The Lucky One


It’s difficult to put into words what it’s like to be in a room with a few hundred like-hearted people who are willing to embrace their truth (even though that truth might be a bit messy, uncomfortable, and painful); who feel safe and have been given permission, by the warm tears and nodding “me too” heads of those around them to be authentic and transparent; and who understand the transformative power of vulnerability. I was in that space a few weeks ago at the National Eating Disorders Association’s 2016 Annual Conference in Chicago, where I was invited to be part of a panel discussion exploring the complex relationship that exists between dads and daughters, and it was of the one of the most beautiful and humbling experiences of my life. What made it doubly special was the fact that I had the privilege of sharing it with my fellow panelists, Drs. Margo Maine, Michael Berrett and Beth Hartman McGilley, who I have long admired and respected for their selfless dedication to bringing hope and healing to others, and three front row friends, Joanna Mercuri, Alison Smela and Dr. Angie Viets, who not only get it, but get me. If ever there was a recipe for unforgettable – for what it’s like to feel fully human – the events of that Friday afternoon were it.

When the session was over and the last of those who had approached me on the dais to exchange a hug or offer words of appreciation had moved on to my fellow presenters, I settled back into my seat, emotionally spent, and tried to take it all in. I thought about the man and the father I was when this most improbable of journeys began ten years ago. I thought about how hyper-critical and judgmental that guy was, how intolerant of mistakes and impatient he had become, how much emphasis he placed on doing at the expense of feeling, how confident he was in his ability to fix things and others, how little time he devoted to listening, and how badly he had missed the mark where loving his daughter the way she needed (and deserved) to be loved was concerned – all despite his best intentions. I wondered if, in the midst of the fear, anger, confusion and denial that surrounded him in the days after learning of his daughter’s illness, that guy would have been able to hear the message of hope I’d just delivered, believed that it was possible to learn how to be a better listener, to be more patient, to tolerate, if not celebrate his and others’ imperfections, to allow empathy and compassion to take the place of judgment, to let go, to trust, and, in the process, achieve greater emotional intimacy.

And then I thought about how far that guy had come in those ten years – and the paradoxes that made that growth possible. I thought about how it took our daughter “losing her voice” for me to find my own and our hearts to learn a new language that now allows them to communicate with each other more honestly and lovingly; how it was the pain caused by the swallowing of her truth and the strength it took to later speak it that gave me the courage to stand in mine; how it was her insistence on isolation and, at times, defiant pulling away that taught me the importance and power of closeness; how it was the walling off of her heart that served as a catalyst for me to finally start unpacking mine; how it was her reluctance to communicate that re-kindled my long dormant love of letter writing; and how it was the seemingly impenetrable darkness of an insidious disease that shown a light on all that, unbeknownst to us at the time, was in such desperate need of healing. “That’s an awful lot of life to squeeze into one decade,” I thought to myself. Do I wish all of it could’ve happened without someone I love more than life itself having to suffer so much? You bet. Would I trade the man I am today because of it for anything in the world? Not a chance.

 As I got up to leave the meeting room, a young woman approached me with tear-stained cheeks and said simply, “Your daughter is lucky to have you for a dad.”  I smiled and thanked her for that, because it was the right and polite thing to do. But, the truth is: I’m the lucky one. What happened in that room, the gifts and lessons learned that made it possible (i.e., the humility, the courage to open my heart to a group of strangers, the empathy, the vulnerability, etc.) exist only because I have been blessed to have her as a daughter.

“What if . . .”


One day, many years ago, my then teenage son, who is a talented and competitive golfer, was in a funk.  I don’t recall the source of it at the time.  Maybe his game wasn’t quite where he thought it should be.  Maybe it was “terrible”.  Maybe it had nothing to do with golf and everything to do with something going on at school. Maybe it centered around friends or family or a combination of both. Maybe it was just one of those days – or maybe it was a little bit of all of the above.  As often is the case when we find ourselves stuck, however, the source of the “glue” is really secondary.  What matters is how we respond to those circumstances and, on that particular day, my son’s response was to stay in bed rather than face what, I’m sure in his mind, was likely to be little more than much of the same of what had come before.

I took a different approach.  I entered his room, sat at the end of the bed, and asked whether he planned to go to the course to practice and play, as was his custom, especially on days as beautiful as that summer afternoon.  Not surprisingly, he responded with a barely audible, but firm “no” from under the covers. “Well, what if I told you that today’s the day you’re going to break the course record,” I said, knowing that the prospect of setting a course record is high on every competitor’s bucket list and certainly was on his. “If you knew that,” I asked, “how fast would you get to the first tee?” “Pretty darn fast,” he said, unable, even in his blue state of mind, to control the grin that the mere thought of it brought to his face. “But you can’t tell me that,” he hastened to add – “because there’s no way for you to know that today’s the day.”

Then it was my turn to smile, which I did, broadly, as I started towards the door, pausing to look over my shoulder. “You don’t know that it’s not,” I replied.  And with that I was off and, shortly thereafter, he was up and out the door.

It’s in that uncertainty, of course, that both the magic and the terror of Life reside, leaving us to choose which we will embrace.  The older I get the clearer (notice I didn’t say easier!) the choice becomes.  For me, the uncertainty that is an inescapable part of all of our lives isn’t supposed to be a paralyzing force, though, God knows, it has been for me more times than I care to consider.  Instead, my sense is that it exists to inspire and motivate us to leap out of bed with an adventurous spirit eager to see what each new day holds in store.  Perhaps it will be a moment in which we catch a glimpse of the gifts that make us unique – of our truth – and we will rejoice in it.  Other times, it may be moments of disappointment, discouragement, loss or heartache, which, in themselves, may serve as opportunities for growth or simply have to be endured.

But, make no mistake: The choice must be intentional and it must be made daily.  Because it is by no means intuitive, particularly on days, like that summer day, when fear is standing guard at the front door and our Inner Critic is loud and hell-bent on doing his/her dirty work.  It’s a choice borne of our willingness to believe in what is possible and our commitment to live with an attentive and playfully expectant heart, not unlike that of a curious child.  The good news is: We get to define that intention, to write it down if necessary and to return to it as often as needed until its pursuit becomes habitual.

What does this “look like” in practice?  Well, at various times, my “intentions” have included the following:

What if today you decided to just show up, that you are enough – just as you are?

What if today you entertained the possibility that those who know you best and love you most have been right all along – that you are courageous, compassionate, creative, resilient, loving, and worthy of love?

What if today you decided, at long last, to come out of the shadows, stand in the light, and be seen as you are – uniquely beautiful?

What if today you believed that “you” actually are worth living for, worth fighting for – worth going the extra mile for?

What if today you resolved that enough is enough – that you’ve beat yourself up enough, lived small long enough and are enough?

What if today you let love in?

What if today you loved “you” differently than yesterday – a little more tenderly, a little less critically, and a lot more generously?

What if today, instead of throwing in the towel, you picked up the “pen” of believing it’s possible and began writing the first (or the next) chapter in your comeback story?

What if today you focused on a singular goal: To reclaim and honor your authentic self?

What if today, instead of judgment, you finally offered your thirsting heart the forgiveness and grace it has been longing for?

What if today you began letting the world in on one of its best kept secrets: You?

What if today you turned the page on the story with the unhappy ending you’ve been telling yourself all these years and wrote a different one?

What if today is that day – the day you begin rewriting the ending, living a little more intentionally, replacing what you perceive as the certainty of a given outcome with the possibility of a different one?  What will your intentions look like, feel like . . . live like?


Favorite Things


“When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

Sound of Music (1965)


I don’t know about you, but the last thing or things I tend to think about when I’m in a rut or feeling blue are raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles or warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings or wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.  No, when I’m stuck and feel the darkness setting in, my mind immediately goes to more adult things. I question my worthiness.  I start to wonder what’s wrong with me, what’s missing, what I need to be doing more or less of to fit in, how it is that I can feel so alone in a crowded bar or restaurant, why I always seem to be the one who has to initiate where relationships are concerned, why so many others appear to be without a care in the world, where I misplaced my voice, my ability to laugh – my joy – what it will take to feel fully alive again.  But, as I passed by a local park filled with the unmistakable sounds and smiles of children at play on today’s walk, it occurred to me that, all those years ago, Julie Andrews may have been onto something, an elixir of sorts, a well-spring of nourishment to replenish weary or frightened hearts: Favorite Things!

For some, it will be “things” that remind them of childhood – when they felt free to express themselves, be themselves, emote, engage, enjoy, explore and experience the world and each other – unabashedly, unapologetically and honestly – to find joy in moments. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a front porch or playground swing, a water slide, a stuffed animal, a treasured book, jumping rope or a board game. Maybe it’s a keepsake from a special relative – a photograph, a letter, a favorite recipe, a piece of jewelry, or a knitted scarf or blanket.  For others, it may be a game of catch, a piece of music, a play, a smell, or a secret fishing hole. Still others will recall favorite restaurants or meals, a ride at an amusement park, activities like writing, singing, sewing, drawing or walks in familiar surroundings.  Some will have a favorite place – the beach, a lake, a stream, the shade of a special tree, a farm or meadow.  But, while everyone’s Favorite Things are different, each shares an important trait: In their presence, it is impossible to restrain our heart from smiling and therein lies their magic – the ability, if only for a moment, to introduce light, joy, safe harbor, or peace in the midst of a storm.

“What a remarkable gift that is,” I thought to myself as I continued on and the children’s laughter grew more and more faint.  And then I realized it was one that, with a little thought, I could (and probably should) give to myself.  So, when I got home, I began scribbling with heart smiles as my guide:

Any seat in Fenway Park.

Leaving the first set of footprints on a dew-covered fairway.


A real hug.

Being the reason for someone else’s smile.

The breadsticks at the Red Diamond Inn.

A wagging tail.

Any song by David Gates and Bread.

The Giving Tree.

“The Wright House” at Ocean Isle Beach.


Apple pie (no mode).

Og Mandino’s writings.

A heart talk.

Hitting the sweet spot.

A comeback story.

Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The smell of freshly mown grass.

An intimate kiss.


Climbing a dirt pile.

Watching children at play.

The North Grounds Softball Field at UVA.

The Grotto at ND.

Dusk on the SHC golf course.

Long walks.

Simon and Garfunkel.

An original 7-11 Icee (Cola).

Flipping baseball cards.

Red licorice.

Drying tears.

The Little Engine That Could.

Watching someone realize a lifelong dream.

A perfect strike.

Writing words that matter.

I’m not suggesting, nor am I naïve enough to believe that any of these “things” offer a permanent respite from the often very real and complex challenges associated with being an adult, a parent and with Life generally.  They do, however, serve as readily available reminders that: there is good and joy in the world; that, at various times, both have been part of my world; and that, chances are, when the storm passes, they will be again.  Why not take a moment then to create your own list and the next time you find yourself looking for something to do or about to board the train to Bitterville, pull out your list, close your eyes, point to a place on it at random – and do that!  I dare you to keep from smiling.

*Image credit:





“She’s very friendly and trusting,” he said, as he paused, Scotch-Tape in hand, to watch me study the homemade Xerox photograph he’d just affixed to a nearby palm tree. “She likes to sit on the front lawn of that house across the street and greet the walkers and joggers as they pass by. I don’t know why she would’ve run away or where she might have gone.” By now, tears had started to form in his eyes and I knew immediately that “Mattie” was more than just a “slim, female cat” to this grown man – and the creator(s) of the signs, who no doubt had sent him out on his mission of love and hope. “I know her,” I said, “I used to walk here all the time – and did for years.  I’ve seen Mattie, even stopped to chat with her, and you’re right, she has a kind spirit and a special heart.  I just started walking again, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for her and to let you know if I find her.”  “Thanks,” he replied with a smile, comforted (I convinced myself) that there would be at least one more pair of eyes, albeit a stranger’s, searching for something he (and his family) treasured.

As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that I’ve known lots of “Mattie’s” through the years.  Young and not-so-young women (mostly) with kind and gentle dispositions, eyes wide open to take in the world around them, hearts eager for others to take notice, sensitive, quiet, trusting, often unassuming, who, one day, inexplicably disappeared or went into hiding.  I wondered, as I often do with the two-legged “Mattie’s” I’ve encountered, what it was that made Mattie feel as if the world would somehow be a better place without her sitting proudly in the green grass of that corner lot (day and night), without her ears perking up every time a stranger walked by, without her barely discernible purring intended to let friends and strangers alike know just how grateful she was that they paused long enough to notice and spend time with her – without her smile. Maybe it was all quite unintentional, I thought.  Maybe it started out as curiosity and before she knew it she had forgotten her way home.  Maybe she’d taken ill and decided she didn’t want to be a burden. Or, maybe, someone with ill-intentions had taken advantage of her trust and stolen her or, mistaking her for lost, decided to give her a home.

If only Mattie knew, I thought to myself.  If only she knew that her loved ones were hurriedly plastering her face, her bio, and their contact information on every tree trunk in Coral Gables, desperately hoping someone, anyone might find her and bring her home.  If only she knew how profoundly her sudden disappearance was impacting their lives and just how much they would willingly sacrifice to have her back.  If only she knew that even those of us who never even knew her name, but had grown accustomed to seeing her sitting in the shade on the corner of North Greenway and Casilla, were saddened by her absence and eager to help her find her way home.  “Surely, if she knew she matters so much to so many – that she is cherished, that she is missed – surely if Mattie knew all of this she would want to be found, to come out, to come home . . . wouldn’t she?” I wondered.  And then I thought about the other “Mattie’s” I know and I realized it isn’t and likely never was that simple – that being found, stepping back into the light is far more challenging than those who have never been lost realize.

I typically don’t go on my walks with intention. I prefer, instead, to go out with an open mind and an open heart and let both lead me where they may.  But, at least in the near term, Mattie has changed all of that.  In the weeks to come, finding her and reuniting her with those who love her will be the inspiration and sole purpose of my walks – and there will be more of them because of her.  Who knows, maybe one day she will see me and remember me as someone who once stopped to notice her, as someone who took a moment to care, who is gentle, who she can trust – and she will come out of hiding and take a chance on being found.   It’s really the least I can do – and all I know how to do – that and hope.  Hope that one day, I will turn the corner and there she (and all the other “Mattie’s” in my life) will be – basking in the sunshine, eyes and ears tuned fully to the world around them, content in the knowledge that she is both noticed and loved and that she always has been.  And, “Mattie” if you happen to stumble upon this post, please come home.  Your loved ones are waiting!

Today Can Be Different

No matter how littered the landscape of your yesterdays may be

with brokenness,

with bad choices made despite the best of intentions or a belief, however misplaced, that you “should’ve known” or “could’ve done” better,

with too many missteps and regrets to count,

with guilt borne of a sense that you let yourself or those who love you down,

with unkept promises (yours and others’),

with substance abuse,

with lies told to hide truths you were simply too ashamed or too embarrassed to acknowledge, let alone speak out loud,

with breaches of trust,

with periods of disillusionment, isolation, loneliness and abandonment,

with self-loathing, anger, bitterness and resentment,

with days, weeks, months – maybe even years – when you felt invisible, unwanted, unloved or, worse yet, unworthy of love,

with loss and grief and pain that never seems to take a day off –


Today it can be enough that you’re still standing. You can breathe that in, rest, and resume the fight for you tomorrow.

Today you can entertain the possibility that those who know you best and love you most are right about you – that you are strong, resilient, courageous and worthy.

Today you can decide to stop living small, to step out of the shadows and into the light where you belong – just as you are.

Today you can pull back the curtain and begin letting the world in on one of its best kept secrets: Your authentic self.

Today you can begin to realize that to those who matter most you are not a burden, but cherished beyond measure.

Today you can search for your beauty not in a mirror, but in the imprints you’ve left on hearts grateful for the gift of you.

Today you can decide that you are worth living for, worth fighting for, worth a moment of grace – worthy of forgiveness.

Today you can love you a little more gently, compassionately, gracefully – with gratitude, rather than disdain for what makes you unique.

Today, you can accept an outstretched hand, a warm embrace, a word of affirmation and encouragement- the truth about your worthiness.

Today you can speak your truth – openly and honestly – and trust that in doing so those who love you will not abandon you, but love you more deeply.

Today you can refuse to let a mirrored reflection define you and, instead, seek your truth in the eyes of those who love you.

Today you can treat “you” with the same tenderness, empathy and kindness you so unhesitatingly extend to your best friend.

Today you can muster the courage necessary to take that critical first (or next) step on the road to recovery.

Today you can let grace and love in.

Today you can realize that, while many may have gotten it wrong where loving you is concerned, you don’t have to be one of them.

Today you can love you differently, treat you with the respect your heart is due, and begin honoring her in earnest.

Today you can turn the page, pick up a pen and start writing your comeback story!



The more hearts I listen to the more convinced I become that we not only come into this world living, doing, playing, creating, dreaming, loving (and needing to be loved) in ways that are unique to us – that define us – we are meant to leave it having stayed true to them. They are the personality and preference traits that form the DNA of our Authentic Self. Some of us are the quiet, contemplative type, while others are restless and boisterous. Some love being in a crowd, while others of us seek solitude. Some love to be held, while others manifest their desire for independence almost from birth. Some of us intuitively color in the lines, others never will! Some love the outdoors, while others prefer the peace and quiet of their room. Some are writers, some are readers – others are both. Some are patient, others not so much. Some are sharers – of things and affection – while others are not.

As children, we explore, discover and playfully embrace these many facets of our self. We sense their power and our frailty, but neither keeps us from greeting each day with a renewed sense of wonder, adventure and anticipation. We feel our feelings openly and we love the same way – fully and unabashedly. Regrettably, however, as we grow older, many of us begin to question whether that self (our self) is good enough, strong enough, aesthetically pleasing enough, well-rounded enough and you-fill-in-the ______ enough to be part of the group we want, get the job we want, find the mate we want, have the lifestyle we want, earn the degree we want, have the friends we want, be the child we perceive our parents to want – and, invariably, we begin to tinker with it – with us. Some even go so far as to box pieces of themselves up like leftovers from a gourmet meal and stick them in the deep freeze, forgetting they’re even there.

We begin to think, dress, speak, feel and act in a different way – ways that others, who we wrongfully perceive to have this Life thing figured out (or who profess to have the right to dictate our view of self) dress, speak, feel and act. We change our hairstyle, make-up, accessories, behaviors, friends, beliefs, belongings, jobs, faith, the music and books we like, our hobbies, etc. We want to belong, to be accepted, to fit in. We want it desperately, mostly because we fear the alternative. More often than not, however, the farther we move away from our truth, the more impenetrable the accompanying darkness seems to get. The sense of joy we knew as children is replaced with what, at times, are overwhelming feelings of discouragement, sadness, loneliness, frustration – a loss of control. Where do those feelings come from? My sense is that they (and the behaviors sometimes used to numb them) are an inevitable by-product of becoming disconnected from our self.

If I’m right, the journey out of the darkness is less about change than it is about re-discovery and re-connection – a two-step process that first requires identifying the “you” that came into this world followed by a passionate commitment to welcoming that person and all they have to offer back into your life! Simply put, the pre-worldly-adorned “you” is precisely, uniquely – beautifully – the person you were intended to be all along and you and the world need to be re-introduced to her sooner, rather than later. The good news is: Because she is integral to who you are, you can be assured that, regardless of where you may be on your life journey or how many layers of others you may have piled on top of her, when you make the choice and commit to the work necessary to find your way back home, your Authentic Self will be eagerly waiting in the doorway for your arrival with warm, welcoming and open arms.

Homework Assignment: It’s easy to lose sight of “her” in the darkness. So do her a favor: Reach out to 5 people you trust, who knew you as a child, and ask them for the three character traits about you that first come to mind when they think about the childhood you. Maybe it’s a teacher, a pastor, a friend, a sports or arts coach, a sibling or parent. Then write them down. The ones that make you smile are the bread crumbs that will lead you home.

*Photo Credit:

On Dangling Participles


I have a friend who writes beautiful.

I didn’t say “beautifully” because I’m not at all sure if the commas, semi-colons, hyphens, and ellipses in every piece she writes are precisely where Messrs. Strunk & White would prefer them to be, if they should be there at all or if there should be more or less of them.

I’m also not entirely sure if every singular subject of hers is married to a singular verb or every plural subject to a plural verb, nor am I certain whether every sentence expresses a complete thought or if, God forbid, some qualify as a dreaded sentence fragment or, worse yet, a run-on.

I’m even less certain whether any of her prepositions, modifiers or participles are dangling or misplaced (in part, because I have no idea what some of those words mean!?!), whether her tenses always match up precisely or whether, from time to time, her parallelism is faulty and/or her infinitives split.

I’m also not qualified to say whether her pronouns or tenses shift on occasion (they likely do!), whether her verb endings are as precise as they might be or, more generally, whether, here or there, she could have conveyed a thought a little more succinctly, less “passively” or using a different word or phrase.

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me (and I doubt it would her) if some or all of these grammatical peculiarities found their way into her work, in part, because like musicians who play by ear, writers who write by heart seldom concern themselves with whether the finished product neatly conforms to the traditional stylistic rules of their craft.

They’re far more interested in its intangibles and, where those are concerned, I know these things about my friend’s writing with absolute certainty: Her words touch hearts – profoundly. They are a source of encouragement and strength to the weary and a warm blanket of reassurance to those questioning their adequacy.

They inspire hope and are soul-building.  They let others know they’re not alone in their feelings of guilt and shame – however misplaced – and that they are worthy and valued for who they are . . . where they are.  They are an outstretched hand to those who have stumbled and a desperately needed embrace for those who feel very much alone.

They also help others see and react to the world at large and, as importantly, to the person who greets them in the morning mirror with greater awareness, sensitivity, love, compassion, and grace.  They have a way of calming the crazy, bringing comfort to those in despair, and serving as a beacon of light to those battling the darkness.

I know because, at one time or another, they have been all of these things to me and so much more.  I know because of all the tears (of joy, of recognition, of being revealed, etc.) I’ve unabashedly shed in reading them and all the spontaneous heart smiles they have generated. Very few things have that impact on me, but beautiful does and I know beauty when I read it.

And I know I’m not alone.  In fact, don’t ask me how I know this, but of the tens of thousands of “comments” my friend’s writings generated in 2015, 2,168 readers said simply: “Beautiful”!  Imagine that – “beauty” in spite of a few misplaced modifiers, a dollop of dangling participles and a stray comma here or there.

That’s what happens when your heart takes pen in hand and pours itself onto the page. And for that (and you), my friend, I and countless others are eternally grateful.