Thursday, June 2, 2016

Let Me Be There; Spark 2016

I feel like we're one of the few families that still owns (and listens to) a regular ol' radio.  Usually, ours is tuned to light rock-- where Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan provide the background to family sing-a-longs and Pharrell and Justin Timberlake turn our living room into a dance party.  But tonight, the Universe has given me Olivia Newton John & her appropos Let Me Be There lyrics-- the perfect soundtrack to my reflections on a week ago.

Let me be there....

Last week, I returned home from a women's retreat in Ojai, California.  Mason explained it as a conference, but let's be honest here.  It was a retreat.  Upon arriving, we were greeted at the door by the hosts, authors Kelle Hampton and Claire Bidwell Smith-- both of whom made us feel incredibly welcome and an important piece of the whole shebang. We had beautiful accommodations and were nurtured three times a day by an on-site chef, Goyo.

As we gathered that first night together, I listened as 18 women across the country shared their reasons for investing time, energy, and money into this three-day retreat, and also into themselves.  I'm not even sure what my response was, but if I had the chance to articulate it now, it would go something like this:

I have an adventurous soul and am in need of an adventure.  When I heard about a retreat with a writing focus, I was intrigued because I love writing but I'm not sure I really have a story.  I love to write, but I often feel too tired, too overwhelmed, or too uninspired to jot anything down.  I love writing, but have some deep-seeded issues with the quality of my written words and whether or not they are worthy of sharing with others.  I feel so lucky to have amazing friends in my life but lately, I've been seeking some depth to our friendships-- something that extends beyond conversations about youth sports and sangria recipes. (but don't get me wrong, I'm always up for a good sangria recipe) Lately, I feel a little depleted, I feel a little low, I feel a little lack-luster, and I want to recharge my own battery.  I love my family more than life itself, but I take them for granted.  I find myself getting frustrated with the littlest things, annoyed at the slightest movements and I want to loosen my grip on perfection-- just a bit.  I need to miss them, I need a little separation to make my heart grow fonder once again.   I hope to be a little more inspired, a little more engaged, and a little more recharged when I return home.  And if I make a friend or two, that would be the icing on the cake.  

It's hard for me to even write about the 48 hours that followed that initial gathering-- so much transpired in so little time.  We went from a group of strangers wearing hand-written name tags to a group of friends, whose spirits will forever remain tattooed on our hearts.  In thinking about what propelled our relationships forward-- so deeply so quickly-- I can only guess that it was the moments we shared while gathered together.  Each day, we had two opportunities to write and share the words we had written.  We heard about grief and loss, love and heartache, self-love and human betrayal.  We cried tears of understanding when people shared words about the beauty in ordinary days and we cried tears of sadness as we listened to stories of difficult childhoods and relationships that only existed in dreams. Every time a woman shared her writing, whether it was about body image or adopting a child or the rigors of marriage, words resonated throughout the room.  And as I listened, I felt so honored that these women, barely friends, were trusting me with their heartaches and sorrows, joys and celebrations.  I felt humbled by their bravery to read things they had written-- however short or long they may be.  And eventually, I shared too.

Let me be there....

When else in my life have people so freely given themselves?  When have they cracked wide open, lay face up on the floor with arms outstretched-- hearts open-- vulnerable to the core-- and shared stories like this?  Each person had a different voice, everyone had a different story.  But then, as people began to share, I realized-- we're not so different.  Our voices varied; some more sentimental and some more serene than others, some more humorous and some more raw--- but they all were beautiful.  I've never felt sure-footed when it comes to writing and it's probably something that has held me back for years.  But being surrounded by these women helped me feel capable and inspired to go ahead and just....write.

I'm not a quick writer-- it takes me awhile to find the words I'm searching for, and there's nothing I love more about the writing process than the re-writing process. (Crazy, I know.)  So writing for 30-45 minutes and then sharing was especially difficult for me.  The things I shared weren't particularly meaningful, probably not at all impactful, and definitely not deep.   I don't think I even wrote a single metaphor the whole time I was there.  (And besides, that's Mason's specialty not mine)  But eventually, I shared a few things I had written.... and honestly, it was scary and a little nerve-wracking.  And while it was scary, never once did I feel intimidated or discouraged by the sets of eyes upon me.  If anything, the opposite was true.  And I am so thankful.  These women gave me a gift-- the gift of a little confidence, something that I hadn't even realized was missing in a big way. Thank you for letting me be there. 

And now the good stuff... the photos. :)
Hey Lisa, I've never met you before and we're sharing a rental car.
So this is what I look like as I hang out at terminal 7 baggage claim at LAX.
I'm greasy and tired looking and will be one of your forever-friends in 24 hours.
Come find me!  

Adriana taught me how to use my stupid iphone!!! And a quick swipe to the right will show you restaurants nearby! (Who knew?) So we tapped on the one with the dot in the ocean and looked out at the waves as we lunched.)

Lisa, Karah, Adriana..... about an hour into our friendship

When choosing which highway to travel, always go with the one that has an ocean-view.  Always.  

Note to self: Never contain your excitement when you see the ocean.  Throw your arms out, breathe in the salty air, and give thanks for having this opportunity!  (And if you can do a handstand, do that too.) 

Ladies & Gents, let me introduce you to Ojai, California. 

Not sure if they kick you out of stores for browsing too long--- quite possibly could have with this one.  

Our 'living room' gathering space.  Cozy couches, warm blankies, and soft shoulders to snuggle with-- or cry on. 

Crooked smile in the California foothills...

Did I mention that our accommodations were awful? 

Jen captivated us with her written memory...

The cutest used bookstore you ever did see...

Miss Erin & her soft, calm, voice made me instantly wrap my heartstrings all around her. 

Houston ladies & Miss Carol-- who I promise to visit in San Diego. 

Green juice by Goyo...

I honestly could have sat under these vines and inhaled their scent all day long.
Wisteria? Jasmine? Not really sure.... and don't really care.  

Four of six roomies....

Dive bar, Mule Deer, Harley, and Robert. 

And this mug?  It looks cold..... but it's so hot.  Shhhh!  And yes, Ron Ron, I'll share. 

Our amazing spread-- every single meal was more delicious than the one before. 

The fire warmed their backs & these two warmed my heart.  (Do you see what I did there?) 

Oh, and there may have been a full moon that Saturday night.
(Which we may have sang to, and danced under, and made memories that I'll think about until the day I die)

Waking up to the California sunshine.  

So much gratitude for these two ladies-- who had the inspiration and determination to provide us with this opportunity.
(But note to self:  Next time, pack at least one cute outfit for the last day.
And hats! I have so many hats!  Kelle is my hat-soul-sister.)

And this one owes me a makeover.  (Isn't her makeup so good!?) 

Then we did this thing called a cinnamon roll hug-- my new favorite thing ever.  But definitely something I won't try with elementary kids for fear of broken bones and way too much screaming. 

When you meet someone that you know you were destined to be friends with.  Even if they do have the prettiest, naturally white teeth you've ever seen. 

Oh and this one?  She kept her cool when I lost mine-- under the Santa Monica Pier.   My old friend, Anxiety, tried to take the driver's seat and she just kept her hand on the wheel.  Best friend forever.  

Until next time ladies....

Wherever you go
Wherever you may wander in your life
Surely you know
I always wanna be there
Holding you hand
And standing by to catch you when you fall
Seeing you through
In everything you do

Let me be there in your morning
Let me be there in you night
Let me change whatever's wrong and make it right
Let me take you through that wonderland
That only two can share
All I ask you is let me be there

Watching you grow
And going through the changes in your life
That's how I know
I always wanna be there
Whenever you feel you need a friend to lean on, here I am
Whenever you call, you know I'll be there

Let me be there in your morning
Let me be there in you night
Let me change whatever's wrong and make it right
Let me take you through that wonderland
That only two can share
All I ask you is let me be there