Mar 8, 2014
Happy International Women’s Day!
When I wrote this blessing to the girls we once were on that Austin-bound plane last April, I had no idea where it would take me. Where it would take all of us. The girl I used to be? This is not quite her. This is a letter to the one who came after her. The one who felt that she deserved nothing but punishment for who she had become. I originally wrote this letter to my 22-year-old self a few days after this past New Years. I needed to tell her some things. I needed her to know hope. I needed to offer grace.
I almost didn’t participate in this link up. I wanted to. Badly. But I have a few overdue projects that are weighing on me and it didn’t seem right to do something that I wanted to do before I did the stuff I have to do. But then I thought, isn’t that Grace? Isn’t that Sabbath? Isn’t that what this course I’m teaching supposed to be about? I once read about this amazing writer’s secret from Don Miller: If you’re feeling stuck in your words, start with a project that excites you. So. Here I am. Coming back to the girl I used to be. Because she matters. And so do we.
Dear 22-year-old Brandy,
Oh honey. I love you. This is hard. It’s hard to look back at the person I used to be. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but your life will change drastically in the next 10 years. Spoiler alert: You’re not going to marry him.
You’re about to enter what will be the hardest year of your life. But things end up so much better than you ever could have dreamed. And Brandy, you are so much stronger than you think. Before I forecast the future, let’s take some time to relish and appreciate how far you’ve come in your 22 years. That’s something I’ve never, to this day, done before.
I don’t remember how you rang in 2003. I’m guessing there’s a good chance you don’t either. I’m fairly certain you ended up getting fired from OUAC in January. I know that was hard because she was your friend and you felt like you put her in a tough position. I know April was especially hard. But, believe it or not, looking back, I’m grateful for it. It shocked you—me—into reality. I don’t know if you’ve gotten fired from Infinity’s yet. Spoiler alert (once again): You will. BUT. You’re feeling the conflict and it’s probably for the best. You’re an addict, my dear, and it’s not the healthiest place for you right now (don’t worry—in a couple of years, you’ll be able to go back when you run out of incense and beautiful jewelry and you won’t be tempted by the smoke shop at all).
You did do something that you can be incredibly proud of: You told him the truth. You confessed that you’d cheated. Perhaps you can’t understand the significance of this right now but it’s HUGE. For the past several years, your life has been shrouded under a tangled web of lies. And they’ve seemed so sticky and unbreakable. You’ve stayed stuck because you thought it was just too much to ever undo.
Baby, you’ve just proved yourself wrong.
I know you know deep down that you’re not supposed to marry him. I know you don’t want to but you feel like it’s the “noble thing.” I know you’re confused because you did the right thing—you told the truth—and it brought you back together. How can you not marry him now? He wants to be with you and you had a child together and he took you back after all you did. Doesn’t this mean you have no choice?
NO. Brandy, listen very closely: Your desires matter. The fact that you don’t want to be with him, that you feel it in your gut that you guys aren’t good for each other, that you deserve better than this? All of it matters. Listen to your gut.
The hardest part of the healing and recovery process you’re about to embark on is the residual shame. I know you feel like you’ve let your daughter down. Your family down. Yourself down. It will be many years before that feeling begins to change.
But here’s what I wish I knew when I was you: It’s not all your fault. Yes, you made some massive mistakes. But the good news is that you’re about to get really good at owning them.
Brandy, the reason you feel so uneasy? He’s being abusive. He’s violating you. And maybe it’s not all his fault. Maybe there are tons of reasons. But you’re in counseling right now and that abuse is never named. That’s not okay.
Also? The parts that were your fault? They don’t define Who You Are. Beautiful. Precious. Loved.
You’re going to get through this. 10 years from now, you won’t even recognize yourself. You’re going to meet and marry an amazing, thoughtful, creative, brilliant guy who treats you with such love and grace and respect you don’t even know exists right now. He’s hot, too.
You’re going to finish college! You’re going to be a writer and a coach! You’re going to get to help other women actualize their dreams.
Your daughter is thriving. And you have a son now, too! You’re going to feel in your bones that you are a good, loving mom.
You’re going to have the most amazing friends. Life will still be tough. Money will still be tight sometimes. You’ll do things you never thought you could do. You’ll endure things that seem too much to bear.
But, honey, you are strong. And you are about to go on the most exciting journey of your life (so far). One that will bring you closer and closer to owning your Voice, your Calling, and your Worth. And one that will help other women do the same.
If I had to do 22 all over again, I’d do it sober. I know that seems impossible right now, but recovery is closer than you think. You’re strong enough to keep a job. You’re strong enough to be a single mom. You’re strong enough to experience life without numbing the pain you feel. You’ve got this. I love you.
So much love,
If you’re struck by this post, this idea, and you would like to participate in this link up :: The Girls We Once Were, you still have time. It’ll be open for the next four days. And if you were touched by my words and you’d like to read more, you can sign up for my love letters here.
Mar 5, 2014
A vintage post from 2011, when I was first began realize how much Lent meant to me. I’ve edited it a little to pose questions, and added a reflection at the end for the class I’m teaching through this season, and for anyone else today who needs to be reminded of how beautiful they truly are . . .
“For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19b
That’s pretty morbid, right? We are living, breathing dirt. Someday we’ll return to just being regular, old dirt. We put ashes on our face today as a reminder of this truth. We prepare for the season of Lent with this sobering reality in mind.
That’s one way to see it.
But . . . another way, it seems almost . . . miraculous. We are living, breathing dirt! We are dust that walks, talks, cries, and has feelings! And we are that way because our Creator likes to play in the mud! God had to get his holy hands dirty to make us a reality.
I’m just starting to see myself as an artist. In just the first week of the the Art of Action course, I have been tremendously inspired by all of my blow-your-mind-talented artistic classmates. I’m finding the support and courage I need to really make this my job. But when I think about how my Creator lovingly created all of us and then generously passed on the gift of creating, I feel joy and gratitude that is beyond words.
At the Ash Wednesday service, just before we all walked up to receive our ashes, our pastor, Matthew, asked us to consider Passionate Love and Purification. He talked about fire. Ashes are the perfect symbol for fire. Often, we associate fire with hell and all things horrifying. But he urged us to look at it in another light. Fire as Passionate Love. He asked us, as we received the ashes, and the words were spoken to us, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return,” to hear the Passionate Love our God feels for us. And how fire can also signify a kind of purification process. Lent is beautiful because it is where we put down the extra baggage we’ve been carrying around that is keeping us from feeling God’s passionate love. Matthew asked that as we took on the ashes we contemplate God’s Passionate Love and how we can participate with God in the beautiful, though painful process, of becoming our pure, true selves.
He also asked us to consider our own passionate loves, and how ashes relate to them. This, of course, brings me back to my journey as an artist and how I’m learning the Art of Action. Oh sweet, beautiful Lent.
“1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61: 1-3
Today, as we think about ashes, the season we find ourselves, our dreams, and who we really are . . . what part of your life needs space to be filled up with grace and hope? What extra baggage needs to be unpacked? Shame? Self-loathing? Fear of losing control? Where do you need to admit your humanness—and all of the beauty and the mess that comes with that?
You, my dear, are a wonder to behold. And I am so so grateful for you.
If you would like to receive my love letters in your inbox, you can sign up here. And if you’d like more info on my Lent course :: you can check it out here. We’ve already started and it’s already taking my breath away. A few people have asked if I’m still taking sign ups, so I’ve decided to keep it open until the end of this week.
Feb 21, 2014
[This is a vintage post from last spring. It's weird to go back and read your writing from even less than a year ago. I always end up cringing a little. Heh. But still, it's worth it to share this post in its entirety, because it embodies the essence of why Story Sessions has impacted so many people and also, how far we've come.
I am excited to share that for the next week, Elora and I are partnering up in a very special way. The ultimate meetcute: Story101 + Be. For $165. Y'all, this is such a good deal that my southern is showing. If you bought them separately, it'd cost $276.
And these courses. GAH. You guys, I can vouch for Story101 because I've taken it and the post below is just a piece of much it affected me. And Be? Oh man. I had a planning meeting yesterday with the teachers and by the end of it, I was in tears as I realized how their strengths were pairing with my vision in the most magical of ways. Bianca, who's week includes Pancake Tuesday and letting go of shame, created this beautiful metaphor and combined the two on the spot into this flat, dense, weighty thing that I just wanted to gobble up.
If you've got a story to tell and you need a few sisters to hold your hand through the aftershocks, I invite you to take advantage of this amazing partnership.]
April 29, 2013
Wow. This Story Retreat. Elora Nicole, you’ve outdone yourself.
These last couple of days will go down for me as some of the best in my life. And part of me is sad, because it seems like all of the transformative retreats leave my husband and kiddos at home, far away. I miss them desperately. Maybe I’ll have to figure out how to put together a restorative family retreat. Hmmm.
But as for this weekend . . . there’s just something about these women. I don’t always feel like I connect with people. I have long felt I can turn my extrovert on and off like a switch, and be Bubbly Brandy when she’s needed. This weekend, her services were not required. I could be my introverted self. I could drink and laugh and dance and pray and still go to bed before most everyone. I could be serious or I could be funny. I could steal away to run or write for hours and still feel deeply connected to every woman. Every single beautiful soul.
That never happens. Typically, I will connect with a few people, be Switzerland to a couple of others, and nearly dislike the rest. Usually, feelings of intimidation overwhelm me and my insecurities come out to play. And it’s fine, because still, I’ve connected with that small few, and the others aren’t aware that I’ve dubbed them unapproachable.
But this weekend was different. These women are more than just casual acquaintances. They are my friends. They are my sisters. They are my anam caras. And my soul has been made better because of them.
I think part of it is that we are all writers. Even the ones of us who aren’t ready to own that title. We feel it in our blood, the words aching to get out of our guts and into the hearts of the people we long to bless. Our children. Our brothers. Our sisters. Ourselves.
This weekend was particularly special for me because I got to teach my first Shalom Session workshop. The entire week before I left for Texas, I prepped and prayed. I marveled in excitement. I knew these women online, and so I wasn’t exactly nervous, I was just full up grateful to be able to share my gifts with them in this way. I had a feeling it might go well, but it went better than I could have imagined.
Since I started the Shalom Sessions, I have used John O’Donahue’s book, To Bless the Space Between Us to pray a blessing over each of my clients at the start of the session. I pick out a special one just for that person, and I read it to them out loud. It calms us both and sets up a shalom-y mood. I love picking out their blessing, but sometimes I can’t quite find the right one. For some time, I’ve wanted to get to the point of writing a blessing for each sweet soul.
This weekend, though, working with writers, I knew I could take that one step further.
I did write a blessing, for the Story Session community at large. And then, I used the idea of the Compass that I usually create for them; I flipped it around. I asked them to look inside their answers to the probing questions I’d asked, to use the Compass to guide them to write a blessing for themselves. Because our dreams are holy and they matter. And for some, that’s the easiest thing in the world to forget.
I say it went well because they just kept referencing it. In writing a blessing for themselves, they were actually blessed. I am humbled that God used me in this way. As the weekend progressed, I started to realize how much I’d loved leading that workshop. How much I’d love to travel all over, and bless others in that way. With the Shalom Sessions, the hardest part has been figuring out how to explain why someone would need one. Once they have had one, they get it. They love it. They know.
And so, on the last day of the retreat, we were future-casting, and I was thinking about the Shalom Sessions. I asked them what they thought. If they would pay for a workshop like the one I taught.
“Brandy,” Elora smiled, “I would pay for you to come to my future retreats to do your Shalom Sessions there.”
That’s when I realized: my dreams matter too. Wow. And amen. And thank you, more please.
I’d like to share the blessing that I wrote for them. And if you would like to dive deeper into the sacredness of your own dreams, I think I can help.
For the Story Sessions
the girls we once were are coming back to us now.
whispering their stories, our stories, in our ears.
let us hear.
let us listen to the little one that is who we were that is who we are before the shame and obligation took their toll.
that voice inside of us, she knows where the shalom is.
may we trust her.
and let her lead.
may the creativity birthed in the sacred pages of the story sessions grow into a garden of hope.
a masterpiece we could not have conceived alone.
may we be brave learning to rebel as a spiritual discipline.
may we know the difference between religious bullying and the gentle whisper of our Maker.
may these sacred relationships help to heal the deep wounds we all carry.
may our scars remain visible so that we never forget the power we all possess.
the meaning and the magic,
why we share our stories.
my anam caras.
may we always know that someone who loves us is forever just a Facebook message away.
Feb 14, 2014
I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and surprised Jermaine with it at an open mic in DC. I’ve been adding to it little by little every year. I hate the ending right now. Haha. Or, rather, it doesn’t feel quite complete yet. But I think that’s okay. I think it will someday. And I will hate that even more. For now, I will be content to sit in the grateful of what we have and what we have yet to come.
I still remember the day we met nine years ago. Driving down the hot Georgia coast in James-Michael’s Jeep. I was smitten with you almost immediately. I tried very hard not to let it show.
Do you remember our first kiss at Union Station?
Do you remember all those nights you made me laugh so hard I cried? You still do that.
Do you remember the first time you told me that I had cute feet?
Do you remember meeting my daughter—who is now your daughter—in the driveway of my parent’s house?
Do you remember walking along the beach? You picked up trash to impress me. And it did.
Do you remember . . . [read the rest of the poem here on The Story Sessions].
PS. Lent is on its way. And I want to reframe it. Are you with me?
Feb 3, 2014
I originally wrote this as a love letter in my Breaking The Dress Code e-course for our week titled “When Bad Things Happen”. But this Wednesday is the anniversary of the day I relaunched this blog, launched my very first e-course, and the second time my son had a febrile seizure. So it feels more than appropriate to share.
When Elora first told me in January 2013 that she had decided to teach an e-course, I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t know her that well, but from my online perch, it seemed like she was the Real Deal. Certified Artist Legit. I had wanted to do an eCourse for so long, but honestly I was worried people might think I was silly; playing with words on the internet. But if she was going to teach a class online, it had to be a Serious Art Form. She didn’t know it, but while she was just doing her thing, she was teaching me to do mine.
I signed up immediately. That was kind of a big deal. 2012 had been The Year I Learned Online and toward the end I had to swear off e-courses. My bank account was starting to suffer.
But this was different. Story 101 was my new friend’s baby and Story Coaching sounded divine. I wanted to support her and I wanted what she was offering. Looking back, for many reasons, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. But I couldn’t have known that then.
A couple of weeks into the class, Steven Pressfield wrote a blog post called All Breakthroughs Come With A Fever. I experienced a visceral reaction to his words and shared it with my Story 101 peers. I had no idea what I was starting.
All throughout last year—when my son’s fever spiked and caused his third seizure, when I taught my own first e-course, when Elora and I met in person at her Story Retreat, when I watched her dream tornado-sized dreams and carry them through, when my husband deployed, when never came twice, when I fell into a tar pit of depression—we’d share our fevers and our breakthroughs. We’d rejoice and lament, together. We’d trust that the more intense the fever, the bigger the breakthrough.
I’ve been struggling with what I want you to take away from this week of When Bad Things Happen. And then Elora reminded in the group this morning. Oh my God, I thought, how come I didn’t think of this before?
Then it hit me. Because it takes two. Because you can’t get through the fever or the breakthrough without your people. Because when bad things happen, you need others to hold you.
Look, I believe in hope. But I can’t believe in hope all the time. When we’re in the throws of a fever, we need others to hope for us. It may be true that all breakthroughs come with a bloody fever.
But it’s also true that all fevers come with a breakthrough.
These past few months have been one big exercise in the fever/breakthrough cycle. At the end of it, I have a gorgeous new e-course that I am very excited to share with you. It’s called Be :: Life and the Rest of It. You can get all the details and sign up here.
If you liked this post and want to know more about what it means to pursue your dreams in the real world, sign up for my newsletter here.