Archive | Stories – Nonfiction

The Great Leap by Christine Mason Miller

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

In just a few days, I’m crossing over. Good-bye forties, farewell first half of life. The big one is here—I’m about to turn fifty.

I’ve never felt daunted by any previous birthdays, but my fiftieth has had me, at times, in a mild state of panic. What does it mean to turn fifty? What lies ahead? How will this change the way the rest of the world sees me? How can I make the most of the time I have left? Because there is now no denying that what remains is limited—time to not only to be alive, but also to be healthy, energetic, and able to do all the things I want to do. I have lately been feeling a unique kind of pressure to make the right choices; my fear of reaching old age with a suitcase full of regrets about what I did or didn’t do when I had the opportunity has been a lingering presence all year long.

In a nutshell, I don’t want to blow it.

I’ve also never been one to create a master plan for my life. I’ve made big plans for business, creative projects, and even dinner parties, but not for the totality of my life. I’ve never had an age-related goal (married by 25, homeowner by 30, etc.) and have rarely tried to predict exactly where I might be or what I might be doing beyond a few months. This has been especially true since my divorce, when I was inspired to take an entirely different approach to my future.

Since then, I’ve steered my life in a way that is less about focusing my sights on specific hopes or dreams and more about setting my compass according to my values—the kind of person I want to be and what I want my life to look like. But even then, I try to hold onto any plans as loosely as possible. Experience has shown me that there are other more mysterious forces at play, and, if I’m willing to let go of the desire for control, there’s a very good chance things will unfold in ways more magically, abundantly, and beautifully than I could have ever orchestrated.

As my husband and I get settled in our new home and community here in Milwaukee, I’ve been watching him connect with an assortment of friends, colleagues, and classmates from years past. He is catching up with people he hasn’t seen in thirty, forty and fifty years, hearing about the highlights of their lives as well as those of other mutual friends. I’ve been involved in many of these conversations, and they have inspired a pulling upward of perspective. I’ve been imagining myself on a cloud above the earth, only it isn’t just the physical entity of our planet but all of time. It is a dynamic universe filled with moments and memories and experiences – mine included, many of which haven’t even happened yet, of course—and I’m up above, watching all of them collide and twinkle and carry each of us along different paths and trajectories. This decision went this way, that one turned things completely around. Those are the points of no return. These are the things we’ll never get back. And over there—that’s what is still entirely possible.

After hearing a few too many stories of lives being consumed by things like lawsuits, family estrangements, and addiction, I keep thinking about the finiteness of our existence.

This week I’m turning fifty, but the day might come when I turn seventy, and what will I be looking at then when I let myself float up above the atmosphere and take stock of the time I’ve had? What do I see now? Has my general approach—values first, pursuit of dreams second—served me or hindered me? Which regrets and heartbreaks from my past are still in need of redemption or transformation for my future?

The funny things is, my birthday will arrive and then it will be over. After all the build up, the angst, and hearing David Byrne’s “How did I get here?” in my head over and over again, it will happen. I’ll be fifty. And that will be that. But what is true about turning fifty has, in fact, been true all along – I don’t know how much time I have left. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Each day my work is the same—to make sure my compass is in alignment with what I love and value most, open the sail, and let the flow of life carry me toward my future, whatever the future may bring.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

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When Reality & Fiction Collide (as told to Krista Davis)

by Little Miss Sunshine (aka Twinkletoes)

My mom, Krista Davis, thinks she created me. Can you imagine anything more preposterous than imagining that she put the idea of me out into the universe and then I showed up?

I was born in a house where animals were hoarded. Our people left and when the contractors arrived to fix up the house, they were shocked to find us. Being really terrific people, they divided us up, and each one took three of us to find us homes. In my case, a super guy dropped me (and two little brown Chihuahuas) off at his favorite animal hospital. I was there when he said, “Clean ‘em up and find them homes. I’ll pick up the bill.”  Is that a great guy or what?

I was just a baby and covered in fleas. Yuck! It was on the day of my second bath that Mom came along. I was in a cage, sopping wet, and trying desperately to dry my fur. She had a huge dog with her. For the most part I ignored her. I was wet! That was my priority. But I heard the vet say, “It’s a long weekend. Why don’t you take her home for a test drive?”

There was a lot of giggling after that. They knew they’d found a sucker! And just like that, she took me home.

The first night I was there, Mom went outside on an upstairs balcony. She thought she had shut the door behind her, but I snuck through when she wasn’t looking. When she went inside, I jumped and jumped, and went higher and higher until I had the most fabulous view of a world I had never seen before.

An hour later, I heard her calling me. I thought she’d never find my clever spot! But when she went outside in the dark and called me, I mewed to her. The truth was that I wanted to go back inside where it was warm, and I was getting hungry, too.

Have you figured out where I was? On the roof! On top of the world.

She fetched a ladder and climbed up (in the dark!). She reached up to me, and I very slowly and carefully walked down the steep pitch of the roof until she could scoop me up. And then I purred. I figured she’d be a pretty good mom, so I never did that again.

So why does she think she created me? Well, look carefully at the cover of THE DIVA DIGS UP THE DIRT. There I am. It looks just like me! The thing is that she wrote that book before I was born. And then I showed up at her vet’s office. Spooky, huh?

It was meant to be.

Now I have my own series under the pseudonym, Twinkletoes.

My latest escapade is in NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING. That’s me on the cover with Trixie, the Jack Russell Terrier, who likes to think she’s the star of the series.

But I know the truth. Cats never make a fuss about things like that. We know we’re in charge.

Now Mom has written about a dog named Duchess. We expect to see her come trotting down the road any day.

About the Author: Krista Davis

New York Times Bestselling author Krista Davis writes the Paws and Claws Mysteries set on fictional Wagtail Mountain, a resort where people vacation with their pets. Her 5th Paws and Claws Mystery is NOT A CREATURE WAS PURRING, which releases on February 7th. Krista also writes the Domestic Diva Mysteries. Her newest series debuts in February with COLOR ME MURDER. Like her characters, Krista has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and sweets. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with two dogs and two cats.

Connect with her on Goodreads  |  Twitter  | Facebook

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The Making of Ourselves by Emma Gazley

On the way to work this morning I drove by a hundred advertisements and flashing lights, dozens of billboards covered with intriguing colors and bare figures. I passed men and women walking, driving, on their phones, listening to music. I usually enjoy music or a podcast during my commute, but some mornings lately I’ve been leaving in silence and trying to soak it all in, to remind myself in the midst of those lights and colors that that message of “You should have this or do this or be this” isn’t going to bring the happiness it guarantees.

I arrived earlier than I expected and decided to practice a meditation in the car. I know in my head that intention breeds contentment; but there are times, especially recently, when I’ve been at such a loss for energy that I’ve gone through the motions and lacked intention in the day.

For several years I’ve struggled with various health issues, beginning with a hormonal problem that’s affected my organs, muscles, skeleton. When I first felt something going wrong in my body, I ignored the symptoms. I can’t pinpoint the original moment, but I remember fragments tied together that make a messy mosaic of pain and discomfort. Losing sleep at night, losing the ability to carry anything remotely heavy, losing mobility. I remember trying to shift a backpack onto my shoulders and my arm going out of alignment. I remember the misery of going to work, being in the car, doing dishes. I lost the ability to drive, to pour water, to hold a dinner plate.

My mom had driven me to a healthcare professional for a regular treatment and the next day I could tell I needed another treatment. After scrambling to make another appointment, then rushing to the next city, we sat in the car together. I was reclining in the passenger seat, wearing a pink shirt-dress my cousin had given me looking at the cloudy sky; my mother hadn’t turned the key in the ignition yet, her eyes filling with tears.

She turned to me and said, “It’s worse than we thought, isn’t it?”

In my mind I could see myself smiling and riding horseback, standing in line for a roller-coaster on a hot sunny day, running on a treadmill with energy and confidence. Those images were wiped clean and replaced with a picture of myself laying in bed, crouched over on a couch, limping to and from the car.

I know my imagination can be a drama factory, which is part of why I had spent years ignoring myself, denying the reality of the pain I was in.

Something about those pictures in my mind rang true to me in a way that my imagination’s reel rarely does. I felt it- I felt the loss of the person I had been and I felt a pricking in my fingers that told me that there was a new person I was becoming, and I couldn’t control the body that person lived in. It was a bizarre and palpable feeling. I could feel myself changing, as not even adolescence had changed me.

My illness reached the point where I had to call all my clients and tell them I was unable to continue my work. I changed doctors, as mine wasn’t providing the care I needed. And I started to make a plan for my new life.

I’ve had to rework my plan several times, as my health has improved and weakened over the years. Coming up on the anniversary of when I was first diagnosed, I am trying to regain intention.

Everywhere throughout our winding life-paths we encounter those blinding lights, flashing signs telling us which way to go, what we should desire. Who we should be. I am trying to ignore the distractions, the alluring siren cries of what society and my own brokenness tell me I should be.

There’s a new image I’ve had in my mind this week. I’ve seen a version of myself who is strong, and gentle.

Someone who takes sadness and turns it into pure gold, who can work harder every day and burn through the bar that I had set so low for my body. I’m trying to reshape my expectations to fuel the goal of who I want to be, instead of allowing pessimism to predict a mundane version of myself.

This is a whole area of creativity that those of us who are “makers” can sometimes neglect; the making of ourselves.

In a podcast I listened to recently the speaker talked about people who have suffered from chronic pain, how they begin to own their pain and make it a part of their identity. With the history of mankind and the way current events are trending, we can absolutely guarantee that all of us will at some time feel pain and suffer. The heroes we admire in folklore, on the silver screen and in real life are people who overcome their disadvantages, their pain, and make something of their situations, in spite of fear or obstacles.

As I listened to this podcast I realized that I didn’t want the pain I have experienced for so many years, the weakness, or the fear of it to be “my pain”. I don’t want to be victimized by any of the health issues I’ve experienced. I don’t want my identity to be what’s wrong with me.

Last night I turned on the ceiling fan, shifted some new furniture out of my way, and fell onto the couch, brushing my bangs aside. I felt strong in a way that I never thought I would again. I’ve been managing stress better, exercising more, eating nutritiously; when I eat junk food my body’s been keeping pace better.

Then I stood up to open the window and pulled a muscle in my neck.

All that confidence was shattered as I sat stiff and crying on the couch, waiting for the waves of fear and disappointment to roll over me. They came; but the waters stilled sooner than before. I kept picturing in my mind the person that I want to be, but I didn’t let myself grieve over that image this time. I chose to believe she was in my reach.

Someone with strength, with endurance and stability, who might one day ride a horse or even a roller coaster.

I see those billboards every day, I hear in our music that alluring idea of hypersexuality, affluent lifestyle standards, drinking till you drop, and I see how all of these ideas call us to indulgence. Online I read articles that tout self-care while encouraging lavish living. Treating yourself is, in my opinion, a necessity in life and taking care of yourself of utmost importance.

Yet in my short life, I’ve experienced far more satisfaction from discipline and self control than from indulgence.

Indulgence led me down a path that said I was as strong as I pretended to be, that my behavior wouldn’t have any affect on my well-being. It was through the constant practice of disciplines, emotional and physical, that I was able to get to where I am now, and I don’t want to jeopardize that by falling for the lies that leave their seeds everywhere waiting to take root in our minds.

I don’t want an ideal body, I want a strong one.

I don’t want to be able to drink as much coffee or alcohol as I used to. I want to be able to eat food that gives me life and energy and confidence. And I don’t want to be surrounded by excess, or fueled by a desire for material gain. I want contentment, joy, and acceptance that strives for excellence.

In the lifelong ambition of creating myself, I want to be able to remember, when I fail, how to go back to intention, to that strength that I know I could have; that perhaps I have had all along.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.

Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

Being Light by Anna Oginsky

Near the end of last summer something completely unexpected happened.

It went something like this (bear with me): My husband, Dan, and our oldest son, James, went hiking with James’s Boy Scout troop on North Manitou Island, which is in Lake Michigan. It’s an incredibly beautiful area with magnificent views at every turn. The fresh lake air is cleansing and any amount of time spent in that area of Michigan is a treat for the soul. At the end of the trip, our friend Dave, who was also hiking his son, told Dan he’d like to own a lighthouse someday. Dan agreed.

Within a few days, Dan received a text message from our friend Jake sharing a link to a story about a government auction for an offshore lighthouse – southeast of North Manitou Island.

Within 24 hours, Dan received another text message from another friend, Todd, sharing the same article.

It was funny. Four men, suspiciously close to the time when one might experience a “mid-life crisis”, sending text messages about a lighthouse up for auction and alluding to the possibility that they might place a collective bid on the lighthouse with hopes of winning it. I didn’t think they were serious.

To be eligible to bid, the group needed to form a non-profit organization and on August 16, 2016 the North Manitou Light Keepers was born. A bidding war ensued. After every bid the auction allowed for 24 hours to pass before a winner was determined. I watched in dismay, wondering how on earth my already overextended husband could possibly have space in his life for a lighthouse. At my lowest moment, I was sure my marriage was over.

The price grew higher than anyone imagined and text messages were flying. It was intense. Before long, I reluctantly joined the four as member of the Board. What started as a fun, light-hearted adventure began to feel heavy and honestly, it was just too much. We decided to stop bidding.

For the first time in weeks, I received no text messages about this lighthouse. I began to wonder if the auction had closed and whether our competitor had won. I decided to try to find the auction website, just to make sure. And there it was. I found the site and laid eyes on The North Manitou Shoal Light for the first time and as crazy as it sounds I heard a voice say, “Don’t give up.”

I texted Dan. We placed one last bid. 24 hours later, we won the auction.

Since the auction, North Manitou Light Keepers and the lighthouse we are on a mission to restore has received a lot of our attention. Attention I didn’t think we had. It’s been fun and also stressful to launch this project. The lighthouse was in bad shape and it will require a huge amount of money and time and resources to restore it. But, it is a LIGHTHOUSE.

In a time where the shadow parts seem to be running the show around town, this beacon of light provides a ray of hope.

I’ve been paying closer attention to lighthouses in general. They are usually quite striking structures. And whether they are quaint or stately, what strikes me most is their mission: to be light. Specifically, they exist to light rough passages. I’ve thought about the light keepers who steward these structures through big waves, tremendous winds, and harrowing storms. And the Coast Guard.

The North Manitou Shoal Light was manned by the Coast Guard until the station was automated in 1980 (the actual equipment will continue to be used for navigation and will be maintained by the Coast Guard). I am in awe of the men and women who serve on the Coast Guard working to save lives in terrifying conditions.

While I’ve learned a lot about the structure of the lighthouse and have devoted much time to the organization supporting this endeavor, it is the light that has my attention.

There are undoubtedly too many lighthouse metaphors to count and with good reason. These structures symbolize something we all need and in our own ways hope to embody: a light in the darkness. I wonder what that means for me now–in these times of massive heartache, violence, and strife for so many? When earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage to the land and the people we love.

When my own children seem so vulnerable amid the chaos that surrounds us. When so many I love are hurting. I keep asking myself: how will I be light? How can I sustain light? Because I really want not to dwell in the shadows. By nature, I seek light and I aspire to be light.

Some days I simply cannot muster an answer to this question. It takes all my energy just to keep moving and to keep showing up. I love that Anne Lamott said, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Could it really be that simple for us too?

Rather than wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do next, would I make a difference by simply be-ing? Can I just stand here shining? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between being and doing. Both are necessary and even vital on a daily basis. There certainly doesn’t seem to be a right way to be light.

Of all the lighthouses I’ve seen in the past year, I can’t think of any two that are exactly alike. The one thing they have in common is that they shine light in dark places. There are no easy answers, but I am sure about one thing. No matter what kinds of storms you or I face, we can’t give up. We must trust in the light.

About the Author: Anna Oginsky

annbioAnna Oginsky is the founder of Heart Connected, LLC, a small Michigan-based workshop and retreat business that creates opportunities for guests to tune in to their hearts and connect with the truth, wisdom, and power held there. Her work is inspired by connections made between spirituality, creativity, and community. Anna’s first book, My New Friend, Grief, came as a result of years of learning to tune in to her own heart after the sudden loss of her father. In addition to writing, Anna uses healing tools like yoga, meditation, and making art in her offerings and in her own personal practice. She lives in Brighton, Michigan with her husband, their three children, and Johnny, the big yellow dog. Connect with her on her website; Twitter; Facebook; or Instagram.

To learn more about the North Manitou Light Keepers and the restoration of the North Manitou Shoal Light, visit www.northmanitoulightkeepers.org

The Little Black Cloud by Jeanette McGurk

There has been a little black cloud hanging over my week.

Nothing terrible, I am not on life support, I didn’t get the unbearable news that I am highly allergic to chocolate, coffee or Moscow Mules. It was the impending doom of my youngest daughter’s ARD meeting.

If you are not acquainted with this term, it stands for Admittance, Review, and Dismissal. At the start of each year, we have an ARD meeting to discuss what services will be offered through the elementary school to my Learning Disabled daughter. It’s been three years since she was tested and the requirement is that she’ll need to be rested to see if she’s achieved her goals and can be dismissed or is she stays in the services.

There is absolutely no chance of dismissal. At 10 years years of age she barely reads on a 1st grade level.

When she was little, everyone had a helpful suggestion. “Have you tried flash cards? Sesame Street? Do you read to her? Do you have the magnetic letters? Have you tried Leap Frog?” “

“No!” I wanted to scream. “I take her outside and put tin foil on her head and hope that will get her little grey cells working.”

Of course I have done all of that, and more. My husband and I have spent thousands of dollars on every sure to get your kid reading strategy we could get our hands on. Alas, 5 years later, here we sit, $600 a month in tutoring, special programs at school, ADHD medication and still, we are only inching along.

It was easier when she was younger. The gap in her skill set wasn’t so blaring. The L’s she pronounced as w’s were cute, as was calling her back pack a pack pack. Now, I worry about her being bullied, not fitting in, and being made fun of.

We flitted through a wonderful summer of traveling and play-dates. Oblivious to all the nasty reminders of how off path we are academically. Until of course, the diagnosticians and resource room teachers start contacting me with forms I need to fill out for the ARD meeting. Drafts of 504 goals and accommodations she will be given to help her “succeed”.

I am a bit cynical when it comes to the meeting because I am CEO of my kid’s plan only on paper. The few times I have gone in asking for anything, the room has gone dark and cold. The principal and diagnostician sprout fangs from their plastic smiles. When their heads eventually stop spinning they announce with ferocity,

“She is getting all the speech allowed per student. 30 minutes twice a week.
She has been dismissed from OT, the teacher may want her to have access to the room, we say NOOOOOOooooo!
How dare you think we would test her for dyslexia, she is too low on intelligence to even test to see if she might be  dyslexic or to see if that program would work.”

That last one is really what is up my craw.

I have been fighting for 3 years to get the school to test her for Dyslexia. I would be happy to test her outside the school, but my husband has been stubborn. We pay a hefty amount in property taxes for schools each year.

So limbo. Limbo because the school thinks my daughter does not have the brain power necessary to go through the dyslexia program and my husband doesn’t want to fork out $1000 for a test the school may not accept from an outside source.

And truth be told, I was willing to accept that she was better off being taught to read by the resource teacher.

However, practically every adult who interacts with my child, including the pediatric neurologist, tutor, and teachers believe she is not low on intelligence. These folks feel her problem is a processing challenge combined with a severe case of dyslexia. Apparently, if it is really a bad case, a child can text poorly across the board.

Which is exactly what my child has done in everything except problem solving and non-calculation math. On those two things, she does rather well.

So Thursday, my dark cloud and I headed into the ARD meeting. I am expected to play nice so as not to draw out the dark forces, and by Christmas be forced to move my child into a private school.

My daughter’s pediatric neurologist told me it was my number one job as her parent, to keep her self esteem up. What I had not realized, was how gloomy, cynical, and devoid of hope I had become about the whole situation.

For a week before the meeting, my attitude was just bad. I didn’t want to do anything. I was pitifully preparing to go in and be pummeled by people who without really knowing her had already giving up on my daughter. Believing she didn’t have enough brain power to get through 1st grade reading.

People who would not fight for her the way I was supposed to. People who were not there to be her hero, the way I am supposed to.

The problem was, by Thursday, kryptonite had robbed me of any superhero powers. I went in, defeated before I had even begun.

So, it was a great surprise for me to sit down at a table where the roles had reversed.

I was the dark shadow.

From every other person, I heard stories of what a joy my daughter is. How delightful she is to teach.

Her science teacher told me she looks out for her on the playground and sees her playing with one other little girl almost every day. A few days when my little peanut was alone, she asked, “are you okay?” And peanut said, “Yes, today I am in the mood to play by myself.” The next few days she was with a big group of kids.  This wonderful teacher took it upon herself to make sure out of the eighty 4th graders running around like a kicked ant pile, that one little slip of a girl would not be alone in the mix.

The speech teacher commented how they had bonded over kid’s bop. The goals they are now working on go beyond the basic from year’s past to verb tenses and synonyms. Progress.

The new resource teacher said just that day they had leveled up. Progress.

This year she finally gets writing as well and this woman, this sweet woman, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, we will get there. I have complete faith in your daughter.”

Now I am starting to blink back happy grateful tears. Darn brutal school florescent lighting.

Most shocking of all, the Principal had pulled in the dyslexia specialist without me asking, so they can start testing her next week. The diagnostician still thinks she is too low for it to do any good, but after basking in the glow of my daughter’s own private Justice League, I am not so sure.

They are there all day fighting for her. Lifting her up, getting her to that next step, and the next.

No one in that room had given up hope except for me. It won’t be easy, it will never be easy. But it isn’t hopeless either. In fact, much to my surprise, I left the meeting without the company of my little black cloud.

A loving breeze had blown it clear away.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

I Sit at a Table for One by Bella Cirovic

I sit at a table for one. I order a drink and settle in while listening to the conversations around me. I wonder how many people have sat here before me and how many will come after.

I remember one Friday night I had a group of women gathered around my table talking about everything from weight loss and gain, to love, to lost love, to friendships and relationships gone good and gone sour, to where we all find ourselves now in our life journey. We had champagne cocktails and little bites of different cheeses, crackers, almonds, fig spread, salamis, and our staple: blue corn chips and salsa. The spread felt extravagant in a way. The oracle cards came out. We went deep.

In both scenarios, alone or in a group, I do fairly well. I believe it’s because I possess the qualities of both an introvert and an extravert. I also have a kind of confidence that has come a long way since my 20’s minus the bravado or aggressive need to let my presence be known. Silence speaks volumes. So does a smile.

Side note: I smile more often now at strangers. I make conversation with the elderly at stores and lunch spots. It makes their day (and mine) and they have the best stories to tell. This you must try at least once.

There are so many different flavors of people. We adjust our seasonings to fit how we want to feel in our daily life, in our skin, and who we want to become next. We evolve. We change. It is a blur of onward motion, a train that keeps moving. Some people stay on for the ride, some jump on or off when they need to, and some just fall away because they’re comfortable at a different pace.

I so get this now.

I used to wonder if it was just me. What was wrong with me?

Gathered around my table (and for the sake of all that is good, I have been gathered in circle around many fires but have never GOT THIS) I realized that I am not the only one who goes through these achey growing pains. We’re all moving at a pace that is right for us, going through our own evolution, experiencing what our light and shadow looks like.

My daughter is inside of her own evolution. She is going back and forth on decisions around school and life choices. She is thriving in both theater and music. She wants to couple those skills with a degree in education and see where she lands with it. She’s driving and working and living the typical teenager life.

Mine, right now, requires massive amounts of space. My home needs tending. My body needs some love. My spark has reignited and I am ready to do great things but my body wants to move slow. So I listen.

I sit at a table for one. I listen to the stories that swirl up into the ethers. I tune in, absorbing the details. I feel less alone in my own life when I’m privy to hearing what others are going through. I don’t find that creepy if I find myself alone within earshot and I am NOT an eavesdropper. Well. I may be.

I sit at a table for one and pour out my heart and soul to the person sitting across from me. I let the tears go. I wonder if anyone is listening or if my release just floats on up into the celestial bubble above me.

And still, I feel blessed. Because it doesn’t matter. I know what I need and I allow myself that so that I might level up. It opens up a big amount of space within me for more salt, more mercy, more love.

About the Author: Bella Cirovic

Bella Cirovic BioBella Cirovic is a photographer and writer who lives with her husband and daughter in the suburbs outside of NYC. She writes on the subjects of self care, body love and nourishment, crystals, essential oils, and family life. Catch up with Bella at her blog: She Told Stories

Out of the Fog by Therese Wood

I wish I could say that my thirteen years in a religious cult were just a bad experience, or that I’ve been out for so long now that they’re a distant memory. For my everyday life this is true, but when I reflect on my inner life I am faced with the fact that I have distanced myself from almost every form of spirituality because of those thirteen years.

I rarely share my experiences of this time in my life because inevitably there are comments from people that are either ignorant “How could you be so gullible” to arrogant “I would never fall prey to anything so extreme”.

If it were only that simple no one would ever join, but cult recruiting and the subsequent group assimilation is complex and most often misunderstood.

During those years, when life was black and white, I felt confident and righteous. Life was very easy and compartmentalized-there was right and wrong and it was dictated by the word of God, period. Of course the interpretation of the word of God was filtered through a warped and craven ego-driven philosophy of bible-believing cult leaders. There was a clearly defined “us” and “them” that was cultivated by culling us from our families and friends and slowly building a sense of “community”.

There was also a repugnant sense of elitism instilled with a hatred of anyone who was not “us.” The current political climate has reminded me of how easy it is to hold firm to ideology that appeals to a sense of being right, even if at the core you fear it isn’t. The fervor at rallies often builds a sense of belonging, and affirms one’s sense of truth with others that believe the same.

One of the distinctive constructs of any cult is that they keep you busy serving others and keep your mind occupied with the tenants of the common beliefs. Our days and nights were full and we were committed to constant meetings, prayer times and work. We were constantly told to remain free from the world and to refrain from engaging with others or participating in anything that smacked of popular culture.

Anyone who might meet me today would never suspect that I was ever a cult member, or that I was obedient to a code of conduct that the Amish might find restrictive, but I was. Every small decision in my life, I gave over to the higher authorities who, I was told, knew better. This of course never turns out well and after years of struggle I left the cult having given many years of total commitment to the group, and almost none to myself.

I had to find out who I was again, who I had come to be.

Now, all these years later I realize that my spiritual life then was like a bright colored helium balloon. So full, so buoyant and light. Full of lies, but easy to carry. When I left the cult it was like someone took a pin and popped that balloon hard. In an instant my life went whirling, crashing and spinning until I stopped. It felt good to stop, and it also felt empty.

If all those things I learned were lies, and I knew they were, then what was true?

Over the years I have looked high and low for the truth about God, about life and about me. I still have no solid ground to stand on. I know more about what I don’t believe and less about what I do. I cannot give myself to any church, can no longer read the bible without bile seeping up my throat and have been unable to say I have any solid space to call my spiritual home.

Here is my philosophy, born out of tattered scraps of soul searching- I believe there is something more, something hidden, something larger than us, unseen and ever present. I hope that this true, but I don’t know for sure. As I get older I don’t have to have all the answers anymore.

I just continue to hold to the truth – that my past is just a shadow and there is still more light ahead.

About the Author: Therese Wood

Therese Wood is an essayist and has written most extensively on the topic of death and dying. She enjoys reading and writing poetry, collects sacred kitsch, practices Tai Chi and dabbles in art just for pleasure.

Bringing to Light the Issue of Darkness by Keva Bartnick

We all have a dark side. The spaces that we keep hidden from the light of day. The nooks and crannies of our soul that would appall the stranger that sits beside us on the bus seat. Or our own family.  What can be worse, though, is that we decide what that darkness tells us about ourselves…to be truth.  We try everything in our power to ignore it or push it down.

We try to cover up our inner darkness, that truth, and pretend it’s not there.

Somewhere along the way of our life, we decided the only way to fix it was to hide it. We believe that this truth defines us, compels us, to put on every costume and mask out of our proverbial closet from a space of fear.  Let’s never speak of it, and it will stay hidden…if only that were true.  You see, the more this thought is past down from generation to generation the darker the closet gets. How terrifying this all sounds.

The darkest parts of me had to come to the surface in 2015. It began when I realized that in order to save my marriage, it was a necessity that the darkest and scariest parts of my being must be released from within. I had to display the years of masks and what was underneath under the display of the sharpest of lights.

In the desire to save my marriage, the person I was really saving is the person I was to become.

I’ve always been different, a square peg in a round hole. As Marisa McKaye says in her song, “I am colorful girl in a black and white world,” painted the correct picture of me. My darkness had been with me from the beginning.

The cards were against me from birth being a product of first cousins, and of course, everyone had their ideas about how screwed up my parents would make me. Closeness in our genes can cause defects, so how damaged might I be from too much togetherness? A heavy burden for a child to be born with, the gossip and speculation.

Childhood wasn’t fun for me. On the surface it looked normal, or as normal as normal can be in a small Midwest town. There are rules to be followed, of course, and many of those rules didn’t make sense to me. The less questions you had to answer the better. You learn coping mechanisms, and you keep your head down as much as a bright orange duck can in a sea full of hunters.

When you don’t fit, you become the target for bullies. I was too colorful in a world that liked things neat and tidy. And secrets to keep. If you didn’t rock the boat, you were golden (so above all else, don’t rock the boat). And, of course, keep the secrets.

I kept many secrets and that ensured I spent most of my young life wearing a mask and making secret friends with the shadows. I was a victim more than once during my childhood.

Though nothing felt right for a long time and at the core, I hated my life, I learned to hide the pain by building up my armor day after day. A woman loving her intelligence is a saving grace, yet understanding society is more accepting of your beauty than intelligence makes it harder.

Though I hid behind the armor of beauty over intelligence, college opened to the doors to learning about freedom from the shadows and my demons. There were less rules and, as long as you show up for class and I discovered that I could choose to turn being a victim by learning to be a survivor.

My becoming had to start with a full expulsion of said demons from my mind, from my heart, and from body. I had to lay bare the worst parts of myself. Not only did I do it, but I nuked the bridge that was connecting me to that previous life. The field laid bare, not one saved from the pain.

Sometimes you have to unbecome to move forward.

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, ‘Love Warrior’, she writes about sifting the sand, and getting to the point of realness. Where do you start feeling real? That’s where I had to go. That’s what I had to find.

I can say with exacting certainty that the battles I fought were hard won. I am still a work in progress, but I have found what my soul wants. I now listen to that small voice in my head that guides me forward into the future one moment at a time.

Our demons make us who we are, our challenges are uniquely our own. Bringing these to the light takes courage that only we are capable of performing. Is the road hard? ABSOLUTELY!

Does the battle we fight within ourselves take prisoners? No. Casualties come with the territory unfortunately, it becomes a test of sheer will. Finding out who you are at a soul level takes courage.

I know that I am loved, but learning to love yourself first in sometimes our hardest battle. Knowing that everyone struggles, that we are in good company, and we are not alone. To me there is comfort in that; that I am never alone.

I’ve also loved the saying, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about so be kinder than you feel.” It teaches me that I should never assume. That I should take things at face value, trust that little voice in my head when it speaks. To be kinder, softer, and more gentle with everyone that comes into my sphere of being.

Sometimes when you hit the bottom the choice becomes clear. It comes down to one simple question, you or them? It isn’t pretty, it isn’t glamorous, it hurts like hell, and it takes its toll.

Once you find yourself in the rubble you will never want to go back to the way things were before. You are the diamond in the rough! Built to shine under the most enormous pressure of circumstances. You are important and you matter. Your becoming becomes a birthright, a stage to stand on to shine.

It takes fortitude, it takes courage, but I already know that you have that, you have it in spades. My soul sees your soul, and I see you in all your glory.

About the Author: Keva Bartnick

Keva Bartnick is an artist, writer, and lightworker. Happily married mother of three; she’s been inspiring people to be their most courageous selves since 2015.

She can be found at Taleoftwofeathers.com

Delilah by Molly Totoro

I am a good girl. I always try to do the right thing. I like to follow the rules rather than treat them as guidelines.

I suppose this legalistic view stems from my elementary parochial school years. Earning gold stars was the primary source of motivation. In kindergarten, we would earn gold stars for counting to 100 or reciting the ABCs. In first grade, we earned them for recognizing sight words and reading a book-a-month.

Second grade was a bit more challenging. We started memorizing scripture verses and liturgical creeds. At this young age, I discovered the mandate to Fear the Lord.

I found this confusing. The Bible urges us to “Fear Not” (365 times in fact… one for each day of the year)… and yet we must Fear the Lord. I am a rule follower and I am literal. So I feared.

This philosophy worked well for me when I was younger. It began to unravel when I entered high school.

Adolescence was a difficult time for all. Hormones wreaked havoc with our emotions and complexion. Cliques determined our social fate, and our ranking changed on a daily basis.

I lost two sets of friends in high school. In tenth grade, I was no longer cool enough to hang out with the popular crowd. In twelfth grade, I refused to drink even though I was of legal age. I was lonely and hurt most of the time.

This marks the time I first took notice of Delilah, and she has become my constant companion ever since. Delilah is the name I gave to my inner critic.

Delilah was born out of necessity. I needed an understanding soul. I needed someone to watch out for me and help me avoid rejection. And Delilah willingly accepted that role.

In the beginning, Delilah’s voice was calm and caring. When I met a new friend, her soothing tone would remind me of past broken relationships. “Now WHY do you think they want to be friends with you?” Delilah wanted me to be aware of any hidden motives. She wanted to protect me from getting hurt.

Over the years her voice became more critical: “Now why do you think they want to be friends with YOU?” And eventually, her question became a declaration: “They don’t want to be friends with you. Run away so you don’t get hurt.”

Even at that time, I accepted Delilah as the voice of truth. She was my true friend. She cared about me. So I followed her advice and retreated into a shell to avoid rejection.

But Delilah now had too much power in my life. Since she no longer needed to protect me from friendships, she decided to protect from the world.

Humility is a character trait I strive to achieve. After all, I learned in elementary school that Pride Goeth before the Fall and Blessed are the Humble. Humility is the ability to accept who we are without boasting or arrogance.

But Delilah took that one step further. To prevent me from becoming prideful or arrogant, she would let me know how I needed to improve.

At first, her guidance was kind and encouraging. She used self-help books to point out my weaknesses. You are too shy – you need to learn to speak in public. You are too rigid, you need to learn to let go. You are too insulated, you need to get out of your comfort zone.

But over time, her voice grew louder and more frequent. I was never good enough. Qualified enough. Friendly enough.

If school administration would compliment one of my lessons, I would respond with, “It wasn’t my idea. I copied from someone else.”

Or if someone would encourage me to write I would wrinkle my nose and say, “I’m not a real writer.”

One evening someone tried to pay me a compliment and I, of course, dismissed it. At which point my daughter said, “Mom, no one likes a self-deprecating character.”

I froze. Self-deprecating? Me? I thought I was being humble.

Turns out there is a fine line between the two, and I had crossed that line.

I set out to prove my daughter wrong by returning to familiar scripture verses. Instead, I realized I had twisted the words.

Instead of reading Love your neighbor as yourself – I read it as Love your neighbor instead of yourself.

When I read Judge not lest ye be judged – I internalized Don’t judge others, but you are fair game.

This realization helped me become more aware of Delilah’s voice, and I couldn’t believe my ears.

The words she said. The tone in which she said them. The venom she spat in my head all day long overpowered me. I would never dream of speaking to any other human being that way.

And yet, I accepted it from her.

She belittled me so much, beating me to such a pulp that I lost my own voice. Almost.

Then I discovered journaling.

While I did not have the confidence to verbally confront her, I could write. And I did. Journals upon journals.

I also began a new method of Bible study: one that focuses on the LOVE of God. I’m learning about God’s love for me, God’s love for others, and God’s desire that we also love ourselves.

I am still on this journey with Delilah. She will be my constant life companion. But I am learning to discern when to listen to her guidance, and when to tell her to take a hike.

About the Author: Molly Totoro

Molly Totoro is a Connecticut Yankee currently residing in the Midwest with her husband and trusty basset. While Molly retired from full-time teaching in 2014 to pursue her writing dreams, she continues to work with students to achieve their writing potential. Molly recently published her first book, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice with the hope of inspiring others to experience the health benefits of writing their inner thoughts.

Connect with Molly at her blog, My Cozy Book Nook and on social media: FaceBookTwitterInstagramPinterest

Overnight by Emma Gazley

When I was a little girl, I believed in good and evil.

I watched movies about wide-eyed heroes overcoming villains with pronounced mustaches. Just like all of us, I believed I was one of the “good guys” and played with my friends that there was an unnamed, faceless enemy out there who would do anything in his power to destroy us. Like young children do, I believed unquestioningly that I would always triumph over that evil.

That good was stronger than bad.

Pondering how my life experiences began to forge cracks in that dogma, I recall a friend from Sunday School (let’s call her Heather). She had invited me over to her house for a sleepover. I say friend, but we were really more acquaintances. We’d been in the same group for a couple of years and in hindsight I almost wonder if the sleepover was her idea or her mom’s.

She spent the first part of the evening showing me around her room and some of her dolls, which were beautiful and dressed in what seemed to me at the time to be lush and extravagant outfits. She had her own dog, a lot of toys, and her own computer, which impressed me.

“Wow, your parents let you have a computer in your room?”

“Yeah.” She said it in a way that implied the word, “obviously” would follow.

“That’s cool,” I said, thinking that my parents would have laughed in my face if I asked for a computer in my room at that age.

Heather laughed. “You don’t have your own computer? I’ve had one for a while.” She was sitting on an exercise ball, wiggling around and watching me watch her. “I use it for school and other stuff. I play games on it. We can play a game if you want.” She turned to the monitor and turned it on, and while we waited (remember those days? When you had to wait forever for the computer to turn on, and then for the browser and then dial up?) she stared at me and said, “How old are you again?”

“Ten,” I said. “My birthday’s in April.”

Heather smirked. “I’m older than you.” She turned around again and we waited in silence for a few seconds.

“I’m bored. And hungry. Do you want some ice cream?” She turned back to me.

I smiled, “Sure. I’m kind of not supposed to have it because I’m lactose intolerant but-“

“You’re what?” she made a face.

This was during the era where I still got weird looks and a lot of questions every time I mentioned having dietary restrictions. And became used to explaining to hosts what soy and rice milk are. Or the looks of incredulity when I shared that I went to school at home due to how much my family traveled from work. I grew accustomed to having people stop my brother and I at the grocery store and ask us why we weren’t at school.

“It’s not a big deal, I just usually don’t eat dairy.”

“That’s weird,” Heather stated happily and led me towards the hallway and to the stairs. “Come on, let’s get some ice cream. What’s your favorite flavor? Mine’s chocolate chip cookie dough.”

“Whoa, they put cookie dough in ice cream?” I followed her down the stairs, eyes wide.

“You’ve never tried it? It’s the best!”

We reached the den, where her parents were watching TV. Although they were reluctant to leave the house, she convinced them with some persuasion to take us to Baskin Robbins, and I had the best ice cream of my young life. I told Heather that it was my new favorite flavor and in their car on the way back she gave me one of the many friendship bracelets on her wrists and said, “Here. Now if anyone asks you can tell them we’re friends.”

The next day when I went home I was playing with the beads on the bracelet and my mom asked me how the sleepover went and I told her all about the ice cream and the bracelet and Heather’s computer.

But I felt something in my gut that I didn’t know how to explain.

When I saw Heather at Sunday school next, she didn’t come up to me or say hi. A few weeks later a bunch of us were playing and waiting for our parents to stop talking so we could go home and have lunch, and she came over with her notorious best friend and they played a little joke on me that I wouldn’t recognize as an innuendo for years. The other kids laughed and Heather never made eye contact with me.

She didn’t invite me for another sleepover, and somehow, I knew she would have as much fun at my house, where there were no computers, pets, or ice cream.

Over time, I had forgotten about that sleepover. But it came to mind recently, maybe because  Heather was the first person in my life who made me feel like I was less important than her, and like I wasn’t really worth much. I don’t think she meant to do that, and I wouldn’t want her to think that I hold that against her.

Looking back, I understand the myriad of differences between us, especially in the ways in which our families were structured. And, as sorry as I feel for her, she wasn’t really the kind of kid I needed for a close friend.

Over the years, I made many other friends, from walks of life and experiences more varied than I could recount. We taught each other respect, dignity, forgiveness and love through the accidents as well as the gifts of our friendship.

I learned how easy it is to make mistakes, or to come at life with a point of view that puts you in the position of the protagonist or antagonist.

But I don’t have a curled mustache, and my eyes are a little less wide.

As I write this now, I’m in the passenger seat of our car making the drive from Chicago to Los Angeles. My husband and I are moving back home, and our time in Chicago has been (to avoid using a more colorful expletive) a crapfest in more ways than one.

I look out my window and see the desert; such a cracked, almost flaky terrain. The sparse brush, the miles and miles of uninhabited land, the sheer space. I think of the last year and feel like we’ve been in a desert.

This is one of my favorite journeys to make. My father was a speaker, educator, and social justice advocate and we used to spend months on the road as a family traveling all over the states.

When we were driving out of the Lower West Side, I looked over at Shane and said, “You know, the longer I live in the USA the more I dislike it as a nation and love it as a country.”

It’s true.

Whenever the political climate has been dismal, the arguments on social media vicious, and my own heart is broken over the hatred, rage and brokenness I see in us as a people, I have thought about the Grand Canyon. The Rockies. Yellowstone.

I’m grateful for that evening at Heather’s house, because it was the beginning of a greater understanding of the world for me.

I still believe in good and evil, but I needed experiences in my life to acquaint me with the shadowy unknown areas, the mysteries that so often go unnamed or unrecognized for what they are. People are more complicated and have more sides to them than just “good” or “evil”, and those phrases themselves are so convex and show only a portion of what is present in our motives. Real human beings don’t fall neatly into categories of “us and them”.

If I’ve learned anything from the last year and from revisiting that story from my childhood as I drive through this desert hoping to reach the ocean, it’s this: life, though far more complicated than our limited understanding can comprehend, is to be lived to the utmost.

I think of every hellish experience I had in Chicago, about every person over the years who would inadvertently or intentionally make me feel small or worthless, and I weigh that against those who loved me, and every sweet bowl of cookie dough ice cream.

With years, and perspective, you come to see evil as weakness.

I look at our world and see war, terror, hatred, bigotry. Those things cry out loudly, but more quietly, more calmly, and with ever increasing voice, we continue to make choices to love one another and care. Every evil thing that happened in my life, including violence, terror, grief- has been washed clean by the love that followed it.

I think as creative people we long to heal the harms we see done in our world, or to feel a relief from the pain every individual encounter on earth.

In some ways, I still want to wear the cape, flex my muscles and be the “good guy”. I see the complications and disparages, the way we attack each other with differences like weapons armed, and I just want to say that we’re all important. That none of us are worthless.

That the light always ends up outshining everything else.

About the Author: Emma Gazley

Emma Gazley is an artist, musician, writer, adventurer and teacher. Born to two adventurous parents, Emma was destined to be an explorer of the world, and from her earliest moments displayed signs of creativity and curiosity. She has spent time in Europe, Asia, Canada, and currently resides in the U.S. She began her journey of discovering her identity as an artist in 2012, after encountering critical health problems that caused her to lose her job and the ability to do most everyday activities. Many of her projects have, as a result of this event and others, a twinge of the painful and tragic aspects of life.

Emma is interested in learning about grief and how to cope with it, as well as passionate about finding joy in the day to day.

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