Showing Up

Showing Up – My Messy Beautiful

“So I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.” –Anne Lamott

Several years ago I went to Bulgaria with a group that included my brother’s band. Other than Mexico, I had never stepped foot outside the US. But it was an opportunity to encourage the people they would be playing music for. I could do that.

To my surprise, soon into the trip, we were split up. The band went to some bigger cities, while the rest of us loaded into a van to go visit some of the small villages. It was not exactly what I had signed up for!

We drove 4 hours to meet up with a pastor in one of the villages who would take us to visit several churches in the area. When I pictured “churches” I thought of the kind I knew of – with pews, stages, and words on screens. But what we found were cold shacks with broken chairs, single light bulbs hanging from the ceilings, and “stages” built up with dirt, and topped with old linoleum. Yet they felt like home.

While driving to the first church, the pastor told us that the “church service” we would be leading would have to be outside since they had invited the “whole village”. Umm, what was that? Maybe something got lost in translation. But we double-checked, and yes, in less than five minutes we would lead a “church service” for a “whole village.”

Each of us frantically looked at one another as we pulled up to the large group who had been waiting for us. We decided to give a brief talk about our lives, and how we love God…after we led worship, of course.

So our group of “non-band” people sang, and then each of us spoke. I didn’t talk long. But I shared about believing in Jesus since childhood, growing up in a wonderful family, and working at places that helped hurting people. But my inner monologue was screaming: I AM A MESS.WHAT THE HECK DO I HAVE TO OFFER? I CAME HERE TO CLEAN WINDOWS, AND HUG PEOPLE… NOT TO SPEAK! MY REAL STORY IS SHAMEFUL…SO I WILL JUST SHARE THE EASY STUFF. SKIP MY DIVORCE STORY…

But when I stopped talking, I realized people were crying. Elderly women hugged me and kissed me all over my face and forehead. People asked us to pray for them, so we did.

And little by little, I softened…I gave my heart. And it ripped me apart.

Over the next 3 days, we visited more churches. We would show up, and they would cry. It happened at every single one. Old men, young women…heads cupped in their hands, crying.

We spent some time in an orphanage, and a group of kids played with me, hugged me and wanted me to take their picture (seen above).

I started to realize that the people were reacting this way simply because we showed up. A group from far away had come to be with them.

I felt like a mess, yet God was increasing my love for others. What little I gave was being expounded upon by Him. He was loving them…through me.

I never shared my TRUE story on that trip, but for that time, and that season, it was okay. God wanted me to know that just showing up was courageous.

Since that trip I’ve slowly begun telling my real stories, and I’ve realized that He wants me to show up for my life…exactly as I am. He is so patient with me, slightly pushing me, but asking me to do only what I’m ready for.

His strength is made perfect in my weakness. In my weakness.

And my life has required me to show up again and again…

I showed up in white, on a beach in Maui. And I married the man that showed up for me over and over through 3 years of dating and dealing with our stuff.

I show up for two sweet boys each day. Sometimes I (lovingly of course) dig out boogers, and scrape food off the floor. But other times I just stare as I see their dad in them…my reminder of how much God has shown up for me.

I still have messes, but I try to show up for my life anyway.

The messy, beautiful stories are the best ones.

Showing Up - My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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When Mercy Seems Impossible

“When we don’t practice love with the people we claim to love, it takes a lot out of us. Incongruent living is exhausting.” –Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

My incongruent living is troubling me. I don’t like the fact that a few days ago I spent an evening encouraging some struggling women, drove home feeling a sense of fulfillment…and then spent the rest of that evening as well as the next day fighting with my husband.

I don’t like that I can offer mercy to some hurting people, but not to the most important person God has given me – my husband.

And though we eventually landed in a positive place, I’ve been uncovering my incongruent living regarding mercy.

What draws mercy out of me?

Mercy that is comfortable, I’ve found. Pain that mirrors my own. Perspectives similar to mine. People who show mercy to me.

But mercy feels impossible to offer when I don’t agree with someone, when I’m hurt by someone, or when I’m having the same argument with someone.

Because like love, mercy is not a feeling -it’s a choice.

When we don’t understand someone’s pain/point of view, mercy takes work. That’s why it’s so much easier to “love” and serve those who are not closest to us. It’s great to feed the poor, work in a ministry, and be a good, listening friend. But does that same mercy show up in our homes?

(Sigh). Incongruent living.

But in recognizing my difficulty in offering mercy to my husband, a glimmer of hope has shown up.

I finally heard him. Underneath the exterior, underneath the phrases that have gone in one ear and out the other for years, I finally heard his cry for mercy. I didn’t have to agree, or fully understand. But I could still choose mercy.

How do we feel loved in conflict? I believe it is when we receive mercy.

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Psalm 116:1

Along with grace, I think God’s mercy is an unfathomable gift. And it’s a gift I’ve come to appreciate even more over this past week. God has moved through my impossible circumstances, and my impossible sin – to meet me with mercy.

To have my voice heard, my deepest thoughts known…and to have mercy be the result. Well, there are no words.

Pain won’t just go away….it must be heard. As God hears our cries for mercy, we need to hear the cries of others. Sometimes the cry is hidden behind defensiveness, withdrawal, or anger. And finding mercy requires cleaning off the mud of conflict – the messiness of our lives.

If we believe others are worthy of love, we can find the mercy that will enable us to identify with their hurt.

Mercy is never impossible.

Linking up with Kirsten Oliphant’s Not So (Small) Stories this week! (check out her blog for other encouraging posts as well!)

Photo Credit: Victor Bezrukov, Creative Commons

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Connecting Through Puke…And Other Things

The other morning I felt like I was in one of those Maxwell House commercials where the woman opens her eyes, takes a deep, long breath…and slooooowly stretches her arms before she gets out of bed. Only the aroma I smelled was not freshly brewed coffee, but freshly puked puke.

The “aroma” filled the house…eeking out from Tucker’s (my 2-year-old’s) closed door. I held my breath as I slowly turned the knob. Yep, you can imagine what I saw…horrors too great to describe.

Andy must have heard my scream, so he jumped out of bed and we tag-teamed it. I took care of scrubbing the child, and he took care of scrubbing the floor. And you know the rest of the routine…

The night prior, Andy and I had friends watch the kids and we went out for a much-needed date night. Only we decided to see Anchorman 2 – which unfortunately, sucked. Then we drove from restaurant to restaurant trying to find a place that did not have an hour wait.

And my Olive Garden dream turned into a Gunther Toody’s reality. But the food was pretty good, and after dusting off our bad movie choice and restaurant irritation, we found conversation. And through intentional conversation, we found connection.

I bet most of us don’t have ideal circumstances filling our days. Even the good moments are combined with challenging ones. And we have to look hard to find ways to connect with those we love.

Knowing now that we would wake up to puke the next morning, I’m so glad we had the opportunity for a quiet dinner the night before….even if it was at Gunther Toody’s.

Was I frustrated waking up to puke? Yep. Nauseated for 5 hours? Yep. But I’m thankful that Andy and I were able to connect in that circumstance, and eventually even laugh about it.

This is my life…each day full of the highs and lows that reflect the season I am in. There are glimpses of adult conversation mixed with the clean-up of little peoples’ ”messes”. There are moments that make me laugh mixed with moments that make me want to scream.

But in the end, connection is a treasure I can find if I will look for it…sometimes I just have to look really hard.

 

 

Photo Credit Sarah Buckley, Creative Commons

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I Noticed Her Bible, Not Her Body

I have a love-hate relationship with the gym.

I love the break from my little boys, and the time to actually think. I love the challenge of working just a little harder than the day before, and I love watching Kathie Lee and Hoda while I run (yep, I do). Most of all, I love the feeling of my workouts being over.

But what I hate about the gym surely outnumbers the things I love….

I hate noticing things – like the bazillion times I analyze myself in the big mirrors. I hate how I notice the beautiful, tall, blonde girl, and the guys gawking at her. (Although I did kind of enjoy watching the super-muscular guy who asked her to “spot” him while he lifted 100-pound dumb-bells over his head.) I hate how sometimes I want to be noticed, and how I can feel unattractive if I’m not. I hate that these thoughts are in my head, and that I can still revert to acting like a teenager.

Oh, and I also hate the step-climber. It’s torture.

Yet recently I have been inspired, and perhaps even changed. There is a woman I have noticed, but not for the reasons you might expect. Most every day that I am at the gym, I see her…cycling, rowing, and even weight-lifting. But her body is not what I notice…I notice her Bible.

With every pedal on the bike, she is focused – not on how she looks and not on anyone else – but on the truth contained in the book she reads. Though she is working out her body, she is really working out her mind. And while looking down, rather than looking around, she reads her Bible. Thick, torn, and worn, it goes with her as she makes her way around the gym.

As I’ve contemplated my struggles with the gym, I’ve realized that the overarching struggle is rooted in my thoughts.

Have you ever struggled to change your thoughts while the circumstances around you seem to push them the opposite way?

Whether we are at the gym, at work, or spending time with people, it seems that every day we are tempted to look around rather than look down. We look at what others have that we don’t, or how others are talented in ways that we aren’t. And we get stuck looking around to determine what we want, rather than looking down at the life we do have.

We need to look down.

When we look down, we find the truth about what is important. We need it to encourage us in our own journey. And we need it to transform our frustrating thoughts.

We will never find relief by looking around. We must look down.

What does looking down mean for me? Well, I have literally been trying to look down while I’m at the gym. Not at the blonde girl, not at the other fit bodies, and not at my own rear end in the mirror.

I can’t read my Bible while I lift weights, but I can listen to music that will help me focus on God. I can talk to God about my life…or about how much my workouts hurt. I might even have to tell him I’m looking around again, and that I need help looking down. It doesn’t matter what I say to Him, the purpose is to include Him in my thoughts. It’s definitely not an overnight change. But it means I’m involving Him in my struggles.

And I can always look at the lady on the bike to remind me…

 

Photo Credit: colinlogan, Creative Commons

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Why I Love Grocery Shopping With Small Children

Warning: Grocery shopping with small children can be life-threatening. Consult with God before participating in this type of activity. This information contains real-life events from real people. Shop at your own risk.

Okay, so let’s just have a little fun today. I bring you the Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Grocery Shopping With Small Children:

10) Pushing the gigantic grocery cart, with the car attached in the front. Need I see more? Oh, AND pushing it through tiny aisles while I take out the cardboard stands crammed into the tiny aisles.

9) Receiving dirty looks from people who have to wait acouple seconds while I throw my back out turning said cart into a new aisle.

8) The “creepers”:  those who ride my tail and then swerve around me because I’m pushing the gigantic, limousine-length cart too slowly.

7) The reorganization of the entire store resulting in the movement of items into *completely* different aisles. #KingSoopers 

6) Getting so lost watching someone happily sip their Starbucks drink that I don’t realize my child just left a trail of items that they pulled off the shelf; then looking away from the carmel macchiato so I can park my enormous cart, and clean up aisle 9.

5) Realizing half way through the trip that since the huge cart is really mostly car, I have run out of room for the rest of my groceries. Awesome.

4) The lady (with NO kids) who jumps in front of me as I’m moving to a newly opened checkout lane.

3) Promising a ride on the penny pony at the end of the trip, if they behave - only to find it is out of commission when we get there.

2) The resulting meltdowns due to pony breakdown.

Aaaaaand the number one reason…..and really the only reason that can make me smile after grocery shopping with small children….

1) The awesome man who ses me emptying the filled-to-the-brim cart into my car, approaches me, and says – “you look like you have your hands full. Can I return that for you?”

Grocery shopping with littles is not for whimps, and I know it’s not necessarily fun for fellow-shoppers either. But as a mom who is already flustered, and who is just doing my best in the season I’m in…can I ask one thing? Can you offer me grace?

Maybe just a smile, a willingness to wait a moment while I maneuver my cart, or acknowledgment that this might be hard for you too. And if you’re really up for the challenge, you could suprise me after I have nothing left and return my cart for me. I might hug you though, just so you know.

Photo Credit: Tormol, Creative Commons

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Coping With The Pain

While gasping for air on the treadmill the other day at the gym, I flipped to the show “The View”. I can’t say I enjoy watching opinionated women argue, but this episode was different.

Rick Warren was the guest, and he and his family have recently experienced the true meaning of tragedy. As I listened to him talk about his son’s suicide last April and how he has coped with it, I was really moved. I even watched it again later so I could take notes.

Most of us have experienced pain, and his perspective is something we can receive for ourselves as well as give to others who are in need of comfort.  So I wanted to share some of Pastor Warren’s insights.

The first few questions he was asked were in regards to whether the loss of his son affected his faith in God. Pastor Warren responded by saying, “not everything that happens is God’s will; Matthew took his life, not God”. He said that on earth God’s will is rarely done because we live in a world where people can make choices that hurt others.

Pastor Warren described six stages of grief that are important to walk through when dealing with tragedy:

  1. Shock – Only time can ease the feeling of shock, so it is important to give ourselves permission to take this time. Every evening for a month, Pastor Warren said he kept waiting for his son to walk in the door. The night before his son’s death, they had been at his house watching TV together.
  2. Sorrow – We must allow ourselves to feel sorrow, and as the Bible says – God grieves and weeps with us. Pastor Warren pointed out that we have emotions because we are made in God’s image. Expressing our grief is a necessary part of the process.
  3. Struggle – This is the point in which we ask “why”? Why me, why now, why God? Even Jesus asked why on the cross. But what will we do if we don’t get an answer? We won’t! Explanations never comfort or take away pain. But our question of why is met with the comfort of God, which is what we desperately need.
  4. Surrender – After asking why, and embracing the comfort of God, we must choose to surrender what we don’t understand. It is a huge step.
  5. Sanctification – Pain changes us. Pastor Warren said he began to see that the tragedy had made him more tender and sympathetic to others – even if their pain was different than his own.
  6. Service – We can take our pain and use it to help others by offering the same comfort we have received. Pastor Warren talked about how the deep pain we experience can become our life message if we will allow it. The things we are ashamed of and afraid of can become the seeds of hope for others.

One last point Pastor Warren made was in relation to offering support to someone who is experiencing a tragedy. Our tendency is to try and find words to offer comfort, but he said, “The greater the pain, the fewer words you use; people need touch, not words.”  We don’t need to find the perfect words, but we can acknowledge someone’s pain and let them know they are not alone.

Thinking through these steps brought some painful experiences to my mind. I thought of situations where I got stuck in one of these steps – particularly the “struggle” step. I also thought of other times when I minimized my pain because it did not seem to rise to the level of tragedy. But there is no measuring stick for pain, as it always requires us to ask tough questions about God’s will.

What has helped you the most in sorting through pain?

Redeeming Moments

 

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“I used to think I could shape the circumstances around me, but now I know Jesus uses circumstances to shape me.”  – Bob Goff, Love Does

During one of my 3-hour hair appointments awhile back, I was talking with my hairdresser, Darla, and she told me about an interaction she had with her mom that really made me think. Due to a cancelled appointment, Darla’s mom had stopped by to visit at her workplace. A short visit had turned into a few hours, and Darla realized she wasn’t going to be able to leave to do her errands or take a break. Darla’s mom wanted to talk and hang out, and Darla began to feel impatient with having to entertain her in close quarters.

So Darla came up with an idea. She needed to do a treatment on her own hair, and she put her mom to work. For the first time since she was a little girl, her mom washed her hair. Water and soap flew around as they both became a soaked mess. But they laughed…

And an irritation became a memory.

I don’t know about you, but I’m faced daily with opportunities to turn frustrating situations into positive memories. When my two-year-old cries “carry you” while I’m finally cleaning those dishes from last night, I can insist that he go play or I can pick him up and hug him- knowing that at some point he won’t ask anymore.

When my five-year-old argues with me (which is, ahem, pretty rare), I can put my foot down. Or I can turn the situation into a memorable tickle fight and come back to the topic at a better time.

There are times I need to make them wait, and there are times I need to put my foot down…but there are so many times when I can choose redeeming moments.

It’s so easy to let life happen to us, and to let ourselves give in to frustration. We forget that although we cannot change our circumstances, we can choose how we will influence them. We can see the people who are entangled in those circumstances, and we can shape who we are becoming.

Darla’s story reminded me that these “opportunities” will never go away. One day I will be faced with teenage circumstances (God help me), and new challenges with family and friends. Will I learn this lesson now?

Well, I’m trying. And I do have some boogers on my shoulder to show for it!

Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger, Creative Commons

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When Conflict Suprises You

I was putting breakfast plates together for myself and my kids yesterday before starting the last leg of our drive home from Texas. It was one of those hotel lobby continental breakfasts, where lots of people are trying to patiently gather their items at the same time.

I walked up to the coffee table and waited behind a lady who was fixing up her coffee for a bit. After another person left, I filled up my cup next to her and reached in front of her for some sweetener. “You’re excused! Don’t you have any manners?” she blurted – catching me by surprise.

I wish I could say I walked away to return and get my coffee later. But instead, I reacted by saying, “You are rude”. And I invited the conflict to go further.

So she responded, “When you need something you say ‘excuse me’; that’s the polite thing to do. You’ve been up on me all over this room. Is that the way your mama taught you to act?”

“My mama isn’t rude!” I said, pulling out the big guns. And I went to sit down. So I guess those “your mama” fights are for real.

While replaying it in my head on the way home, I thought, “really? Why did I engage a person that was looking for a conflict? Why couldn’t I have just walked away gracefully?

I finally realized that what bothered me was I was unprepared to respond. It is one thing to go into a conversation or situation that you know will cause you to face conflict. But being surprised by conflict is even harder.

A few weeks ago I was approached by someone who accused my son of being cruel to another child. At first I listened, and took it seriously, so I questioned my son immediately. But as I began having difficulty understanding the whole story, I was fighting back some defensiveness toward this person. The details were fuzzy and it was tempting for me to deny my son’s fault altogether. I accepted responsibility as best I knew how, but left wondering if I had handled it well. Days later, when I was able to determine more of the story from my son, I found that while he was not responsible for everything that had occurred, he was clearly in the wrong. I was glad I had not been rude and defensive when I was approached unexpectedly.

The harsh reality is – handling an unexpected confrontation poorly only leads to me having regrets or questions later. When I can fight the urge to react to my defensive feelings, I can more clearly discern the situation, gain the clarification I need, and ask the right questions.

And in those rare circumstances where someone is only seeking a conflict, I can choose to walk away….and have more peace later.

I’ve been reminded as I approach the holidays that I can feel the sense of urgency to get things done, and my patience can wear thin. My hope is that right now I can be formulating my responses to the situations I’m bound to encounter in the near future.

And most importantly, I realize I need the grace to make mistakes and learn from them….and I can choose to offer grace to others too, including the rude lady.

Do you struggle with reacting well to surprise conflicts? How have you found ways to respond well? I would love to hear your thoughts and learn from you!

Photo Credit: Gustavo Devito, Creative Commons

 

God’s Plan Finally Became My Plan – Guest Post

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Today I welcome Amanda Cunningham as guest poster! I hope you are encouraged as you read her story below…..

 

“I KNOW this is what God wants me to do!” I don’t know how many times I spoke that phrase during my last year of college.  I had plans, BIG plans, and I was positive it was God speaking to me.  My college pastor was behind me 100% and had worked hard to help me get an interview with the director of the mission I wanted to join.

I was so excited about realizing my dream of working overseas.  I was set to go to Africa to help in an orphanage.  It was everything I had wanted to do for the past few years.  It was a dream come true!

Then my parents and my home church pastor put the brakes on.  COMPLETE STOP!  I was devastated and a little hurt.  I struggled with deciding whether I “ought to obey God” or obey my parents.

Through writing to another missionary, Carolynn Sharp, the Lord opened the door for me to go to Africa but on a 2 month mission, not a 6 month one.  And it was amazing!  I could never explain how life-changing that experience was for me.  Africa is still a part of my life, years later.  I met some wonderful missionary families and some nationals that I greatly miss.

God taught me so much during that period and I really saw how His plan was so much better than the one I had planned out.  But I guess I didn’t learn that lesson as well as I thought I had.

One of the missionary families that I had met in Africa asked me to come back and help home-school their children.  Wow!  Talk about a “Yes!” moment.  It wasn’t working in an orphanage but it was so much closer to that kind of opportunity.

However, once again that wasn’t God’s plan.  I struggled for months, working at a fast food restaurant, living with my parents.  Not the life I had envisioned for myself after four years of college.  I went through phases of being angry at the people I saw as hindering my “work for God”, being disappointed with myself for not being stronger in standing up to them, and being depressed over the entire situation as a whole.

After talking to one close friend (who was headed to Africa as a missionary), I ended up on the fast track to Nova Scotia to work at a summer camp.  From Ontario to Nova Scotia is a long way to go just to be the camp nurse, but it was definitely where the Lord was leading me.

Things went quickly that summer and suddenly I was moving to Nova Scotia to live with a friend!  I couldn’t believe where my life was heading.  This was so not the way I had planned.  I was excited at the prospects ahead, but still intensely disappointed over what I perceived as a loss of ministry opportunity.  Every time we had missionaries in our church I would cry through the whole service, my heart yearning with every fiber of its being to be where they were at, to be the one presenting my ministry to a congregation.  But it wasn’t me.  And I didn’t know how to get past it.  I didn’t know how to accept that what I thought was God’s plan for me, was merely my plan for my life. 

Finally, one godly lady sent me an email of rebuke.  I had wallowed in self-pity long enough.  If I couldn’t get past my hurts then it was a spiritual matter that I needed to deal with.  The words hurt, but they were true and that was the start of a healing journey for me.

It was a journey that allowed me to see God’s plan as a good one.  It wasn’t the plan I had mapped out for my life, the plan that I had mistaken as God’s plan for me.  But it was a good plan.  One that gave me some much-needed experience in teaching, in working with children, and that ultimately led me to my husband.   It was God’s plan for my life: the PERFECT plan for my life.  God has opened up new doors of ministry opportunities in the last few years for me and stretched me as a person and a Christian.  I have gotten to do things I never would have if I’d gone to Africa long-term.

Do I still think of my dream?  All. The. Time!  And maybe someday it will become a part of God’s plan for me.  I’m not writing it off entirely.  But if that day never comes I’ll still know that my God had my life in His hands from day one and I couldn’t have planned it any better.

How do I know I’m following God’s plan?  There was no audible voice.  There was no specific passage of Scripture. But I believe that God opened doors and used the people around me to lead me in His path.  God doesn’t promise that His plan will be keep us from experiencing problems and trials.  But He does promise that He will keep us in perfect peace if we keep our minds and thoughts on Him (Isaiah 26:3 – my favorite verse in the Bible!).  And there is no better place to be, no place more emotionally peaceful…. then at the center of His will.

Amanda served on several missions teams during her teen/college years before becoming an elementary teacher and then a stay-at-home mom.  She is currently serving in her local church while raising two precious children in Maritime Canada.  She loves to connect with other women about her relationship with the Lord, life, and all things crafty.  She writes about it all over at quietworkings.com.  And you can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/quietworkings

Africa Photo Credit Above: futureatlas.com

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What I Gained When I Lost the Panty Hose

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” –Jim Elliott

God gives us passions, and He wires us to offer contributions this world needs. Yet there are times He asks us to let certain things go as we gain other things in life.

I’m guest posting over at Quiet Workings today! Please come check out the post here: http://quietworkings.com/2013/11/13/what-i-gained-when-i-lost-the-panty-hose/

What is an amazing thing you have gained when you let go of something else??

Photo Credit: Victor Bezrukov, Creative Commons

Learning to live a better story…one moment at a time