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.
Jan 25, 2014
[Photo Credit: Daniel and Amie Berryhill]
I don’t usually rant.
If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that I avoid confrontation like the plague. But today, I’m ranting. And I’m not sorry.
Yesterday a friend shared this article from Thought Catalog by Amy Glass. Immediately, ALL THE FEELINGS. Damn it. What the hell is she talking about? I tried to see where she was coming from. I am not a “view it from all angles” kind of person by nature, but my husband is and it’s rubbed off. This is as far as I got:
+I get that she’s pushing back against the norm. We’re conditioned culturally to get married and have babies. Usually in that order. And women who choose not to are looked down upon by some people. I hate that, too.
+Second, I wholeheartedly agree that we should celebrate independent, ambitious women and their milestones with parties and gifts and registries. In fact, I’m all for starting a movement to do just that!
But after that, she lost me. And not only did she lose me, she offended me. Not because I’m a young, married woman with kids, but because I’m an ambitious feminist and people like her are the reason that “feminism” is such a dirty word.
I have several things I would like to say to you, Amy Glass.
1. Do you really think it’s harder to be a single woman taking care of yourself than it is to be a married woman taking care of yourself, your husband, and however many kids you may have? You are right that there is no way those two things are the same. But thankfully, equality and sameness are two different things. I am grateful that I have the ability to honor the hardness and the joy of both paths. It’s hard for me to believe that you completely lack that ability and aren’t just writing for the sake of controversy, ratings, or viralness.
2. Average does not equal settling. And cultural norms aren’t evil because they’re normal. Do I believe that we, as feminists, should questions the standards we find ourselves in and carve out our own new paths as we see fit? 100% yes. Do I believe that my friends who have dreamed of nothing but being a mommy since they were little girls are somehow less than me? 100% no. Because that’s stupid.
3. As a single woman, what on earth gives you the right to say that finding a life partner and having a baby are super easy tasks? And while we’re at it, how do you feel qualified to write with confidence that women who are married with children are not free to pursue their dreams? As a married woman with two kids living out her dream, whose livelihood depends on teaching other women to do the same, I would beg to differ! And I get that we live in a culture that tells moms they need to put their lives on hold until their children grow up. If you want to change a cultural norm, start with that one!
4. I am exceptional. In fact, I’m pretty fucking remarkable. Thankyouverymuch.
5. You never hear men talk about how hard it to raise kids and manage a household, not because they haven’t been conditioned to view those things as important, but because cultural norms falsely deem these jobs “women’s work”. Again, THAT is a cultural norm you could be attacking. And also, I know tons of men who would happily agree that managing a household and raising kids is hard work. Maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong men.
6. It’s not word play holding us back. There is room for all kinds of women. We will gain equality by letting go of harmful judgments. By questioning cultural norms in a way that invites discussion and allows people to be where they are. By building people up—women and men, regardless of their martial status. By living our lives with authenticity and passion. And letting others do the same.
Amy, I hope you read this. I’m not sure what your goal was for writing your post. But here’s the reason I wrote mine: I resent you for bastardizing feminism. I’m saddened by your limited worldview. I don’t want someone read your post and say, “See, this is why I’m not a feminist!” But if they do, I hope they find my words, too. I hope this post compels them to rethink feminism and their role in it.
I want to live in a world where ALL women are equal. Where doing the laundry is sacred. And where women who backpack across Asia can register for gifts at REI. That’s the feminism I believe in. That’s the shalom I am working to restore.
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.
Jan 21, 2014
[Photo Credit: Jed Curl]
I lost a friend last weekend. She passed away from complications of pneumonia. She was a remarkable person. People keep saying they can’t imagine a world without her and that feels very true. She had that kind of spark. When I met her, she was the head of liturgical arts at our church back in Maryland. The crazy awesome, visceral services that Cedar Ridge Community Church held were largely her creation. Her hair was a different color every week. Pink, blue, purple, orange, green. Jermaine described her as one of the few people we knew who was never really bothered by anything. She had a great sense of humor. She was a dark light in the most beautiful way. I am devastated for her family and our church. She has an eight-year-old son and a husband. I never knew how much she inspired me until last night. But she was one of the pivotal people in helping Jermaine and I find a home in this strange, new way of following Jesus. And, in conversation over homemade pizza years ago, she helped me find the courage to pursue this writer’s life. Please pray peace and love on her family and our church.
And Betsy, if you’re among us, reading this, I am so intensely grateful for you and the life you shared with us.
On The Death Of The Beloved from To Bless the Space Between Us
by John O’Donahue
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
Editor’s Note: It took me a long time to find the words to put in this space. In the end, I used a Facebook comment I wrote on Sunday and a poem from John O’Donahue. Sometimes, we have no words and that’s okay. But if you would like to know more about Betsy and how much she impacted people’s lives, even from afar, please check out this post from my friend Chelsea.