Monthly Archives: February 2014

10 things i’ve learned from anne lamott

Tonight I am going to see Anne Lamott at Point Loma Nazarene University, and I am thrilled. She has been, for so many us, the matriarch guru who blew the doors off our souls when she told us we could actually tell the truth about things. She has taught so many of us that we can be honest, and the honesty will enhance us and open us up instead of bury us. In that way, she has been a pastor to so very many of us.

To celebrate seeing her tonight, I’m reposting my all-time most shared, most liked, and most commented on post, “10 things I’ve learned from anne lamott.” Enjoy, and while you’re at it, order Traveling Mercies and Help, Thanks, Wow. You’re welcome.

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1. “we thought they’d be a little more like cats” – AL says that she had assumed having a child would be mostly like having a cat. turns out, the whole motherhood enterprise is much more complicated. i think of this line all the time. how our expectations are so often a world away from reality, especially when it comes to the realities of motherhood. this line makes me feel like i’m not the only one that got blindsided by motherhood in most every way. it also makes me laugh.

2. “sometimes you’re not blocked, you’re empty” – if you are an artist of any kind, or if you are trying to get any kind of large-scale project accomplished, you know that “writer’s block” is always at your heels, that jinxed feeling that the gig is up, and no matter how long you stare at the blank screen, you’ve got nothing. less than nothing. AL reminds me that sometimes the problem isn’t that I’m blocked but that I’m empty. perhaps I need to spend some time filling up again, engaging in the small moments of inspiration that provide energy for the work. a walk outside. a conversation. using ultra fine tip sharpie markers in a journal. rest. etc. this is some of the best advice i have ever heard. instead of trying to push past the block, perhaps the best thing to do is go about filling up.

3. “your self esteem is not going to arrive by email” – in other words, there is no big news coming your way that will deliver a rich inner life. our wholeness doesn’t come from anything “out there.” it is nurtured “in here” . . . through our faith, our community, the work we are doing on ourselves, the work we are allowing Christ to do in us, our art.

4. “there isn’t enough out there” – a follow on to #3. there isn’t enough notoriety, fame, money, self-tanning spray, beautiful clothing, perfect accessories, great hair, teeth whitening, home decor, twitter followers, or book contracts to make me feel worthy. period. my shame is not healed by any kind of success. my shame is healed by something else entirely.

5. “having a child can help you slow down, which is one of the first steps toward paying attention” – love this, though, I will admit a certain level of agony in the slowing down. makes you feel mental, like you are forced to crawl through life stopping to look at every last rock, leaf, ladybug. perhaps AL is saying, yeah, that’s the point.

6. “guilt free afternoons” – we work hard in the morning, getting our writing (or your own equivalent) done and then it is time to play. we do not work always and forever. we work hard when it’s time to work, and then we have a guilt free afternoon. we put the work aside and we enjoy another aspect of life. in other words, we have limits and we need to accept them. time for a glass of prosecco. enjoy it! time for a nap. take it! guilt free.

7. “wearing out the perfectionism” – perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, AL tells us. and she’s so right. it kills us—our creativity, our childlikeness, our freedom. how do we wear out the perfectionism? she says that writing bad first drafts and becoming a mother were two of the things that helped wear out the perfectionism in her. allowing herself to do things poorly, however painful, helped her to just get past the perfect. and, motherhood, for so many reasons, just does not allow perfect in the door. you’re too tired and too spit-up-on to even think perfect visits your neighborhood anymore. this, AL says, is a good thing. good reminder for me today.

8. “publication has nothing for you; the gift is the writing” – i don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a dream or a goal of publication; however, if we are expecting that publication will heal us in some way, then we have gotten it all wrong. the writing, AL says, is where the gift is. publication is not what centers us; the time spent in the chair, reflecting, expressing, telling the truth – this is the gift.

9. “the material knows what it needs to become; create a safe space for it to arrive” – we cannot strangle the good stuff into existence. We must sit down each day, do the work, and believe that the beauty will arrive. especially if we don’t need it to look perfect on arrival, if we can let it evolve and if we can turn off the inner-editor that needs it “just so.” if we can give ourselves permission to let the words and ideas arrive as they will, being diligent to keep track of them when they do show up, magic can happen. bad news: all of this often takes longer than we’d like. and is certainly always much messier than we’d like.

10. “wasting paper; staring off into space” – efficiency is not the way ahead. the way ahead is printing out drafts of our work so we can see it on paper and mark it up, not worrying about how much paper we’re using. the way ahead is staring off into space and letting our subconscious kick in even if we’ve been told that such behavior is a waste of time. efficiency cannot be the #1 priority of the artist. so true.

thanks, AL, for all this and more. keep writing, for all our sakes.

which one of these 10 do you most love? why?

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My Group, part 2

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” -Henri Nouwen

Do we know how to listen and validate rather than advise and fix?

I am doing a short series of posts on a group I’ve been a part of for almost a decade now. You can read Part 1 here, which provides more background and the impetus for my beginning the group as well as some general information about how we have come to function.

In this post, I want to tackle the idea of being with each other in the trenches of life, which is something we are learning how to do, week by week, text by text, email by email, in My Group. We are learning how to honor each other’s stories and God’s holy work in each other’s lives. We’re learning that we don’t need to save, rescue, solve, clean up, take responsibility for, or generally get our grubby little fix-it hands on anyone else’s life. And we’ve had to learn that the hard way at times, to be sure.

Throughout these posts, I’m talking about the context of group life, but really we’re talking about what it means to build trust and intimacy with another human. We’re talking about principles for building lasting and meaningful friendships, marriages, and other relationships where trust is vital. We’re talking about the bedrock foundation of feeling safe with another human.

One of the ways we erode this very safety we’re trying to create is by believing that we have found an answer to someone else’s problems and we need to coax them toward that solution.

Perhaps, we do know what might be helpful for someone else. Perhaps we’re right. The POINT IS most people need to arrive at their own conclusions and their own aha moments if real transformation and healing are going to take place in their lives. Our advice usually, even if it’s right on, won’t deliver in the end.

When we offer unsolicited advice, sometimes what we’re really saying is:

  • “I can’t tolerate your mess and I need to clean it up NOW so that all this doesn’t feel so uncomfortable to me.” Sometimes we’ve gone through things in our own stories that do not allow us to be able to tolerate open-endedness, chaos, or mess. It makes us overly anxious. And we believe that the best possible course of action is to clean it all up. QUICK! We don’t allow for the fact that sometimes messes need to happen. Sometimes chaos teaches. Sometimes things can’t be fixed simply and swiftly.
  • “I need to be the one who saves.” Some of us have built an identity around being the one with answers. We derive great satisfaction and find personal worth from being the one people turn to for solutions. This can create a dynamic that isn’t, in the end, conducive to mutuality in relationships. At some point, if we truly desire to be seen and heard and loved by peers, we will have to stop being the one who always knows.
  • “You can’t figure this out on your own, so I’m going to need to help you.” I read somewhere that unsolicited advice is often perceived as criticism, and I think that’s true. Like it or not, when we start offering ideas, we might be communicating—even subtly—that we don’t think this person is able to handle their own life. Again, not rich soil for trust and intimacy.

I’ve seen over and over again that trying to fix things for someone else (even if we have the very best intentions) just ends up eroding what we’re trying to create: an environment of mutuality, trust, safety, vulnerability. Sometimes even unknowingly, we create a dynamic where people don’t feel free to show up with their whole selves because they worry that they’re whole selves will be scrutinized.

All of this might seem really minor to you. But I can’t emphasize it enough. In friendships, in marriage, in church . . . people are dying to be listened to and loved and accepted and believed in. They are NOT dying for someone to swoop in and tell them how they could be doing it all different and better.

If we’re going to create groups that are truly transformational, we need to understand some of the cultural shifts that need to take place in order to really experience true community.

The key to a meaningful group is that everyone around the table feels that they can show up—mess and all—and be loved and accepted right where they are. Some of you worry that this is a slippery slope. We’re ignoring sin. We’re letting people whine. We’re letting stuck people stay stuck. We’re celebrating poor decisions and bad behavior. I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.

When we look into someone’s eyes after they have just poured their heart out and we tell them, “I see you, I hear you, and I love you,” we give them the radical acceptance they need in order to seek change, healing, or growth in their lives. We give them a safe place, a soft place to land. We give them love. We don’t tell them overtly or subtly, “Hey snap out of it,” which (newsflash) so rarely helps.

You cannot imagine the power in words like:

“I’m sorry you’re going through that. It sounds so scary and hard.”

“I believe in you. I just want you to know, I believe in you.”

“You are brave.”

“I’m going to set my alarm and pray for you every morning at 8am because I believe God can heal.”

“What do you need from us?”

“We are with you.”

In the end, these simple, heartfelt words can mean more to someone than any solution, advice, fix-it strategy, or “help” we believe we need to provide.

I’m sharing this with you because it’s a lesson I learn over and over again. People often don’t need all my unsolicited “good ideas.” People most often need me to see them, listen (instead of jumping right to what I want to say), believe in them, bear their burdens with them, pray. People need me to sit in a room with them and breathe.

Most of all, people need me to show up with my own vulnerability, messes, scars, and questions. When I do that, I invite them into safety.

I’ll leave you with this . . . We often go around the table and offer affirmations at the end of My Group. One of the most powerful moments in the evening. Looking someone in the eye and telling them something you see in them that’s spectacular. Whoa.

Validation and affirmation can breathe real sustaining life into our groups and our relationships because they are a way we honor the God-work happening in each of our lives.

(Another little secret: this is a great thing to begin practicing on ourselves. How can I honor, validate, and acknowledge my own experiences, struggles, questions, and journey instead of telling myself to snap out of it, get over it, and suck it up. How can I offer to myself this very same idea . . . love, acceptance, compassion, space. I will be so much more comfortable offering it to others if I am first able to offer it to myself.)

I’d love to know how the validating presence of another human being has been healing for you in your life . . .

Thank you for reading and considering, dear friends. On the journey together,

Leeana

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10 things our re-entry from the Middle East has taught me

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One year ago today, we were waking up in San Diego—our first morning here after returning from an almost-two-year tour in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. Even one year later, I’m absolutely still processing the experiencing of going and coming and what it has meant to all of us: Steve, the kids, and me. I thought I would share some of my noticings from this last year, as it has been a season of extended recovery for me and mine. If nothing else, I’d love for this post to offer you permission to rest and recover and care for yourself if you are in any kind of season of stress or disorientation or change.

Here are 10 things our re-entry from the Middle East has taught me:

1. THE BODY NEVER LIES: When our bodies are dragging, trudgy, exhausted, and hurting, this is an indication that we need to take it easy. The body will tell us things that our mind has not yet figured out. Our body will give us hints about how we’re REALLY doing. Pain, chronic fatigue, lack of energy . . . these are all signs that we need to heed.

Questions to consider: Is my body trying to tell me something? Am I listening to my body or ignoring it?

2. THE BRAIN NEVER LIES: Since we’ve returned from Bahrain, I’ve left every door on my van open in the Marshalls parking lot, I’ve put the coffee pot full of coffee away into the cabinet with the mugs, and I’ve thrown dirty laundry into the recycling bin. These are just minor indications that my system was overloaded, preoccupied with the task of re-entry. Like our bodies, our brain can also give us needed information. Our brain reacts when we are under stress, especially prolonged stress.

Questions to consider: Is my brain trying to tell me something? Am I regularly forgetful, disoriented, fuzzy, or generally unable to concentrate or remember anything?

3. WE NEED GUIDES: If you resonate with #1 and/or #2 above, then I would suggest incorporating a “guide” of some kind into your life. Heck, even if you don’t see #1 or #2 happening in your life, I would still encourage you to seek out a guide. A guide is someone who can help you process, make sense of your experiences, help you identify how you’re really doing. This could be a therapist, a spiritual director, the right pastor, even. Ultimately, this is someone who will validate your emotions and experiences and not try to talk you out of them or over-spiritualize them (for example, if you would just pray, God would rescue you from your anxiety and exhaustion = not helpful). Guides keep us from getting stuck or help us get unstuck. I’m not sure I’d be able to get out of bed without the nurturing and clarifying presence of the guides in my life. It feels needy to need help. Oh, well. Let’s get it anyway!

Questions to consider: Is there a trained professional in my life who I could call on for help? What is standing in the way of me reaching out to a guide?

4. WE NEED PEERS: Peers are people we allow to see us when we are in a mess. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, a lot of us instinctively tend to hide what’s really going on. Supportive, nurturing, empathetic peers can tolerate the mess, the wandering. They can allow us to come to our own conclusions without needing to fix our situation. They can just sit in the room with us and breathe. They are the people we text when we need extra prayer or validation or just simply to be seen right where we are. I don’t believe that going through life with God and a therapist is enough. I think we also need the presence of peers—people who we allow to see us in need, people who we allow to be there with us and for us. (For more on this, read my last post).

Questions to consider: Is there anyone in my life who really knows what’s going on in my soul? Am I hiding from people? Do I allow anyone in my life to see me in need?

5. THE SQUEEZE CAN CLARIFY OUR PRIORITIES: Because I have been chronically tired this last year and really lacking in extra energy, I have had to bring in the borders of my life in order to function. I couldn’t take on as much as I would have liked. I just didn’t have the capacity. While this was, at times, a frustration, more than anything it was clarifying. Over and over I had to choose what mattered most to me, and it was helpful to see what I chose: a small tribe of people I dearly love and trust, my family, being home, creating. I’m not sure I’ve actually done much else in the last year. Certainly, with three small children, this is plenty. But it’s been really interesting to see what I’ve held onto and what I’ve let go of. I think it’s good every once in awhile to have to choose and to see what it is we tend toward when our capacities are diminished.

Questions to consider: For this season, what do I need to hold onto? What do I need to let go of?

6. TO EVERY TIME THERE IS A SEASON: Oh how I love Ecclesiastes 3. It just helps us make sense out of this crazy life. I see that there are times in life when we strike out into the world, when we are taken on wild adventures. And then, there are also times when we are brought into a refuge or a haven and are given the opportunity (if we will take it) to recover. The key here is to embrace the season instead of resisting it, which is so hard to do. I don’t love feeling tired, but I can see that my diminished capacity over this last year has taught me a lot about my priorities, self-care, and nurturing what matters most to me.

Questions to consider: What does this season of your life look like? Is it a time for rest, recovery, turning inward? Or is it a time for striking out? Can we allow for times to change, seasons to shift?

7. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A TIME FOR LIFE-CHANGING DECISIONS: Our sense of stress can make things feel urgent that aren’t necessarily. We must make a decision about our marriage. We must make a decision about whether or not to have another child. We must make a decision about remodeling the kitchen. Sometimes, there are decisions in front of us that—no matter if it’s a good time or not—must be made. But, where possible, I’ve found it’s better to let things ride a bit if I can, to not assume immediately that they are urgent matters. Our systems are already stressed and overloaded, which means that we probably won’t make the soundest decision in that state.

Questions to consider: Is this the right time? Is this an urgent matter? Do I HAVE TO make a decision about this right now or is it something that could wait until I have a bit more perspective and peace?

8. SELF COMPASSION AND SELF CARE LEAD TO RECOVERY; PUSHING AND PUNISHING DO NOT: We just absolutely have to get this. I am person who tends to get overwhelmed. When overwhelmed, I can turn on myself for not being able to handle more, accomplish more, recover more quickly, etc, etc, etc. I tend to go to the “shoulds” and I tend to compare myself to how I perceive other people are handling life. This is not going to work. It only leads to self contempt, which keeps us stuck stuck stuck. Recovery is about taking the radical stance that we need to carve out some breathing room for ourselves, treating ourselves as we would a dear friend.

Questions to consider: Do I believe that pushing myself will help me recover faster? Am I punishing myself for not being more like HER or HIM over there? Am I actively seeking out breathing room?

9. WORK WITH YOUR HANDS SOMEHOW: You’ll read more about this in Breathing Room, but I have read article after article, study after study, that shows our brains are calmed (and depression and anxiety can even be lessened in some cases) when we work with our hands. Gardening, painting, sculpting, working on cars, sewing, knitting, arranging flowers, writing. Working with our hands calms our brains somehow and also gives us a sense of perceivable accomplishment. All good. Last fall I got the opportunity to spend a large chunk of time writing. This was one of the most therapeutic things that happened in the last year—a place to go and process, create, play, craft, and produce. This brought structure and focus to a season that lacked both. I consider it a grace that God allowed the timing of Breathing Room. It was a salvation of sorts to me.

Questions to consider: How can I get my hands moving in order to help my brain and body recover? Is there a particular hobby or craft that I might enjoy, even just for a season?

10. BEAUTY HEALS. PERIOD.: In this last year, Steve and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary and Steve turned 40, two celebration-worthy milestones. For both occasions we took a trip. For our anniversary we went to the beautiful Northern California areas of Carmel and Monterey and we soaked in the fog and the wild mystery of that coastline. We walked and walked and walked and we ate delicious food and we rested. We allowed ourselves to be healed through our senses. In December, for Steve’s birthday, we went to Napa and—again—we were met with this magical charm of the wine country at Christmas and our jaws just dropped open with awe and wonder and breath. I can’t describe it any other way. It was just healing to be places that were so naturally beautiful. On both those trips we met up with dear friends who we just talk and talk and talk with and that was also a key component of healing. If life is stifling, I so recommend some time in beauty—especially the profound restoration of natural beauty. I have to say, too, that even the small moments of beauty can add up. Making a fire in our fireplace has been something that continually brings me such great joy.

Questions to consider: What do my eyes find beautiful? How can I get regular doses of that beauty? Where do I go to breathe? How can I get there more often?

Thanks for making this journey with me, friends. Around the world and back again. With love to you today,

Leeana

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My Group, part 1

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For almost a decade, I’ve been meeting with a group of women once a week. The members of this group have changed here and there, but the core has stayed the same and the values, philosophy, format, and purpose have always – and continue to be – the same.

I get a lot of questions about this group, especially the specifics of how we function. Because I deeply believe in the healing capacity of a group, and because it seems people (many of you) are consistently having less-than-ideal experiences within groups, I thought I would do a mini-series here explaining the specifics of My Group and how you might replicate a similar group in your own community and context.

At any time, if you have any questions you’d like me to address within the series, please feel free to leave them in the comments section, as I would love to make sure I’m covering all the useful details for you.

Years ago, I wanted to find a group of women that I could intentionally walk through life with, a place where I was seen and a place where I would be given access to others’ lives and souls. I had been in groups where we tackled a set of curriculum or study materials, and while I always learned and was typically challenged in some way, I couldn’t help but feel like there was never time or space or opportunity in the format to talk about real life. We were answering questions together, but were we really, truly sharing the deeper waters of our soul?

I decided that I wanted to start a group that would have no curriculum, no reading list, no study materials, no homework. At the time, and even during some seasons since, this felt like a risk. A group that functions more as a process group is not always valued by everyone. Mainly because “progress” can seem un-measurable in the short run.

I want to be clear: I find great value in groups that go through books, groups that study the Bible, groups that are meeting in order to learn a body of knowledge together. Totally. I absolutely believe these kinds of groups are valuable. I also believe that we can “hide out” in life—behind material, information, learning—and we miss out on what it means to truly be vulnerable in front of other people. I am not saying that material, information, and learning aren’t valuable. I’m simply saying that they’re not enough. Especially if we are people who desire transformation in our lives. Because, as we’ve all heard before, information is not the same thing as transformation.

In addition to hiding out behind curriculum, some of us hide out by always being the leader. We are the “one who knows,” safely distancing ourselves from the pack so that we don’t have to practice what we’re asking the others in our group to practice. This is no good. If we are not the actual leader, then perhaps we have become the implied leader, the one who offers advice to the other members of the group. Again, no good.

In the kind of group that I’m going to be talking about there is certainly a person who initiates emails, who does the housekeeping, and probably someone who has brought the group together in some way or another. But this person remains a part of the group. In every way, shape, and form. There isn’t someone coming to the table with answers. We all come to the table equally—seeing and being seen.

Years ago, when My Group first started, I hand picked women who I believed could come to a table and talk about their souls: what was really going on for them, what they were really struggling with, the kinds of larger questions and values they were wrestling with, their perceptions of God in the midst of the trenches of life, how they viewed themselves, where they were feeling overwhelmed, where they were celebrating.

Not everyone wants to be in this kind of group. People might even tell you that they want to be, but I have found that not everyone (even those who like this kind of group in theory) is ready to sit down and let themselves be exposed. Not everyone is ready to really listen to someone else and validate that person’s feelings instead of trying to fix them or their problems. Not everyone is ready to tolerate three hours of messiness around a table with, possibly, no real resolution at the end of the night.

So, if you’re thinking about starting a group like what I’m describing, it’s important to think about people who you believe are ready to allow for the mess of real people’s real journeys. It’s important to think about people who are able to tell you how they’re really doing, people who are willing to let you see them in need. Those are the kind of people you’re looking for.

That’s a good place for you to start thinking . . . WHO are these people? AM I one of these people?

I am going to write a few more posts about group life. We’ll talk about the format of each evening (what prompts have been helpful in teasing out people’s souls), the values that My Group has agreed to, and some of the barriers to trust within a group. The going in assumption to all these posts is that you believe (or you are willing to consider) that you would be better off kept company than in control.

My prayer for this mini-series is that you would be able to collect a community around you that helps you feel seen, heard, and loved. Looking forward to diving into this further with you,

Leeana

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wild & free

“All good things are wild and free.
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-Henry David Thoreau

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This weekend we went to La Jolla, a beautiful beach community here in San Diego. I’ve been sick for a couple of weeks, inside mostly, feeling a bit discouraged by my body’s refusal to cooperate with my life.

Winter is my favorite time to go to the beach. I love rolling up my sweats and layering against the cold wind. I love how the waves hit the rocks and seem wilder, freer than the easy come, easy go of summertime.

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The quickest way to get out of my own head and into my soul is to go outside and let myself come into contact with nature. Especially the winter beach. I’m immediately reminded of the wildness of this world, the grand beauty. I’m reminded how healing breathing is. I am without distraction, which is — increasingly — how I want to live. I am present, taking in beauty, with those I love.

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Rock. Water. Algae. Waves. Sky. We are invited to be wilder and freer when we interact with wildness and freedom. Where is that place for you? A scene that beckons you out of your frazzled mind and into your centered soul? A destination that provides perspective? Let’s make a habit of going there. What a brazen thing to do.

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dr. seuss & st. benedict

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I spoke at a retreat last weekend on the theme of “Beginning Again” from St. Benedict’s beautiful line, “Always we begin again.” If you’ve read my blog in the New Year, then you know that concept has really become significant to me, a reminder that proficiency isn’t life’s main goal. Instead, we wake up and—with intention—begin again in most every area of life. Thanks to grace.

I talked about beginning again with ourselves and how gnarly it is when we realize what we will do at our own expense. The ways we will sell ourselves out. The ways we will ignore getting well. And, also, if we’re willing, the ways we can firmly stand on our own team with compassion and care. Day after day.

I also talked about beginning again with others because, and maybe this is just me, but when I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’m turning on myself in the midst of my overwhelm, I tend to not want to let people see me in that state. But, I’m learning, this is also a part of getting well. We begin again with others. We send the text asking for prayer. We let someone else help. We allow ourselves to be in need and we allow someone else to meet us in that place of need. We let ourselves be seen when what we’d rather do is hide. This is revolutionary.

Dr. Seuss writes: “I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.” Beginning again with ourselves and with others changes the game. We stop drowning in the void of self vs self, one small decision at a time.

Do you need to begin again with yourself in some way?

Do you need to begin again with someone in your life?

I believe in you,

Leeana

[photo by Katie Gardner Photography]
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