On Cheering Each Other On: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Stephanie Gates

Apr 16 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 8-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,


On Cheering Each Other On
An Authenticity Project guest post by Stephanie Gates

96 days ago, my mom died.

I am a single mom. I have four kids who fall every odd year between 3 and 9. I’m doing my best to resurrect a career after 10 years at home. And I live far from family. Which is to say, I was burning all cylinders just to keep us afloat BEFORE my mom died.

No matter, 96 days ago today, my family lost my sweet, spontaneous mom. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. At age 60. With lots of little grandkids and a husband who was devoted to her and a life she loved. Just like that, she was gone.

But I don’t want to tell you about that. I want to tell you what happened next.

We did all the things you do – flew home, planned a funeral, saw hundreds of people I knew as a kid in my small southern hometown, sat in the sunroom with my dad and stared at one another, silent but together, then flew back. I walked in the door with my overtired, overstimulated kids, and just stared. Stared at the crumbs and dog hair and unfinished homework and piles of laundry and ninja turtles and baby dolls tossed into every corner in the house, at the routines I would need to re-establish, the deadlines I had missed, the dishes that had been used moments before her death, and never quite made it into the dishwasher … I took it all in, sat down, and cried.

Even if you haven’t lost your mom, you’ve probably experienced that moment. It felt the same – the EXACT same – as the moment you bring a baby home. Not the elation and beauty, not the first pictures and impossibly soft cheeks, but the other one, the one where it dawns on you that you have to actually keep a human being alive now.

In the weeks following the birth of every one of my children, I sat down at my kitchen table, covered my face, and cried. God, or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever it is that doles out babies and funerals, was wrong. I was, in fact, NOT capable of mothering this child. What were They thinking, entrusting me with this level of responsibility? ME, the woman who never makes her bed, whose filing system is basically just stacking all the mail on the counter until it topples over and I throw the whole mess away? ME, who has never, in thirty something years, figured out how to consistently keep her car clean? Whose life motto is “Good Enough”? What in the world made God, or Life, or the Universe, hand ME this precious tiny life and believe I could somehow lead it into conscious, whole adulthood?

I would cry, and tell Life that She had made a serious error in judgement. Then I would usually send a text to my best mom friend and say something like, “In the weeds. Pretty sure I can’t do this. Send coffee.” Then I would stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Usually because by that time a baby was crying or a toddler was playing in the faucet.

I had the exact same moment after my mom died.

What was God – or Life, or the Universe, or Whoever makes the call – thinking? There was no way I could do this. I simply was not capable of creating the life in front of me. A life without my mom, where now I know all of the fundamental pieces of our lives can just … fade away. A life where my children would not know the woman who had shaped my very soul. It just wasn’t possible. There was no way I could pull this off. Whoever thought I could was just. flat. wrong.

From that place I emailed a new friend, an online friend who had lived through her own tragedy a few years earlier. I don’t remember exactly what the email said, but it went something like: “Dude. In the weeds. No way I can pull this off.”

And she did something that changed my life. Rather, that helped me begin to live out this new life, the one without my mom.

She didn’t promise to pray for me. She didn’t send Scripture. She didn’t offer the frozen silence I have learned to interpret as, “I really care about you and I’m so sad you have to go through this but I also have NO IDEA what to say or how you need me to respond.” She did none of that.

Instead, she cheered me on.

“You are doing the hardest part right now,” she said. “And you’re doing it! You’re already actively doing it. You got out of bed, you put kids on the bus, you put something that came out of a box in front of them for dinner. You know you can do this because you already are! You are so much more of a bad ass than you can see in this moment. But I can see it. You’re strong and capable and you’ve got this! Look at you go!”

Her words echoed like the cheers from the sideline of a race. I didn’t need advice, I didn’t need pity, I didn’t need the silence laden with concern. I needed a cheerleader. Her encouragement gave me the energy to stand up, wash my face, and get back to work. Pretty soon I had some momentum again, and it wasn’t quite so hard to imagine how we were going to get through the day.

So often, when our friends are staring down a life they did not choose, we don’t know how to respond. Once the cake is eaten, the casserole delivered, the funeral over, what do we do next? There are moments for all of it. Moments for prayers, moments for Scripture, moments for writing a check to help with unplanned expenses, moments even for silence laden with concern. But there’s also a moment when what we need most in all the world is someone to cheer us on. Some days, it’s the only thing that helps us stand up, wash our faces, and get back to work. Because maybe God, or Life, or the Universe, wasn’t so crazy after all.


StephanieStephanie Gates writes, edits, and mothers a bunch of little kids in Denver, Colorado. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me.  We’ll talk.

You can follow my story at A Wide Mercy or follow along on Facebook.


Is My Bulimia Showing? An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Nathalie Hardy

Apr 15 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





Is My Bulimia Showing?
An Authenticity Project guest post by Nathalie Hardy

This girl, twenty years ago:


Is feeling so uncomfortable in these senior pictures.

The caption might read: Is my bulimia showing?

I ache sometimes to see old pictures and read old journal entries because I’ve blocked so much out, and yet carry much of it with me still.

Some of this is coming up due to floods of memories coming back as my high school reunion just came and went.

I would’ve loved to go but there were too many other things to budget for and I couldn’t make it work. But just thinking about connecting with people who knew me (to the extent that was possible) two decades ago, brought up some …. stuff. Good stuff. And also, not so good things.

After nearly two decades though I look back on this girl with more kindness and tenderness than anger and anguish. I see now that it was just all part of the plan, maybe not my plan, but …

There is so much I’d say to her to perhaps ease the journey. But then, it would be someone else’s story and if nothing else I have learned to own my story. All of the parts. And to be willing to be vulnerable, to tell the truth and to allow another to feel less alone. Or, perhaps to give insight into a loved one that baffles them. I don’t know the why, exactly only that I feel called and compelled to do so by something larger than my ego. Which, by the way, prefers I keep it a little less real up in here.

So, in no particular order and in a totally disjointed fashion I send these words to me, 20 years ago. And to you, and whoever else might need to hear them.

(Really? Twenty years?!)

I would tell her she is so not fat. And that even if she is, because she will be, the number on the scale is just information. A gauge by which to measure how she’s feeling on the inside. (I am not saying that’s true for everyone, just know that it was for me. And by was I mean is.)

I would ask her: What makes you feel good? Do more of that.

Also I would tell her to be honest with herself, especially with herself. And, if you’re telling the truth binge eating actually does not make you feel good. Ever. It just makes you feel empty instead of full of feelings you can’t digest. And that will feel like a relief.

Until you bloat again with all the big stuff you can’t handle and then need to binge them away again.

But they don’t go away. And you can’t eat the big, scary stuff away and you can’t barf it out of your system either.

You have to deal with them.

Yeah. I know, I would tell her. Sucks, huh?

Except it doesn’t.

Dealing with feelings, the actual messy part, is not so fun. But it beats avoiding them every single time.

People will tell you it’s not pretty to cry. They will say it’s not okay to be angry over something so stupid. They will tell you you’re making a big deal of nothing. They will tell you you’re being too emotional.

That, dear girl, is code for they can’t handle your feelings. But you? You’ve got this. Keep going. The anger will turn into sadness which will turn into acceptance and you will do things with that acceptance. You will “get” people. You will know without knowing. You will be okay with other people’s big, messy feelings and the world needs that.

You will learn to stand in the presence of hard feelings and let them be, yours or those of others. And you will learn to breathe through them. You will help other people feelokay. And that will mean something to you. It will mean everything to you.

You will learn what belongs to you and what does not. And you will learn to stand in the space of someone else’s disappointment in you and  be okay. For real.

I wish you got there faster, but you’re here now, and that’s all that exists anyway. Just, right now.

It will take you till you’re running out of thirties but it will happen.

And p.s. that stuff you think you can’t handle? You totally can. Not all at once, but you’re not alone and you never have been.

It felt like it because you didn’t trust other people to be there for you. You didn’t tell them what you really needed. Because you didn’t know.

If you only help others without ever letting them return the favor, you’re not being gracious and you’re not letting people love you back. Do that sooner.

I would tell her if you have to smoke to get a break at work, get a different job. Those quick cigarette breaks between bussing tables turn into 12 yeas of smoking a pack a day. Which, if you were being honest, you’d have to admit didn’t make you feel good either.

I would tell her you will never be “popular” until you stop caring about being popular. This will baffle you until you realize that no one ever really feels “in.” Ever. Even in the in crowd someone doesn’t get the memo that collars are being turned up today, but you won’t know that because on the outside looking in it seemed pretty perfect at that table. Later you’ll remember just as fondly the fun you had with your friends eating lunch on the floor by the band room (but will wonder why there?) And by lunch I mean hot pockets, Diet Coke and Sprees. Every day. For a year. It will be a long time before you stop trying to punish yourself for being born. And you’ll wish you did it sooner.

But now you know. And, again, now is all we have.

Oh, also: He won’t call you back unless you don’t care if he calls you back.

And, you’ll do better in the interview if you don’t care if you get the job, by which I mean if you don’t seem all nervous and desperate because you know you’ll be okay either way. Nothing truly important ever hinges on one thing outside of your control. Nothing. Ever.

Those are all lessons in irony. Also, non-attachment. That’s a thing. This will be one of your life lessons, at least from this vantage point there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. You will come to loathe the expression: “You just can’t get attached to the outcome.” Because you will. And then you’ll let go. And then magic happens. Every. Single. Time.

You’ll know this because you kept a journal and there is proof that this pattern is a Thing.

I would tell her to skip the glamour shots, you’re just not that girl. A ponytail with a pen in your hair is how you roll.

Someday, after a lot of therapy, you will decide you might, after all, be a good enough mother. And you will have kids even when it starts to seem impossible. And those kids will actually form a habit of looking for something to write with and then come to you to bend down so they can pluck your pen out of your hair. And this will make you oddly proud.

Take notes, on everything. You’ll never regret that. Even when looking back makes you cry and cringe. Even when your mom reads it, even when your best friend reads it and even when your boyfriend finds it. You might consider getting better at hiding it. Just sayin’.

Those notes are how you will remember where you’ve come from and lay track for where you’re going.

Because, you see, right now turns into yesterday in a blink. And yesterday informs today but without your notes it’s easy to forget the story of how you got to here.

Right now.


Nathalie Hardy is a national award-winning columnist and reporter who majored in journalism when she realized she could make a living talking to strangers.

Since becoming a mother she manages to keep writing in the margins as she strives to be more Zen, less banshee. This book is a collection of some of those notes. Hardy has published freelance articles for numerous local, regional and national publications including Poets & Writers magazine. She facilitates journal writing workshops in person and at BigPictureClasses.com.
Hardy was a nerd before it was cool. She graduated with a journalism degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham.

On Wrinkles, Parenting, and Drawing on Napkins: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Kristi Campbell

Apr 14 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





On Wrinkles, Parenting, and Drawing on Napkins
An Authenticity Project guest post by Kristi Campbell

As we sat around the dinner table tonight, I paused and looked at my little boy, who is – in his mind, a big boy – but remains little in mine because being six can’t yet be big. I also see that he’s no longer little-little. As I watched him open the straw for his juice box and insert it into the tiny foil hole at the top, I almost started crying.

This is a post about crying over nothing, and on wrinkles, parenting, and drawing on napkins.

“I love you, buddy. You’re such a big boy,” I said, thinking about how quickly and slowly life’s moments happen. I felt pride because he can open the straw for a juice box when once I wondered when he’d be able to do so. I watch him and cannot believe that we’re here. That he’s six, and talking and having conversations when once I wondered whether I’d ever understand some of his actions and words. Understand him. His progress. His him-ness. His growth is breaking and filling my heart every single day.

He’s both big and little. His closeness to me and his independence stretch and recede. I am constantly full of pride and exploding love. I am constantly missing the before-hims. I already miss now-hims as they happen and are gone, just like that.

I walk behind his chair and stroke his hair, remembering when he wasn’t yet able to hold up his little bald head.


I watched the sunset from my front porch and thought “Tomorrow, you’re not gonna be one of the little kids anymore.” It was the night before my sixth birthday. I walked to school alone each day, although my mom could see my commute from her kitchen window. She drew pictures on my lunchbox napkins. Most of the time, I looked to see what was on it before getting to school. I was a big girl. I was so young.



Today, I met my son as he got off the school bus. He’d told a friend and her brother about Strike, his new pet guinea pig. He’d invited them to come over to meet her. As their mom and I walked, my boy and his friend walked separately, and crossed the street without me. “They must have looked both ways first,” I thought. I only felt a little panic. After he asked whether they wanted to “see the hamster dead,” they said yes, and he pulled Lightning’s box from the freezer. I think they regretted it, because the look on his six-year-old’s friend face? But their mom laughed, and I think it was okay. Okay enough, anyway.

His friends left, and I emptied my son’s lunchbox and tossed the napkin I drew on that morning. I wonder when my mom stopped drawing on my napkins. When I will.


“You’re gonna let us take him home? Just like that?” I said. “You check the carseat and we can just leave?” My son was a newborn, and I couldn’t believe that the guy in an Army uniform at the hospital said that we could go home because the carseat was acceptable. While part of me wanted to argue with him and say “but we don’t know what to do.” Another part whispered “let’s go” thinking that we’d better go home before they knew we weren’t actually qualified to care for an infant. I felt like a grownup. And like a child who needed her parents.


I look into the mirror. “When did I stop looking good?” I wonder. I think about how much better I looked 15 years ago. I can see the skin beneath my eyes become thinner and more papery by the month. I imagine myself in 15 years, and know that I’ll think about how much better I looked today than I will then.

I hope to be here in 15 years, worrying over my papery lines and folds. My son will be 21. He’ll be an adult. He’ll probably have abs and feel like he knows everything the way that I once did. The way that 21 year olds do. They’re so grown up. They are so young.


Back when I knew everything, I thought that by this point in my life, I’d be more organized, more legally prepared, more life-prepared.

Today, I know how little I know, and realize that with each year comes growth and power and more me-ness. That it gets easier and harder to forget how old we are.

There’s a me who lives inside, one without papery skin beneath her eyes. She feels like the same girl who stood on her porch the night before her sixth birthday. She feels like she did at 17 in love for the first time.

She feels the way she did in the hospital, the day she took her infant son home.

And yet, she also knows that she’s lived with enough intent during the important moments so that they are now a part of a wiser, more-papery-eyed her.

She’s finally old enough to know what she doesn’t know. I think she and I are okay with that.

Together though, we’ll continue the search for perfect eye cream because no age means that seeing papery wrinkles in the mirror is the same as seeing ourselves. Except for when it is, because we’re each all of the people we’ve been and will become. Some of them, especially the ones in our futures, have wrinkles.



KristiKristi Rieger Campbell’s passion is writing and drawing stupid-looking pictures for her blog, Finding Ninee. It began with a memoir about her special-needs son Tucker, abandoned when she read that a publisher would rather shave a cat than read another memoir. Kristi writes for a variety of parenting websites including Huffington Post Parents, has been published in several popular anthologies, received 2014 BlogHer’s Voice of the Year People’s Choice Award, and was a proud cast member of the DC Listen to Your Mother show. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.


Letting Myself Go: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Gregg Koskela

Apr 12 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





Letting Myself Go
An Authenticity Project guest post by Gregg Koskela

I’m not sure I ever allowed myself to speak the words at the time, but I was burnt out. I kept going through the motions, but my ability to feel was severely compromised. Compromised in part because there were just too many hurts I was holding with other people, and in part because when I did feel, when I did let it out, there was usually someone who told me to tuck that in and take care of it and get myself together.

Get it together.

But I couldn’t, so I asked for a sabbatical. And on the very first day of that strange release from work, I took the long way on a drive to visit my parents, out I-84 alongside the Columbia River. I drove past The Dalles Dam, reminded of the cheap hydroelectric power this seemingly still water is generating. Dam after dam along this river brings safety from flooding as well as clean electricity, and has tamed this mighty river into the placid sameness I now watched slip past my windows.

Somewhere on that road, my phone randomly spit out a song by the David Crowder Band. The lyrics did not describe who I was at that moment. No, like the river I was driving beside, I presented a monotonous flatness; whatever churning there once was had been invisibly buried by slow, creeping, engulfing waters. But the lyrics called to my deep places, reminding me who I had once been:

And He set me on fire
I am coming undone
with His breath in my lungs
I am coming undone…
And I cannot hold it in
Love has taken over me
so I 
Letting myself go.


My sabbatical’s purpose hung in the air of my car, pulsating from the speakers, calling to me from this song. The dams, the dams on my soul that had promised to bring such good; the dams that had contained me, that had kept the flooding from washing me away, that had powered me…those dams had done damage.

It was time to let myself go.

Could I do it? Could I blow up the well-constructed dams, the ones that kept my words safe, my emotions in check? Could I really handle the chaos of my real emotions? I had gotten good at keeping things under control, like the dam on the river. I had gotten good at never losing it, at harnessing the chaos and creating power that was for the good of others. But I wanted to feel vibrancy of life again. I wanted fire and love that knew no bounds and letting myself go. Is this what this sabbatical was going to be about? Something inside me on that very first day said yes.

Pastors can be amateur psychologists, and I’m no exception. When I look at my own life and try to make sense of who I am, I see a tension at work inside me: discipline and passion are constantly at war. I usually present responsible me, the first-born, expectation-laden, conscientious side of me. But there’s another “me” buried under there, too, the me who led cheers in front of the student section at my high school’s basketball games, the me who was once called “The Silly Man” by my daughter’s preschool friends. The passionate side, the fun side, the emotional side often gets buried by living into the expectations of others.

The hard part is, I don’t always recognize when that side is getting smothered. It’s a repeating pattern in my life, this keep-it-together-don’t-mess-up-do-the-right-thing life swallowing me up, and then slowly giving way to a comfortable freedom to express myself. But when some life change occurs, it’s lather-rinse-repeat, and I’m back to the smother. I can trace the pattern really far back.

Like Kindergarten. I was so excited to be there, so excited to learn. Every time Miss Teel would ask a question, my hand would be up and bouncing and my eyes dancing as I wanted to be the one to answer. When she called on someone else, and they got the answer wrong, well, I was perfectly comfortable rolling my eyes and letting a huge sigh of condescension explode from my lips. Miss Teel and my mom were right to work all year on trying to get me to not be such a butthead…yet it did squelch that excited learner a bit.

Our family moved to Oregon right before I started 8th grade. I mean right before. We left Scotts Valley, the (then) sleepy town close to Santa Cruz California, left with my surf-inspired OP beachwear and Levi’s cords lovingly brought along. On the first day of 8th grade, my dad drove me from my aunt and uncle’s house in Portland out to Dale Ickes Jr. High in the suburb of Clackamas. I took the bus at the end of the day to our new home, where the moving truck was unloading our furniture.

It had been a horrible first day. My mom says she saw it on my body from the window, saw it in the way I slowly walked up our long driveway from where the bus dropped me off. I hadn’t looked like any one else–no one wore corduroy, everyone had Lawman jeans and San Francisco Riding Gear. I talked like the guys from the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”–but that movie wouldn’t come out for another two years so everybody just thought I talked weird. I stuck out like those Emperor’s Guard Stormtroopers; you know, in Star Wars, those ones in the red uniforms amid the sea of white.

I hated sticking out. I just wanted to disappear, to get swallowed up, to be normal. I didn’t like being different. I didn’t like being myself.

So began, “Operation: Meet Expectations”. My first thought was to use my brain to impress people and win friends. If I succeeded academically, if I played that role to perfection, maybe then people would like me. But instead I got called nerd, and the new glasses I had to wear for the first time reinforced that image.

The next attempt was to throw myself into the sport I loved, baseball. In California, I’d been a Little League All Star and successful, known for my ability to field a ground ball well in the infield. But in Oregon I was a pudgy late-comer to puberty, and besides, everybody knew Bo Venerdi was the All Star shortstop, so why don’t you just go try center field for awhile? Academics, failure one. Athletics, failure two. What part should I try out for next?

Maybe if I had a girlfriend. Maybe that would make people accept me. I remember being so petrified to be honest, so afraid that if I showed who I was, no girl would want me. Eighth grade life was telling me at every turn that who I was wasn’t accepted, so I just kept trying new things, new roles, new masks to see if I could fit in.

There was that awkward first kiss after school by the lockers. I could see it was coming, and I was scared out of my mind. “Uh, I guess, huh, I guess wow? We haven’t even kissed yet?” I tried to make it seem like I was used to this, like I’d kissed people dozens of times and how weird it was that we hadn’t kissed yet, when on the inside I didn’t even know what in the world I was supposed to do. You should know that I didn’t even know what a french kiss was, so, uhh, that was a shocker.

It wasn’t that having a girlfriend “worked”, as in, that was the “in” that finally gave me friends. If I would have realized it, I would have seen that friendships take time and by the end of that year, enough time and experience had forged some. But I didn’t realize it. Instead, I took home the lesson that you have to keep trying on roles, you have to keep doing the expected thing to get by in life. You can’t break from the mold, you can’t be honest, you can’t be yourself. If you do that, you’ll be the guy saying “gnarly” in a little, pre-MTV town in Oregon where they’ve never heard the word and will look at you like you are a freak.

I’ve had so many epiphanies, so many moments of clarity where I have seen through all that. High school friends who told me they had freedom to be themselves because they didn’t build their self-image on achievements or what others thought of them, but rather that their value as a person rested on the unchanging truth that God created them. The solo time during college, sitting in silence on a mountainside, journalling eloquently about the masks I had worn in life and how I wanted to set them aside and be the real me. A retreat during grad school, reading a history of the year 1968 (the year I was born), and being caught up with the passion and turmoil and idealism of that time, and wanting our class, our group to “rise, like a phoenix from the ashes of the 60’s, to change the world!” (I actually wrote that in my journal. With the exclamation point! No lie.)

I’ve had these moments of wisdom where I have seen through the pressure of expectation and how it squelches life. Trying to please others looks so calm and right on the surface, and it gains such approval from others; but it comes with a price. At times I’ve seen the damage done from stuffing what I really feel, who I really am, to take up a role that others would like me to play. But I’ve also sometimes lost myself. I’ve just sort of glazed over, become a walking automaton expertly achieving what’s expected of me.

Oh, the damage. The passion lost and buried. The nagging voice that says, “If they really knew who you were, they wouldn’t accept you.” The secrets. The shame. The hiding. The image management.

I see it all again now as I write, see it in hi-definition 4K clarity. Do you see it? Do you see the benefits that come from building dams, the illusion of safety it brings? The way it stops the torrents and floods, the way it contains, the way it smoothes the relentless force of a mighty river into a smooth lake, always the same, never changing, making its predictable way. The way it channels and harnesses power for others. Our culture loves a dam, loves how it siphons power from the world and tames it for our use, how it calms the unpredictability of drought and flood, feast and famine.

My family and Ickes Junior High and American Culture all taught me dam building. Don’t step out of line, don’t risk, don’t stand out.

Part of my sabbatical was researching my grandpa’s life. He spent a lifetime trying to build dams that would contain the chaos in his life, and at the end, that illusion of control broke. The cracks in the dam, the symptoms were the alcoholism and the Alzheimers. It’s a cautionary tale for my buttoned-up, first-born, mask-wearing self. Yes, the uncertainty of the raw river of emotions is scary.

But the honesty and community and interdependence found with living in that reality is far healthier and longer lasting than building the dams of expectation and control.

And He set me on fire
I am coming undone
with His breath in my lungs
I am coming undone…
And I cannot hold it in
Love has taken over me
so I 
Letting myself go.




GreggI’m Gregg Koskela. I’ve been married to Elaine for almost 26 years, and we share the roller coaster journey of parenting three girls: Aubrey (13), Hayley (19) and Natalie (21). Stories and words fascinate me, in person and on a page. I serve as pastor of Newberg Friends Church, a community that has shaped me for almost 30 years.

You can find me on my blog, Out of Doubt, and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram


Breathing with Leaves: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Leah Harrod Rupp

Apr 10 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





Breathing with Leaves
An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Leah Harrod Rupp

Dear Welly,

The trees in front of this house are big and beautiful and every year in October, the leaves carpet the lawn and porch. Today as we shuffled through the piles that you proudly raked yourself, I was remembering the first time we raked these leaves together. You were eight weeks old and I had you wrapped up onto my body on the sunniest of fall days. Your dad was going to be working late so I decided to surprise him by getting some raking done. We only got a small corner accomplished that day but I will remember it forever.

I had spent the weeks prior in a very dark place. We were waking up every two hours in the night to feed you because you weren’t gaining weight. Your dad was in the middle of his busy season and was struggling to meet his work deadlines. My breasts were swollen, my bottom was torn. I felt so alone and had no idea how to reach out for help. I couldn’t shake the fog that had settled in around me and the feeling that I was sinking. During my brief stretches of sleep I had nightmares that you were floating down a river alone or that I had forgotten to feed you for days. I woke up with my heart pounding and always reached over to feel your breathing, not relaxing until I felt your chest rise and fall.

I cried to my mom on the phone and said, “What happened to my life. What have I done?” And let me be clear when I say that I was never for one second doubting why I brought you here, or if it was worth it. I was just doubting this arrangement that seemed so flawed to me. The one where you needed to rely on me with every ounce of your being while I was just barely holding on to my sanity.

My mom did the best thing possible during our phone conversation. She gave me hope that things would get better. Soon she promised. Soon. Before you know it. Your body will heal, your hormones will balance, your son will grow, your milk will flow. Things will be ok.

She told me the sun would come out and that before I knew it, I would be walking around in the fresh air, taking you for walks and showing you the world. There will be seasons, she said. You’ll get to watch the leaves change and fall and then grow again. Life keeps moving. Life will go on. I wanted to believe her so badly so I clung to that image of you and I walking around in the sunshine. Living, breathing, moving forward, seeing the light. And it did happen before I knew it.

wellyleavesSo there I was raking leaves in the front yard with my eight week old baby and I realized that we had made it. We were both feeling strong and you had started to gain weight and sleep longer stretches at night. My body had healed so that I could walk around outside and for the first time, I believed that everything really was going to be ok. I told myself to take a picture in my mind that I would always remember, and I did.

I remember your tiny body pressed against me and your tiny baby toes brushing the flaps of skin on my belly. I remember believing for the first time that maybe I could really learn to be the mama I wanted to be. I remember looking up into the branches that were hanging over our heads and I remember how the sunshine looked as it filtered through the dead leaves. There were shadows, there was work to do, but there was light anyhow.

Tonight, four years later as you fell asleep, you asked if you could climb up onto my tummy. With your head on my chest, your legs dangled clear to my knees and the weight of you caught me by surprise. But even as your body grows, we are getting lighter every day, Love. It’s getting easier to move, easier to dance, easier to face our fears.

When I rolled you off my tummy and onto the bed tonight, I could see the shadows of the trees on the wall, the branches dancing outside our upstairs window. They have seen us rise and fall, rise and fall, so many times while we’ve lived here. Just like your chest does when you’re sleeping.

Rising and falling, ups and downs. Maybe they are just a part of breathing.




Leah Harrod Rupp is a blogger who cares about true stories and accepting struggle as an ordinary part of life. She writes about her experience as a parent which involves therapy, healing, and plenty of break downs. She wears dangling earrings and tracks the phases of the moon.
Leah writes at Fly Softy My Love.  


The Power of Cataclysm: An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Melanie Weidner

Apr 9 2016


Dearest Friends,

From April 8-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.

With love,





The Power of Cataclysm
An Authenticity Project Guest Post by Melanie Weidner

For months, I’ve been working on an artistic, spiritual response to violence in our society and politics.  It’s timely to share what might be my bravest art yet– this fabric art called Cataclysm— and a brand-new 7-minute Cataclysm Art Process video clip on the making and meaning of the image.




Both the video and image are rather intense commentary, yet to me they are full of hope that the power of breakdown offers us new possibilities in the long run.  Oh how we need that kind of imagination right now– ecologically, culturally, religiously, and in just about every arena of our lives.  I’m deeply disappointed by the increasing violence and corruption in our political system, wondering how and when it will fall apart– maybe even with our help– to allow fresh justice, compassion, and leadership to emerge.

I’ll keep this post short hoping you’ll watch the video.  It’s home-made, for sure, but I worked hard on it, and I think you’ll enjoy seeing the photos of how I created and then tore apart the fabric elements of the piece.  Yep, it’s all fabric. Yep, I built a colonial mansion and made trilobites.  Yep, this is the first time I’ve ever used a gun or bombs in my art.  And yep, I shredded all those pieces to make a point– we can join the power of Cataclysm to dismantle whatever does not serve life as a whole, then out of the raw materials from the breakdown we might weave something new.


This Cataclysm image joins my Resilience Project series, along with the other more obviously inspiring principles I’ve sketched in watercolor, like Emergence, Allurement, and Centration.  Check out my other just-finished art quilt, Seamlessness, representing the generative space out of which everything comes and in which everything is connected!  (This science stuff still bends my mind and opens my heart.)




I can hardly wait to keep working on this ambitious project to complete 11 fabric art quilts embodying each of the Powers of the Universe qualities!  I’ll appreciate your encouragement and support….

With blessings as it all unfolds,



Melanie7Melanie Weidner‘s art inspires people of all kinds, especially those interested in spirituality, mindfulness, and healing. Her images stir the soul and inspire compassion, self-reflection, and peace.

Melanie also offers engaging creativity and spirituality retreats in summer and winter in the glorious Pendle Hill Arts Studio, a Quaker Contemplative Retreat Center near Philadelphia, PA.  See more on her Workshops and Events pages. You can find Melanie’s blog here, her Facebook page here, and her Listen for Joy shop here

Melanie lives with her wonder-full partner, Hollin, their dog Tashi, and Milagrita the cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Important Thoughts on Life from the Lady in 18F

Apr 7 2016

I flew on a plane this morning from Oregon to Los Angeles, in seat 17F, and the lady behind me chatted away. She chatted away enough to make me feel uncomfortable, in fact, because I worried for her seatmates whom she’d clearly just met, until I began to really listen and to realize she’s a treasure. And wise. And savvy. And insightful. And funny. And authentic. And beautifully kind. So I pulled out my laptop and I started typing furiously, transcribing what she had to say, word for word, because we can all learn from the Lady in 18F on what was one of the best flights of my life. I hope you enjoy her as much as I did. She’s truly a gift if we would but listen. I’m sure you’ll agree.


On Stepping in Shit

You know what they say in New York? They say, “You stepped in shit.” But they mean it as a good thing. A good thing! Can you imagine? “Stepped in shit. Stepped in shit!” they say. “AH! Stepped in shit today,” and they mean it as a good thing. It’s like saying, “You got lucky.” Isn’t that wild? It’s a New York thing. I mean, you have to step in shit from time to time so you might as well make it a good thing. It’s just like saying someone’s got a shit-eating grin. They mean it like it’s a good grin. No one eats shit. Eating shit. Can you imagine? But they say it like a good thing. Geez Louise! Where does this shit come from?

On Call of Duty

Our grandson plays Call of Duty and he lives in New York. You know what? All those kids in New York, they talk just like the adults. Just cussing like damn sailors. Our grandson plays Call of Duty and he lives in New York, and he says, “I just blew that guy to hell,” just like that. In front of his grandmother. And I said to him, I said, “You don’t have to talk like that you know,” so he says, “I blew him to shit, Grandma,” and damn it all if that didn’t make me laugh.

On St. Kabir and Saris

You know how many grandchildren I have? Three. Three grandchildren. Twelve, 18 and 20. I can’t keep up. And one more on the way. Our daughter married a guy from New Delhi, so it’s an Indian house, you know. I had to wear a sari for the wedding. The whole time I’m going, “Oh my God, oh my God, this thing is going to fall off!” It’s held together with a tiny little knot. But I made it. I made it.

The mother-in-law comes to visit and the cooking never stops. Never. It’s 4 o’clock, and it’s time to have tea and biscuits. It’s adorable. She just loves those kids. It’s adorable.

Our daughter, she wears that red dot that shows she married, and she’s 7 months pregnant with that baby. Is that a trip? That’s a trip. Now they’ve named that baby already after St. Kabir. You know St. Kabir? In India, they don’t name them ‘til they know them. The baby is born and they wait. My son-in-law, his nickname means joy and that’s still what they call him. He is a joy. He sure is. But they went American with this baby and named him before he’s born. Except it’s an Indian name, Kabir, so it’s a mix of both. The Indian name and the American way. You know St. Kabir?

St. Kabir was lovely. Just a lovely guy. Believed in love. The Muslims, they made him a saint. St. Kabir. And the Hindus took him, too. So they both claim him. Because he believed in love. Isn’t that great? I just love that story. The world could use more of that. St. Kabir. I tell you what.

They’re going to come. They’re going to come visit and bring the baby, and we’re dying. We’re dying to have that baby here. He’s got a big ol’ head of hair. Oh my God, he has the most unbelievable head of hair. My daughter has good hair, but it’s just European hair. He has this gorgeous, gorgeous full head of hair. Oh my God.

On What’s Good for Your Brain

You know what’s good for your brain? Learning something new. I mean, new new. Totally new. It’s how you fight dementia. When you’re old you have to overwrite your brain, you know. And the only way is to learn something new.

On Donald Trump

You know, everybody is taking Donald Trump so seriously, getting all worked up. You know who doesn’t care what he says? The New Yorkers. They’re used to people talking shit. He just doesn’t know how to say things. He is not a good communicator. He needs better people to help him out. He’s got some things to learn. Not ready to be president, though. No, he sure isn’t.

On Oregon and Washington and How to Take a Driver’s Test

Oregon’s beautiful. Washington’s not bad, though. Washington isn’t bad. We have this totally liberal state. It’s nuts. Nuts. The whole legislature; it’s all democrats. When someone gets out of prison, they get all their rights back. They can vote and work and everything. It’s the most progressive state in the United States. Everybody talks about Colorado but we legalized marijuana the same time they did. I’m going to miss being in Oregon and Washington. Now I’m not anything. I’m not even registered to vote because I need ID and have to take that stupid driving test. I failed that test the first time I took it 35 years ago. You know what you need to do? Take the video they offer. They offer you this video and you should take it. It gives you all the answers. All of them.

On Arches National Park

Have you been to Arches National Park? Oh my God. It’s like heaven. Desert heaven.

On Getting Old

Damn it; I just dropped my iPad. It’s just, I’ll tell you what. You get old and you start to lose the feeling in your hands and you start dropping things. It sucks. It really sucks. We’re about to fly over Mt. Shasta, though. That’s beautiful. A huge, gorgeous mountain. That makes up for everything.

On Mom

I love to visit my mom. She’s in Santa Monica. My mom’s a pistol. A real hot ticket. She was always go, go, go, but she’s slowed down a little lately. She’s old, but she’s trying to stay alive because we tell her, “Goddamn it, Mom. Don’t die. We love you.” Her 7 year old grandson wants to take her for a drive someday up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, and there’s nine more years ‘til he gets his license, so she’s gotta stay alive, right? She’s gotta stay alive.

My mom was an orphan. Had no idea how to be a mom, so she was our friend. She read to us. Poetry. Longfellow and stuff. I bought copies for my brothers and sisters. There were five of us. She’d read the one about the unnamed soldier. She made us learn to read before we ever went to school. She was a great mom. Bionic.

She’d make us work so hard. She was tough. My mom’s a fighter. I had polio when I was a kid. They told her I’d never walk again. She said, “Oh yeah?” They told her all this shit. I call her now, still, to thank her that I can walk. I came out on crutches, but I learned to run on those things because my mother made me learn. My dad said, “Is she allowed to do that?” And my mom said, “She’s doing it.” It was a Catholic hospital, so they said it was a miracle. It wasn’t a miracle. It was my mother’s love. My little orphan mommy. She’s a fighter.

On How to Parent

I told my Uber driver this one time – he’s got a kid, and I told him – you do anything for that kid. You do anything. You go in debt for that kid. We did. You give a shit. You give a shit all the way. You never give up.

Here’s what you do – you go to all the parents and you exchange numbers and you raise kids together.

Your kids tell you they hate you. You love them anyway. Mad is not discipline, so you don’t think getting mad is parenting. Nope. You have boundaries and love. That’s it. Boundaries and love. You tell them how it is. You tell them you love them. You want to rip their faces off – just take that skin right off – but you just walk away and love them. They test boundaries. They’re supposed to. Their job is to test them. Your job is to set them. They drive you crazy. You love them anyway, even though it’s hard.

We survived adolescence. What do you know? One day you wake up and realize you did it.

On Being the Grandmother

You know what I like? I like being the grandmother. That’s what I like. My grandson is a teenager. He’s smart. He plays soccer. He’s going to college. My daughter calls me up and she says, “This kid is making me crazy. Why does he do this shit?” I like being the grandmother.

On the Music Scene

I hated disco. Let me tell you what. I hated disco with those big platform shoes and all about the beat but not about the music. Then came rap and I stopped listening. I didn’t listen to music for 20 years. But rap got better so I’m listening again. It’s interesting now. Not so nasty. Better lyrics. Smart.

On Landing

We did it! I knew it! This was a good plane. Solid. Solid.


And so, madam, are you. Solid and chatty and wise. And I’m so very glad I sat near you on the plane.

With joy and gratitude,