we are in the final stretch of just me and you. It’s a tight squeeze, yea? But we’re making it work. Other mamas keep telling me I’ll be losing weight at this point, since eating becomes more difficult. Ha! Boy does that make me and your dad laugh. Those sweet mamas just don’t understand our secret dessert compartment which thrives off milkshakes and Girl Scout cookies. So far it’s been +5lbs in two weeks, our fastest gain yet, but nothing our stretch pants cannot handle.
I am trying my best to cherish every final, internal movement you gift me with...even when your butt finds its way under my rib or your foot nails me in whatever sensitive organ is closest.
I grew you within, and the wild, humbling, sacred process of this has been an honor to know.
This week I was scrolling on Instagram, a generally mindless past time your dad and I have vowed to limit once you’ve joined us earthside (for reasons we’ll explain later), when a passing food for thought from a yogi I follow stopped me in my tracks:
Absolutely Everything is On Loan.
The post goes on to list:
Your loved ones.
Your feet on the earth.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, baby. I’ve been thinking how this very moment of you and me sharing a body is so temporary. That your presence within is absolutely on loan to me.
That you, sweet soul, are on loan to us.
This food for thought inspires deep gratitude, presence, and the practice of non attachment.
This food for thought reminds me of how temporary it all is; not in a panicky, carpe diem because it’s going to hell in a handbasket kinda way. But rather as a liberating permission slip to feel free, encouraged, to enjoy it...really soak it up...while it’s here, happening, live and in color. It’s an invitation to take care of these things with humility + curiosity. It’s a challenge to loosen any white-knuckle fear grip we have on the fantasy of how it “should” be. A reminder to let go.
Or, perhaps more importantly, to let it be.
Your dad is on loan. Our Ivy is on loan (until they perfect magic dog-life extending drugs which we shall invest all our monies in, of course). The incredible earth we dwell on, full of wondrous creatures, sights, smells, landscapes, is on loan. Even the less-than-desirable bits of being human are on loan. Best case? To teach us, tear us open, give us the chance to grow deeper, higher, with clear intention and purpose.
Bubba and I keep saying “we don’t know what we don’t know”, somewhat as a calming mantra for all the mystery bound to unfold as you enter our lives.
I grew you within, but your being has undoubtedly already grown me, too. When you’re ready to meet your family, we will be ready, too.
Ready to learn.
Ready to love.
Ready to never take this loan for granted.
We took the at-home test, and saw the second blue line. We hugged, kissed, and laughed at how excitingly strange it all was to be unfolding before us after months of hoping for this moment. We marveled at the tender truth of it happening in my body, born of careful consideration, trying, timing and watching others from arm’s length experience this very path. So surreal and raw, I took two more tests - digital, to ensure no reader’s error - and the journey of our pregnancy began.
A few weeks went by spent in this happy unknown, with fatigue as my only strong pregnancy symptom. I have always been a champion napper, though, so was pleasantly unphased by the need to succumb each day to a late afternoon snooze. Your dad started calling me “kitty”, as he’d frequently notice I’d disappeared, to then find me curled up on a soft blanket in some patch of sunlit furniture.
But then a shift occurred which is not often spoken of, at least not in a public manner that makes it familiar to most. I began to weep over feeling so unlike myself, in ways I couldn’t articulate. Your dad, elated at your existence, became triggered by my shift, dipping into his own mental file cabinet of past experiences and unfortunately expressing more frustration than support, choosing words that still sting to think about now. Real talk? For a woman carrying a child, it isn’t all slaps on the back and celebratory shared cigars, while life moves on predominantly unaffected like an annoyingly patriarchal scene from Mad Men. From the instant that second blue line appears on the stick, a transformation begins deep inside. You do not have to be “spiritual” to feel this. It isn’t Bubba’s fault, of course, that our biological experiences caused conflicting perspectives. But it is important to note how even those well versed in empathy may need to pause and reevaluate their approaches every now and again. (Don’t worry, he inevitably did this, and we are both better for it).
The truth was difficult to admit, but eventually we had to acknowledge my old friend depression slipped its sticky, invasive grip around my being and settled in to whisper it’s lies of panic and loss and disconnection. Like a curse of shaky hovering, as Glennon says, prenatal depression found its way into my days, turning me from “kitty” to, well, zombie.
What have we done?, we thought. What if this gets no better for 9 months? Weren’t we finished with this game of mental health, having found a rhythmic formula for success a few years back?
Why, I questioned, oh why did I go off of my medication? (short answer: because I wanted a “clean” pregnancy).....
It was all very Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, returning to the scene of her prior shopping humiliation...
Baby, *you* were never a question of mistake. Of that I must be clear.
This essay is for you because I feel it is important to practice my own vulnerability, as an invitation for you to invest in the same process. And yet it is also for my fellow women who recognize themselves in my story. Whether you have felt the full force of this, a lesser version, or an even more intense, challenging, postpartum bout: I see you.
Beloved mama, I could not have written a word of this in the midst of the suffering. Please know that. I could not have peeled back the layers to find any nugget of truth, or goodness, or wisdom in those weeks. I could not have silver lined, or seen a light. Hope felt like a faint mist that came with loving intentions from the people I let into my struggle; soft and inviting, but fleeting and oddly mysterious. Too faint to actually stick. So light, I just walked right through.
This is one of the greatest misunderstandings on the subject of distressed mental health: The very efforts required to potentially lift ourselves out are the same ones we have lost power, strength, and energy to do. This triggers a deep dive into shame and guilt. The kind that turns a soul on itself. Your Aunt Kelly made me laugh by equating all of this to Dementors (oh my gosh, I can’t wait to read you Harry Potter); a feeling of the very life you love being sucked out, replaced with only cold lack of hope, peace, or happiness, while you stare back helplessly. She also mailed us a shirt saying “My Patronus is a Labrador Retriever” as a nod to our dear Ivy, so really when I tell you that your Aunties are the best, I mean it.
Mama: Do not feel you are extra failing because you do not have the means right now to unpack the heavy layers upon you, in order to articulate what is happening in your spirit, or to specify your needs, your fears, your hurt -- you do not have to sharpen those emotional tools in this moment. You simply need to be gentle with your being. If you are in the hard place, ease up on you. Day to day is a perfectly acceptable, preferable, way to live.
And mamas: You do not have to suffer.
EVERYONE has mental health. The same way any living human has lung health, gut health, heart health etc. The mind is paramount to the success of it all: our delicate, unique ecosystems within. To treat the consideration and care of its health any differently than another piece of the human puzzle -- with shame or guilt or judgement -- is absurd.
In a sweeping understatement: I am grateful to my midwife team for so lovingly guiding me to better medical days, without making me feel guilty for a single second. I am grateful to your Aunt Belle, my precious sister, who called every day just to say hello and let me know I had not been forgotten. “I’m just going to call you again tomorrow, even if I’m awkward, Ok?”, she said, perfectly exemplifying that repeatedly showing up for your people matters more than how natural you look doing it.
I am grateful that since opening up to these women, our pregnancy has been a total joy. I have truly loved sharing this body with you.
So, my baby, let people into your confusing bits.
And honey, check on those you love often. Even if you feel awkward doing so.
The path ahead will be imperfect, a dance of steps forward and back and a shimmy to the side. But God, the Universe, Dumbledore will use any ounce of brave movement to slather your shame with a balm of encouraging love. Your dad and I will do the same.
We see you,
I’m not scared to get older.
...Well, this isn’t entirely true.
I’d say while I’m sometimes wary of the process of becoming older, most specifically the degree of rapidly unfolding acceptance that is required, I am unafraid of being older. Once you’ve binged enough episodes of The Golden Girls with me, this will make more sense.
Real talk: My body is changing so much while you steadily grow within. Thankfully, mama is feelin’ herself in this curvy look (so is Dad - but you probably don’t want to know that) to the point where I like to wink at us in the mirror while saying “Hey cuties”. You and I missed being labeled a “geriatric pregnancy” by a whopping two months, kiddo, so way to be conceived while I’m still in my medically approved “youth”! Kidding kidding. It’s just interesting how such labels can affect our mindsets, and not in a helpful way.
All of this transitioning has made me begin to consider what I want to teach you about your own physical self, and its unique, continuous process of change, in a world that obsesses over women’s bodies. It has prompted me to wonder how best to articulate the power behind “your body, your rules - your body, your permissions”, and be mindful of the ways I claim my own. Because quite frankly, what you and I are doing together right now, in this body? It is fucking awesome.
The best news I can tell you: It is absolutely possible to grow, and age, and witness, and be in your body with Grace.
The worst news I can tell you, is that Grace takes practice. A lot of it, regularly, and with intentional patience and gumption.
Grace and acceptance are not boxes to be checked only once. Grace and acceptance are forces we dedicate ourselves to in a manner of our lives depending on them. Because truthfully, they do.
You see, so much of how our bodies change over time, either in support of us like an old friend and ally, or against us like a mutinous Jabba the Hutt, depends on how we see them; not through the eyes of our terrified, limited egos, but from the loving, knowing eyes of our spirits.
How we speak to them matters most assuredly.
And of course, how we care for them.
Let’s start with the basics, which you’ll hear 1,000 times over the course of your life:
These are meaningful, important pieces of the puzzle. Implement them, and you will already be ahead of the curve.
But I think the way we choose to live our lives from a place of authenticity, vulnerability, gratitude + self-focused stretching… vs. fear, self-sabotage, + others-focused striving, play equally important roles.
I often see my incredible clients living in an energy of what many experts will refer to as “engineered smallness”. In other words, deeply wanting to be in our full power, but also desiring to stay safe; craving more for ourselves, while actively working to go unnoticed. I believe that when a body lives its whole existence within engineered smallness, it ages at an alarmingly fast rate.
This is, in part, to say: Never twist your true being into a stranger of self, for the sake of being “recognizable” to others.
Sweet pea, we can practice, practice, practice living. We can have a laugh with our fellow humans on the topic of aging, and break through our engineered smallness. We can care for our bodies best by accepting them with kindness as often as we can, and then continuing to be who we are. We can hold a little space for the unexpected happenings.
May I be totally transparent with you? The in-between is the hard place. Where your dad and I dwell right now is where the most practice is required. In this space it is extra important to do small acts of love for ourselves, and to reimagine the rules of aging. It’s a good place to start remembering you are a spiritual being having a human experience, not the other way around.
You are bigger than your body, baby.
Someday you might appear to be a drooping, slowing, wrinkly ol’ mess in the eyes of a younger, unknowing person (bless their foolish hearts), but with a life well spent in authentic purpose -- with the memories and scars and adventures marked on your soul from the years spent really loving, living, and remaining open in the ways that feel good to you -- it is possible to see yourself as timeless. And if you practice enough? It is possible for others to see you this way, too.
You get to decide. You get to choose radical acceptance of your figure, your grey or stray hairs, your smile lines or eye creases, your stretch marks or birthmarks; your extraordinary body with all its soft folds and tender bits in general. You get to practice accepting these things; loving what you see in the mirror and blessing your being for sticking around long enough to check off a few more days here.
To honor our own spirits on their journeys of aging, your Dad and I sat down to discuss what this all means to us. Here are the guidelines for body grace we came up with….
Fell Family Rules For Aging:
header photo courtesy of Megan Hyde from Hyde & Co. photography!
Today is your dad’s 34th birthday. Happy Birthday, Bubba! Gosh, he is just a true bearded babescicle.
You will have plenty of time to form your unique relationship with this special guy, but I felt compelled to capitalize on the timing opportunity to impart a few of my own thoughts on why he is just so damn easy to love. Everyone should be sprinkled with a bit of compliment pixie dust on their birthdays, don’t you think?
Amid the inevitable chaos of our daily lives together, the ebbs and flows, the growth and challenges and adventures of our family, here is what I hope stands out most to you about your dad…
I hope you notice the way he lights up when I, Mama, am my most silly, weird, embarrassing self -- that look of delight he gets, reserved only for me, like I am a strange, magical treasure to behold while making him laugh with random, ridiculous antics. (I have no doubt he will have an enchanted look for you, too, our future little weirdo. Welcome to the club!)
I hope you witness how he makes time for anyone who matters to him, even a little. The phone calls or texts, the making of plans and hosting of guests and traveling to visit those near and far; he is a believer in connective inclusion, through and through. There is always room for another in our home, at our table, in our hearts.
How hard he works. Early mornings, late nights, always on the move to better his life and to better ours. I truly pray this level of commitment to a goal, a team, a purpose no matter the hours involved gets passed on to you. (Let’s just say Mama does not necessarily thrive in this area. As Ali Wong articulates, I don’t want to Lean In, I want to Lay Down.)
Pay attention to how he notices a need in others, and steps up to help without being asked. I remember watching him a few months back, after we had pulled over to assist a family with a vehicle on its last legs, and felt so much pride in the way he not only helped take care of their physical automotive needs (baby, he ended up muscle pushing the car several blocks to a safer area -- leaving me to swoon hubba hubba, that’s my stud Bubba), but also made the father laugh with comforting ease during what could have been a tense situation for his family.
I hope you encounter each day his sensitive, loving heart -- I hope your very precious presence brings this out in him even more. This past summer Bubba called me quite upset, detailing an encounter with a beloved friend of ours who struggles with a frequently debilitating chronic illness. Bubba was contacted by his family, as our friend needed urgent mobility assistance during a particularly painful episode. This vulnerability -- aiding a large, handsome, joyful, faithful man in a moment of utter weakness -- moved your father to tears. Through his tears he asked me things like “Why is this happening to such a great man?” and “It makes me reevaluate all of my priorities - how can I ever complain? How did I get so lucky, and others less so? Why is this the way of the world?” Baby girl, you will likely encounter more men than not over the course of your life (though I hope the tides continue to change on this) who have a degree of difficulty showing deep vulnerability to you. Please remember that while it is not your job to heal or fix or change anyone, it will always be an honor to hold safe space for someone ready to show up in raw emotion. It will always be worth your time to invite another person, through your own example, compassion and faith, to express themselves wholly, imperfectly, truthfully. It is the definition of grace to acknowledge their strength in sharing, as well as your gratitude for their trust.
My love, no doubt this man will be putty in your hands. Be gentle with his heart. He can hardly handle the sweetness of our labrador, Ivy, as you will see him melt for everything about her (notably her “velvet” ears) from day one….imagine how he will be with you!
I am so excited to witness this, too. I am thankful for this chance to see him through your eyes, and you through his. I am humbled your spirit chose to settle back earthside into our family, and know we have many celebrations ahead in our shared futures.
Birthdays included :)
Love you, Love your Dad.
Your dad and I are taking the day to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. Bubba (this is what I call your father, feel free to adopt it, too, if you like) calls it “Trishmas”, which I really love, especially when he puts this name into favorite Christmas songs. Like: “I’lllllllll be hooooommee for Trishmas…..” or “All I want for Trishmas, is YOU!” kinda deal. It truly, delightfully, never gets old.
Anyway. It’s been one year since we celebrated becoming husband and wife with a few close friends and family members in a rental home at the Jersey Shore, exchanging vows lead by Aunt Kelly and Uncle Andy, who got ordained just for us. The internet can be a magical place for such things, baby. It was a really fun couple of days, and we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat if given the chance. It’s been a lovely year of marriage. Your dad is a super husband, so I’m pretty pumped we chose each other and this path.
Yet the truth is, my love, that relationships are work. Some weeks are easy peasy, with very little effort involved. You find your groove in the flow of life together, and the rhythm of your relationship moves to a steady, satisfying beat. Other times require more strategy, sacrifice, and compromise than either party would probably prefer, and still other seasons demand a degree of heavy lifting that exercises and exhausts every part of your being: mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Those seasons can be tough. Those seasons might even make you question why in the world this whole marriage thing exists at all.
But we want you to know that it is all OK. Really! That floating back and forth between these levels of effort will never mean you are most definitely failing, or flailing or doomed. You’re being human, together. And that is a very challenging, imperfect place to dwell.
We hope someday you find a partner who makes you laugh as much as we do together. More than anything, we hope you connect with someone who truly sees you, encourages and respects your autonomy, and says “yea, that’s the girl for me” while proudly standing by your side on frequent, wild, soul expanding adventures.
We hope you choose to commit your life to a person in true partnership -- even if it isn’t through marriage specifically. We believe an act of deep, hard, mysterious connection can be both rewarding and transformative. It is a true act of courage, to be continuously vulnerable with another soul over the course of a lifetime. We hope you ask yourself: How much genuine attention, affection, and appreciation am I gifting my loved ones? How much do they feel my love, in the ways they’re uniquely hard wired to feel?
And, baby girl, (though this is a whole other letter topic in and of itself), it’s worth mentioning that if you cannot give and receive love in your partnership in the ways you both deserve, despite your best efforts, we hope you choose instead to forgive and let go; to allow one another the freedom to find these gifts elsewhere. This is an equally courageous act.
So, on the one year anniversary of our marriage, I thought I’d share with you the vows I spoke to your dad in our sacred ceremony. I stand by every word. I love him oh so much.
In some ways, your dad and I are very much from the camp of “mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy”. Meaning: Stop comparing, judging, competing, gossiping. We love to encourage independent thinking. We value a priority of caring for one’s self, and family, and appreciate a good consideration of the strength to be found in “alone”. Wild + Free are our chosen ways to be... (which you’ll regularly observe as neither of us put much stock in having to be fully dressed while home -- dad hates shirts, and mom is truly anti-pants). You’ll get used to it.
Yet, there are limits to possibilities in isolation. Wild and free are not the same as this, my love, but we sometimes wonder if folks know the difference anymore.
You see, our culture here in the ol’ U.S. of A has separated us. Social media certainly doesn’t help, with its abundant focus on individual success, versus everyone thriving; with its lense of edited, cultivated perfection, vs. hard, humble truth telling. There is so much talk of us-versus-them, instead of we-the-people. What the hell happened to our wolfpacks? (Mama curses some, baby, though generally only when it’s appropriate).
This is especially true for women, but I promise the sentiment expands across genders:
“This woman to woman circle was once the domain of Wild Woman, and it had open membership; anyone could belong. But all we have left of this today is the little tatter called a ‘baby shower’, where all the birthing jokes, mother gifts, and genitalia stories are squeezed into two hours’ time, no longer available to the woman throughout her entire lifetime as a mother….In most parts of the industrialized countries today, the young mother broods, births, and attempts to benefit her offspring all by herself. It is a tragedy of enormous proportions.” - Clarissa Pinkola Estes
While she speaks most specifically to the rearing of children in this particular context (and this is something I’ve thought a lot about recently, considering your being and all), I believe the same is true for how we continue to raise ourselves after we’ve left home and our lives march forward through adulthood. I believe the same is true for the piece of our being that forever needs nurturing, love, and a safe space to be seen and accepted over and over again, in order to show up as our best selves. We need freaking help, baby. We’re not built to do it all alone, at least not for the long haul.
Let’s look at earlier settlements of the west, for example: a handful of families spread across acres of new land. “Mama’s in labor! Timmy -- Go fetch Mrs. Henson from down the road!” (Your dad laughed at this example - but stick with me!) Women would care for one another with a force we don’t often see in industrialized societies, going so far as delivering each others babies, then minding children, preparing/sharing meals, gifting time, mending fences, managing the home + loaning supplies. It wasn’t an obligation - it was just what you did for the community and individual's survival. As Glennon Doyle says, there was no such thing as other people’s children.
We think we don’t need that level of community anymore. We think because of modern amenities and quick avenues of surface connection and technology in every corner of life (Alexa - play ‘Home on the Range’), we should be more than capable of fending for ourselves. And yet we are barely surviving.
Sure, we may not need the same intensity of physical support for basic survival (I mean, I love my friends, your Aunties and Uncles, but would prefer for them not to bring you into the world). But emotionally? Oh my gosh. Yes. Yes, we need this.
Quilting circles. Bible studies. Barn Raisings. Support groups. Book clubs. Creative classes. Town Hall meetings. Community fundraisers: Strip away the specifics of each gathering and what you’ll find is a soul-filled desire for connection. What you’ll find is our natural rhythm of together, of giving and receiving for the benefit of the whole. What you’ll discover are the primal makings of a wolfpack.
It’s paramount to keep community alive; to commit to your people, and take care of eachother. Investing in your tribe through asking, receiving, protecting, serving. Staying wild + free, together. These are things we so deeply want for you, my girl. This is what we hope to show you each and every day. You’re joining a pretty stellar pack, if we do say so ourselves. Your place is forever reserved.
Howling from the heart,
Dear Grateful Lifers,
I spent many hours with Tara, my beloved therapist in San Francisco, talking about life and loss, love and forgiveness. We spent many hours together discussing books, and theories, and God, and hope. I adored our time together, and even wrote her an open letter of thanks on TGL when B and I left for Ohio.
On one particular occasion, I sat on her cozy sofa berating myself, no doubt for the 100th time, for a mistake I’d made in recent history. Carefully unpacking what I perceived to be a new perspective, or angle or clue into why it was all so messed up and in which ways I am to blame was (sometimes still is) my specialty!
“Human beings are the only known creatures on earth who repeatedly punish themselves for the same mistake”, Tara said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Let me put it this way. And really, this is a bit of a caricature example, but you’ll get the point. Picture the plains of Africa – a gazelle is quietly grazing in the grass, unassuming, when suddenly a lion leaps from behind him and a race for life ensues. The gazelle zigs, and zags and somehow manages to escape his fate as lunch. What do you think happens next? Do you think the gazelle then goes over in his mind all of the ways in which he handled this high stress situation inappropriately? Berating himself for going left, when he should have cut right? Regretting his choice to graze in that particular spot again when clearly he should know better? Talking about this incident with every other gazelle for the next few weeks, remembering with more shame each time the story is told, subtly asking for affirmation that maybe he isn’t the dumbest gazelle on the plain?”
(by now I am laughing)
“No. The gazelle has a natural, biological response. Within a few minutes his heart rate and blood pressure lowers. He resumes grazing...perhaps more mindfully, yet absolutely without continuous self-punishment. He survived. Life moves on.”
OK, I realize we are not gazelles on a plain. #Basic, much? I’d like to think of myself as something more regal and emotionally astute, like an elephant, anyway. But you see what she is trying to say, yea?
As part of the natural animal world, humans have similar biological responses of flight, fight, freeze. Of course, our developed brains then layer on about a zillion subsets of choices under those umbrellas, but at its core, we still walk around with deeply ancient biologies imbedded in our DNA.
We need fear to survive. Each one of us is writing and/or reading this because our primal lineages managed to navigate and learn from fear. “Cousin died eating that berry. Berry bad. Do not eat that berry. Lion ate brother. Run from lion.” But we no longer need fear in this same primal sense for survival. We do not need to apply it to every single stinking decision we do or do not make in modern times. We do not need the detailed stories it makes up for us, nor the mental file cabinet of past hurts it utilizes to implement anticipatory grieving, failure, or finality. It is not our only teacher.
What we do need, however, is more forgiveness. What we need are our gazelle-like instincts to learn to let it go, and move on. Let me be clear: When we forgive self or others, there is no lack of acknowledgement for harm caused. It’s truly impossible to have real intimacy with anyone without this. Forgiveness requires transparency and accountability. Yet it does not require complete absolution of all negative thoughts forever. Positive feelings don’t wholly erase negative ones. With forgiveness, we are less likely to be sensitive to, or triggered by, negative memories while seeing our hurts (self inflicted or otherwise) as part of who we are, yet not an all-encompassing representation of our beings or our lives. They co-exist. They are some, but blessedly, not all. Thank goodness, because there are things far more worthy of our energetic investment.
You survived, darling. What did you learn? How did it change you? Where will you create transformation through active choice in the future?
Now let life move on.
This has been a favorite Pema saying of mine for years, as it speaks to the truly temporary nature of all our feelings/life scenarios while acknowledging the powerful immensity of our beings.
So what do we do, when we find ourselves solely focusing on the weather around or within us, instead of our innate strength, wholeness, potential for transformation?
A bit of in-the-moment Food For Thought:
✨ What Do I Need Right Now? Are my basic physical needs being met? In times of stress it is surprisingly easy to let our fundamental needs take a back seat. Asking am I hungry, thirsty, tired -- do I need to stretch, sweat, breathe deep, lay down -- takes care of our primal humanness before continuing on to our more complicated layers.
✨ Is there an ask that could be made? For help, for forgiveness, for clarity. This one may take a bit (or bunch) of humility. Yet, it is far better to be uncomfortable in the moment, than regretful or resentful down the line.
✨ What will help ease my tensions long term? Take a meta view of yourself. Zoom out to one week, one month, one year. Will this matter? Should I be freaking out, and will freaking out be helpful? What is one thing I can do now that will leave me feeling more relaxed later? Take your power back a bit. Your future self will thank you.
✨ What connects me? We’re looking for ways to help us find our most natural, capable rhythm again. Honestly? We’re looking for ways to remember who we are, and what we value. For me, it is talking with a trusted friend and getting fresh air. Other connections may include a walk in nature, a quiet cup of coffee, reading a favorite book, going for a run, being of service to someone else.
✨ What brings me joy? Shifting from stress triggers to simple pleasures is a great way to reset. It may feel a tad forced at first, but trust me -- this is a powerful way to interrupt unserving thoughts and replace them with a perspective that offers more possibilities and less dead ends. Choose happiness over suffering, y’all.
[excerpt from 30/30 email coaching]
How many deep, nourishing, inhales followed by totally emptying exhales have you taken today?
In yoga, the breath becomes a metaphor for life.
Yoga says: If you are struggling to sip in air, ease out of your pose.
Life says: If you are struggling, be gentle with yourself. Scale back. More is not always better.
Yoga says: Send your breath to the spots of tension in your body.
Life says: Pay attention to signs and messages, what creates dissonance, rather than resonance in your being, before they become a problem.
Yoga says: It doesn’t matter what pose you take, so long as you breathe your way through it.
Life says: No matter where you are, or what is happening, your value and “success” are not measured by external circumstance.
Yoga says: Introduce your Ujjayi (Ocean) breath to enhance your practice.
Life says: Facing the waves of being human, do not choose to run in fear, as it will catch you. Do not choose to stand firm in ego, for it will knock you down. Choose to dive deep with humility, and let it transform you.
[excerpt from TGL's 30/30 coaching program]