The curse of looking happy

Only if it's the "fruit" of contentment

Only if it’s the “fruit” of contentment.

You’ve heard it before, “Well, [insert appropriate subject pronoun here] look(s) happy”. And so they are pronounced as such.  We go about our way.  They often go home and cry.  We too easily forget that smiles are often a coaxed response of self, not Soul.  In that way, they don’t equate to happiness that exists; oftentimes, they equate to happiness one hopes we believe exists.

I write this because I have a contagious smile.  It has opened doors and closed them gracefully behind me and it has also led others to believe that I am boundlessly happy at all times.  I was recently told this: “You’re always happy, Dani.  That’s a wonderful thing!” As I sat there perplexed by her comment, I asked myself, what is wonderful about that?

If I have learned anything, it’s that we were gifted a spectrum of emotion for a reason.  Every emotion is valid and deserves to be felt deeply, even sadness.  But many are uncomfortable with that.  We’re fed images and stories of others who “laugh through pain” and “smile through tears” and somehow that abnormality becomes what’s expected.

A dear friend told me in conversations past that, “an apple tree can no more grunt out an orange than an orange tree can grunt out an apple.”  That’s not what’s inside them.  So that’s not what will be manifest outside them.  As humans, we are a bit more complex than fruit trees, which complicates the matter a bit, because we can be wading waist deep in despair and still grunt out the” fruit” of happiness:  a smile.

Honestly, I think this goes deeper, much deeper, than we realize.  And since I’m a heart and soul excavator, I’m unafraid to search those depths.  I believe there is a certain discomfort for others when our feelings are not in line with theirs, like we might upset the balance of their happiness if we anchor into our sadness.  Or, a greater discomfort, that our anchoring into that sadness, makes them more aware of their own.

Take this example: last week we hosted a visitor from Brazil.  During a long car ride, R had an emotionally-charged phone conversation with a manager of ours.  My chest began to tighten and I seriously thought of making a run for it when he came to a rolling stop.  You see, I don’t deal well with words spoken loudly or harshly (actually, let’s be honest, I don’t deal with conflict well. Period.), so my immediate reaction was to shut down and find the nearest exit.  L, our visitor, was distressed, as I turned inward and became notably quiet, to which she asked, “Dani, can we just make the time nice?  I’m only going to be here a few days…can you just be happy and normal again?”  I thought about that and about the self-sacrificing person I have been for most of my life and responded:

No, I can’t.  I’m upset right now and it’s okay to be upset.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m feeling something I’m not to make everyone else feel okay.  I need to feel what I’m feeling in this moment so I can move past it.

And that was that: feelings were felt, subsequently moved through, and richer days followed.  My world didn’t end because I was sad, but in that moment, perhaps she felt hers might.

A few days ago I had another conversation.  It went like this:

P: “So, how are you?  I thought I was going to have to gather a search party!”

Me: “Well…I’ve been pretty sad lately.  You know this time of year is hard for me.”

P: “It is?  Why?  I thought you loved Christmas!?!”

Me: “I do, but this time of year everyone is out with their children making memories and creating traditions and I miss mine.  I miss the ‘would be’ of them and it makes me sad.”

P: “Well, I think you just need to work yourself past that.”

Me: “I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with being sad.  I want to feel it and feel it deeply.  If I do that, I’ll be able to get past it.  For now.”

And the conversation continued.  You see, she didn’t want me to feel sad.  My sadness made her uncomfortable because there was nothing she could do about it.  But if I moved past it, often by walking around it rather than through it, she would have nothing to feel uncomfortable about.

A few months ago, a beautiful friend wrote me this:

Dani, it is curious that when I read your replies on my iPad, a red heart appears at the end. On my computer, I see a heart with the less than symbol and a 3. I believe your heart is greater than 3, through the heartache you have suffered and your choice not to allow pain to define you.

I had noticed the less than symbol and the 3 but I hadn’t made that connection until her words brought me the much needed heart treasures of perspective and Light.  I know my pain doesn’t define me, neither does my sadness, or anger, or frustration or jealousy.  And I would much rather my face be a canvas painted by the raw emotion of Heart, than the domesticated emotion of expectation.

There is purpose in pain and sacredness in sadness.  When we allow ourselves the gifts of emotion, we open ourselves up to a better understanding of Soul.  So, the next time you see a smile, don’t assume it’s the fruit of happiness. And, especially during this Season of outward celebration, remember the inward suffering of those who received that diagnosis, are struggling without that/those loved one(s), or are complexly lost in a found place.  Extend some grace to yourself and those around you.  And remember: the world won’t come to an end if you let yourself feel, but your world might if you don’t.

Unless you extend your heart, do away with expectations, and ask.

Unless you extend your heart, do away with expectations, and ask.

My Sacrifice Upon Autumn’s Altar

If I could choose one season in which to live eternally, it would undoubtedly be fall: when the leaves start to change, the air smells of mist and cloves and my favorite apple orchard, Curran’s, begins selling its much coveted apple cider doughnuts.

To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than fall: its sights, its smells, and the emotion its return evokes. I was reminded of the latter this past Tuesday at my monthly pregnancy loss support group. In truth, I’ve only attended 3 times, but sitting among women who bear the same scars, helps me embrace my truth: I am childless but not less because I am without child.

Our meeting, usually led by one mediator, was led by two that day. The addition, let’s call her Hope, again reflected my true self back to me: that of a survivor who is inking her edges with truth, much like the autumn leaves ink theirs with vibrant color.

Hope began talking about the changing seasons and how it is a standing metaphor for the seasons of our lives. Of course, I had heard that before, but it sounded different, sweeter maybe, coming from her. I noticed her hands lay upon two piles of construction paper leaves, one dark and one light, and imagined her sitting in the quiet of her kitchen tracing their lines, then delicately cutting along their penciled edges. Perhaps she was drinking cider at the time, wrapped in a fluffy sweater, as she thought about how she’d been where we now are. How, like me, she’d suffered 3 losses; and how, unlike me, she is now mother to four living children.

She looked at her small, untidy piles and told us that the first leaf represented something we’d like the winds of fall to blow away, or, put in my heart vernacular, something we’d like to sacrifice on autumn’s altar. As she passed out the leaves, I thought about those winds and that altar and only one word came to mind:



I have been dealing with an abundance of frustration lately, most of it directed toward myself, but some of it reserved for R and the place we find ourselves in. And sadly, I’ve allowed that emotion to steal my joy, robbing me of a purpose that is greater than me or any loss I have suffered: that of a bloomingspider, who spins webs of truth to net hearts.

So, I laid that emotion on the altar, placed a hand over my heart and slowly backed away.

It remains there. And I remain here.

For now.

The second leaf was a gift to give ourselves. What flooded my heart was this:

The courage to move on

the courage to move on

The courage I write about is two-fold: the courage to walk toward another try with fullness of heart and spirit, as well as the courage to accept a childless life, if that is where this path leads. Neither will be easy, I know. But I’d like to think that I can look both in the eye and be better on the other side of whichever awaits.

The winds of fall blow in and out. If we allow, they can rid us of untruths, traumas and the plague of closed fists, filling us instead with gifts wrapped in the jewel-toned paper of grace and the billowing ribbon of acceptance.

Image courtesy of AnnMarie Bone via

Image courtesy of Ann Marie Bone via

As always, it is a choice.
And one I hope we’ll both make.

Until I spin my next web,

Emerging to Own Myself Again


Some time ago, fellow blogger and sister-in-loss, Justine Froelker, reached out and asked me to review a chapter of her upcoming book, Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. I’ll admit I was hesitant, since reading and somehow “grading” a person’s heart notes can be scary, especially if the relationship isn’t the stuff of marrow and soul. But I wanted to do it for her, in honor of the heart shards we share.

The chapter title which spoke to me most was Chapter 8: Emerging to Own Myself Again. The visual representation I had was of a wounded butterfly recocooning itself to heal, yet reemerging, after a Season of grief and recovery, better and stronger because of its traumas or, as Justine calls them, “soul scars”. It is precisely that image that Justine puts into words:

It was with these words, “own and not just prove”, that I felt my calling, my purpose. I needed to own every single part of my story and not just prove it. I needed to stop trying to prove that my path is okay. That not doing another round of IVF is okay. That not being a mother is okay. That not adopting is okay. Stop trying to prove it and just own it. Own my struggles in the IVF world. Own that I stopped treatments. Own that I don’t want to adopt. Own that I am more than childless. Own that I will practice and fight for my recovery and my own childfree life.

Despite the fact that our stories are similar, I don’t pretend to understand all that Justine has suffered. I am, now more than ever, keenly aware of the breadth and depth of the loss spectrum. And surely, if I have learned anything about grief and recovery, it is that each is uniquely personal. Truly, a pebble thrown in the well of the heart will never make exactly the same ripple twice. And I believe it is designed that way. As my husband says, “God is not a god of repetition”: no two trees are alike, no two flowers and yes, no two traumas are either.

Justine’s chapter reminds me of this and what waits for us on the other side:

We are only capable of understanding so much in this life, and maybe we’re only allowed to understand so much. Maybe I will always have to create this constant balance between finding my purpose through the story of my struggle, making sure it means more, at least to me, and trusting that it will still mean just as much without the soul-completing clarity I so desire.

Perhaps the anger will hang on; perhaps the question of whether or not to try again will be a daily, if not an hourly, one; perhaps our sacred light will be snuffed out, at least for awhile; but Justine reminds us that there is more after loss. There is joy, and purpose, and yes…

There. Is. Life.

If you need that reminder, or if you’d like to share that reminder with someone else, you can pre-order now or purchase the book on October 1, 2014 here .

Until I spin my next web,

“Fall harder. Rise up better.”

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

My husband and I recently moved.

We left the Lake (where we’d been showered with peace, perfect sunsets, and night skies so bejeweled I swore I could reach up and pluck the stars from the velvet welkin) and returned…

to. the. suburbs.

I was much more accepting of the move than my more-often-than-not better half.  In my head and heart, it was a need more than a want (a necessary evil, if I’m being soul-scrapingly honest).

Sure, we’d had great experiences there, but then it was inhabited by people without character…

without heart.

And I feared that their toxicity had somehow crept into the nooks of our home and seeped into its structure, just lying in wait to emotionally slime us, to beat us down and to challenge our gratefulness and belief in blessings.

Another thing left behind (other than my father and his fiancee, who certainly trump sunsets and stars) was our church.  While we weren’t nearly as involved as we’d have liked, we felt supported, loved and safely held in the arms of the congregation, especially by our Pastor, Bob.

With the hope of finding another congregation to call home, we began our Church Hop yesterday.  We attended service at an old church with a new name.  The people were different.  The music was different.  The feeling was different.

Nearly everything was different.

My husband leaned over less than halfway through and whispered, “Do you like it?”

I stared straight ahead and shook my head…


No, I didn’t

Shortly after, the lights were dimmed and a video was played.

It was about dreams.  How we live for them.  Then abandon them (before they can abandon us, perhaps).

And a string of words appeared on the screen…just before the tears appeared in my eyes:


Fall harder.  Rise up better.


I don’t know about you, but I have always been terrified of failure…

Failure as a wife, daughter, sister and friend.  Failure as a writer.  Failure as a want-to-be mother.  Failure as a student of books and, more importantly, life.  Failure as me (insignificant and yet very significant (to a select few) me).

FEAR is a powerful word; it is also a powerful emotion.  Powerful enough to emotionally and physically immobilize us (if allowed).

Truth be told, I’ve made countless decisions out of fear.  The fear of falling hard and rising…





No.  More.


The time is now for living and loving hard.  Falling harder.  And rising up better.

For not allowing fear to numb us, but to stimulate us.

For not allowing failure to define us, but to refine us.

For not allowing rising up to frighten us, but to empower us.


We still may get emotionally slimed (odds are good we will).

But I’ll be ready.

And will rise up better.


My hope is this:

that you will too.

Words break hearts

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I remember the first time I uttered those words…

We were playing Red Rover (you remember how it goes:  “Red rover, red rover, send [insert name] over)”.

One the of the boys from the other team broke through my linked hands with the girl next to me, then took away the best boy from our team.

During his mad dash through our clenched hands, one of my fingers was hurt.  I almost started to cry.  He called me a baby and mimicked my squeeze-back-the-tears face to which I replied:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

He stuck out his tongue at me.

And the game continued.

Recently, I’ve thought about those fateful words.

Recently, I’ve come to the following conclusion:

They are a




I have been called many things: most were untrue, some were dead on, but all were hurtful…maybe more so than the sticks and stones, which leave marks that, over time, fade and, more than often, disappear.  Words, however; especially the toxic, cruel, and emotionally disfiguring variety; seep beyond the flesh to the heart and soul of us and reside there, if allowed, for a lifetime.

Some things said to or about me in anger or disdain I’ve forgotten to remember or simply let go of.  But there are a select few which play over and over again on my heart recorder and, after all this time, still have the power to wound.

To cause doubt.


To cause shame.

With the now international attention given to bullying, I’ve questioned my thoughts as both a victim and as a perpetrator.

I don’t remember ever intentionally being cruel or singling out any specific person, but memories of our own ugliness tend to be less searing than the ugliness of others, so I suppose I did and have.

I may just have been oblivious, but bullying back then seemed to be on another, much lesser, level.

Victims didn’t take their own lives


they didn’t take the lives of others.

I do remember a girl being taunted by a group of boys on Senior Sleepover Night in the parking lot of our high school.  She had been outspoken and brave condemning underage drinking when most our age just succumbed to it.  Her car was mobbed that night.  It was doused with beer, pelted with cans and then urinated on.

She must have been traumatized.

They must have been given a slap on the wrists (if memory serves me right, they didn’t walk in graduation).

No lives lost.

No lives ruined.

I don’t remember suicide attempts or threats.  I don’t remember fourteen-year-olds being charged with aggravated stalking.  I don’t remember eight-year-olds hanging themselves from trees.  I don’t remember twelve-year-olds jumping off silos.  I don’t remember ever hearing the word bullycide.  And I certainly don’t remember being afraid to go to school.

Probably because I wasn’t.

I had that luxury.

The luxury of going to school to learn.

The luxury of not worrying that I wouldn’t make it home because I disagreed with someone, looked at them the wrong way or, Heaven forbid, won the attention of a boy to whom someone else had laid claim.

A luxury that kids today don’t have.

Over dinner last night, my husband voiced his concerns about having a child in today’s world.  How he’d feel selfish bringing a little one into such a mess of violence and injustice just for the sake of having someone call him Daddy.

I disagreed.

We’re broken.


We all are.

We’re broken people raising other people that, in their own ways, will be broken too.

But, isn’t that the beauty of things?

 That we’re broken and through each new day, each new experience and our interaction with others we can learn, grow and attain the tools necessary to do better and thus be better?

I don’t believe that most people are horrible, vicious, heartless sub-humans.

I can’t allow myself to believe that.

If I did…

what’s the point of living such a life?

If there is no good?

If I don’t believe that people are better than the circumstances in which they’re born or which they simply or not so simply create?

I don’t pretend to know much about much, but I’d like to think that I know people.

That, more often than not, I see things, at the heart level, that others miss.

So p.l.e.a.s.e.

let’s be more vigilant with the thoughts that are planted in the soil of our minds and hearts.

It is from there that the words come.

And it is precisely there that the heartbreak stays.