The sisterhood of the burning bra. Plus a conversation with a magician.

I’m having a hard time putting into words what yesterday meant to me. None-the-less, I want to share it, even if the words fall short of the truth.

First there was the conversation with a coach/magician

After a full day of meetings (Aside: What the heck is going on? Meetings seem to have exploded all over my calendar lately! I can barely catch a breath!), I had a coaching call with Randi Buckley.

Honestly? I’ve been a little skeptical of the whole coaching movement. Any time anything becomes too trendy, I start sniffing it for snake oil and I tend to distance myself somewhat. Not that I don’t believe in coaching – I’ve taken several “coaching for leaders” workshops and have found them quite helpful – it’s just that trends often bring out the people who like to jump on the bandwagon and aren’t necessarily the genuine article. On top of that, hiring a life coach seems to have an element of narcissism that doesn’t sit well with me. (My apologies to my friends who are coaches or who hire coaches! You are all wise and wonderful, so I’m not talking about YOU!)

Needless to say, I’ve never worked with a coach, even though I know people who swear by it. But when I won Randi’s free sessions, I thought “why not approach it openly and welcome whatever might come of this?” Since it was free, I had nothing to lose.

Well, it turns out that Randi is the real deal. Seriously? I think she’s part magician. Or at least mystic. It wasn’t very long into our conversation that she started voicing things that she picked up in my words and energy that were so dead on they were scary. And with only a few well placed questions, she had me digging into demons, identifying the places where I deal with “imposter syndrome”, and voicing big crazy dreams I’d never dared whisper to anyone.

One of the things Randi encouraged me to do (which, I admit, I resisted at first) was to examine some of the negative voices in my life to find the truth hidden behind them. I didn’t realize how powerful that was until this morning when the real live negative voice (not just the ones in my head) I talked to her about made a significant energy shift and actually paid me the FIRST EVER compliment I have heard coming out of those lips – and all because I’d started the conversation with an acknowledgement of the wisdom that person had put into an email the day before.

Then there was the “Sisterhood of the Burning Bra” party last night.

Again and again, I am blown away by the incredible energy that a group of like-minded, open-hearted women can welcome into their space when they gather in a circle. There were fewer people in that circle last night than I expected, but they were the RIGHT people.  (The gremlins wanted to convince me that people don’t really like me and hence hadn’t made my party a priority, but I banished those gremlins from the party pretty quickly and they had no choice but to whimper on the other side of the gate.) More importantly, they were MY people – the women who I know will always come into my circle when I need them, to share their warmth, strength, wisdom, and energy.

I felt a little silly about following through on my desire to burn my bra, but Michele built a lovely fire and the women who were there held me in such a safe space (not to mention cheered me on!) that I couldn’t resist. Before the bra was committed to the flame, I talked about what I was releasing and how I was newly committed to treating my body as a sacred space. And then we all watched it burn until there was nothing left but the underwire.

What came afterward was more than I could have dreamed of. Each of the women in the circle wrote whatever they wanted to release on a piece of paper and committed it to the flame. Fear, procrastination, regret, past hurts, and ego were all swallowed up by the fire. (Yes, there were pictures taken, but the files seem to have corrupted themselves in the downloading process, so you’ll just have to trust me.)

At the end of the night, I shared a little story of the necklace that hung around my neck that I’d just purchased. It’s a silver lizard. Martha Beck talks about the “lizard brain” – the part of our brains that lives in a world of “lack and attack”, where we are always tempted to focus on what we are lacking and what is attacking us. I am determined, in this next year of my life, to get better at the practice of silencing the lizard brain that keeps lying to me about my shortcomings and attacks – hence the reminder I wear around my neck.

Tomorrow marks the end of another year of gathering wisdom along this journey, and the beginning of another year of practicing to get it right.

In celebration of growth – an invitation to celebrate my birthday with me!

My birthday is coming up on Thursday, and since my dear friend Michele is throwing a little celebration in my honour tomorrow night (if you live close enough, YOU are welcome – at least, if you fit the “ladies only” profile), I’ve decided that this year I’m going to celebrate a whole BIRTHDAY WEEK instead of just one day! Yes, I’m feeling horribly narcissistic about the whole thing, but I figured I’ve done a fair bit of sacrificing in the past month or two, so it shouldn’t hurt to have a little balance in my life. Giggle.

Seriously though, I feel like this birthday week marks some pretty big growth for me. Those of you who are regular readers will know about some of the big challenges that have forced me to plunge a little deeper into my heart to find out just who it is that resides there and what the source and shape of her strength is. When we open ourselves to it, challenge and struggle will usher in growth and acceptance, and that’s what I’ve seen happening in my own life.

There have been some pretty significant breakthroughs for me in the last two weeks, in my relationship with my body, my relationship with my loved ones, my relationship with food, my relationship with the divine, and my relationship with the core of who I am created to be. As I wrote a few months ago when I was recovering from surgery, I’ve been feeling like a caterpillar who has to give up the life she knows, commit herself to the cocoon, and wait for the transformation to come.

I just learned recently that in the cocoon stage, caterpillars actually break down completely into a gooey gel-like substance that has no resemblance to either caterpillar or butterfly. We have to give it up – whatever we believe ourselves to be – in order to emerge into the beautiful creature we are meant to be.

It’s true, isn’t it, that we are never finished growing? I feel like a sculpture that is forever being molded in the Sculptor’s hands.

There’s a bubbling energy in me this week that feels a little like what the butterfly must feel when she has the dawning awareness that it’s time to break out of the cocoon. I feel strong in ways I didn’t expect to feel strong – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve been running, biking, praying, doing yoga – and a bunch of other little things that feel like they are helping me step into a new strength. The beautiful life-giving thing about it is, the more I step into this strength and share it with people around me, the more it is returned to me in affirming ways – like a lovely note from a cousin who’s heading out on a solo trip to the Grand Canyon and says it was partly inspired by what I write on this blog!

A month ago, when Marcel was in the hospital, I began to describe myself as a warrior because of the battles I had to fight as his advocate. And in a few weeks, I’ll be in a workshop at ALIA about “leaders as Shambala warriors”. I’ve never really thought of myself as a warrior before (maybe it’s my pacifist roots), and honestly, I often doubt myself as a leader because of some of the struggles I’ve had in this job that usually end up leaving me feeling like a failure. But something is shifting, and I’m trying to step into whatever it is that’s emerging.

No, this week is not about “look how great I am”. It’s more about “there is something powerful in what God is shaping my life to be and I want to celebrate the way I’m growing into it”.

Tomorrow night, our little celebration will include a bra-burning ceremony to mark the transformation to my body (through breast reduction surgery). In a strange and unexpected way, the surgery marked a turning point for me – a moment when I finally gave myself permission to want a new story for my body. It’s all been part of the metamorphosis process – letting go of old stories I tell myself and embracing new truths and new possibilities. I have learned to love myself in a new way since I let go of the weight that was cut off. I have learned to treat my body with new respect and gratitude (thanks in part to Geneen Roth’s book) and I am slowly becoming healthier for it. (I realize that might sound a little twisted – having plastic surgery to learn to love yourself – but it’s working for me.)

What I would really love is this… even though you might not be able to make it to the celebration tomorrow night, I’d be delighted if you would consider marking this week with me, on your blog, on Twitter, or just in the privacy of your own home.

Here’s what I’d like you to do… have a virtual “bra-burning” party! No, you don’t have to burn your bra (unless you want to!), but think of some old story you’re telling yourself about who you are (who you’re supposed to be by other people’s standards, what limits you, what you’re lacking, why you’re a failure), and burn it! Write it down on a piece of paper, light a candle, a lantern, or a big ol’ bonfire and BURN THAT SUCKER! Let it go! Give it up to the fire!

Do it in honour of my 44rd birthday, but more importantly, do it for you!

And take pictures, ’cause I’d love to see all that burnin’ energy!

Apparently, I’m insane

It’s midnight and there are six shrieking ten-year-old girls in my basement. Why? Because I suffered a temporary lapse of judgment and INVITED them. Or at least I allowed them to be invited. Julie is celebrating her birthday with every preteen girl’s favourite pastime – a pajama party. Oh my – WHAT was I thinking?

They’re all decent girls, and mostly things have been going swimmingly, but there have been moments when I was almost certain I’d have to call for back-up. (Did I mention that my husband abandoned me? Yeah, he’s sitting in a pub somewhere watching a friend play jazz. Probably with a glass in his hand and a smile on his face. Hmmm… I think he owes me BIG time.)

My least favourite moment – the one that ALMOST convinced me to call all the parents and say “HELP! Get these children out of here!” was about half an hour after all the adults had abandoned me. After cake and ice cream (yes, the depths of my insanity knows no bounds – I pumped them full of sugar!), the girls had disappeared into the basement to watch a movie. I poured the last of the coke into a glass and was about to sit down to enjoy it in a rare moment of peace and quiet. Yeah, sure. No rest for Mommy. And no coke either. I dumped the WHOLE cup of coke all over the floor. Yeah, Coke. Sticky. Sticky walls, sticky floor, sticky legs. Sad, sad mommy. And absolutely nothing else in the house I felt like drinking. Colour me disappointed. And sticky.

But that was only the beginning of my misadventure. Julie called from the basement that the movie wasn’t working. I went downstairs to a very hyper room full of little girls. And in the middle of that, I discovered that some of them had managed to burst the air mattress they were supposed to sleep on by jumping on it. And someone else had spilled a whole cup of pop on the futon – the other place where some of them were supposed to sleep. And remember what had brought me downstairs in the first place – the movie wasn’t working. Ahhhhh!!! Panic! No beds for them to sleep on and no movie to give me at least an hour of peace. WHAT was I going to do? Umm… let’s just say the girls saw my grumpy side at that moment.

Well, I managed to clean up the mess, flip the futon to the dry side, and get the movie working again. They remained relatively quiet while watching the movie and no-one has come up to report any more spilled drinks or other mis-haps. They’re managing to make themselves relatively comfortable in sleeping bags on the hard floor, so if they ever actually lie down, perhaps we’ll all get at least a little sleep.

Did I mention that before this insanity started, I thought it would be a good idea to sew them ALL funky purses as their goodie bags? Yeah, that’s right, I really AM insane. And this was in the middle of one of the craziest months EVER with soccer every night, a major week-long session of board meetings and schmoozing out of town big-wigs, and about 15 parties for the girls to go to. (And in case you’re wondering why there are SEVEN bags, it’s because I actually let Julie invite SEVEN people, but rather mercifully, two of them couldn’t make it.)
But lest you should think I’m the only one who’s a little insane/obsessive/ought-to-be-committed, I didn’t actually do much of the actual work of planning the party. That would be my amazing sister ccap and two friends. They organized an Amazing Race game all over the neighbourhood. It was a hit for all involved, including the adults who huffed and puffed trying to keep up with a bunch of energetic and highly competitive little girls. (We had to go along to save the girls from themselves – on more than one occasion, we had to hold them back from plunging into the street in front of a car – out of sheer competitiveness.) We were happy for the clues that actually required a bit of time and effort on their parts (like drinking an entire Slurpee, chewing each piece of Bubblicious gum in a pack until they could successfully blow a bubble, and putting together a Kinder Surprise after eating the chocolate.)

And then after planning an elaborate game, The Amazing Auntie baked a matching cake. My girls are possibly the luckiest kids around to have her for an auntie. She has set the standard impossibly high – I can’t imagine how I’ll ever live up to this with her off-spring.
Seriously, though, other than the moment of sheer panic, I don’t mind the giggles of girls in the basement. I’m happy for the friendships they have and I like to see them having fun. I’ll get through this night in one piece (just a little sticky and probably a tad tired), and hopefully I’ve helped create a memory that will stick with them. Some day this house will be painfully quiet and I’ll probably long for just one more crazy night of giggling. For now, I’ll try to enjoy it.

Now please, PLEASE let this thunderstorm pass without any of the girls getting scared OR (heaven forbid) the power going out! There’s only so much I can take!

Eureka! I think I’ve got it!

Further to my earlier post about birthday parties and the resulting truckload of stuff that takes over my home, I’ve been wrestling what to do with Nikki’s party next week. As some of you have mentioned, we don’t plan large parties, so it’s not like I have twenty kids giving her gifts. But even four gifts, when you add it to everything she gets from her aunties and uncles and grandparents, ends up being a lot. I also don’t give away traditional goodie bags. Instead, I’ve done things like take a picture of the party gang, print it on photo paper and put it in a funky (and cheap) frame for them to take home. I’ve also printed the picture on iron-on paper and then ironed it onto pillow cases. I’d rather give them a meaningful momento of the party than a bunch of crap that will end up in the landfill site.

But, despite these attempts to keep our parties within reason, I keep wrestling with the thought that there is still too much excess, and most of the gifts bought are probably made by some impoverished peasant working in a sweatshop and living on less than a dollar a day. I’ve tried to convince the girls that they should consider asking their friends to donate to a worthy cause instead of buying presents, but so far, they haven’t been willing to make the sacrifice entirely. (Julie has given some of her birthday money away to the foster child sponsored by the children’s community at church, but she didn’t entirely forego gifts.)

This year, I’ve stumbled onto an idea that I think might be a hit. We live really close to Ten Thousand Villages, our favourite fair trade store. The girls and I love visiting this store and we often buy the gifts they bring to their friends’ parties from there. They have interesting things from all over the world, and Nikki goes gaga over their funky jewellery.

So I’m going to suggest that instead of bringing gifts, her friends bring her a small amount of money and together we’ll all go shopping for a few gifts for her from Ten Thousand Villages. It’s a win-win situation. She’ll still get gifts, but at least there will be some small amount of justice in the purchases made. I’ve contacted the store to see if they can help me make it even more meaningful and fun for the girls. Perhaps we’ll include some storytelling about the things that they’re buying and the places they come from, or some kind of scavenger hunt in the store.

Maybe, just maybe, a few ten and eleven-year-old girls will be inspired to put a little thought into what they purchase and why. If nothing else, I won’t feel as overwhelmed by the clutter that another birthday party brings to my house.

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