Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.

Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.

As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.

It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.

Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.

A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.

For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.

Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.

Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”

As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.

And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.

In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.

Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.

The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.

An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.

The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.

This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.

This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.

I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.

No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.

Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.

No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” François de la Rochefoucauld

Think about this quote as it relates to you. As it relates to your children, your spouse, your nieces or nephews, to your students, your neighbors, your friends. Really think about it. Then consider how many are wearing masks of “enough” out there in the world and how hard they are trying to be seen as what they think “we” want them to be. So much so that they may be losing sight of what they already are, deep inside.

I’ve been caught in the mask trap over the years, no doubt, and have watched people I love get caught in it too:“How do I need to look today to be enough to you?” “Should I curl or straighten my hair?” “What do I have to wear to be accepted?” “How much cleavage has to be out to be sexy?” “Do I look okay?” “I can’t go out of the house because I have a zit!” “I don’t look fat do I?” “Are you sure I don’t look FAT?” This last often comes from two of my nieces who happen to be gorgeous and the fact that they are size 0-2 has nothing to do with what makes them gorgeous!

I just don’t “get” how things have gotten so twisted, how plastic surgery became the norm instead of the exception and when the pressure to conform became this great. I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one who thinks so. If not, I really think it’s time to start screaming louder than the media ladies! Sometimes I feel like everyone is screaming already emotionally, but no one is listening.

Is anyone else worried about how much emphasis there is to be perfect today on our teenagers? Actually not just on our teenagers but on all of us? Aren’t you afraid of the desperate need for everyone to cover up any potential “flaw” and disguise uncertainty about looks by tweaking towards what society tells them is enough, is pretty?

I was hit between the eyes with these thoughts last night while watching the news and saw one story on the Miss USA pageant that discussed how this pageant had caused a stir for two reasons.

1. A beautiful entrant is now being touted a heroine for being “brave enough” to be seen in a bikini as a size four (4). No joke. The news reporters congratulated her for being courageous enough to be “au natural” and represent an “average” American woman. As I watched the segment I wanted to cry at the absurdity of what we are as a society. Is this what we have come to? Are we really making a young American woman out to be heroic because she is stepping out onto the stage as “Oh My God,” a size 4? Folks, if this is the case, we’re screwed!

The media creating a story around this contestant feels scary. Is this really helping the average girl out there feel better? What is the message if size 4 is called taking a risk? In the segment clips one after the other long legged, long haired full breasted contestant, without an ounce of body fat among them, appeared on the screen. This thumbnail representation may look like a few young American women I know, but is not the norm or the end all be all for beauty.

In actuality the average American woman today is 5’4” with a waistline of well over 30.” Her dress size is between a 12 and a 14, give or take a little as I averaged these numbers from the web, but hopefully you get my drift.

So, to take a size 4 pageant entrant and focus on her bravery for daring to step out on stage is, in my opinion, total insanity. I ask the media: “Just who was that piece for?” Was it for the REAL average American that would kill to look like that size 4? Was it for your ratings? Who is it supposed to reach or to help? Who are we doing these shows for folks? Seriously. We watch them. Our sisters watch them. Our young daughters and step daughters, granddaughters, nieces and cousins watch them and they all dream of looking like “that” girl.

They wonder what they can do to wake up one day that comfortable in their skin or with a body like that. They wonder how come they can’t get there even though they try. They dislike their large bones or small breasts, thick thighs or thin lips and they don’t stop criticizing themselves long enough to realize that they already are beautiful. They already are perfect and special and unique and unlike any other person in the world because of their exact face or shape or body and their exact special gifts.

If only we could start (even just with little baby steps) to get back to center ladies. The center that knows that we are all lovely in our own way. The center that invites us to embrace that unique beauty and stop wearing the cookie cutter disguises that make us all mirror images of what society has told us is beautiful. If only women would stop buying into the bullshit out there that it seems everyone is buying into, we might actually stand still long enough to see our own and then others’ beauty. If not, we are all set up to fail.

Because, what happens is that older women who are buying in today have daughters who are paying close attention. And these daughters become moms down the road to daughters who will also pay attention. All of these daughters and mothers who are looking for validation around their beauty, their uniqueness, their originality will be screaming, but so loud that nobody can hear them. They are begging to find a way to stand still and graceful and feel enough in the midst of what society tells them is their “not enough-ness,” but don’t even know it because there doesn’t seem to be anyone to guide them.

And it is not just about the ladies although that is my focus with this blog. There are also fathers and sons and brothers affected, either with their own struggles or the struggles around watching their sisters or girlfriends, mothers or wives not believe in their beauty.

How about if we start now? Right here, right now? By not buying in anymore. By standing up and using our voice. By saying that we already are beautiful. We are graceful. We are enough. We are special and unique. Just the way we are! I am and so are you.

If not, as I said, we are screwed. No question. When will there be a pageant with truly “real” and “average” women? Or better yet, when will there be no pageant? When will we say “Hell, no, we don’t need one! We don’t need a crown to tell us we are winners?”

Which brings me to the Second reason for the stir created by the Miss USA pageant:

2. The winner of this years Miss USA pageant is a beautiful woman named Miss Nevada. At least that was where she entered from. As it turns out she had entered the Miss California pageant three times but lost every time. Now I am not really interested in where she is “really” from. What I am interested in is, why it is so important for someone to be labeled “Miss Somebody” that she has to try four times from two different states?

How about being “Miss Yourself?” “Miss Ourselves?” Our very lovely, very original, totally unique selves? When will there be a prize for holding on to that? When will our society figure out that we are all so busy re-creating ourselves to be what will be noticed as beautiful that we lose sight of what beautiful actually is?

The crown of love and talent and self acceptance is already ours for the taking. The gift that lives deep within us and allows us to be free to stand without disguises is real beauty. The sacred loveliness that is each one of us that needs no nipping, no tucking, no starving ourselves to fit into Barbie sized clothes, no brightening or whitening or tanning salons, no colored contact lenses or hair straightening, no acrylic nails with little butterflies on them, no killer heels that hurt like hell when we walk in them.

Are you getting the message yet? Why did Miss Nevada, now Miss USA, formerly vying to be Miss California feel the need to enter a contest under different states four different times? Because she lost 3 times does that take away from her win? Will her crown really make a difference? Interestingly, when asked what the capitol of Nevada is during an interview the other day she had no idea and she is the states pageant representative! So what does it all mean?

When will we stop believing the lies society is telling us? When will we actually begin to stand still in our God given bodies without augmentation or reduction of any kind? At what point can Miss USA be considered beautiful just by being herself and without changing homes in order to lessen the competition. When is our society going to get their heads out of their asses (their non perfect, slightly cellulited asses) and wake up?

When will we be able to accept and embrace what God has given us? When? I hope and pray that each and every one of you begin right now to believe what I believe. That you are now and always will be enough, actually more than enough, no matter what size you wear, the color of your eyes, your height or how much you weigh. I hope you believe that there is a place for every one of you on the stage of loveliness. The stage that is your life and that sadly doesn’t have a dress rehearsal.

Believe in your place and go out and get it. Be it. Own it. Own who you are and how gorgeous you are right there exactly as you are! Absafrigginlutely GORGEOUS! Go be yourself and honor the woman of Grace, dignity and honor that you already are. While you are at it, teach other people how to honor that in you too and tell them to keep their crown because as James Baldwin wrote, “ours has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.”

With love xoxoxo