Butterflies and Battlefields, Reflections of Civil War Trip – The Us-ness of it All

What is your passion? Roger, my husband, is a devoted student of the Civil War.  His eyes light up when he shares stories about his readings and discovers friends to engage in animated conversation (as opposed to the “the glaze,” what we jokingly have named the look after about .25 seconds when someone is uninterested in Civil War happenings). So, we choose to bookend a business trip with Civil War adventures, and we are off, off on a trip to the battlefields to learn and explore more.

Some of my friends were quite astonished that I would be interested in joining Roger on this excursion, as they are aware of my indifference to the subject matter. I actually ordered, as a primer for the trip, a historical fiction book, Across Five Aprils, that I remembered loving in the 7 th grade. I hoped to re-kindle a connection to the period, so I could feel more genuine enthusiasm for Roger’s passion.

Roger and I are firm believers in certain activities being “us-ness” events. Terry Hargrave, a marital counselor and amazing author of multiple books, who has counseled us through several different hurdles of life, taught us years ago about “us-ness” times. There will be times that one of us might not be totally interested or invested in a particular topic or event, but participating in the event together can be great for the “us-ness” of our marriage. We have expanded our understanding of one another and our interests by adopting this “us-ness” mindset. For instance, us-ness times might be Roger attending with me an Enneagram workshop, a ballet, a mindfulness class.... Or it might be me going to the Drake relays, reading segments of the Wall Street Journal, following the Olympics closely with Roger. We have learned we not only grow and expand our learning of various facets of life as we explore some of our varying interests together; in addition, the adventure enhances our understanding of one another in a deeper way.

So, this past week I was thrilled to watch Roger become absorbed in one of his passions – the Civil War. He did a fantastic job of planning our trip by incorporating various ways that would peak my interest – a hike up Maryland Heights at Harper’s Ferry where once atop the peak you can look out and see the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers,

tours of re-enactments of artillery and cannons firing versus simply reading about the events on a plaque, and a horseback ride on the actual trails that General Lee led his Confederate troops at Gettysburg.

As I was observing Roger’s zeal, the whole concept of “passion” struck me. Passion is defined as a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept. Several other passions became very obvious this week – I love it when you begin to look around more diligently through the lens of a phrase or thought, and you find the idea everywhere.

In Washington, DC, I began to reflect on how passions surface in others. Here are some of the glimpses of passion that I saw:

…the National Park Ranger who took time to show us how to best tour a specific part of Harper’s Ferry – even after her shift was apparently over – all because she cared that we know and see and understand history in a deep way.

…the hotel cleaning staff and one particular woman’s passion for cleaning and making the bed “just right.” I watched her take immense pride in her work while I was in the room studying and Roger was off working.

…the work-out instructor at Orange Theory (where we work out, both in Clive and as we travel) who showed us just the right way to do a particular exercise. He gave us nutrition advice every second he could – it was obvious he cared about the health of others in a deep way!

…the enthusiasm and care of a particular waiter at a restaurant whose diligence was exemplary. His interest in our dining decisions and experience seemed to be authentic.

…the detail in which Thomas Jefferson planned his gardens and his flowerbeds at Monticello with such precision. His love of nature and his recording of growth seasons, his analysis of plant progress and demise – all were truly remarkable.

…the love of the seemingly homeless woman who joined me for conversation one day after lunch. As we shared our stories with one another, I learned of her immense love for her father, age 93. After her mother passed away nine months ago, she chose to move back to DC from several states away – giving up her job security, etc. to care for her father.

…the Civil War tour guides who were incredibly thorough. Many hours of study, reading, preparation and love of the topic led to their exemplary level of presentation.

What does the word “passion” stir up within you? What are you passionate about? How can you deepen or strengthen a passion that may be lying dormant in your heart and may have been for some time?

One of my passions is photography. It seems that I am always looking for a “shot” – getting just the right angle of light on a subject, capturing a picture that stirs an emotion within me, allowing me to slow down and contemplate the deeper story under the narrative of an event – whether for deeper understanding of the other person or as a way to open up and explore my own heart separate from the business or “busyness” of the day.

So, it might not surprise you that, as we were on the battlefield tours, the artistry of the butterflies sometimes caught my attention. Enjoy a few “takes” of one of my passions – actually two passions combined – a love of nature and a love of photography!

While at Monticello, we discovered one of the sitting places that Thomas Jefferson contemplated.

I invite you to find your own quiet place and pause with me and reflect on where you see and experience glimpses of passion….

Back to School Reflections – What is Your Story?

August brings ads for back to school shopping, lunch box ideas, the latest styles in school clothes, fall calendar planning, football two-a-days, back to school PTA nights, meet the teacher nights, anxieties, excitement, letting go and new beginnings.

When we reflect back on our school stories from childhood and adolescence, now with the advantage of adult wisdom, what is it we remember?  What are the stories we TOLD ourselves then?  What are the stories we TELL ourselves now?  Are they true?  Are they accurate?

My Back to School Stories
I grew up in Seymour, TX and started first grade at age 6.  (I know, way back then we didn’t even have kindergarten and preschool!)  Julie and Kim and Mitzi were my best friends and playmates.  Of course, my sisters Annette and Melinda were my built-in, 24/7 playmates as well.  I remember the classics of Dick and Jane, learning to do math, my red and blue plastic “rest” mat, and playing Red Rover on the playground.  What do you remember about your beginnings of school?

After moving to Lubbock, TX, I began 3rd grade at Haynes Elementary.  One of those “school scars” happened to me on the first day of the new school in the new town (can you feel the apprehensions of this little brown-eyed 8-year-old)?  My teacher asked us to write something and turn it in.  Much to my dismay, after lunch the teacher called me up to the front of the room and held my paper up and said that I was trying to show off by writing in cursive.  Apparently in Lubbock, the students didn’t learn to write cursive until the 3rd grade – and my classmates had printed their papers.  Then it got worse!  As punishment, the teacher made me sit by the boys’ bathroom in the barracks classroom for 30 minutes.  I had never been in trouble at school before – I still clearly remember the tears dropping down on my new blue plaid dress.  After that, I tried really hard to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble at school.  

One positive development was making new friends at school and in the new town of Lubbock. New friends Katherine and Brenda, along with my sisters, became my “real, already established, don’t have to prove anything to anyone” friends.  We could play school together and jump on the trampoline and just have fun.

My 4th, 5th and 6th grade years took me to the brand new school of Mae Murfee Elementary.  We had a blast being the first students at the new school, and enjoyed the privilege of getting to pick the school mascot and school colors.  Back then it just seemed fun; now I see that this was a genius idea to give the students a sense of ownership and pride in the school.  

Evans Eagles with the scarlet and gold pride that rang through the halls was my home for Junior High – or middle school as it is now called!  I loved Evans and with football games, pep rallies, student council, choir, and amazing memories with friends, I found junior high a blast.

Not that there weren’t hurdles and growing pains along the way, like losing the Student Council Vice President election to Paul, or wanting to dress like, be like, and act like everyone else. (Or, from the perspective of adult wisdom, eating two chocolate cupcakes and a Dr. Pepper EVERY DAY for lunch!) And then, one spring morning I opened up my locker to find it stuffed with cotton stalks sporting fluffy white cotton bolls. A note that had been shoved among the stalks read, “Dianne, why don’t you try stuffing your bra with some of these?” For a few weeks afterward, I would be walking along during passing period and someone would should out, “Hey, cotton balls!”  I was so humiliated, and cried for days. Those were a hard few weeks! I’m thankful for friends who listened and questioned the intention behind what felt like a really cruel prank to a developing young teen.

By now, my Lubbock group of friends had expanded and there were seven of us—the Seven Dwarves, as we were often called.  Sharon, Marianne, De, Susan,  Laurie,  Michelle  and I were the gang.  We were excited to be “grown up” and off to high school.  I was the first to get my driver’s license, so each day at lunch we would pile as many as we could fit in my burnt orange Ford Galaxie 500 and rush down 50th Street to McDonald’s or Taco Villa for lots of fun lunch memories and giggles between the girls.  And of course, high school brought more social and emotional challenges, with dating, dances, and increasing leadership roles to navigate.  I was lucky to go to school with a great group of people, and we were convinced that our Monterey Plainsmen Class of ’78 the best class the school had ever produced.  We were “Loud and Proud” and loved supporting our amazing sports teams!  High school was a little mischief and A LOT of fabulous memories.  (How’s that for leaving the “mischief” stories to your imaginations?)

Texas Tech University seemed to be the logical choice for college as I had grown up as an avid Red Raider fan.  I loved learning and the independence of being able to choose classes on my preferred subject matter.  And of course, there was tons of fun to be had in college, with friends from Wall Hall dorm, Kappa “memory making” times with Susan and Cheryl and the pledge class of ’78, more dating, football games, Raider Recruiters, late night studying, and struggling through algebra…. And then, of course, meeting and falling in love with my amazing husband, Roger, which was a great closing chapter to a rewarding college experience.

My next Back to School Memories came as a Mom!

I spent so much time hoping and praying that Justin and Jill would get just the “right” teachers and make just the “right” friends. Every year we had a traditional first-day-of-school picture, and there were a few tears shed along the way after dropping them off. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude and excitement for what the year would hold…and a recognition that each stage was passing more quickly than I would like. These were tears of tenderness and fragility as a Mom.  

All the schools in Amarillo, TX turned out to be fantastic and supportive learning environments for our kids.  We still cherish the friends and social support of neighborhood, church, soccer, Scouts, and volleyball, football and basketball teams.  We “learned” the value of community in the school of parenting.

Then when Jill was in 4th grade and Justin in 6th grade, it was Back to School for me! I decided to re-enter the school world to get my Master’s in Counseling at West Texas A&M.  Guess what?  Even at age 36 I had back to school jitters – and frankly, it was first the “Can I get into a Master’s program?” jitters, and “Can I pass the GRE?” jitters.  I recall Justin, age 12, sitting with me on the den floor and re-teaching me Algebra to prepare for the GRE.  And it must have worked, because I got in.

Then I discovered that the challenge and the depth of learning that came from the studies in counseling were life-giving to me!  I LOVED it!  It was certainly challenging to juggle active kids’ schedules, family life and the rigor of tests, papers and more papers.  But graduate school was a mountain of learning and labor that led to the work I love – of coming along with others in the journey of hurt, heartache, and steps of healing thorough counseling.  Again, the encouragement and support of friends and family were critical – Roger’s love and support were phenomenal!

In 2000, we moved to West Des Moines, IA, and faced more back to school jitters.  Justin was beginning 9th grade and Jill was beginning 7th grade in new schools, but thankfully Indian Hills, Valley Southwoods and Valley High School proved to be incredible places of growth and learning for both of them.

As we reflect on Back to School moments, what is it that we can learn as we look at the stories we told ourselves regarding those experiences?  What a privilege to take some time during August and September and reflect on our Life Map of School – our Life Map of Learning.  Grab some old photos, connect with a classmate, thank a teacher, reflect, and ponder.  Maybe your school days were difficult, maybe you moved many times, maybe you experienced some of the learning curves that I did.  What could you learn about your heart if you reflected on your school days?

Pick up a notebook or your laptop and join me in taking a moment to gather perspective.  What did your heart as a little girl or little boy need at those moments?  Who was there for you? What was your favorite subject, and who was your favorite teacher? What did your tender, growing and learning heart need?  What do you discover as you get curious about your school stories?

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
Brené Brown, Rising Strong

On the Road

On the road again… Let the music of Willie Nelson’s song, “On The Road Again,” run through your head—or better yet, listen to it as you read this blog—and enjoy.  The last few weeks have been an adventure—of traveling down the road, hitting a few bumps, practicing gratitude and compassion—and celebrating the various stages of life! 

Roger and I, along with Sterling, our precious silver lab puppy, began the trip from Iowa to Texas with a sad task ahead of us: cleaning out Roger’s Mother’s home after her death in December.  What would that be like?  How would we do it—both emotionally and pragmatically?  Would everyone get along?  Would there be tears?  What would it feel like?  I’m grateful to say that Rhonda, Roger’s sister, had everything organized so superbly that the process of cleaning out and dividing up Wanda’s things went smoothly and fairly.  Roger’s mindset was that of honoring his Mom and Dad and gratefully “being with my brother and sister for a whole day—to cherish the time we’re together.”  I admire and respect that about Roger—his ability to be in the “now” and be present in difficult situations.  As Roger and Jim and Rhonda looked through boxes they discovered various mementoes, such as this letter from baseball camp,

anda and Hershel’s love for their family was evident in the “treasures” they had saved.  Another song comes to mind now, “A Long Line of Love” by Michael Martin Murphy.

On the road again, we then drove to Dallas, TX to be with Justin, Jill and Brent for the day. What a blast that was hanging out as a family! It seemed like the time went by in fast-forward—but it was rich with conversation, laughter, sharing a few meals, and just being together.  Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular—the extra-special moments of the ordinary.

Celebrating seasons of life is such an important part of living—to pause, to affirm, to reflect, to laugh, to share together. In this case we celebrated the beauty of my Mom, Gena Morris, at her 80th birthday celebration.  It is quite a celebration when we can get everyone together!  Fun times! 

On the road again—this time, traveling with Mom and Dad to Lubbock, TX—with a stop at the Museum of Natural History in Seymour.  An amazing museum with incredible dinosaur fossils found in the Baylor County Area.  Daddy was loving it!  Meanwhile I was loving the beauty of the car time with Mom and Dad—we’ve traveled that road from Lubbock to Seymour as a family countless times, and I reveled in memories of traveling back to Seymour to visit grandparents, ride our horses, and go to the lake after moving to Lubbock as an 8-year-old.

Amidst the crazy schedule, I had the opportunity to enjoy the richness of sitting with my high school friends and sharing our life together in the “today.”  Thank you Katherine and Marianne.  Friends to cherish forever.

In Lubbock, I had the honor of sharing Stop Breathe Believe at the Parkinson Symposium.  What a privilege to share with this group of incredibly brave and courageous individuals who have to decide daily to show up to living life fully amidst a frustrating and debilitating disease!  I loved, loved, loved getting to hear some of their stories. Parkinson’s is a disease our family is all too familiar with. Daddy is certainly a wonderful example of the power of the choice of our thoughts in fighting against a disease that can provide many opportunities for discouragement.  Daddy’s attitude and his decision to exercise with fortitude have defined him as a hero in my mind! 

On the road again—now think of the song “Just a Small Town Girl” by Journey. 

I admired the glorious beauty of the Texas sunset on the Brazos River as I pulled into Round Timbers to spend the night with my aunt and uncle, Sammie and Bobby—who of course, spoiled me with Fried Fish Dinner. Bobby catches, Sammie cooks!  Quite a team!

I was born in Seymour, TX and was invited to speak at the Spring Brunch for the women of the community.  What sweet and nostalgic memories:

*sharing about the time my friend, Julie and I—at about age 5 or 6—were picking bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) and a police officer drove by.  Julie and I were alarmed and quickly ran into the house—afraid that we were going to be arrested because we “knew” that it was illegal to pick the state flower.

*having the opportunity to hug my deceased grandmother’s pastor’s wife. My grandmother’s pastor would stop during his busy schedule to share Communion with Tinie at her oak kitchen table, as she was unable to get out due to Parkinson’s disease.  What a gift of love Pastor Hart provided!

*looking out at the audience and seeing so many faces that loved and encouraged me as a little girl: Mrs. Carter who taught me Sunday School; Marcia, the cousin I idolized because she was the high school twirler; my friend Julie, the one I picked the bluebonnets with and had not seen in 40+ years; my Dad’s secretary at the bank who would always sneak us an extra sucker when we came by to say “hi” to Daddy; my cousins Gena, Debbie and Mindy, for being the beautiful and courageous women they are; my aunt, Sammie, the best cheerleader anyone could wish for.  So, what a thrill to be able to share with them about Stop Breathe Believe and the beauty of cultivating self-compassion in our lives!

On the road again…and this time for the road home….


After a long road trip, what a thrill it is to get to your home street and enjoy the “YES” of turning into the driveway. We captured it on camera as Sterling stuck her head out the window to celebrate the budding of the trees in West Des Moines.

And then, on the road again—this time back in Des Moines for a courageous week of sharing at a few professional conferences.  Speaking to professional therapists is always scary—the “not enough” thoughts come out in full force when speaking to a group of colleagues!  Here’s a shot of my colleague Nancy and me, putting the finishing touches on our talk.

Speaking is such a humbling experience at times!  As Nancy and I were sharing at the Iowa Mental Health Conference about how we utilize the practice of Stop Breathe Believe with clients, I had to stop, quite literally! Yep, there was a slight “detour” on this part of the road trip as I frantically realized my notes were out of order. I had to admit it to the audience, re-set, and “go again”—and this was after getting started 15 minutes late due to “technical difficulties” with the PowerPoint.  Take a deep breath, Dianne!  Oh my!  Lions, tigers, bears and technology—oh my!  At times, I prefer to ditch the whole technology thing—but it is a “step into the arena of courage” moment for me.  I want to be brave. And the green statement for that particular presentation, with its mistakes and the panic of the moment, was “Stumbling is a part of growing.” 

So, what are the “road trip” lessons?

*I love this quote by Elizabeth Berg in The Year of Pleasures: “Now, on this road trip, my mind seemed to uncrinkle, to breathe, to present to itself a cure for a disease it had not, until now, known it had.” 

*I cherish the silence of traveling along in quiet, and I love the car conversations with Roger—the unrushed, sometimes deep, sometimes reflective, sometimes ordinary, sometimes funny conversations. I’m grateful for the hours of conversation that afford us the vulnerability, the glue, and the sharing that binds us together.

*It’s a wild and worthwhile adventure to travel and connect with others…and yet centering and refreshing to be at home. I’m sitting on the couch as I write this, with the sun shining in on a quiet and calm morning. It’s exhilarating to travel, yet it’s wonderful to be back in a routine and see clients.  Even Sterling, our puppy, seemed glad to get home to some familiar surroundings.  I think she might have decided she lived in a four-wheeled, moving vehicle!

*Family is worth traveling for, worth connecting to—even as we are processing various stages of life, not all of them joyous. The time spent together is priceless.

*Sharing with others about the practice of Stop Breathe Believe is an honor and a privilege. It’s rather humbling at times when I “mess up” and model imperfection so well—but I’m just so very grateful for the opportunities to share. 

May the practice of Stop Breathe Believe draw you closer to the real you as you discover the beauty and depth of who you were created to be. May you live fully alive today—whatever road you are on!

In closing, I will share with you the lovely words of an old Irish blessing—

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hands.