Penned Musing: The Red Hat and White Beard

He looked out into the crowd of families into the sea of anticipatory joy and stressful frustration. It is the day before Christmas and they had been waiting much longer than any child should be expected to wait nicely in line just to sit on his lap and ask for their Christmas dreams. Sitting in his chair surrounded by the red and green of the holiday season with the sounds of bells and Christmas music filling his ears he notices the undercurrent of rustling shopping bags and the dings of cell phones. He takes a deep breath of the pine and Christmas cookie sweetened scented air when he notices the slightest tinge of baby dampness left by the chunky infant he held for photos while her parents gleamed with such delight he couldn't help but feel his own longing be ignited.

The longing of the grandchildren he has yet to hold and spoil. His longing that is only intensified by the painful longing of his daughter who has yet to be able to birth a child and call herself a mother. He looks down into his empty lap careful to stop the tears from falling down onto his rosy cheeks and into his white beard.

Instead, in this moment, much like most moments in his life, he chooses the love-filled joy because in this choice he honors these lost grandchildren who have yet to breathe the Christmas air. He has learned through this journey there is room for both; the longing grief and the loving joy. He is even more sure of this lesson as he gazes back out into the line of families waiting with equal amounts of Christmas joy and Christmas stress.

He takes a deep breath, musters a smile from deep inside from both pain and love and welcomes the next family up,

Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas!

 
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Four Days Before Christmas

December 21st for most people marks just four days before Christmas. The mad rush to the grocery store to get all the ingredients for Christmas dinner and the sweet treats we all love. The last minute shopping, braving the stores filled with people, for those gifts that just came to mind. And, the finalizing of the schedule of when and where we must be and who we all need to see. December 21st  for me is all of the above plus the yearly reminder of our final due date. The last embryo of our IVF journey, should our baby had taken solid footing in Michelle's womb, would have been due today.

 
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It is a day I remember all three of them the most, probably because of the holiday season.

A day forever scarred on my soul with the wonderings of who they would have been and who I might have been.

A day filled with longing acceptance.

A day I honor them and myself.

More than ever before in this lifelong journey I feel myself embracing what can only be described as the complicated gray of planting my feet firmly and yet spreading my arms to soar and to receive.

I am finally letting go of the hustle to be seen and instead am truly embodying my work to know I am not invisible; standing my sacred ground in all of who I am and knowing He sees, knows and loves me most. It has only been with this work in letting go that my voice has begun to roar again, allowing continuing healing and advocating in a way that does not leave me abandoned.

Our babies would have been three this year, and I don't think it is at all a coincidence that my grief and my ever upward journey is much like a lovable and very opinionated threenager; oscillating between stubborn temper tantrums and funny, loving cuddles.

And so this day, my three babies, I speak about you, breathing your life into this world. And I love you always with the longing yet full heart of a mother with empty arms. Thank you for changing me, thank you for making me a mother.

What I Wish Others Knew

I hit my knees in gratitude yesterday when this piece went up. I have submitted several times to mindbodygreen and am thankful and sooooo excited this piece was chosen. It is a piece that I feel like I am finally figuring out my balance between my truth and my mission. I hope I made you proud too.

My IVF Treatments Failed. Here's What I Wish Others Struggling With Infertility Knew

In our Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.

Infertility treatments did not work for my husband and me. Unlike other families, we don't have a long list of years of trying and endless procedures.

Financially, all we could afford was one round of in vitro fertilization. And when it didn't work, and we lost our two babies, we took a loan out the next day to try again. In the end, we lost three.

Continue reading here and please share!

Small and Mighty

Wherever I travel I visit the local butterfly pavilion/house/garden/sanctuary/palace, this should not be a surprise to you by now folks. My recent annual trip with my parents to Branson, Missouri always means a trip to The Butterfly Palace. This year we only had to share the space with a handful of people on a slow day in December and of course around 1,000 butterflies. Walking around in the warm humid air, as sweat trickled down my back, I took pictures for the blog and thanked God for the miracle and beauty of the butterfly.

During the butterfly release I was blessed to meet a Butterfly Palace employee as she noticed my tattoo. Through a quick explanation of my story, honoring my babies and telling her about the meaning of butterflies to me, I made a quick connection with someone who gets it; a fellow warrior in life, a survivor of the struggle.

She soon found Ever Upward and commented:

I love your honesty and your transparency. I think if you were a butterfly you’d be a beautiful, delicate-yet-strong Glasswing!

 
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And so, after a quick Google search on the Glasswing butterfly I am astonished at the home I feel in the parallels to this incredible creature.

The Glasswing butterfly has wings which are quite literally see-through. Where other butterflies have scales, the Glasswing does not. The transparent wings make it difficult to see the butterfly, at times making it appear invisible.

Not much unlike how invisible I can feel as a woman without children in our society. Often times feeling forgotten, left behind and misunderstood. I find myself fighting the urge to hustle to be seen and overwhelmed by the fear that I am invisible.

The Spanish name for the glasswing is ‘espejitos’. Literally translated, this means little mirrors.

 
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Not much unlike how much I am constantly doing the work to see myself, to work on my own insight and improve my well-being and self; in other words owning my shit. The work of self-evaluation and self-responsibility has been the only way I have dug my way out, chosen change, embraced all the parts of my story and defined my own happy ending.

The Glasswing is one of the strongest species of butterflies. Although it might look delicate and perhaps even powerless, it has the ability to carry nearly 40 times its own weight. It is also very fast, with the ability to fly up to eight miles per hour for short periods of time.

Not much unlike me, I am little but strongly capable. And for those who know me well, you know that I do nothing slow...ever (sometimes to my own demise).

And so, I guess I see a lot of myself in the Glasswing butterfly and again am in complete awe of the lessons, the connections and the miracles; of this incredible life.

And there is your biology lesson for the day ;)!

The Gift of Childfull Living

 
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"What do you want to do today Evan?" I ask him with just as much excitement as his three year old bright blue eyes are beaming with. "Just(ine) Dance!"

Of course, we could probably play Just Dance all day long if I let him.

My friend Sam thinks I was helping her out on this random Friday, when in reality she was handing me a gift. She was headed out of town for a girls weekend and her husband not quite back in town yet from business, and so I had a full day with their youngest son, Evan. We had the whole day to ourselves, just needed to be home in time sitting in the cul-de-sac for his two big brothers to get home from school.

 
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And so we played Just(ine) Dance before heading out to ride the carousel and see butterflies (of course). He fell pretty hard at lunch, scaring me half to death before being completely cured by a few cuddles. We played games. Many, many games; three rounds of Candyland, half a round of Sorry! and three rounds of Memory to be exact.

"Oh yea, oh yea!" He says doing a wiggle victory dance as he literally scores 7 matches beating me in the game of Memory.

We finish our day looking at pictures and videos from the day while we wait for his brothers to get off the bus. As they run up Lane hands me his turkey art and Noah is asking to go to a friend's house.

 
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"Nope, we're going to play together today, your dad will be home soon." I say with the most motherly sternness I attempt to channel from Sam.

After a bit of moaning we settle on playing Battleship in teams...and we laugh.

And I feel myself fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

She walks in with the look of yearning any child on the cusp of getting a gift they've been excited about would have. She hands me her handwritten thank you card, "Thank you Justiene for the costumes."

And she immediately, follows up with the question, "Can we try them on now?"

I kneel down on her level and promise her, "We're going to eat Thanksgiving lunch first and then we'll get out all the costumes and you both can do a fashion show for us. For now, how about you go downstairs and play?"

With the true disappointment of crushed dreams, Hannah takes her sister Maya downstairs to play Just Dance.

It was their first Thanksgiving with us, as they were new, yet quick,  friends of ours from church. We don't have kids to enjoy the holidays with and my friend Izzy does not have her family here, so I asked them to Thanksgiving day with us when in reality I was basically asking them to become part of our chosen family.

After lunch, we all headed downstairs, my parents included, to go through the massive trunk of dance costumes from my childhood. Costumes ranging from when I started dance at age 4 to when dance was taken away by two back surgeries at age 13.

 
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The memories flooded me in songs and steps as I pulled out each costume for Hannah and Maya to run to the bathroom to try on. They both would run/skip/saunter/dance out to show off how each costume looked on them.

 
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The steps Maya made up in the emerald green with gold beads and green feathers. The twirl Hannah spun with the red ballet skirt flowing out from her. The pure joy on everyone's face, especially theirs and most definitely mine.

And again, I fill up with the gift of childfull living.

~~~

One of the only ways I have thrived after failed infertility treatments is by making sure to have children in my life. Creating this childfull life means I am not left a shell of a mother, it means defining my own happy ending.

It is a true gift, this childfull life; a gift I must ask for, a gift I must receive and a gift that has not come without the cost of loss.

But a gift it is; a gift of grace.

 
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Penned Musing: Open Window

Open the window.

He said referring to how stuffy the room had gotten during their difficult discussion.

They both needed to open the window; their window into themselves, for each other and to the world.

The windows that have now been slammed shut by loss.

Three babies, no more and no more chances, to be a normal family with 2.5 kids.

Windows slammed shut so hard they had shattered in ways never thought possible, never easily understood and forever changed.

What now?

She asked knowing there wasn't answer to this besides to move forward.

How do you move forward into a new normal after everything you had hoped and dreamed of is no longer?

She shifts her weight uncomfortably wrapping her arms around herself tightly as if to protect herself from further damage, and yet, in reality, more as a preventive step to not completely fall apart.

He walks forward enveloping her body in the hurt strength of his own.

Together.

She looks up,

Together.

Penned Musing: I Don't Care

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

"I don't care." she looks at me with eyes so full of pain I knew she meant it.

"Don't care about...?" I ask her back with my eyebrows slightly raised leaning my body somewhat forward, exuding the love and blessing I desperately need her to feel from me but more so from herself.

"Anything." she declares now more with a frustrated adamancy that I know as the stubbornness that is the suffocating stuck we can all feel in the dark.

"Then what made you show up today?" I question with love, curiosity and a tad of that I-know-the-answer-and-I-know-you-do-too sarcasm.

Her eyes shift downward as they fill with tears and her body relaxes softly into the dark brown leather of my couch. The geese fly overhead in the picture window of my office which makes it feel as if we are sitting in a sunlit washed tree house rather than a therapist's office. The geese are practicing their V formation as I feel the shift of change both in the room and the season they are doing flight practice for.

Change of the work ahead.

Change of the glimmer of fear and faith of something better.

Change that she dreams, hopes and wants it to be different.

I across from her sit knowing the journey as I've walked it myself, some days still walking through the dark into the light and love of the life I choose.

Drowning the I don't care.

Because I do.

Petite Post: Negotiations With a 3 Year Old

As a trained and experienced therapist I know the five stages of grief well. As a survivor of loss I'll tell you where you can stick those five stages.

Loss leaves us forever changed and not wrapped up pretty with a bow in the 5th and final stage of acceptance.

Rather, grief and loss are like handling negotiations with the average three year old; riding the waves between wild, stubborn tantrums full of attitude and affectionate cuddles sprinkled with articulated love.

Grief can feel like the dramatic threenager, and sometimes we just have to be along for the ride.

 
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Penned Musings: Shoulder Pads

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

Shoulder Pads

Speak it.

Speak it so fucking loud that the shame monster looks at you shocked and frozen. Because that monster speaks lies to you. That monster tries to lull you into submission by telling you that you don't matter. That you're unworthy. That your fear will always stop you.

Look her straight in those sinister green eyes and speak.

I'm scared. I'm lost.

But you're not my truth.

And then walk towards her feeling your racing heart and sweaty palms propelling you forward and wrap your arms around the shoulder padded business suit of shame.

Hold tight and feel the fear and shame melt between you both to make room and allow the warmth between you; invite in your awe.

The awe that you've survived. The awe that you have a story. The awe that your voice is beautifully important.

Because you're it. The only one ever like you; shame monster and all; fucking shoulder padded business suit shame monster.

And say,

Thank you, but no thank you.

May I take your blazer?

Show your beauty, your heart; your awe.

The light filled awe.

Shine bright my love, shine bright in awesome glory; in awe struck, fear filled awesome glory.

 
 

No Take Backs

I cannot take back a year in a body cast at an age no teen should feel so trapped and alone.

I cannot take back time lost to the darkest of my depression.

I cannot take back sanity lost to hormones of a failed infertility journey.

I cannot take back three losses that stole a lifetime of dreams.

None of it punishment or what I deserved.

Hell, many days I do not believe it all happened for a reason.

Simply my life, my past, my story.

Fighting to take back from it pieces of myself.

Weaving those pieces into the fabric of what I must carry with me always.

Allowing the no take backs to no longer define all of who I am.

Choosing how I am changed.

Rising ever upward.

Shining bright the no take backs of who I have become.

 
 

Still Mothers: Skipping With My Three

Most of our closest friends have three kids. Three!

Three seems to be the new 2.5 kids in our culture. We love those big families of five even if sometimes we look at each on our way to the childless quiet of our home and say to one another, “Man, three kids! The kids literally out number the adults. Do you think we would have gotten three?”

But we do have three.

Just not here with feet skipping along the earth.

Continue reading my first guest post over at Still Mothers here.

Petite Post: Even In Our Longing

I've always wondered how our family portrait would ever be complete. How do I honor my three without my three here on earth?

And then some photos from a few photographers starting showing up on my social media, a result of how much coverage Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is getting this year.

And so, we now have our first complete, and yet forever, longing family portrait too (thank you Betsy!).

~~~

 
 

Never to feel the relief at the sound of your first cry.

And yet, I imagine your giggles, always.

Never to know your name.

And yet, you are known and spoken by my heart, always.

Never to feel the warmth of your skin in my arms.

And yet, I feel you holy every day, always.

Never to know the tangible completeness; always wondering who you might have been and who we might have been.

And yet, trusting and knowing we are whole, even in our longing, always.

 
 

Q & A with Tegan Wren

 
 

I am so excited to share a Q & A with my friend, fellow author and fellow warrior Tegan Wren, author of Inconceivable! I was honored to receive an advance copy of Inconceivable! Even though I spend most of my reading time on nonfiction, memoir and therapy books, I gladly admit I could not put down this romantic novel with a heartbreakingly real infertility twist! I truly relished every word and stayed up late too many nights devouring the book.

QUESTION: Inconceivable! seems to be the great combination of romance novel with a bit of education on infertility. What was it about the novel or even romance novel that pulled you in this direction? And why include the infertility struggle in it?

ANSWER: I love to read novels because I think fictional stories are powerful tools for revealing truths. It's my hope that my novel will illuminate truths about the infertility struggle that those of us who live it have experienced. Through those truths, I want to raise awareness of infertility and increase compassion for people who experience it. As far as writing a romance...Most infertility stories unfold within the context of a romantic relationship. For me and my husband, it felt like infertility interrupted our "happily ever after." I think it's like that for a lot of couples. So, I wanted to have the reader invest in a couple's romantic relationship first before bringing in the infertility storyline. That's how it happens in real life: you're going along just fine with your significant other and then BOOM! You can't achieve this one thing that you both want so much, the thing that society says is the tangible proof that your relationship is valuable. You feel like such a failure. It's a deeply personal and painful medical challenge.

QUESTION: What phrase in the book are you most proud of?

ANSWER: This is a passage about Winter's Feast, a holiday that's celebrated in my book's fictional country. I wrote it to have a double meaning; it describes the hope you hold in your heart when you go through infertility.  "In the scarcity of winter, may we celebrate our bounty. Winter’s Feast reminds us even though the land looks barren, the potential for life sleeps just below the surface."

QUESTION: Did you write in the order it ended up being published in?

ANSWER: No...This was my first novel, so I wrote several scenes out of order. In fact, the very scene I wrote is what became John's Epilogue. It's funny to think I wrote the ending first, but it was kind of neat because I always knew how my characters were going to end their story. Then, the challenge was choosing the beginning and filling in all the details for a complete and satisfying story.

QUESTION: Was there a section you struggled the most with to write?

ANSWER: I really struggled with a scene in which the main character grapples with loss. (I don't want to give any spoilers, so I'll just keep it kind of vague.) It was challenging to strike the right balance between dramatizing it and being too over-the-top in how I described her reaction. In the end, I was able to craft a scene that hits the right chord with the help of my amazing editor from Curiosity Quills Press. She also experienced infertility, and brought some excellent insights and recommendations to this particular scene. We really bonded over the process of editing my book.

QUESTION: How did you start and finish writing the book? What are your favorite writing tools?

ANSWER: I thought a lot about the story itself and my characters before I ever started writing. So, it began with plenty of brainstorming. There's no way to finish a book except to be disciplined enough to do it. You have to remember the first draft won't be perfect. But until you finish the first draft, you can't really revise, edit, and clean up your story. As for my favorite writing tools...I always write using my laptop. I love to have a coffee on hand. A thesaurus is a must. I use an online thesaurus to avoid too much repetition in word choice.

QUESTION: What do you hope readers get out of Inconceivable!?

ANSWER: I hope readers are entertained and enlightened. Fiction, at its best, does both. For readers who haven't experienced infertility, I hope they come away from the book with more compassion for people who struggle with this medical condition. One way to normalize a topic is to write stories about it and put those stories in books, in magazines, and in movies. I'd love to see more stories that give an accurate snapshot of what it's like to live through infertility For my sisters and brothers who have walked this lonely road, I hope they see hints of their own stories in these pages, and that it helps them know they are not alone.

QUESTION: What other authors do you enjoy reading, look up to or learn the most from?

ANSWER: I've learned a lot from reading talented writers like C.S. Lewis, Sena Jeter Naslund, Stephen King, and Anita Diamont. As you can see, my tastes are quite varied. I never really care what genre I'm reading. I just want to immerse myself in a great story. These writers do a magnificent job of weaving tales so engrossing that I lose track of time and stay up too late to finish a book! That's the kind of story I tried to write.

QUESTION: How much of your story is in Hatty's?

ANSWER: My personal journey inspired the infertility story in INCONCEIVABLE! Like Hatty, I had a chemical pregnancy, in utero inseminations, and an in vitro fertilization cycle. But the dynamics of Hatty and John's relationship are quite different from what my husband and I experienced. So, there are some similarities, but I took advantage of the liberties that come with writing a work of fiction.

QUESTION: What is next for Hatty and John?

ANSWER: I don't have firm plans to write a follow-up story about Hatty and John because I think they're in a really good place when their story ends. But I have the basic plot outline for a story about one of John's cousin and an American grad student. It's a romance, but does not touch on infertility. Instead, it's more about the secrets family keep, why they keep them, and whether it's worth hurting the people you love to reveal these secrets. I think those are all compelling issues that are ripe for exploration.

QUESTION: What is next for you?

ANSWER: I'm really focused on telling people about INCONCEIVABLE! Some days, I want to jump up on a roof with a megaphone and yell, "I have a new novel that deals with infertility! I think you'll enjoy it if you've experienced infertility or if someone you know has gone through it!" I've completed a second novel, though it's different in style, tone, and subject matter from INCONCEIVABLE. I'm doing some revisions on it in preparation to begin querying agents after the first of the year.

In closing, I just want to thank you for reading my book, Justine, and for allowing me to share about my book and personal journey. To your wonderful readers: I love to connect with people who are in the infertility and/or adoption communities, so please get in touch!

Penned Musing: A Spoken Sea of Names

Penned Musings are posts based off of my daily writing prompts. You can read more here. ~~~

A Spoken Sea of Names

Another name.

A voice both full of love and sorrow all in the same breath speaks another name into the microphone over the crowd of people awash in a sea of orange.

Another name.

Over 500 names.

Over 500 souls lost too soon.

Over 500 names, never spoken out loud enough, put into the crisp, sun-filled fall day along the river.

And with each name another wave.

A wave of grief. A wave of smiles. A wave of sadness. A wave of love; all washing over me with my senses too overwhelmed to really take it all in.

A wave of orange.

With each name a wave of orange balloons both escape and release from the hands of a forever changed family.

At times it is a tiny wave of a only a few balloons, others a multitude of them.

Floating high into the blue sky, some with messages for their babies in heaven.

Tears. Smiles. Tears. Laughter.

Love. Honor.

The honor of loving them coexisting with our grief of losing them beyond too soon washing over us like the waves in the sea.

The sea of spoken names in waves of orange taking my breath away still.

 
 
 
 
 
 

~~~

The Share Walk of Remembrance and Hope was on October 17th. You can support Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support by purchasing your signed copy of Ever Upwardhere! Use coupon code OCT15 for $5 off!

They Count Too

Note: I had hoped HuffPost Parents would pick this up today, as I wait I wanted to post here to say thank you before the day's end. ~~~

When I profusely thank such organizations as Beat Infertility, Don't Talk About the Baby and Share for including me and my story, I both hope they know how sincere I am being but also know they are probably thinking,

Of course, what is the big deal?

My words of thanks come from a place of love formed in the darkness of loss.

I have never been pregnant.

Thank God because being pregnant for me after two back surgeries and a year in a body cast would never lead to the normal celebratory leap of joy over 2 pink lines that those of us in the infertility and loss community long for.

My surrogate never achieved pregnancy with our embryos either.

And yet, there is not a National Failed Infertility Treatment Awareness Month or National IVF Embryos Count Too Awareness Month, and so the month of October's Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is where I fall (or perhaps force my way in). Even though I can at times feel like the odd man out, left behind or the girl just beyond the outskirts of fitting in often wondering to myself,

They probably don't think I belong here. I did not lose enough. I am not enough.

That damn inner critic and scarcity, and yet, I know I am nowhere near alone.

Just as my friend over at Another Forty commented on my last post:

Having never been pregnant, though, I realize that I still have some shame related to whether or not pregnancy and infant loss awareness month applies to me. I have these pictures of our four embryos that feel like the only tangible remnant of our efforts, the closest I ever got to pregnancy. But at the end of the day I never did get there. So does it still count? I want it to desperately, and I want others to recognize it. It is such an odd thing to lose something you never really had.

To which I replied:

Those pictures of my 8 celled babies are not only cells in a petri dish to me, never strong enough to take strong footing in a warm mother’s womb, they are my babies. They count, they most definitely count. I am with you sister, it sometimes feels like there is not a place for us, but I assure you it is here. We too became mothers the day we dreamed of becoming mothers.

To you, they may simply be 8 celled embryos who were a science experiment in a sterile lab and petri dish.

To me they were growing babies, made up of Chad's athletic ability and kind heart and my red hair and passionate personality, and transferred to Michelle's loving motherly womb. My babies who never took a breath of this earth's fresh air and who I must parent from afar for the rest of my life always wondering who they might have been and who I might have been as their mother.

 
 

Tonight we will join families all over the world in the Wave of Light as we light three candles in honor of our soul scars.

And as I look at those bright flames, I will wonder if they are proud of me, wishing they were here while all in the same breath knowing all is okay.

I will also say thank you.

Thank you for including me and for remembering mothers like us.

~~~

In honor of my three: 

 
 

Petite Post: It Gets Different

Every day I learn a lesson in this lifelong journey of grief. Now a few years out of our failed infertility journey some of those lessons knock me on my ass, some push me forward and some lift me up on a firm foundation.

 
 

I am often asked,

Does it ever get better?

To which I say in complete love and loathing of the complicated gray,

It gets different.

Some days are better.

Some are brutal.

All days, in each lesson, I am shown that it gets different.

I am different; some days better, some brutal.

Petite Post: Mustered Grace

This month, as most of us know is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. And, only eight days in I am working hard to hold the space to honor the paradox of the sadness and the pride I feel seeing so much talk about pregnancy and infant loss in the media and on my social media walls. Because there is enough room for both.

Infertility, pregnancy and infant loss have lifelong costs.

We will spend the rest of our lives continually moving through the grief with whatever grace we can muster in that day.

Choosing to give ourselves permission to embrace the enigma that is defining our happy ending within the arms of lifelong loss.

 
 

~~~

Use coupon code OCT15 here to get $5 off your signed copy of Ever Upward and support Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support!

Penned Musings: My Shifting Shadow

My trip to Montana for the Haven Writing Retreat with New York Times bestselling author Laura Munson was the best money I have ever spent, the best moment I have ever listened to that voice telling me I have got to do something and some of the best days of my life. Montana is my happy place. Laura is my friend, coach and a gift to the world and my life; I learned so much from her. In addition, there simply are not enough words for the women I met at Haven. They are my new found tribe that I so desperately needed after the last year of lonely platform building and trying to get Ever Upward noticed and selling. They are my soft landing spot full of inspiration and love.

I found my voice there in the quiet of beautiful Montana. And most of all, Laura and my new friends helped me to discover that my passion, although one of my very best qualities, was allowing the mission to get in the way.

And so, I am anew; practicing my art of writing differently, and daily, and working on the sequel to Ever Upward in a completely different way.

Because through only my truth and only my voice will the mission actually shine bright.

~~~

And so, I thought I would occasionally share some of my writing prompts that I work on daily here at Ever Upward, especially while I work more on the second book for now. I hope you enjoy, I hope they inspire you, I hope they make you laugh, and most of all, I hope you can trust me in this slightly new direction.

~~~

My Shifting Shadow

Walking down two short gravel roads in the Montana crisp air alone with only the bright moon as my guide I realize how quiet my surroundings are and just how alone I am.

Shit, I did not walk along this barn before.

The gravel crunches beneath my feet as my pace picks up both out of fear and shiver as I feel the cold Montana air seep through my clothes and onto my now anxiously sweating skin.

It's okay just back track, I think I just missed a turn.

The stars shine bright, more of them at once than I have ever seen, and the moon nearly bright enough to guide my walk.

Oh fuck, what happens if I can't find my way?

Oh how loaded this question really is...

She had put me in the back of the property in the most isolated and quiet cabin she had. She was the New York Times bestselling author, so I knew she had her reasons but my stubborn ass was not going to thank her that first night as I calmed down from missing a turn in the pitch black Montana night.

And I sure as hell wasn't thanking her as I laid in my bed that first of four nights attempting to journal through the deafening silence that hit my eardrums as hard as the bass at a Taylor Swift concert.

A deep breath makes tears spring to my eyes but only briefly as the clarity of my voice begins to gain strength.

These women will change my life. God, I have missed community.

And I begin to write, just a bit because tomorrow begins the first big day of finding my voice with the guidance and loving arms of Haven.

My voice, now more audible than a library whisper,

I'm here, just a bit drowned by the social media-ing, the earning a living-ing and a mission we are so desperate to accomplish.

By the third morning, she's no longer a whisper but a rather confident and renewed heart and soul-filled voice.

She's me.

With the sun shining bright, the morning air crisp with possibility and the Canadian geese as my own personal morning playlist, I walk up that gravel road alone. I am greeted by the steam rolling off the tree embraced lake and with my next step I notice her, my shadow.

My shifted shadow.

My shadow that is no longer casting my darkness ahead but rather trailing behind as if to stand in holy support.