woman in front of wall where wings are painted

March 2024 Quote: Every Great and Difficult Thing Has Required a Strong Sense of Optimism

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For March 2024 my quote was: “Every great and difficult thing has required a strong sense of optimism.”

I was present in March, and yet it’s a blur. When I think about it, it’s like my memories were captured in watercolor, and someone poured water over them. The memories seem muted rather than crisp and define. Everything has a soft edge and is fuzzy – blurred. But I do have the clarity of quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention throughout the month to anchor me:

  • The rules of the road are to begin and to continue
  • The real gift of being a daughter of fire is that you remember always the world can be remade in an instant, if you have will enough
  • There are seasons for all things and there will come a time when the pieces that are not you will fall away easily, when you stop holding so tightly
  • Awe enables us to perceive in the world imitations of the divine—to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple
  • You are changing the world whether you like it or not
  • Only when fully in each moment can we draw strength from the oneness of things
  • The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks
  • One thing happened then another, and another
  • She was a supernova of joy
  • Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the weather is clear?
  • Not solving for, just being with
  • Each soul is a gust of God’s breath (unfolding in the great energy that surrounds us like an ever moving stream)
  • What we carry deep within, if we live honestly, with inevitably be worn outwardly
  • But what is grief, if not love persevering?
  • When the morning stars sang together
  • Where is your tender touch required?
  • It’s good to be in community with you
  • There is no end of things in the heart
  • Unwilling to be smaller than she is
  • Step into a soul-led path
  • I believe in kindness; also in mischief
  • Bet on your blaze
  • It is what it is, so let is be is
  • Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is to small for you
  • Now all your questions about heaven end, and all mine begin

I think March was a testament that life goes on and simply by being present – showing up – you get swept forward and move on too. After months living at my parents, supporting mom as dad’s caregiver, and then his death, I returned to “my life.” As if returning would be a reset, the pause button lifted.

I sought to re-establish routines, but they felt like they belonged to someone else. I sought stillness to try to feel, hear, and honor the emotions that churned, and cried every day as my body worked to released all that flooded me. I sought to rest, but the franticness of months of adrenaline surges had short circuited my wiring – full restorative sleep never came. I sought reflection and attended a mindfulness art class in which yellow emerged for me, along with the words: snub winter, vibrant renewal, energetic hope. I sought connection and found conversations of hope, comfort, joy, and understanding. I sought identity … how to be a daddy’s girl and preacher’s kid when the person who made me both was gone. I sought solid ground, to step off the wobbly Jello on which I stood, and feel planted, rooted again.

Seeking moved me forward with sunrise walks with a friend; new restaurants with mom; a different take on Easter in Fort Lauderdale; a soul-filling half-day with an out-of-town friend here for work; an alumni event with my college; a good strong bourbon; a boat ride soaking up sun; Sunday morning chapel; watering my plants, sharing memes with work friends; mailing fun cards to my besties; fresh oysters and a locally made cider; a new pair of boots; donating to good causes; and hugs from my sweetie.

Searching showed me that delight and devastation can go exists; that I can savor the past and dream for the future; and that the next will come.

My exploration – while not done – confirmed that life, specifically living it, heals.

woman and man in chair

February 2024 Quote: Listen Closely to the Silence

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For February 2024 my quote was: “Listen closely to the silence. It’s the sound of everything working out.”  

February was complex. It was the first month after my father’s death. I was on the phone a lot saying, “I’m calling on behalf of my father who died.” His birthday was this month. It was the first month mom did not have her Valentine in 59 years of marriage. It was heart health month and mom is a 5-bypass survivor. Every emotion was present. I worked to compartmentalize them so I could work, address our “to do list,” and play as life goes on – but alas they were there. Lurking. Pouncing. At times immediate and at others, a rising tide or shadow. Throughout the month here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention:

  • The joy of living is still available to us
  • Rest is a sense of “possibilitivity”
  • You have to continue to show up
  • Let me keep company always with those who say “look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads
  • While we are trying to make sense of things, many we learn to make peace with things
  • We share this human experience of love and loss
  • You are not your worries
  • We cannot shame ourselves into change – we can only love ourselves into evolution
  • Grieve peacefully
  • See what shimmers amid the darkness, what endures within their dust
  • I hope I see you in my dreams tonight; Healthy, happy – and content in your new world
  • That will scorch us with its joy
  • Be with the mind as it is, and practice anyway
  • Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.
  • Sometimes, I see the moon in the middle of the day and know I am held by something so much larger than myself
  • The sacred work of grieving
  • I am
  • Sit here while I pray
  • The whispers were coming
  • To live these moments only you will live, and say thank you that you are the one they were offered to

This month was reflective, prayer-filled, and joyful… and along the way, I realized:

… grief is proportionate to love, and I am grateful for the massive love my father gave me my entire life.

… you cannot comprehend grief until you have it, and those who share their knowledge or simply sit with you in the emotional overload and unknown are superheroes

… life is about community, and I – and my family – have an incredible one with life-long friends, college roommates, church members, volunteer buddies, neighbors, and angels placed on our path for a point in time

… “doing” is a wonderful, needed distraction, and “being” fully present, still, feeling, and reflecting is essential.

… laughter that builds from a giggle to tears is a magic elixir for anything

… grief is not about stopping but rather starting—an opportunity to seek, try, learn, and discover “next”

… pain is crushing alone, especially in the darkness of night, and 1am texts from a beloved night owl lights a path out of the loneliness

… there is no heavier weight to carry than your loved ones’ remains; it’s overpowering

… the mention of death really freaks a lot of people out – you can feel the awkwardness – and yet it is such a connectional experience we will all have

… art offers an emotional haven where the mind is still

… to never underestimate the comfort of a homemade casserole or soup, a strong bourbon, or a scoop of ice cream

… music in an on/off switch for emotions, especially church hymns

… nature knows and we need to visit it regularly

… prayer, ahhh prayer

Finally, I realized that the glimmer in my dad’s eye that so many commented on after his passing; his big smile and quick laugh; and his totally presence with all he encountered were due to his connection to death as a pastor. He knew our life is a God-given gift. A precious one filled with so many amazing people, sites, and experiences. He soaked up, celebrated, and praised them all. And this is what guides my grief and I carry forward.

man in glasses and woman

January 2024 Quote: Tension is Who You Think You Should Be. Relaxation is Who You Are.

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For January 2024 my quote was: “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”  

I love the start of something new. The fresh energy at the starting point. The contentment of getting organized and prepared. The hope for what is to come. Anticipation and trepidation swirled together in a delightful cocktail. This January, I got a different perspective. I saw the beauty of the end of something done amazingly well. This January, my father passed away after a decade of Alzheimer’s. Appreciation and loss raged in an emotional Tsunami. Throughout the month here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention:

  • We have magic to make
  • Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is a brave and meaningful act
  • Be exactly where you are and be grateful
  • My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger
  • Beloved is where we begin
  • He can hear your heart
  • Never wait to explore joy and open our arms to love
  • A perfectly imperfect bundle of curiosity, mayhem, and unintended bliss
  • Nourish and comfort
  • Misery might love company, but so does joy – and joy throws much better parties
  • Release the suck
  • It’s time for new
  • We’re all just walking each other home
  • Be at ease

January’s quote, picked unknowingly in December of what lay ahead, fit more than I could have predicted. As I abruptly stepped away from the tensions of work, community service, and the “shoulda’s,” and became emersed in the end of life of one of the two most influential people in my life. I relaxed into me. My focus no longer split or tied up in comparisons, but simplified into what was needed now, with him, for mom. My stress soared and prayers got longer; however, there was an undercurrent of ease. I faced the target in front of me without concern for image, “best practices,” or tradition. I let others step in to address the fray around me. The rest fell away.

Being fully myself in the moment let me experience it all, the fear and frantic to the tender and tears, and the magic and memories in between. And yes, the joy. The joy of sitting for hours holding his hand. The joy of his apology for being “a little shit” as I cleaned and dressed him. The joy of his rally and return of the sparkle in his eyes, interaction, and laughter. The joy of finding him pajamas with squirrels on them to keep him cozy. The joy of him looking at me directly in the eye after a squabble and declaring with resolution, “damn, you are just like me” – I beamed with pride and chuckled. The joy of the caregiver learning curve I had with mom and big laughs that resulted. The joy of seeing an expert, compassionate hospice team swoop in to care for him and support my mother gracefully. The joy of mom, dad, brother, and me all together in a quite prayer-filled moment the night before he died.

There is tension (maybe the better word is stress, worry, or overwhelm) that remains, but it centers on what to do next, not how to be. For that I will continue to look to my dad for guidance as explained in my eulogy at his funeral:

Over the past year staying at my parent’s house, I constantly replied to mom, “well, you know I am half you and half dad.” For which I’m grateful.

So now I will cry my emotions like mom and hopefully share the words like dad.

I will not tell you about who he was because you all knew. You knew from his words. You knew from his deeds. You knew from his faith-lived life.

Instead, I will share with you my last conversation with him. I awoke at 7am and listened to the baby monitor set up in his room. His breath clear and rhythmic. I did this often. Matching my breath to his to connect when words were not an option. Breathing together, in sync. Dad and Daddy’s Girl.

This time I noticed his cadence was different, quicker. I went to his room and listened more closely. I gave him his medication, and as the sun rose and warmed the sky, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “be at ease.”

I went back to bed to get a little more rest. Twenty minutes later I woke up suddenly, listened to the monitor. Silence. He was gone. At peace.

So, in his honor, I give you this charge and meditation:  Be at ease.

May you be at ease in the life God created for you.

May you be at ease in your career and volunteering – sharing your gifts with your community.

May you be at ease in the relationships that surround you… or be at ease to leave them and find those where you can.

May you be at ease with those who are different… welcoming unique, confronting tradition, celebrating diversity.

May you be at ease with those in crisis… holding their hand, sitting in silence, handing them a hankie.

May you be at ease in a faith that can be hard to follow.

May you be at ease in mourning, knowing that the pain and tears come from love.

May you be at ease to use your voice to protect and advocate for those in fear, in loss, in turmoil, in sickness, in isolation, in discrimination, in loneliness, and in conflict.

May you be at ease to let your light shine… smile with ease, laugh with ease, hug with ease, compliment with ease, encourage with ease.

May you be at ease at the end of a good day with a bowl of ice cream.

May you be at ease to pray, sit, pray, listen, pray, and pray some more.

May you be at ease to savor the beauty of nature and the birds’ song.

May you be at ease knowing that our loved ones are all called home to be with God.

May you be at ease here today in a community of love.

May you be at ease.

May you be at ease.

May you be at ease.

Angel on a Christmas tree

December 2023 Quote: Intention

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For December 2023 my quote was actually a word:  Intention.  

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, December was always a big month. There was always a feeling of getting called up from the minor Leagues to play in the “big show.” This was the month when it all came together. Add to that the southern family tradition of all the baked goods, decorations, and visits with extended family. It’s always been a hustle and bustle month filled with moments of seasonal glitter. I love this month for all the special treats it offers, and also try to be clear about what really matters in this holy time laced with sugar, hence my quote being a single focusing word, intention. Throughout December here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention:

  • Our worth is not measured by the level of our exhaustion
  • I am the human version of tangled Christmas lights
  • In your silence you will see and hear what you need to create
  • Transformational leadership always begins within
  • You are a strong daughter of God with angels with you
  • I’m just another version of you
  • You are perfectly human, so you are perfectly imperfect
  • Between stimulus and response there is a space; In that space is our power to choose our response; In our response lies our growth and freedom
  • What havoc have you created today
  • A valiant effort is courageous
  • Perfect laughed at me, right in the face
  • The God of your heart
  • A space of clarity to trust yourself
  • Divine navigation system
  • It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye
  • Shine your power
  • Make friends with chaos
  • I had to come to a place I was meant to be

December brought with it many surprises – some delightful and others gut wrenching. None as I expected. My guiding word for the month made both better. Through intention I did what mattered most and what was most needed. Did my master monthly plan occur as I envisioned? Hell no. What did occur was both good and different, and that was OK. My heart grew with glee and sobbed in sadness, and that was OK. I dazzled on some days and limped through others, and that was OK. I held tight to the essentials and let the fray fall away, and that was OK. My intention kept me in the moment, fully present for it all, and that was more than OK – it was purposeful.

So as a new year starts, I encourage you to find your OK. And to help you on your journey, I share with you my family’s angel. She is dirty with unruly hair and missing a hand. Her wings cock-eyed but sturdy. She is a hard working angel with a big heart.

May you call on her…
– for relief
– for hope
– for comfort
– for inspiration
– for shelter
– for joy
– for kindness
– for community
– for health
– for fortitude
– for stability
– for confidence
– for recovery
– for possibilities
– for clarity
– for friendship
– for connection
– for love
– for faith
– for what lies protected in your heart that you wish to resolve this year.

May she help you find and be OK.

quote "I am the human version of tangled Christmas lights"

Curiosity Rather Than Comparison

It’s a curious time of year. Christmas, a religious season of anticipation, joy, and gratitude, is more competition than contemplation. The approaching new year brings with it the pressure to do more, do better, do it! As if the expiration date for what matters in our lives is racing forward and the possibilities will end by next December 31. Add to this end of year performance evaluations at work. Was your year enough? Did you measure up? All around us are various measurements. Number of gifts. Number of accomplishments. Number of year-end bonuses. All generating a feeling of how do I compare, and what more needs to be done? Enough is not in the picture.

In a conversation this week, I asked “what if you approached it from a lens of curiosity rather than comparison?” And, as is often the case, I realized the question was as much for me as it was for them.

Curiosity… a strong desire to know or learn something. Rather than get sucked in the holiday frenzy of do more in a prove-it culture where action is rewarded with more doing—what if we got curious and explored it all instead?

We could investigate how we feel buying all the gifts. After all, baby Jesus got three.

We could determine what traditions serve us now, and which to retire.

We could reflect on the joys, growth, and gaps in this year. Soak in the fullness of our life now before we jump into next.

We could search within ourselves and determine what emotions we wanted more of in 2024, rather than the stuff. Delight? Serinity? Awe? Wonder? Enthusiastic? Focused? Grateful? Bold? Jovial? Strong? Tolerant?  

We could check on our energy at the end of each workday. Was the depletion worth it? What charged us up? Is it sustainable? What do we want more of, regardless of if it’s on the corporate score card?

We could connect with our relationships. Who do you miss? Who makes you glow? Who can you help? Who can you let go?

We could get curious about ourselves… about what we feel… about why we do what we do… about our beliefs… about out potential… about our fears… about our pain… about our secrets… about our joys… about the baggage we carry… about what we’re ready to release… about what makes our soul sing… about what matters, not compared against the seasonal scorecard, but against the core of who we are and how we want to be.


November 2023 Quote: Always Be on the Lookout for the Presence of Wonder

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For November 2023 my quote was “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”  

Fall is my season. The crisp air. The wind gusts. The colorful leaves. They all re-fill my soul. My feet feel more rooted to the ground. I feel more present in my body. I seem to notice more details in the world around me. It’s all more vivid. It feels like a cross between the sensation Superman feels when he gets recharged by the sun after exposure to Kryptonite and the shift in Dorothy when she enters the technicolor world of Oz. As I soaked all this up in November here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention along the way:

  • One can only share what she has in plenty
  • I’m not afraid, I was born to do this
  • Be a voice not a echo
  • Life will always find ways for you to thrive
  • Her tears were the most healing waters of them all
  • Wisdom keepers in the shape of trees
  • The sand assures us change is inevitable
  • Nature is always present; it is us who are not
  • Drop our roots deep to rise high
  • Wait in faith for just a moment
  • She used her heart as a compass
  • It broke me and I asked my soul to lead
  • Hope is a practical way of life
  • Soul whispers
  • Seeing people with generous eyes
  • Hold on to the sense of possibility
  • Decide to rise
  • Soul rest
  • Freedom is not a state, it’s an act
  • Don’t you want to be alive before you die?
  • The impossible just takes a little longer
  • Ittibi oksifoshi’ ihoo chohmi! (Fight like a hatchet woman)
  • The body tells us what we need
  • Grief is love with nowhere to go
  • Relationships travel at the speed of vulnerability
  • Kaddish (holy; separate from the every day)

As a self-proclaimed communications geek I love words. Words can be so simple and yet make a huge impact. They can inspire, comfort, clarify, hurt, empower, and confuse. Words impact our whole being – head, heart, and body. We feel them and carry them with us. Words matter.

One of my favorite words is wonder, so much so that it was my word this year (some folks set a goal or intention, I pick a word to embrace). I wanted more wonder. More wide-eye child-like experiences. More connection to something beyond my reality. More time to literally wonder, think, and just be. More of what definitions use to describe wonder:  feeling of surprise mingled with admiration; caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable; something extraordinary.

In my heightened fall state, I realized that my life was indeed saturated in wonder… especially in the “extra-ordinary” moments.

Wonder wedged its way in as I stood and watched the orange sun push away the evening darkness.

Wonder erupted on a call with a group of professional women I chat with monthly through genuine conversations, heart-felt support, and big laughs.

Wonder delivered itself through a thoughtful piece of mail marked “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL THANKSGIVING!”

Wonder chimed in as I got my groove on and danced to a favorite tune as I made lunch in the middle of a hectic work day

Wonder came as I sat in my church’s tiny white chapel in silence before the service and the morning sun poured in on me through the window.

Wonder sparkled as I drove at 6am in the dark to make an appointment and holiday lights lit my way.

Wonder smacked me upside the head when a friend looked me in the eye and asked, “How are you taking care of yourself?”

Wonder got a voice when I chose to donate to a nonprofit that supports Native America women who experience violence at significantly higher rates than other Americans, as part of my annual “thank you” to my work team.

Wonder moved into my morning with a friend as we shared, vented, and laughed walking around the neighborhood.

Wonder appeared when a high school bestie brought her dad, daughter, and granddaughter over at 8:30pm to sing Happy Birthday to my mom and dole out hugs.

Wonder clicked its way in with a text of thanks from a former coworker.

Wonder came together as I finished knitting a baby blanked for a friend’s first child.

Wonder grew as I listened to a Rabbi explain Jewish prayer to a room full of captivated Presbyterians.

Wonder smelled of home when I made my grandmother’s family’s stuffing recipe for Thanksgiving.

Wonder fell as I watched the orange leaves continuously float in the breeze one morning, and dad commented, “look, it’s like orange snow.”

Actually, wonder was always there… I just took the time to notice it and soak it all in.

woman with bow and arrow

October 2023 Quote: Out of Your Hands, Free From Your Mind

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For October 2023 my quote was “If it’s out of your hands, it deserves to be out of your mind, too.”  

October marks my new year, as it’s my birthday month. Over the years I’ve gotten more and more intentional about what I do in this month… specifically what tone do I want to set for my next year. This year it began with a two-day mindful leader summit filled with educational content and lots of meditation practices. It closed with a Lord of the Rings costume party at a horse farm in Tennessee with my extended family. In between were compelling conversations, long hugs, big laughs, hard tears, and introspection. Here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention along the way:

  • It’s weird, it’s human, it’s inexplicable
  • Sparring with uncertainty
  • What messages came back to you?
  • Be in the mystery of it
  • With anticipation
  • Tune into your bold
  • The strength of one resolute soul can become the strength of many
  • Could we shut out the background noise and remember our truth?
  • It broke me and I asked my soul to lead
  • Energy follows thought
  • We all must choose our path in life, but let us also strew that path with flowers
  • I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be
  • Forever evolving
  • Soul whispers
  • Then I put on my crown of joy
  • Spread your arms and hold your breath; Always trust your cape
  • Drink like a pirate and dance like a mermaid
  • Your dream is the plan
  • Forget about enlightenment – sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind singing in your veins
  • You are what you practice
  • Drop our roots deep to rise high
  • Wait in faith for just a moment
  • Rip up the script and make magic
  • She used her heart as a compass

Near the end of the month, I sat on the interstate going 5mph for about 45 minutes. I had been cruising at top speed with the sunroof open, crisp air swirling, as I sang loud to my playlist. The slow-down, slowed all of me down. I turned off the tunes and took some deep breaths. I then got a chuckle as I looked to my right and there were two tractor trailers pulling double cabs of porta potties – about 80 toilets in total. Here I am in a mindful moment, being fully present, with thoughts swirling in my head, and I’m surrounded by poop potties. The Universe is always good to show us our place and provide a humbling laugh. Perhaps those poop potties were where I needed to dump my ruminating thoughts.

Then a call came in from a college friend. “Happy early birthday… what is your intention for the year?” Ooof, big question to which I didn’t have an answer and didn’t want to toss one out flippantly. I told her of my current view and that I better wait for more scenic inspiration. The joy-filled call ended, and I eased along down the road with her question on my mind, and Tracy Chapman’s poignant tunes in the background as the sun set.

The result… connection. I realized that throughout the month, what I unknowingly laid out, were moments of connection. Connection to the quiet nooks and crannies inside myself. Connection to loved ones. Connection to fun. Connection to possibilities.

Here’s to my next year and the connections to come.

dark strom clouds and orange umbrella

September 2023 Quote: Both a Masterpiece and a Work in Progress

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote that calls to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For September 2023, my quote was “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.”  

September marks a new year for me. Even now, I cannot shake the back-to-school, new season vibe. There is the call of the Siren for new office supplies … oh how I love new notebooks and pens, and long to wrap my books in paper bag covers that I doodle on all year long. There is getting “back to it” after the calm, playfulness of summer. There is an energetic shift felt as the crisp air whispers, “quick, winter is on its way.”

Yet, I found myself lingering a bit this September. Hesitant to jump all in. Savoring the last of the extended sunny days and laziness of vacation. It was this juxtaposition between “go, go, go” and “be, be, be” that I found myself throughout the month. I moved through it in a whirlwind interrupted by sporadic, abrupt pauses. Here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that caught my attention along the way:

  • Don’t ever let them tell you who you are
  • Before 50, you’re paid for what you do; after 50 for what you know
  • Volcanic clarity that comes when you speak from the absolute center of your being
  • Whenever I surrender, everything expands
  • Discomfort is a teacher
  • Every process differs, trust yours
  • Communal energy
  • No amount of worry will give you back even 2 hours
  • My validation came from inside
  • You take what you have and you march it forward
  • I had to become more comfortably afraid
  • Rest in it
  • Change is made of miracles in the mundane
  • Do it like your hair is on fire
  • Collude against illusion
  • The only thing different between crazy and courage is a plan
  • Take time to absorb

My “masterpiece” moments showed up when I facilitated a dynamic client meeting that generated client accolades; released a new blog to which a reader shared, “I love it when another golden acorn drops;” coached someone who wrote, “I really appreciate you helping me… You’re so, so good at this;” delivered a prayer at a complex church meeting and afterward a pastor said it was an “art form;” and when I opened my network to a co-worker for help she emailed me, “you are the beset and always seem to make things perfect in the world. Thank you.”

My “work in progress” kept me in a frantic state spinning. Mistakes made. Calls missed. Fitness skipped. Connection overlooked. Fun delayed. Sugar eaten. Veggies missed. To do’s not done. Absently present.

Most people only share their or see other’s curated masterpieces. For me, the work in progress – while often done privately and in intimate ways – is most meaningful when shared.

I got empathy from a new client when I revealed a private stressor in my life. I got access to an expert when I expressed my confusion on a project. I got a much needed hug at 8pm one night from a life-long friend who worked around my crazy calendar to see me. I got to participate in a class with a thought leader when I shared a personal career goal – for free! I got unexpected medical care for a loved one when I shared we had hit a wall. I got a new walking buddy when I re-connected with a neighbor.

Each time I revealed my works in progress (struggles, insecurities, concerns) … a masterpiece of support appeared. All of which made the issue easier to handle and work on together. My works in progress were someone else’s masterpiece moments, and I’m grateful they shared them with me.  

Here’s to creating together.

toddler wearing a cowboy hat on a play horse

7 Approaches for Purposeful Event Design & Facilitation

As a consultant I treat the work my clients trust me with as a gift. They trust me with their hardest problems, their personal vulnerabilities, and their dreams. I try to handle each one as a sacred heirloom. My goal is to help take something that is fragile (from newness or fear) and make it sturdy and long-lasting. In this work, I find several things the most precious to be trusted with: ghostwriting, media preparation, and facilitation. Today, I’m going to share about facilitation as I’ve had more inquiries about it lately from clients, peers, and mentees alike.

I think facilitation is precious because of the power a dynamic event or meeting can generate. The endorphins from an inspiring collaborative session. The access to a national expert to inform or change thinking. The new ways to approach a problem and/or work with a team. Basically, a well-designed and thoughtfully facilitated event can crank folks up for good or squash their spirits.

At this point in my career, I have spent thousands of hours facilitating – from a planning session with a small non-profit to 300+ person multi-day offsites for the federal government. Through these sessions, I’ve come to rely on seven things that help me design and facilitate sessions that client and participant alike rate highly. I thought it would be helpful to explain them within the context of a national childcare care summit I did this month. Here we go…

Start at the end.

I do not do any work on an event until the client clearly and specifically answers this question: “When the event (meeting, offsite, session) is over, what three things do you want to have occur and/or have in hand?” I get this answer to be as precise and granular as possible. For the child summit, it began as “get recommendations” and ended up as “two recommendations from each group which address the what, the why, and the how for one single thing.” The preciseness enabled me to create a breakout session that was (1) interactive, (2) contained quite time for personal reflection, (3) templates to capture all the discussion and additional recommendations, and (4) targeted prioritized recommendations.

Think wholistic.

While each event has a desired outcome, it’s not just about the work. It’s about how the whole experience enables the outcome to occur. It’s for this reason I ask each client, “How will you know the event was successful… what will you feel, hear, and see?” This is an activity in visualization which helps everyone begin to see the event together. It’s important to give the client time to think about this and let their vision occur – in other words, don’t pounce on them with “would you like…” questions. After all facilitating is about making space for ideas. For this event the client wanted a casual environment that helped people of various backgrounds and titles feel equal and empowered to share their ideas. This resulted in name tags with only a person’s first name, a commitment (see next item) that focused on getting everyone’s input, and breakout room facilitators prepped to reduce dominant voices and amplify others.

Commit to common behavior.

Many facilitators call these “norms.” But after thousands of hours facilitating, there is nothing normal about how groups come together, and some things that are perceived to be a “norm” is not a typical group dynamic based on their organization or team. So, I recently changed to offering “commitments.” This is how we will commit to work together in this space in community… and after I presented them (reading them as I statements) I asked the childcare summit group to give me a resounding “wooo hooo!” to show their commitment. For this event it was, “I commit to…”:

  • Quiet my technology and be present
  • Focus on overarching issues and solutions (verbal side note – this isn’t about your personal problems)
  • Listen to learn and speak to educate
  • Seek out input from every participant
  • Use “yes, and…” when I respond to build stronger recommendation (verbal note: no one can respond with no or yes, but…)
  • Create singularly focused recommendations

Think about the participant.

So often facilitators get caught up on the client and their needs. It’s important to always ask yourself, “Would I like to attend and participate in this event?” or “How would I feel about spending # hours of my time in this way?” So many planning sessions and events I attend are geared to auditory learners (lots of time listening) and external processors (also known as extroverts who think with their mouths). It’s important to have something for every type of adult learner.

For the childcare summit I included the following:  visual learners got some PowerPoint slides, written instructions, and a worksheet to follow; kinesthetic learners got fillable worksheets; auditory learners got speeches and verbal instructions; Linguistic learners had interactive group discussions; Logical learners got a three-step process in the workgroups and polling data. Intrapersonal learners (introverts) got several reflective quite times built into the plenary session and workgroups. Interpersonal (extroverts) had social breaks and collaborative work sessions. Everyone had one or two ways to function in their preferred learning environment which helped them be better contributors to the purpose at hand.

Also, always do a walkthrough of the event… from opening the email or invite the night before, to transportation, registration, seating, heating/air conditioning, time to move between sessions, bathrooms, and more. Move like they would, look around, and think about the problems they might run into, questions they might have, or tools they might need in order to get and be there in a calm and productive state. For this event, the walk through resulted in a few more pre-event logistical emails, event signage, escorts through the large building, pre-ordered lunch options, and more microphones.

Oh, and speaking of microphones… never let a speaker convince you they don’t need one due to their loud voice. A mic is not for them – it’s for the participants; many of whom have hearing deficits which you won’t know about. If they cannot hear they cannot learn, think, or contribute to your work at hand.

Make it appropriate.

From your ice breaker to your activities, everything should align to the topic and add to participant’s connection to the cause or work. For example, at one two-day planning session on rural health, I had enormous photos of rural images from across the United State literally wallpaper the room. Anywhere someone sat or worked in a group it was like they were looking out a massive window at a tranquil rural vista. This relaxed participants, made the internal windowless conference room less morbid, and reminded folks why they were in the room.

For the childcare summit, playfulness was appropriate. Preschoolers learn so much through games, imagination, art, and song. I wanted participants to reconnect with their inner child. I opened with a mindful meditation on nine photos of different clouds (with the guidance that the day was for “blue sky thinking”) and folks picked which cloud best represented their mood. I made mention of daydreaming, stretching for dodgeball at recess, and sang part of “where is thumbpkin.” I also had the room play Simon Says as part of a mid-day knowledge check. In small groups, participants used this model to introduce themselves: (1) say their first name, (2) explain what they did for a living to a five-year-old, and (3) share their favorite children’s book, song, or movie. Each small element generated a more playful – child-like – session and it showed up in the participant’s energy. In case you’re wondering, “I’m Emily. I get folks to think about and do things using words and pictures, and my favorite children’s book is Dandelion.”

Also, I created a day-off event text for the four-person client team, myself, and two teammates so we could easily stay in touch and make adjustments. To set the tone for the day, I kicked off the text stream with the photo on this blog of me as a toddler “rearing to go” on my favorite bouncy horse pony toy, with the reminder to keep our “child-like wonder and enthusiasm throughout the day.”

Center yourself.

While the client itsthinking about the event and outcomes and staff/team are working on logistics… you need to work on yourself. What do you need to be successful in the moment? I found that a detailed facilitation guide is a must have. It’s less a guide and more like a full out play script of things I might say or questions I might use. I found that when I write it all out by time slot, that I can find :

  • Areas that feel bumpy which makes me re-explore them for a new solution
  • Areas that are too wordy that I need to rethink, cut, or put on a screen or pre-read
  • Areas that are stagnant due to too much listening or not enough movement, and redesign them
  • Areas where I don’t have the right tools or set up in the room which I resolve
  • Areas where I didn’t allocate enough time and rejigger the agenda

Creating it and practicing with it also helps me internalize the flow and instructions so I can be more present and responsive in the moment. I think less about what I have to do, and more about what I need to do when I’m at the event interacting with participants comments, fears, confusion, and ideas.

This guide also helps me show the game day event very clearly to the client as a final check that we’re on the same page. I always include the caveat that is a starting place for me and that I will, at some point, leave the guide which means my words will change or even a planned activity because it’s about being fully present in the group and responding to the needs in the room… but always with the clear understanding of the three things that must be in hand at the end of it all.

I also found I need to block off 1 hour each day the week leading into the group to truly get my head in the game. I do this by visualizing, reviewing the script, and prepping my outfit which impacts my mood, motion, and success. I also dedicate half of the day before the event to do a full mental walkthrough of the entire event and practice my parts, especially how to pronounce names. On the day of, I pack a bag of water and protein-based snacks with some chocolate, get there before the team for quite time in the space, and try to have time alone at lunch to recenter. Finally, I block the day or weekend after for quite time as my introvert battery is depleted.

Get feedback.

It’s important to understand how it all came together to help your client get necessary resources, to understand how participants valued the time they gave to the work, and to grow as a facilitator—from what you design to how you deliver it day of. This can be as simple as a +/- on an easel pad to capture “what worked” and “what needs improvement.” It can be five rated questions emailed the day after the event so folks have time to process the experience. Or in the case of the childcare summit, we did a few polling questions – from questions with a 6-point scale (6=outstanding, 1=lacking), to forced choice questions (pick the one from a list), or build a word cloud (we used mentimeter website), such as “one word that describes your experience at the event.”

I also like to do a post-event “hot wash” where we capture what was great, what worked good enough, what didn’t work (and how to fix it), and what was missing. I always directly ask about my job as a facilitator – either in a formal event assessment, to some participants, or with the client; as everyone has a different perspective and helpful input.

Finally, if you’re looking to learn more about facilitating these are my go-to recommendations: 

  • Whole Mind Facilitation by Eric Meade … he and I have facilitated at various times together for a decade and each time I learn something new from the collaboration.
  • The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker … it covers all kinds of events from national conferences to dinner parties, and how to make them intimate, compelling, and creative.

 Good luck out there, and please share your facilitation lessons learned!

Books – September 2023

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, MD

I intentionally got this book for vacation thanks to the recommendation by Kristen Lisanti, a mindful coach and agent for change. As a certified workplace mindfulness facilitator, I know the benefit of mindfulness – “having good control over your attention” or put another way, “when your attention is steady, so is your mind.” This book offers simple content, scientific validation, and personal practices to change your brain because “what flows through your mind sculpts your brain.”

With the continued frenetic pace of corporate America, I think it’s important for leaders (anyone at any level) to understand the science of the brain and how you can work to adjust how it works in your favor. Basically, “attention is like a spotlight, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain.” Rick does a great job breaking down how the brain works at various levels to show just how much of our perception, thinking, and responses are literally hardwired through evolution and brain wiring. Our brains control us through:

  • Its built in “negativity bias” that primes you for avoidance
  • How it processes stress to set  you up for fear and anger
  • Its need to chase, understand, and control the past to avoid manage change in the future
  • Its preference to find, register, store, recall and react to unpleasant experiences, even if there are more positive ones

Thinking about Maya Angelou’s quote, “when you know better, you do better,” this book will help readers move from automation to intention through a few practices (all free!) that improves the function of our three pound brain muscle.

A jarring concept for me was “nothing left out” and how when we frame someone as “us” or “they” – our brain automatically devalues anyone who is not “us.” That it takes significant attention to focus on how we are alike to override the brain. Just think about this from the lens of organization culture, system development, DEIA initiatives, politics, religion, and community development.

The science in the book also showed how simple brain improvement can be. “Oxygen is to the nervous system what gasoline is to your car.” You see, while your brain is just 2% of your body weight, it uses roughly 20% of your oxygen. So, simply taking several deep breathes you increase oxygen in your blood which revs up your brain. So, with this in mind, take a deep breath and start working on your brain.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Everyone should read this book. Better yet, every family should read this book together and talk about it. As a preacher’s kid and preacher’s sister, I am keenly aware of death – anticipated and tragic. Add to that my experience of working with the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs division with families of the fallen during the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Death comes. This book – read wonderfully and personally by the author – is an intimate look at how medicine, doctors, retirement living, and hospice look at and address dying. This is not about the moment of death but the slow demise of our body and mind as we age, and ways to think about living in that state for a longer period of time as more folks live into and beyond 80. The author shares some compelling data but it’s largely a book of family stories through his work and research as a physician. Each story gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on what they might want for themselves (have you told your loved ones or put it in writing?) or how they might need to rethink their parent’s or loved one’s aging is being handled now. While any book on dying has hard moments, the book focuses on compassion and has hope… and offers empowering choices for a critical time in all of our lives.

Adversity for Sale (Ya Gotta Believe) by Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins

I love listening to people read their autobiography. Hearing their voice share their story adds a texture and connection — and makes it more personal. The gravel and grit in Jeezy‘s (Jay Jenkins) voice adds a whole other dimension as he told his story. I had no clue about Jeezy’s drug dealer days or music when I downloaded the book. He – and “trap music” – were a total unknown. Listening to the book opened up a whole other world, to say the least. In between movie like situations as a drug dealer in Atlanta spending $60,000 or more a night in cash at a favorite strip club with endless Cristal champagne, he shared great nuggets such as “my word is my bond,” following your own path, value of loyalty, stepping away to check in with yourself before you make a rash decision, the power of a network, and how personal health impacts your success. He shared a life of juxtaposition – from the hustle, guns, and “auntie moms” to the purpose we all share to “love and learn” and please to reach out for help to prevent suicide. What’s also impressive to think about, as he mentioned at the start, is he’s the third generation from slaves. Three generations from slavery to life in the “hood” to a net worth of $15M as a multi-platinum selling musician.

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emly Habeck

This was a spontaneous grab at the local bookstore at Sunset Beach, NC, Pelican Books. It is a small but mighty bookstore with a little bit of everything. Everyone in my family can find something anytime we go. This book was showcased as an independent pick, and how can you not grab a love story to read on the beach about newlyweds… especially when the husband transforms into a great white shark? I wasn’t sure if this was a literal or figurative transformation which enticed me even more. It’s a creative book that drew me in and kept me captivated. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot or book structure so you can experience it as I did – diving in fresh. I will share it’s about transformation at every level… and the magnitude of it all kind of sneaks up on you at the end.

The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Practice to Success that Feeds – Not Crushes – Your Soul by Brad Stulberg

I listened to this book while walking on the beach. The sensation of sand between my toes and the powerful waves crashing nearby added to the concept of groundedness. Brad uses stories, data, and practices to offer ways to be more mindful about how you show up as a person and leader.

He covers the principles of groundedness and how to bring them to life:  accept where you are to get where you want to go; be present so you can own your attention and energy; be patient and you’ll get there faster; embrace vulnerability to develop genuine strength and confidence; build deep community; and move your body to ground your mind.

I found his principles – and how to embody them – practical. I’ll also add that practical is anything but simple as I’ve worked on many of these over the years. I do know, however, that trying and retrying each one is well worth the benefit.

A few phrases I took away from this book:

  • If you’re lonely at the top you’re doing it wrong
  • Separate signal from noise
  • The goal is to give an honest effort
  • Productive activity not productivity
  • Habit energy
  • You don’t become what you think, you become what you do
  • You’ll be pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden of your mind
  • Sacred practices
  • Less candy; more nourishment
  • Touching bliss
  • Don’t just do something, stand there
  • Seeing and letting go

And, I leave you with this data point:  Research shows a 10% drop in IQ due to multitasking. So “quality of your attention” matters.

Happy reading.