The Cost of Courage

Relationships are important. All of them, for a multitude of reasons.


We remember most life events by who they were associated with, rather than the actual event itself.


I look back on studying abroad in Spain and remember the people I spent hours on a bus with, walking through museums with, having wine on the beach with. I remember my college roommates because they made everything more fun – football games, weekends away, movie watching. I remember the conversations and the life lessons mulled over more than the location where those took place. I remember my trip to Japan because I got inseparably close with a girl named Frankie, who carried me through so many hard life seasons after that trip.


We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So this has to reflect the importance of relationships in our lives, right? Simply put,


they define who we are.


But what happens when we have traditions that we really like? Or rules that served us in the past, or things from our childhood that we want to bring into today? How do we have those structures but also bear in the mind the ever-evolving of the people involved?


I am a whole person – with flaws and dreams and interests and personality. I want to bring my whole self to a relationship. And over the years, I’ve stumbled around varying relationships where the rules win. The tradition wins. The nostalgia wins. Not the relationship. But because we are ever-evolving, maybe the rules set forth 15 years ago need to be adjusted for the new season everyone has come into. Or maybe the tradition needs to changein order to make the holiday or the birthday or the event even more special and meaningful than it was before. Because the central players have changed. They’ve grown. They’ve learned new things about themselves. Theyneed different things. They contribute different things. Their lives look different.


So many traditions or rules are meant to bind people together in a structure in a particular place and time for a reason. But that structure being unwilling to shift and grow with its inhabitants as they grow stunts the whole organism. It then keeps people from getting closer. From making an experience what it needs to be for the health or benefit of one of its members. It limits the participant’s ability to show up in all their beautiful colors, in all the mess that comes with them living their daily lives.  And the rigidity isolates new members from coming and going and ever feeling like a part of the group.


In my heart and life, it is important for me as a mother to prepare Rowan’s heart for full relationships that ebb and flow with seasons of life. As she grows, the rules she needs at age 3 are vastly different than what are appropriate at age 13 or 17. I have to give her space to grow up and welcome that newest version of her at the table. If I want a relationship with my daughter, I create space for her. I change the structure. I shift the tradition. I want a life for her that is so inclusive of all that she is and makes room for her new interests and passions and relationships. If she has a friend that needs a soft place to land, I want to help her create that space for them. I want to be about her as a whole person.


My favorite Thanksgiving was this past year. It was so relevant and current – the conversation based on what those of us in therapy were learning about ourselves, the areas we needed healing from, the things we want for our future. We talked about relationships that were withstanding the test of time and those that needed some distance. My stepmom ordered the turkey already cooked so she didn’t have to spend extra hours in the kitchen and could spend them with those of us at the table that day. It was a very real Thanksgiving – reflecting exactly where we each were and creating space to just be there and be ourselves. And it was probably the most freeing and safe holiday meal I’ve ever had.


 But if she would have stressed about the right food cooked in the “ right” way, or the schedule of the day, or the carpet she’d ordered for the dining room not coming in on time – we could have missed the most genuine and real holiday that we had ever had. And thankfully, we didn’t miss it this year.


 I call this post “The Cost of Courage” because sometimes you have to stand up to the rules, the structure, the tradition in order to break it and rebuild it into something so much more genuine for all those involved. The “breaking of the cycle” is never received well, but the ecosystem can’t stay stagnant. The needs can’t go dormant, the personalities can’t be hidden. The system has to make room for its people, because that is what life is all about, right? The people. The conversations. The memories. Not the right rules that make everyone look good but aren’t a place where people want to be.


I’m challenging myself in this season to be vulnerable. To speak up when things need to grow or shift. And although it makes people uncomfortable (INCLUDING ME), I don’t want to be missed in the process, nor do I want all the others involved to be missed either. Relationships are too valuable. So let’s prove it.


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Love Letter to Rowan xo

To my precious Rowan,

You are my whole heart. I adore every piece of you. Waiting for you, growing you inside me, nurturing you, watching you open your eyes and start to see the world – these are the things that have made me come alive in ways I’ve never expected possible. I would do absolutely anything for you, and I hope you never have to ask. I hope I know you well enough to anticipate your needs and your heart, to be hugging you before you realize you need a hug.

I’ve never enjoyed simply watching anyone as much as I do you. I care about how you play and the words you use and the way you look at other people. I love the freckle on your tummy, the way your eye squints just a little bit when you grin, the places in your hair that curl or fall straight. I see everything. I see when you need connection and gentleness, rest or play. I see when you’re most alive. I see you.

As your mother, I hope so many things for you.

I want you to be successful. But success might look different to me than it does to the world. Success to me is you learning how to be fully you. Embracing it. Living it. I want you to feel safe and free of shame in who you are as a person. I want your creativity to shine, your appreciation for singing and dancing, your love for organizing and cleaning. All of those little quirks and tendencies you have are the most beautiful pieces of you, and they deserve to be celebrated and cherished. As your mama, I promise to equip you with a value and appreciation for yourself. You are stunning and radiant and nothing less than perfect.

I want you to be whole. I hope that you’ll always feel the space to communicate what you need and that people rush in to meet your needs almost before you can ask. I know how daunting it can feel to ask for help or to invite people in, and I promise to be the one person you can count on to always be there. Your need is my need and I promise to always take care of you.

It is important to me that you know that you will always be good enough. You will always be worth loving. And I know you’ll ask yourself over the years if you are worth loving, and I want my voice to be so ingrained in you telling you YES that all other voices around you are silenced. That I tell you often enough that it becomes the most normal part of how you view yourself. You are loved and you are good enough. Always.

Rowan Sloan, you are my precious girl. I love you to pieces and still get excited every time I see you – whether its when you’re waking up, playing in the bath, running around with Lucy, or watching a movie. Seeing your face and your heart and your sweet little hands is what sets my heart on fire. I love you I love you I love you. And I’ll tell you a million times a day. You are mine.

Play Dates + Vulnerability

Rowan had her FIRST play date this past weekend she had a ball. The two little girls giggled and ran and held hands and MADE MY HEART EXPLODE. Watching these sweet girls forge friendships with one another was so precious.

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One of my favorite quotes that I read recently was:

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.

Brene Brown has a section in Daring Greatly on “Wholehearted Parenting” and it is so awful hard challenging mean amazing. I feel like everything she said I was like, “Well, shit.” She challenges you to think about how you first learn whether or not you’re worthy in your family. And we either set our children up to engage with the world with hope and courage and resilience, or to engage with the world in a way that requires them to fight to re-claim their self-worth because we didn’t show them that they were worthy.

We must be what we want our children to become. We have to practice vulnerability. Embracing our imperfections. We can’t fear feeling ashamed or unlovable. We have to carry a sense of authenticity and belonging within ourselves. We have to feel a deep sense of compassion for ourselves and others.

Compassion and connection can only be learned if they’re first experienced. And those are the two very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives, meaning it is MOST important that we demonstrate those things with our children. Using any form of fear, shame, blame and judgment won’t allow us to raise courageous children. Nor will they allow us to be courageous and hopeful parents.

Rowan is 2. So I feel like I’m just at the beginning of realizing how I view myself and the world and others will be the very fabric of her foundation. The two are inextricably linked. AND THAT SCARES ME TO DEATH. I desperately want to be a “wholehearted parent” but know that it is something that doesn’t just happen. It requires deep internal work, and a constant awareness of my own worthiness.

So here we are at the beginning. Me learning + practicing courage and compassion and praying fervently that those things will settle around Rowan and be a core part of who she is as a person.

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Listen to Yourself

Ever since Rowan was born, I’ve been doing Barre3. It’s been one of those things that has become a type of therapy for me. In those classes, with the cork floor and mirrors and ballet bar, I feel safe. I don’t have to make any decisions and I am not responsible for anyone but myself.

I also love the individuality I have in the barre studio. The instructor’s mantra to “listen to your body. Do what works for you” runs through my head all throughout class, reminding me to be mindful of myself.

And at face value, that advice works during a workout. It gives you the permission you need to listen to what your body wants and needs, and for taking the needed modifications to be valued and praised in class because you are listening to yourself. There is more pressure to individualize the class than to look the way your neighbor looks while they’re doing the same workout. It is more normal to see people in variations of the same posture than to see everyone around the room looking uniform.

And that is something that I love about it.

But what has struck me recently is how easy it has been to apply those lessons that I’m acquiring in the Barre3 studio to my real life. I feel like I’ve been given breathing room for my life to not always look the same as everyone else’s. To take quiet time when I need quiet time. To sleep longer when my body feels run down. To learn from people I want to learn from. Barre3 has given me more space to exist. More clarity in how I view my body and how I take care of it. More grace for other people needing to take care of themselves.

And I am so grateful.

Regardless of what the new year brings, I will continue to build on this simple foundation that Barre3 has gifted me with.

The Balance of Loneliness

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As I’ve watched people throughout my life, I’ve seen how easy it is to get trapped in loneliness and fear. Welcoming it at the dinner table, falling asleep with it curled around you. And there are people who wear those things like a blanket, letting them sit heavily on every conversation with just a subtle enough weight to keep the conversation from straying too far from the negative. Because at some point, the ease and comfort of the sadness became the norm. The baseline for which all else is measured.  It became an addiction.

And I’ve found myself with a tendency to live completely on both sides, in sadness but also in joy, almost in every moment. So I have to be careful. If I spend too much time with loneliness and fear, then it starts to feel safe and I have a hard time leaving or believing there is anything but loneliness in my life. A feeling that I’ll never be known or understood or treasured. But then there are moments where I unapologetically believe that there is good in this world, and I possess so much of it in my life. Rowan, my parents, my friends, work. There is good here, see?

Liz told me once that she values my ability to move from casual conversation to deep and back, and I appreciate that ability that I have with her. There I can manage the tension. I can be honest and be myself, but not lose myself to the dark. That friendship creates a healthy boundary for me in that with room to process and acknowledge and grieve, but also to be forward-thinking, hopeful for myself and for Rowan and the things I love. She talks to me as if she understands the whole of who I am, not just who I am in that moment, but also in all the moments leading up to it. This is very freeing to me.

So in my effort to trend more in the positive direction, Anne Lamott has insisted on ‘radical self-care.’ She really is so thoughtful, isn’t she? Which has meant more writing, more reading and cooking, and learning how to use the camera that I’ve had for 5-6 years and never ventured past my beloved automatic setting. I got a massage last week and a pedicure. I cooked dinner for friends and hosted a wedding shower. I sat by a fire and taught Rowan how to eat a s’more. And its these little intentional things that keep me from loneliness. But oh, they’re so hard to do! And when I move towards sadness I have a tendency to just stay there for awhile because its so much easier to be lonely alone. To not have to tell people and push myself out of my dark place. It is cruel to be made responsible for your own happiness, especially when you feel so desperately the opposite. But little by little, I creep back out of my shell and find that there is still a happy and good world out there that might not actually kill me. At least not while I’m eating a s’more or taking photos of my sweet baby.

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Investments

Years ago, right before I graduated from college, my dad knew I was feeling pretty aimless. I had my heart set on non-profit work, and he had his heart set on a job that would pay me money. Because of his vast work experience in the banking world, his recommendations for networking and connections came primarily through those he had known at the bank. Some from the legal side, some on trading, anything but what sounded fun and familiar to me. Having still to this day never taken a business class, those jobs and connections felt completely out of my league.

But one thing my dad did do for me was coordinate a weekend trip to Charlotte for me to visit my cousin Sloan. At the time she was single, a few years older, had her own house and had been very successful career-wise. He thought that me spending some time with her and hearing about her day-to-day work experience would be a meaningful thing for a 21/22 year old to do. He also coordinated for me to spend some time with a cousin of his who was a lawyer, and another friend from the Charlotte banking world. All vibrant and successful women.

Those connections and meetings were fine. I don’t remember anything particularly poignant about any of them, other than me seeing all the lives and careers I didn’t want. Which I guess you could argue was equally important, but led me no closer to finding a job that I wanted. But on the last night of my trip, the three women took me out to a really hip and modern restaurant in Charlotte and spent some time getting to know me. They asked me what really wanted to do. Where was my heart in all of this?

And all I could think about was doing work in Africa. I wanted to work at an orphanage or help build wells and just get my hands dirty with real life. I wanted to know what it was like to live without, to see poverty with my own eyes and have to reconcile that with how I lived. I wanted to help those less fortunate in some way. I wanted to give back and sow in and uplift. I don’t remember a conversation before that one where I started to connect who I am with what I would consider to be meaningful work. And I was young, my life experience narrow and unforgiving. But what this conversation led me to was

the next step.

I applied for a summer internship in Kenya after I graduated with 20 other college students. We worked in orphanages, schools, homes for disabled children, learned to slaughter a goat, hiked, fed giraffes, slept in a college dorm, learned how to cook a full Kenyan meal, ate meals in the homes of locals, and spent time teaching in the slums. Each day we set out to love the people in front of us. If that meant helping them cut spinach or playing with children or carrying cinder blocks or learning Kenyan dances, we were all in. Every day. And looking back, my dad’s meeting didn’t necessarily propel me forward into any particular career. But he did connect me with women who had hearts who took time to listen and encourage me in the things that were important to me. And for me, that was my right next step. To start connecting my heart with what I would spend time doing each day.

And although its been 10 years since that trip, that small investment my dad made in helping me learn my own way in this world has made me forever grateful.

And while I gave the non-profit world a shot, I now find myself thriving in a business role in corporate America. Go figure! But its still a role that impacts people and influences how they live and do their day-to-day jobs. My work with (RED) being the most significant in my career, to date. With the goal to see the first AIDS-free generation.

So in a sense, that trip to Charlotte was an investment in me. And one that led me to the right next step to get me to here.