Celebrating the love she leaves behind.

(Eulogy for my grandmother – delivered December 12, 2018.)

IMG_0573When we were kids, there was almost nothing that Mommom wouldn’t let us do.  Jump on the bed?  She’d lead us in a rousing game of “Chop Chop Timber”.  Play in the mud?  She’d draw a bath and make sure our clothes were clean before we went home.  Drink Pepsi for breakfast?  “Just don’t tell your mother.”  If we broke something, she’d just shrug and say, “No one got hurt.”  And if we did get hurt, she pull out the band-aids and assure us that we’d be better before we were married.  I didn’t even know that she knew how to be angry until that one time I used her sewing scissors to cut paper.  (One time.)

Her patience with us as children was indicative of her patience with everyone.  She accepted that people made mistakes, and she forgave easily.  Where others held grudges or distanced themselves from people in their lives, my grandmother would forgive and find the good.  She didn’t always understand the decisions other people made, but she didn’t have to understand someone to love them.  She accepted that everyone was flawed, and she loved them anyway.

She opened her home to anyone who needed a place to stay – for a night or for a year.  There was nothing that she had that couldn’t be borrowed, and nothing that she owned that was more important than the people in her life.  Mommom was embarrassed by nothing and allowed herself to enjoy life without worrying about what others might think.  She literally danced as if no one was watching and sang as if no one was listening.

If you didn’t know her well, you might begin to see the picture of a woman without flaws – but most of us know better.  And the things that I loved about her the most were those perfect imperfections that made her who she was.

She was stubborn.  She didn’t think that she was always right, but right or wrong, she was going to do things her way.  She was a selective hoarder – of buttons, scraps of fabric, jars of jelly far past their expiration date, and 10 year old poinsettias that looked like barren collections of twigs but still produced a flower every once in awhile.

While it was my Mommom Amond who had the vocabulary of a sailor, it was Mommom Burd who taught me to curse creatively – taking every day words and infusing them with the spirit of profanity.

IMG_0560 2She believed – above everything else – in living her life, rather than striving for perfection.  She appreciated what she had, and she never wanted anything more.

Her legacy will continue to impact the world for many generations to come.  She shaped and helped to raise four strong-willed and independent granddaughters, and two great-granddaughters coming up behind. My dad has her goofy sense of humor and her inability to be embarrassed by much of anything – and her ability to accept the imperfections of others.  And it is my aunt who has inherited her endless generosity and caring, her compassion, and her heart.

As you leave here today, we ask you to reflect on and celebrate the impact that she had on you.  Maybe it is as simple as a favorite recipe that she shared. Maybe she helped to care for your family when someone was sick.  Maybe she gave you a place to stay, a loan, or just the gift of her time.  Or maybe she taught you to forgive easily, forget quickly, laugh often, play without embarrassment, and love without conditions.

Live your truth. Tell your story.

I have been feeling a bit lost for the past few months, and I’ve struggled with the things that typically feed my soul.

I stepped away from political conversations for a little while. I couldn’t reconcile the commonly held belief that the time for civility and compromise had passed with my own need to engage, understand, and find the common ground we all know exists.

I felt like my footing in the social justice movements was shaky; I was uncertain how to speak from a place of privilege without drowning out the marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.

I came dangerously close to giving up on my dream. I became overwhelmed with the effort and sacrifice required to get there, and I forgot about the purpose and passion that made it all worth the climb.

Needing, Seeking, and Finding Inspiration

I had lost my way and many of my former sources of inspiration had become sources of confusion and stress.  It was time to find inspiration in unexpected places.

The “Comedy” Special that will bring you to tears

If you have not yet taken the time to watch Hannah Gadsby’s entire Netflix special, you need to make time.  Make time.  Don’t put it on the in background while you are doing something else.  Sit.  Listen.  Laugh. Really listen. Cry. Laugh again.  I dare you to come away uninspired.

The Six-Hour 12-Hour YouTube Black Hole that Hasn’t Actually Ended Yet

I fell into a YouTube hole that I have not quite emerged from after discovering a speech delivered by writer/producer/director Dustin Lance Black. If you aren’t familiar with him, Lance won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, and his recent TV mini-series When We Rise is definitely worth 8 hours of your time.

But beyond his work in Hollywood, he’s an activist and an advocate. Lance doesn’t just write scripts about the critical history of social justice movements, he makes history in those movements.

The common theme that resonated so strongly for me across both Hannah and Lance’s messages was the need to tell your story.  YOUR story.  YOUR truth.  From privilege, from oppression, with laughter, with tears… your story has value.

live your truth. tell your story. tattoo.Ironically, this message that I needed to hear is a message that I had tattooed on my arm earlier this year.  This is a message so important to me that I literally had it embedded into my skin.  I see it every day.  And yet I forgot the essential truth:

read. listen. engage. do good. do right. cry. laugh. dream. accept. love. live your truth.

tell your story.

I took out the trash tonight.

9590924 - close up of a garbage bag on white background with clipping path

I took the trash out to the curb tonight.  Six large garbage bags of trash.  And when I came into the house, I got a little bit emotional because I was proud of myself.

You see, I haven’t taken the trash out in weeks.  Every week, trash day would come and go, and I wouldn’t do anything.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I would give myself pep talks. I would berate myself for being lazy and a slob.  But every week I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t care enough.

Everyone who suffers from depression suffers differently.  For me, the clearest sign is my trash.  For the past few months, I’ve been battling a bout of depression and I am just getting to the other side of it.  It took me awhile to recognize it for what it was, and then it took me a little while longer to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  And then it took a couple more weeks for the new medication to start working.  And every week, the trash piled up.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or attention.  I’m sharing because talking about depression is really hard.  It’s virtually impossible to do when you are suffering from it, and when you get past it, you really don’t want to dwell on it.  For some, admitting that you are taking medication for it feels like weakness.  For others, you are just too afraid of the judgment that comes with mental illness of any kind.  For anyone, talking about depression is hugely vulnerable.

So maybe I can shine a little bit of light into someone’s darkness.  If you haven’t taken out the trash in weeks (or whatever that represents in your life), it CAN get better.  If it feels like you are living under a blanket that you just can’t shake off, there are people who want to help. Maybe medication isn’t the right step for you, but talking to someone almost always is.

If it helps, that someone can be me.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*


(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.


* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!


Experiences, Expectations and Epiphanies #BLC2015

IMG_1644Attending the Body Love Conference in Tucson this past weekend was an event that I’ve been planning for since late last year. I learned about the event by following the awesomeness that is Jes Baker (the Militant Baker) online. (My even more awesome friend Hedda introduced me to her blog a few years ago.)

#BLC2015 Expectations

I’ve been talking about this conference for months with everyone in my life. I’ve been excited about the opportunity to get together with like-minded body positivity champions to discuss the challenges we face in a world constantly telling us that our bodies are flawed. I researched in advance, reading blogs and books related to the body positivity movement, Health at Every Size and similar topics. I thought about experiences I would share, insight I would offer, and questions that I would ask. I talked to friends about my impending trip, and brought the weight of their expectations and excitement with me to Tucson and BLC2015. I was excited to come away from the experience with tools that I could use to promote body love and self-confidence in others. I was ready to be a Body Love Champion!

The funny thing about coming into an experience like The Body Love Conference with so many expectations is that it’s going to shatter every single one of them.

#BLC2015 Experiences

My experience was amazing, inspiring, frustrating, confusing, terrifying and liberating. And those are just the emotions that I’ve been able to process since Saturday.

downloadOddly, one of the most significant experiences occurred on the plane on the way to Tucson. I picked up 10% Happier in the airport before I left, because the book I brought with me was too academic for my excited brain. What I would refer to as a “skeptic’s guide to meditation” (which is the name of a different book, by the way), Dan Harris’ bestseller totally won me over. It was exactly the book that I needed to read at this specific moment in my life, and so appropriate for me to read at the start of this literal journey for the weekend.

Due to flight delays, I arrived too late to participate in the social event on Friday night. Ultimately, that may have significantly changed the way that I experienced the weekend, as it was far less social and far more introspective than I expected. I came into the experience planning to talk, ask, meet and connect—and I left with my head full of questions, analysis, and a feeling of disconnection.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a chance to meet some amazing people, have inspiring conversations and make connections. I was inspired by a writing seminar hosted by Kristen Nelson, a lunchtime conversation with Alex (of Alex V Yogi), and a performance and seminar by Angie River on speaking your truth. I had a really lovely conversation with a retired university administrator whose name I never got about finding purpose in life.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

After telling Kristen Nelson that I was skeptical of the entire premise behind divination, I pulled a tarot card from her deck that seemed to scream a message to me that I’ve been fighting for awhile. A conversation ostensibly about yoga with Alex led me to hear her story of leaving a high-pressure career for something that spoke to her soul and her purpose. And Angie focused on the need to tell your story and share the things that cause you to feel shame, because those are the stories that erase the shame (for you and for others going through similar experiences).

(TMI warning for my friends and colleagues reading this.) I also got my period for the first time in 8 months in the middle of the morning on Saturday. In the very next session (a room full of women), a woman spoke up as the session was winding down to ask if anyone had a tampon, because she just gotten her period for the first time in “ages”. I think I actually gasped and I was tempted to say “Me too!”, but decided it was too weird and too much for my brain to process. Maybe it’s not meaningful at all, but it was weird and it freaked me out a little.

(Speaking of weird “coincidences”, the license plate on my rental car was BLC ####.)

#BLC2015 Epiphanies

I went into the conference feeling as though I had body love all figured out—and every experience I had told me that I have a long way to go. I went into the conference expecting to come away feeling connected to this community of people just like me—and I realized that I have a unique story to tell and I still have some of my own shame to work through in the telling of it. I went into the conference expecting to learn how I could be an advocate for body love in others—and I learned that the best way to do that is to continue talking about the journey to love myself, with all of its successes and failures.

Stay tuned.

I continue to pursue purpose.

rocksOccasionally, I find myself contemplating the big questions. You know—the BIG questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What will my legacy be?
  • What is the meaning of life?

Many people find meaning in their religious beliefs, particularly if they have a belief in another life to come after this one. Parents can point to their children as their legacy (and perhaps their purpose). But as an atheist and a non-parent, those questions can be more difficult to answer—and finding answers can feel more critical.

Just out of college and starting my career, it felt like nothing was more important than being able to define my purpose. Of course, I expected to find that purpose within my career. I thought, “I will know that I have led a great life because I will have succeeded at achieving [INSERT CAREER OBJECTIVE].” That, of course, turned out to be total crap. It is certainly possible (and preferable) that your career and your purpose align, but paying the bills and leaving a legacy you can be proud of don’t always come hand in hand.

Just a few years shy of 40 and I’ve built a career that I’m proud of, but it isn’t my legacy. It’s not the reason I exist and it doesn’t provide meaning to my life. On the best days, my career teaches me important skills and provides the financial means to live. On the worst days, it’s a distraction from finding my real purpose.

So what is my purpose?

I don’t know. Is it weird to say – after all of that – that I’m not sure it matters? Of course having a purpose in life matters, but does it really matter that I know exactly what that looks like? Leaving a legacy matters, but does it matter that I know now what that will be when I’m gone? I think what really matters is that I continue to pursue purpose. I continue to be passionate about issues and fired up about injustice and inequality. I continue to lift others up instead of tearing them down. I continue to seek ways to apply my own talents and abilities to improving the world around me.

Maybe one day I’ll hear the proverbial “click” and I’ll know that I’ve found that thing that I am meant to do with my life. Maybe I won’t. But as long as I don’t stop listening for it, I think I’m doing just fine.