About Courage & American Ninja Warrior

I do not know how to explain why I love American Ninja Warrior.

My youngest daughter and I started watching it a few years back. We sat on the couch, side-by-side, mouths agape at what these individuals were able to do. Willing to do! She would laugh at me as my body would move in rhythm to theirs — whether they were swinging on some kind of contraption or trying to jump up to catch a ring, or trying to make it up the 14-foot warped wall — as though I could somehow will them success by fully participating in the comfort of my own home. The two of us would ooh and aah and cheer as they did amazing things, took spectacular falls, and always, always triumphed — no matter what. And we both cried through all the stories about the athletes, their families, hardships, tragedies, and miracles.

So why does this impact me so? Why do I cry? What is that about? It’s American Ninja Warrior!! I’m sure there are lots of reasons for my reactions and responses. But bottom line…It is a privilege to witness the inherent beauty of courage. I cannot help but be moved.

The beauty seen in their stories, their physical capacity, their falls, and their triumphs only comes because of the most incremental of efforts they’ve extended over a very long time. What we witness is the accumulation of small, almost imperceptible courageous acts.

We often think that courage has to be big and dramatic, bold and audacious, crowds cheering, loved ones weeping with joy, “victory,” of some sort. And though that may be true, I have a different idea.

Courage is small and incremental, slow and steady (sometimes fits and starts); the tiniest of choices made, actions taken, words spoken, behaviors altered, and/or lives changed.

This perspective matters.

As long as we see courage as big and dramatic, bold and audacious, we are often stopped before we start.

Instead, what about this:

  • Courage is extending yourself some compassion, practicing self-kindness, and allowing yourself grace.
  • Courage is only one sentence, once a day, spoken in truth. (Yes, just one!)
  • Courage is voicing your opinion just once this week at work. (Yes, just once!)
  • Courage is taking the time to list out the specific steps related to the big leap (Yes, just the list!)
  • Courage is reading a book for even 30 minutes before turning on Netflix. It’s also watching Netflix without guilt or shame because you know that rest matters.
  • Courage is letting yourself honestly name your emotions to yourself. (I am furious. I am devastated. I am afraid. I am in grief. I am lost. I am stuck. I desire. I am actually happy.)
  • Courage is taking the time to write down what you would do if you felt even more courageous.

Cleary, I can go on (and on and on). But far more important than my words and thoughts — are yours. What are the smallest and most compassionate and kindest and most grace-filled acts of courage for you? (Start a list, add to this one, give yourself permission to consider courage as small; but no less significant, powerful, or transformative.)

This quote from Mary Anne Radmacher bears repeating:

Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”


Acknowledging the Choices that are Ours

I received a frantic call from one of my daughters a month or so ago. She was in a desperate state, I was scrambling to figure out what to do (while simultaneously holding fast-ish to the awareness that I need to let her figure these things out). I noticed, somewhere in the middle of that teary call, that she felt unable to make a choice – like she had none; she was almost-completely immobilized. What I also noticed, shortly after getting off of the call, is that I went to the opposite extreme — moving into hyper-drive, fix-it mode, making quick decisions, creating lists, finding more options, eliminating every aspect of  the “unknown” I possibly could.

One outworking of choice is not taking action. Another is being frenetically active (like me).

My point is NOT to determine which is better, which is more sane, which feels wiser or stronger or right. Not at all!

Having agency means admitting — sometimes under a bit of duress — that we DO have choice, that we are not hapless or helpless, that we have the right and ability to make decisions about how we will proceed, what we will do or not do, what we feel, how we will express our emotions, and so much more.

it also means admitting that our choices can (and probably will) mean risk and cost and consequence.

To only look at one side of this equation without the other isn’t helpful. We must hold the complexity of both:

  • I DO have choice. I CAN demonstrate agency.
  • I don’t want to make this choice because…

I know: far easier said than done.

For my daughter: acknowledging that she DOES have choices and can/must make them means that she also has to look at the risks, costs, and consequences of not having made them previously and how she is limited and bound by what’s available to her now, in this moment.

For me, acknowledging that I DO have the choice to step in and help her AND that perhaps the best help is NOT helping means that I have to look at my own patterns, her expectations, and the possibility of disappointment and misunderstanding.

None of this is easy. All of it matters.

Seeing, acknowledging, naming, and honoring all of this feels like growth. it also feels like grace. Tough grace. Gritty grace. But grace, nonetheless.

Worth choosing every time.


[I want to acknowledge that there are definitely contexts in which agency is not available — when true victimhood exists: domestic violence, sexual violence, any number of situations. I am in no way claiming that even in such places we have the power to choose. These are FAR more complex and deserve FAR more wisdom and compassion grace and care.]


Happy 23rd Birthday, Abby!

I’m sure I say something similar every year, but how is it possible that you are 23 today? How is it possible that I have had the privilege of having you in my life, being your mom, loving you – all this time? It’s miraculous, really: there’s no other way to describe it.

You are miraculous; really.

This last year, like so many before, has walked (and sometimes pushed) you into more growth, more deepening into who you are, more perspective and choice and courage and wisdom. You are a privilege to witness.

A whole year without living at home, even partially. A whole year in a completely different city and state from me (which is, I’ll admit, too far away). A whole year of Covid – masks and vaccines and quarantine and still coming down with it – surviving, muddling through, even thriving. Another whole year of school – with all its ups and downs. A whole year of working – jobs that have quickly recognized your talent, your leadership, your heart. And a whole year of figuring out who you are – as a young woman who sees and names the injustice, the chaos, and the heartbreak of this world…and who has felt the reality of these things for herself.

Yes, really: miracle and privilege to witness every moment of these past twelve months (plus a million more beside), to see all of who you have become and all of who you are yet to become. 

The more I witness, the more I remember, the more I see: 

I see you on the sidewalk ahead of me, age 3 or 4, curly blond hair, turning back to look at me with your infectious smile. I see you burying your head in my chest when the wolves showed up in Beauty and the Beast. I see you hunched over the kitchen counter doing homework and resisting little food but chicken nuggets and microwaved tortillas with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I see you practicing your speech for 5th grade student body president – and your face when you told me you’d won. I see you in choir after choir – witnessing your commitment, hearing your gift, feeling nearly overwhelmed with pride. I see you unexpectedly playing Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray – that one night when Jessica lost her voice and you stepped into her role despite your fears (as I wept nearly uncontrollably through the entire performance with more love than I knew I could hold). I see you shaking Mr. Ikeda’s hand, receiving your diploma, then merging into the meley of friends and photos and caps and gowns. I see you when I dropped you off at college, (both of us) afraid and brave at the same time. I see you with Jasper – far more than a dog; more, a piece of you. I see you buying your first car, loading it up, and heading back to Montana – Jasper’s head out the window. I see you deliberating over excruciating and significant decisions while holding fiercely to your value and worth.

And I see you now – the sum total of all these moments plus a million more beside. 

I remain amazed by you: your strength, your honesty, your capacity, your determination, your deep desires, your endless hope, your open heart. 

I wonder what I will yet see, what more I will tell and write of on birthdays to come. I wonder about how many ways (plus a million more beside) will you change the world. I wonder how it is that I have been blessed beyond measure to be your mom. I wonder how my heart is to hold any more of the miracle that is you. And I wonder, almost every day, how that same heart is to survive the extravagant ache that continues to pulse as I wander in between the memory of that little girl glancing back at me on the sidewalk, making sure I was close, and the woman who now runs straight toward every bit of the life that is hers.

Despite all that is unknown, this remains certain and true: I love you in more ways than I can count (plus a million more beside). Happy 23rd Birthday, sweet girl.

Happy 24th Birthday, Emma Joy!

Happy 24th Birthday, Emma Joy.Though I’ve written these missives every year for a very long time, this one feels different. It’s weightier. More significant. More poignant.

This is, of course, because tomorrow you and I will get in a rented SUV and begin our 3000+ mile journey that takes you to your new and amazing life. I am excited for you. I am beyond-proud of you. I am in awe of your strength and courage. And I am struggling to find the words to express how much I will miss you.

It’s a strange thing: wanting your child to make her own decisions, forge her own path, have the capacity and desire to move across the country for a new job, new friends, a new life. But it’s a knife’s edge. Just on the other side is the part of me that desperately wants to keep you close, safe, protected. I can’t have both. And in truth, I don’t want both – no matter how hard it is to let you go. I want you to be you, to go out and live the huge and loud and colorful and wild and brave and amazing life that is yours…that has always been yours.

I’ve watched as you’ve struggled with the binding restrictions of culture, religion, expectations, academics, family, gender, voice, and power. But unlike so many, you have broken those chains – defied them, every one – and stepped into yourself, your heart, your knowing, your story, your strength. In truth, you’ve been doing this for years now. Tomorrow marks but one more – one more link to loosen and let go of. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. You are.

No surprise: I’m in tears. And I’m reminded of the ones I shed when you were born; finally in my arms after years of waiting, nearly all hope extinguished. Tears of joy. The rush of love. The power of your presence. Today’s tears are different, to be sure – leaving my arms after years of being close, now every hope realized. But still the joy, the rush of love, the power of your presence…whether near or far.

There will be more tears, I’m sure. As we cross through state after state – getting closer to Kentucky and the future that calls you forward. As we haul boxes up three flights of stairs. As I embed images in my mind of your neighborhood, your home, your friends, your workplace, your world. As we buy groceries and staples and open Amazon boxes. As I hold you one last time (for now) before getting on a plane. As I fly back. As I walk into the future that calls me forward.

I’m not sad. (Well, maybe a little…) I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m amazed. I’m overwhelmed by the gift you’ve been to me. And no matter what or where, always, endlessly, forever in my heart…you are my heart.

I love you, sweet girl. Happy Birthday.

Happy 22nd Birthday, Abby!

Oct 7, 2020 | Mothers and Daughters

Happy 22nd Birthday, Abby.

For many years I have written you a blog post on this day – commemorating the year that has passed and all I have witnessed and marveling at in you, your life, and who you are ever becoming. I’m not writing that post today – at least not as I have before.

Instead, I want to say “thank you.”

I know – being born wasn’t up to you; nor were so many of the memories you have created for me during these two-plus decades. Still, it’s the best way for me to capture what I feel when I look back, when I look ahead, when I look within, when I look at you.

Thank you.

Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for arguing with me. Thank you for laughing with me. Thank you for crying with me. And thank you for letting me do all of this with you. Thank you for being who you are: compassionate, intuitive, empathic, sensitive, beautiful, brave, brilliant, full of longing, driven, committed, passionate, funny, quirky, heart-centered, and so much more. Thank you for all that makes you you: your love for the Enneagram, great music, your amazing puppy, Jasper, sinfully delicious confections, hot Cheetos with queso, and the same kind of sushi as me. (Admittedly, I’ve left a few things out, but these come to mind as more recent iterations.) Thank you for modeling love: for your friends, your family, your amazing puppy, Jasper, your new home in Montana, and so much more. Thank you for being willing and able to name what you want, what you hope for, what disappoints you, what causes you pain, when you hurt, when you’re sad, what matters, what you can let go of and what you cling to with ferocious tenacity. Thank you for being honest and straightforward and endlessly committed to growing, developing, being the best you can be for yourself and others – even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. Thank you for modeling for me what 22 can look like – grounded, clear, wise, boundaried, and strong (all of which evaded me far beyond my 22nd birthday). Thank you for extending me the grace to change and transform and fail and fall and hope and hurt as a mom, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a leader, a woman. Thank you for loving me. And thank you for the gift, the miracle, really, of being privileged to love you.

Those who are yet to love you have no idea what they’re in for, all that they are yet to receive, all the change they will undergo, all the memories and experiences they will cherish – all because of you. 22 years ago I couldn’t possibly have had any idea what I was in for either. That’s probably just as well. My heart would not have been able to hold it all at once: holding you was almost more than it could take, more than I could believe or imagine. And that sensation, that experience, that gift is just as true today as it was on October 7, 1998.

Thank you, sweet girl, for showing up on the planet, in my world, and ever in my heart.

I love you.

Happy Birthday.

What is 23?

Oct 31, 2019 | Mothers and Daughters

I don’t like to even think about when I was 23, truth-be-told.

Which is why I love to think of you.

You, sweet girl, are the template, the map, the measure of what 23 can be, ought to be, is.

Not for anyone else, mind you. Just for you. Which is what I love about you perhaps more than anything else: you create (and demand) your own template, map, and measure. Anything manufactured, culturally applied, socially mandated, or expected in any way? Uh, no.

Perhaps this, in and of itself, isn’t that unique (though I’m highly biased and believe it is; it’s you, after all). Perhaps what is most unique is that you KNOW this about yourself. You KNOW you are not interested in any path that others say is best. You KNOW you’re carving your own way – even though it often feels uphill, daunting, and Sisyphus-like. You KNOW yourself – your strengths, your beauty, your skills, your desires, your struggles, your brokenness, your capacity, your values, your mind. You KNOW you.

I did not. Nothing even close.

But you? You shine. You radiate. You beam. You boldly enter every room, every space, every job, every relationship, everything with all of who you are. Unapologetically. Unconventionally. Unveiled. Unabashed. And in some ways, completely undone: open, exposed, raw, real. It is breathtaking. You are.

And because of all this (and so much more), I sit here this evening and wonder what 24 and 25 and 32 and 47 and 58 will look like for you. The protective, worrying “mom” part of me can grind my teeth a bit. But she is easily soothed, because the woman, the sage, the wizened one that I have become feels nothing of the sort. That woman – the one who could see nothing of herself at 23 – can see now. And she sees you.

I see you.

I am amazed. I am awed. I am overcome. As much today as when they placed you in my arms for the very  rst time. I looked down at your beautiful face and wept – so grateful that you had arrived, not yet knowing how you would invite me to do the same.

What is 23? It is you, Emma Joy. More than enough. Never too much. (Never too much.) An infinite well of longing and passion and empathy and anger and ache and generosity and wisdom and hope. And yes, always, always, so…much…joy.

Happy Birthday. I love you more than these words, any words, all the words in the world could ever say.