Group 15! The Connection During Covid group!

Wow. Let’s talk about the shitshow this year has been. Enforced lockdowns, quarantining, restrictions in social and family gathering, suspension of group activities, fear of contracting the virus, lifestyle changes, relationship changes, homeschooling, temporary and permanent layoffs, loneliness, loss, boredom, grief…I don’t even want to go on because we all know it, have experienced it, and have been affected in one way or another by all of the Covid-related “symptoms”. And all of it has led to differing levels of stress and detrimental effects on our mental health, some of us more than others. Without the ability to process these things in actual face-to-face conversation with our friends/family/peers, we have found this sort of subject matter as an increasingly burdensome weight. Rates of mental illnesses, such as depression, have escalated worldwide, so much so that doctors have referred to it as a “second pandemic.”

At the same time that we’ve been separated from true social connection, here in the United States we’ve been dealing with political adversity, with racially motivated hate, with watching children being separated from parents, with mass shootings AGAIN, with distrust in authority/those who are supposed to keep us safe, the list goes on and on. We’ve been struggling through these events and attempting to “tread water” all while these things rip apart our sense of safety – these events feel real to us and like real trauma even if we aren’t directly involved. This all ends up feeling like some very real PTSD – we’re experiencing all of this and, rather than being able to come together and heal, we are instead scared and angry and tearing each other apart. Social media, what has been most of our only form of social connection this past year, has become such an intensely hateful, confusing pit of disgusting, vitriolic comments and messages.

Remember what it’s like to hug a loved one? To feel that energy between you? To sit across from a friend and tell them a story and watch their facial expressions in response? To have them hold your hand in comfort? To look at their face and know simply from their expression that they care for you? To share a meal and laugh and feel that high from authentic engagement with people you enjoy?

Yeah, it’s been A LOT to have ripped away, especially during such despairing events around us. Technology definitely does not replace human interaction. Truly connecting with others is basic to our psychology as humans – it is the lifeblood of community.

Even if we didn’t have all of these outside struggles bearing down on us, we all have our own personal and intricate demons that hold us back. The main insecurity that comes up as an ongoing theme throughout the years of facilitating this project is simply this: Not Enough. I can’t tell you how often that is the underlying theme and/or so often the blatant one that screams out from the chalkboard. You can peruse the photos from the 109 different participants so far and you will see exactly what I mean. There are enough of us struggling with this issue of worthiness that it’s shaping the culture. It has created this fierce, merciless, dog-eat-dog mentality.  

Contrary to this is what happens when we experience shared vulnerability – we create light in these scary and dark spaces. When we reach out and share ourselves – all the grit, the struggles, the fears, along with the wonders, the hopes and joy – we create little sparks of connection. Being vulnerable like this is definitely not always easy. We generally appreciate vulnerability in others but are so hesitant to practice it ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had strangers write in to me after reading participants’ stories in a blog post and them saying “(So-and-so)’s story resonated so much with me! Thank you for doing this! I could never participate in something like this myself, but I really loved being able to relate to his/her words.” Which is understandable. We’re most often afraid that our own truth isn’t enough. Someone else’s is admirable, but somehow ours is different. The change comes when you realize that valuing and sharing your own vulnerability is going to allow you to move forward in a way that may have seemed impossible prior. If we can share our story with others who show understanding and empathy and hold this safe space for us, the shame of our vulnerability cannot survive. When we realize that we’re not alone, that our experience is HUMAN, the impact is huge. However, it takes a first step – realizing that nothing else we’ve been doing has been working. Realizing that we’ve been doing things in the same pattern, the same loop, and getting the same disappointing results. Then comes the time to give ourselves the permission to take off the proverbial mask and own our story. As my hero/mentor, Brene Brown, says, “We must remember that our worthiness, that core belief that we are enough, comes only when we live inside our story. We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them – denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness. Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.” 

This project cannot happen without people who are willing to do the work. It is dependent on people desiring different results than what they’ve been getting. It requires courage and bravery to bare one’s soul not only to the strangers in front of them during the group, but also knowing that other strangers will also have access to their stories/their vulnerability and can choose to act on that how they will. On that note, as I’ve said a million times before, criticism and negative responses to the stories these participants have shared will simply not be allowed. As Brene Brown once again says, “If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Now, Group 15. Let’s rewind back to February of 2020, when I was so very excited to get back to this project and get down to some real discussion and connection again – we had planned this group to take place at the end of March 2020. And then, BAM! #THANKSCOVID
I had had to put this project on hold for the 3 ½ years prior due to relationship/work/life changes, but my soul was experiencing a huge void with its absence . I was falling further and further into a hole of murkiness watching the world collapse around me and mourning the fact that we had a supposed “leader” of our country who was so quick to incite others to bitterness and hatred. Looking back, I really regret the fact that I wasn’t able to provide this platform DURING that mess, when connection, compassion, and relatability was really needed most. Living life as a single mother wasn’t lending itself well to making the return of the project happen, though, unfortunately. At the end of 2019, however, I experienced a newfound motivation and determination to make it happen again. Covid may have delayed it a bit, but here we are.

Group 15 felt…different. In the most magical, inspiring, bonding, loving, connecting way that “different” can be. Not to say that prior groups haven’t experienced those things, but it was as if the stresses of this year prior and the anticipation of this group FINALLY convening really made the coming together even that much more impactful. I knew instantly that these six participants, along with the three of us facilitating, would be absolutely bonded for life. There was already a harmony and connection between everyone upon sitting down. It was palpable. It was beautiful. 


This is also the first group (besides our intentional “Couples” group, Group 10) that took place with a cis male joining an all cis female group. That, in itself is admirable. Think about that – the sad truth is that the societal expectation is for men not to be vulnerable. Rather, they are expected to stuff those feelings and remain “strong” for the rest of us…”Man up!” “Don’t be a pussy!” Even when we think we want them to be vulnerable, even when we ask for such vulnerability, the unfortunate truth is that most of us as women actually recoil in fear when it happens. Which manifests itself in distaste and disappointment. It’s an unfortunate cycle of a stereotype that needs to be obliterated. We were honored to have Eric join us and we embraced his courageousness in being vulnerable with us and trusting us and the process.

We discussed so many things in this group. One permeating theme was of loss. Loss of community when leaving a marriage, loss of community when leaving a religious organization or cult, loss of humans we love, loss of self-identity, and more. So much discussion surrounding community and what that means to each of us. What it’s like to feel abandoned by the only sense of community we may have ever known. What that does to our psyche. What it’s like to essentially “rebuild.” What it feels like to have to set boundaries in these new settings so as not to repeat old patterns. The ickiness and discomfort when realizing relationships we’ve held true for many, many years just don’t actually work for us anymore. The comprehension that growth and change often reveal themselves in stark awareness that what we thought was working for us, WHO we thought was working for us, are actually the things holding us back. Nichole at one point used the term “gaslighting our own intuition” and it stuck with me. Not only can others manipulate us to question our own intuition/gut feelings, but we can do this with ourselves. Both are so harmful. And it’s likely we’ve been sitting in both for a long time. When leaving a community, as Chelsey did with marriage and leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, and as the rest of the participants did in different aspects, whether marriage/work/religion/relationships/friendships, there is initially such a profound sense of loss and failure and guilt. It can take so much to work through those defeating feelings and find a place of self-identity again. And trying to build community through new relationships can be just as challenging, as discussed with Jessica in regard to embracing cultural differences in new relationship/familial settings. We each have such unique challenges, and yet we can relate to each other in aspects of all of them. The heartfelt discussion that went on in this group and the reciprocity of emotion and understanding – there’s nothing like it. It was so inspiring and motivating and I can’t wait to continue to have like discussions in thousands of groups to come.

And the love and positivity that comes from all of you who wrote in for these participants – there are no words to describe the effects they have in reinforcing these participants’ strengths. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it with each group: I get to know a participant a little bit when they send me their write-up about their insecurity, but you know when I really get to know them? When I receive the things that you, their friends and family, have written in about them. THAT is the person that I meet. ALWAYS. They are not their insecurity. They are everything beautiful that you have written. And they shine when they hear these messages and realize that this is true. So, a million times THANK YOU. This project doesn’t work without your love for them and your willingness to share that love with the rest of us.

And now, please meet Eric, Lilly, Devonna, Chelsey, Jessica, and Nichole. Dive into their stories and please leave notes as to how their story speaks to you – let them know if you were moved by their courage in sharing. When these blogs come out, it feels very revealing for them, as if they’ve just lived that nightmare of showing up naked to school. So, be kind. Anything else simply is not allowed. Thank you.

Eric

That I’m not good enough and not worthy of, or deserve, love and acceptance. My brain wants me to believe that I will fail before I even try and that I don’t have the qualities of someone worth loving. These subconscious thoughts have prevented me from even attempting a lot of things in my life that I want.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

Love who you are and don’t try to be anyone else. Loving yourself will attract others that love you in your life. Believe in yourself and TRY even if you’re afraid you won’t succeed. Be vulnerable, because that opens the door to true connection.

Eric’s friends and family:

Dear Eric my Kweesan, there are so many things I appreciate and love about you and I am happy you asked, you deserve to hear this information from family and friends. Where do I start? One of the things I love most about you is you are spontaneous and joyful. Whenever I have given you an invitation you have jumped at the chance for adventure. Even if it is an invitation to come to Portland, share a hotel room and spend the days tying hundreds of knots to hand build a kayak you are down. I am not sure what that time meant to you, but for me, I cherish it. Time spent on a simple activity, basically just hanging out is so special to me. We had laughs, we had quiet times and we just got the joy of being in each other’s presence. That is truly one of my life’s special memories and you were a part of it. You are an open, thoughtful and caring man. You are willing to look at yourself and be vulnerable. You are empathetic and know when you can offer kindness to someone else and you are self-caring and know when you need it back. You are dedicated to your personal growth and when you show up, you really show up. I know you have faced some challenging times in your lifetime and you have shown the strength to make it through them and I am impressed by you for that. If your ability to withstand what you have is any indicator of your future, you are destined for great things and I am excited to be a witness in that journey. I hope you know from the bottom of my heart that I love you, as a cousin, as a key swan and as the human you are. Knowing you makes my life more rich, period. I love you.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

I want you to remember you are loved. You are family. I sense sometimes you are not sure how you fit in, but trust me, that is only a story you tell yourself and hopefully an old one. We all love you deeply. You are blood. You are my cousin and a part of our family unit. I hope you truly know that at the depth of your soul. You are not alone.

~Andrew

Eric has an amazing way with children. His joy of interaction is truly obvious. He seems to understand a child’s fragile issues and is sensitive to their insecurities. He loves to bring them out and help them blossom, often finding fun and silly ways to make them laugh and feel special. 

When Eric has the opportunity to engage with family he is attentive and caring. He has shared personal feelings openly and is pleased to applaud the talents of others. He can be enormously fun, often initiating activities and brightening the group with his laughter and charm. 

When Eric’s mother went through an extended emotionally challenging time Eric was committed one hundred percent to her improvement and care. He took charge of a second home renovation in order to put it on the market. His handyman skills enabled the home to sell in a very short amount of time. He remained in constant contact with me as the out-of-state person in charge to keep me informed. I will always admire his commitment to her needs and well-being for this effort. I know Eric continues to help out his mom whether it is moving boxes or taking her to an appointment. 

Even though Eric and his wife had divorced, he remained concerned and connected with her during her long bout with cancer. When she passed away Eric went to the funeral even though he was not sure how the family would receive him as his ex-wife had married a second time. Naturally, they opened their arms to welcome him back to the family.

Caretaking seems to be a very large part of how Eric identifies himself as he has demonstrated these traits so often.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

His heart is larger than life.

~Katrina


Dearest Eric,
  
You came into this world a bundle of light and that light has continued to grow as the years pass by.  Even as far back as 1st grade you were kind to your family members and all your classmates,  both male and female and everyone loved being around you. Your smile is infectious, your humor over the top funny!  You have kept me in stitches doing impressions and accents and goofing around with people and sometimes it’s hard to catch my breath.

You are bold and experimental. You are open to change and curious about yourself and others.  You can start conversations with perfect strangers as if it was the most natural thing in the world for you,  even though in the past you would have not done so.  You are an excellent listener.  I feel heard by you.  This is such a gift you have to give to others!  Along with that of course you are loving, caring, honest, and give great feedback, helpful feedback, and encouraging feedback.  I always think you would make the ideal counselor or some profession involving helping people  struggling to see things in a better light.  You are an encourager, and a cheerleader for people and your ability to learn new things has always boggled my mind, and always will!  You are highly creative, artsy, gifted with your hands and whether it is a fun project or a work project you bring things to life, and the results are proof of your many talents.  If I wanted to learn something I would want you to teach me….well, most of the time at least.  You can occasionally be short on patience teaching me the computer, but everyone is, so that doesn’t really count! In times of need you have been there for me throughout the years and I would trust you with my life.You have been an emotionally supportive paramedic when I’ve needed it and you are the calm in the midst of the storm.  As a leader and a pioneer for change…you recognize the need for self-awareness and self-knowledge and understand that thoughts and beliefs matter in how we live our lives, and through work we can change them and become happier.  This is something some people never understand or even care to.  You are humble enough to seek help when you need it, and so many people in the world aren’t…trust me, it is one of the qualities I most admire in you!

I just realized as I am typing this, that I could write for a long, long time about you, and it brings up gratitude in me. The universe was kind to me to send me someone like you for a son. I am being truthful and honest here, and not “just because you are my son, or that you might say I’m just biased here.”  I believe others see these things in you too, so I know I have backup that I trust.

You may not take it seriously, but I am being thoughtful when I am reflecting on your character.  I want the best for you in life Er-Bear, Earz, ETO or whatever name you want to go by.  Of all the things I can think of that I want to encourage you, included is to seek to know and love yourself because it all starts with that and goes out from there and have fun while doing it, so you can inspire others to do so too!  Ask yourself the big questions in life and never be too proud to ask for help along the way! 

I love you!  Mom

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Your insight and ability to express yourself in a genuine way.

~Francesca


I’m blessed enough to not only know Eric but to share a home with him. While normally that might make someone assume it lessens the love and appreciation I have for him, it does the exact opposite. I get to see his brightest sides all throughout the day. His laugh, his wit, his humor (he laughs at me even when I’m not very funny 😂) his gentle nature with our pets and plants. His dedication to his work, his hobbies and his family. He is generous and kind. He has a protective nature that I don’t often see in others. 

And have you looked at him? Those eyes, that smile, those BROWS and that glorious beard. 

Those of us who are lucky enough to know him are truly grateful.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are incredibly talented. Incredibly.

~Bre

You are a smart and witty conversationalist, always ready to dive into an unnecessary hypothetical for the sake of humor. You catch the absurdities and inconsistencies of the people and world around you in a particularly nonjudgmental way.  You laugh at yourself, as or more readily than you do at others, and can enjoy and forgive others’ flaws. You are a genuinely good guy who usually tries to do the right thing but are honest about those times when you fail in that effort. In short Bub, you are just a cool chap that’s easy and enjoyable to be around.

I also admire your entrepreneurial spirit and dedication. When you take on a new job or hobby, you do so with commitment.  That is true of business: I am thinking here of the time and energy you spent learning about clocks and forming your own business fixing them.  It is also true of play: I am thinking here of your adoption of and passion for softball and baseball over the past years. One of these days, maybe Longshots will get off the ground and benefit from these qualities.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Life always has its ups and downs, and as much as we all enjoy the highs, we must also expect and prepare for the lows. You are every bit as loved and valued when in the troughs of life’s ocean as when you are riding the crests.

~Tad


You are a charming, intelligent young man with an infectious smile. You can meet and engage with the most interesting strangers. They seem to just open up to you. I think you have made several good friends this way, too.

As long as I have known you, you have always been quick to learn, curious about how things work, and you seem to have an intuitive mechanical understanding.
And kind. Did I mention kind?

You are easy to talk to. People can come to you with a question or an issue and you are always ready to listen. You are a good problem solver. You use your wisdom, intuition, and common sense to look right through a problem and see solutions. You are quite creative and can “look outside the box”.

Your enthusiasm is bottomless. You get an idea, something interesting catches your attention and you will run with it. Research the heck out of it, seek out people with more experience; totally immerse yourself in it. Clocks, golf, pool, fishing, photography, artwork, softball, volleyball: these all came out of your initial interest in them and now are part of your life because of your enthusiasm. You’ve learned to do well in all these areas because of your desire to enrich yourself and your life.

I am most proud of your clock repair business. You put in a lot of work and effort to get to what you have now. Wow.

By the way, your sense of humor, along with your smile,  always keeps people laughing. I really appreciate your eye for beauty in nature; I see that in your photography.  

Dad.



If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved, cared about, and respected by a lot of people.

~Tom

Eric is exceptionally creative, talented and passionate! 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

That he is on this planet for a reason! 

~Robert

Lilly

The majority of my insecurities come from feeling just too weird and not worthy (of a good job, a loving partner, stable relationships, being treated respectfully) because of it. I feel awkward in social situations and don’t know what to say, and then sound foolish when I do contribute. I feel difficult for people to understand or relate to and I wonder if I am making sense or speaking in alien tongues? It’s hard to make friends and maintain relationships sometimes. This extends into my professional life too- I worry that I am not hire-able, and not worth making a living wage (even though I went to school and am articulate, professional and experienced) because of the way I look and dress. It’s hard for me to tell and I ask for outside feedback often- “Is This Too Weird?” can apply to an outfit, a conversation, a reaction, an idea, a cooked meal, anything. I feel irrational and jumbled up in my thought process and doubt myself. I smoke a lot of pot and have for most of 20 years, I think it contributes to my distorted sense of reality and feelings of being a worthless weirdo.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

Prioritize school and career over everything else. There will always be plenty of boys and time to party wherever you go. Value and regularly practice your artistic endeavors, they feed your soul. Learn about boundaries and how to say no, don’t do it if it hurts. Protect your body and heart because they are your silent companions in this life.


Lilly’s friends and family:

I have known Lilly for over 14 years as both a friend and coworker. I know Lilly to be a fierce defender and spokesperson of people who are marginalized and silent. Her wit and sense of humor coupled with extreme intelligence make her a sought-after friend and companion.

Her smile sparkles with warmth and her presence can light a room. She is a tenacious fighter with a brave spirit. I am honored that she calls me a friend.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Inner Strength.

~John


Dearest Lilly,

I’m so proud of the person you have become.  As always, you are kind and generous, always giving even when you may not have the resources to share.  You truly make a difference in people’s lives, and you certainly have in mine.  Your smile lights up a room, and brings joy to the people around you, especially your loved ones.  You mean a lot to your family and friends, probably more than you even realize.  You’re often there for those that need a friendly ear to which they can pour out their heart and deep feelings.  In a bit of a role reversal, you’ve been there for me.  I love you so very much and can’t imagine my life without you!

Hugs and Love!!!  

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved by many!

~Ed



She’s a ride or die friend. A true gem.  A wonderful and accepting listener. Love her to pieces. We have been through some shit together and I am so fortunate to still count her among my friends.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Your love and acceptance is inspiring.

~Emily



Dearest friend,

Your heart is pure, and extends far beyond the hearts of others I have encountered in this world.  While at times you are reserved, I admire how much you protect yourself from things you know you do not deserve.  Your wisdom is inspiring, as is your passion.  One of my favorite things is watching you exist within your garden, that you have given life to, and witnessing the glow of love that emanates out of you.  You approach delicate things with such care and ease.  You are not afraid to speak up for what you want, need, and deserve.  You don’t take shit from anyone.  You stand tall and strong.  You are confident.  You are beautiful.  You are understanding.  You are appreciative.  I find myself wanting to write this forever, just to truly share with you how special you are.  There are so many words to choose from, so many aspects of you that I love.  I cherish your friendship, and your hugs.  You put all of yourself into things, and I admire that.  I know, without a doubt, that as my friend you will be there, you will care, you will love, you will understand.  Your heart holds me when I need it the most, and there are not enough words to share how grateful I am for you.  I am honored to call you my friend.  You, Lilly, are extraordinary.

With all the love I have,

erin.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are seen, you are loved, you are cherished.

~Erin


You’re one of the most genuine people I know.  Your realness helps validate some of my more alien feelings about life.  Your groundedness helps ground me.  Your frankness and honesty is a refreshing inspiration.  I’m honored and grateful to know you and I’m lucky to call you my friend.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You brighten the world up even when things are dark for you

~Bo

Devonna

Not enough.

I wrestle with speaking to myself with kindness and have trouble practicing offering myself grace. The same kindness and grace I offer my children, my friends and the cashier I have never met before at the market. As I move throughout my day, I observe myself keeping records. I tally up what I have done and it doesn’t add up to enough. I can’t seem to earn a moment in a cozy chair with a cup of tea or the walk along the waterfront that makes me come alive. As I often fail myself, acting with a lack of self respect, I turn on myself and bully myself in self-hatred and shame. This Devonna, she is the one I despise. I send her away and sometimes, she respects my boundaries. This Devonna doesn’t long for death. She longs for life and acceptance as she is. She wants to know, to feel, to believe, she is enough.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

Devonna, you are an empath. You take on and carry the feelings and experiences of others. You love deeply from your heart, abundantly overflowing Love. It is a gift that you are sensitive, there is nothing wrong with you. You are doing a good job and you are going to make it. You are strong. I am proud of you. You hold within you the power to speak life and love over yourself. This can be your practice each day and one day you will rest in it. And you will believe you are enough because you are more than enough.

Devonna’s friends and family:

Devonna is a woman of uncommon beauty & compassion. She radiates a light of acceptance, warmth, and love that draws people toward her. She has a fierce truth seeking spirit that I deeply admire.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Trust your truth

~Holly

I admire the way you see things Devonna. Pieces of art in a pile of shattered glass. The way you can build a beautiful mosaic of intricately intersecting lines and colors out of chaos. Sculpting something from nothing. Carrying an idea from inception to completion. And it’s not just your work ethic Devo, it’s your passion. I’ve always envied your ability to compel some concept to life out of thin air. It takes vision and it takes diligence. You’re one of the hardest working people I’ve ever gotten to know Sis. I love you Devo.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

YOU ARE LOVED.

~Damien

Devonna, 

You are one of the hardest working and most driven people I have yet known. Your passion and diligence in creating beauty are inspiring to me. You have eyes that seem uniquely keen in seeing the beauty in everything and especially in everyONE around you, and your creativity in conveying this beauty is powerfully enlightening for those who encounter your art.

You are bold in expressing the truth and genuine in your relationships, providing your friends with a trustworthy ally. And you are tender, compassionate and nurturing. You feed us. 

It’s not always easy to love one’s loved ones. As a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend you are a special treasure. You routinely put our needs ahead of your own (possibly to a fault!) 

Your fierce, vehement love secures a safe harbor in the cosmos for those of us who are so blessed to receive it. 

Thank you,

Your Buddy

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are treasured!

~Dusty

Devo,

You have been my best and most loyal friend for 32 years! From the moment I met you, I knew ours was a friendship that would go deep and last the test of time. You are the deepest and most caring person I have ever had the privilege of knowing. If I could create a list of your super-powers, it would look something like this:

– CONNECTABILITY. You CONNECT deeper and faster with others in a way I’ve never seen before, allowing you to explore the depths of relationships.

– CARING. You CARE about others in a way that makes everyone feel like you are their best friend.

– LOVE. You LOVE more deeply than I had previously thought humanly possible, yet here you are loving those around you more and more every day.

– DEPTH. You go DEEP… deeper than anyone I’ve ever known, conversationally, emotionally, spiritually … even your hugs are deep!

– EMPATHY. You have EMPATHY beyond that of ordinary mortals! You literally give the clothing off your back to the homeless, you invite strangers into your home, you are a shoulder for others to lean on, and you champion the down-trodden! People recognize this and tell you things that they have never trusted anyone else with!

In a nutshell, you make people feel important, special, and loved. The moment you show an interest in someone, they feel like the most important person on the planet! Your interest in others is not superficial or opportunistic, it is genuine!

In all my years, I’ve never known anyone so loving, caring, kind, empathetic, deep, and connecting as you! For 32 years, whenever I have thought about the qualities of a good friend (or human), I have immediately thought of you. Because of this, you are loved by far more people than you can possibly realize. People genuinely desire to be around you and know you. You are an amazing, loving, strong, powerful, bad-ass woman! 

You have been the greatest friend, never judging or abandoning me… you make me feel loved and important. In return, I will always have your back, never judge you, never abandon you, never stop pursuing a deeper friendship with you, and will strive to be the best friend you’ve ever had! You truly are one of the most amazing people to walk this planet and almost certainly the best friend that anyone has ever had. I, along with many others, love you forever.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are LOVED and DESIRED by God and by many more people than you could possibly know and this makes you truly SPECIAL.

~Bobby


Devonna,

There really isn’t enough time or space to contain the words necessary to convey all of what I love and appreciate about you throughout almost 30 years of being loved and loving you. You are the most incredible person I’ve ever known.   I enjoy spending time with you because your curiosity about the world is contagious and you collect beauty and cultivate loveliness in every aspect of your life. Your musical and artistic talents are awe inspiring. Your fierce devotion and limitless energy for building and maintaining your family relationships encourages anyone honored enough to have the chance to observe. You are creative in a way that is intricately and intimately connected with our Creator so that all is rightly subjected to His perfect order. Your life is a fragrant offering to our Father, prayer inextricable from your essence. I believe you love well because you understand how thoroughly and perfectly loved you are. 

I experience this love from you. Although I caused you deep pain in the choices I made in planning my wedding, you were there for me and sang over us, the one thing you didn’t think you could do even under the best circumstances. That act of selfless love is an enduring and transforming testament to an omnipotent God.

I’m honored to enjoy living this finite life with you as we await the glory to be revealed in eternal life together. 

I love you Devonna, 

Alicia 


If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are eternally and perfectly loved.

~Alicia

Bursting with alive, healing, loving authenticity and such a powerful creator of beauty.  Filled with the unique noetic wisdom; head & heart wisdom, in every beat – Devonna lives up to the name of honor she has been blessed with; Heavenly Warrior.  One of the most fierce warriors of LOVE – for our maker and redeemer, Holy Trinity. Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Heavenly Warrior

~Anne

Devonna is like that first warm spring day after a long, dark winter. She is refreshment, light, warmth, and soothing. Her energy radiates love like hydrangea in full bloom. She is sensual and bold like fresh fig and honey.  She is abundant, giving her gifts in the same way she sows seeds in the earth, naturally, patiently. Devonna is deeply intuitive and free. She dances with abandon in her truest self. She creates beauty wherever she goes. Devonna sees people, really sees them and brings them closer to their light by sharing hers. Her smile and laugh are like fireworks, explosions of the most fascinating joy. She is the hardest working and most badass person I’ve ever known. She inspires me to push past fear and love wide open. She deserves the deepest love and the truest, most freeing joy. Her art and her creative spirit drips of wisdom and connection to something beyond herself. I love you DevonnaI You are brave and fierce and I will forever think of you as the grower of Eden.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are the embodiment of love.

~Sayde

Dearest Devonna,

    You know that one, girl? The one that gives you inspiration because she’s such a bad-ass? She can take control of a situation. Makes the earth shake around her while she gets things done. Gets things done that the rest of us only dream about. And, it’s OK. She makes our dreams more real. “I saw her do it, so maybe I can do it.” That is what she does to us. 

She is living proof of many kinds of hope. Her kids even give us hope. Hope that kids can be amazing. She spreads the kind of hope that causes the rest of us to get up. We get up, we step up to the plate. We step up to the challenge, because we saw that girl do it – so now, we know that impossible things are possible. We won’t, wouldn’t, ever. let go of the inspiration that girl planted in us. 

Ya, she’s the best. And you already know – That girl is you.

Devonna, YOU are a bad-ass. YOU are inspirational. YOU get things done. YOU make our dreams real. YOU bring more hope into the world than some whole communities do. Thank you for being one of the greatest influences of my entire life!

Number-One Fan of  Devonna 


If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are seen and adored by your Creator


Dearest Devonna,

You are a beautiful princess. Your presence spreads love. You can’t help it. You love others deeply from the heart, and you bury our sorrows beneath your own feet. But not before you bear those sorrows. It’s part of the way you love all of us – everyone lucky enough to meet you, to know you. you share your loyalty freely. For as long as I’ve known you, I’ve watched people come into your life, and they leave feeling loved and valued by you. This is a gift from Heaven. It is what makes you tick and makes us sigh as we languish in being comfortable in our own glass slippers. Please don’t ever change that you shy away from that about yourself. I love you so dearly, my princess. I want to dance with you!

Number-One Fan of  Devonna


If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are the star-performer in the all play of life


Dearest Devonna,

    When I think of you, I think of a tree. A beautiful tree that you, yourself don’t often see. It is lavished in lights, glitter, large beautiful antique golden and silver, red and blue ornaments. You are a Christmas tree. You blink and shine and bring so much joy to everyone around you. You even have an amazing majestic holy angel attached to you, overseeing your every blink and flash. You are so brilliant in your colors, that it’s easy to forget that you, yourself don’t always see the amazing beautiful lights emanating from you. You almost never do see them, I fear.. You bring so much joy to people without even realizing it. And, you’re so beautiful. You, Devonna Are the epitome of joy to the world.

Number-One Fan of  Devonna

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

you are most loved, most valued, and most treasured


Dearest Devonna,

I know that you are going through a difficult time right now. I wish I could take on all of your sadness. You’ve taken on so many burdens for so many people for so long. In this time, please remember: Your weakness is made strong when you feel like you are at the end of yourself. You have given so much, that anything else you give now, is a bonus. 

Remember this too, please, because you may not be aware of this: You can’t help but smile at people, genuinely. And your generous beautiful smile is worth the hugs and kisses of 100 mothers doting on 300 cute lovable kids. It is an infectious smile. It spreads. It brings relief to people. I’m afraid that you may think I’m exaggerating, but it’s the truth. Your smile is second to none, and it is a blessing to the world.                           

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Your smile brings hope. It was intentionally created that way on purpose.


Dearest Devonna,

Thank you for being a faithful friend to me. You have helped me out of many a pit in my life – I think most of the time you aren’t even aware of it. Sometimes it happens when you walk into the room, you bring life with you, and it falls on me. Covers my whole heart. I hope you know that you are that very same person for hundreds of people. They are drawn to you, because you love them so very well. You are a great lover of people, a gift.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You always bring life with you.

everything

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are so much more than enough!

~Brad

Chelsey

I think my biggest insecurity would be lack of self-confidence. The idea of being able to accomplish something and being successful at it is completely shrouded in fear for me. I absolutely buckle at the idea of rejection and being criticized and embarrassed for the rest of my given life for the one little thing I stuck out my pinky toe into the water for and made a mistake due to lack of experience or knowledge or whatever it was I should have prepared myself over 10x for before I even tried…but, I figure why try since you aren’t smart enough or strong enough or good enough in the first place.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

Do the hard things. Don’t worry about what others think because they are too busy worrying about what everyone else thinks also. Failing is how you learn and you won’t ever grow and learn without trying. Your parents are already way worse off than you will ever be and their religion is a way to keep you down. Continue to be observant and listen and learn from the good and bad in your world. It will help you escape it later. The people who want to stay will fight for you. You will never be left completely abandoned.

Chelsey’s friends and family:

Chelsey loves unconditionally. She accepts people how they are and allows them to be themselves without so much of the expectation society puts on us. She is kind and generous and very thoughtful, making her an excellent gift giver because she really pays attention to you as an individual. She has many endearing qualities but unconditional love is so hard to find, that is what stands out to me the most.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this:

YOU ARE WORTH IT. You are valuable beyond measure and so very worthy of love.

~Ehmey


Chelsey! 

We’ve known each other for so long it’s such an honor to be asked to write all the things I love about you. 

I love how incredibly patient you are

I love how loyal you are to the people you love

I love all the amazing baked goods you make! 

I love how creative you are 

I love how naturally amazing you are with kids 

I admire your resilience 

I admire your courage, breaking away from the life-long community that just didn’t fit into your life healthily anymore, despite what it cost you

I appreciate your willingness to express your emotions 


If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

YOU ARE CAPABLE OF EVERYTHING YOU DREAM OF!

~Shalako


Chelsey, Even though we knew each other best when we were much younger, I’m super grateful and impressed that you were willing to reconnect after so long. The Chelsey I remember was never pushing to be in front or needing the spotlight. Instead, you brought a level of calmness to things. Thinking on it seriously these last few days, that’s what I remember in my mind and body about you. You are a heart-centered being, which is such a challenge in these times. It’s soooo important, like “change the world” type important that we spread this kind of mentality, but sadly it is often seen as weak, and is preyed upon by those rooted in greed. But guess what, sis!? We survive, we get deeper, we get stronger, and all without having to broadcast it. I absolutely love that you are showing up for yourself, that you have made a decision to be an agent of growth and truth. You have been through so much, but I feel like you are just getting started and that inspires me; you inspire me.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

OMG! Where to start! 

All the answers, all the peace, all the purpose…It’s already inside you. On the deepest level you know this to be true. Keep listening, be open to receive that which you are deserving to have and to be.

~Kevin

Chelsey is a loyal, sweet, honest, exceedingly generous individual. I love that she is empathetic and most always positive. She is an incredible cook and bread baker. She is real… the antithesis of the typical duplicitous humans of the world only looking out for their agenda. She inspires hope when it seems there is none, and to say that she is extremely brave is a vast understatement. She also likes cool words like “abscond” 🙂 but best of all she is my friend.  

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved

~Brannen

I’ve looked up to Chelsey my entire life, and whether she realizes it or not, she’s always been my barometer for cool, stylish, hip, and chic. Growing up with Chelsey, I got to see an adventurous spirit, full of kindness and joy, and also beautiful darkness. I realize I have always wanted to impress her and make her proud, and I value her opinion so highly that I’ve reconsidered my actions and belief systems as a result. Chelsey continues to introduce me to music, art, experiences that I might not have found on my own, and she’s the only one I’ve traveled across the country to go look at rocks with. 

I know we both came from trying and at times turbulent families, but the struggles we faced in each other’s proximity felt easier to bear. Whether writing epic teenage angst poetry or dressing up as Renaissance-era archers and playing in the trees or covering ourselves in mud to embarrass Tammy when she was trying to flirt with a boy, we’ve always found ways to be silly and revel in it. It doesn’t matter if I’m up or down, hearing Chelsey’s laugh in my head or in real life makes my spirit soar. She is easy to be with; even after years of not speaking or seeing each other, we picked back up and found ourselves again, granted this time with more swearing and booze and boy stories, but it only keeps getting better.

Another thing about this beautiful woman, she always sees good in people. Especially those who struggle with pain, depression, trauma…her compassionate soul finds the good in them and helps them to normalize in ways that she may not see. Chelsey is generous, she is amazing with children, loves animals (even those she’s mildly allergic to), and she has the hugest heart for her grandma (which is a rare trait anymore). She takes excellent care of herself and her home, keeping the madness at bay with admirable/enviable cleaning habits. Her artistic flair shines through her personal style, the cool antiques she finds, her passion for flowers. I will always go to a show with Chelsey, even if I don’t know the band, because getting to be alongside her to experience something that she loves is ridiculously wonderful.

Chelsey is beautiful, inside and out. She somehow takes THE BEST pictures of her insanely gorgeous face (I know, because I look at the one on my fridge door every day and grin). She has an amazing hug that radiates joy and comfort through my whole body, and she loves love in a way that gives me hope for the world. My life is better with Chelsey in it, and she makes me want to be my best self.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Chelsey, you are a true gem, you glow from within, and no one or nothing can tarnish your beautiful shine ❤

~Hannah

Chelsey, YOU ARE LIKELY THE STRONGEST PERSON I KNOW… for these reasons:

 You fill the world with so much beauty, kindness, quiet caring, detailed adjustments that make everyone’s life better….. you give love, support, show appreciation…. while at the same time aching for love, kindness, support, and appreciation. You never quit. You have bled yourself dry giving to others for decades… family, marriage, professionally, as a member of several communities…… so it has been an honor to watch you set boundaries and show me how you’re doing it. 

You maintain being the most beautifully open-minded and feminine creature, and yet you face all your insecurities or anxieties HEAD ON.  

Your strength comes from the biggest heart and such deep empathy…. you feel the world. You carry the heavy gift of understanding most people and things before they have even tried to understand themselves.  

How you have the patience to watch us all be so confused with who we are and what we want, while you’ve seen it all along, must be so exhausting- and yet you lovingly lollygag around this life with us….. 

With all sorts of curve balls life throws you’ve remained a woman who loves adventure, is open for anything, and who is gentle in a harsh world. 

☝️ that is the biggest test of strength. 

You, my dear woman, are the living, breathing personification of my favorite poet’s words below…

“Anyone can slay a dragon …but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” ~Brian Andreas

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Chelsey, you have all the answers. You’ve always been capable of more than you have ever imagined….. and YOU KNOW THAT IS TRUE. 

And just because you are the strongest person, the woman who examines all the angles of everything before, during, and after an experience, doesn’t mean that life requires you to be strong for everything and all the time. All those tears, all those feelings, all those insightful bits you notice, the details…. they don’t have to weigh you down… you can share them with others… letting us grow stronger WITH YOU, alongside you, proudly as your dearest friends and family. 

I love you, Mallory

~Mallory


Chelsea is very funny. I appreciate that we share a dark sense of humor. She’s willing to venture into the gritty with me to make a laugh. It’s rare that people are so open. I feel so comfortable joking around and looking for satire in things.

She’s shy and can seem quiet, I think it’s hard to read. I can see that she’s really deep in thought. She’s observant and taking everything in. Being respectful.

I admire her courage. She braved a new life. She chose to be strong in so many ways and has grown so much since I first met her. She explores the world freely. I wish I had her courage and motivation. 

She’s kind and has always been open to me despite my resting bitch face. 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You’re beautiful and funny and strong.

~Danny

Jessica

I have always felt like my personality is too much for people to handle- too loud, too obnoxious, too big, too needy, too involved. It gives me a lot of stress that I overwhelm the people in my life because I come on too strong. This generally makes me less close with the people I care about because I let this insecurity hold me back from giving all my love. The more personal battle I have is that I tend to feel inadequate or not enough for my own standards. I compare other’s successes to my own and I am often left feeling “less than” physically, academically, socially, and emotionally. I am hard on myself and strive for the best version of me but I want to be better at accepting and loving myself where I’m at.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

It is not selfish to take care of yourself and you will be a better friend to others if you cover your needs first


Jessica’s friends and family:

Samantha Turner
sturner5869@hotmail.com

Jess,

I don’t even know where to start with this, because there are so many things to choose from. You are truly one of the most inspirational people I know. You have such raw talent and your passion for music astounds me. If I could even come close to following in your footsteps I would be thrilled. You are also such a loving person, and getting to be a recipient of that love is one of the most fulfilling things I know. I love that you are always willing to talk, or listen, and be there for me. You’re an amazing sister, an amazing daughter, an amazing artist, and an amazing person. I love you so much.

Love,

Sammy

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved

~Samantha


Jessica,

I am so lucky that you are in my life. Never have I met anyone so adoring, curious, genuine, brave, spirited, and bright as you. You have an amazing power to talk and relate to anyone, which never fails to get people to love who you are. Everyone goes to you with their problems only because you really are the best person anyone knows that can help out. You are a joyous gift to everyone you meet. What a warm soul. Not only this, you’re as beautiful outside as you are inside! There’s a twinkle in your eyes, a glowing smile, and that infectious laugh you have that lift’s everyone’s spirits. You’re drop-dead gorgeous. Every single inch of you, and every single feature you have is thoughtful, generous, and stunning. Simply beautiful. There is no other way I’d rather have you.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are worthy of being loved. You should allow yourself to be, by yourself! Yes, you can laugh and kind of joke around about how awesome or how pretty you are, but you should really let that soak in genuinely, you know? You of all people deserve that.

~Alex

Dear Jessica, 

I am so lucky to have someone like you in my life. You are so thoughtful, loving and selfless. You would do anything for the people you love and I feel so blessed to be your friend. I am so impressed with your work ethic and your passion for what you do. Every day I see you and get to hang out with you, you bring so much sunshine and joy to my life. I appreciate how you are always there for your friends and will always support them. You always know how to make me feel better and just brighten up my day. I love laughing and goofing off with you. You have become one of my best friends and someone I know that I will be friends for the rest of my life. 

I love you so much Jessica!!

Camille

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are beautiful inside and out- don’t change a thing

~Camille

My dearest most wonderful Jessica,

You are my woman. 

You light up every room you enter, even if you’re having a bad day, when you walk in, the room feels better, happier, brighter. The second I see your beautiful face I am overwhelmed with so much love and a sense of peace. Sometimes so much so that I can’t stop staring. That is the effect you have on people. I can’t take my eyes off of you, and never for a single negative reason. When I look at you I see the most effervescent smile, the most luscious curly hair, the most stunning eyes, the most perfect eyelashes, the most banging bod in the WORLD with moves that ROCK, and the biggest heart anyone could ever have. Although you may not always feel it, the confidence you exude is unmatched. You carry yourself with such ease and grace and joy. And your laugh, I can’t get enough of it. Laughing with you is by far one of the best things in my life. 

If I didn’t have you in my life I honestly don’t know where I’d be. Somehow, magically, you always have the right things to say. You get beyond excited with me when there’s good news and you hold me and help pick me back up when I’m down. You’re always there when I need to spill my heart out, and that is something I can’t ever take for granted. I cannot get over how lucky I am to have you and I will never be able to fully explain how much your unconditional love and support means to me. 

You’re so unbelievably strong, loved, powerful, generous, caring, dedicated, helpful, accepting, committed, compassionate, motivated, dependable, kind-hearted, and simply dazzling. Your inward beauty makes your outward beauty shine that much brighter and vice versa, it’s a wonderful circle. You inspire me. 

I admire your ease and effortlessness in social situations and your ability to make anyone feel welcome. I admire your selflessness and willingness to help. I admire how much you care to improve yourself and work to be the best version of you. I admire how deeply you feel and how deeply you love. 

You are my woman. 

I love you.

Raleigh

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Love yourself as fiercely as you love others; you are always enough.

~Raleigh


Jessica – you are one of the most amazing people in my life. You are lively and vibrant and fun and real. The minute you walk into the apartment, everyone’s day just got a whole lot better. You listen genuinely and care about what other people have to say. You know that relationships are a give and a take, but still choose to give with all your heart, endlessly and non-selfishly. I knew right when I met you freshman year of college that you were a friend worth having, but I had no idea what a friendship with Jessica could mean. It turned out to mean joyful, stupid, shared laughter at any hour of the day. It means having any tune I’m singing beautifully harmonized by your incredible voice. It means knowing there will be someone who will give me a hug when my day has been miserable, and who never forgets to ask how my day went. Being friends with you Jessica has made me a better person. You’re a reminder that being kind and reaching out is cool,  and that showing love to people is worth it.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Your body is bangin’, your dreams are attainable, and you are ALWAYS going to be worth it. Anyone who doesn’t think so is just silly. (Sorry that’s three things couldn’t pick one)

~Katherine


Jess,

I cannot express to you how much your friendship has shaped me into the person I am. Watching you become the beautiful woman you are over the past 10 years has been an absolute privilege, and your growth is inspiring. I have watched you face major and difficult changes. This often meant learning to cope with disappointment, or redefine your expectations of yourself and others. You have done this with grace and love, both for yourself and for the people in your life who needed you. I have watched you question who you were and who you were becoming. Sometimes, this has meant being suspicious of what you were raised to believe, or what you were told by those you love. This is something that some people never learn, and that you have done with an intelligent sense of perspective and admirable reflection. I have watched you hurt, and come out the other side more positive and inspiring than ever, and I have watched you do all of these things with your head held high.

You continue to amaze me, and I am so thankful for the friendship you have given me. You have seen me at some of my lowest points, and you have healed me with laughter, friendship and conversations that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. You have been here for me when I needed you most, and you have taught me love, compassion, strength, and positivity. You are a personal role model and someone that I am lucky to call a best friend. I look forward to seeing the woman you become, and I take comfort in knowing that I will always have a loving friend in you when I need you. 

Thank you so much for the confidence you have given me and the happiness you radiate.

Love, 

your best friend, sister, and biggest fan,

Jaden

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

There are so many people in the world who would not be who they are without having known you.

~Jaden


Dude. You’re hot as fuck.  I admire the way you hold yourself with such confidence. You really are beautiful inside and out. You’re also so freaking wise. I admire the way you can learn about people so deeply and affirm who they are. You build people up. You’re not afraid to get real. You’ve helped me, and so many other people, grow into better people. It takes a special kind of person to do that. I admire how you see everyone around you so highly. You’re really something special. Please never stop singing while you walk around the house, or saying hi to people mid-conversation. It’s little things like that that you do that make the world a brighter, happier place. I love you so, so much. Thank you for being you, never change.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are a beautiful woman who radiates God’s love

~Austyn


Dear Jessica,

What an amazing woman you are!   Your compassion, creativity, and humor bring love and joy to all of us that are lucky to be around you.  I love the way you find joy in all the simple things – in a story we tell or a song our family sings.  I love the way you look out for your friends and for anyone hurting or in need.  I love the strength of your faith and how you draw from that strength to help others.  I appreciate how you always see the best in us.  I am so proud of you — it fills my heart!

Love, Dad

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved

~Jerry

My sweet Jessica,

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the amazing person I think you are.  I am so proud of the woman you are becoming, just as I’ve always been proud of the young girl you were, the silly middle school girl you were, and the fun, smart, and talented high school girl you were.  I will always be proud of the person you are.

You’ve always been an old soul, in tune with other people’s feelings and needs.  You were constantly amazed when other people wouldn’t be as thoughtful and sensitive as you would expect or hope they would be.  I often tried to explain to you that you were mature that way well beyond your years, and that someday those friends might catch up to you.  

You are honestly one of the best people I know.  Even if you weren’t my daughter, you’d be someone I was drawn to and would want to know.  You light up a room and make people feel good about themselves.  I hope the people in your life will always know what a gift they have in you.  

My greatest wish for you is that you could see yourself as I do.  You are an immensely wonderful person.  You are kind, funny, thoughtful, loving, and even more beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.  And that’s saying something.  

You deserve all the best that life has to offer.  You are such a gift to the world. I love you with everything in me!  

Love, 

Mom (your lelephant)

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are worthy of every good thing life has to offer.

~Susie

Nichole

My biggest insecurity is about my TOO MUCHNESS. That I am too big, too loud, too sexual, too much of everything…that my needs are too much and that I always cause harm because of the containers people want to place on me I can’t be held in for too long before I BREAK OUT. So naturally that brings up abandonment and neglect from my childhood. I’ve had a lot of people abandon ship each time I grew into the next version of myself or expanded my capacity – spiritually, sexually, intellectually ect… It’s as if my changing or becoming MORE of me was threatening to them. So it’s been many a death cycle of relationship roulette in every form. Mostly friendship.

What advice would you give your 10 year old self? *

You are pure magic and you can create out of thin air anything you can possibly imagine! Never let your light dim, dear one. You are needed in this world to demonstrate to others the capacity of their own love and power. You ARE Rainbow Bright! No matter what anyone else thinks or says. Believe in your knowing and never give into belief that you cannot be ALL of what you are. My precious one, remember to be gentle with yourself and get as many hugs as you can for your whole life. I love you. You can move the waters, you can dance the fire, you can conduct the winds, and you can move mountains. You’ll see.

Nichole’s friends and family:

Nichole is the most loving, kind hearted, unselfish person I know. She makes you feel loved and safe in her presence. Nichole is always on the look out for more knowledge, how to grow, learn, new ways of teaching. Her mind amazes me on how much she applies her knowledge in her daily life and how she touches others’ lives in the process! She heals, she’s present, she’s simply amazing.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

How much I look up to her and admire her.

~Deanna


Dear Nichole:

You are my beautiful, paradoxical friend:

Teacher and Learner
Gentle and Strong
Grounded and Whimsical
Magical and Scientific
Hot and Cool
Cuddly and Pushy (in a good way)
Comfortable and Uncomfortable
Funny and Serious
Independent and Group-oriented

You make me more courageous and confident in my own magic. You are one of my most trusted friends and I always feel safe with you and with the guidance you give me — even if I sometimes give you the side-eye when I’m on your massage table!

I’m so grateful for you and your forever friendship.

Sending you so much love,

Fisher

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are held in love by so many.

~Fisher

Nicole is a true blue genuine lover. She is gentle, compassionate, kind, warm, graceful, open, honest, and forgiving. There are not many people in life that I would describe as being like a warm blanket to my soul, but she is. 

Nicole is the kind of person that I may not see for over a year, but as soon as I am in her presence, it is just as if I had never left it from the time before. She is intuitive; the moment I think about her, she will message me unprompted which leads me to speak of her power; she is a healer of both body and soul in the highest order of power, rarely seen except for in other ancient parts of the world. She is a mystic, full of mystique, a friend, and a mother to a community of people whose world would be made a little dimmer without the light that her power and presence shines.

Lastly, Nicole is one of the most naturally sensual people I’ve ever known. Her prowess in this transcends outward beauty. Although attractive she is, her ability to radiate sensuality and intimacy, deep from within a secret place behind her eyes is profoundly unmatched by any other human I’ve encountered. She is gorgeous inside and out, and her incandescent beauty attracts men and women from all walks towards her center. Nicole is contagious; always leaving you wanting more of her spirit and presence.   

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

YOU ARE POWERFUL. YOU ARE A LEADER.

~Spencey

You are intentional, compassionate, responsible, and honest. You do everything with the best intentions and even when you are out of your comfort zone you know how to navigate the unknown with inquiry instead of judgement. It is one of your best characteristics and I try to model after it in my own way. With this modeled inquiry and through you, I have been able to experience such joy and love and fun that I never even knew existed in this world. 

You are a light in my darkness. You are a friend in my solitude. You are a seer in my mystery.

You have been beside me at my lowest and at my highest. I will always be thankful for you.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You inspire love and joy.

~Cassandra

Nichole came into my life about 12 years ago, at this time I was a lost lil pup, with a shattered heart and a lonely soul. She instantly saw me, like no one had ever seen me before. She took me under her wing, and with her guidance, her support, and her love she has allowed me to find and believe in my true potential, to understand the power of my own wings and because of her I have not just learned to fly but I have learned to trust in myself, learned to believe in myself, and learned to love myself. This is what Nichole does. She was born to lead, born to pave new pathways for humankind, to light raging fires from the dull sparks inside of people, to inspire every human she comes in contact with to want to rise up and conquer whatever obstacle they are facing or will face. She challenges those around her as well as herself to continue to grow to their full potential, and then some. To say she is a healer is such an understatement, to say she is of this world is even an understatement. Her love is beyond love, her wisdom beyond wisdom, her powers, passion, emotions and talent are unparalleled. 

Nichole changed my life, she has been my biggest inspiration and motivation since the day I met her. The absolute best sister I could have been given in this world and I am beyond grateful that our paths led us to each other. It is because of her that I continue to push through even the hardest of days. We do not talk often or even see each other often but she is in so many of the decisions and life choices I make, she has become a part of my inner voice, my inner “what would Nichole want for me” at times of weakness. She is my big sister. My rock. My safe place. My friend. My strength.


Nichole has suffered. Nichole has lost. She has been hurt, abandoned, let down, walked on, lied to. Nichole has had to step up when she wasn’t ready to, take on much more than she should have at times but she has never given up, she has never allowed anything to stop her from being her. We all have weaknesses and trials in life but it’s the way she smiles at these challenges in life and gets through every single one of them that makes her the most incredible human I have ever met. 

I have watched you go through so much and I am so proud of you, so proud of the woman you have become, the sister you are, the aunt, the wife, the friend, the business guru, the healer, the passionate leader, the lover. I hope you truly know inside what you bring to this world, what you bring to those around you, what you have done to improve so many lives you have touched. Thank you for always being there for me, for being the sister I always dreamed of, for believing in me, for pushing me, for standing up for me, for never giving up on me during my weak times, for leading me to my career and my passion, for picking me up when I am down and dusting me off over and over. It is so hard to put into words how much I love you girl, and how much you have personally done for me and my life. I can’t thank you enough.

I love you. 

-Cupcake

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You’re a motha fuckin’ badass and I love you.

~Jessica

She sparkles with loving energy. She is profoundly generous. She creates family out of a group of strangers. She is a healer of the highest level, a healer of healers. She is open-hearted and not afraid of intimacy, working on tough stuff, entering the shadow and coming out with jewels. She is always working to evolve her own consciousness so she can be of better service to others.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

She is here in this present moment to be a model of a vulnerable, courageous, and loving leader.

~Beverly

Nichole is a powerhouse of a human being. She demands each person to see how powerful they are and to know themselves better each and every day. She demands these with an edge that is always tempered with a deep love and listening that few people I have met can manage. She encourages and inspires me to do my healing work and to reflect and grow. She does this with her words and her gentle encouragement, but also by doing the very same things herself. She allows her rawness to be seen just as easily as her power. She expects of herself and others only to find out for themselves what makes them truly shine more brightly in a world sorely in need of light. I think that’s a goddamn beautiful thing.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are never too much, and always enough.

~Sean

She lives her life so artfully! I could visit all the museums and art galleries in the world and I’d never see anything quite as beautiful as the way Nichole lives her life. 

Her unwavering strength and courage to gently, but at the same time very passionately, stand in her power. That type of authenticity is hard to find and it’s even harder to practice. Whether she’s leading a group in ceremony or having a coffee with a friend, Nichole is going to show up fully and completely. There isn’t a fake bone in this Goddesses body, she is the genuine article, and it inspires me to be brave enough to show up in the same way. 

I love the way she loves! Her love is like a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning sitting in front of a fireplace! Welcoming, warm, safe, and you never want to leave it!

She is a dancing queen! Have you seen her dance? If you haven’t already, go set up a dance date with her and watch her tear up the floor. If you’re shy about dancing I promise you won’t be when you’re with Nichole. You’ll learn some new moves!

She is a Goddess, a witchy witch, a dragon, but she’s also a human who trips up and makes mistakes like the rest of us. She knows that too.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You don’t have to find yourself, you just have to remember who you are. You ARE love and your love has transformed not only your life, but the lives of all those around you. Thank you.

~Patrick

Your presence and your ability to be present in the moment. To make me feel special and loved.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

Your capacity to love, to give but to remember to save some for yourself 🙂

~Avery

I feel that you are a wonderful, powerful and strong human.  Your intuitive connection to the needs of those around you is inspiring.  I love your laugh.  The work you do and the intentions you set help me look deeper into my own self work and self connection.  I appreciate how you draw the type of community close to you that is comprised of people who are in their own focus of growth, self realization and connection.  You help bring me groundedness. 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

I would like you to remind yourself that although your work for the community is critically important, your own self-care and healing needs its own space.

~Daniel

Nichole, 

Thank you for asking me to participate in this. When describing the gifts that you bring to the world, it is hard to know where to start. I know I won’t be able to cover them all. 

What first comes to mind is your ability to be 100% present with people where they are — being a loving, open space where it is okay to be vulnerable. I have watched countless times as you have made people feel seen, heard, and understood. You don’t even have to be with someone in person to make this happen. When I asked many people to all send cards for Kye’s birthday, I believe about a hundred arrived! Among them all, what stands out to me is watching him read your words. Despite his tendency to feel misunderstood and apart from others, how seen and loved he truly felt while reading your words. It visibly relaxed him and comforted him deeply. This is just one example of how you have impacted others in this way. 

You are also a powerful convener. You bring people together, build community, and support their well-being. You create connectedness among others… So. Many. Others! You have been doing this in one form or another since I first met you years ago. The form and places have evolved over time, yet you continue to use this superpower for great good. 

You do not just bring people together, you encourage them to explore themselves and their relationships with one another and the universe. You do this in many ways. Yes, when you bring people together, it often touches this purpose — whether moon circles or dinners for discussing non-violent communication or community-wide women’s history events. You also do this in individual conversation, your healing work, and your willingness to share parts of your own journey to greater understanding. 

You are a deeply beautiful, radiant human being that I am grateful to have in my life. You are someone we are all grateful for… even if I have only captured the tiniest sliver of all the reasons we feel that way here! 

Big hugs and love to your gorgeous self. 

Xo,

Melanie 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You shine brightly, and it warms those around you. It is a great gift.

~Melanie

Nichole is full of a fight that most people don’t have. She is relentless in whatever she does- she wants to be who she fully is in this world and make a difference. She’s overcome a lot of adversity and broken family trauma in her own life that takes grit and a lot of hard work. She’s torn down false lenses and has worked her ass off to find her true self. She is the friend who I call when I need someone to talk to who truly knows me. She gives more than she receives, she is talented at knowing the body and how to help people heal. Nichole is the glue for a lot of people and that can be a burden often. She lives to make change and that can be exhausting and lonely, but she is helping heal the world and who she is in it is needed. She is the person you want on your side. She is strong in her mind and body. She allows feelings in her to be deeply felt and for that she is brave. She is a beautiful writer and creator. Her life is artful and full of a community that loves her. She is a safe person for me, and someone who I can’t imagine life without. She’s full of the real stuff that is hard to find- she’s honest and transparent, vulnerable and also tough as hell. I love navigating this world with her.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are loved just the way you are. You are wanted and seen.

~Holly

Nichole is a beacon of light! She shines on and beyond the darkness and helps people embrace who they truly are with love, gentleness, and kindness (maybe with a tiny kick to the ass as needed). She is playful and available for spontaneity and laughter even when she is busy carving out a business and doing the hard work of helping people open up and heal. She is a healer. She is enigmatic and compelling – a leader and a seeker.  She is thirsty for knowledge and open to welcoming the unknown in a way I greatly admire. I love her.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You deserve good things – right now, with no edits to who you are or what makes you you.

~Jennifer

I love your ability to take charge in large situations. How do you do that? It’s like you’re fearless.. However, not a fan of you bossing me around in those situations. I like to hold my own. I do think it’s sexy how you own your body, no matter what shape it’s in. Nothing seems to really get in your way, not even you. That’s super hot. I appreciate that I can always come to you when I need to process through what’s on my mind. You’re great at taking me outside of my one-sided spectrum. Though I’ll never admit that I’m actually one-sided 😉 I love the beauty of the home you have created – it’s soft, it’s colorful, it’s feminine, it’s you. I admire the fight you have in you for justice and change. I’m pretty positive that there is an actual dragon inside you. You’re basically a goddess and a warrioress just waiting for her moment to set ablaze not only the patriarchy, but the abuse of all life that you see as sacred.

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

The love in your heart that you see as too big, is actually well received by your community.

~Jaymes


First of all, the idea of trying to write a letter to capture what I love about Nichole is a daunting task. I am fairly certain I could put War and Peace to shame with the time it would take me to adequately express what I love about Nichole; how she has changed me, how she inspires every human she comes into contact with, how she calls people to be better versions of themselves just by living and loving her way through life.  I could go on about how she wields super powers and shapes worlds.  I could give a lecture on how to love well and support the community with what I have learned from Nichole.  Instead of fumbling my way through trying to do her any sort of justice with my words, I will simply describe her to you, as if you, the reader, have not had the pleasure of meeting Nichole, and why you should immediately go and befriend her.

Nichole walks through life with a peaceful joy around her, but there is also a sort of electricity surrounding her, that I imagine is what “spidey sense” tingling feels like in the comics. Notice this sensation.  It’s her energy somehow reaching through space and time asking you to wake up.  “Wake up to what?” you might ask.  Well, get to know Nichole, you’ll see.

When I first met Nichole she came into my coffee shop and she was funny and happy and beautiful (and continues to become more so by the day) and she welcomed me to Tacoma in a way that made me feel like I actually belonged.  Since that day, my life has never been the same.  I am so so blessed to call her my friend, my family.  My experience with Nichole has been one that can only be expressed as divinely appointed.  Actually, I would wager a guess that every person who has ever met Nichole would use the descriptive phrase “divinely appointed” in assessing their own experience with her.  She has this way of listening that makes you feel like you are the only person that has ever spoken.  This deep listening that she practices isn’t just with her ears.  It’s the kind of listening that happens with the heart, with every fiber of being that is attentive to what is being spoken.  And then once the words are spoken, whether painful or joyful, she can internalize them, transmute them, and reflect them back as love, as healing.  This access to another realm of being that she consistently seems to be operating in, brings with it an honesty, a power, and a beauty to the world that is singular to her.  If love and attention have any ethereal correlation, she is the proof in the pudding. 

If you are the lucky recipient of her attention, you will remember and you will be changed.  Oh, and that’s just her listening.  I can’t even begin to cover what happens when she speaks her truth into existence.  Or dances. Lord, don’t get me started on her dancing.  This embodied divine feminine could convince a granite mountain to become a river of silly putty with her dancing if she chose.

I have watched Nichole move things with her mind. I have watched her control rooms with the lift of an eyebrow.  I have scratched the surface of what it means to understand my own infinity when she’s laid her hand on my chest.  We all know Game of Thrones.  I’m just sayin, I wouldn’t leave her near a fire with any dragon eggs, cuz she’s got that kind of magic.

If the reader is near Nichole right now, know that you are being blessed.  If you get the chance to become closer to Nichole, take it.  Also, full disclaimer, get ready for a reality roller coaster.  Nichole, if you are hearing this, you were like taking the red pill in The Matrix and damn I wish I could dose the whole world with a little bit of you.  I love you.  Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for being in this world.  Thank you for continuing to create this world.  That’s all I got cuz I’m all misty-eyed thinking about how wonderful you are.

The End.  

This message has been brought to you by Benjamin Black, (real cool guy I hear).


If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are so hot.  Oh wait I mean the most magical being I’ve ever encountered.  No, wait, yeah both.

~Benjamin

Since I waited until the last day to do this, as I tend to do, I am writing this from the time of pandemic. Everyone’s anxiety is high, who even knows what’s going on,  but you’re out there posting ideas for showing up for each other. And what I cannot shake is that if you, Nichole, had not shown up in my life, I would not be who I am to today. My ability to handle all of those would be very different. I would not have the calm I have. I would not be the mother I am. I remember being at the aquarium, and really sort of bashfully saying, “I think I’m a healer?” And you laughed, said duh, and then proceeded to hypnotize all the fish or whatever it is you did, haha. I remember saying to you, I just want to dig into your brain and all your wisdom, and you said, “what if it’s already all within you?” You asked me to draw for you and I reconnected with my art too! I don’t think there is any other one single woman, other than my mother, I can point to in my life that has had such an incredibly profound impact on helping me to see who I am. You said it yourself, you’re a healer of healers. You are that because you dig so deeply and consistently into your work, your shadows, your love, all of it. You are remarkably driven, and committed over and over to the woman you are always becoming. You healed yourself, and in doing that healed all of the women around you. You radically show the fuck up for life, and for your people. *Thank. You.* Love you forever!

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You are so held & supported!

~Kristina

Nichole, my magical beautiful friend. Thank you for your brilliance, your mama-magic, your wisdom, guidance, all things woo woo, and your ability to help so many people navigate this rough and wild journey that is life. You don’t only have a gift, you ARE a gift. You own your being, your wholeness, and you are authentically you, unashamed of the unique and beautiful gifts that take us deeper into compassion and understanding. Your way of being allows the rest of us to shine too. You have forever impacted me and are someone who I can and will never forget. I love you dear friend and feel so lucky to have you in my life. 

If there was absolutely ONE thing you would want this person to remember about themselves, it is this: *

You, Nichole, are perfect and pure magic and I will forever feel your impact on my life.

~Dana

*EDITED* another day that I had a face for radio…

We just returned from taking the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project to a group of amazing teens in Decorah, Iowa and I’m still recovering emotionally from the whole thing. The photos are up on the project’s Facebook page. The blog will be up here when I can get all of my thoughts and feelings wrapped up into something that makes sense.

For now, however, I can share with you a LIVE interview that went underway this morning with Iowa Public Radio.  Becca, from our Decorah Teen Group, joins me on the program. Becca is the reason that this project went to Iowa in the first place. Listen in and see why. And ignore my various “um”s.

LISTEN TO THE PROGRAM HERE: http://iowapublicradio.org/post/building-self-esteem-through-photography

Building Self-Esteem through Photography

Rebecca Haars

Rebecca Haars
CREDIT ALANA TAMMINGA

Students at Decorah High School have lost friends in recent years, some to accidents, some to suicide. Senior Rebecca Haars saw that her fellow students were hurting and vulnerable, so she decided to do something to help. She brought the Raw. Honest. Loved.project to Decorah.

On this Talk of Iowa segment, host Charity Nebbe talks with Haars and Alana Tamminga, the woman behind this powerful project.

Tamminga says that the Decorah teen group taught her some things as well, and she hopes this session helped them work through their insecurities.

“They have so much to offer,” Tamminga says. “We could see ourselves in them. We lived it, we were feeling that way in high school too; we’ve felt it since then.”

“So I’m just hoping for them, that they don’t [carry their insecurity] as much as we did. This is something that maybe they can quash now and know that they are absolutely good enough, to hold their heads high.”

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Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)

in super duper excitement and anticipation of Group 10 – Couples!! happening on Sunday, I’m reblogging one from Group 9 – Moms & Daughters. And, ohmygoodnessyes, I will be finishing the blogs from Group 9. I still have seven awesome women whose stories you need to hear. I haven’t done it yet because, 1) I’m the most terrible procrastinator, 2) I procrastinate even more when I’m scared I’m not going to be able to do someone’s story the justice it deserves, 3) I’m just damn busy. I WILL get to them, however. I WILL.
For now, enjoy this one again, ’cause it’s a good one…

The Raw.Honest.Loved.Project

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(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)

“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion…

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are you beautiful? I asked 100 men what ‘physical beauty’ is and the results shocked me

this goes along with everything I believe in and everything that the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project is all about. Thank you, Rozanne!

Rozanne Leigh

Tina Fey said it best in her book, ‘Bossy Pants’:

 “But I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty.
Girls wanted butts now.
Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them.
And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired.
And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you.
All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful.

Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose…

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Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Liz & Caitie)

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(The introduction for each of these Group 9 blogs will be the same…if you’ve already read it, feel free to skip down to Caitie’s & Liz’s stories…if not, Melissa’s & Lily’s stories can be found here)

“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion involved this night was the most intense of any yet.
Why? Because being a mom is an emotional roller-coaster that none of us are really fully prepared for. And most of the time, we’re not all talking about the tougher side of motherhood.
We’re not talking about how much anxiety it can cause.
How isolating it can often be.
We’re not talking about how sometimes being a mom fucking sucks.
How much we question every. single. step. that we take.
We talked this night about all of it. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made. We talked about where we think we may have done things right. We talked about so many things.

***The mom with the son and daughter whom she feels she’s failed. She never wanted kids anyway…is that wrong?? Is it wrong to vocalize??

***The mom who had to work full-time to support her alcoholic, drug-abusing husband, who had to leave their daughter there to care for him at these times because there seemed to be no other option. Who watched her daughter not get to experience a real childhood…did she totally screw up?? Will her daughter be okay??

***The mom who has always cared too much about others’ feelings toward her, who feels she has set a bad example for her teen daughter, especially in respect to men. Who became a victim of abuse and stayed…did she completely fail her daughter with that example, even though she finally left?? Will her daughter make the same mistakes??

***The mom who experienced tragedy and powered through, seemingly stoic. Who has always been the pillar, the strong one on the outside…should she have shared more?? Should she have cried in the open more??

***The mom who never feels like she’s enough, who has also experienced tragedy and loss you and I could not imagine experiencing. Has she been too emotional?? Is she setting the right example??

***The mom who felt like a huge failure simply from stepping into that role too young, who is always trying to live up to expectations of someone she’ll never be able to actually get approval from. Is he proud of her?? Did she work hard enough??

I promise you that you will relate to at least one of these stories.
We all seem to have these thoughts running through our heads. We compare ourselves to everyone else. There are often overwhelming feelings that the other moms are, simply, just doing it better. ‘They’re not possibly almost losing their shit as we feel like we are…they’ve got it together. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!’
And then you sit down and talk to a few of them and there’s a big “A-HA!” moment – we’re all the same. We’re scared. We’re exhausted. We’re scraping by. We’re overwhelmed. We’re insecure. We’re desperate for some validation that we’re each doing, at least, ‘alright’.

This particular group came about because, not just do we need some solidarity as moms, but, we need some as moms raising daughters. The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the most influential (and just happens to be the one we’re talking about this time). Our daughters most often learn from us what it means to be a woman. A father can see his daughter as separate from himself, but, this can be much more difficult for a mother. In my own experience, my mothering of my daughter versus my son differs in ways I often wish it wouldn’t. Affection comes much easier with my son, especially now that my daughter is a teenager. Do I think this is because of my own relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother growing up (more on that and the mother/daughter dynamic here)? Because of the lack of affection that went on in my own childhood home? Definitely. I often simply do not know how to show affection to my daughter. It feels so foreign. And it KILLS ME. It’s the number one thing I wish I could change in our relationship. I am her biggest cheerleader and her main advocate in all things – I will take on the world for/with her, but it’s difficult to give her a hug. WHAT?! Crazy, I know. Which is why I had my daughter (14) join us this evening as well. We could relate to so much of what was said. We needed to talk this stuff through also.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the similarities in insecurities between the mothers and daughters. I watched the pattern as all of their write-ups came through to me in the days before…and it made me cry. We pass these things on to our daughters (maybe our sons, too. probably our sons, too.) without even realizing it. It’s devastating. The recognition on each of these moms’ faces when realizing how similar their daughters’ insecurities are to theirs…it was a very shocking and enlightening moment. A teaching moment. Where maybe we didn’t realize this before…we thought we weren’t vocalizing these things…if we’re not vocalizing them, it’s okay, right?? Seems to be wrong. We, as their moms, are the number one influence on how our daughters feel about themselves. Our kids are sponges, not just of our words, but, most definitely of our actions. And, really, not all of this can be helped. We can’t just be these super shiny examples of doing everything perfectly, that’s just not realistic. But, we can be aware. This made us aware. I know it taught me to share. I already share quite a bit and try to do so at appropriate times with my daughter, regarding different experiences in life, but, it was emphasized even more to me how important it is. Being “real”, being honest, is vital.

I’m breaking this group up into blogs of each mother/daughter duo (or grandma/mother/daughter trio, in one case) in the order of the evening, for the sake of telling each of their stories in a less overwhelming package. The most important things that were said this evening were the things said in-between what had been written. There was so much conversation that went into much more detail. So, I will be including a bit of that with each mother/daughter story. Hopefully, this will give each woman the chance she deserves to have her experience told…as a mother…as a daughter…together.
(links to previous groups can be found at the bottom of the page)

Liz & Caitie

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Caitie ~ Being in 8th grade, at a rich private school, while on a scholarship can be very difficult. I accepted a scholarship and started attending (name omitted for privacy) school this year. This was a big change in my life that I am still struggling with today. I always feel compared to the other girls in ways of money, looks, and many more things. But one thing in particular that always gets me down is how I look. I have transformed SO much in the past two years. I have lost over 40 pounds, I have gotten contacts and my braces off, I have grown taller, I have grown more mature. Even through this transformation, I have gained confidence, but I still don’t have as much as I should. Everyday I look at myself in the mirror and say: “You aren’t good enough. You are too fat and ugly to be loved.” I think, “People should pick on you at school; you deserve it. You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.” Some days I don’t want to eat because I want to be skinny. This is not how I want to live my teenage years. I need to have better friends in my life, and find good people to surround myself with more often. I need a change.”

Caitie’s friends and family –

“Dear Caitlin,
I’ve know you for a long time and Girl Scouts was a great time for us, and a great time for me to make a new friend. That friend was you – a quirky, fun, caring, and most definitely outgoing girl! I’ve had lots of good memories with you and I hope we can always make more! I admire your snappy attitude and your way of entertaining and interacting with people. You’re an all around nice, talented and smart girl. I hope we can stay friends and I hope you stay just the way you are.
Your Friend,
Paige 🙂 “

“Caitlin, you’ve been my friend for many years and I’m very thankful for that. Even through our ups and downs you’ve proven to me that you’re a strong, inspiring, beautiful girl that never gives up. You’re a fighter, who will push through anything that stands in your way of your dreams and will do anything for anyone no matter what. Never be insecure about who you are. And don’t ever change to be someone else. I love you for YOU ❤ “ – Isa

“Caitlin is a smart, honest, fun, outgoing girl. I have always loved being around my best friend, but she is not really my best friend…she’s more like my SISTER! I love her so much and don’t know what my life would be like without her. It’s hard to have a long-distance friendship but if you have to, it can work out in your favor.” – Hailey

“Dear Caitie,
You are very funny. You have always been a good friend to me and helped me through any problems I have had. I am very happy I can count on you and you’ll be there because that is what friends are supposed to do. You are very independent and a strong person who has been through a lot but you still keep your head up and a smile on your face.
From Ashley”

“My lovely daughter. You amaze me. I see more and more glimpses of the young adult you are growing into and it makes me so excited. I know you still are holding onto being a kid, but know you will always be my kid. You are so beautiful, so funny, so strong. I love your voice, your courage – you are a natural leader and watching you find that and practice it is amazing. I’m proud to be your mama. Your growing into your own skin, and I truly believe these next 4 years will be memorable and positive for you. Be confident to be who you ARE. You are awesome baby boo. Don’t lose sight on you. Love you kiddo.” – Liz

After I take her photo, Caitie goes onto elaborate on her insecurity:

Caitie: “I’ve had troubles in the last couple of years or so with self-harm. I told my new friend at school about it. The day of graduation there was a big sleepover that I wasn’t invited to, for all the girls in my class. That girl called me from there to ask me if I was okay because they didn’t want me to cut myself again. I could hear a bunch of girls laughing in the background…”

Me: “because she shared it with them?”

Caitie: “Yeah, I trusted her with my big secrets and she told everyone. That was really hard for me…I’ve always wanted to be friends with her…one day she shared with me that she used to try to be mean to me to get me to not hang out with her anymore. It was really hard to hear – whenever she would say something mean to me or make fun of me in front of people to try to be funny or make herself look cool, I would just try to not let it get to me because I was afraid of being alone…I try to tell myself, “Why would you want these people as friends? They don’t deserve your friendship.” But, it’s hard to love yourself.”

We go on to discuss how she ended up in this situation at this private school…

Caitie: “We moved here at a time when so much was going on…my grandpa died, my dog died, my parents were getting divorced…everything happened at once, so we moved up here and I knew nobody.”

She and her mom, Liz, go on to speak about the difference in environment. How friendships came easily to Caitie in her former school, but, now that she was starting over, it was much more difficult. How hard it is to insert yourself into a new school where these kids have all grown up together, where they already have a tight bond and an already established clique. Most have been raised together since they were about three years old. They also are, for the most part, used to a different standard of living.
Caitie goes on to explain: “The worst part is that I think they didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong…When I was a kid, I didn’t really get to have a childhood because my dad did a lot of stuff that was bad and I had to take care of him and stuff and wasn’t able to be a kid. So, now I’m going through the bullying stuff and not having the same experiences as other kids is really hard. I try not to show that kind of stuff because I have different problems than they do. They complain about not getting enough money, not getting as much as they want for allowance, and I’m over here having serious trouble with my family…they don’t understand. And all of my good friends are in Vancouver.”

We go on to discuss how that likely isn’t the case – it’s not that these other kids have perfect lives, it’s just that maybe they’ve been raised to live under this guise of perfection. Hiding the real problems that may be happening at home. Smoke and mirrors. Not everything is always as it appears. 
I’ll go into more on all of this after Liz’s story, as Liz and Caitie’s stories are obviously intertwined…

Group 9_LizInsLiz – Insecure. Fear. Unloved. Alone. Unworthy. Judged. Not good enough. Needy. Spoiled. Questioning. Question my motives, question my instincts, question my abilities. Not a lack of confidence, but a doubt. A small seed of doubt. Haunting doubt. Shadow of a doubt. Doubt about my choices, my strength, my abilities, my motives. My negative shadow of self-doubt. How can I trust even myself? Fixer. People pleaser – I have sacrificed my own self to fill the doubt and that didn’t work.
Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of ME. My desires, my hopes, my values, my instincts, all put aside for others for so long. Lost sight of ME – now I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Who am I and what am I about? What IS my path? Forgotten. Question everything. Am I ok? Am I a good mom? Am I worth loving? Am I someone I would want to be around? How do I create the strong, confident, balanced woman I want to be? Where do I go from here? There is a blind faith for me to be on this path. I can’t see the end of the path – but I have to trust I am finally on the RIGHT path. My reward will to be able to see someone in the mirror that I respect, someone I would want to be by my side. Someone to be proud of. I want to belong in my own skin. I want to define – shine light on – my path. Without the doubt. The doubt can stay behind.”

Liz’s friends and family –

“Elizabeth is extremely kind and giving. In some ways almost to a fault. But nevertheless it is today and what she is doing for her family now. I believe she is a forward-looking and competitive person, making today and tomorrow the best of days. She understands support and the priority of family and the responsibility of providing a nurturing and giving environment to a daughter.
She has an artistic sense and the ability see a job and produce a creative outcome. Also the organizational ability to multitask, all of theses attributes are characteristic of her parental influence.
Lastly she is a beautiful woman, who is kind and loving.” – Jack

“I love how positive she is and how smart she is…she is the total package in my life. She has been through hell and back and has made it out to a better life and continues to strive for more out of life…she isn’t narrow-viewed or close-minded and all of this in this day and age is rare.” – Adam

“Liz is a tremendously loyal, compassionate woman who is able to organize and take charge of items that require decisive leadership. Always willing and able to put in some elbow grease.
Unique, and appreciates diversity- non-judgmental.” – Eric

“Oh, my beautiful, amazing, and talented Lizzy…. The strongest woman I know. And I’m blessed to have you as my best friend. I admire your drive- when you set your mind to it- watch out world! The love and support you give, not just to your family and friends, but also to the people you don’t know. You are one of the few people I know who will drop whatever they are doing to help another. I love how you get emotional about some things… Even the ones we don’t agree on!” – Kay

“Liz always surprises with her talents, strengths, interests and passions. She, like her dad, can get intensely involved in a project, never fearing that it is something she’s never done before or that maybe it might be too hard. She has drive and ambition in abundance.
Liz has both inner and outer beauty and a style all her own, never a copycat. She is a fiercely loyal mom and has a heart of gold.” – Dianne

After taking her photo, I asked Liz if she cared to elaborate on her insecurity anymore…

Liz: “Um, this (the group) has just come at a really good time. I’m glad this is here.”

Caitie speaks to her mom: “When you say you have self-doubt and you doubt you’re able to be loved or be a good mom, that just blows my mind. Through my dad being an alcoholic and a drug addict and not being there for us…through going through divorce and being alone, you’ve always been there for me and you put a smile on your face and you just figure out how to put your stuff aside and not care for yourself. You care for me and grandma and everybody else – you put us first before you and sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. How could you think that you aren’t a good mom? I don’t understand why you would think that about yourself. It makes me feel bad that you feel that way.” 

Liz, to Caitie: “I’m sorry. It tears me up that you …I worked so hard to get you into that school because I thought you needed some structure and needed a smaller place to thrive…”

Caitie: “I’ve always felt that because I didn’t have a good experience there…that I failed you because you worked so hard to get me in, like it was all for nothing…”

Liz: “but then I feel like I failed YOU because I put you in a place that tore you apart socially…and getting you out of that situation with your dad, I feel guilty that I didn’t do that soon enough – you missed your childhood – because I didn’t have enough guts to get us out. That haunts me. I carry that with me because I wasn’t strong enough.”

Caitie goes on to talk about how Liz had no choice. How she had to work because they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to survive. How it wasn’t her mom’s fault. How she did what she had to do.

Ugh. Right?
I think that was the overwhelming feeling. Especially for us moms.
We really felt for Liz here.
To hear your kid tell you that it’s okay that you made the difficult choices that you made…that even though it may have been extremely tough on them in some ways, they’re okay.
They’re okay because you enabled them to survive.
And YOU survived.
You may not have done everything perfectly along the way, but, you worked with the situation you had. You may wish you could have changed a million things, but, you can’t go back. You can’t fix it all, but, what you’ve strived to fix has been worth it.

At this point, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. We all had experienced a bit of emotional exhaustion through all of this heavy conversation…and we were only four stories in!

Guilt.
What mom (dad, too, I’m sure) can’t relate to the feelings of guilt? At least on some scale.
Here was Liz looking at her life – feeling guilty that Caitie had been in and out of hospitals with her father when he overdosed, that Caitie had to be the one to care for him at home, as he was in no position to be caring for his family at that time. Feeling guilty that she had to be out of the home on business trips, that she had to take time away from home in order to provide for her family. Feeling guilty that she couldn’t just get her daughter out of that situation. Feeling guilty for not leaving. And then, when she did leave, feeling guilty for not leaving sooner. After that, she provides what she thinks will be a more comfortable life for Caitie and ends up feeling guilty for the way Caitie is treated in this new environment straight out of the ‘Mean Girls’ movie. Suffice it to say, she probably even felt guilty for admitting in this group that she felt guilty for all of this. Aaaaaaa!

This was all obviously incredibly intense. But, seeing the communication, seeing the honesty that was being put forth in this group…it was beautiful. Mothers and daughters were having conversations that maybe they’re not accustomed to having. Conversations that, however hard they may be to have, were obviously necessary. It was important for the daughters here to see the honesty. They’ve seen their moms always put up the strong front. A tough exterior – one that can handle it all.

Honestly, that feels like what we’re doing as moms at least 75% of the time, doesn’t it? We’ve got our strong shells and our kids often don’t see the cracks. They don’t see the tears behind closed doors. They don’t see us awake at night questioning countless parenting decisions we’ve made. The things we could have said differently, the extra bit of patience we wish we could have had, the hug we wish we could’ve slowed down and given them as opposed to the snapping at them that we did instead…and on and on and on.

There was such a comfort in this group. To have our kids see the raw bits of us – the reality of being a mother.
To hear from them that, no matter how you may question yourself, no matter how often you do this, your kids see a you that you don’t.
They see the stronger version of you.
They don’t see that this may be a bit of a facade you are protecting them with.
They see you in ways you don’t even realize.
The fragility that you may feel is enveloped in a love that presents itself as a strong, safe refuge for them.

That’s the mom you are.

***on a side note, I must include some information about a situation that happened in relation to Caitie when the photos from this night went up on Facebook. I had previously warned the ladies in this group that people can often be quick to make assumptions about what they’ve written when it’s compartmentalized into such a small space as a word or so on a chalkboard. I’m so glad I warned them of this, as that’s exactly what happened the very next day. One of Caitie’s former teachers contacted her and told her, and I quote: “Your post is humiliating garbage,” “You should take it down. People who really care about you will not give any attention to it.”
Caitie went on to attempt to explain this project to her, letting her know that her and Liz were extremely happy with the evening and what it did for them. Her teacher went on to basically say that Facebook isn’t the place for this.
I disagree. The point of this project is to encourage LESS judgment, MORE relating. Definitely MORE compassion. The reason it is posted on Facebook is because, well, Facebook is where the people are. And Facebook is what has encouraged this project along. It is because these raw and honest stories are shared with you, the public, that people take a minute to think a little deeper. To pause before judgment. To show love and empathy. To evaluate relationships. I get messages all the time in this regard. What I don’t get are messages saying what this teacher did…that this sort of thing is “humiliating garbage.”
Caitie was also told, “You are a child. Your mother needs to take you to the museum, a movie, ice cream. You do not need more drama and adult stuff.”
Hey, guess what? Caitie’s not a child. She’s a teenager. A young adult. She just entered high school. She is faced with very real, very adult issues every day. She was faced with these adult issues as a child. Now that she has the capacity to process these things, they should just be avoided? She should go have some ice cream? See a movie? Play with a Barbie too, maybe? No. She’s not three. THIS. IS. LIFE. We’d do well to acknowledge that and guide her through it. Not stifle conversation.
I let Caitie know that I would love for this teacher to contact me and that maybe I could dispel whatever was making her so “concerned” about Caitie’s involvement in this project (though, the fact that Liz, HER MOTHER, deemed it something they should do should have been enough). Her response was that she would not be contacting me, that she ‘respects her own credentials’ and that I am ‘a freaking photographer. Not even a psychologist. WOW.’
Yep. I am a photographer. Even a freaking photographer. Not a psychologist. Not a psychiatrist. Not a therapist. Not even a counselor. But, here’s the thing…I’ve never attested to be any of those. I do this project because it facilitates conversation. This is something anyone can do. I don’t give out answers. I encourage discussion. That is all. Not that I needed to answer to that…anyone who’s been in a group can attest to what it is that goes on.
*Sigh*
Positivity.
Let’s keep this stuff positive.
Encourage each other. Promote discussion. Be there. Be loving.
This project is here to benefit others. And that’s the general response. I hope you find that to be the case in at least some form.
Much love, Alana***

…look out soon for the next story: Jennifer & Gwendolyn. A story about looking for approval, about wanting to be liked, about dealing with abuse…

Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

the reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)

Group 9 – Moms & Daughters! (featuring Melissa & Lily)

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“When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement.”

Those were words written in and spoken by Melissa, the first mom to share her story. Melissa had participated in Group 1 and was ready/nervous/frightened/determined to participate in this group, as she thought it would be beneficial to share the same honest and open experience with her daughter.

This project had been going on for a year and a half by the time this group took place back in June.
Every group is eye-opening, every group is relatable, every group has compelling stories that evoke much emotion.
This group was all of those things and more.
The emotion involved this night was the most intense of any yet.
Why? Because being a mom is an emotional roller-coaster that none of us are really fully prepared for. And most of the time, we’re not all talking about the tougher side of motherhood.
We’re not talking about how much anxiety it can cause.
How isolating it can often be.
We’re not talking about how sometimes being a mom fucking sucks.
How much we question every. single. step. that we take.
We talked this night about all of it. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made. We talked about where we think we may have done things right. We talked about so many things.

***The mom with the son and daughter whom she feels she’s failed. She never wanted kids anyway…is that wrong?? Is it wrong to vocalize??

***The mom who had to work full-time to support her alcoholic, drug-abusing husband, who had to leave their daughter there to care for him at these times because there seemed to be no other option. Who watched her daughter not get to experience a real childhood…did she totally screw up?? Will her daughter be okay??

***The mom who has always cared too much about others’ feelings toward her, who feels she has set a bad example for her teen daughter, especially in respect to men. Who became a victim of abuse and stayed…did she completely fail her daughter with that example, even though she finally left?? Will her daughter make the same mistakes??

***The mom who experienced tragedy and powered through, seemingly stoic. Who has always been the pillar, the strong one on the outside…should she have shared more?? Should she have cried in the open more??

***The mom who never feels like she’s enough, who has also experienced tragedy and loss you and I could not imagine experiencing. Has she been too emotional?? Is she setting the right example??

***The mom who felt like a huge failure simply from stepping into that role too young, who is always trying to live up to expectations of someone she’ll never be able to actually get approval from. Is he proud of her?? Did she work hard enough??

I promise you that you will relate to at least one of these stories.
We all seem to have these thoughts running through our heads. We compare ourselves to everyone else. There are often overwhelming feelings that the other moms are, simply, just doing it better. ‘They’re not possibly almost losing their shit as we feel like we are…they’ve got it together. WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?!’
And then you sit down and talk to a few of them and there’s a big “A-HA!” moment – we’re all the same. We’re scared. We’re exhausted. We’re scraping by. We’re overwhelmed. We’re insecure. We’re desperate for some validation that we’re each doing, at least, ‘alright’.

This particular group came about because, not just do we need some solidarity as moms, but, we need some as moms raising daughters. The mother-daughter dynamic is one of the most influential (and just happens to be the one we’re talking about this time). Our daughters most often learn from us what it means to be a woman. A father can see his daughter as separate from himself, but, this can be much more difficult for a mother. In my own experience, my mothering of my daughter versus my son differs in ways I often wish it wouldn’t. Affection comes much easier with my son, especially now that my daughter is a teenager. Do I think this is because of my own relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother growing up (more on that and the mother/daughter dynamic here)? Because of the lack of affection that went on in my own childhood home? Definitely. I often simply do not know how to show affection to my daughter. It feels so foreign. And it KILLS ME. It’s the number one thing I wish I could change in our relationship. I am her biggest cheerleader and her main advocate in all things – I will take on the world for/with her, but it’s difficult to give her a hug. WHAT?! Crazy, I know. Which is why I had my daughter (14) join us this evening as well. We could relate to so much of what was said. We needed to talk this stuff through also.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to see the similarities in insecurities between the mothers and daughters. I watched the pattern as all of their write-ups came through to me in the days before…and it made me cry. We pass these things on to our daughters (maybe our sons, too. probably our sons, too.) without even realizing it. It’s devastating. The recognition on each of these moms’ faces when realizing how similar their daughters’ insecurities are to theirs…it was a very shocking and enlightening moment. A teaching moment. Where maybe we didn’t realize this before…we thought we weren’t vocalizing these things…if we’re not vocalizing them, it’s okay, right?? Seems to be wrong. We, as their moms, are the number one influence on how our daughters feel about themselves. Our kids are sponges, not just of our words, but, most definitely of our actions. And, really, not all of this can be helped. We can’t just be these super shiny examples of doing everything perfectly, that’s just not realistic. But, we can be aware. This made us aware. I know it taught me to share. I already share quite a bit and try to do so at appropriate times with my daughter, regarding different experiences in life, but, it was emphasized even more to me how important it is. Being “real”, being honest, is vital.

I’m breaking this group up into blogs of each mother/daughter duo (or grandma/mother/daughter trio, in one case) in the order of the evening, for the sake of telling each of their stories in a less overwhelming package. The most important things that were said this evening were the things said in-between what had been written. There was so much conversation that went into much more detail. So, I will be including a bit of that with each mother/daughter story. Hopefully, this will give each woman the chance she deserves to have her experience told…as a mother…as a daughter…together.

(links to previous groups can be found at the bottom of the page)

Melissa & Lily ~

Group 9_MelissaInsMelissa J. ~ “What am I insecure about? So, this is my second around at this. Facing my insecurities the first time wasn’t easy. Who knew I had more skeletons in my closet?! Round 1, I spoke about my insecurities with my weight, body image and lack of self-esteem.

A major insecurity for me now is that I’m not making the right decisions when it comes to my kids. When people tell you that raising kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, it’s an understatement. I’ve tried to raise my kids with morals, values and respect. I raised my kids like my parents raised me, minus the things I thought they did wrong. What I missed was self-worth.

When my son was young, he was so confident and so happy. So I didn’t worry about him. My daughter was shy. I was so worried she would be like me, shy and afraid. So I signed her up for different classes, made her talk to people when she didn’t want to, and made her ask for things she wanted. Today, she is a confident and strong young woman. She knows who she is and I am very proud of her.

What is more painful for me is her brother. I no longer see that happy, self-assured boy and that kills me inside. He cowers and retreats when he’s challenged or questioned. He doesn’t see his value, questions his worth and the love we have for him. I don’t know where the line of being too stern or not begins and ends. How can I trust anything I say and do now if this is the result of parenting thus far? This is my biggest insecurity.”

Melissa’s friends and family ~

“One of the things I admire Melissa for is how she looks after her Mom and teaches her children to do the same. She’s a great mom, very loyal to her friends, takes good care of my son. I wouldn’t trade her.” – Evie

“She is always there to support family and friends.
She is passionate for food and culture.
She has strong opinions on what she believes and stands by them.
She is kind and caring.” – Tina

“I love how you are a great Mom – having patience, understanding, and the follow-through to enable our children to be the best well-rounded people they can be.
I love your sense of humor as we almost always are finding the humor in life.
I appreciate how you are a great daughter as you take care of your mother in a selfless, patient and loving way.
I appreciate how you always take the time to put your love into your art of cooking.
I love you for your patience with me and all of my faults.
I love how you make me want to be a better husband and father.” – Scott

Further from Melissa: “My kids think I’m this tough ass, kick-your-ass type of mom if you mess with me – part of the whole “failure” thing is sometimes I think, when it came down to it, I didn’t do it when I should have or when I needed to. And that’s part of the failing…I was raised with girls and having a son is SO different. And all of the expectations that come with having a son – and having a husband who has a son – you see that our expectations are even different…even at three, the expectations of being a man were already on my son…in hindsight, I can see where we could have made a difference, could have changed something, but it’s about moving forward from this point. Where do you go?”

We then spoke a bit about the men’s group that we did earlier this year, in which we discussed very much about that connotation of “be a man” and what that does to boys, and later, men. More on that can be found here: Group 7 – Men!

 

Group 9_LilyIns

Lily (age 13) ~ “My main insecurity is failure. I feel like I fail at everything. At being a good friend, keeping my grades/GPA up, meeting my parents’ expectations, personal goals, and being perfect. 

I really want to be perfect, but whenever I try to get an A, get perfectly skinny, have perfect hair, perfect anything – I always end up failing. And sometimes I’ll start to reach that goal of being perfect, but, as I said, I always end up failing for reasons that are, honestly, pretty dumb. Most times I will overthink WAY too much and beat myself up for failing and take my anger out on myself. People say that I don’t fail and I’m doing perfectly fine but I just think they are lying and I am that much of a failure that I can’t even get my friends or parents to tell the truth.”

 

Lily’s friends and family –

“Dear Lily, You are so beautiful and sweet and always have the cutest outfits. If anybody ever thinks otherwise then they must be crazy in the head because they don’t know who they’re dealing with. I’ll always love you!” – Abby

“They are very kind and nice and she’s pretty.” – Jaqueline

“She is a wonderful girl. She is my twin, not by blood, but by heart. We love the same things, eat the same things and do the same things. We may not see each other a lot, but what I admire most about her is that when she does something, she tries the hardest at it.” – Kaitlyn

“Lily, I love you because you are such a wonderful person inside and out. You are kind, smart and respectful. You warm my heart and make me happy and very proud.
I admire you because you are strong and brave, so much more than I was at your age. You make great decisions and choices when it comes to friends and doing the right thing. Since you were young, you have always known who you are and have done things in your own time.
You have so taught me so much, how to be a better mom, friend and person. I can’t imagine my life without you and your brother.” – Melissa

Melissa then comments about the last part of what she wrote to Lily: “The reason I say that is because I never wanted to get married or have kids, and they knew that. That’s something I told them since they were young – that I didn’t want kids. They’d then say, “Well, you didn’t want me” and I’d say, “I didn’t KNOW you. It’s not that I didn’t want YOU, I just didn’t know you.” To Lily she then says, “I just want you to know…I want you.”
~Commence hugging.~

Really, though, are we not allowed to say that? “I didn’t want kids…I got pregnant. I had kids. Originally, however, I did not want kids.” “GASP! YOU MUST BE THE WORST MOM!” No. Not the case. Why is that some sort of faux pas? Don’t we all know at least ONE woman who is a great mother but swore she’d never have kids? Who maybe was pissed and terrified and angry when she got pregnant, and still maybe is pissed and terrified and angry often as a mom, but, she’s still a great mom? You do know at least one. Even if you don’t know you do, you do. I’ve had many a conversation lately with moms who can attest to this sort of thing. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about it. There are many super insane and stressful situations I’ve had to meet in my life that don’t compare at all with the energy it takes to be an ever-present mom. When my kid (three year old son) has multiple nights on end where he awakens me several times through the night, it results in a version of myself that I find even scarier than the occasional super-hormonal version of myself. Sleep deprivation will turn any decent mother into a terrifying nightmare. There are many, many, many things that make being a mom the most rewarding job, but there are many, many, many things that make being a mom the absolute most difficult job…and a job that many, many, many moms maybe didn’t intend on signing up for. Doesn’t mean they love their children any less. As Melissa said, she didn’t know her children yet. Does she love her children more than anything else in the world? Absolutely. Would she give up being a mom now? Absolutely not. Does she sometimes still hate it? Absolutely. Is that normal? YES. So ridiculously normal. And this night gave us a chance to talk it all out. And I’m thankful to Melissa for addressing it.

…look out soon for the next story: Liz & Caitie. A story about growing up quickly, about living around substance abuse, about feeling incredibly out of place, about bullying, about starting over.

Please comment and share your thoughts and experiences, if you feel so inclined.

the reason behind the start of this project can be found here: If you don’t have anything nice to say…
previous groups can be found here:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, Teens!
Group 3, 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, Men!
Group 8

beginnings, thank yous, and overwhelming heart tugs.

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We just had our reunion of the nine groups that have happened so far and it got me thinking about beginnings. 

This project started about a year and a half ago, in February of 2013, as merely a “thought”, more or less.
As an idea.
As a little shift from the “normal,” just to see what could come of it.
It started because, simply, I feel that communication is powerful. Conversation can breed change.
It continues because that communication has become more powerful than I ever thought possible.

As I’ve said many times over, it started because I was more and more disgusted by the gossip, slander, trash-talking that is common among women. The ONE goal I had was that the eighteen of us in that first group would walk away with a little more understanding and a little more empathy – that we would check ourselves before we think something disparaging about another person, definitely before we voice such a thing to someone else. That we would take the time to realize that, more often than not, there is SOMEthing we have in common with them – that if we took five minutes to really listen to them…to listen about things that matter…our quick-to-judge opinion would change.

The project has continued because that has definitely happened. But, that’s not all that has happened. I receive letters over and over from participants who have gained more self-respect, more self-love. Who, besides being slower to judge others, are also now slower to judge themselves. They are equipped to recall the positive traits about themselves that their loved ones believe to be their overwhelming qualities. They’re not just equipped to do it – they actually DO it.

The project continues because I also receive letters and feedback from those who haven’t even been directly involved yet – those who take comfort in the words of participants that are friends and strangers alike, finding that they’re not alone in their feelings, in their insecurities. That we’re all more and more alike than we sometimes imagine.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about this project is that every. single. time. I orchestrate/facilitate another group or ANYthing related to the project – no matter how nervous I may get – everything flows so effortlessly and easily. It tells me every time that this is what I am supposed to be doing. Things just flow and work with this because it is based in positivity. Because it is solely for building up, supporting, and loving one another.

Even when it came down to organizing a party that would consist of about 130 people – I’ve NEVER thrown a party in which I would need 130 people entertained and happy! But, as I said, because it was for the project, it just came together beautifully and perfectly.

I cannot thank enough those involved with that night.
It’s impossible.
But I’m going to try.

For those of you that didn’t get to attend, however, I will give you an idea of how the night went down, in list form.  

– 80 photos and insecurities – (every single participant) were hung on the wall
– amaaaaazing finger foods
– ridiculously delicious beer and wine
– a photo booth (SO FUN!)
– a spot for the little kids to entertain themselves
– a video that made everyone weepy
– a raffle and silent auction featuring awesome goods from small businesses in the area
– music! My favorite kind of music.
– laughter, tears, and more laughter, with an overwhelming feeling of solidarity

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The night was amazing.
I’ve said many times since that I wish I could have stepped back, taken a breath, and just listened. Just looked around and taken the whole thing in.
I didn’t really get that chance, as there were so many people who stopped me that I desperately wanted to talk to. Everyone was there because they were supporting the project. That alone gave me a constant overwhelming lump in my throat. To see so many people there, whether they have been in my life for long periods of time or short, meant the world to me.
There really are no words to accurately convey how that felt. But, I would not be far off in saying that it was one of the best feelings ever. Like falling in love with 130 people at once. Whoa.

What I can possibly state just in words: the buzz was phenomenal. The party was constant and joyous. I was told multiple times that when guests entered the building, the energy was awesome and contagious. THAT means everything went as it should.
Once again, the project was a success. And it enforced my desire to continue. So, continue I will.
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This party served as a fundraiser as well – as I know that many who attended are curious, the amount raised basically allowed me to break even as far as the cost of the party itself. So, thank you all whom were there for helping me to throw an awesome party!

I will be releasing the Group 9 – Mothers/Daughters blog in the near future, as well as a Kickstarter for the project, so that this can be something that continues as long as possible. Hopefully, this will be out sooner than I currently think. 

Now, I’d like to thank some people specifically:

Rhiannon – my right hand lady – the one who has filmed almost every single group; the one who serves as the part of my brain that is often lacking; the one who tirelessly sets up and tears down all of these things with me. You are amazing. You have my undying appreciation always.

Jamey – I could not have thrown this thing without you. No joke. Your handling of the food – organizing and creating such a delicious array of selections – brought such peace of mind to my planning. Everyone would have had to eat some Little Caesars pizza if I had been handling the food. You and your family did more than I could have ever expected. And I know you had a few other awesome helpers with you – to all of you, THANK YOU. I love you guys.

Glenna – for tirelessly lending your home time and again for us to have a meeting place. I don’t know what I would have done without you. ❤ Also, a big thank you to you and Abby for more wine! 

Kt – You are just awesome. You are reliable even when you think you’re not going to be reliable. Not really sure how you do that, but you do. You have been so damn supportive of this whole thing and I appreciate all you’ve put into it. I love how our friendship has grown since the start of this. You are definitely a part of our little family now. Thank you!

Ian – THAT VIDEO. WHAT?!?! That is the most beautiful thing. I still can’t watch without crying. You are ridiculously talented and I appreciate every stressful and exhausting second you put into this for me. Thank you so very much!

Aarde, Cheryl and Alan – THAT VENUE! Seriously, you guys, THANK YOU SO MUCH! That was such a perfect place to hold this and I appreciate your kindness in providing it so very much! I don’t know what I would have done without you guys. Aarde, thank you for making it happen.

Ash – While I include you in my thank you to Jamey, you definitely need your own. You were like a machine in your assistance with food and tables and cleanup and music and and and and…so many things I know you did that probably even went unnoticed. You are a great dude. Thank you. So much.

Rosie and Jennifer – You’ve photographed various groups and shared your experiences at each of those and I couldn’t thank you enough for your support in that way. Rosie, I love the photos you’ve shared from that night. I am so thankful that you were kind enough to capture the evening for me, as I was too busy to even take it all in.

Heidi – That wine was so good! You are the biggest of champs for providing that for us. I appreciate you and Precept Wine so very much. Love you, lady.

Dylan and Austen – THAT KOLSCH! Soooooooooo good! Thank you for brewing for me and sharing the deliciousness with everyone there. I know people now can’t wait for you to get some tap room/brewery going’. Love you both. Thank you so much!

Peni – Having my best friend here for this event was just perfect in itself. The fact that you organized and helped orchestrate the raffle and silent auction to take it off my plate, that was even beyond perfect. You helped silence my crazy mind where that was concerned. Thank youuuuu!

Kristen, Ana-Elizabeth and Jen – Thank you for conquering any fears you may have had (except Kristen; you love that shit)  and speaking in front of the crowd. Your experiences still speak to me on a huge scale. You are the reason this continues. I love you guys.

Mara and Melissa – GIRLS, I would probably only have made $5 if not for you both! I cannot thank you enough for your mingling and selling and handling of money! You guys are the best. I love you long time.

All of you who donated for the auction/raffle – Melissa Huston, Peni Massure, Singe Candles, Anna Bailey, Thisisrhi, Heidi Hedge, Justin Tamminga, Dagmar Simard & Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls, Jennifer Jones, Jamie Haskell, Becca Macdonald & Compass Rose, Mara Christensen, EarthNerd Treasures, Jake Pendle, Drollinger Designs, Kt Wright, Karla Corona & The Red Hot, Erin Stiner & Salon Parente and anyone else that my crazy brain may be forgetting…THANK YOUUUUUU GUYS SO VERY MUCH!!!!! You were essential in the raising of funds. I appreciate it sooooo much!

Jenn, Rhi, Austen, Dylan – Thank you for helping me clean up everything remaining the following day. I think I would have just sat on the floor and sobbed if I hadn’t have had your help.

To EVERYONE who donated money and contributed to raffle/auction monies, I thank you! (To Shari Kalsta and Laura Rossi who donated toward food before we even went shopping…all my love.)

If I forgot anyone, I’m so incredibly apologetic. My brain has been fried since this event and is only sort of coming back to me. You are all amazing.

TO EVERYONE: THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES FOR YOUR SUPPORT. Your support keeps this project in the forefront for me. It makes me keep going even when I think that the work is too hard – when I think of the daunting paperwork it will take to become a non-profit organization; the hours of social networking and administrative work it takes to keep this out there; the exhaustion that is super emotional and, yet, fulfilling with each group. You keep all this love and positivity as the main message for me.
You are this project.
Thank you.

Alana ❤
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group 8! women: raw. honest. loved.

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Stereotyping.
Generalizations.
Judgment calls based on face value. Based on outward appearance.
Judgment calls with no merit attached to them except merely what we alone have felt to be true. They seem to be a combination of what society and media tells us to be true mixed with what we have possibly experienced to be true based on our slight interactions. Does this make them correct? Obviously not.
They’re hurtful. They’re unnecessary. And we most often are wrong.
This group was a definite reminder of that.

– The skinny, pretty girl who seems to “have it all”…who actually feels just as much of a failure as you do. What is wrong with “just her”?
– The outwardly happy and confident mom who struggles with feeling like she’s never enough. Is she fulfilling each of her roles the way that she should? Is she an adequate mom/wife/friend?
– The brave and intimidating one who is listening intently to what you’re saying, but giving you no reaction, who inside is actually just questioning what your reaction is to her. Is she being social enough? Funny enough? NICE enough??
– The seemingly strong mom who sometimes wonders if her maternal path was the right one, and instantly feels bad for having such a thought. Does it make her less of a mom? Did she disappoint you by saying that?
– The one who is so creative and seemingly fearless, who actually fears so much. Is she losing you? Is she enough for you?
– The pregnant mom with the beautiful smile and calmness about her who is scared to death of bringing another child into this world. Will she be able to raise another child successfully?
– The quiet one in the background that gives a shy smile and has interesting things to say when she feels confident enough to speak up, who is constantly feeling like the outcast. Why do you like her? Are you around only because you feel sorry for her?
– The stone-faced beautiful girl who is scared out of her mind of being vulnerable. Why trust you when she can just trust herself? Why put herself out there when she may lose you?

Can you relate to any of them? To all of them?
I certainly could.

Since beginning this project over a year ago, I have met so many women involved with it now that, had I given you an assessment of them just based on my first interaction, I would have been so off-base, so far from understanding what makes each woman who she is.
This project has taught me to slow down.
To remember that if we give ourselves a brief period of time to really get to the core of a person, that the nuances, the supposed “bitchface”, the shyness (which I’ve often misjudged as ‘bitchiness’…I’ll admit it), the seemingly cold exterior…hell, even the laughter, the over-exuberance, the hatred of silence, the need to be the center of attention (these could describe me at any point in my life)…these traits generally all manifest themselves because of something much deeper that is happening. Something that this person is not usually bound to share with you within the first few minutes of meeting them. Maybe not even after years of ‘knowing’ them.

Please, get to really know them. Or, if you can’t do that, at least reserve your harsh judgment about them. You don’t know the whole picture. Even if you think you do, you don’t.

There was so much interesting discussion that went on in this group…I touched on a bit of it, which is all I’m going to do. I hope to release some videos here and there that can bring you into the group and the feeling of the night. Only then will you understand how intense it was. If I even try to explain it in words this will go on forever. I would rather that you read the stories of the ladies, in their own words…

Here is one video for you – please take three minutes and watch it, as it is very powerful. This was the discussion that took place after Alison read her insecurity and elaborated a bit on why she feels that way. The reactions from the women are heartfelt and impacting. Please keep in mind that the ladies did not know each other before this…

(links to past groups can be found at the end)

lindseyinsLindsey ~
“I believe that my biggest insecurity for me at this time is the fact that I am pregnant. I am pregnant with a child in a culture and society that I have a hard time believing in, and one I don’t trust. Our American ways have lost sight of our human ways, we buy into the “look like barbie” bullshit, we spend thousands each year trying to be something besides ourselves. We are not taught by society to love ourselves for us!

I am exhausted, yes the pregnancy does that too, but I am exhausted trying to be something society wants and not being what I want to be. I just want to be me. I want to teach my second child to just be. I want to live in a world that professes its love for all living things, one that cherishes the belongings of this earth, not spending time consuming and destroying it.

Some days I love the world and all its glory, everyone and everything has a special place in this grand sphere of energy. We all are different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses that fuel this fire. I truly believe that if we as a species and entity could only see the beauty we possess in our souls, beyond the negative thoughts, the cultural ‘lessons’, the masks that we all choose to hide behind. Than maybe just then we are making progress as being who ‘we’ are supposed to be and our souls and fires inside could burn the negativity and lies fed to us by a corporate American society. It’s my hope and prayer.”

Lindsey’s friends and family:

“Lindsey is, beautiful loving and courageous. :)” – Nicollette

“My Lindsey is an amazing woman with many facets. I have been fortunate enough to witness her take life by the horns and make her visions come to fruition. She is one of the most independent people I know. Self-motivated and willing to do the work. She has always made me proud to be her friend and has continually impressed me with her determination to be a great mom, an all-star student, a driven employee, the life of the party, a loyal friend, an open hearted lover & a die-hard Seahawks fan…. All of these in an honest way. One of my favorite traits about Linds is her raw, open, up-front style. She doesn’t put on any fronts in order to receive acceptance. She is one hot goddess too – gorgeous smile, the cutest nose ever, lovely tattoos, beautiful curves… All of these attractive traits, but her confidence and self-love is what puts her truly over the top for me and is inspiring to those who spend time with her.” – Jaime

“Here are my thoughts feelings and words on my dear friend Lindsey…

I was blessed to meet Lindsey around 9 years ago. She is gorgeous (inside and out), and her smile and the light in her eyes can pull anyone in. Lindsey has one of the largest hearts of anyone I know, she always has a shoulder or ear to lend, and THE best hugs. As a mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, and friend, she is an inspiration. I am grateful for this woman in my life. She is a very hard worker, completing any task she sets her sights on, while staying open to the universe for its sway (be it gentle or rough, she perseveres). Always a fun time to be had with this girl, anytime & anywhere! And an incredibly easy and rejuvenating friend to be around.

Lindsey is:
Kind
Open
Intelligent
Vulnerable
Loved by many
Non judgmental
Loving
Gentle
Strong ( ^yes both at the same time, and thats just her)
Caring
Beautiful
Determined
Intellectual
a Lover of life
Funny….hilarious!” – Jessica

“A few words about Lindsey: Lindsey is one of the most honest, tell-it-like-it-is ladies I know. There are no hidden agendas or subtext with Lindsey; what you see is what you get. I have always assumed this is because she is so confident and has the courage of her convictions. We have been friends for nearly 20 years now, and I can honestly say, she is the most loyal of all my girlfriends. Not only does she go out of her way to make time for me on my infrequent visits back to the USA, but she usually is the driving force behind organizing my social calendar with all our friends. This is a reflection of Lindsey’s natural leadership qualities, combined with her generous nature. I feel like I can tell Lindsey anything, and since she is so open and accepting of her own flaws, she is able to be the same about mine. That is probably the glue that keeps our relationship strong; a mutual respect and understanding of not only our strengths, but our weaknesses.

I love that lady!

I hope she enjoys her photo shoot and hearing what all her loved ones think of her.

With best wishes,
Rowan”

alisonins Alison ~
“Asking someone what they’re insecure about is like asking for a laundry list of the things that they hate about themselves. I could make that list pretty easily, and it would be a lot of the same things that most of the women I know fixate on constantly. It’s not our fault. Media and society tell us that we should be able to have it all: the awesome career, the perfect body, the great guy, the busy social circle, a great wardrobe, and so on. I have about 31% of those things, and it makes me feel inadequate. And because I feel inadequate, I feel undeserving. That’s really the main thing: I never feel like I deserve the things I have or the things I want. It’s such a hard and embarrassing thing to admit, but it’s related to all of these things that I love.
I really love work, and it’s actually one of the spaces in my life that I don’t feel undeserving. It makes sense because it’s quantifiable; I can see the results based on the work that I complete and the effort I put forth. I can logically see that I deserve things, like projects and extra responsibilities, based on how hard I work. In spite of the pride I get from my job, I also work under constant fear that at some point, I’ll stop deserving things. It’s maddening. I worry constantly about letting someone down and not deserving the next thing I want — a promotion, a raise, whatever it may be — but that motivates me to keep the bar high on my work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Outside of work is where I more have trouble. I have great personal relationships with people, but sometimes I don’t even know why. So many of my friends are these brilliant and talented people, and I’m just… me. Sort of funny sometimes, reasonably attractive if I comb my hair, generally a hard worker, just some girl from a small town who is literally faking it every single step of the way. There is nothing that I find particularly outstanding about myself, and yet, I’ve made my way into a truly exceptional group of friends. Honestly, it feels fragile sometimes.
My mom constantly tells me how proud she and my dad are of me. I don’t doubt that they truly feel that way, but I don’t feel like I’ve done a lot to deserve it. I go to work and things like that, but beyond that, I don’t feel exceptional, certainly nothing to be proud of beyond the facts that I breathe air and pay taxes. I know what pride feels like – that big, swelling feeling in your chest, and I don’t know what I could ever do to inspire that for them. My mom tells me constantly, “I’m so proud of you.” It feels like I’m cheating her somehow, or I could be doing something better that actually deserves pride and praise.

I don’t really date because I’m particular. Somehow, in spite of being selective, I still find the wrong men. My last two serious relationships ended due to complications involving other women. And when that happens, you start thinking to yourself, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with JUST me?” And then you go down this rabbit hole of comparisons. The other girl must be prettier, smarter, funnier, better at life. You do this horrible side-by-side comparison of all of the things that they must be that you’re just not. Then, irrationally, you start thinking that maybe you don’t deserve love or to be happy. It sounds so stupid on the surface — and still, it’s true. Getting burned like that forces you to feel a certain way; I feel like I must be undeserving of someone’s love and affection and kindness somehow, or maybe not even that — more than someone else is more deserving. It’s the absolute worst. It forces me to trip myself up, question myself constantly, and also to not put myself out there when I should because I’m terrified of that rejection again. It happened recently where I’ve had all of these feelings for someone for a few years and just couldn’t bring myself to put it out there until recently, and because I waited so long, I may have waited too long.

It’s not that I sit around and feel sorry for myself about it constantly or lack confidence in the things I can do well, but I when things happen, I never feel like I deserve it. When they don’t happen, it’s because I feel like I didn’t deserve it.”

Alison’s friends and family:

“Alison is one of my best friends – she is probably the warmest person I know. She loves deeply and sincerely. She is a woman of substance and knows quality when she sees it. She cares about others more than she cares for herself. If she spends 50 dollars on herself, she’ll turn around, without even a second thought, and spend 50+ on someone who might just be having a bad day. Alison reminds me of sunshine because its hard not to be happy when she’s around. She is physically beautiful, but even more gorgeous on the inside, which, in turn, radiates on the already lovely outside. She’s hilarious and witty. She’s intellectual and opinionated, well read, and can debate her side with solid facts. I love her. She and my parents adore each other too. I consider her family for many reasons. Faithful, honest, fun, sincere and protective – she will go to war for any of her friends or family members. Very creative and artistic! She loves music…I think of her often when I hear a fun tune. I could go on I suppose, let me know if you want me to – I am a huge Alison fan!” – Rebekah

“Hi,
I was contacted by you on Facebook to provide a few positive traits of Alison. Where to begin…
Alison is driven, unique, and loyal. She will lay herself across railroad tracks for any one of her friends or family members, and makes sure to personally connect with these people on a regular basis. She is endearing, enchanting, smart, quick-witted, brave, caring, and feels with her whole heart. I love her dearly. 🙂
Hope this helps! Sounds like an amazing project. I hope to see the end results!
Thanks!” – Heather

“Hi Alana!
My words about Alison:
– loyal
– smart as a whip
– generous friend
– beautiful soul
– amazing encourager
– Alison has great energy and is such a fun friend to be around..shares honestly and makes connections with everyone
I think this is such a great project! good luck,
Stephanie”

“If you took ALL the sunshine and bottled it up, you would have Alison. She is bright and unique and touches everyone with her vibrant smile. Her warmth is radiant and comforting. As a friend, she is irreplaceable and I thank my lucky stars that she is in my life.” – Julie

“Strong-willed, caring, thoughtful, fiercely loyal, fiercely honest, amazing listener, wise, true friend, big heart, talented.” – Matt

“Alison is the most engaging person I know. It’s nearly impossible not to be distracted by her beautiful green eyes or her fantastically endearing smile. She is intelligent, articulate, passionate, funny, talented, beautiful, selfless, and thoughtful. As if that weren’t enough, she is a wizard of cupcakes and other baked confections. Alison is one of the most important people in my life! All I have left to say is this, “No… you’re awesome!”
Best Regards,
Daniel”

“Alana,
I need to start with an apology, I’m sorry this is arriving at the last minute. I couldn’t decide if your message was spam, glad I finally opened it. Alison happens to be one of my favorite topics so this won’t be hard. That said, here goes.

Ali is a blessing, a true miracle. With a little bit of a rough start, this quiet little unassuming girl has won many hearts and made countless friends. Loving and kind.

Intelligent and wise beyond her years. She is so bright, teaching herself to read by the age of three. As a first grader she told me that she would be president one day and I told her that she could do anything she wanted to do. Older people love her. She has always been able to listen and connect with people … to actually “hear” them.

Determined and goal oriented. As a freshman she went to Washington DC, with a group of adults, as a student ambassador for our local industry. She went hoping to change the world and shine a light on governmental consequences. She was able to meet with many of our leaders including speaker of the house. This relationship, with business and governmental leaders, led to her being a featured student author in a statewide magazine.

A princess and a queen, literally. She stepped out of her comfort zone and ran for queen of our local festival and won. She not only won the title, but the respect and love of her community. She has always been a princess to us, a girlie girl that has never been afraid to get dirty. Her enthusiasm shines.

Competitive. Her older sister became a cheerleader and she followed, challenging herself to work harder. Hard work earned her a spot on an elite cheer squad that traveled to France.

A leader. As a senior she decided local veterans deserved to be publicly honored. She organized an assembly drawing the community and student body together starting a new tradition at her school.

Hardworking. Alison is a true believer in “give it your best”. She is never content with doing the minimum and sets goals for herself. When she meets that goal she will work to best that mark.

Entrepreneur extraordinaire. Alison creates beautiful cupcakes for weddings and parties.

Brave. Alison is not afraid to try. She has traveled the US working for a summer concert tour and then driven across the US to promote the release of a new product for a major company. Ali is not afraid to ski down a black diamond run or climb an old growth tree to talk to protesters. She shows no fear when rock climbing, even walking past a rattlesnake in the process (ok … she froze for a minute and then ran). She is able to give a speech or conduct a seminar for coworkers like it’s just another day. Climb Mt Adams.

Independent. Flat tire, rain, heels, dress – need help? No problem, changes it herself. Tell her she can’t, she will.

A daughter, a friend. Although she is my daughter, she is also my friend. I enjoy hanging out with her … she makes me a better person.
Thoughtful Compassionate Generous Driven
Selfless Amazing Open & Learning Beautiful inside & out
A book that you want to read … you can’t put it down. It’s a wonderful and intriguing adventure.

Strong in the face of tragedy. Alison is able to share the sorrow of others while silently lending strength, even in the face of her own sorrow.

For all of the above reasons … she is my hero. To say that she makes me proud is an understatement. I smile whenever I think about her. I am her mom … and I love her.
I hope this helps you.” – Lori

aleaseins Alease ~
“I’ve had my kindness mistaken for weakness in the past. So, I tend to keep people a certain distance from me until I feel that I can bring them closer; its hard to trust people sometimes. So, I make sure to trust myself always.”

 

Alease’s friends and family:

“Patient, healing, intelligent, intuitive, spontaneous, creative, innovative, sunny, beautiful.” – Julie

“She is an amazing cook and loves to bake. She makes an amazing fruit cobbler.
She loves music in my genres and always seems to know about bands before they’re cool.
She is always willing to help you no matter what. Especially if she sees you need a ride or some food, and she is always generous with her time.
She is well-spoken and can talk her way into any venue to see any band. It’s her superpower.
If you need anything else, let me know! I hope this helps and best of luck with your project.” – Del

 

tinains Tina ~
“Am I enough? That’s what it all boils down to.
I’ve never really cared what strangers thought of me, but my friends and family? That’s a different story. One of my biggest insecurities, the one I’ve chosen to focus on for this project, is that I worry I’m not enough for them. I try to be the best friend/family member possible but is it enough? Am I smart enough? Nice enough? Caring enough? Funny enough? Pretty enough? Selfless enough? I could go on..

I try so hard at everything I do… but is it enough?

I’m a stay-at-home mom. Is that okay? When other moms do it I think “hooray for them!” But I worry that I have to do it because I’m not smart enough or successful enough to have a job. And speaking of being a mom, am I nurturing enough? Am I patient enough? I’m sure the answer to that is no! Am I doing enough for my children? And my husband? As a wife, am I loving enough? Sexy enough? Supportive enough?
I think you get the point…. Am I enough?”

Tina’s friends and family:

“Hello Alana-
When asked to write a paragraph about Tina, I honestly didn’t know where to begin. I wanted to begin writing for the last few weeks but was always at a loss for where to begin and how to possibly sum up all the moving, amazing parts that comprise Tina. She is caring, she is funny, she is creative, she is multifaceted. I have a lot of respect for her as a mother and wife and I have shared some very funny times with her. When we first met, we clashed in very typical A-personality type conflict. We are both loud, center-of-attention-loving people. However, after that we hung out again and we both realized that we were the same and the friendship was instant. Tina brings out the fun in a situation. No matter where you are with Tina, I guarantee it will be a blast. She is not afraid to be exactly who she wants to be. I consider myself blessed to know her.
Thanks Alana, I think this is an amazing project!” – Thera

“I’ve known Tina her whole life…she was an active and precocious young child and very loving as well. She hasn’t changed much as an adult except she has gotten more beautiful each year. When I say beautiful, I mean the outside and the person. She has the most beautiful big eyes that I’m totally envious of and let’s not even mention the curly hair. Her “inside” is more deep. She is brave and honest. She is funny and kind. She knows how to be a confidante and friend and she is truly a caring person.” – Deb

“My wife Tina is the most amazing person I have ever met. With her beautiful hazel eyes and her perfect smile, I was putty in her hands from day one. Tina has a way of making a fully-lit room brighter as she walks in. Tina always will put someone else’s needs before her own. She is a great mother to our beautiful daughters (thank you, by the way). Okay, enough about what’s on the inside…. Tina has a ravishing body – the way her jeans look when she puts them on is more than enough to make my heart skip a beat or two. I love everything about my wife ‘cause when you put a body like that with the awesomeness that makes her…. what’s not to LOVE.
P.S. Tina, I fall more and more in love with you every day, you are my dream come true. I am very proud to call you not only my best friend but also my wife. I LOVE YOU!” – Tom

“Tina was a handful as a child – stubborn, strong, smart and funny. Sometimes it was impossible to discipline her as she could get you to laugh at the drop of a hat. Always her own person, never bending to others’ rules or opinions; she was Tina, like it or leave it. You never knew what she would do next.
Now she is a woman. I adore her – she is stubborn, strong, smart, funny and wonderful. She is impossible to get mad at. She is Tina! She is her own person, you never know what she will do next. She is wacky, sincere, passionate and wise. She is beautiful, inside and out. I am so very proud to call her my daughter and my friend.
-so hard to keep this under 16 pages.
Thank you!” – Laurel

“When I met Tina, the first thing that struck me was her fearlessness. It wasn’t something she just put on to face the day, or a show of any kind, her fearlessness was something that came from deep within her. She truly knew who she was, and wasn’t afraid to be who she was. I admired her immediately!
As the years have passed, and I have gotten to know her more, I only became more astounded by the awesomeness of Tina! Just to list off a few attributes (off the top of my head):

Tina is…
(of course) Fearless
Kind
Generous
Beautiful
Fierce
Confident
Creative
A Wonderful Mother! Nay SuperMom!
Talented
Loving
Strong
Smart, wait, Super Intelligent…would Genius be too much?

I have seen her take on things (that no one really wanted to do) and give them all of her energy, wisdom, and creativity, and turn them into something amazing. She knows how to engage people, make them feel welcome, and at the same time, be firm and stand up for what is right. She knows the power of her “No”, which is something some do not ever learn. She also knows the power of her voice, and uses it wisely, kindly, firmly, and with grace. The best part of all of this, is that all of the qualities she possesses within herself, she is passing on to her beautiful girls. (Honestly, I would willingly offer myself up for adoption if Tina would adopt me…that’s just how great of a mom she is.)
This world is a better place because Tina is in it, and I am a better person because I know her.” – Nancy

“I think it’s safe to say Tina and I jumped into our friendship feet first!
It was only a short time after becoming friends with Tina that we started scheming to get our families together for an extended camping trip. Our husbands had not met and our kids were virtual strangers, but hey, Tina and I liked each other so that’s all that mattered, right!?
Somehow we pulled off an amazing trip full of wonderful memories and made lifetime friends.
Being friends with Tina is easy, I don’t feel that I am somehow competing with her, or have to try to impress her on some level. And, as women, I think we all know how this feels with some of the people in our lives.
She has a diverse group of friends, family, and interests, so she has something in common with everyone, And judges no one. Tina has a lovable quirkiness, is always quick to share her beautiful smile, crack a joke or offer consolation when needed. She has an uncanny sense of knowing if you need to talk or just want to hang out and have a quiet drink, or seven.
She is a proud nerd, a craft queen, and a fierce list-maker, in fact her lists have lists!
Tina is a beautiful woman, a caring mother, dedicated wife and loyal friend. She will admit her faults, and always tries to rectify the wrongs in her relationships. Her generosity is boundless, there is always room for you at the dinner table or your favorite beverage in the fridge, she’ll even give you the last of her tequila.
Becoming such close friends with someone at this point in my life was unexpected but has made me remember that life is ever changing and never rule out the possibility of inviting people into your heart. From Lady Dates to camping trips, Tina is one of my favorite people to spend time with.” – Karla

“It is the best when neighbors get along. Even better when they become friends. To the moon when they can help one another through the daily grind. Tina and her wonderful family are of the third kind. I could not feel more blessed to have such a great neighbor and friend. I believe our friendship formed when I had my third child. Her girls adored the new babe and gradually we started talking and leaning on one another. Well, at first it was me doing all the leaning ~Tina made sure to get my little guy to and from school each day. I still cannot express how absolutely amazing and helpful that was. That is the Tina I have come to know: sweet, generous, non¬judgmental, compassionate and silly.
As a neighbor, I can always count on Tina to have that cup of sugar or embroidery hoop. My kids are welcome to come by to jump themselves silly on the trampoline or stay for an all day hair-dyeing session. Her house always has an open door. Tina gives it to my kids straight, in a funny and irreverent way that I like. And when the time calls for it, she can be super serious too. I really like that about her – she doesn’t take herself too seriously. And the best part about being neighbors with Tina is the food. Good homemade food. If she mentions something she is making that sounds good
and I intimate that I might really like to try it, she brings it over. Immediately. Lots of it! The best.
As a friend, Tina is loyal and really very sensitive. I have been through a lot in the past year and she has been very respectful of my space, all the while being very sensitive to what I might need~ more often than not that ends up being a really good beer and an open mind. She understands some of my struggles more than most people and she is very careful and sensitive to those particulars. I never feel judged by Tina. She accepts me as is.
Tina is beautiful. I really love her quirky and cute style ~ a mix of tomboy and glam. I think she is an amazing role model to her two girls. She sends the message to them that they can be who they are. You see it in their distinct personalities. And they are both so nice, so interesting and sooooooo funny. Like their mom.
I think Tina is pretty rad and I think anyone is lucky to count her as their friend. I know I do!” – Jenn

“I’ve known Tina almost longer than I’ve known anyone else in my life and I’m so proud and amazed at the person that I’ve seen her become over the years. She’s a bold, intelligent, creative woman who doesn’t always see what an incredible person she is and what an inspiration to other people around her.
One of the things that I like best about her is that she comes off as fearless, even though I know her life isn’t easy. She’s never afraid to be honest and tell you what she’s thinking. But behind the honesty is also a ferocious caring. She tries to do a lot for the people in her life, even when it involves her sacrificing part of her time, her resources, or even herself. Tina is one of those women who always seems to have room for one more, whether it’s sitting at the dinner table or camping or just being friends. I don’t think she realizes how much all the little things that she does add up in the long run.
Along with these traits of caring, she’s also incredibly intelligent (though like most genuinely smart people, she has no real idea or belief of this). She can think up the most amazing creations and then put them to life. Sometimes that’s a costuming project, other times it’s building some sort of incredible macabre contraption. She reads voraciously and even better, she shares what she learns and what she likes with other people, bringing her gift and understanding of books to those around her. She’s also quick-witted and comes up with solutions to a lot of everyday problems that most other people would just give up on or let go. Tina has always been both resourceful and a lot of fun, two things that don’t often go together.
I could go on and on and probably still not really hit the essence of what I want to say, or how much I admire her. I am so very glad to know her and that she is someone that my children look up to. I wish I had the words to say really how awesome she is but there aren’t enough out there!” – Gwen

“Tina is so very STRONG. She gives herself, without hesitation, to her family and friends. Strength is something that is hard to come by.
TIMELESS BEAUTY. Tina has a beauty that is far deeper than many get to see. While she can pull off anything and everything, she holds a fascinating inner beauty as well.
She is LOYAL. Having a constant person in my life has not always been easy, but with her it has.
Tina is PROTECTIVE. She cares so deeply for those in her life that she will stand by you. Even when she does not agree with you.
Only someone who possess the ability to truly LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY is able to stand by. Even when things are tough.
TRUSTWORTHY. When Tina is a friend to you, be assured that you can confide anything in her.
Tina is incredibly HONEST. This is a quality that very few people get to say they possess. Tina can.
The amount of PASSION that is put into everything Tina does shows what kind of person she is.
Only an ADMIRABLE person has all of these things.
UNIQUE, LIVELY, LOVING, INTELLIGENT, CARING, KIND.
These are just a very few of the things that cross my mind when I am asked to describe my best friend. Tina is the conditioner to my shampoo.” – Brandi

“I am honored to have the chance to write about my beautiful friend Tina. She and I often laugh about how we met when our children first started preschool at Bryant. I had moved to Tacoma when my twin sons were tiny infants recently home from a long NICU stay. As they grew to school age, it was quite apparent they had serious developmental issues. I didn’t know a single person in Tacoma, and was so isolated those early years that I hadn’t made any friends. I would stand on the playground waiting for school to end, scared and sad at what new bad news would await as the teachers brought the children out. Every day, this beautiful young woman would also be there. As soon as she walked in, the other moms flocked to her, seemingly drawn by her incredible light. She was clearly the “it girl.” Naturally, I hated her. Maybe hate is too strong of a word, but I certainly turned all my negative emotions on her, the perfect mom with the perfect kids and her perfect friends. I stood there watching every day, willing myself not to break down in tears.
Then one day, Tina simply walked up to me and introduced herself. She said she had noticed me always alone, and invited me to come stand with her and her friends any time. This is the heart of what Tina does and is: she draws people in with her grace and warmth, making them feel welcome and accepted. She takes care of people. Time went by and we formed an unlikely friendship. I learned part of the reason she was so popular on the playground was she had been suckered into being PTO president when nobody else wanted the job! I also learned that she is not perfect; she is delightfully imperfect. Tina’s specialty is taking in and nurturing people like me, the misfits, the broken people, the weirdos, showing us love and acceptance. Over the years, as my children’s disabilities have grown worse and have shown to be permanent, she has been an amazing support. Most people are uncomfortable with others’ grief and actively discourage it. Tina has supported me and allowed me to grieve and cry and helped me to accept my situation and heal in a way no one else in my life has done, not even my closest relatives. She has brought joy to my world when nothing seemed joyful.
Tina is what I call “an old soul.” Young enough to be my daughter, she has grace and wisdom far beyond her years and my years as well. She endured and experienced more adversity in her childhood than many people do in their lifetime. A child of divorce, she dealt with having an absent father. She and her sister nursed their mother through three bouts of cancer. Tina developed a woman’s body while still essentially a child, and had to deal with all the weirdness society puts on girls who develop early. She has dealt with her own medical issues and lives in near constant pain. Despite all this, she is strong and cheerful and constantly takes care of everyone else. Tina is endlessly generous and kind, a trait she got from her amazing mother and clearly has taught to her amazing daughters. Her entire family is kind and accepting of my children. Her daughter has protected my boys at school even at her own social jeopardy. That shows how well Tina raises her children!
Aside from her beautiful personality, Tina is also just a gorgeous woman. She naturally has the kind of beauty women like me spend hundreds of dollars at Sephora trying to get! (Not that she and I can’t shop the hell out of a Sephora store together!) Tina radiates beauty. I love how daring she is, and has so much fun changing and playing with her look. She likes to make fun of herself and her interests and quirks, and I believe she has no idea how much people admire her.
Tina, I am so proud of you for going through with this, and I hope you have a wonderful evening! I love you!” – Linda

jaymeins Jayme ~
“Insecurities I feel comfortable sharing with a room full of people? Ha! How much time do you have?

Growing up, I was a fairly confident kid… as much as kids can be, I suppose. Smart, precocious and extroverted were adjectives that many of the people in my life would use when describing me. I had a great childhood. I was highly advanced in early academics, was involved in music and sports at an early age and had plenty of friends throughout my teens. It was, by all accounts, a regular upbringing, with plenty of confidence-boosters to go around. Except for one thing: My parents weren’t around. I mean, they were around in the sense that they were home on occasion, made sure that we had food to eat, were enrolled in school and that we always had a roof over our heads. You know, the basics. But when it came to the supportive, present and encouraging parents that every kid needs in those formative years (and I so craved), they just couldn’t put away their “pre-kids” lifestyle and my sister, brother and I were often left to figure it out alone.

This affected me in many ways, but I think the biggest psychological impacts have been creating an enormous feeling of never being good enough for the people in my life, as well as an intense fear of failure. Winning combo, right? I covered it well for many years, but, the older I get the more these fears manifest in aspects of my life that I never imagined they would. Relationships (of all varieties), college, work; all of these crucial paths of adulthood have been covered over with the insidious weeds of abandonment and no matter how I try to maintain them, they always return.

I have forgiven my parents, but its another thing entirely to shed these insecurities that linger. I have an abundance of amazingly supportive people that surround me, a positive outlook and a bright future. Even still, I often can’t shake these questions that constantly circle my head. “Do they really like/love me, or are they just here?” “Am I (insert adjective here) enough for him/her/this?” “Did I do a good enough job?” These and other worries plague my thoughts, as well as a voice that screams from deep inside “You are going to fail. Don’t even try, because you will never be as ______ as ______.”

So what do I do? Carry on through life feeling mediocre and quitting everything as soon as it starts getting really good? I just can’t anymore.

In the past year, with the help of a very special person and one of the great loves of my life, I am learning to see and really know that I am good at many things and that I am worth loving. I hope being a part of this project only further instills this in me, and I look forward to it.

I can only be me, and though I may still struggle with who that is, I have to be the best version of me that I can, and trust that it’s enough.”

Jayme’s friends and family:

“Jayme is brave, strong, cultured, loved, fearless, beautiful, creative, and an amazing sister.” – Kenna

“Hello, Alana. Awww Yes, Sweet Jayme. Beautiful Sparkling Blue Eyes, Fun Hair Always, Sweet Smile, Fun Fun person to hang out with, hard hard worker. Love Her with a heart as Big as Her!!” – Peggie

“Miss Jayme is:
~full of love and life.
~wise and insightful beyond her years. An old soul.
~has a contagious laugh that lights up a room.
~a special friend.
Hope this helps! It’s truth!” – Angie

“Jayme is a beautifully honest woman who is compassionate, yet still takes care of her own needs. I find her to be very creative; so much so that I wrote it twice on my list of adjectives for her. She is loving, warm-hearted and thoughtful, even while delivering brutal truths. I was immediately drawn to her twisted but fabulous sense of humor. She is adventurous, open-minded and progressive. She cares about her community and making it a better place–whether it be with her thought-provoking writing/conversation or her contribution to the local music scene. She’s also one hell of a drinking buddy!” – Kelsey

“Well what can I say about jayme-jams? She a balls out trailblazer. After becoming a transplant to Tacoma, she now exists as one of my major music resources & she’s a woman! Her skill, talent and ambition will take her so much farther & she’s already done so much. She has a strong & open heart to so many people, not just close friends. Always has a smile for me – even when she doesn’t feel like smiling, it’s still there. I couldn’t imagine her not being my friend and each & every day I feel closer to her. She’s so important to me. I have a huge toothache & am trying to squeeze this in before I pass out…while things of all sorts happen everywhere, I’m glad I get to experience some of those things with Jayme.” – Lindsay

“I’ve not met many people as caring and selfless as Jayme. This sweetness and care is infectious, and is quickly felt by those who have even just met her. She’s honest. Not to a fault…I find that term to be an excuse to be an asshole…just honest. Like Little House On The Prairie honest. Good, real.
Her tenderness has certainly affected me in so many positive ways over the course of our relationship. She teaches me patience, to slow down and reflect before judgment. To forgive. To improve.
Jayme is a fantastic woman and a fantastic friend. All should be as lucky as I.
Thanks,
Jason”

mackenzieins Mackenzie ~
“Mackenzie’s bag o’ insecurities:

Things I think sometimes when I’m in a room with a bunch of strangers, and maybe a few friends:
• I need a funny story so I can be engaging
• I hope no one tries to talk to me because I’m not sure I really want to have a conversation with a stranger. Nor do I want to act interested.
• Great, now I’m trying to avoid people. Stop being a bitch and socialize!
• Why does [random friend] keep flitting around the room without me? I must not be interesting enough.
• People keep gazing through me when I’m talking. I must be talking too much.
• Conversations aren’t being sustained! I must be talking too little!

I took the last couple of weeks to really think about what makes me insecure. I, of course, fell upon the usual suspects at first: body image, intelligence, money, etc etc, but none of those things really rang true to me. OF COURSE, throughout a lifetime these things have affected me in one way or another, but I realized what really got me to shut up and go inwards was this: I feel as if I am unlikable.

I’ve worked in the service industry, so my firsthand experience with being deemed “unlikable” actually happened more often than I’d like to think about. I feel, because I’m not immediately accessible, willing to listen to a stranger’s story about whatever happened in their life, or smiling all the goddamn time, I am not a likable person. I know in my heart, that it’s PROBABLY not true, but because of my experiences, and working with co workers that were extremely “likable”, “bubbly”, “always smiling” and “a joy to be around”, I keep finding myself trying to figure out their secret to being so popular.

But the “likable”-thing didn’t just start when I was waiting tables and tending bar, I remember it even earlier in my life; not necessarily a specific event or circumstance, but more of a feeling of being not as “cool” or fun to hang around. In grade school I was always reading books, and more often than not, had an opinion about what the kids were doing and whether or not I liked it, so when I voiced these opinions, they wouldn’t hang out with me. It’s not that I was “bossy” per se, but that I didn’t always want to do the things the other kids did. On the other hand, when I got older (middle school) and was quiet, I was teased and picked on because I WOULDN’T say anything. It was a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In high school, things got moderately better because I joined a sport, but in the end I still didn’t feel like I fit in my group of peers because I didn’t want to do my makeup over and over, I didn’t want to get drunk ever, I didn’t want to make fun of everyone all the time. When it came down to it, I just wasn’t very…”likable”.

Growing up when and where I did (Olympia, 1990’s, Revolution Grrrl Style Now!) I learned to be proud of my voice and the things I could say, the minds I could change, and really? The freedoms I was allowed to have. But I still can’t get past the whole “likable”thing. I’m not “nice” enough. I can’t feign interest like so many people that I know (people that will honestly say to me later that they can’t stand the person they were just talking to), and I just don’t giggle that much with strangers. I like to save that stuff for the friends that have earned it by making me spit beer out of my mouth in a full bar.

So, to be honest, I’m not a 100% sure if this is my insecurity, or if I’m airing my frustration with the weird sets of “rules” we put ourselves though to find a place within the pack. All I know is that I think of it everyday, when I meet people for the first time, when I go to work, even when I’m with my friends. I’m never quite sure if my people will stick with me, once they find out I’m not super friendly and sometimes I can be a bummer.

There! I did it!”

Mackenzie’s friends and family:

“I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to watch Mackenzie grow into the person she is today. It’s been so inspirational to so many people watching her take enormous risks and step so far out of her comfort zone to better her life. I’ve never met anyone so passionate, driven and goal oriented, and I’m so proud and amazed by her accomplishments every day.
When we met each other we were both a little lost. We were searching for different things, but instead found a sisterhood in each other. Growing up, all I ever wanted was a sister, and I was lucky enough to find her at 22.
In the beginning, I got to know her as a fiercely loyal friend willing to fight for what she believed in, no matter if it was the popular choice or not. As more time passed, I found in her a loving, emotional and empathetic sister who would do anything to protect her family. I got to witness her amazing love for my brother, which almost brings me to tears to think about. And now, after all these years, she has grown into such a confident, determined woman and I am so proud I get to tell people she is my sister.
Even if they don’t ask, I’m probably still gonna tell them.
Mackenzie– I love you more than if you were my blood because you are the family I choose. Thank you so much for being the beautiful, brave, intuitive woman you are. And for being my hero.” – Megan

“Let me first say that I am so glad to have the opportunity to brag about one of my favorite people in the WORLD… my friend, Mackenzie. We met at a time and age when everyone is finding themselves and riding on the coattails of adolescent insecurities – college. Mackenzie had the most refreshing self-confidence, raw honesty, and sense of identity of anyone else I had met up to that point in my life. We quickly became close friends, and eventually roommates. Although we now live on opposite coasts… 3,000 miles between us… I count her among my closest friends.
When thinking of what to write about Mackenzie… what words describe her best… almost every cliché good quality fits. The irony here is that Mackenzie is the least cliché person I know… the LEAST. When she first brought me to a scenester garage band show in Olympia, it was apparent to me then (and has been proven countless times since) that she is the essence of punk rock.
When I talk with her about losing her father to a long struggle with cancer, her strength, kindness, and empathy emerges in the most loving and authentic way.
Throughout our 15 year friendship and a lifetime of experience with people from all walks of life (the millionaire wasps of Manhattan… the political elite of Seattle… Ivy Leaguers… Art school hipsters) Mackenzie’s brain power rises to the top every time. She is a wicked sharp intellectual powerhouse. Unlike many uber intellects that I have come across, Mackenzie uses her powers for the good of the common (wo)man… gracing us normal-brained folk with her unique brand of humor that is a pure manifestation of her nerdiness.
She is constantly making me laugh. I am compelled to articulate the perpetual contribution Mackenzie makes to the feminist movement… not in a pretentious, overt way… but in the way that, by merely being the amazing woman she is, she inspires me to embody all of the aforementioned amazing qualities that seem so effortless for her. Mackenzie is infectious. I have never not wanted to be around her.” – Emma

“When I think about Mackenzie these are the things that come to mind: her big heart — love for her family and friends; creative; free spirit; brave and beautiful; smart and sassy; fun to spend time with and always lots of love.” – Kirby

“Hello Alana,
Hopefully this is what you were looking for!
Without coming off too much like a list but more of a description of what I see in my sister, Mackenzie.
-Caring
-Beautiful like her mother and strong and determined like her father
-Brave-Willing to take chances for things she believes in and stays the course
-Creative
-Someone I can Truly look up to as more than just a big sister, but as a role model
**On a side note, wanted to say what you are doing is pretty cool and good luck with it all!” – Kyle

“Kenzie is one of the bravest people I have ever met. Not fearless (she’s got all sorts of fears.) Not in a military action or cancer survivor sense; but in knowing her fears and limitations, and then just blowing past them like they can’t touch her. So many “I can’t-s” and “I’ll never be able to-s” have been voiced, ignored, and then proven wrong that I sometimes think she’s started making them up to make me feel better about myself.
She is an engine of wish-fulfillment for herself and those around her, and in the six+ years that she has been my other half, I still can’t figure out how she does it. My role as resident devil’s advocate/naysaying realist has become a figurehead position. It’s not through methodical planning or evil genius, just determination and intuition. You know those wishful thinking moments everyone has? She’ll say ‘wouldn’t it be nice if ___’ and then it happens. Because she made it happen.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do my hobby full time?”
A year and a half later, she’s quit her job to run her own company.
“I’d like to own my own home some day”
A year later, we are signing mortgage paperwork.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you quit your crap warehouse job and worked in IT?”
Six months later I’m doing database analysis and don’t dread going to work every day.
She made an offhand quip about buying a village in Spain a while back. I went ahead and downloaded the Spanish language tutorial on Duolingo, just to be safe.
She amazes me daily. I wish I could be more like her. I love her.” – Gabe

nicholeins Nichole ~
“Disappointment…that is my biggest insecurity. Hearing the word that I disappointed is what hurts me. I feel that everything I do is not enough and that anything I do is never enough. So to hear the word “disappointment” is the worst thing I can hear about myself.”

Nichole’s friends and family:

“Nichole is a relatively new friend to me. We met shortly after our sons were both born prematurely in November 2011, and bonded over the struggles of sick, tiny babies. I have learned a lot about motherhood from her, as she is a seasoned mom of 3. She has endless patience for her children and her love overflows around them. She puts her family above herself every single day and is constantly on her way to another activity, helping out in the classrooms, taking the kids to appointments, and still manages to chat with me about our days.
I see Nichole struggle to find enough time in the day for all her family’s activities, and rarely has an hour to herself, even when sleeping! She is so generous with her time and love, and even though I know she is exhausted and at times frazzled, she still holds her youngest till he falls asleep, even if she is stuck in a chair, dying to go to the bathroom, with a toddler wrapped around her torso. We send silly pictures back and forth of the crazy ways our kids have fallen asleep.
I wish Nichole got more appreciation for all the sacrifices she makes for her family. She is an amazing mom, a wonderful wife, and a kickass friend. When other women would have cracked under the pressure, she gets up and does it all again the next day. She’s an inspiration on how to be selfless and loving and never ask for anything in return.” – Ashley

“Hi, I’m Nikki’s mother-in-law, Maggie. Nikki is beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. She has a huge heart and open arms. She is always available to anyone day or night, which makes her extremely reliable. She’s also a very good friend.
I love her great sense of humor. She is delightfully funny. She is so much fun to be with! She laughs easily and makes friends easily because she is compassionate and quite lovable. She’s a great mom and an amazing wife. We are so lucky to have her in our family.” – Maggie

“She is a wonderful mother, very intuitive about her children’s health. Sometimes I think she knows their are ill before they do.
She is a giving and caring person, for animals as well as people. Nikki is family-oriented, she has a large extended family as well as blood relatives and shows the same love and consideration for both equally. She has a great sense of humor.” – Vontell

“She is kind loving and caring…Nikki has this inner core of strength – when something bad happens, she is there standing strong, and when it all calms down, she still is the last to sit down. Strong; hits the ground running. Kind and giving – would give you her last dime. Compassionate – when someone she cares about is about to break, she offers the first hand up. She shows that in this great big world and the grand scheme of things, there are still pure loving hearts…Her laughter makes my heart swing…triumphant and loves to share it with everybody around her. Her heart is open and she is the first one to say, “just tell me what to do” and she is out the door. When it comes to her babies, and other’s babies, she is pure love and joy…She’s my kiddo and I adore her.” – Sissy

connieins Connie ~
“I guess my biggest insecurity is a few bunched into one big one. I always feel like I’m the outcast, like no one really likes me – they just act like they do just because they feel bad. I feel like that awkward sympathy friend; like I drive everyone up the wall because I’m annoying and have mass anxiety problems so everyone hates to be around me. It’s like “Oh well I don’t want to make her feel bad so we’ll hang out even though she is so annoying and her anxiety problems are ridiculous, like seriously, who is afraid of food.”

Connie’s friends and family:

“Connie is an amazing mother, whether she sees it or not; she is an amazing fiancé, putting up with all the crazy me and my family can muster. She is beautiful both outside and in. She’s a little stubborn, but it’s cute; she is creative and fun and always tries to tackle everything at once. She is patient. And, most of all, she is forgiving. She cares so much for her friends and tries to always understand what they are going through before she makes a decision.
Idk if that is how this is supposed to be set up but it’s from the heart.” – Jace

“Connie is a free-spirit, she always has been. She is an artist in every form, from her clothing to her photographs to her drawings. She is fun to be with. Connie loves Anime and making her own and Teagan’s costumes for the Sakura Con convention. She has a great laugh and a beautiful smile. She loves the outdoors and being in nature. She’s a great, caring, and loving Mom. She’s stronger and more courageous than she thinks.” – Deneall

“There’s a lot that I can say about Connie but to make it simple I’ll stick to a few things that best describe her personality.
Strong: Connie is strong, far stronger than I think she even realizes sometimes. She has been through a lot emotionally and still has everyday challenges to face and has handled it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and is an awesome mom and person.
Genuinely good person: Connie is that person that you wish nothing bad ever happened to because she just has a good soul. Whenever I’ve needed her she’s been there for me regardless of how I’ve been as a friend. She even allowed me to stay with her for several months when I needed it. At one point she even provided more than half my son’s wardrobe! She’s full of compassion, sweet, feisty, and full of energy!
Fun: Connie is the one person who I call when I want to go on an adventure which in our case means driving to the bookstore, sitting in the car and talking for hours, going on a walk, or even the occasional grocery shopping. Just sometimes we even include clothes or shoe shopping. She’s a functional good kind of crazy and that makes for some pretty fun conversations.” – Lisa

Thank you for your time. Please leave a comment if you are so inclined.

and here are links to past groups:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, TEENS!
Group 3, 55+
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, MEN!!

a birth story.

annalee’s birth story.

This is one of my favorite shoots of all time. It is the first (and only, so far) time that I had the privilege of shooting what can be described as the most beautiful and unique experience in a mother and father’s life – the birth of their child. Every birth is so unique and I can honestly say now that I feel like every birth should be captured in photos.
There are obviously photos that I’m not sharing with you here, as they are only suitable for the Varnell family (as oddly discreet as they still turned out to be!), but I hope these capture and convey the experience and beauty that was Annalee’s birth.

On that note, I feel there is an intrinsic beauty and sexiness that comes along with a mother giving birth. Call me crazy, but I see it here.

Know a pregnant woman who should have this experience captured? I would love nothing more. Please have them contact me at alana.t.photography@gmail.com
I wrote a while back about why I’m the person for the job, so, besides the photos here, you can read my thoughts on that, if you’d like.
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