it’ll shine when it shines.

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I didn’t know that ‘It’ll Shine When it Shines’ was one of my brother’s favourite songs until after he passed away in 2011. Since that time, I’ve listened to the song many times. I understand why he liked this tune so much. Just like my brother, it’s ‘shoot from the hip’ on the surface. But, if you care to have a look, there are layers and layers of elegant truths that sit just beneath that surface.

My brother was far from perfect, but I think that posthumous reflection should stray toward the ‘best of’ side of people. There is no peace to be had in focusing on imperfection.

He was an enormous man with a gruff exterior. But then you’d see him smile. Chances are he’d take your hand, say ‘Hey brother/sister’ and maybe even pull you into a bear hug. If you looked closely, if you accepted him as he was, you’d see the love literally spilling out of his eyes. If you gave him more than 10 seconds, looked beyond the obvious, what you got was gentle, tender and incredibly good.

He held my babies in his enormous, gentle hands and wept at the sight of each of them. As they grew, he loved them fully, just as they were. His face would light up whenever he saw them and he saw only the best in each of them, even when I couldn’t. He always got up to hug us hello, even when his body ached. And he never failed to say ‘I love you’ at every departure.

In his own way, he was always in pursuit of peace. He’d seek it in his relationships with those he loved and through quiet time spent tinkering (he called it ‘Louis-ing’). He’d look for it in stashing cash, finding bargains and in showing up for people when it counted. An avid fisherman, he also sought it on the banks of rivers and lakes, his rod in one hand and a can of beer in the other. 

Life didn’t always go the way he hoped it would, but he lived it with a simplicity that I find myself longing for lately. A true ‘it’ll shine when it shines’ philosophy that goes something like this: ‘Get out there, live with your heart wide open. Look for goodness in the little things and stop getting bent out of shape about the things you can’t do anything about. Just be. It’ll shine when it shines.

Thinking on all of this, I totally get why my brother loved the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and their sweet, philosophical tune. There is an exquisite truth to their poetry that’s got me feeling pretty reflective. There are a great many things in this life that are rip-out-your-heart hard. These are things I can’t do anything about. Things that happen to me or to the people I love. There are much bigger horrors that happen every day and in every corner of our world. Things I can never understand or control.

What I can do is live my life fully. I can be kind and grateful for all of the goodness I get to experience from dawn til dusk. I can be accepting. I can be forgiving. I can let love flow in all directions. I can be still when life hurts and trust that all will be well. It will shine when it shines.

Bit of an aside before I wrap ‘er up. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I bought ukuleles. Playing and singing together every day is the most fantastic thing for me. The first song we’ve tackled is in honour of ‘Uncle John’. This means that I get to experience ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines’ with my beautiful girl every day. I’m not a very good ukulele player and we forget the words and we’re out of tune and don’t always know which chord to play. But, as my brother might have said, it’s all in the experience of living, loving and letting things be what they are. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ spin on this is:

It’s in your heart, not your head. And you’ve got to sing and sing and sing.

And so I shall.

p.s. If you haven’t ever heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils perform ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines, have a listen here. It’s pretty sweet stuff.

she to we to me

While there are times when I need a pretty good nudge to see the best in my kids, on the balance of my days, they positively delight me. Some days, they absolutely blow me away. Such was the case for me this past weekend with my youngest offspring.

She started at a new school this year – a change that has been remarkably good for her. Even still, she is missing lots of things about her former school. One of those things is the ‘Me to We’ program that she participated in for 3 years. Her new school doesn’t offer this program. To her credit, she’s been trying to find other ways to stay involved with Me to We. In particular, she has developed a burning desire to attend the annual event called We Day.

I  know she’s been giving it a lot of thought, but I really had no idea how much. And this is where my mind was blown. Without asking for my help, she sat down and wrote an email to send to the organizers of the event, expressing her desire to be a part of it. I was aware that she was working on it for the better part of the day but decided to leave her alone and let it simply be hers. When she finally showed it to me and asked for permission to press ‘send’, she got an immediate thumbs-up from her teary-eyed Mama. I’m proud of this kid every day because she’s an awesome human being. But this email she wrote is too sweet not to share. Here goes:

Reflections on and hopes for We Day by an 11 year old fan

Dear We Day Team,

Hi! my name is … I am turning 12 years old exactly 17 days after We day, and I love Me To We and doing what I can to make this world a better place. About 3 years ago I joined a school club that focused on different issues across the world such as hunger, child labour, poverty and many more that I want to help put a end to. We had the chance to address certain issues by taking on certain projects and then studying them to share what we have learned about the issue. Some people did projects like girls education, or free the children, and others did projects to raise money to build wells in Africa. And I decided to do Local Poverty. Of course I wanted to do something like building wells or helping raise awareness for girls and their education, but to get there I needed to start small. I didn’t have much hope because I was just one little girl trying to do something for local poverty. 

So I sat and I thought. I thought for along time. I thought about the struggles people must have. How they must miss their homes and their families. And for the people that can barely pay for food and for their homes, I can’t imagine how it must feel.

About a month later, the teacher who ran the club read the other kids and I a blog written by a woman who’s life just seemed impossible to live with. The first blog post was the woman telling us that it was April and the last time she had been to the grocery store was in February. She was a single mom who had two kids and could barely afford for her house. In the second blog post she described how embarrassing it felt for her to be in a food bank collecting food. This was hard for me to think of, because my family and I visit the grocery store weekly. And for someone else that hasn’t been to a grocery store in 3 months … this did not feel right at all. 

And then I realized, this was what I was looking for in my heart, to connect that final piece and to understand that feeling and to get my mind in the right place. This was when I knew that I had to do what I could put an end to this issue. Up until this year I continued to be in the club. I would be ready for every single meeting. My mom, before I was born and it was just her and my brother, she had a hard time affording things like his back to school supplies, or new clothes. So, when we were buying my back to school supplies this year, she was telling me the stories of when her and my brother would go shopping that it was hard to afford, it reminded me that this wasn’t only for people like my mom who had struggled, but for many other families too.

Every year, the grade 6 class gets to go and attend We day. I have been looking forward to doing that since I first joined Me to We in grade 3. I switched schools this year, and sadly at this school we don’t have a Me To We club. I plan to talk to some of my teachers about starting one and when that would take place. I searched up how to get We Day tickets and it told me that you can’t buy tickets, you earn them through service. I talked to my mom about it, and she said that I should try and tell you my story and about how passionate I am about Me to We. I would like to attend We day this year. It would be amazing and a dream come true if I could come and hear all the speakers and their stories. If there is any way I could do something to show you that I am devoted and how much I respect and look up to Me To We, and how much I would be honoured if I could come and be a part of that day. 

I just want to thank you for opening my eyes. For showing me the way, and how to help who needs it the most. Me to We does something more than help people, it changes people. It shows them a way to live fair, respectful, and to do what you love to do. You help show the world that instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someones plate and wonder if they have enough. It’s like looking at a glass half full, not half empty. You create idealists, with thoughts of what is right. You also create optimists, to help people look for the best in everything. Without you, I would just be a lonely realist, thinking that my goals in life are impossible with no hope. You help people’s dreams to help become reality. Without you, lots of people wouldn’t be as devoted to helping others and knowing about the issues. We wouldn’t have the dreamers living their dreams no matter how impossible they seem. No matter the challenge, no matter the journey, no matter the pain, everything has a silver-lining. 

The response. Less than 24 hours later from the We Day team:

Hi there,

Thank you very much for the note and for sharing your story with us. We would love to have you attend a We Day event this Fall. Can you please let me know where you are located so we can provide tickets for a city nearby?

In my journey as a parent, I’m exceedingly clear on what I’m for. And that is to raise our kids to be decent people who respect others, live with compassion, practice empathy and go for their dreams. This email written by my daughter … well, I’m for all of it. And I’m for her engaging with the world in a way that ‘instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someone’s plate and wonder if they have enough.’

My heart is full. What more could a mama hope for from her almost 12-year-old kid?

the box of cards

Depending on our pack-rat personality type, most of us hold on to one thing or another that binds us to the miles we’ve travelled so far. As a sentimental human, there are a number of these things for me. Among these are some of the cards and notes I‘ve been given over the years, saved because they stirred something in me at the time I received them.

They sit in a box on a high shelf in my closet. A few times a year, I open the lid and add a few more. The odd thing is that I don’t look at them very often. They just sit there. A patchwork heartbeat stitched together by my history.

A couple of months ago, for reasons I can’t even recall, I decided to go through the box of cards. What I thought would take an hour filled instead the better part of an afternoon. I looked through beautiful Crayola renderings of ‘me’ through the eyes of children I’d taught. I read notes of gratitude from parents, people I’ve worked or performed with. I looked at love-notes I’d saved from years gone by, including the very first letter I’d received from the man who would later become my husband. I re-read words from friends inside carefully chosen cards.  – many of whom are still in my life and many of whom I have lost touch with – sharing laughter during good times, lifting my spirits during difficult times and offering their appreciation for our connectedness.

I relived my children’s youngest years through mother’s day and birthday cards and precious notes and artwork they’d spontaneously created for me. I found letters written by my sister that chronicle the sweetness of our relationship. I read notes from my brother and my mother, my nieces and my nephews. And felt a twist of sadness as I rediscovered gems from my father and two brothers, all of whom who are no longer living.

It was a tender afternoon of remembrance. As you might expect, I laughed, cried and sighed with gratitude as I travelled this hand-written road map of my heart’s history, so grateful for the wisdom that had guided me to keep all of this.

But it was as I was putting the cards away that an odd grace descended. A mental Venn diagram began to form, the words from the cards overlapping in a most affirming way, painting a picture I recognized as good, kind and wise. Loved. Loveable. And I thought, ‘Huh. Maybe all of those qualities are actually what people see in me.

I don’t have a negative self-image but I wouldn’t say that’s always been true. Faced with nine compliments and one negative comment, I’ve always felt a magnetic pull to believe the negative to be true. About myself. Not others. Isn’t that weird? Who would stand before nine glorious bouquets and one offering of judgment-yuck and choose the judgment? I would. I did for years. I believed the bouquets were false niceties and that the ‘yuck’ was the true reflection of how the world saw me.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. We all have our personal challenges. Thinking the worst about myself has been part of mine. I squelched genuine feelings of self-confidence for years. It was my choice, but to be fair, I did have some ‘encouragement’ to do so along the way. Over the years I’ve gradually shed that self-deprecating skin and grown increasingly comfortable with just being who I am. A decidedly quirky gal just doing her best to live a full and whole-hearted life.

What does all of this have to do with a box of cards? My afternoon of sifting through 20 years of hand-written memories provided me with a piece of my puzzle I didn’t know I was looking for. Sitting amongst a small personal sea of kind words, I felt a new wisdom lock itself into place. Here is it:

Since I get to choose what I believe to be true about myself, why not align with the good stuff rather than the … well … other stuff.

Even from a sheer statistical perspective, this wisdom makes sense. The cards provided me with prevailing evidence that I am and have always been pretty ok. I’m not asking you to agree with me. It’s alright if you don’t. The power for me here at long last isn’t about what others think. The power lies in the choice. When some event/person produces a feeling of judgment (perceived or real) about who I am, how I approach my life or what I do, I can circle back to my box of cards and have my self-worth affirmed by the evidence that I choose to believe is the real McCoy.

Let the clouds part. Let the trumpets sound and the angels sing. What an exquisitely simple truth.

Here’s the other thing that has really moved me about this box of cards:

Don’t hold back on words of praise, written or spoken. They hold so much power.  Clearly, however (in my case at least), it takes a continual expression of kind words to penetrate the thick and insidious skin of self-doubt.

I want my words to be among someone’s ‘box of cards’ that s/he takes from a high shelf in her/his closet one winter afternoon. I want my praise and appreciation to be part of a person stepping into a knowing that s/he, too, is good, kind, wise, loveable and loved.

This is what I’m for. Seeing the best in myself. Seeing the best in others. And saying it all out loud. Because it matters.

Psst …A few weeks after reading my box of cards and roughing this blog entry together, I turned 50 years young. In typical goof-ball fashion, dubbed myself ‘KFiddy’ – a shout-out to Caucasian, middle-aged mini-van driving wanna-be-gangsta mothers around the globe. A joke that I continue to find hysterically funny.

As a gift, my husband asked people to use a ‘digital pen’ to write birthday wishes to me in a blog he and one of my lovely friends created for me. This will forever more be my digital box of cards. You don’t have to read it … but if you’d like to, check it out here.



getting to ‘just right’

In my humble opinion, Goldilocks was more than just another pretty, fairytale face. Setting aside any moral dilemmas I may have around entering someone’s home and using their stuff without permission, I admire how Goldi approached the whole ‘just right’ thing. She assessed her options and chose the porridge, chair and bed that suited her fancy. She owned her choices without apology. Like a boss. Until the bears came home, at least.

Man, I wish I’d had that kind of moxy as a girl. But I didn’t. I grew up fretting about what people might think. Was I obnoxious? Or boring? Was I bossy? Or a door mat? Was I too opinionated? Or too daft to have a valid point of view? Was I a show off? Or a fake? Sigh.

My self-doubt funneled me down an ever-narrowing path that led me to believe was simply easier to play small than to live the glory of what I really wanted. My 20-year-old version of Goldilocks would have gone inside that little cottage and made everyone’s porridge, chair and bed ‘just right’.

No one ever asked me to play small. But I did. And it worked brilliantly for a time. It also made it possible for me to exalt the twin of small playing; the almighty ‘put others first’. I was so nice. You would have adored me. I was so nice it would have made your teeth hurt. The problem was that I ‘niced’ myself into virtual disappearance.

A variety of things nudged me off the planet of nice. Thank goodness. The birth of my  son was the first and biggest nudge. For him, I wanted to be a source of constant strength and light, not an Edith Bunker flickering flame. Other nudges included the end of a troubled marriage and living independently for the first time, among many other things. I also befriended some fabulous women who’d chosen not to play nice anymore. They played kind instead of sweet. They lived big instead of small. Their examples were stunning to me. STUNNING. Like Goldilocks seizing the moment and enjoying what her heart desired.

Even with 20+ years of practice, I’m still not always that great at that kind of carpe diem. Somewhere along the line, the message that I was both too much and too little was deeply planted into my emotional DNA. I still strain against the ancient voice that tells me to keep quiet, be sweet, retreat to compliant shadows and play nice.

But I know that those words are only masks that keep me from being my ‘just right’ self. Those masks served me for a long while, but they don’t anymore. That kind of cover up isn’t at all what I’m for.

What I’m for is simply discovering the best version of myself every day. Sometimes that self is too big and too loud and downright inappropriate. Sometimes that self is introspective and shy and sometimes she laughs out loud at words like ‘Uranus’ and ‘colon’ and the farting sounds that the ketchup bottle makes. Sometimes she wants to be all by herself or with just her family and sometimes she wants to be surrounded by people who make her laugh or think about bigger stuff. Sometimes she’s in tune with others and sometimes she’s completely clueless.

I am all of these things. All of these things are me. My hope is that every day, the self that people meet is the real deal.

This hope aligned with some very powerful words I came across the other day on one of my favourite sites:. My Beautiful Words. They were written by Marianne Williamson (although they’re often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela – another guy I’m pretty much for). Here’s an excerpt:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … We are all meant to shine … and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. 

We are all meant to shine. I want my life to reflect that. For me and for my beautiful husband and children. For those that I teach and for those that I learn from. For my heart-tethered friends and for those I have never even met. This is something that I really and truly am for.