This year I celebrated the 30th Anniversary of my Calling. While this is a story I’ve shared before audiences of true believers and benevolent skeptics with donuts and orange juice in the back of old church halls. This month was the first time I chose to share this story as deeply as I feel it, hoping that it resonates with folks who are currently answering a calling that matters to them. I recognize myself in each of them, hoping they are better prepared than I was, but grateful for the lessons I had to learn the hard way.
This Origin Story is deeply embedded in my heart. Enjoy!
Edited from original published at #OneHeartOneEarth
The vision on a crowded hill
The clouds were sparse on Apparition Hill (Podbrdo) that night. It was a clear, summer’s eve, a handful of days after the Summer Solstice. It was also the 9th anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina) to six local children. Back when it was still a Communist country. But on June 25, 1990, I climbed that hill with hundreds of thousands of others. All with the hope of catching a glimpse of the divine.
I was a 12-year-old girl from Colorado, praying with thousands of others, longing for the proximity to one of Mary’s visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic, as he led his rosary group. Murmurs of prayers could be heard in dozens of languages on the hill that night. The power of that moment was undeniably pure. Humans from all over the globe gathered in a moment of peace, of hope, of love, brought together by Our Lady. Miracles of faith witnessed in the everyday kindness we offered to each other amongst the sharp stones and pitch-black shadows. We removed barriers so everyone could witness this event.
But others didn’t see what I did that night. I saw the cross marking the spot of the first apparition disappears from the landscape. I saw the stars glow brighter, suddenly free of the haze of pollution. I saw the hands of Our Lady, gold sleeves slowly coming into view. I saw her hands outstretched before me, open and inviting. Her hands motioned over the crowd in blessing. And even though someone stood up in front of me, interrupting the vision, I was able to get them to sit long enough for me to see the stars move from the heavens to form a cross of gentle, magnificent light. Time stood still and moved too fast all at the same time. I was dumbfounded, moved to tears, overthinking as I always did. I didn’t want to believe what had just happened. I wasn’t worthy. I blurted the whole thing out in short, sobbing sentences to my mom as the group continued the rosary.
When they announced that she was wearing a gown of golden light, in celebration of her anniversary there, I knew. When they announced she gave a very special blessing to the crowd gathered there that night – that we were being asked to give her blessing to others, I knew. When they announced that she departed in a cross of light, not only did I know, but then my mom understood as well. When they confirmed everything that I saw…I knew but didn’t want to believe. I knew I was being called to something bigger than myself. I knew I would never be the same person ever again.
And then I came home…
What I really needed in that first year was a welcome packet for “How to Be a Catholic Visionary”. Even though I saw the hands of Mary, it didn’t mean I knew what it meant or what to do with it. I had nothing to anchor myself when others tried to use me to push their agenda. At twelve years old, in 7th grade, I was piecing this together for myself.
Little old ladies were thrusting me to the front of their rosary groups, giving me uncomfortable importance that I felt was entirely unearned. I was embarrassed as they lined up for me to lay hands on them. Is that something I was even supposed to be doing? Is that really what was asked of me? The more they expected of me, begging for favors for themselves while sharing judgmental comments behind my back, it placed an inhibiting spotlight on me that made me even more self-conscious and doubtful of myself.
The pressure for perfection became nearly synonymous with my calling in those first two years. My imperfections seemed to be an indictment of my unworthiness. Not only was I exploding with hormones as an adolescent, but I felt like I was being watched for any minor mistake, rosary-laden ladies waiting for me to fail so they could feel better about their own faith. So I made mistakes on purpose – offering them larger concerns than the micromanagement of my life that would fuel my anxiety for years to come.
The closest thing I had to a true compass in those early years, besides my parents, was a visit by Fr. Rene Laurentin, a Catholic priest giving a talk in town about the scientific testing he’s done on the Medjugorje visionaries. The organizers made sure I was invited to a private dinner with him, a not-so-subtle hope that he would validate my vision. I dreaded it. Despite my stated wishes, the ladies pushed the issue and he asked to hear my story.
It dribbled out like an apology, anticipating his rejection. Each sentence was dripping with, “I know you think I’m crazy, which is totally okay, I probably am.” He listened quietly as his translator relayed the message. I searched his face for the doubt, the denial of the authenticity of the vision. Instead, he relayed a story of other children my age all across the world who have had similar visions. One only saw Our Lady’s eyes, another saw her feet. In fact, these “partial” visions were more common than I had known.
“Mary’s is asking whether you will serve as her Hands here on earth. Do you accept, child?” he said in all seriousness.
Even as I relay this story, thirty years wiser, my eyes are filling with tears of blissful joy. Because I finally had a purpose. All of this doubt, all of these signs were for a reason. I wouldn’t need anything else ever in my life. Just this. I only wanted to live a life of service to the Divine. At that moment, in the middle of a steakhouse, I smelled roses. This was Mary asking me to serve as her hands through this wizened French priest.
A calling requires consent
My first awakening wasn’t the vision itself, so much as the divine purpose attached to it. Smelling roses that night was the start of understanding that other people didn’t get to dictate what my calling was. That Mary would tell me, through that sign and others, when a message was meant for me or when an opportunity required my energy. I was called to devote my life to something bigger than myself, even if it hurt, even if it cost me. I could endure anything with the love of the Divine, a sacred bond that no one else gets to define. The little old ladies, the well-intentioned priests, parents, gurus, even the bishop, none of them could tell me what I saw or what Mary asked me to do. The gravity of my calling, the patterns of how Our Lady speaks to me, the signs I see along the way, are my purpose, my joy and mine to choose. No one else is capable of living it for me or taking it away from me. Only I have the power to say “no” or “yes” when I am called. I have the power of consent.
I say yes to that call each time I stand up for those more vulnerable than me. I say yes when I amplify marginalized voices, using my privilege to hold the door open so they can charge in and kick some ass and when I step back to listen and learn more. I say yes when I touch a lover’s most intimate soul-wounds with unconditional acceptance. I say yes when I embrace the darkest shadow forces of this world with the light of my love. I have walked through chaos and created peace through my passion for service. I have held a light for others as they face their own dark night of the soul. I channel empathy and transform suffering. I am living my life as a testament of love, even when it hurts, even when I think I can’t go on. I say yes.
Once I understood my purpose, once I understood that I wasn’t there to fulfill others’ expectations for my calling, I forged my own path. I know so much more now than I did before. I know how to better discern the signs, how to better meet the challenges asked of me, when and how to ask for help. And I know my work continues to this day as I work to dismantle systems and beliefs that keep us stuck in our illusions of separation and lack. I will always serve gladly as the hands, reaching to offer proof that we are truly all connected. Hand to hand. Heart to heart.
To follow a calling is to share the voice of your heart
But more than anything, I have been called to share my story with you. Here. Today. Sharing my heart this way is the true joy of what I do because I want you to know that this is possible for you as well. It was only when I chose to let go of what others expected me to be that I found the natural flow of my light, my connection to the true potential of my highest self. It is has given me the courage to do the impossible, to live an extraordinary life of love.
And because this post insisted on coming out this month, if something about the words, the images, the emotions resonates with you, consider this your sign from the Divine! Is there a slender, delicate proof of your own truth contained in these words?
This is the Divine’s way of reaching out to say hello, inviting you into a deeper union.
I’m here to affirm that this bigger-than-you thing that you’ve been called to do…yes, you ARE worthy. It is never too late. Awakening happens.
Right. On. Time.
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Some of you may have recently gotten a notice of a new post, but cannot access it because it is password protected. I didn’t mean to cause confusion, so let me share what this is all about:
I’ve launched a new feature on this blog for those who have signed up for my Patreon page. Please excuse the mess while I configure the best way to protect those posts for members only, but also make a smooth experience for subscribers to the public content.
From the Vault is a collection of NSFW posts – could be kink tutorials, scene reports, fantasy & erotica, sexting tips, so many fun things. The highlights of my early sex blogging life will live here.
There is something so pure about sitting down to the computer, the pad of paper and purging myself of the attachments and expectations in my life. A torrent of words flowing without restraint. The blessed opportunity to be fully free with my expression, my words, my voice.
But for a long time now, my words have seemingly dried up, my voice too parched with anticipated embarrassment to speak. I have plenty of ideas and none of the energy to communicate them appropriately. I keep believing there was some magical time in my life where I didn’t feel that pressure, that potential for rejection, and where I could just pour my heart out.
As nostalgic as I can get, when I look back through my own journals, I now see a clear pattern of memories that remind me that even back then I wasn’t telling my full truth. I was documenting a prepackaged response designed to align with the person I always wanted others to see me as, but not necessarily what my full self truly was or would become.
My life has been a series of self-conscious, half-remembered events that reinforced how neurotically awful of a person I believed I was. I was careful to avoid ever expressing anything that indicated I was anything less than a perfectly faithful, compassionate, and accommodating soul. Even in my obvious struggles to take the high road with the boys who were breaking my heart, I blamed myself. Not misogyny by proxy, but because I believed it was the holy thing that a visionary would be expected to do. Even though I was seeking out deeper truths and meanings, I rarely spoke about my spiritual calling and especially kept very quiet about the sexual component of it. I would only mention it to shame myself for any perceived failures to be a girl worthy of that calling. I wrote, not for myself, not to document the truth, but to set the narrative for the story I wanted to be told instead of the true one that sits in my heart. Yet I still treated that as truth.
For as creepy and paranoid as this sounds, I have always lived my life as if I’m being watched and will be judged throughout. Mindful that someday any of my writings might have an audience who would be critically unkind, I always aimed to demonstrate my self-awareness, my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions and bad deeds. My journals were a companion piece to the sanitized confessions I was making to the priests. As I read through those journals, I could remember the places where my pen hesitated, the specific decision points where I could have given voice to my truth, in my own space, but didn’t. What was important to me, even then, even in the words I used to describe my own experiences and feelings, is that I was portraying myself in accordance to the avatar of a visionary I wanted people to know about me. It was an image that denounced my childish anger and my greedy needs. Hands clasped in prayer (but in a cool way) “Lord, I need nothing from you but clarity. Please give your servant clarity so I don’t mess up everyone’s life”.
I was trying to contain myself in a vision of what I thought people might want from me, instead of admitting and dealing with the actual pain I was feeling. It was another way to justify the sacrifice and suffering.
It is also why I believe the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” is complete bullshit. Even when I thought I was being true to that vision, I wasn’t. I was only hiding my truth from myself, punishing myself for what I lacked instead of celebrating what I had.
I remember one specific journal entry from April 1994, the entry right after I gave my virginity to someone after breaking up with my boyfriend. Not only was I beating myself up about it, but I also understood why it was bothering me: “I guess as an only child who had to be in control all the time, I find it hard to be out of control.”
I was convinced at the time that my feelings were out of control. Staying up late at night worried that my sex drive was out of control. Not only did I believe myself to be selfish and jealous but I was strategic in how I portrayed it. Hesitating as I wrote to choose whether to take the high ground or tell the awful truth. In my mind, I was a flawed, immature, and insecure girl who was chosen, likely by mistake, for a big spiritual calling. I started from a place of unworthiness for such a grand mission that I spent the past 30 years trying to beat myself into submission to become a person worthy of such a demanding role. I modeled myself after others who stood for equity, justice, under an umbrella of divine love. I was brutally honest with myself so that others wouldn’t have to be. I conformed myself to what would most allow others to forgive my inevitable lapses when my human flaws leak out and sour my good intentions. I control the reader’s point of view of me. And so in my expressions, my deeds, everything I said to even myself about who I am was meant to conform to a model that was aspirational at best. A constrained and captured essence of deeper realizations that helped me survive the chaos of my world.
I admit I’m so very confused by the spiritual people who complain about wearing physical masks and yet won’t address the mental ones they continue to wear. Aggressively declaring “Love and Light” as they actively resist attempts to listen to someone else’s truth is as restrictive as face coverings. Just like the ones I wore in my journal. Portraying myself to be all about “love & light”, who was I trying to convince?
“I have sinned so much. Give me the strength to get through the days. Help me see my many failures. Help me trust in you. I will not promise, but I will control myself according to your will. Help cure me of my selfishness, greed, and pride. Let me just fall into your arms. ”
April 13, 1994 (my 16 year old self)
And yet, those words were chosen, deliberately to prove to myself that I was the problem, not the men who were fucking with my heart. I manipulated my own intentions, begging forgiveness instead of demanding apologies, showing how contrite I was for my transgressions even though theirs were worse. God, or Spirit or the Divine, knew the content of my heart just as well as I did, but instead, I was trying to convince myself and the future, the unintended audience of the sincerity of the responsibility I felt to have acted better. I can still feel the rage I was suppressing, the excuses I had to forcefully set aside to defiantly turn a harsh mirror on myself. To prove I could withstand it.
Those restraints on even my own history, my own view of myself are worth seeing in context. I deliberately made myself small so I would never be too big for anyone else, so I wouldn’t exceed the small container of tolerance that I imagined others would give me room to occupy. I deliberately robbed myself of the triumph of all the ways in which I exercised control over that moment in my life, so I could meet the finger-wagging judgments of those who came after me.
I deprived myself of the miracle, the true awakening of womanhood, where I was able to truly choose my sexual expression with someone else. I got to choose how, when and who I was going to give my virginity to, but I also chose why. I chose to a path the showed me an innate power I have. But despite what I remember and felt, the words in my journal barely even hint at the awakening that this was for me. The mask I designed to fool even myself actually diminished the true joy I felt and instead punished me with unearned shame and guilt. A way to fit in to the image I thought I needed to maintain to make everyone else happy with me. The truth was far too expansive than I ever was willing to document or admit; I needed to control the narrative, constrain the truth in order to fit in the small container I restricted myself to.
Part of what I see happening around us is that our illusions of control, the containers that we used to compartmentalize, and thus, the ways in which we think we exercise direct control over our lives, are breaking down. This aligns with these changes of the Tower (that i’ll be posting about in the next two weeks), where our overall systems of power and control, are crumbling past the point of meaningful repair. But even more specifically, whether it be in the jobs we’re doing or communities we’re sharing in, we are starting to feel the squeeze of trying to fit into the containers that once held our lives, or rather the image of our lives, together.
The family feels different now that we’re all working and playing in the same space together in drastically different ways. Work feels different when the office politics are now seen through the unfiltered lens of Zoom. We feel more raw and numb than before, an awareness we hadn’t noticed before. We’re noticing that not only are those masks meaningless, but the ways in which they contain the full complexity of us, reducing us to two-dimensional avatars of ourselves is no longer a comfortable place to live.
So, my promise tonight with this post and all others that come behind it is that I will share more than the mere impression of my truth. I’ll get into the nitpicky, down and dirty truth of my perspective, my experience, my background, and my vision. I’m tired of pleasing audiences who view me through the cracked lenses of their own self-pity or defense mechanisms. Their truth isn’t mine, but I will listen to it nonetheless. Because witnessing the truth in one another is the only way we’ll survive the challenges coming our way. Living in our truth, breaking out fo the containers meant to keep our lives in tidy conformity to the whims of a collective world that is on its last legs.
Today’s hashtag is #NeverForget – tributes to 9/11 flood our feeds. So many Americans have shared what they were doing that day, what their reactions were, how it affected them, how it affected the world around them.
All I can remember is the shock. Pure, unfiltered shock.
My mom was in town to help me choose my wedding dress for my May 2002 wedding. I was babysitting my step-son-to-be (he’s now 23 as much my son as anyone could be!). My husband-to-be was driving back from Utah with his family after attending his grandfather’s funeral, a Pearl Harbor vet. I had just started my first class in my master’s program for public policy. I was excited, full of promise and happily planning out my new life.
The husband-to-be called me from the road early that morning waking me up. “Turn on the TV,” he said, “a plane has hit the World Trade Center.” The words didn’t make sense until I reached for the remote and saw the enormity of what he was trying to tell me.
I screamed to get my mom’s attention, my kid still asleep in his room. She turned on the TV in the living room and gasped. We just couldn’t comprehend what we were seeing. And then, right then the 2nd plane hit. The shock, the magnitude of what we just witnessed was too much to describe. Hearing about the Pentagon and Pennsylvania only added to the confusion and dismay.
I personally didn’t know anyone who died that day, but I know two people that fate chose to save that day. My cousin, who is like a brother to me, worked in that building (and fortunately was at the coast celebrating his son’s 1st birthday). My mother-in-law was supposed to have been there that weekend but she was called out to Utah with the family instead.
And then the waves of grief finally started after I saw people throwing themselves from the building, escaping the fatal onslaught of fire, smoke, and falling debris, my heart broke with a permanence I still can’t fully describe. Empathy for the loneliness and desperation fueled by primal fear and a haunting inevitability. Witnessing someone’s last moments like that over and over – too many to count – so many I will never know the names of. When the kid asked why they were jumping, the tears couldn’t stop. I stood in the shower for 30 minutes just crying, letting the sound of the shower drown out my wailing sobs.
We kept the dress appointment that day because as mom said, we needed something to look forward to in the midst of sorrow. Trying on wedding dresses that day, knowing I made the right choice for the modest wedding of my dreams sounds like the most selfish, self-absorbed thing to do. But it was the only thing that could replenish the outpouring of empathy that was drowning my spirit.
Little did I realize that as an American, my heart would continue to break over and over again in the years since.
9/11 exposed some of America’s deepest vulnerabilities
As Americans, we felt vulnerable, exposed, and indeed, traumatized. We went through a collective mourning period – classes were suspended, we were allowed to be human beings with feelings, at least for a little bit. There was a precious moment of recognition in one another’s eyes about the unspoken horrors we had just witnessed. At the gas station, at the grocery store. For a few days we honored that flicker of recognition in one another.
But our consciousness can only handle so much darkness and trauma before it starts seeping deeper into our system, a quiet code of disquietude flipping switches on a dime, sometimes to protect us, sometimes to manipulate us. It happens in our everyday lives all the time. We swallow the words of the bully until they’re embedded in our system, stopping us from speaking our truth, maneuvering levers to spoil our successes long after the bully is gone. Victimization giving rise of paranoia, distrust, and a new system of “normal”. Our deep underbelly, both in corporate America and in our mundane, empty lives was disrupted by the coordinated and deliberate hatred of others.
It wasn’t long before things started shifting, before we started looking at one another with suspicion. Many were manipulated by lies about weapons of mass destruction. How many of our soldiers carry trauma from this fabricated war? But our vengeance must be served, is the programming we’ve been taught.
The pre-existing rift between left and right began to grow both between and within parties. We saw a growing rise of hate crimes and targeted discrimination against those of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern descent. We allowed compromises to both civil liberties and human dignity in the name of national security. Terrorism added a new violent layer of fatalistic aplomb to our public discourse.
And it has been growing exponentially ever since. We have been fed a steady diet of gradually paranoid narratives, the inspiration porn of populist one-upmanship, tolerance for the most extreme interpretations of the truth. Constantly exposed to provocative images of fear, nefarious gaslighting narratives we soaked up the stories that personalities that justified the weaponized surety of our own private victimizations.
9/11 felt personal
9/11 felt more personal than many things we’ve gone through as a nation. Yes, the rest of the world witnessed it, but we were the victim of a crime so heinous in reality and symbolic in identity that I think we are still uncovering layers of it. Unlike a natural disaster, we were targeted, we were unexpectedly knocked in the gut, costing thousands of innocent lives. Not on the battlefield. We were ambushed at work, on a commute. A normal ordinary day of no true significance other than the date these men collaborated to choose. This wasn’t a distant declaration on foreign soil, this was here, this now, this was personal.
We grew to see shadows in every corner of someone else’s life but failed to expose our own to the light of day. We resisted looking at the ways in which we center ourselves on narratives of pain and struggle but fail to empathize with the pain and struggle of others. We both want our pain recognized and we want it protected. We want someone to witness it, but to do so would be to expose it to the light of our own attention, exposing the uncomfortable depths to which it has embedded itself into our daily world.
The memory of that exposure of our vulnerable underbelly still hurts after all this time in some big and small ways. And in so many ways as a nation, we are still guarding this wound, lashing out at anything, anyone that might threaten us again. We want assurances of our safety and have been willing to even sacrifice one another to have it.
No matter how much we might have progressed and emotionally healed since then, there is a festering wound at the core of our political and cultural life. We all have expressed a deep distrust in the collective will of our nation to move forward together, hypervigilant ideological stubborn wars waged against one another with alarmingly high consequences. Each side battling for control over unwieldy systems that are crumbling under the weight of inequality, failing to deliver on the promises of this nation, the chosen promise on the declaration of inalienable rights.
We think we’re playing at tug-of-war, when in fact, the rubber band holding our planet together is about to snap from the pressure of containing such fiercely repulsive polarities of our illusions of separateness. All to protect ourselves from confronting the collective compassion fatigue we have steadily been experiencing since 9/11. It’s not that we don’t care…it’s that we’ve been through so much unacknowledged, unhealed pain that our capacity to care is overwhelmed by the state of “way too much” always.
I want more than anything for us to we recognize that these vulnerabilities are easier to bear when shared and recognized in our connections with others. We don’t have to understand what someone else has gone through in order to extend empathy and understanding. Instead of adding doubt and denial, we can choose to accept and recognize a shared reality – that we have been through some shit together.
It’s critical, now, more than ever, for us to find and create places for community and connection. Not to gossip and hate on others, but to share lived realities in the comfort of those who get you. More than ever we’re invited to share our truth, to open old wounds, and heal ourselves to save the generations to come.
As we carry forth the memories of this day to the next year, may we find the strength to stand up for one another.
May our lungs be full of the breath of inspiration to speak our truth.
May our minds be clear enough to recognize the truth in one another.
May we each find a pathway to create a better reality than the polarized forces we’re sponsoring today.
May those we choose as leaders prioritize the healing recognition we need and actively choose not to add more trauma to our already overloaded lives.
The rubber band of our uneasy tolerance holding the country together will snap unless we show up with our full integrity, our full honesty, and our full humanity and demand the same from our leaders.
If we can do these things, we will have honored those who died this day, we will have recognized the pain and tears of every mother, father, husband, daughter, or best friend who lost their beautiful love that day. We will have honored the brave rescuers who saved lives and sacrificed themselves in pure selflessness and duty to humanity.
And we will have moved a step closer to bringing us into the resolute safety of truth…the foundation for rebuilding ourselves and our country.
Perhaps it’s the influence of social media or a misunderstanding on my part, but it seems that confidence has become a frequently maligned character trait. While certain character traits are intended to be non-threatening, assertiveness, for example, a sense of confidence seems to be viewed with disdain by many. At some point, a healthy sense of confidence became synonymous with arrogance. However, I believe that hiding your gifts under a bucket because they make others uncomfortable is neither fair nor healthy. When did confidence become a bad word?
Confidence is frequently viewed as threatening and aggressive, and sometimes it can be. I think we often assume someone may use their confidence against us as if it can be weaponized. It is common to feel threatened by someone who does a given activity better than you, but this does not mean you are being targeted. I think a large number of people feel threatened by a strong sense of confidence due to their personal insecurities. They dislike in others what they feel is a deficit within themselves. Rather than saying “I wish I had that” or even better “teach me how to do that” we fall back on jealousy because we do not want to face our perceived short-comings.
Has anyone ever felt jealous of someone due to their abilities or accomplishments? All of us have at one point or another. As I became a more mature adult, however, I realized if I felt this way towards someone it was because I had a problem, not them. I came to the conclusion many years ago if I was experiencing something as toxic as jealousy it meant I was feeling insecure about me. The good news is I am the only person I have total control over, so I can address my jealousy so it no longer influences me. I do not have control over anyone else so why should I feel negatively about their abilities? That doesn’t make sense to me anymore. Have I experienced this from others? Absolutely. It usually left me scratching my head.
Confidence resulting in overbearing arrogance and bullying is not true confidence, rather it is aggression. My quick and dirty definition of aggression is getting your needs met by taking from the needs of someone else. Our culture of winners and losers created this. A key concept here is that other people do not have to lose in order for us to win.
I am not speaking about athletic contests which are deliberately set up with a winner and “not winner” due to an agreed-upon set of rules. I am speaking of day to day life where we all have to navigate a series of challenges, some expected, some not. As a coach, when I help someone with their level of confidence, I have helped them develop a life skill that can help them across all domains. I am not helping my clients with this so they can step on others. I am helping my clients so they can develop themselves and thrive.
Confidence does not have to be arrogant or self-aggrandizing. A given individual may wield it in that manner, but I do not think that is its purpose. True confidence and assertiveness should work together like a hand in a glove. It is almost as if our culture views confidence as something in short supply, often resulting in judgment and criticism, such as “who does he/she think he/she is?”, or “You must think you’re so great.” Taken to its most extreme, this may look like “nothing makes me angrier than someone who feels good about themselves.” Absurd, no? Confidence does not have to equal toxicity unless you apply it through that filter. There is nothing inherently wrong with genuinely knowing you are good at something, particularly if it is something that required time and dedication to accomplish. A famous entertainer from the 1980s once said “If you try to stick your head above the crowd, someone will throw a rock at it.” Are we so connected to our perceived limitations that self-betterment is viewed as threatening?
Many people mistakenly view confidence as something that makes them better than others. Again, this is not what confidence is about. If my sense of self is sufficient and I feel I can learn what I need to learn to be competent or even excel at a chosen task… What is wrong with that? We are attached to our insecurities to such a degree that the accomplishments of others are frequently viewed as threatening. Is success a limited commodity only a precious few can attain? Is it only available while supplies last? The implication is we must get up early, stand in line, and hope we get some before it runs out. There is not a national scarcity of confidence and there is plenty for everyone.
In the U.S. there seems to be a cultural penalty for having confidence or even a healthy self-image. We experience too many mixed messages implying we don’t quite measure up (advertising for example) but changing that so we do measure up can often come with a penalty. It’s almost like we just can’t win. What is our cultural obsession with a) not feeling good about ourselves; and b) being angry with and attacking those who do? My personal observation is social media has made this worse. It’s easier to be shitty to each other now without the consequence or pressure of face to face interactions. That is likely a topic for another time…
Confidence is inherently healthy and it promotes other healthy behaviors. Learning new tasks is a common example of this. If I can learn one thing in a given field, I can likely learn another and another until proficiency and then later excellence is achieved. Can I learn all things expertly? No, probably not. But if I can learn things I enjoy doing and get myself paid in the process, I am likely in a good place. We have this cultural fixation on the strong, independent, rugged individual who marches to the beat of their own drum. We also dismiss them and sometimes target them outright and attack them until they “arrive.” After they arrive, they are still subject to cruel scrutiny by their peers or the media. Celebrity culture, anyone? This is why the aforementioned entertainer spent so much time dodging rocks.
I think if we can adopt a supportive attitude toward each other rather than viewing the accomplishments of others as threatening, we will be more likely to view confidence-building as a natural progression rather than an attempt to unsettle the rest of the collective. If we can view this as a natural progression we all go through, helping each other excel becomes a natural part of life rather than needless animosity. Let’s be good to each other.
Ted Morris is an experienced therapist, having worked in community mental health systems, working primarily with men engaged with the criminal justice system. He recently launched Audacious Growth, a personal development coaching business specializing in working with men who wish to deprogram toxic beliefs and patterns to more fully integrate the Divine Masculine into their lives.
Over the past week, I’ve been working on quite a few projects that align with the work I really want to do in the world. From launching a Patreon to recording a Divine Feminine Roundtable, my heart’s calling is taking off in ways I wouldn’t have dared imagine even a year ago, much less 9 years ago when I first started this blog.
Originally, it was a way to transfer my energy away from LiveJournal, to continue writing and share with anyone who might be listening. It was a way to reclaim myself after being outed for using my voice. This journey has been long and difficult, traumatic, and even heartbreaking at times. But it has also given a safe space to stretch out my voice and connect with people in ways that I hope help them feel less alone. It’s given me an opportunity to cultivate a vision and speak deeper truths.
But it’s also noticeable that I don’t post often. Perfectionism often gets in my way, but so has this burgeoning new project of me. So, I’m making a few changes and updates that hopefully will give us additional ways to engage with one another.
Welcome Warrior (aka Ted Morris/AudaciousGrowth)
Yep, the man you’ve read about on my social media posts, my polyamorous partner of 12+ years, is now going to be adding some of his own posts to this blog. Audacious Growth aka Warrior aka Ted Morris will soon be posting his own perspective on the SharpSweetBella blog.
Ted Morris is an experienced therapist, having worked in community mental health systems, working primarily with men engaged with the criminal justice system. He recently launched Audacious Growth, a personal development coaching business specializing in working with men who wish to deprogram toxic beliefs and patterns to more fully integrate the Divine Masculine into their lives.
Here is a video of Ted in action during the June #OneHeartOneEarth summit, presenting about the Shadow Masculine
I can’t think of anyone better suited for this work than Ted. Welcome, my love!
Patreon-Only: Password Protected Posts
You may have noticed that a new category has popped up called “Members Only”. I have made the decision to put some of the more NSFW (Not Safe for Work) or more personally deep or revealing posts behind password protection.
Part of the work I’ve been doing on myself includes holding better boundaries with the outside world. This includes how often the general public gets to access, use, and judge my image and words. There are some posts that are meant for the public, that align with my calling that will always stay public, but to get access to a deeper part of me, I need a way to ensure the safety of that content by ensuring that those who use and view it are more than casually invested in this aspect of me.
The launch of my Patreon campaign seemed a good time to start this process. This level of access is $12 and available to a limited number of patrons. There are other levels of support as well that get access to monthly messages, a community Discord channel and more. All of this contributes to the overall vision I am creating for my business: Rose Connections.
When I started this blog 9 years ago I didn’t have a specific vision of what I wanted it to be. loving the grey areas, the overlapping concepts, and celebrating being present in the flow of life. But I want things to be easy to find – for you and for me. So many categories will become tags and some really big tags will become categories. Most of you won’t notice, but hopefully, if you want more info about a topic, it will become easier to find.
Rose Connections YouTube Channel
Yes, you can now listen to me in addition to reading me on our various forms of media. My new venture focuses on three main tenants I view as the building blocks for creating a better world:
#RadicalReflections These are videos that are about self-reflection, growth, authenticity in truly knowing, and owning your own story. It’s about climbing your own mountain to see the world from a new perspective. You’ll hear me refer to this as “Silver Mountains”
#RelationshipReboot These are videos that discuss how to transform our connections with others. Whether it be professionally or personally, these videos reframe all of our human relationships to be more productive, understanding, and connective. You’ll hear me refer to this as “Rose Gold Flames”
#RadiantResilience These videos focus specifically on the leadership skills and analysis required to leverage our lived experiences into meaningful social change. Embracing vulnerability and humility, recognizing the patterns that have hurt humanity, and encouraging the authenticity of others is how we can create a better world for all.
You will also find a monthly Divine Feminine – Divine Masculine exchange with Ted (posted later today). I will also be posting Trauma-Informed Social Change videos from time to time as well – just my personal commentary on policies, ideas, and trends that highlight this new project of mine.
Looking through old journals tonight, I realized that one year ago today I went on a personal pilgrimage to our mountain cabin in the high country of Colorado. I was actively trying to avoid suicide, too traumatized and exhausted to see straight, too hopeful to completely give in. And what I needed most was a solo journey past the foothills to restore the truth of myself.
I talk often about how I am a Colorado Girl. My dad, who worked his way through college as a fire lookout near Boulder, did his best to try to teach me what he knew about cross-country skiing, building a fire, hiking a 14er (I still haven’t accomplished that – it’s still on the list). And when I had nightmares, which I inevitably did, he would lay on my floor and talk me through visualizing the meadow he and I hiked every year until I fell back asleep.
I spent all of my summers getting dirty in Colorado. I’d spend a week with my grandparents where we’d pick chile peppers from a local farm and I’d spend a week at the cabin exploring old mines and new paths with my parents. These memories are more vivid and memorable than the ones I have of even my friends and teachers, with whom I spent more time. And while I’m not a camper (I have reasons) I could spend all day exploring and soaking in the quiet of my beautiful mountains.
During those summers when I’d have time to wander on my own with my walkman, I’d end up at a specific rock formation on our property that I used to call my Castle. I’d set up my teddy bears, ask them to bring me a pretty stone (rose quartz typically) to show “tribute” and their commitment to being in my kingdom. And yet, I ruled alongside them, taking care of the business that is a human’s prerogative (like travel arrangements) and they took care of their own business (like marriages or bear disputes). My bears and I each ruled our own kingdoms in cooperation and in harmony with one another. And in some ways, that was always the heart of my ideal vision of leadership.
This vision became part of a larger ambition to serve this state, improving the lives of its people. I am so very much in love with this state – the beauty of its diversity, the elegance of its quirks, the passion of its people. I wanted to bring the same harmony that the state provided to me without even trying. I know I can find myself both in my my hometown of Pueblo, which preserves the roots of my public service dreams, and the mountains, which preserves the earthy connection to my freedom-loving soul.
Transformation starts when we decide we are enough
As my life went on, as I went through trials, the idea of the mountains, the appearance of a clear lake against a backdrop of the Rockies, was always a calming force for me. To dip my toes in the cold rush of Boulder Creek, to smell the forest air after a summer monsoon, to be humbled by the vastness of the galaxy laid before you in the purest of night.
A year ago I was on the verge of suicide, a constant battle day after day. The stress, the retraumatization was too much to bear. And while I held a leadership role in our organization, I felt too exhausted, too tapped out to be effective. I stopped taking care of myself, a passive aggressive self-destructive mechanism that added to rather than relieved my misery. Sleep deprivation, one meal a day, and high stakes decisions at work with active, daily reminders of trauma? This dangerous cocktail felt much like the anxious uncertainty, dread, and anger that we see around us today. Where the injustices, the wounds, the betrayals, the disappointments, the dramas became so heavy, so intolerable that I had to burst out of that cage and get above it all.
In a dramatic climax, I left my job, got back into therapy, tuned into an 11:11 spiritual enlightenment call with my friend, Lisa Gunshore, in November and began shedding the perspectives and patterns of the past. And what I noticed more than anything was just how often I was making myself small so that others wouldn’t be hurt by the power of my light.
I was first called to this journey on December 13, 2012. There was a massive shift in my life, an urge, a drive to finally feel worthy of carrying a larger light in the darkness of our world. I was scared, I was small, I was contained. But even then I knew it would be profound.
I am in a period of increased sensitivity to my calling, my purpose but in particular, to the needs of others. My challenge is to become a light, to allow my heart to glow with the gifts I naturally possess. I need to stop shrouding my light, inhibiting my heart. I must trust my own wisdom. And I must trust that my needs are always met.
And while I’ve been steadily leveling up over the years in response to that call, something was always holding me back. A persistent thread of self-denial, of sacrifice, qualities I thought I needed to be a good leader. And yet, when I chose to prioritize my own life, to leave my job, take control over my health, and allow myself the rest my body and mind so desperately needed, my life changed, started to shift dramatically. The potential of my life started to unfold.
My life since November has been like a big, giant rose opening fully for the first time. Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t imagine what has taken hold.
This rose is unfolding faster than I can keep up with. And I love it. I have never felt so alive and vibrant in all my life.
Accepting the Rose Quartz Crown
On June 25th I celebrated the 3oth anniversary of my calling. And while a post detailing the origins and insights of that calling is certainly in the works, suffice it to say that after 30 years I needed a huge shift like this to still be able to do the work I was called to do. I was resistant for a number of reasons, but the biggest was that the new archetype I was being asked to embrace was that of the Queen.
The Mountain Queen.
I’ve talked about this shift a lot, particularly on Instagram and Twitter, but even back in 2017, when I was fresh in a new job, I could feel the call of this image, I could feel myself inching closer to accepting the crown. But messages about deservingness, embedded deep in my psyche unraveled the opportunities I could have taken to make that a reality.
The image I have in my mind always moves and humbles me. Crowned with rose quartz, I offer a Temple of Acceptance and Unconditional Love. I offer a structure, training that works with the heart instead of against it. I have a rose in the palm of each hand. A white rose in my right palm, representing the Divine Masculine, active, legalista, wit, and knowledge. A luscious red rose spilling out of my left, representing the Divine Feminine, receptive, intuitive, earthen healer. And from my palms, I create a bright pink, crystalline rose, an integration of Masculine & Feminine, a compassionately powerful union. And in this image that shows up in my meditations, this beautiful, pink crystalline rose atop the temple acting as a lighthouse calling seekers to a new home.
I fought myself over this for a long time, feeling unworthy of the role. Feeling too small, too insignificant, too egotistical, too unprepared, too inelegant. And yet, and yet…the signals never stopped, the imagery only grew stronger, the inspiration to reclaim my deservingness became impossible to ignore. I had to be all in or I would continue feeling out of balance forever.
We are all being called to offer our beautiful and unique talents to creating a better world whether we think we’re worthy or not. We are all being called to accept the divine purpose within, and the responsibility we have to give of our true selves, not the ones others told us who we should be. And the only way we can do that is by stripping away the structures within ourselves that have been holding us back. Stripping these away brick by brick, intentionally and compassionately until the true self shines through.
Last week when I was up at the cabin with Warrior, Husband, and my kid to celebrate the 4th of July in some peace and quiet, I was also there to give thanks to the Mountain for always being there for me. For always providing a safe space for me.
As I sat at my Castle settling in for a mediation, my foot slipped and uncovered a cache of rocks that I had collected as a child. Evidence of the tribute I had asked from my stuffed animals. I suddenly laughed out loud. Because I realized in that moment that all this fretting over my purpose was for nothing. For I had been training for this all along. I had set this path into motion from the very beginning.
All this time I felt I was unworthy of a role like the queen, yet when as a kid, I had already been living the exact thing I’m trying to create. What am I fretting for? I just needed to remember Who I Really Am and I could stop being so afraid. I literally asked for and planned for this as a child and now the grown-up me was trying to stop it from happening? Oh hells no. I ended up creating a circle of those stones, to protect the innocence of that vision, the earnestness of that calling, the purity of my intentions to serve others.
That’s when I decided that there was no turning back. When I chose to truly inhabit that space, to accept the Rose Quartz crown being offered to me, the blessings immediately started to flow. It’s been thrilling and so rewarding. The public ownership of my story. Sharing a declaration to the world about Who I Really Am. This unlocked a future that I’m has exceeded all imagination.
By recovering myself, reclaiming my dreams I have been able to become the person I most needed in the midst of my darkness. In embracing my own authenticity, owning my own power, leading with vulnerability, I am living my life in the way I wished I had seen more of growing up. It was only in surrendering to the call of the universe, reconnecting with my soul that I truly found the me that had been there all along.
I am sharing this to say – Shine on, you crazy diamond. Trust in the truth of your vision, in the authenticity of your voice and the magnificence of your vision. Accept the sparkling crown being offered to you and become the person you most needed in the middle of your darkness.
The phrase was on constant repeat in my head in moments of desperation and self-defeat. Starting in my teens, I’d have this phrase pulse like a chant in my brain. A motto for when I was ready to give up all hope, all fight, all resolve. Sometimes I wanted to give up on school, Chicago, Denver, parenting, homeownership, polyamory, romance, the stresses of my first job out of law school, the bar exam. It was the easiest thing to cling to in those searing stressful moments – the thought of home. Especially when I was far from Colorado. When times got tough the most comforting thought in the world was to crawl up in my bed on the giant house near the Fountain River and withdraw from the harshness of the world.
[CW: mentions of suicide, PTSD, sexual assault, trauma but also resilience, healing, faith and sex]
The past five years have been professionally prosperous for me. I have gone from owning my own mediation business to providing direct service to people experiencing homelessness, culminating in a senior management position at a major nonprofit organization. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had. I am so very blessed.
But despite this extraordinary level of success in the past five years I have been increasingly unhappy. The chanting in my head didn’t go away with success, it only got more persistent. The stress breaking me down so it was constant drumming in the back of my mind, the first thing I’d hear in the morning and the last I’d hear at night.
It isn’t easy for me to admit that, especially here. More than anything I want my life to stand for something meaningful, powerful and inspirational – and deep in my heart I really, truly don’t hate my life. But the stresses, the accumulated traumas, the internalized doubt and toxic messaging of my internal world were constantly crashing into each other. I had never been great at prioritizing self-care, so when I was met with crushing amounts of vicarious trauma, fear and insecurity over the past few years, I spiraled even further into self-hatred, infecting my job, my family and my soul with a loathing I didn’t even know was a part of me.
I left my job at the end of October and left the organization last week. And what I’ve learned since then will help me survive the rest of this life.
I’ve been open in the past with the ways I’ve struggled with things like imposter syndrome and people-pleasing. When you’ve had such significant challenges with deservingness, that sort of meteoric rise can produce more anxiety and pressure than it alleviates. Until I found myself deserving of that kind of rise, it was never going to feel right.
I had too much that was working against me. The accumulation of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue made my soul ache for daily relief that never came. I was new to supervision and my lawyer’s brain was constantly overthinking everything I said and did. I had trouble with processing financial statements quickly enough to give my people answers about expenditures. (Nevermind that I was now using terms like “expenditures” and “write-ups” far more frequently than my little social-justice, romantic heart ever imagined). I wasn’t taking care of myself either – getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night, working an average of 65 hours a week, eating only one meal by the end of the day. I was dehydrated, chronically cranky and progressively unwell.
And so, over the past five years, instead of my brain chanting “I just want to go home”, it began to shift to “I hate my life”. A phrase that rang relentlessly in my head, even with the smallest of mistakes. When my nerves really were at their breaking point, the chant would spill out of my mouth bursting unwelcome into the rest of the world. My employees have heard it, my kids, my supervisors, my husbands. And when I was alone, I would find myself screaming it out loud. Impulsive and destructive. Multiple times an hour, multiple times a day. After a time it was barely controllable and barely contained.
It became so destructive that I was actively contemplating suicide, for the fifth time in my life. July, August and September were a white-knuckle ride. Each day presented new challenges that I was increasingly losing the ability to address or control. These challenges weren’t just about work – they included retriggering events and encounters, strong shifts in my family including sick parents and grandparents and the normal Trump-associated threats to the world. The hits just kept coming and I felt I was letting everyone down no matter how I responded.
And while I won’t go into detail about the reasons or rationale, what is important is that I reached out to the people best situated to offer meaningful help, without imposed expectations or unsolicited advice. I called on my team, both mortal and ethereal, to assist me through this storm. I have worked too hard, overcome too much, and had too much ahead of me to go down without a fight.
And that voice urging me to fight was my Pueblo voice: The Priestess of Pride City.
Go Big Blue
There is something distinctive about being from Pueblo. We are home to more Congressional Medal of Honor winners than anywhere else in the US. Formerly part of Mexico, we’ve celebrated Cinco de Mayo with our sister city, Puebla, the site of that historic victory. We host the Colorado State Fair and welcome all of Colorado’s makers, farmers, ranchers, and revelers culminating with the crowning a Fiesta Day queen. We have the longest running high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi (Videos: Bell Game 2019 – Bell Rings Blue ). And recently, our Governor has stood up with pride to defend the honor of our mirasol green chiles, defining the taste of Pueblo.
Since I now have some time on my hands, I’ve been going through all my various writing projects. Shortly after my son was born, 16 years ago, I started an online blog at LiveJournal. As I’m evaluating all of my current projects, I’m starting to look at some of my past ones. I think to get past the cringe factor, I need to spend a little bit of time with my past self so my future self has a better idea of where she’s headed.
I only intend to share the more relevant tidbits, the ones that have insight or perspective that is worth sharing. So, consider this a Rewind back to a more innocent time, a younger me, hopefully with some new insight and wisdom.
January 11, 2004
So, this year I am in the process of completing my master’s degree in public policy. As one of the requirements, I am taking a class that teaches us how to discern the bullshit from the real good policy information. While I believe this class should be absolutely essential to anyone who wishes to engage in public policy, it is interesting how many students in the class couldn’t be less interested.
Most of the students in the class need to wake up and inform themselves. Many of them have lived out their public lives under the impression that their view of the world is the right one–the only valid viewpoint. Most of them have entered public policy with the intention of conforming the world to their version of reality, not adapting the world to match the lived reality of others.
Most of them lack vision of any depth and even worse many of them will one day wield power and will become the rule-makers. They will have ignorance in their arsenals and hatred at their sides. So how can a class teach them to become enlightened individuals? Most of them reject the very notion of reason and instead cling to some far off belief system that has no basis in fact. Most of them live in this second level of reality which is only one step above pure ignorance. They can rattle off statistics to bolster their cause, but they have yet to answer whether it is a cause worth fighting for. We’ll see what this quarter brings.
Which brings me to another question–if someday I am to become a policymaker and shaker, how should I incorporate my knowledge and love of counter-culture in my policy considerations?
Where I am 15 years later
It’s jarring to think of where we are now. Where we are with “fake news” and climate change. Where are with what counts as leadership and what counts as outrage. Too many of us have been trying to make the world conform to our personal point of view, instead of taking the opportunity to see how the world is (or isn’t) working for others. Seeing what makes them successful, what stands in their way.
I have always felt out of place in the world. I don’t see things the way that others do, nor am I eager to learn how things have always been done. When I see the world not working for people of color, for survivors of trauma, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for immigrants and educators, for public servants and nonproits…I feel justified in my resistence to conformity. When I see people bend public policy to suit their will, instead of creating it to be responsive to the needs of the people served, then I know it’s just an exercise of ego.
But ego is killing us right now. Our pursuit of the temporary glories of soundbites and ,ikes carry far greater consequences than we allow ourselves to imagine. We focus so much on the micro that we’re never questioning the macro. What is worth our time and attention, our collective consequence and action?
You know me. You always find me at the crossroads. Smoldering sweetness. Transient memory. Dark benevolence.
I have burned with you in the fires; I have resurrected you from the despair. I've held your hand in the depths of your darkness. I've given you light to lift you. I've been here each time you've prayed out loud or cried silently.
Sweet and bold. Powerful and quiet. I will never leave you, my Love.
Blissful and melancholy. Radiant and cursed. Sensual and familiar. Rough and blessed. Vibrant and smooth. I embrace your duality and all the space in between.
Strike at the soul and be consumed within these flames.