Three years ago I found myself rather unexpectedly on the opposite side of the globe. Last month I returned - with three generations of family in tow...
Long-time readers may recall my first safari adventure (and the accompanying uncertainty and anxiety). What I didn’t share at the time - because I didn't yet know - was that moments after my arrival I would understand without question that I needed to share this incredible experience with the most important people in my life.
The timing was tricky. I knew I needed to wait until my daughter was old enough to fully engage in and appreciate the adventure. But I didn't want to wait so long that my parents wouldn't be able to comfortably maneuver their way on and off of the game drive vehicle, mount and dismount horses, and weather 20 hours of flight. After consulting with the expert, I identified a date, made plans accordingly, and waited.
In the intervening years I envisioned the adventure many times. I reflected on my favorite memories and wondered how different members of my family would respond. On my first visit I had been a passive passenger - comfortable in the capable hands of my dear safari aficionado friend. I watched and listened in rapt fascination as a completely unfamiliar world unfolded before me. The animals were enigmas (I'm sorry - did you say pangolin?). The proximity breathtaking (You want me to walk TOWARD the cheetah?!). But around every corner was delight and discovery.
While one trip does not render one an expert, I assumed that on my repeat visit I would be in a position to help my family navigate their journey - sharing insights passed along to me. Instead, I found myself in listening and learning mode again - and my experience was made richer by the contributions of each member of our party.
Through the eyes of my artistic mother I was able to admire the subtleties of the shifting shades and shadows as clouds moved across the sky. From the perspective of my father, the former bricklayer, I was able to appreciate the intricacies of the stonework in the walls and paths surrounding our cottages and the natural beauty of rock patterns in the mountains. My daughter’s delight in the maneuvering of the meerkats was contagious. My husband, whose mind is often consumed by work, set an example of being so fully present that he was often the first to spot whichever species we were tracking for the day.
Beauty, respect, delight, and presence - all things I want more of in my life. All brought into clear view by those I love most.
Solo adventures afford unique growth opportunities and countless benefits. But sometimes, sharing a journey with a companion (or four) yields a far more rich experience. Whether an adventure halfway around the world or a road trip to your nearest neighboring town, consider the value of a shared adventure. Where can you go? And who can you bring with you? Consider the benefits of exploring together.
One of the benefits of aging is gaining a greater sense of who we are - and who we are not. Over time we are able to see more clearly our limitations and find increasing confidence to say no to those invitations we know will put us in uncomfortable positions.
At this stage in life I wear many hats. I have a wide variety of interests. I enjoy a broad range of activities. In none of these categories will you find the word "camper" or "outdoor enthusiast." Don't get me wrong: I love being outdoors (when the weather is favorable). I enjoy a good hike - a blazing campfire - talking with good friends late into the night under a blanket of stars. But when the evening draws to a close, I like to take a warm shower and sleep in a soft, bug-free bed.
So when we learned that my daughter's elementary class would be going on an overnight camping adventure in the middle of nowhere, we decided my husband would accompany her. Make no mistake - he is no better suited for such activities than I am, but as the default parent for 99.9 percent of my daughter's activities, I had the upper hand in the decision-making process this time around...
When the date for the trip was announced, however, we realized it stood in conflict with an important work commitment on my husband's calendar. I was faced with a choice: honor my limits (by denying my daughter an opportunity to learn and grow in a warm and loving environment) - or put on my "big girl pants" and march forward.
As we drew closer to the trip I was filled with dread. Any outdoor survival skills I learned as a Girl Scout have long since disappeared due to decades of disuse. I do not own a sleeping bag. I do not own a tent. And I do not have the first idea how to go about assembling one. I also learned from veterans of this trip that many of last year's campers unknowingly pitched their tents in a tick-infested enclave. And an unexpected tropical storm warning drove campers and their families to shelter in place for hours in a cramped, noxious pit toilet shelter. I was way out of my comfort zone and we hadn't even begun....
But each piece of discouraging information I received was countered by the enthusiasm my daughter exhibited each day she came home from school declaring, "I'm on the sports planning committee! Did you know we are going to make s'mores? I shouldn't tell you because it is supposed to be a surprise, but we're practicing songs to sing for the parents at the campfire!" And then there were the weekly updates by our class room parent - a saint of a man who accompanied every email with a detailed spreadsheet of supplies, activities, and schedules. It was enough to make my cold analytical heart melt.
The fact that you are receiving this newsletter is proof that we survived. And if I am being honest, I will confess I was glad to be there. I made connections with lovely and caring parents with whom I will be spending much time over the course of the next few years. I figured out how to put up a tent - and was able to help other camping-averse parents do the same (so empowering)! Most importantly, my daughter and I made memories hiking, combing the beach for shark teeth fossils, sharing s'mores, and sleeping under the stars. Together we explored the boundaries of our city-living comfort zones, and we are better for it.
I still do not consider myself a "camper." Sleeping on the ground remains something I would prefer to avoid. My daughter and I came away with plenty of scratches from hiking through brush, as well as our fair share of bug bites (but no ticks!). And I won't even get into the restroom facilities (or lack thereof...), but I have already decided to go again next year - and volunteered to lead a morning yoga practice for the parents...
It is important to know yourself. Establishing limits and boundaries is critical for self-preservation. But occasionally we benefit from putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions.
As we head into a new month, are there limits you can test? Is there an opportunity you are inclined to reject out of habit or long-held assumptions? Consider whether stepping out of your comfort zone might provide an opportunity to learn something new about yourself. Let's explore our limits together...
More than any other month, September, to me, has always promised the greatest potential for a fresh start. It doesn't carry the burden of January's bold insistence on NEW! IMPROVED! EVERYTHING! Nor is it weighted down by birthday-triggered analysis of the prior year. Instead, September softly beckons with cooler temperatures and crisp air, inviting us to re-establish the grounding rhythms and routines that so often fall by the wayside in the languid, lazy days of August.
This year was no different. As we wound our way home from our annual end-of-Summer escape to the mountains, we shifted our focus to the month and season ahead. We talked to our daughter about her excitement and apprehension surrounding starting the first (?!?) grade, and I pondered an intriguing opportunity to stretch myself in the year ahead - and potentially alter my career trajectory...
When I launched this venture more than six years ago, it seemed the natural extension of a desire for something different - a craving to carve out a more flexible way of being that would not only help others navigate their own path toward more mindful living, but also afford more time to be with my daughter. While I wasn't entirely sure how it would unfold, I had an abundance of time to (over)consider, (over)analyze, and ultimately grow comfortable with the shift.
This potential change afforded no such opportunity. I was being considered for a faculty position teaching yoga, mindfulness, and life skills to middle- and high-school students who have struggled in traditional academic settings. With the school year fast approaching, a decision needed to be made.
Rather than months to plan and prepare, the whole process unfolded in a matter of weeks: the informational phone interview took place while on vacation. An audition and discussion with the head of school squeezed into the brief interval between returning from our trip and leaving again to visit an ailing relative. Conversations continued by phone and email on the long drives to and from Connecticut.
Hungry for concrete data, I delved into list-drafting mode. But as is so often the case in matters of consequence, the simple "pro" and "con" designations didn't capture the immeasurable intangibles: the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young adults who weren't being served in traditional school settings vs. the reality of relationships built over years spent working closely with clients and watching their practice progress.
The unknowns were daunting: Am I equipped to teach middle- and high-school students? Would I be able to hold the attention of a surly teenager who would prefer to be anywhere other than in the classroom? But at the same time, I was excited about the challenge of working with a new population - and heartened by the idea of sharing valuable skills with young people who could benefit. The prospect made my heart happy - and I allowed that to be enough.
Life will look a bit different for the next year - perhaps beyond. And I am exploring what it means to be comfortable with the unknown. Will you join me?
Whether you are experiencing a major life change or returning to a tried-and-true Fall rhythm that you know will serve you well, you will inevitably face decisions for which you don’t have every detail and data point. We will all, at some point, be asked to choose between options that seem equally wonderful (and equally imperfect). As you encounter these situations, I encourage you to listen to your heart and step forward - even when you aren’t fully certain where your foot will land.
Let’s explore uncertainty together...
A few weeks ago, I arrived for my bi-weekly volunteer shift at church to discover that some kind soul had already set up my station. I was grateful for the gesture - as well as the 30 minute window of "free" time before families would begin arriving. I reached into my bag to retrieve the work I had brought along just in case I found myself in such a situation only to discover I had left it at home on the kitchen counter...
With nothing requiring my immediate attention, I reflexively grabbed my phone and scanned my email. Not much comes in on Sunday mornings, but I did find a treasure from the lovey Kelly Newsome [link], in which she advocated for boredom. It was a timely reminder, and I did my best to embrace it.
Rather than strive to find a way to make the time "productive," I simply sat still. Observed the activity around me. Listened intently as another volunteer's child explained his elaborate game. Breathed deeply.
The time passed quickly, and when the families began to arrive I was able to welcome them with greater grace and intentionality than on more frazzled, harried mornings. Those moments of "boredom" set the tone for a more measured response to the inevitable [hiccups] throughout the day.
It can be hard to plan for boredom, but when the opportunity presents itself this month, I encourage you to take it. As the lazy days of Summer draw to a close, try to soak up stillness when and where you can find it. Leave your phone in your pocket. Keep the book closed. Unplug your ear buds. Tune in to your surroundings. Observe. Breathe.
The subject line popped up on an otherwise uneventful Monday: Team Happy Hour! I smiled at the familiarity of the sender and memory of frequent get togethers in what often feels like a past life.
In reality it has been fewer than six years since I left the comfort and certainty of a job I enjoyed to explore a less traveled path. And while my current venture provides a rhythm that is particularly well suited for this stage in my life, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the past and the people alongside whom I worked long days, experienced significant historical events, and shared major life changes.
Without hesitation I made arrangements to attend. I was eager to reconnect - to learn what others were doing professionally and what had changed in their personal lives. I wanted to hear their stories and marvel at their witty observations. I looked forward to seeing their faces and being, once again, in the presence of smart, driven people united in a common pursuit.
As the day approached, I had flashes of uncertainty: So many of my former colleagues are doing "great things"! Many are still working in the same arena, shaping policies that directly affect the daily lives of millions of Americans. Others had traded their government IDs for business cards bearing the names of well-known companies, industries, and consultancies. Would I even be able to keep up with their conversations?! But I reminded myself of a lesson learned almost exactly one year ago and showed up. And I was so glad I did!!
Upon arrival, I was immediately spotted and welcomed into the fold by a dear friend. I caught up with a former colleague who, since we last spoke, had begun a new job, bought a new home, and become a father. I checked in with my former boss about his life since leaving office. In brief but enjoyable exchanges I learned about new jobs, relationships, and travels.
As the gathering grew, I stood aside and watched: transported back to a time in which this was my "normal." A time when I was constantly surrounded by these personalities and fueled by their energy.
But at the same time, I was also aware of a palpable disconnect. There was still sincere affection in the interactions, but there was a lost intimacy.
I realized that my memories of these people - this team - were rooted in the past. Preserved in amber exactly as they had been six years ago. Seeing them gathered together again - altered by time - disturbed the static image that endured in my mind. I had always imagined being able to slide seamlessly back into the scene, but instead, I realized for the first time that my place in their world had long since ceased to exist.
Change is, of course, inevitable. And in the abstract, it is easy to wax poetic about needing to clear out the old to make room for the new - the importance of turning our focus to where we are going rather than dwelling on where we have been. But in the moment we experience it, change is often unsettling - even painful.
It is tempting to move quickly through such discomfort, but we are better served by instead being still: letting our thoughts and emotions flow and acknowledging them without judgment.
As we continue to grow and change, our path will necessarily take us away from the familiar - whether a job, a community, relationships, or some combination thereof. Even when we leave on the best of terms and believe sincerely that we are exactly where we should be, it is natural to mourn. And I would like to suggest it is also beneficial.
Next time you are confronted with a change - or realize a momentous shift has happened while your focus was elsewhere - give yourself permission to sit with it, perhaps even wrestle a bit. What did you learn from the experience - and its conclusion? What relationships will you carry forward? How have you grown? Explore change and the lessons it brings...
I love to be helpful. But I HATE asking for help. Sound familiar?
No one wants to admit they don't have it all together. We prefer to think (and behave as if) we have everything under control. All is as it should be. Smooth sailing. Easy peasy.
And often this IS the case.
But sometimes it isn't...
A few weeks ago I organized a field trip for my daughter's kindergarten class. The kiddos were excited to learn about seeds and how they travel, take a nature walk to see the process in action, and bring home a plant to observe the cycle coming full circle. I had made arrangements with the nature center, recruited a handful of parents to drive the children, and checked the various administrative boxes.
When the day arrived, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling pleased with how perfectly everything had come together. But as my daughter bounded out of the car to begin her school day, I realized a critical oversight: I had failed to ask the parents of her classmates to leave their children's carseats for the volunteer drivers...
I immediately began berating myself. What was I thinking? And WHAT am I going to do? Parents are already at work and can't be expected to drive back to the school to remedy MY ineptitude. If I don't figure something out - and SOON - it will be up to me to explain to a classroom of sweet faces why they can't go on an adventure they have been looking forward to for weeks!
My mind raced through a litany of possibilities - all of which were dismissed just as quickly as they emerged: I can call a car service with seats! But that would require additional permission slips from parents... I can run to a store and buy extra car seats! But you'll never get to the 'burbs and back in time for the field trip. And do you have any idea how much that would cost?! I had failed - and was failing to fix the problem alone.
Reluctantly, I began to think through people who might be able to help. I started with the easy asks. I reached out to a neighbor friend with whom I regularly trade favors - only to be reminded that she was at the hospital with her son who was having his tonsils removed. I checked with Addie’s godparents - amazingly generous people who have flexible work schedules many days. But their car - and seats - were across town for an important meeting.
I had no choice but to cast a wider net. Feeling wholly inadequate and utterly sheepish, I put out a plea to neighbors I barely knew and parents of classmates I had met only once or twice.
And I waited...
But not for long. Mere moments later, I was the recipient of an outpouring of generosity. Within 30 minutes I had (more than) what I needed. It was a huge relief - and hugely humbling.
While carseats for a kindergarten field trip may seem of little consequence, the experience is representative of our general reluctance to ask for help. As a result, we miss countless opportunities to flex a muscle that serves us well in more important areas of our lives.
Personally, I know that if I had not asked for - and accepted - help from a caring and wise therapist in my early 20s, I might not have overcome a destructive relationship with food and distorted body image. If I had not asked for - and accepted - help from talented doctors and specialists a decade later, I would not be a mother today.
As we enter a new month, I encourage you to think through the areas - large and small - in which you could benefit from seeking assistance. Even the most capable among us can benefit from a helping hand - and in doing so we invite others to play an important supporting role in our journey.
In the coming weeks I am committing to being honest with myself - and others - when things are not going according to plan. I am exploring opportunities to admit when I need help and gracefully accept the assistance that comes my way. Let's explore humility - and discover the freedom it brings.
When my husband announced he wanted to take our daughter on their first father-daughter trip, I was excited for them. It would be a time of special memories for them both, and I looked forward to some quiet moments at home.
I imagined settling in with a few good books, perhaps indulging in a yoga workshop, or enjoying a quiet meal with friends. But as the date approached, I hesitated. I realized that despite good intentions of a relaxing staycation, I was more likely to use the time to be "productive" - cleaning out closets, planting Spring flowers, and mapping out meals for the week ahead. I knew that before I completed my to-do list, the weekend would be over and an opportunity lost...
So I instead booked a train ticket to my happy place. And I found myself in New York City. Alone.
Despite traveling there a few times each year, stepping off the train solo seemed novel. The familiar energy felt somehow different. It was no less the loud, chaotic, and frenetic city I know and love, but I quickly became aware of a steady, almost soothing, undercurrent. The constant commotion coalesced into the perfect backdrop for a moving meditation.
Navigating the city without a companion rendered me more attentive to small details. Rather than sharing and comparing observations, I tuned into the sounds and sights that surrounded me: Snippets of conversation from passersby. Music drifting from the open window of an idling taxi. Banter among street vendors.
Rather than compiling a photographic catalogue of an epic dinner for my food-loving family, I marveled at the choreography of the dining service. The composition of each plate. The texture and taste of each bite.
The weekend became an exercise in mindfulness: stilling the perpetual motion of my inner monologue, breathing fully, and observing with all my senses.
I boarded the train back to Washington feeling refreshed - and inspired. The weekend's itinerary was nearly identical to prior visits, but moving through the days in silence yielded an entirely different experience. As I watched the miles pass by through the window of the train, I wondered: how can I continue to savor this sense of stillness?
The answer is simple - if not easy. It IS possible to experience silence - no matter how raucous our surroundings - but we have to be intentional about it.
As you enter a new month, consider the possibilities of incorporating silence into your daily routine: Can you savor a cup of tea in the midst of a clamoring coffee shop? Or open a book on a park bench (or your couch) surrounded by the cacophony of children at play? Is it possible to "disconnect" from devices on your commute and instead tune in to the stillness that lies beneath the chaos?
I am committed to finding (and creating) opportunities in the month ahead - and I invite you to join me. Let's explore silence - and experience the serenity it brings.
Have you ever been told “no”? Have you ever been told “no” from God?
I've been told no for years and it took just as long for me to finally say, “Okay God, you got this. I'm done doing it on my own.”
And you know what? Once I let it go and stopped worrying about MY plan for what I thought was good for me, everything changed. God helped me to stop comparing. I could see pictures of my friends with their kids and not get jealous. I could legitimately like a pregnancy announcement and not get mad and wonder “Why God? Why her and not me?” Once I accepted that God's will for my life was SO much better than I could ever imagine, I changed.
Don’t be lazy when it comes to waiting on the Lord’s direction. Don’t think that you’re so wise that you can guide your own life. See your constant need for His leading. Get alone with the Lord and say, like Jacob, “I’m not letting you go Lord until you bless me with wisdom and direction. I’m not leaving until you show me exactly what you want me to do and when! Because I want to be in your perfect will, I’m waiting to hear from you my God!”
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. ” Lamentations 3:25
God's plan is so perfect. He knew I wasn't ready for kids yet. He knew I needed the time to mature in Him. To trust in Him. To stop thinking I know best. I know my infertility journey is nothing compared to many, but God had me go through that time for a purpose. Now I have empathy for those struggling. I can relate to them. I feel for them. And I am thankful for that. Thankful for views like this. Views that serve as reminders that I am not in control. Reminders that God has got this and I just need to trust what He's got planned.
No one chooses to be infertile. No one wants to discover their journey to parenthood will be more difficult than they imagined. Not one friend or client has confided that they are excited to face so many obstacles on the way to their dream.
But everyone who has walked this path has grown in ways they couldn't have imagined.
I certainly did not ask to experience infertility, but in the process I have learned a great deal: compassion, humility, resilience, and an awareness that it is impossible to know the silent struggles faced by others. I have discovered that maintaining a positive perspective is easiest when my time and energy are directed outward. I have been forced to accept I am not ultimately in control of my future - and I am (still) learning to accept that reality with grace.
Wherever you may be in this process I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and the way in which your story is unfolding. There is no single pathway to parenthood: our stories are as unique as we are. As you travel, I encourage you to pause and look for the lessons. The chances to grow in grace and faith. The opportunities to bless other travelers. We are all on this journey together, and there is much to discover.
My husband and I got married in 2010. I was 32, he was 29. Like many of us who believe we are ready to start a family immediately, we thought for sure we had hit the target during our honeymoon. When that didn't pan out we were confident again that the next month was it. This continued on for about 9 months. Around this time my mother had surgery, and we paused "trying" so I could care for her. When we resumed, I joined an online forum for women trying to conceive and a number of women on the forum eventually became part of my core support group.
A visit to my general practitioner propelled me to make an appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). I remember her telling me in a very matter of fact manner, "Listen - if you are over 30 and its taking you more than 6 months to get pregnant make an appointment with an RE immediately. Forget waiting until you are 35." She herself had struggled with infertility and was currently pursuing treatment for her second child.
My husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Our RE recommended we start with medically assisted timed intercourse. After three months without success I was already emotionally exhausted and asked to move on to Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). After another three failed rounds, I was done! I switched clinics and decided to pursue In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
With IVF on the horizon, I felt giddy with expectation. At least four of the six other women in my fertility support group had become mothers, and some were starting to think about their second. The year was 2013 and I was 34. Our first IVF cycle seemed picture perfect, but it failed. I was devastated, and my husband went into shock. We pursued second and third opinions. I recall reading a blog about a mother who had struggled through many rounds of treatment. She wanted to give up, but her doctor encouraged her to stay the course, and she ended up having triplets. That story inspired me and gave me strength and perspective to continue as I finally came to understand that this journey we were on may be a very long one.
My second IVF cycle was, indeed, challenging, and I leaned on my core support group. One friend in particular called me daily to check in. As fate would have it, that was the cycle that worked and gave us our beautiful son.
The love and support from and for others is what gave me strength during the many bleak days of infertility. Not being consumed by feelings of "woe is me" because I became vested in other people's journeys became critical to my ability to carry on. Their successes became my successes. I was able to tap into their knowledge base and learn far more than I could have on my own.
The power of community is what sustained me throughout. I've since started a free program in Washington DC called Fertile Ground Growing Families as a means of giving back to others still in the trenches. The goal of the 8-week program is to both educate those trying to expand their families on all of the options that are available to them and create community. We go over the fundamentals of getting pregnant spontaneously and through assisted reproductive technology, and bring in speakers who've pursued other options such as adoption, fostering, and surrogacy as a means to grow their family. I'm currently in the second semester of piloting the program. My advice to those still in the trenches is to know you are not alone and that you do not have to walk this journey alone.