Heart Shaped box -WISE project 2017 -#tenacioustuesday

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At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear. 

I remember very vividly being a young girl and terrified to ride my bike without the training wheels. I remember quite clearly the anxiety that I held in my belly, immobilizing me in fear. Nothing terrible had happened to me in my young life thus far so I am not quite sure where my panic came from. With a great deal of coaxing from my parents and my older brother I learned what was on the other side of my fear. With a little balance and a determined spirit, I finally agreed to forgo the comfort of my training wheels and pedal into a world largely unknown to me at my delicate age. It was a land of choice, liberty and wild abandon where the voices of my parents yelling after me couldn’t be heard over the pounding of my heart. Wrapped up in the excitement of my new independence I forgot how to use the brakes so continued to pedal with all my might with my family running after me. At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear.

That should have been it, a lesson learned; but as part of the human experience we are creatures of comfort. We seem to spend our lives inside little boxes we have built for ourselves, boxes that keep us warm and safe in our self-made bubbles, free from diversity, change, adventure…and well to be honest not truly free at all.

She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory

I think a lot of my granddaughter Rielly and how at her tender age she is completely fearless. She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory. She has the bruises and scrapes to match her plucky personality; badges of her audacious nature.  Even still, onward and upward she confidently continues; unafraid of the journey, focused only what is on the other side.

The world may change her, with so many people perpetually apprehensive about what could go wrong instead of what could go right, many of us; me included, learn to fear living.

We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain

After I lost my husband to suicide in June the world became a scary place. I always considered myself to be a strong independent woman and never subscribed to idea that I was half of a couple, half of a whole. Yes we were Kirk and Michelle, and being married was a huge part of my identity but totally separate from our love for each other was the fact that we were two whole individuals; we were not a half of anything. We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain.

However, after that fateful day I felt lost and afraid. A part of me was missing and I felt small and scared. When my tendencies moved towards curling up in my comfy comfort zone, it was Kirk that always reminded me of my courage and fearlessness. It was almost as if I forgot who I was without my constant cheerleader. I felt like I was a half, broken in two and that all the good parts of me had died with him.

It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat

It is a pretty frightening feeling to wake up not knowing who you are anymore and where you fit in the world but somewhere deep inside of me I still felt that I had a purpose and when heartache cast a shadow on that I only had to look at my teenage girls and be reminded that part of their cheer squad was gone as well and I needed to step up my mom game and lead by example. It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat.

When I started the W.I.S.E. project, my purpose was to live mindfully and in the present, seeking happiness and creating joyful experiences and cultivating gratitude in the here and now. A lot of that entailed making good decisions for me and investing in my own well-being, knowing that not only was I setting an example for all of my children, but choosing happiness can have a ripple effect in your life.

In the last three months I have had to set intentions everyday. Some days I may decide that my intention is too stay in my jammies and cry but often my intention takes me out of my house, out of my head and into the big bad world of new people and new experiences.

I have been lucky to have had some powerful experiences and to connect with people that I am positive are earth angels, put on my path at the right time to help encourage me and point me in the right direction. The choices that I have made to put my feet on that path were based in hope instead of fear but I admit that sometimes I allow myself to be dragged backwards by fear and I wrap myself in it because it is what I know and when everything in the world feels strange, what you know, even if it is not good for you, can disguise itself as comfortable.

In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away

Last week I went to Church with a friend that is visiting and they had a sign up sheet for a home study group on the movie The Shack. I was drawn to it immediately and I signed up but when I got the email with the details of the group I thought of a million reasons why I should not attend. The Shack is one of the last movies that my husband and I watched together and I recall like it was yesterday him being in tears at the end of the movie and saying how beautiful it was. I had read the book and had talked to him a lot about it. I had a damaged relationship with god that went back to being a sixteen year old girl who lost her Dad to a massive heart attack a week before his fortieth birthday. A lady showed up to the house to talk to us about god and in the midst of my grief I said to her “Are you kidding me? I am sixteen years old, I just lost my Dad, there is no god; and if there is he is not who I thought he was”

I struggled a lot with that over the years and I met a lot of shitty people who did shitty things in the name of religion that only served to drive a larger wedge into that broken relationship. In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away. My grandfather’s life was not spared but I did get the answer I was looking for and very slowly, like at the pace of a snail mired in molasses traveling up hill, I started to repair my personal relationship with who I believe god to be. My ideology surrounding god, nature and science has always been and will remain very personal to me. I have learned that people are all too willing to believe what they are told and what they read from their perspective without considering that 20 million people could read the same book or see the same movie and interpret it much differently; and that is OK. That is life, we create our own reality.

I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter

God in Shack is the closest representation to the God that I know and believe in my heart. I hold it in my heart that when my husband watched that movie that he felt the same way. His life experiences had jaded him immensely and most times  he believed that god wasn’t for people like him. I think watching that movie he saw something beautiful and attainable, something that he hadn’t been spoon fed at church and something that though he may have daydreamed about, barely mentioned out loud. He and I talked a lot about God though, I wasn’t afraid to share my interpretations with him and he liked my version of God. I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter. God may have been someone who smiled at me in the grocery store when they knew that tears were about to spill down my cheeks as I was experiencing the most unimaginable heartache I ever had to endure.

As the day of the group meeting inched closer I had all but decided that I wasn’t going. I know that the book wasn’t popular among a lot of Christian groups because it was not what they were taught and we often fear what we don’t know, preferring to stay in our boxes where it is comfortable. The idea of spending an evening with un-like minded strangers was troubling.

He was more alive than I had seen him in years

Initially I had felt drawn to the group because of the connection to the movie and my experience with Kirk. I had a discussion with a friend of his shortly after his death and found out a lot of interesting things about him that I didn’t know. He studied religion at university and almost became a Pastor. He told me that Kirk had come to him very vividly in a dream after his death and when he said to him “wait, what, you are supposed to be dead.” Kirk replied that he was more alive than he had ever been. His friend likened their conversation to the movie The Shack and said he believed that from his encounter with Kirk that god and heaven in the movie (book) was the closest representation he could think of. I told him about watching that movie with Kirk and how touched he was and about how Kirk had come to me in a dream very vividly saying I am real, you can touch me. He was more alive than I had seen him in years.

I know that Kirk was not without joy in his life. The girls and I and Kirk had some amazing times together and shared a love that not everyone gets to achieve in this lifetime, but I also know that depression and anxiety was a relentless beast that sucked the life out of him. Despite profound sadness I try every single day to find a bit of solace that Kirk is now surrounded in peace and love.

I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong

My trepidation in attending the group was based on the fear that once again I would be forced to sit through a discussion about how my god, the god in my heart is not real and all the reasons why. I wasn’t going to attend if I couldn’t be my authentic self and that would include discussing what drew me to the group in the first place. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go right, I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong.

I arrived a bit early and I was sitting in my truck talking to a friend when the first ladies arrived. I had decided to come as myself in every aspect and was wearing my slash shirt. I committed right then and there to being true to myself in every way; that was really the only way approach the evening.

Things took a turn immediately. I endorse Brene’ Brown’s version of wholehearted living and that means choosing courage over comfort as much as possible. I took a big step by being there but that was just the beginning. If I quietly slumped into a corner in my thoughts I might as well have stayed home in my jammies. I wasn’t there by accident. Something drew me there and to find out what it was I needed to be head up and heart open. Within two minutes of my arrival I told the guests that had arrived why I was there. I told them about losing my husband and about my connection to the Shack. I told them that I was nervous to be there but felt like I was called upon to be there. I was immediately surrounded in love and non-judgement. Women embraced me one by one with tears in their eyes, offering me comfort. Another woman told me how she had lost her husband suddenly, nine years ago to a heart attack. She and I discussed the ongoing shock of it and how grief is an arduous journey. She is a nurse and said she felt she should have been more prepared but it was unthinkable finding her husband dead. The lovely host had been busy with food and snacks but upon realizing what she had missed immediately filled with tears and exchanged hugs. It was all very warm and suddenly I was not among strangers. There were three retired nurses and best friends that came together and one of them took me aside to tell me that she had lost her husband to suicide a year and a half ago. I sensed that she still had a hard time saying the word but as we sat down I kept her talking and she gave me some helpful resources to connect with other survivors. She spoke with me about quickly finding out who your true friends are and how sometimes the people you assume will step up don’t and the people that do can be equally surprising. I related to that well and it was actually supposed to be my blog post for this week. I spoke to the group about the people that I hadn’t known previous to Kirk’s death that emerged in my path as my guides and cheerleaders.

We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen

There was a younger lady that had arrived a couple of minutes late and she was the only one in the group that had not read the book or seen the movie. We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen. Only one woman did not seem to appreciate the movie, she thought it was very weird in context to what she believed. I still felt very confident in sharing my experiences, my thoughts and my interpretation without judging or under valuing anyone else.

I am glad that I pushed through fear and stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend the group. At next weeks group we start lessons and group discussions and I am incredibly excited to be touched by the love and the wisdom of those ladies. I believe that every one of us has something to teach and something to learn. None of us was drawn there by accident. I am very much a believer in the work of god, nature and the universe and last night is a perfect example of how when we let go of our fear and bias we can see how well they all work together in our lives.

DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be a religious post, I believe that everyone has a right to subscribe to their own beliefs however I truly believe in the power of goodness, kindness, equality and love and I hope that no matter what the basis of your belief system is, I hope it includes those things as well.

What did you do this week to step out of your comfort zone?

 

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xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

Let it go- WISE Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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The gift of our lives should be greater than pain and larger than fear, but when we are in the grip of grief, trauma, depression, heartache, loss or betrayal; fear can be immobilizing.

Pain can be a great teacher

Pain can be a great teacher if we are open to the lessons it brings, if we meet it with curiosity instead of alarm it will teach us and allow us to move through it with grace. One way or the other pain demands to be felt.

There is no promise of a pain free life, pain is inevitable, but if we resist, ignore or fear pain we initiate suffering. Suffering is not necessary.

I knew that the feeling of being enveloped in a dense dark fog was not going to lift overnight

I am not afraid of pain; I held the door wide open and welcomed it in. When my husband passed away in June, pain and plenty of it was more than expected.  I knew there would be an abundance of tears and endless heartbreak and longing. I knew that in my pain that I would find strength I never knew I had and wisdom I never knew I needed. I knew that the feeling of being enveloped in a dense dark fog was not going to lift overnight.

The thing I didn’t count on was how much I would come to depend on the pain. It is my receipt of love after all and I would spend nights wrapped up in it like a blanket. In a previous post I talked about the luxury of hope and embracing and holding onto those moments, but as they started to emerge for me I caught myself chasing them away and holding onto my dark blanket of despair. I had found a new person in my grief and as much as I thought I longed to have the old Michelle back I found myself identifying with the new familiar one and holding space for her and keeping the light out. I found myself wondering who I was in the world without my husband and who would he be if I wasn’t here in this world holding vigil for him. The grief and the unimaginable pain was the proof that his life and his story mattered and I became afraid of letting any bit of it go. I lived in fear that if I softened to the pain and moved through it and allowed the light to shine on me that his memory would fade, the love we shared wouldn’t matter and his spirit that I felt so close to me, guiding me, would diminish bit by bit until it disappeared.

Or so I thought…

I told all our loved ones that we needed to honor him by being well and being happy, but somehow, even knowing what he would truly want, I was honoring him by holding tightly to my pain as that was the manifestation of the love we shared and the connection between my physical life with him and our lives now. Or so I thought…

So here I am with all of this love in my heart that I want to give him and I think I can’t so as a consolation I close off my heart and I sit in my misery somehow thinking I am honoring the person who meant the world to me, who wanted nothing more for me to feel happiness and love always. When I put it in black and white it seems incredibly strange that I would think that way. I certainly know better, I think we all do. We know that at the deepest level of our soul we are always safe, loved, grounded and connected. Fear may protect us temporarily but it is not a place to live.

Fear should not define us; everything we long for is on the other side of fear

Fear should not define us; everything we long for is on the other side of fear. I want desperately to continue to feel the love that my husband and I shared with each other and with our children; I will not achieve that if I keep draping myself in the agony. In fact, in some conversations with some very wise and inspiring people I have come to believe that as I continue to move through the pain and the grief and as I allow moments of light to energize me, and the cloak of despair to decline, my memories will be stronger and more beautiful than they are now, swathed in a dismal haze.

It is amazing how gratitude can elevate to our highest vibration possible

I was walking through the park the other day with my dog and all of the colorful flowers are still in the bloom but the air is changing, even the copious sunshine couldn’t mask the hint of autumn that blew through the trees. Periodically the wind would come up and swiftly blow through the trees, showering the earth with leaves that had already dried out and curled up. It was absolutely beautiful. It is amazing how gratitude can elevate us to our highest vibration possible and I have plenty to be grateful for. Though my life right now is not one I would have chosen for myself, I got to experience the depth of true love and the lessons I learned by loving and being loved by Kirk, during the good times and the bad, I will hold in my heart forever. For just a moment I let myself feel those winds of change and not be afraid, and in that moment I felt Kirk clearer than I had in weeks, cheering me on.

I have been so afraid of what is on the other side of my fear so I really had to decide what I wanted for me and my children. I want the winds of change to blow me in the direction of emotional freedom, gratitude, joy, health and love. I want to multiply that love Kirk and I shared as a couple and as a family and put it back into the world. This world could sure use a little more love and kindness.

My response to this fear that restrains me is to summon all of the courage I have to not jump over, resist or hold the pain, but to move through it keeping my heart open to the unique gifts of the universe.

Are you holding unto fear? What is it trying to tell you? What is on the other side of your fear.

Let it go-see what remains.

Every single day is a new opportunity, for you and for me. Today lets decide what it is we want to see in the world and lets project that.

xoxo-michelle1

BE YOUR OWN HERO

For my Aunt Sylvia. A woman of great strength and grace, and to all the strong women in the world who are not afraid to shine, stand out and speak up!

BE YOUR OWN HERO

A little over five years ago we moved our family across Canada making Edmonton our new home. My husband was already working an advancing job in the Oil Sands and he saw and seized an opportunity that wasn’t available to him in our small town in Nova Scotia. I was overcome with fear. Despite our struggles, financial and otherwise, there was a comfort in raising our girls in our country home just minutes away from the support of our family and friends. The thought of moving to a big city again, as a mom and a wife, not a young and carefree youth, crippled me with certain fear. The inevitable happened, people started telling me how much I would hate it and how I would be back in less than six months. The thought of slinking home after selling my home and moving my family 5000 miles away was even more unnerving then the alternative; trying to make it work.

As a young woman living in the city I saw beauty in the diversity of people and places. University students, rappers, professionals of every age and race, sharing space in a perfectly imperfect way.  I loved the city, it offered me a place to be myself and the opportunity to embrace a way of life that was new and exciting for me. I remember living in London, Ontario and walking to the all night diner at 3 am for scrambled eggs. The diner wasn’t fancy and it didn’t have a clever name. The neon sign simply said diner, open 24 hours. There were only a few two seater tables and a large communal bar-like round counter with stools where you could grab a seat, order from a menu on the wall and watch the cranky, elderly gentlemen behind the counter quickly prepare your palettes desire. He was like the ‘soup Nazi’ from the popular Seinfeld episode. If you spoke out of turn or made a snide remark there was ‘no food for you’ and there was no changing his mind. He fascinated me, this old man with the hard shell exterior and a work ethic not matched by his youthful counterparts. The food there was amazing and I was careful to eat quietly and not interact too much with the other late night clientele, lest they didn’t know the rules I didn’t want their ignorance to reflect on me. There was a quiet respect between the old man and myself and I know I had gained his trust. On more than one occasion I caught him observing me with a hint of a smile.

As a parent moving her children to the city I didn’t feel the same kind of enthusiasm. We enjoyed lazy days at the beach and Sunday family suppers at home in Nova Scotia. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of traffic on our quiet country road and the sounds of the night were reserved for crickets and coyotes. I think what I feared the most was the unknown. Take away my home, my friends, and my extended family….who would I be? Would I belong? Haley was young enough to just want to go wherever we were going, she could appreciate the excitement of the journey. Morgan however was old enough to mourn all she was leaving behind and too young to realize that if you keep a relationship alive in your heart that distance doesn’t matter.

Quite quickly I realized that my attitude about the move would prove essential in a smooth transition for the girls. I ignored the people who told me how much I would hate it and grasped unto the enthusiastic well wishes from people I was close to. I would always have a hometown, a place where I was born and raised, and a place that would always have my heart. Embracing a diverse and dynamic city like Edmonton, immersing my family in its vibrant culture would not diminish my ties to my home.

That first summer we visited the grand Rocky Mountains. Their soaring snowcapped peaks reaching for the sunshine as their feet refreshed into iridescent glacier water.  The mountain air that filled our lungs breathed a new life into our souls and motivated us for the journey ahead. The remainder of summer was full of sporting events, backyard barbeques and concerts. The kids loved the city, they loved city transit. They loved being a part of a grand scheme.

Summer faded into fall, Morgan started her new school while I stayed home with Haley. Morgan struggled with a place to belong in school and though she made new friendships quickly she suffered their ups and downs. She always enjoyed and excelled at sports but fought with the idea of being her best. She found that shining at sports didn’t always sit well with her female friends and I strained trying to explain to her the beauty in being the very best you can be. Somebody who is not afraid to shine will always be the brightest light in the room.

At ten Morgan was maturing into a sweet girl but her body and her emotions were at war with one another and I wrestled with trying to parent her through it. We had always been the best of friends and she felt she needed a friend, not a parent. I began to foresee a future of reasoning right and wrong with a pre-teen who knows everything.

One lazy Sunday we three girls were curled up watching Whip It. Whip It is a fun, inspirational sports film with a female dominated cast. It is full of charm, and good natured wit. The allure of the movie, based on Bliss, a former beauty pageant contestant turned Roller Derby player is that it isn’t sappy but it portrays women as strong, sassy, funny and real.  The film explores the game of modern roller derby, albeit in an over the top way and studies female relationships in an entertaining way. In a tough as nails, action packed roller derby scene my ten year old daughter said “I wanna do that!”

“Really?” I replied, “Roller Derby?”

“Yes, definitely”, she replied.

She was a girl in love.

The next day I was driving the girls to school and we got a sign, in the form of an actual sign. There was a sign on the side of the road that said “Junior Roller Derby, ages 12-17, wanna try?”

Morgan excitably pointed out the sign and begged me to call. The age said 12 and she was only ten but I guess I could make a phone call.

Turns out it was a very important phone call. The lady said that they had been considering taking younger girls and to bring her to practice Sunday. I decided to take her Roller Skating at the old Sportsworld that Friday to see if she liked it. She was off like a shot with a smile on her face. I tried too, I hadn’t been on quad skates since I was a kid and my legs were super shaky. It was also hard to keep my balance with Haley hanging off me. Haley was six at the time and hated roller-skating. She ripped the skates off her feet so fast you would have thought they were on fire. Morgan however had found her new love.

From that first Sunday till now has been quite a voyage.  A little league that was once the appendage of an adult league became its own society run by parents and volunteers with the common goal of empowering youth, allowing them to embrace their individualism in a fun, safe and respectful environment while learning the sport of flat track roller derby. As a founding member and board member I have been humbled and moved by the determination of these young skaters and the strong women who give their time to teach them a sport that they are passionate about.

As a parent I have always strived to teach my girls to be strong and independent and never be afraid to be the very best they can be. Traditionally females are taught to be feminine, quiet and sweet. Roller Derby is a non-traditional sport and it teaches girls lessons that are very valuable in today’s society. It teaches them to be strong and competent and competitive. A competitive sport such as roller derby teaches girls to embrace the skills they learn to be stronger individuals with healthy self-esteem and body images.

Often in society men are rewarded for strength, competence and aggressive behavior while for women it is frowned upon. Strong women are frequently viewed as a threat in today’s society and instead of learning to be fearless and independent they are learning that being feminine is measured in their ability to attract members of the opposite sex, not rocking the boat, allowing the men to do the heavy lifting, in sitting pretty so to speak. As a parent I prefer that my girls make their own definition of the word feminine. One that exceeds physical beauty and embraces independence, personality, uniqueness, strength and capability.

The sport of Roller Derby is played by strong and enduring women all over the world. Those that coach the sport are resilient and passionate. They are their own heroes, and heroes to the girls that they instill the same robust qualities.

Haley is a Derby girl now and she is navigating her way, finding a place in a sport that envelopes everyone.

I am proud of Morgan Mayhem and Haleylujah. They are flawlessly imperfect and definitely not textbook young ladies but I believe that they are amongst a movement of young women that will shove through the walls that society has built up, unravel and redefine the roles of men and women. They will know when to be strong, when to speak up and when to stand their ground. They will never be afraid to be “as good” as their male counterparts and in fact will struggle to be better.

They will never be intimidated by the term ‘male dominated’, they will believe that means ‘female friendly’

The definition of ‘feminine’ is in need of a serious revamp. Females in sport are changing what it looks like every day. From where I stand it looks like, determination, skill, endurance, passion and strength.

Morgan with Terminal City All Stars Luludemon and EightMean Wheeler after she guested with STAHR Roller Derby (adults) Beezlebubs at age 13
Morgan Mayhem, Haleylujah, Nancy Kenny and Marilyn Monroll at The Fringe Festival Parade promoting Roller Derby saved my soul.
Morgan Mayhem
Morgan Mayhem, Belle Camino (Tar Sand Betties) and Haleylujah at Calgary’s Flat Track Fever

There is some place where your specialties can shine. Somewhere that difference can be expressed. It’s up to you to find it, and you can. David Viscott

Learn more about Junior Roller Derby

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Greater Edmonton Junior Roller Derby

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