Category Archives: Gratitude

Sharing a Win

I told you about the Women’s Retreat. And the CFCS Gala. But I also want to share a big family win that happened in the midst of it all.

Last Friday was the first night I’ve spent away from home & the kids since they moved in with us almost two years ago. We hugged goodbye Friday morning before school, and they saw me again Sunday morning before church because it was after midnight when I got in Saturday night.

When I think of what a disaster this would have been a year or two ago, I am in awe of how far we’ve come. I’m sharing this for those of you who are in the weeds of adoptive transitions right now and are terrified that the state of suspended existence you’re in right now might be your new forever normal. It’s not. 

Two years ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been certain I was off doing something illegal. They would have been ANGRY, SCARED, and completely dysregulated (a psychology word that describes the state where you’ve lost your ability to cope and your behavior gets disruptive. The phrase, “He’s lost his sh*t?” Yeah, that’s dysregulation.) It would have been a mess, and totally not worth the damage and the aftermath.

One year ago, if I’d tried this, the Cherubs would have been mildly suspicious. The term shady would have been thrown around repeatedly, searching for a place to land. There would have been stern looks and mumbled comments about Don’t your kids matter more than a bunch of women? and I bet Dad wants you to stay home…  It would have been frustrating for everyone and probably not worth it, which would have left me ANGRY and SCARED that I’d always be hostage to their emotional ups and downs.

This year, there was none of that. The kids ate junk food they couldn’t wait to tell me about. Dad took them to Target and was in & out in under five minutes, a feat I cannot duplicate.  They slept normally, and jockeyed for who got to have their screen time first. They missed me, for sure. But they were free from worry and anger and fear, and able to continue on with regular life. That’s a gift.

It probably helps that we started talking about this retreat back in October. They saw the flyers, and the web page. They heard me announce it at church, and talk to people about logistics. They knew how stressed I was about low registration in the weeks before the event, and saw me grin with stunned relief as the registrations poured in during the last few days, putting us up over 100 people and squaring away the finances.  They knew who would be there, and a bit about what we’d be talking about. They knew it would be all women (which probably helped a lot.) A lot of preparation went into this on the family side.

But still. They were happy kids all weekend long. That is a miracle.

And on Tuesday, when we had another event to go to, and I told them “We’ll be coming home around 7:30pm”…then texted Steve’s awesome parents who were watching them at 8:25pm to say, “We haven’t even had dinner yet…” they kids were unphased. Grandma brought them upstairs and they put themselves to bed. And I had a glimpse of a world where these sweet children are truly able to launch out into the world feeling secure about things at home

I think I underestimate the role of consistency in relationships. Of being who you say you are, doing what you say you’ll do, and showing up where you say you’re going to be, over and over again.  Nothing we say can duplicate the power of trust earned over time.

I want to remember this in other areas of my life. I’m not always consistent. But one of my life goals is that whenever people from different areas of my life meet, if my name comes up, they will find that their experience of me has been more or less consistent. I spent a lot of time in my 20s & 30s (and early 40s) like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings. I thought it was what I was supposed to do. It was pretty lonely, not to mention exhausting. At a certain point about five years ago, I sensed God (and Steve) telling me to stop, to be me, to trust that while no, I wouldn’t fit in everywhere anymore, in the places I did fit in, it would be a better fit.

I am stunned by the way this has shaped our new family. The Cherubs know this about their Round #2 Mom: I’m not that exciting. I wear mostly the same clothes, go to the same places, hang out with the same people. I like things other people might not like (such as writing books and starting a church and throwing retreats where people can connect with God) and don’t like some things others think are great (such as roller coasters and spicy food). I’m a little weird, but I’m consistent. And consistent is better than cool when you’re building a family. 

My Fashion Woes

A couple of months ago, I went to Steve’s company holiday party dressed like an Amish


If you look closely, you can see the patch pockets! #classycocktail!

nun. I didn’t mean to.  The dress code was “classy cocktail,” which I interpreted to mean, Like you’re coming from work, only a step up. I found a cute preppy dress from Tommy Hilfiger. It was a little big, but I kind of liked that; I’m not exactly in top form right now. I paired it with a jacket & boots because it was about thirteen degrees that night. And yes, I knew that I looked a bit like I was there to serve a warrant. But Boston has a pretty wide professional dress code. I was sure it would be fine.

We walked into the venue a bit early (it’s so hard to calculate traffic across the city) and I knew instantly that I’d screwed up.

Friends, the sequins were blinding. Hair had been professionally done. Hours had been invested in mani-pedi-facials. There were GOWNS. Everyone looked elegant, upscale, and GORGEOUS.

I glanced at Steve and whispered, “Wow. I really miscalculated…”

sage party

I didn’t even realize until later when I saw this picture that we MATCHED. We look like an audition tape for The Real Housewives of Ultra Conservative County.

He looked mortified for me. We checked our winter coats, and took a picture in front of an unavoidable step & repeat that stood between us and the bar. I prayed for a camera malfunction. We walked into the mostly-empty room and I took a deep breath. I knew had a decision to make: I could ruin this night with my embarrassment, or I could figure out another way. So I decided to fight for it. I looked up at the seventeen Buddha statues decorating the restaurant and said, “Jesus, I know you’re here somewhere…I could really use some help…”

We found a place to stand with our drinks & small plates. I made it a point to talk to Steve about things OTHER THAN how underdressed I was. And when he introduced me to people, I did not say a single embarrassed word about my outfit, because nothing makes social situations worse than that.

We had a great night. Everyone I met was fantastic, and we had so many deep, good conversations about biotech, writing, faith, and adoption. Yes, I felt awkward the whole time. As much as we’re not supposed to care what we wear, and we’re supposed to appreciate each other for what’s on the inside, blah, blah, blah… my missing the cues on the dress code meant the night was way more emotional effort than I wanted it to be, at a time (right after the holidays) when I didn’t have a lot of extra fight in me. I’m so glad we went. But I’m not sure I’ll ever wear that dress again.


I thought of this the other day as I caught up on the blog of a fellow memoirist who had a baby last year at the age of 46. As she described her woes in getting dressed, and how her body feels lumpy and odd in ways it never was before, I realized: I ALSO have a one-year postpartum body. Only I never gave birth.

It’s pitiful. Don’t you think the benefit of adopting should be that I don’t look like I have kids??? But nope. I got dressed the other day and realized I looked like a big marshmallow covered in denim & 2-ply cashmere. But I think the problem is less about having too much size, and more about having lost my style: Last week when I wore a ponytail to church, one of the teens came up and said, “Miss Trish! You look so different!”

You know you’re in a rut when a ponytail is a bold move forward.

So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when that blog friend talked about her clothing woes and how she’d just received a box from a company called Stitchfix that mails you clothes. She was going to POST PICTURES of her in the new items (!!??!) I was horrified/captivated/in awe: wasn’t that the equivalent of taking the entire internet with you as you try on jeans at Target???

She has awesomely sarcastic humor, so I was excited to see how she’d skewer the experience of trying clothes picked out by a complete stranger on a body that shifted daily in all sorts of unplanned directions.

She kept every cute thing in that box. (They send 5 things. You pay $20 for the styling service, which is credited against anything you buy. And there’s 25% off if you decide to keep everything. Apparently, this is a whole thing that’s been happening for years. Enter Trish in her Amish ensemble, a little late to the party…)

(I’ll admit, I was a bit salty that she found a dress, because I have this secret theory that people who look good in dresses and like them have ALL THE DRESSES. It’s like the dresses know. The rest of us get a boy dress with patch pockets. But whatever.)

In a fit of I don’t even know what, I signed up for a Stitchfix delivery of my own. I think I was just excited to leave my problem at the feet of an expert (even if that expert is an algorithm supposedly named “Katelyn”). I knew my blog friend would get a $25 referral credit, and that seemed like a way to thank her for being so honest (her blog TITLE is “An Inch of Gray,” referring to her hairline. I love her!) and making me feel less alone in navigating my fashion challenged state.

I had LOW expectations when the box arrived. I liked that it was pretty, and I was prepared for disappointment. I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the miracle: They sent me jeans that fit perfectly. Length, width, everything. It was like they’d been tailored for me.


I might even wear them to next year’s company party. If I’m going to be underdressed, I might as well really go for it.

The rest of the box was a mix. There was a blue jacket that made me look like I was there to change the oil on your car, and a pair of earrings like ones I already have. Those I sent back. There was a blue floral top that was unbelievably cute once I tried it on.

And then there was the green shirt.

I haven’t owned anything green that doesn’t say “Boston Celtics” on it since about 1975. It’s just not my color, or so I thought. But this shirt was so pretty! It didn’t fit. But still, I loved it so much that I pulled it back out of the return package (they send you a postage-paid return bag you just drop off at the post office) after I’d sealed it, just to try it again. It was still a no. But now I’m on the hunt for a different top in that shade of green.

What that box did for me had almost nothing to do with the actual clothes. It was more about how it energized my thoughts about dressing in general like nothing in recent (or even distant) memory has. The the little style guide gave me ideas for other outfits from things I already have, and I even got back on Pinterest (which I’ve decided is like going to the Mall with your friends, only while lying on the couch by yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but at least now I understand the appeal.) I’m so glad I did this. It’s good for my style and my soul.

It’s good to find help when you need it, and to be reminded that more is possible in life, IMG_5282even with things that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but are. I kept the empty Stitchfix box on the floor of my bedroom for about four days after it arrived, just to remind me of how happy it had made me. That’s some pretty good return on investment.

If you’re in a style rut? Try Stitchfix here. If you use this link, I’ll get a $25 referral credit on your first go, like my blog friend received when I tried. The Cherubs thank you for making their mom slightly less embarrassing.

I am so excited

celebrateJazz hands. Leaping awkward dance moves. High fives with myself (which ends up looking kind of like a jumping jack). That’s the kind of day I’m having. And I get to share it with you, which is one of the true joys about having a blog.

I’ve hit milestones on TWO major projects.  One was a deadline I expected to hit, the other came out of the blue like a rocket.   I’m having a little trouble breathing because I am JUST SO EXCITED TO BE A WRITER TODAY. Some days it totally bites lemons. But today is not that day. (And if you don’t believe me about the jazz hands, ask my neighbors. I just walked THIS DOG around the block in the rain singing and not-so-subtly dancing to an old No Doubt song. To Bergie’s credit, she seemed to enjoy it. She has very little rhythm, but was utterly unashamed.)

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our "I do's."

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our “I do’s.”

The first project is a complete re-write of my second memoir, A Maze of Grace. The original was lovely, but it came along at kind of a strange time in the publishing world and never shaped up to be what I’d hoped. So over the last year my awesome agent did what needed to happen to get the rights to the book reverted back to me so I could re-write it and put out a new edition.

I spent this summer slashing through those essay/blog-ish chapters. I threw some out and retooled the rest into an actual story–with a beginning, middle, and end. Part of what made the first edition so choppy was that many of the story lines hadn’t played out when it went to press–even I didn’t know what would happen. So I compensated by filling in the blank spaces with commentary (“What do I think Jesus would say if he met Rosie O’Donnell???”) Which was fine in a  certain sort of way. But it was not at all the point of the book.

With this rewrite, I added a narrative arc. I wrote new scenes that covered about 2 or 3 additional years, and got real candid about all sorts of things that happened and how Steve and I figured out how to respond to them…and how these experiences challenged and shaped both our faith and our marriage. Probably 50% of the book is new writing. The book has a new subtitle: Encouragement from the Trenches of Wedded Bliss. I wanted to really make it a book about chasing happily ever after with God, because I believe it’s possible, and I think it’s worth the effort.

I have a lot of hope for this book. I hope it will be out by the end of this year. I hope you will buy a copy for yourself, and for everyone you know who could use some encouragement. I hope it will start a huge, quiet wave of people praying for their own happily ever afters, and then sharing stories of the surprising ways God came through.

So I was excited about that…and also a little fatigued the way you are when you’ve been looking at something for too long and are itching to move on to a new project. Just for kicks, I pulled up the folder of material for The Courage to Ask, a book I was writing last year about praying for a husband that I ditched in December.  I remembered it as a yard sale of disconnected ideas strewn about cover_courage_trish_ryanin a bunch of half-baked paragraphs, and feeling like a failure because no matter what I tried, I could not pull together this project that mattered so much to me.

This morning, I spent about three hours mucking around in all those words. I was stunned to discover that some of them are really good. It makes sense, the ideas hang together. It’s still being very first/second draft-ish. But there’s real stuff there to work with. I suspect that the problem with this book wasn’t my writing, but my head. I needed to spend some time getting reconnected to the God who answers prayers before I could encourage anyone else to take that kind of risk. Now, I kind of can’t believe it. It feels like God took this project I killed and resurrected it. I could not be more excited.

(To those of you who read the excerpt from The Courage To Ask in the new edition of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and emailed to say, “let me know when it comes out!” THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how much you encouraged me to keep going back to those pages, believing that God will bring something beautiful out of those ashes.)

I’d hoped to have this book out in February 2013…and then 2014. This year is the first time that seems possible. Pray for me! And maybe do an embarrassing little dance right where you are, just to spread the happy. Thanks for celebrating with me :)

A Wedding, A Funeral

1996-2014-WeddingKissOn Saturday, Super-G & I had front row seats as our friend re-married her husband. They’d been divorced for enough years that this qualified as a miracle. It was a break-out-the-tissues moment, and I spent the entire ceremony trying to pick my jaw up out of my lap. Because even though I knew they were re-marrying each other–we flew down specifically for this event–the reality of it caught me off-guard.

It is an incredible thing to decide that the past does not define your present.  For two people to reach this place at the same time? Then dare to dream together for the future? That left me slack jawed.

It’s God. Obviously. But perhaps I’ve grown so used to believing for more “everyday” sorts of miracles (city parking spaces, an outfit at a good price for an important event, a THIS DOG we’d love as much as we loved THAT DOG) I lost touch with the possibility of believing for something that matters this much. The new & improved Mr. & Mrs. Maney SCHOOLED me about faith on Saturday. Thank you to the fine couple for such a gift.

(Speaking of unexpected gifts…the day before the wedding, the Bride, her mother & her two sons introduced us to Hobby 10500393_10203187526383711_7176283082732736580_nLobby.  Holy tchochke decor fun! All political posturing aside: this place is awesome. I love being a Northerner, but one thing that might lure me south is this schmorgasbord of whimsical chickenry! *The Bride coined this fine phrase – isn’t it perfect? I’m imagining an HGTV special built around this theme!)

We took a late flight home and landed back in Boston a little before midnight. THIS DOG wagged all 90 pounds of her spectacular self when Steve and I got home, and I spent almost an hour petting her and telling Steve in excited (over-caffinated) blurts all about our trip.

16704_20140814.jpgxThe next morning was our friend George’s funeral. It was an excellent funeral. You wouldn’t think there could be such a thing, but there is: it’s when your thoughts bounce back and forth between how much you’ll miss the person who died…but yet realize what an incredible job he did with the years he had.  That’s the dream, right? To die having loved others well, with people in your life who love you? Easier said than done. As I blogged last week, George pulled it off.

I know there’s some deep theological point I should draw from being at these two events (each of which seemed unlikely not all that long before they happened) one right after another.  All I can come up with is this: Follow God. Life is unpredictable, control is a lie. Having Jesus in your line of vision as you navigate increases the chance that you’ll end up in a place you want to be.

Now if I could only find that engraved on a whimsical chicken… :)

Life and Death

1918311_391176009711_4812670_nI read the news of Robin Williams’ death last night about five minutes after Steve went to the hospital to see our friend George, who’d just been told he has only a brief time left to live. News like this reaches my head long before my heart and so I’ve been thinking a lot about these two men and the struggle to wrap my mind around things like affection and gratitude and sadness and loss.

George loves humor. He laughs all the time. It is his form of friendliness, his way of crossing barriers, and his weapon of choice in the battle with life’s challenges. His eyes twinkle when he says something funny, which is pretty much all the time. (When Steve came home last night one of the first things he told me was, “George is still cracking jokes…on a respirator.”)

George has always been a mentor and father figure to Steve. He’s the one of the neighborhood dads who picked up the slack when Steve’s father left; he helped teach Steve what it means to be a man. Years later, he’s the one who took us in when we moved back from New York one autumn with no jobs and no place to live. We thought it would be a short thing, but we lived above George for four years. When we  had the opportunity to take in a three-year-old little girl who was in foster care, George was totally supportive and willing to help, even though it meant he’d have a small child running and dancing across his ceiling every day (His nickname for Princess Peach was “Happy Feet”) We could not have been part of her life without the way he was part of ours.

I think the legacy George will leave here on earth –in addition to his laughter, bright colored suspenders, delicious baked beans, and penchant for feeding wild animals in the driveway —  is how he cared for people in real, practical ways. Not the small gestures like brief conversations or vague emotional support. The big, sacrificial stuff: a place to live, food, a break on rent based on what you can pay, a chance to start over and rebuild. Mentoring over the long haul, sharing wisdom and trusting that it will take root and grow. Patience. He’s done this for so many people over so many years, it’s kind of mind-boggling.  As I pray for George I’m still numb to the reality that he may be gone soon. But I’m vividly aware that his life is an ongoing example of a life well lived.

A short while ago, a friend posted this quote from St. Francis of Assisi on her wall: “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received–only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”   I love the focus on the enduring power of what we give, and yet I hope that when St. Francis died, he found out he was a little bit wrong. I hope that we do take with us some of what we’ve received.  Because I want George to take with him all the love and gratitude so many of us feel for how he sacrificed for us.  I’m not sure how you measure gratitude (stacks? pounds? waves?) but I hope that part of heaven is feeling the love others have for you in a way you’re not capable of here on earth. I hope that heaven is an expanded capacity to receive all that joy. If so, George has quite a ride to look forward to.

As does Robin Williams. Williams touched people from more of a distance, but the joy and escape he brought to others was just as profound. I’m struck by how much George and Robin will enjoy each other if they have the chance to meet. I’m not sure how souls connect in the afterlife–heaven is a big place, and I know nothing about how one makes friends up there. But I trust that God has it covered.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. Thank you for all you offered to make us laugh, forget, hope, and reconsider.

Bless your heart, George, and your every breath. Thank you for tying the knot in rope after rope to help the rest of us hold on.

A Quieter Life

UnknownWe had a great weekend.

Saturday, my in-laws hosted a family BBQ in the back yard. It was relaxing and fun (except when my sister-in-law’s 7 pound chihuahua made a power move on THIS DOG, who currently weighs in at 89.3 pounds. That was a little tense. But funny afterwards, because the little dog did not end up as an hors d’oeuvre.) As the dogs were calmed and the afternoon wound down, we all pulled lawn chairs into a circle and everyone tossed funny stories back and forth like a beach ball. It’s been awhile since I laughed that hard. It was lovely.

Sunday it rained – fantastic nap weather. (I firmly believe that daytime sleep is a gift from God)  In the evening I worked on re-writing A Maze of Grace for the 2nd edition (more on that soon), and then was happily interrupted by a visit from Steve’s brother & his fiancé who came to hang out and enjoy beer and wine.  Good stuff.

I’m reading the journal Henri Nouwen kept during his stay with a group of monks in New York. A few weeks into his stay, his spiritual director said something like, “It will take awhile for you to integrate the gifts of this quieter life with the rest of your life.”  That felt familiar. It’s weird to live a quiet life after years of crazy schedules and fires to put out and things that threaten to fall apart if you don’t pay attention to them right this very second. That life was fueled by a shifting mix of adrenaline,fear, guilt and pride. Heady and addictive.  It’s hard to tell what the quieter life is fueled by because it doesn’t demand feeding in the same way. But I think some of it is laughter and naps and gratitude that a day that started off with two dogs in the family, ended with two dogs in the family, even if they had to be kept at opposite sides of the yard.

Big Hopeful Thoughts From Our Trip to Hawaii!

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I am way behind where I thought I’d be in sharing with you about our trip to Hawaii! We’ve been home for a week now, and each day I sort of wander around and do what needs to be done, but allthewhile I’m lost in kind of a reverie, thinking about God.

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Our friend Jordan preaching last Sunday. He and his wife Sonya (they used to live in Cambridge, which is how we’re connected to them) founded Bluewater Mission.

Okay, that sounds creepy. But it’s not. It’s filled with surreal joy.  These thoughts aren’t dreamy or delusional. They’re the outcropping of the incredible, concrete things we heard and saw and got to be part of in the Bluewater Mission faith community over the ten days we were on Oahu. (When you click on the link & see the slide show of pictures on the home page, imagine me & Steve under that basketball hoop, looking VERY untanned and New England-y, doing church with these awesome people – most of whom hugged us at one point or another. There is much hugging in Hawaii!)

photo copyAmidst all the hugging and warm welcome, we got to hear peoples’ STORIES. We got know men and women who not long ago were homeless, or victims of human trafficking, or strung out on drugs, who are now clear-eyed and excited, working really hard and getting real help – not just prayers and pep talks (although there are lots of those) but also a place to live, friends to love and do life with, a restaurant called Seed in which to work to earn money and learn skills.  Home, friends, a job, hope for the future. That sounds like the recipe for a new life, doesn’t it? I mean, who DOESN’T need these things?

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Shopping for baskets for Seed with our friend Robyn, another former Cantabridgian!

And it wasn’t just this sort of transformation. On a more behind-the-scenes level, we also got to witness the redemption God has brought to the leaders who are making this all happen: how Jesus has taken negative things that have been said to them or about them in regard to their personality/talents/dreams (“That will never work, stop suggesting it,” or “You’re not the person I think of when I consider a project like that…”) and turned the world upside down to create space for them to live into these dreams and THRIVE.  Of course, it’s practically killing them. They’re exhausted and beyond themselves and in water so deep they have no hope of finding land anytime soon, or perhaps ever. But they are swimming. And experiencing, minute-by-minute, that miraculous thing where God breathes air into your desperate lungs and keeps you afloat in the midst of impossible situations, giving you a front-row seat as He rescues people.

I tear up every time I think of it. This is why I’m walking around in a happy daze talking to God, asking Him what this means for us here in New England. Getting excited about transformation and redemption and seeing in real time Jesus’ promise that what is impossible with men is possible with God.  I am so excited about this, I’m having a little trouble functioning like a normal person again. But that’s okay. Being a normal person was never my strong suit :)

If you’d have told me years ago that one day, friends would send my husband and me on a 10-day trip to Hawaii, pay for our flights and hotels (I mean, WHO DOES THAT? Jesus’ people.

That’s who!),  and that the highlights of swimming in turquoise blue surf in late-February

Painting trim at Seed!

Painting trim at Seed!

and drinking mai-tais on the beach at sunset would be more than matched by the wonder of painting trim and washing dishes and shopping for 20 lbs of onions and 25 packages of shabu-shabu beef at a grocery store hidden behind a concrete wall (our credit card balked at this – apparently guests of the Royal Hawaiian don’t often find their way inland to make bulk purchases of beef & produce. Which  is a shame. They should!) for a new restaurant founded to bring justice to a community we’d never heard of and could barely pronounce…I’m not sure what I would have said. It’s all unbelievable, and yet it’s true.

Such is life in the Kingdom of God.