I Am Tsalagi

My name is Stefanie. My mother was Barbara. My grandmother was Patrica. My great grandmother was Lulu Dale Duckworth. My great-great grandmother was Lavinia Arlene Gunter. My great-great-great grandmother was Nannie Ward. My great-great-great-great grandfather was James Ward. My 5 x great grandmother was Catherine McDaniel. My 6 x great grandmother was Granny Hopper. My 7 x great grandfather was Old Hop, who died around 1760. My 8 x great grandfather was, I think, Amatoya Moytoy, although the genealogy gets a little fuzzy that far back. The native people didn’t keep a lot of written records.

I follow the Lakota Red Road ways. When you introduce yourself, you state your name and what people you come from. When I say I am Cherokee, people laugh and ask if my grandmother was a Cherokee Princess or say, “Everybody’s part Cherokee.” I get ridiculed quite a bit for being Cherokee where I live, because the Indigenous people here don’t have as long a history with Europeans as the eastern tribes do therefore, people tend to be full-blood or mixed blood. So, I tend not to tell people I’m Cherokee anymore. I’m not ashamed. I just don’t want to have to explain who I come from.

When I was a little girl, my mom told me we were part Cherokee, but she qualified it with a “but not much”. Not much? I never understood the “not much” part. All I knew was that I was Cherokee and proud of it. I was the only one to identify with

“Not much” is about what my family thought about being Cherokee. It was a nice anecdote, that’s all. None of us were raised in the Cherokee culture, not even my grandmother. By the time my grandmother was born, not much meant that we didn’t have to mention it and soon it was all but forgotten, except by me.

My grandmother was born two years after Oklahoma became a state. Before that, it had been Indian Territory, until the Dawes Act was enacted to break up the tribal holding of land into individual allotments, therefore weakening the power of the tribes as a whole. My great grandmother, Lulu, was born to a Cherokee mother and a white father. According to the Dawes roll, she was only 1/32 by blood, which was probably true due to intermarriage with white traders in the back east. Lulu was light skinned, so she could pass as white, but my grandmother was born dark. I think Lulu decided to pass as white, because she was afraid for her daughter. Discrimination against Native people was even worse at that time than it is now and if they could pass as white, then her daughter would have a much better chance at life. Of course, this is only my best guess as to why we lost our connection to the Cherokee people. My grandmother never spoke about it or if she did, it was downplayed and definitely not something to be proud of.

But why was I so connected to the idea of being Cherokee? Carl Jung came up with the theory of racial memories, which is based on the theory of genetic memory. Racial memories are memories, feelings, and ideas we inherit from our ancestors, a sort of racial collective consciousness. I’m a big believer in this theory. I can’t explain why I feel such a deep connection with my indigenous ancestors, other than “it’s in my blood.”

I think it was in Lulu’s blood, too. In researching our genealogy, I came upon a story about  an ancestor of mine, a Cherokee chief named Amatoya Moytoy. It is said that his father taught him how to “witch for water,” which is using a Y shaped stick balanced on the hands to locate water. He was therefore called “Water Conjurer” within the tribe. I don’t know if this story is true, but the funny thing is that I seem to recall that Lulu could witch for water, too. Was it handed down to her or did she come to it through racial memory? I’ll never know.

My connection with the Earth and its inhabitants; the path I’ve followed to where I am now; my feeling of not belonging in the dominant society; my deep, abiding love of indigenous people all over the world; all of these things lead me to believe that there is something else, something older and deeper  that I’m tapping into.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I’ve been extremely moved by the NoDAPL movement the last few months and particularly now as tensions are rising. As frustrating and scary as the situation is, I’m so happy that the indigenous people of this country are being empowered to stand up against the colonizers once again. All the tribes are coming together and they feel strong. Sometimes, it takes bad circumstance to bring out the best in people.

I watched a live feed of a press conference in which the people of the Sacred Stone Camp said that they’ve had enough. They have been brutalized, mistreated, stolen from, and run over roughshod by the dominant society for four hundred years and they’re not going to take it any more.  The Indigenous people in this country believe that they were put here to protect the Earth and they are going to do just that. My heart aches with pride when I see the People stand up strong and feel proud of who they are.

I, too, am feeling empowered. I’m proud of my “not much” Cherokee blood. I’m ready to defend the earth that I love so much. I’m tired of being one of those shoulder shruggers that laments that they are only one person and there’s nothing they can do. That’s how we’ve ended up in the sorry state. Maybe one person can’t make a huge difference, but a lot of one persons together can.

Cherokee is the English pronunciation of the word Tsalagi. I’m ready to take back my power and say proudly, “I am Tsalagi” and not feel less than amongst tribal people. I’m taking back the culture that my family chose to leave behind and I will honor my ancestors by being proud to be Tsalagi. Hopefully, one day soon, I’ll get to learn about and experience the culture and ways of the Tsalagi people.

 

#nodapl

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Today is Thanksgiving 2016 and I’m feeling extremely emotional. It’s been a tough year for the country and for me personally. We’ve elected (not me) a man who is in way over his head, but thinks he has all the answers. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” It’s a scary time for those of us who know better. The good news is that his election has awakened those of us who thought this could never happen. People are coming together to support each other and to defend those who were targeted by his hateful rhetoric and I’m pretty sure this includes everyone but straight white men. As bad as it feels, I am still hopeful that this is simply the awakening we needed. We were too complacent. Trump is here to rattle us out of our indifference. I believe it’s something that we needed.

However, the issue that is causing me the most distress is the situation up at Standing Rock. I am utterly dumbfounded by the ability of North Dakota to treat unarmed people as they are treating the Water Protectors. Attack dogs, concussion grenades, mace, pepper spray, rubber bullets the size and hardness of lacrosse balls, and water sprayed at people when it’s 28 degrees outside. It’s inhumane. North Dakota law enforcement labels them as rioters. They say they are protecting the citizens of North Dakota. They have SWAT teams, the National Guard, and law enforcement officers from all over the country bullying the people who are standing up against an oil company. They aren’t there to protect the people of North Dakota. They are there to protect a foreign oil company. It’s sickening.

I watched a bit of live feed on Facebook today, but had to turn it off because I got so stressed out and scared that something bad was going to happen to one of the Protectors. I also felt sad because I could never do what those people are doing. I am not courageous enough to stand on the front lines and get arrested or maced or have my arm nearly blown off by a concussion grenade. I am only brave enough to sit behind my computer and write posts about it or wear t-shirts showing my support.

I’m not doing enough and I know it, which made me start thinking about what a hypocrite I am. I talk about the environment. I talk about my love of diversity and standing up for people. I talk about my love of people, yet I rarely venture out of my house. I do nothing. I’ve had opportunities to participate, yet I turn them down because I’m afraid. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, but it paralyzes me. I want to be that person who devotes her time to those less fortunate or those who are being persecuted. I want to help. Badly. I don’t like this part of myself, but I know that I’ve changed a lot of old behaviors and beliefs lately and I know I change this.

I read a beautiful piece on Indian Country Today written by Ryan Redcorn (read it here: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/11/24/redcorn-oil-and-natural-gas-thanksgiving-166572) Ryan talked about feeling sick as he was putting gas in his car and realizing that he had to take a stand. I have the same feeling every time I fill up my car. Here I am condemning an oil pipeline, while I drive my gas fueled car 30 miles a day to work. My lack of motivation landed me a job nearly as far away from my house as possible and still be in the same town. I buy food at a chain grocery store who has to have everything trucked in from California and Florida, because we need strawberries and tomatoes all year round, right? I live in a town that makes alternate modes of transportation nearly impossible, although it can be done. Do I do it? No. Again, I feel like a hypocrite. What do I do?

First of all, I can make small changes now. I can eat seasonal foods and forego my beloved avocados and seafood. I can choose products made locally as often as I can and I can stop buying food out of season. Second, I can start walking the talk right now and find a place to volunteer my time. There’s plenty of need and I can choose the causes closest to my heart. Third, I can join the protests, that seem to be happening more and more these days, in person instead of just giving them lip service. Lastly, I can start start figuring out how to live the way I want to live. I want to find a place where I can use my bike as my main mode of transportation and figure out how solar panels and wind energy works. I can look into the cost of a tiny home and the price of a small piece of land on which I can grow my own food. And I can start using my design and art skills to promote the causes I feel strongly about. It’s time to walk the talk. Put my money where my mouth is. Shit or get off the pot. Maybe if I start taking some steps now, I will feel like less of a coward and a hypocrite. I may never be on the front lines of a large demonstration like those brave Water Protectors I so admire, but I can be a part of the change that is gathering momentum around the world. I will be idle no more.

 

A Gift from Saturn

I’ve gotten into astrology this past year. I’ve never put much merit in it, but since listening to a certain astrologer, over time, I’ve begun to see that it’s incredibly accurate. How can it not be, really. Our solar system is bound together by energy to work in a certain rhythm and we are a part of that system. If you doubt that the planets can have an affect on us, take a look at the effects of the moon on the tides and on our bodies, especially women. We may not understand how it works, but I do believe there is some good information in it if you’re open to it.

This past year has been ruled by Saturn. Saturn is the taskmaster. He doesn’t suffer any fools. He’s all about discipline and getting things done. He’s like that stern grandfather who rarely give out any accolades, but when he does, it makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. Nothing makes you prouder than to have made him proud. Grandpa Saturn has been rather hard on me this year. He’s had enough of my low self-worth and he’s rubbing my face in it.

I jokingly said one time that I thought I might be on the low end of the autism spectrum, because I don’t know how to be social. I don’t get it. I don’t understand how people can talk so much about nothing and how someone else can feign interest in their mundane monologues. I feel awkward when I’m around groups of people, especially people I don’t know well. I’d rather stay home. My cats don’t talk much.

For that reason, I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere. I’ve tried to join various groups, but since I don’t do small talk, I end up sitting around by myself, getting more and more uncomfortable until I quietly sneak out the door. No one notices, of course, because I’m really good at being invisible.

When I was in junior high and high school, I wanted friends so badly. I especially wanted to be friends with the popular girls. One on one, I could talk to them just fine, but when do you honestly get to talk one on one when you’re a teenager? Teenagers roam in packs, especially the popular ones. You have to deal with the group and as I’ve mentioned, I don’t do groups.

I am far, far removed from my teen years and yet I don’t feel like I’ve grown beyond them. I’m still struggling with the same issues I’ve dealt with for decades. In this case, the popular girl is a yoga instructor. She is super cool and someone I would love to be friends with, I think. I say “I think” because I don’t know her well enough to know if I would really like her or not. Like most popular girls, she is in high demand and she is always surrounded by her inner circle or at least those that are more like her. She’s always nice to me and we seem to get along, one on one, but in the crowd, I just become another student, another one of her hangers-on. I feel exactly like I did in high school.

With the yoga teacher, Saturn has brought me face to face with my beliefs about my value. I’ve had several dealings with her in which she asked me to help her with something then she took it away. I never really understood why. It felt like rejection, but still I persevered, after all, she acted like she liked me at the studio. She seemed to confide in me about things. I felt like perhaps I was finally going to be friends with the popular girl.

Alas, I was wrong. I got very depressed for a while and didn’t feel like interacting with people. I didn’t even want to go to yoga, which is my favorite thing to do. And then other things came up and I haven’t been in a while. I wanted to reach out to her, so I messaged her on Facebook and she ignored me. It’s not the first time. I’ve come to realize that my value to her was my unyielding support as she built her yoga studio. When I stopped going for a time, she quit finding value in me.

What I’ve learned from old Saturn, though, is that it’s time for me to stop trying to befriend people who treat me like I’m not good enough. It’s time to see my own worth and know that I deserve better. I don’t need the popular crowd to give me value. I am inherently worthy.

So, I will love the people who are there for me, even when I’m a depressed mess. Those are the people I want to invest my energy in. I still care about the yoga teacher and I want her business to do well. She still has my unyielding support. I just don’t want to waste any more energy trying to be friends. In fact, I’m grateful to her for not being my friend because she’s helped me to see value in myself and to accept that I deserve better. I’m also grateful to Grandpa Saturn for being a taskmaster. If he hadn’t been so tough on me, I never would have figured it out. I think he’s proud of me and I’m pretty proud of myself, too.

A Day at the Park

 

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One warm late summer day, I decided to join the throngs on Pokémon Goers and hit one of our local parks. I was interested in photographing the fountain, which reminds me a lot of some of the geysers in Yellowstone. The wind was blowing (when is it not in Omaha?) and I would occasionally get spritzed in the face with water from the fountain, but I just giggled and wiped off my lens.

Then the ducks caught my attention. They seemed to be playing a game. Take off and land. Take off and land. Or perhaps they were in a hurry to get from one side of the lake to the other. I don’t have a telephoto lens, so I had to make due with my 18-55mm lens and I think I captured some pretty good stuff. I love photographing birds, so my next lens will have to be a good 70-200mm. For now, cropping will have to do.

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Eyes on the Prize

All the doors are closing. One by one. Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam. There’s no reason for me to stay in this town any more.

I heard someone say once not to worry about Alzheimer’s patients. They aren’t suffering because their spirit is already gone. It’s just taking a while for their bodies to figure it out. That’s kind of what I feel like right now. My spirit has already gone to Colorado, but my body is still stuck here. I’m suffering though, because I know what’s going on. I’m waiting for all the components to line up. The good thing is that I know they really are lining up. I can see the pieces falling into place. I just have to wait. I hate waiting.

While I wait, I have to deal with the anxiety that goes it. Waiting gives me more time to build up a good, irrational fear-based story of “What if it’s no better there? I’m still taking me with me. What if I am fatally flawed and incapable of finding happiness or succeeding  in life? What if I fail again?” Luckily, I’ve decided that I have no choice. I am moving and that’s that. Fear be damned.

Then there’s the anxiety of being thrown to the customer service wolves just in time for Cyber Monday. I wish there was another way for me to pay my bills while I wait, but I guess there’s not. It’s only for a couple of months, right? And there’s absolutely no pressure. I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone toward anything more. It’s a temp job. It’s just a way to bring in cash until it’s time to go. I can do this.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in yoga is that you can handle anything for a little while. In yin yoga, we hold poses from three to five minutes and some of them can be extremely uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to be still. The mind isn’t fond of stillness and will do and say anything to make you fidget or leave the pose entirely. It will convince you that you’re in excruciating pain and will beg you to move, but if you focus on breathing instead of listening to your mind, you can endure any uncomfortableness a posture can throw at you. I keep reminding myself that I can handle it as I face another week of training to be on the phones. I know that once I get a few days of phone calls under my belt, it’ll be a piece of cake, however annoying and uncomfortable it may be. If I remember to breathe, I know it will all be okay. I will survive.

The other thing I must remember is to keep my eyes on the prize. I mustn’t forget that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel. It helps to visualize and feel how that prize is going to feel. I envision myself driving west with Omaha in my rearview mirror while I give it a big old finger. I feel the air getting drier the further west I go. I watch the tall grass prairie become shortgrass prairie and then become arid. I see the land spread out for miles in all directions with nothing but a windmill-the old kind or the new-on the horizon. Then I watch as the mountains become larger and larger. I feel relief, anticipation, joy, excitement, and expectation. The mountains and freedom to start a new life are the prizes I’m keeping my eyes on. I can work in a call center for a couple of months if that’s the prize at the end.

While the prize keeps me going, it also causes me great anxiety. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get there. I don’t know anything about where my life is going. I only know I am leaving here. I’m putting all of my trust in the universe. I trust that I’ve put enough of what I want out there that if I can keep focusing on those good feelings, then I’ll be able to see the path the universe is building for me. Trust doesn’t come easy. Trust means giving up control. I think I’ll be taking a lot of Kava for the next couple of months. Eyes on the prize.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

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Yes, folks. Finally. I’m alive. I was in the kitchen the other day, chopping vegetables, when I realized that I was coming out of my depression. I’ve probably been mildly depressed for quite a while without realizing it. The signs were there: I had no appetite. I didn’t ride my bike all summer. I barely even left the house. So when I was chopping those vegetables, I suddenly realized that I felt good. I even heard myself say, “God, I’ve missed cooking.” I knew then, that I was coming back to life.

I think the main reason I was depressed was that I didn’t see any hope of finding a job I wanted. I’ve always found jobs by default. More of a “this’ll do” rather that “oh, yeah!” In fact, I’ve never had a job I liked. It’s probably because I never knew what I wanted to do. I job hopped from plasma centers to garden centers to a laboratory. I had to completely start over so many times. I always had high hopes that this time, I would have found the work that I’d been looking for. It never was. I was looking for that thing that I was meant to do in life, that thing that would give me satisfaction and fulfillment. The problem was, as Abraham Hicks says, I was looking for love in all the wrong places.

The reason I couldn’t find that thing I was meant to do was because I couldn’t acknowledge what I really wanted. It took me four years of therapy to admit that I wanted to be a photographer and another year or so to even entertain the idea that it was possible. I wanted to create so badly, but I wouldn’t allow it, because I didn’t believe that I was creative.

So, I started taking classes in graphic design. “What?” you say. “I thought you wanted to be a photographer.” Again, this was me denying what I truly wanted to do. In fact, I actually went into it for web design, not realizing that it wasn’t just learning to code. There was DESIGN involved. The first classes they require are Illustrator and Photoshop and that’s when I learned that I absolutely love graphic design. It’s fun. It makes me happy. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with an answer to a problem. I love creating the ideas that I see in my head. I love graphic design, but is it what I’m meant to do? Do I want to try to break into such a competitive field as a middle-aged woman? I’ve always wanted to use my photography to enhance my marketability, but is design just another distraction from what I truly want to do? Right now, I don’t know. I reckon I’ll just pursue it all and see what sticks.

However, things haven’t quite gone the way I thought they would. First, I had to take a job at a call center. It’s quite humbling to feel like I have no choice but to work in a place that’s once again so very wrong for me. It involves two things I dislike immensely: talking and consumerism. “No, sir. I don’t give a crap if your thing you don’t need is the wrong color.” “Yes, ma’am. I ruined your kid’s Christmas by not getting little Timmy the electric riding toy he wanted in time. How ever are you going to explain to Timmy that he can’t have everything he wants all the time.” Second, I had to quit taking classes because my job has such weird shifts that it leaves no time for classes. And third, I’ve been very discouraged by friends who wanted me to do design work for them then decided they didn’t like what I did. I don’t think that was entirely the reason things fell apart, but that’s the way it felt.

The saving grace-and perhaps what was meant to happen all along-is that I’ve decided to move. I’ve been in Omaha twenty years and I’ve never liked it here. Ever. Like all of my jobs, I ended up here by default. It has a lot of sadness and grief attached to it and if I’m going to do things differently and get on with my life, I want to do it somewhere else. I need a complete change of scenery. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I think I’ll let the Universe handle the logistics for me.

I’ve also got my passion for photography back. I had lost interest for a while, not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I was so sick of looking at the same things every day. I was sick of taking flower photos, but that’s all I was finding beautiful here. To get my photography juices flowing again, I’m joining a challenge put together by a photographer I follow on YouTube. I’m pretty excited to get started and excited hasn’t been part of my vocabulary in a long time.

My blog interest is back as well. I quit writing for a bit because, being darkly depressed, I could only think of myself and my misery. I didn’t think anyone would want to hear about that. I forgot that the reason I started this blog in the first place was to chronicle my struggles and triumphs as I try to figure out how to play this game called life. I want to show you how I’m going about “doing things different,” as Stormie Grace, the astrologer I follow, says. I want you to join me on my healing journey so that maybe it will inspire you to start your own. I’ve been broken for a very long time, but I’m nothing if not stubborn and persistent and I’m bound and determined to be happy, dammit! The one thing for certain in life is that things are going to change and you might as well design your own changes. Take it from me, living your life by default is highly unsatisfying. I don’t want to regret not going after my dreams. I don’t want you to regret not going for yours either.

I am, you know, really fighting for myself and my life. And I think the message that I could give to anybody is that it’s never too late to start your life again and dream new dreams.

Jennifer Holliday

The Last Straw

I’m at the end of my rope. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve had it up to here! I’m fed up. “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” (That’s a Popeye quote for those not familiar.)

I’ve been at the end of my rope so often on that broken-backed camel that I truly “can’t stands no more.” Why must I get so sick and tired (there’s another idiom) that I feel like I’ll never make it out alive before I ask for help? I’ve struggled for so long, feeling like I’m all alone in the world. It’s so hard for me to ask for help. Even asking the Creator for help is hard, but when I get to this point, I have no choice. So, in meditation yesterday, I asked for guidance. Somebody please show me that I’m going to feel better. I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to find that special something that people keep telling me we all have. I can’t find mine anywhere and I’m afraid I don’t have one. I’m afraid that I have nothing to give.

I want to feel a sense of purpose in my life. I think we all do. I read a beautiful op-ed piece in the New York Times c0-written by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C Brooks. They said that the reason there is so much anger and discontent in the West is that we don’t feel needed anymore. We don’t feel useful. According to the article, feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root. (It’s a wonderful article. Here’s the link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/04/opinion/dalai-lama-behind-our-anxiety-the-fear-of-being-unneeded.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=1 ) These big corporations that we often have to work for treat us as expendable pieces. If we leave, we can easily be replaced. We, personally, aren’t necessary. We’re just a warm body that can punch the buttons.

I think this is why I’m so depressed. I think I have a lot to offer, but I haven’t been able to package it in a way that someone will say, “Wow! I need you to work for me.” My resumé is so all over the place, because I can’t find anything I want to do, so I try different things. Instead of showing diversity, employers see it as job hopping. All I could get is a customer service job for things that I would never buy. I absolutely abhor our consumer mentality in this country. I believe there is more to life that buying more things than we can possibly use and then throwing them away when we get bored with them. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about whoring myself out for a dollar, but I also like having a roof over my head and my fancy-schmancy electronics and my beautiful car, so whoring is what I have to do. But it’s not who I am and it’s not how I want to live.

I want to make the world a better place. I want to make beautiful things. I want to write beautiful words–not this crap I’m writing now. I want to travel the world and see the beauty that it has to offer. I want to meet people with other cultural backgrounds and share their stories, so that maybe we won’t be so afraid of each other. The Creator knows this about me, so when I asked for guidance to help me find my way, I got some wonderful answers via, of all things, Instagram.

I follow several professional photographers and writers. Their work makes my heart both happy and sad, depending on my mood. This is what I got from one of my favorite writers today: “Best advice I’ve ever gotten from my Higher Self: You want to be your own boss? Then start by treating yourself like your best employee.” (Instagram handle andrea.balt) Her point is that in order to be of service to others, we have to take care of ourselves first. Most of us, especially women, put ourselves last. We don’t take care of our health, our bodies, or our spirits. Instead of worrying about how I can serve the world, I should first take the time to honor myself. What is the saying? You can’t give what you don’t have.

The next one came a couple of posts later. Theron Humphrey, Instagram handle thiswildidea, is a wonderful photographer. He traveled the country with his Coonhound, meeting people and their dogs, and telling their stories. He just built his own home after years of wandering and his post was about how much he’s changed. The words that got me, though, were “Wanting to vulnerable and known, but just couldn’t.” You see these people doing amazing work and yet, they, too, feel lost and unworthy sometimes. He is finding now, though, in settling down and spending a little time with himself, that he is worthy of love just as he is. He doesn’t need to do anything for it. He went on to open his home up to anyone feeling the need to regroup and rest or get their creative juices going. What an amazingly courageous thing to do. (He’s got over a million followers!) I want to go and give him a big, fat hug. His openness and vulnerability spoke to my heart.

I’m grateful to the the Universe, for showing me once again that I’m not alone in how I feel and that I’m not being selfish by praying for myself or putting myself first. I’m also hoping that this is the Creator’s way of telling me to hang in there. It’ll get better. I hope it gets better. And I apologize for the downer note this blog has taken. I’m hoping to write my way out from under my wet blanket and back into the sun.