Your Story Matters: Finding your authentic voice and a way to share it

breath of lifeExquisite voices are everywhere and within us all. Some of us sing like an angel or a rock star or the best freeway vocalist we know. Some speak with grace dripping from every word. Some rouse laughter with a whimsical tone. Some provoke change with harsh truth offered with love. Some make people smile with only a hello. Some write with an idea that a well-told story can move mountains one boulder at a time. Some tell their own secrets to illuminate the perfectly flawed beauty in us all. Some voices defy descriptions or, like Harper Lee, offer words so moving that generations jump for joy when she decides to publish her second novel decades later.

No matter what your authentic voice sounds like, it is unique and worthy. It deserves to be heard. Someone is meant to hear it. And if you share it, you are contributing to our collective story and inherent connection.

Who the heck cares?

As I begin to work more with clients who are seeking their authentic writing voice and trying to get more comfortable sharing it, it’s not surprising this question arises as a very common stumbling block. I get it. Most writers do. In fact, a well-timed hike with a friend a few years ago forced me to answer it for myself. It gave me the push I needed to get back on the writing horse I had neglected for years. It’s the energy I rediscovered that day that keeps me writing, not just for myself but with an intention of sharing it…

Your exquisite voice.

One foggy day, as we climbed a brushed and muddy mountain outside LA, I asked a dear friend a question. After she yet again shared an engaging story containing some very wise and eloquent advice, I asked if she ever had considered writing a book.

“Yes,” she replied. “But why would anyone who doesn’t know me want to hear anything I have to say? What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before?”

It’s the writer’s dilemma, the human dilemma, the same doubt anyone who has a pen or a computer or vocal cords faces. At least on those struggling days as we sit with ourselves wondering how we dare to presume our words are worthy of being heard or if anyone cares what our story is or what ideas swirl in our hearts and imaginations.

When my friend asked these questions of the mountain sky I was fifteen years and one published cancer memoir into a writing career. I had asked these questions off and on for that many years, usually in particularly vulnerable moments – while questioning the invention of the printing press, my mere existence as a result or why Madonna’s brother was a best-selling author as my little memoir struggled to sell those last five remaining copies in Amazon’s “why can’t we get rid of these” storage lockers.

Your story matters, believe it or not.

Every day as I wrote and then promoted this book, I asked why my story, shared by so many young cancer survivors, was worthy of anyone’s attention? Why was I so compelled to share it nonetheless? Until the mail started coming in. They said no one was telling this story – my story, their story – so honestly. No one else knew what they were going through. In fact, there were several young survivors telling lots of stories, many very similar and some much more fascinating than mine, including pre-scandal Lance Armstrong who had a best-selling autobiography on his shelf next to his many trophies. But these readers were convinced I was the lone voice in a sea of folks they couldn’t hear yet. And they were grateful I was willing to share it.

So, I understood my friend’s doubt. But I remembered this lesson learned years before and heard the message meant for us both. I offered it to her and the same sky she’d asked. It’s what I tell myself and my writer clients in those dark moments. It’s what we all need to remember every time we open our mouths…

Your voice will be heard by anyone who can and wants to hear it. It’s different and worthy because you are the messenger, and there is someone out there who can’t hear yet because you haven’t said it yet.

Not everyone will care what you say. Not everyone is meant to. But in this moment, with your story, with your energy and words, someone is getting the message, the information, the healing, the inspiration, the provocation, or the perspective they need and have been seeking, perhaps without even realizing it.

You deserve to be heard.

In return, you will know you are heard. You will feel the frequencies unite and your experience, shared as you will, will combine with those you shared it with to become something even greater. You will understand that you don’t need a book or a blog or a microphone to communicate something exquisite that can be exquisitely heard. But look at what you can do if you try.

Every day I thank my friend for reminding me why I write. We all have an authentic voice that offers transforming beauty, healing laughter and truth that transcends what we think we understand. The lesson is in knowing you do and rising above your fears to offer it to a world that will be better off for having heard it.

For when we are brave enough to tell our stories, we all benefit.

When you speak with your authentic voice, the world can hear it.

breath of life

If you want to find out more about Rebecca’s latest book, please go to www.laughattheskykid.com. If you’re curious about her writer coaching or other writing and editing services, feel free to email giffordrebecca@gmail.com or visit www.rebeccagifford.com. Thanks for reading!

A 2015 Blessing and Stuff

Joy2In this first week of 2015, as we anticipate the next 12 months and all they may offer, I wish you a year filled with growth, joy and whatever it is you would like it to be filled with. But in case you prefer more specific blessings…

May you always have privacy in the bathroom. (Parent shout-out.)

May your children always be as sweet to you and others as they are right before they drift off and right after they wake up.

May you and your whole family sleep an uninterrupted 8-12 hours every night, including on Sunday nights, and not feel guilty or like you should be doing something else when you do.

May your meals taste rich and decadent but actually contain the exact amount of calories required to chew them.

May you learn to love exercising and find a physical activity that holds your interest enough that you do it frequently throughout the year.

May you have nights (or days) out with your most special someone often enough that you are comfortable going to a movie in yoga pants, hiking until you’re covered in desert dust, or eating buffalo wings and playing trivia.

May you have many wonderful, trustworthy caregivers who are always available so you know your children are happy and well cared for when you do.

May you find that thing you lost two years ago but could never figure out where it went, and it’s not damaged at all.

Beside it, may you find a $50 bill…that you don’t need because you already have all the abundance you require.

May you discover some thing, some place, some idea or someone that is entirely new and makes you see things differently.

May you be truly and delightfully surprised at least once.

May you find new energy and enthusiasm for what you do every day. If you don’t, may you easily and quickly find something that brings new energy and enthusiasm to your life and purpose to your soul.

May you feel the ocean-deep and cosmos-wide support of a strong universal community—affectionate friends filled with laughter, family filled with unconditional acceptance, cities filled with friendly neighbors, countries filled with helpful citizens, planets filled with open hearts and open minds, and everlasting love from all.

May you have at least one moment when you know to your core you are a vital part of an intricately intertwined and unfathomably beautiful matrix of souls and lives that offers a reason for everything and only has the greatest good of all at heart. May you therefore be filled with peace, awe, clarity and empowerment. May that carry you through your darkest days.

May you always feel heard.

May you always feel understood.

May you always feel safe.

May you always feel honored and respected.

May you always know you are deeply loved—by those nearby, but also by the power/source/being/God/universe/Spirit/light that exists within and all around you. May you know true love of self, and know you are worthy of it.

Above all, may you regularly lift your face to the sky and laugh with pleasure just to be alive.

Many blessings to you and yours. Bring it on, 2015.

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Want to know when and where you can get Rebecca’s upcoming book? Sign up for updates at www.laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!

Holiday Meditation

Meditating Santa from tonykuhn.com
Meditating Santa from tonykuhn.com

The hustle and bustle leave my mind and body as I sink into this chair, reserved for this time and this way. My heart opens. It knows what it needs to do.

I take in a deep breath of pine, cinnamon and family. I breathe out obligations, worry and shipping charges. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome abundant Santa, warm menorah candles and the unconditional love of a boy born in a manger. I choose the sparkly silver that fills the car as my son and I sing about cows and sleigh rides on the drive to school. I clean off the jaggedy chartreuse of world events and bizarre violence becoming too frequent to be shocking.

Seeing where it came from is worthy. Playing a role in where we’re headed is imperative. But right now is nothing more than space. And the space I occupy is loosely wrapped in tinsel.

Today my heart is bright red and green and tinged with laughter. My holiday table is overflowing with love and abundance. There is plenty to share. It flows out peacefully, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the spaces in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile. A soft jingle of a bell.

Happy holidays, world.

How many spirits does it take to change a lightbulb?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by writers and souls who continuously illuminate, enlighten, amuse and offer great wisdom. Jennifer Mathews is one of these beautiful souls. Please enjoy this most recent post from her regular blog, Seeing Death in a Different Light, and be sure to sign up to get a free copy of her upcoming e-book. Until next time, many holiday season blessings to you all.

–Rebecca

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idea concept

Up high above the staircase to our bedroom, there was a light bulb in a parchment paper globe hanging from the ceiling. To change it required a ladder precariously placed on boards, or one of those special extended light bulb poles you can buy at Home Depot. So when the bulb finally went out, we didn’t bother to replace it.

This meant that my partner Kate and I walked upstairs in the dark every night, step by step, touching the wall for balance. I tended to push my toes into the base of each stair to feel stable. Sometimes, I closed my eyes because sensing each step felt easier that way. Once my toes no longer felt another step, I knew I arrived at the top. Then I’d reach my left hand into the bedroom, and turn on the light by pressing in the round dimmer switch knob before walking into the room. This became our routine.

Then after a number of months had gone by, my walk up the dark staircase became a solo journey.

Experiencing Kate’s spirit

Kate had been diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer in the fall, and would return to spirit soon thereafter. Before she died the evening of December 3rd 2011, I had gone upstairs for a minute. Afterward, I sat in the dark on the top carpeted step, candlelight glowing in the living room below, music playing softly in the background. I watched her body rise and fall as she breathed.

In that moment, I felt her spirit so strongly that I physically had to move over and make room for her ethereal body to sit next to me.

Silently, I asked her if she was witnessing what I was, looking down at herself, laying in the hospital bed. In my mind, I heard her answer that it was exactly what she was experiencing since much of her spirit was already out of her body. I could barely believe what was happening, and yet at the same time, I was certain it was completely real.

Months later . . .

The following spring, months after Kate’s death, I carefully made my way to the top of the stairs on another pitch black night. I reached into my bedroom, pressed the knob to turn on the light and POP!, the quick flash and electrical sound of a blown bulb.

“Bummer!” I said out loud to myself, because it was totally dark in my room. I clicked the knob many times and turned the dimmer dial right and left, hoping it would come back on so I didn’t have to add this to my “to do” list. Yes, a simple thing – to change a light bulb right over my bed – but it’s another thing to procrastinate on doing.

A few weeks had gone by, and I often forgot the bulb was out. I’d press in the knob, or spin it, and no luck. No light. Then on one particular morning, I woke up early. I’m not really sure why I opened my eyes since I knew it was much earlier than I need to get up. I looked at the clock – 7:28am – and I thought, “Great. I can still get two more hours of sleep.” I’m a night owl, not a morning person.

Laying on my back, I looked up at the ceiling.

The light above my bed was on.

In my sleepiness, I followed my mind attempting to figure it all out: Did I fall asleep with that on last night? But I can’t fall asleep with lights on, so that’s strange. Hmmmm, was the electricity out when I went to bed, and then came back on? Then I remembered. No, Jen, that bulb is dead.

And then it dawned on me . . . WHOA! The light is ON!!

Experiencing Kate’s spirit yet again

I could feel Kate’s presence in the room.

I immediately said “Hello, Kate,” and shook my head, smiling. My mind drifted from disbelief to thanking Kate for repairing the blown-out bulb. I realized she may even have changed it, as I heard her say it’s a “simple” thing to do. Then I remember her voice in my head, offering me this joke:

Q. – How many spirits does it take to change a light bulb?

A. – One.

At first, I laughed because it is – of course – a classic joke. But I thought maybe I heard the punch line wrong because it seemed too boring. Like a child telling a joke that wasn’t really funny, but you laugh anyway because they’re trying. But a split second later, with her voice and gentle chuckle in my mind, I heard her add the true Kate flavor:

Because we are ALL ONE!

Ha ha ha! I laughed out loud. A spiritual light bulb joke. Good one, Kate.

“Can you change the lightbulb in the hallway above the stairs, too?” I joked with her. I felt her smile.

I wanted to call her family right away, email my friends, let people know about this incredible connection. But then I wondered if they would even believe me, or if they would rationalize all the reasons this miracle hadn’t actually happened.

What I realized that morning was not that it’s possible to communicate with those in the spirit world. I already knew that. What I realized was that it didn’t matter if anyone believed me. I knew what happened. I was clear. Yes, I can indeed communicate with those who have died, and now, I trusted this more fully, rather than being skeptical of my own first hand experience. Whether others believe me or not doesn’t diminish what I know I experienced, what I know deep down to be true.

The light bulb lesson I learned is that I don’t need to convince anyone of anything! I just need to tell my stories, to tell the truth. So here I am, telling you.

And here’s the rest of the story . . . A few days later, my landlord arrived at the house out of the blue. He said he just bought one of those long poles needed to change the light bulb above the stairs! I hadn’t talked to him about this for many months. I thanked Kate for giving him a nudge to take care of it. What service!
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Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, speaker and consultant who lives in Mt. Shasta, CA. Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, she offers fresh perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. You can find more of her blogs and sign up to receive a free copy of her upcoming e-book by going to jennifermathews.com.

What’s your soul doing?

silhouette-jumped-boy-sunset-background-41488310Our family woke up this morning talking about death and taxes. It sounds depressing and stressful, and I’m not going to lie and tell you our exploration was all purple pansies and smiley faces. But it wasn’t sad.

My husband Larry and I had been up a few minutes talking about some financial planning we needed to do for next year. We both are self-employed and have to plan ahead a bit when it comes to reporting and paying taxes, and we were thinking ahead to adjustments we needed to make to prepare for 2015. Scintillating morning bed conversation, I know, but it was sweet and intimate in its own way—filled with hope and excitement for what’s to come and shared responsibilities for helping it happen in the most graceful and connected way possible. But as we continue this relatively new exploration into being completely self-employed, talking about money is never without some level of pressure.

Soon our sleepy-eyed five-year-old son Henry climbed onto our warm, messy bed and we happily suspended our discussion. As Henry gave us both morning “boops,” or bumped noses as the rest of the world would call it, Larry asked him how he slept and what he dreamt about.

“I died,” he said. “So did you and you. In water. Ahhhhh!” He mimicked the sounds of a person drowning, though I know he’s never seen that on television or in a movie.

Larry and I smiled to each other. I know this sounds extreme and scary, but this wasn’t the first time he’s told us of vivid dreams and memories of some sort of death. Often he remembers us, or at least a mother and father, being there too. He rarely feels afraid after experiencing them—more a neutral memory than a premonition—and he always describes them very matter-of-factly.

“What happened after you died?” Larry asked. “Did you go somewhere?”

Death has been more present for our family lately, as it has been for so many of us. Only a few weeks ago, Larry attended the funeral of a good friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier in the year. She was only a year older than us. The funeral was a meaningful celebration of her life, as well as an opportunity to check in on our priorities, experience the universal cycle of life in a profound way, and reconnect with some good friends who had drifted.

Henry contemplated Larry’s question quietly, like there was something he was considering saying but couldn’t find the words. “I don’t know. Don’t ‘member. I’m hungry.”

Henry ate his breakfast quietly at his favorite spot along the kitchen counter while Larry and I continued our financial planning conversation. We talked of tasks to be done before the end of the year and new and potential client work. We both admitted we were worrying about it all a little more than was helpful.

Twenty minutes later, I was still in get-it-done mode.

“Wash your face, please. Shoes. Jacket. Backpack. Time to go to school,” I said as we finished our 14th car race along the step to the dining room. I made a quick note to myself about starting the computer with our account records on it as soon as I got home, and we walked out into the wind and rain.

“Mommy’s car! Mommy’s car!” Henry said excitedly. It is the much older car of our two and we usually don’t drive it unless we have to, but there was no reason not to, so we got in.

“Mommy, Bubbles!” Permanently inserted into this car’s CD player is the first disk of the What Color is Your Bubble? series for kids. His friend Alison talks him through some simple energetic and meditative exercises. We hadn’t listened in weeks. I turned it on and Alison began the second exercise all about setting and changing your grounding cord.

We pulled up to the stop sign at the end of our street, lists of numbers dancing in my head, as Alison asked, “What does your grounding cord look like today?” I chose not to look, instead imagining the spreadsheet I had in mind. Then I heard a voice from the back seat.

“What’s your soul doing?”

I turned Alison down, not sure I’d heard correctly, and I looked at Henry in the mirror as he asked it again the exact same way. He looked directly at my reflection with clear, calm eyes.

“What do you mean, Sweetie? You want to know what my soul is doing?”

“Yes.”

It was a simple question. A profound one. One I have an answer for. An answer I’ve heard over and over and know to my core and beyond. As I thought of what words to say, a calm came over me. In an instant I was in my body, connected, confident, clear. The top of my head tingled and suddenly the driver’s seat of the “old car” was the most comfortable place in the world. All thoughts of money were gone.

The answer that quickly and easily popped into my head and heart also was the simplest and most accurate. “Henry, I believe my soul is in this body right now so I can learn what I’m supposed to learn.”

He was silent at first, but his gaze never wavered and his ears and heart were wide open. Then he started to talk and explore the notion in his own way. As we continued the conversation over the next couple of minutes, concepts and energies flowed between us like an easy stream of water. Love, peace, growth, clairvoyance, healing, sharing, family. Most of it never made it into words, but we did talk about how we all chose to be together in this lifetime. He spoke quietly about how when he was a baby he wasn’t in our family yet, but then he was.

“How do you feel about that, Henry?”

“Happy.”

And then it was done. Less than three minutes from start to finish.

It didn’t take an hour of meditation and energetic cleaning. It didn’t require any practice or body position and wasn’t specific to any belief system. It didn’t even take the whole second track on the CD.

With one question asked by my greatest teacher, together we refocused, shifted perspectives and got to where we needed to be for the day: What’s the big picture? What’s the “why” behind what you’re doing right now? Behind it all? Why are you worrying about these practical things when the greater good, the longer path, the lessons, the love is all that really matters?

Perhaps Henry had tried to get us there first thing in the morning as he remembered his dreams and previous lessons. Death and the afterlife are bigger than taxes, despite their mutual inevitability. But today the cycle-of-life, universal-plan reminders that came with our friend’s funeral weren’t enough to bring us home. Given a second chance, Henry intuitively knew what to do. It was so simple. So clean and perfect. And it worked.

By the way, Henry wanted me to ask you something.

What’s your soul doing?

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To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, go to rebeccagifford.com or contact her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

Knowing Great Love

love handsMy world is filled with all kinds of parents. Not one of us is perfect, nor would claim to be. But all of us know great love.

I am lucky enough to have brilliant models — both fellow parents and trusted caregivers. Some have been in my life for always and some I’ve known less than a week. None is like another, but they all have wonderful qualities to watch and emulate: boundless loyalty to their children’s happiness and best interests, respect, trust, open-mindedness, creativity, presence, an easy and natural way of moving through the day with their children, love and laughter even in the face of adversity, endless energy for play and talking and storytelling and discovering, unconditional support for their children’s eccentricities and unique qualities, and lots and lots of patience.

Even the most even-tempered caregivers struggle daily to maintain at least some of these qualities, but the desire to keep struggling and growing is what makes them real and wonderful. I love all my teachers. They share such unique gifts with our family. But as I embrace all these remarkable souls, one in particular keeps showing up.

During National Adoption Month, I’d like to honor Henry’s birth mother.

Her time in Henry’s life was very brief. Depending on Henry’s choices later in life, she may or may not ever be in it again, but I always will consider her a strong example for me, Henry and us all — for her great compassion to create and nurture such an extraordinary being in her womb, great courage as she struggled with impossible choices, and great strength as she relinquished her parental rights to my husband and me.

Now four and a half years later, I continue to feel her love and supportive energy as it travels over the mountains of Taiwan, across the blue water and lands gently next to our family as we giggle at the dinner table, sing in the car or dance with the pelicans on Moonstone Beach. She makes sure we know she is happy for us and still loves her son. I smile and send love and gratitude back to her, over the oceans and mountains, to wherever she now calls home. I make sure she knows our families are bound forever.

She holds a special seat in my circle of trusted parents, caregivers and guides.

She, perhaps more than most, knows great love.

Heart Meditation

heart-meditation-by-jen-gouvea-285x190
Artwork by Jen Gouvea http://www.engagedheart.com

Just by sitting down, by entering the sacred chair in this sacred space, the breath deepens and slows. The lungs and tired muscles smile in gratitude. My heart opens wide. It knows what comes next.

Remembering where it came from is something. Where it’s going is where it will be some day. But right now there is love and light. Space. And freedom to just be.

My heart, as it continues to break open and heal over and over, has enjoyed an abundance over lifetimes. There is plenty of love to share. It rushes out in a tidal wave covering the earth. It soaks down through the rainforests and deserts and oceans and rock, all the way to the fire at the center. It rises up and out in a quantum rush that fills every atom, every dark place, every light place, and doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

Every cell smiles. Thank you, they say. My spirit smiles. Thank you, she says. The universe continues to swirl and challenge and love. Thank you, I say.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch.

Hello, world.