Birthday Wish to all of you

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but it’s not what ships are built for.”

Today is my birthday. In the past 10 years of my life, I cannot believe the “outside of the harbor” choices I’ve made. Ironically enough, given the quote’s nautical nature, I do not consider “moving across an ocean” to be one of the most trans-formative choices.

I learned a new language (something one can do anywhere). I changed my career path (you can also do this where you are, and consider that applicable to all below). Together, my parents and I mended conflicts well before it was too late (today, they are two of my closest, most treasured relationships). I maintained a healthy physical lifestyle and weight, which wasn’t easy when I couldn’t walk. I published a book. I became “Aunt LaLa” to the Ayres Little Men and added a new family (my “Henry” carries their family name). I gave my hair to make wigs for children with cancer…four times. I faced, and continue to face, my fears (crippling stage fright and fear of heights). I watched marvelous sunrises in gratitude and walked through challenging sunsets in humility. On this day in 2011, I converted to Catholicism, which was the single-most authentic decision I have ever made.

Perhaps, some of the most trans-formative trips out of the harbor are those we simultaneously fear and welcome? Though we are afraid, we know we truly have to go – into the vast, seemingly-unending expanse. Someone calls and says, “I have the perfect job for you, but it’s in Lichtenstein” or someone writes you an email and begs, “Can you please take in this rescue dog?” or even “Marry me, my love?” Life changes in one … Augenblick.

One of mine happened on January 22, 2016 when I saw and heard a strong heartbeat from a machine in Bern, Switzerland. It took me about a second to process that was his (Christopher Henry) heartbeat. Sometimes, I guess, that second is all it takes to pick up the anchor and set sail. Fear be damned. Best decision I ever made, pulling up that anchor.

I know it’s tough and scary. Many times in the past 10 years, my ship has ventured out into the sea only to return battered and bruised. Heartbroken. Sea voyages can be treacherous and arduous. There are literal ups and downs that either propel you forward or crush you. It’s difficult to leave the comforts of a tranquil and serene harbor. Ah…but, that’s not what ships are built for.

I like to imagine wisdom from my four grandparents, as I push away from the harbor each time. They have four simple rules for each journey.

“Be bold, Lulabelle.”

                                                                 “Be authentic, Sweet Girl.”

                                    “Be brave, Granddotta!”

                             “Be peaceful, Princess Wawie.”

 You can do it, too.

Be bold. Be authentic. Be brave! Be peaceful.

The Rollercoaster’s Lesson

Ups and downs. Tension and release. We rise, we fall…only to rise again.

How do we process the curve balls? When it was time to say “goodbye” to Wyatt Walter on Sunday, he burst into tears. What do I say when the blue eyes of one of my favorite things on this planet fill with tears that are my doing? We won’t see each other for one year, I can’t change it. What do I do to make it better? He wears a cross that says “WYATT LALA,” but I know it’s not enough for him. He needs hugs. (So do I.)


How do we process the high-as-a-kite moments? I received keys today. They unlock a future – a life – a chance for a career, love, happiness. How do I take it in stride when there are a million Nadia Comāneci-butterflies doing somersaults in my stomach? I’m feeling excited about my future in a way that feels almost selfish. So many of my friends and family members are struggling and I am feeling only excited about what comes next. Shall I instead say “cautiously optimistic”?

That’s step two for me. How do I ride the rollercoaster, this time, without feeling broadsided by the downs? In this current apartment and this current life (both of which I will be shedding tomorrow), I have learned how to deal with despair. It was the hardest lesson.

I lost both of my “God”fathers here. I lost Granddaddy. I lost L and fled to Luzern for 2 weeks. I lost him again. I lost him a third time. I lost Hope. I lost it again. I lost it again (7 times, in total). I met the Csendes family. I said goodbye to them. I welcomed them. I said goodbye to them again. Ups and downs. Over and over again.

I learned a hard, but valuable, lesson – my Faith is stronger than my Hope. Faith is in the air. If I am breathing? (and, according to the paramedics, I wasn’t at one point in this apartment)…Faith is refilling me with what I need to take another breath, another step, another journey.

There will be a day when the blue-eyed, 8-year-old is visiting his Aunt LaLa (technically, he calls me “Wala” because it combines both of our names) in Switzerland. There will be a day when what seems “full of wonder” is a bit clouded by the harsh and not-so-picturesque reality of law school. I’ll find a way to take the Rollercoaster’s exciting journey the way this guy does…That’sLifebythePro

BRAVERY PROJECT: Guest blogger: Maggie Miller, “She is alive…and I am by her side.”

I have been profoundly moved by the bravery from a family that I met years ago. Please get a box of Kleenex and read Maggie Miller’s story of bravery (yes, you are BRAVE, Maggie).  Pictures will be added as soon as possible. Thanks, Laura Anne  Follow this project @BeforeYouBook #BraveryProjoect


Bravery. It doesn’t come from the inside. I know. I am often described as being “brave,” but never once have I ever felt brave. I have felt terrified. I have felt overwhelmed. I have felt hopeless and lost, but never once have I felt brave.

Bravery is something that is perceived from a distance, a retrospective observation of another person. So many people will tell you of my bravery, even those whose bravery I see. Yet, I cannot feel it. It’s not that I’m distant or egotistical. It is the truth that those who are brave, even those who decide to be brave, are often many things, but brave is not one of them.


I have a daughter, Sarah, whose whole life has been one big brave battle. She is the bravest person I know. She has been poked, prodded, examined, stabbed with needle after needle, held down against her will, fought back, cried and turned around and smiled and laughed. That is brave. I can only imagine the terror in her nightmares. What do you expect when a child’s own mother, the one being an infant is truly dependent on, forces her to swallow medication or stabs her with a needle or holds her down herself to let others do these things? The answer is simple, and oh so painful. The only thing you can expect is terror. Accompanied with the sympathetic nervous system fight and flight response; and of course a whole lot of tears (mostly mine).


But she faced it. She did it and she is amazing. She had no choice. She was forced to be brave. And I held her little body and kissed her little head. And she wears her battle scars, both physical and emotional, a little embarrassed (though she shouldn’t be), but she is alive. And she is well. And I am by her side. The war might be won, but there are still battles to fight. She struggles every single day. I help her when she falls, but mostly just watch her grow; nudging her along this unfair road that is her life, intervening to make her challenges a little lighter. Her courage is astounding. I see her as so much more that I could ever be. I tell her that it’s going to hurt but she has to do it anyway. She does it. Reluctantly, but she does. We bribe the crap out of her.


Being brave is not always the immediate choice when faced with a problem. It usually only appears after you’ve decided to do something, stand up for what you believe, fight for your life, etc. It often comes when the other choice is not something you want to face or accept. Fight the cancer or die. Fight for freedom or be a slave. Bring health care to the masses or have death and disease run rampant. Overthrow the corrupt system or be corrupted. Often eminent death is the deciding factor in becoming brave. In my case, I was never brave; all I did was take care of my baby the best I could. I have fought for her life and I continue to fight for her to live. Children deserve every opportunity to be healthy, educated and happy. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure my children have those opportunities. I only appear brave because I have done the unfathomable. I cared for a sick child when there was little hope, when my own body was exhausted to the point of complete shutdown. I never slept, barely ate (though I easily gained more than 50 pounds). It was the single worst thing I have ever experienced. But it made me realize some things:


  1. I never, ever, EVER want to go through that again. . . But if I had to, I know I need to know what to expect. In the event of relapse we will be inpatient facing a bone marrow transplant and roughly 120+ days in the hospital with one very sick child, another terrified and neglected child (I wouldn’t leave her alone) and a huge emotional void in my spousal relationship, if we can find a match. I don’t look for the worst, but I have to know what could happen so that I will be ready if it happens. I hope we never have to face that monster again and we do so much to avoid it, including eating an organic diet and growing our own food as much as possible.
  2. I will survive if I miss a meal or a night’s rest. I will not just survive, but I will reset my body and be better off for the skip. It will be challenging and emotionally taxing, briefly, but I will survive. I always miss meals and sleep the night/week before a follow-up appointment. I used to miss the night before the testing to determine the current status of the cancer. It’s part of a whole mess of emotional train wrecks just before scans/checks we all call “scanxiety,” and it’s normal. At least in my world.
  3. I learned to live in the moment. We celebrated Sarah’s birth every month while she was in treatment. I had no confirmation that she would be one to live through treatment. I didn’t know how many birthdays she had left. I wanted her to know she was important and to “Celebrate Sarah” every chance I got. She was crowned prom queen alongside a slew of friends who gained their wings and flew away at the age of 2. No one told me I would be the one to be so fortunate to be able to wrap my arms around my baby and tell her I love her every day or so for the past 8 years. And my heart breaks for each and every parent who cannot. For every single child lost, through cancer or otherwise, because. . . No parent should EVER have to bury their child. One of my favorite quotes applies here: “Dance as though no one is watching, love as though you’ve never been hurt, sing as though no one can hear, live as though heaven is on earth,” (Souza) EVERYDAY, because you don’t get a second chance to live today.
  4. There are always going to be obstacles. There is no such thing as smooth sailing. . . At least not for long. Sarah faced a tiger in the ring of the coliseum and won her battle, but she didn’t come out unscathed. She has physical scars, cognitive scars and emotional scars from her battle. Some we don’t even know exist yet, I’m sure. Every child we know who has endured chemotherapy has cognitive dysfunction of one type or another, Sarah is no exception. She has physical limitations, though with some hard work we should be able to minimize these. She has emotional struggles that may never go away. She certainly will develop more problems as she grows. Statistically, 90% of children who have received one chemotherapy drug in particular eventually develop a cardiac concern which will require surgical intervention. I hope she is in the 10%, but I need to be prepared (see #1). We will face these battles just like the others as they present themselves. In the meantime see #3.
  5. It is OK to feel. It is ok to be upset, or happy, or angry, or embarrassed, or excited, so long as you are not negatively impacting other individuals. Let me explain: It’s not ok to hurt someone else, but it is ok if they empathize with you. If you are sad and crying and another person feels bad because you feel bad, they are human and are allowed.   There were moments when I was so lost in the flood of emotions I couldn’t see beyond my own bubble (I unconsciously attempted to protect myself by limiting my perception to a short distance effectively rendering me clueless as to the world around me). You have no idea how big emotions can be until you experience it first hand, like tidal waves of emotion, amplified immensely. And the emotions were all filled with enormous guilt. A moment of joy was often accompanied with the thought of the family journeying home for the final time to say good bye to their child while you were celebrating the end of a chemo cycle or finally getting out of the hospital. A moment of sadness was accompanied by the same guilt that you should be glad for what you have. These slishy, sloshy emotions are best dealt with one at a time, allowed to wash over you and to dissipate. Once I began allowing myself to feel my emotions, I gained a much better control over them.
  6. Kids are amazingly resilient. And they bounce. My Sarah was so mad at me (steroids as part of treatment) that I wouldn’t play the movie, she jumped out of bed as I was attempting to get it into the player and push play. She landed on her head and scared the devil out of me. . . And her nurse. . . And the fellows on for the night. . . And probably half the hospital staff. She bounced and got herself a CT scan in the middle of the night which was negative. She was so sick that first year I had day terrors of her death. The month of October 2007 we spent a total of 4—24 hour periods NOT in the hospital (inpatient or clinic appointments). I was terrified and she always smiled.
  7. And those who work with sick kids are not human, they are angels. I cannot thank them enough for all they put up with and did for me in addition to caring for my baby. Each and every one of them, from the front desk staff checking kids in to the cleaning crew to the nurses and doctors, has something different inside that is so admirable.

BRAVERY PROJECT – Show me your brave

Think of the Top Ten bravest people in your daily life. Why do you consider them brave? What constitutes an act of bravery?

We can all point to clear examples of bravery: Malala Yousafzai, normal people stepping in when the Boston marathon bomb went off, the teachers at Sandy Hook, the fire-fighting heroes in West, Harvey Milk, Hillary Clinton & Ted Kennedy, police officers. The list is long and their accomplishments are amazing and awe-inspiring.

Great. What about you?

I’m one of the 10 bravest people I know. It’s not arrogance – I work for that title. I would love to hide in a cubicle, hide in my beautiful flat, hide with the people I already know well. Can’t do it. It isn’t brave. I make it my mission to be on my own top ten list. Things I am not on my own top ten list of include: fashionista, fabulous singer, fabulous writer, etc. Most of my readers know that I am a deeply-flawed gal; however, I am brave.

I fight like hell to be brave. I use my voice, my education, my website, and anything else I can utilize to fight things like poverty, injustice, and ignorance. I speak up for people suffering unjustly. I do not always get heard and rarely get things done exactly the way I want. Not the point.

Here’s the real kicker about bravery: sometimes you fall flat on your face. Sometimes you say words that are hard to say and the other person laughs at you. Sometimes you fight something and you lose the battle (but maybe not the war…go Hillary & Teddy, now we have Obamacare). Here’s the reverse kicker – nothing can diminish brave. Brave is too strong to be diminished by a “no.”

So, what do you decide? Safe walk or bravely blazing a trail?

Start thinking of yourself as brave. Did you start your own company this year? Did you admit to a big mistake? Did you write to a government official? Did you commit yourself to volunteer work? Did you lose 20 pounds? Did you use your website or FB status to really make a thoughtful statement promoting tolerance or education (Mike Mayes and Tony Barrese, y’all always inspire me)? Did you lose a loved one and make it through without becoming a crack addict? All those things might seem “small.” I assure you, there is bravery within each of them.

I’ve never ever seen on-the-spot bravery announced with glitter and rainbows. Not once. Bravery doesn’t look like much to most people, it’s something you do that makes you, sorry curse word-haters, scared shitless.

I just came from my sanctuary in Luzern where I heard something amazing, “Only deep inside of you can you hear who you really are.” There is a small voice inside of all of us calling us to be…brave. So, do it. If you need inspiration, I love this song What a fantastic message. “I just wanna see you be brave.” (Songwriters: BAREILLES, SARA / ANTONOFF, JACK Brave lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Anyone who has a story of bravery, I don’t care if you saved a child or an opera company or 50 bucks…whatever you think “brave” is, share your story somewhere. You can be a guest blogger for me. You can post it on my FB page (Before You). Post it on your own. Be bold.

Show me…how big your brave is. Follow this project at @BeforeYouBook