Welcome!

Welcome to It’s Not About The Chair. I’m Lyena Strelkoff, a storyteller, performer, speaker, and coach. I believe our stories — the ones we’ve lived, that we can’t believe we made it through, or can’t stop laughing about, or just can’t stop thinking about —  are the greatest source of healing we have, for ourselves and especially, for each other. I started telling my own stories after I was paralyzed in a fall. My hope is that this blog will be a place to laugh, learn, heal and grow together. Because, ultimately, it’s not about the chair, or any other obstacle we might face. It’s about the choices we make, the spirit we bring, and helping each other thrive. I’m so glad you’re here.

Guess what Glennon Doyle Melton did?

Way back last summer, a friend sent out an email inviting a bunch of people to go see Glennon Doyle Melton for the Together tour. Do you all know Glennon? Founder of the online community Momastery; author of Carry On, Warrior; Oprah darling; Shero extraordinaire… Well I’d been waiting more than a year for Glennon to come to LA so I was thrilled. Little bubbles inside me.

Then I saw the date: Oct 4. The 14-year anniversary of my fall.

LOTS more bubbles. This was becoming a bit thrilling.

I clicked over to Momastery and started reading Glennon’s post about the tour. It was in support of her new book, Love Warrior. The last book tour had been really hard on her; she wanted to make it easier. So she was inviting friends to share the stage. I started reading about the friends…

And then I heard it, clear as anything, inside my head: The next time she does this, I’m on that stage with her.

Explosion of bubbles, my whole body vibrating. I felt like I’d inhaled the sugar content of two dozen Snickers bars. I was buzzing. I couldn’t see straight.

I didn’t bother to doubt the voice. You know when something is just so obviously true you can’t bring yourself to object? No matter how you feel about it, or what it stirs in you?

That’s what it was like. Big Me, Higher Me, God-me had spoken a truth… And that was that.

For a few minutes, I couldn’t do anything but buzz. My poor little body running all that energy. Then I wrote to my friend: count me in!

After a few minutes, Little Me had questions:

“How do I do that? How do I position myself to be on that stage?”

Boom. Big Me had answers: Get behind Shero’s Journey. One hundred percent.

“What does that look like?” I asked.

Boom. Boom. Boom. More answers.

I thought, shit, I better start writing this stuff down!

Over the next hour, every question that came to me was answered — BOOM. Even when it wasn’t…

If you’re not getting an answer, you’re asking the wrong question. Source your questions from curiosity, not anxiety.

Even when I hadn’t asked…

You can’t get taken out anymore. If you hurt, bring it with you. If you’re scared, bring it with you.

Finally, there was only one thing left to do. I’d been given a detailed map and a slew of loving kindness. Now, it was time to choose: Say yes to this delicious destiny (and all its terrifying requirements) or pass.

I made my way to my altar. On the corner, a dusty slip of paper read “What would it feel like to get behind yourself 100%?” I snickered. Like this, I thought.

I grabbed a new slip of paper, wrote the words that I had heard, and lit a candle. “The next time she does this, I’m on that stage,” I said aloud, knowing she might never do it again, and knowing it didn’t matter. All that mattered was having something to organize around, something inspiring me to do the work I’m meant to do anyway. Now I had it… And I said yes.

I hadn’t gotten my friend’s email very promptly, so when I responded telling her I was in, I told her not to worry if she’d already purchased the tickets. “Just let me know,” I said, “and I’ll get my own.”

When I left my altar, I found a response from her. She had, indeed, already purchased but when she did, intending to buy for the five friends that had responded, she felt this overwhelming sense that there was a sixth. “I didn’t know who it was,” she wrote, “but you have a ticket.”

The next day, I typed up everything God-me had said and printed it out to adorn my desk. I had a lot of work to do… but at least I knew what it was.

I didn’t tell almost anyone about what happened. The vision felt so tender, like a fragile sprout just barely cracking the crusty surface of my soil. One careless remark sounding, even unintentionally, like doubt or criticism could be a smashing boot.

So I kept my mouth shut, placed my silence like a protective container around the little sprout, and got busy tending.

Sometime later, I discovered some constraints regarding accessibility at the theater (the Pantages is old and behind the times when it comes to making accommodation), so when all was said and done, I was to be seated separately from my friend and her group.

Given how magical this whole thing had felt so far, though, I wasn’t about to attend the show by myself. It was a night made for sharing. So I bought an additional two tickets not knowing whom I’d bring.

Months went by… Some days, my focus was clear. Others, not so much. The wisdom I’d written down kept me moving forward. (It’s not about being in a hurry; it’s about being all in.)

Then about two weeks before the event, I was eating sushi with my friend, Lara, when she casually mentioned that she and a bunch of our friends wanted to see Glennon Doyle Melton on Oct. 4 and did I want to come?

Blink. Blink. “Boy, do I have a story for you.”

I told Lara the whole thing, lifted the garden net and showed her my brave little sprout, about which she said, “Oh yeah. I can totally see that.”

I wanted to weep in my yellowtail. And now we were both buzzing.

When I woke up on Oct. 4, I didn’t know how I felt about the anniversary. It’s been a lot of different things over the years — a celebration, a nightmare, a day so ordinary and full of life I didn’t notice the date. But as this one progressed, the thing that kept calling my attention was the radical shift in my sense of purpose.

Before the fall, I really had no idea what I was doing here, and my life was kind of going in circles. I’m not sure I noticed at the time, but I was sort of… paralyzed.

And then, even before I hit the ground, from the moment I heard the crack, I was somewhere new. And it was so beautiful, so glorious. (Thank God for that because it had to get me through the horror of becoming actually paralyzed.) Hitting the ground was like waking up to my purpose. And that purpose redirected not only my work, but my whole being.

The life I live did not exist before I fell. The work, the marriage, the motherhood — it’s all here because I fell.

I moved through the anniversary in a recurring dance with this blessing, feeling for the millionth time the extraordinary gift of calamity, the luminous power of the Shero’s Journey.

And then it was time to go see Glennon.

The whole show was amazing. The speakers were heavenly — passionate, authentic, visionary — everything we all wanted them to be. And throughout, I was a highway of emotion. Every feeling you can imagine, moving through me over multiple lanes, at various speeds: thrill, gratitude, self-doubt, amusement, peace, confidence, panic, hope, frustration, joy, affection, passion, determination, sorrow. At one point, I folded myself into the arms of my friend, Mandy, and just wept. I don’t even know why. Maybe just to discharge. It’s intense to sit in the presence of your destiny.

And then there were the couple of times during the night when I wondered if I’d made a mistake not telling Glennon about my little sprout.

Over the previous months, I’d considered writing to her but it just never felt right. Every time I’d check in within myself, I’d get this sort of wishy-washy feeling, so I never did it. Consequently, there were a few moments during the evening when I flirted with regret.

But some part of me was also wondering if/what the Universe would provide.

After the show, some of the speakers came to the foot of the stage to talk with audience members. I could see Glennon sitting on the lip of the stage, a huge crowd in front of her.

“I want to make my way down there,” I told my friends.

I wasn’t sure I could get through the sea of people, and I was a little nervous that Glennon would leave before I got there. But as I parked at the edge of the cluster of women waiting their turn, I just kept thinking, whatever happens now is perfect and right. My only job was to make myself available. The rest is out of my control.

Glennon had been making herself available for photos. One after another woman stood next to her and took a selfie with Glennon’s arm slung around her shoulder. But just after I arrived, Glennon jumped off the stage. I didn’t know what was happening (I thought she might be leaving) and then the woman nearest me stepped aside and motioned for me to take my turn.

I wheeled a bit forward as Glennon moved toward me. She bent down and hugged me, asking how I was. “I’m OK,” I said, finding no other adjective for the highway of emotion. And then I said, “Can I tell you something?”

Glennon stepped back and gave me her undivided attention.

Before I go on with this story, can I just tell you what a miracle that is? The woman had been on stage for f-o-u-r hours and then made herself available for countless photos. That she had an iota of energy to give anyone is astonishing.

Here is what I said:

“Fourteen years ago — today — I fell out of a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. As a lifelong dancer, it should have destroyed me. Instead it turned my life to gold. And while it was turning my life to gold, it was teaching me about how we relate to adversity, and how we need to relate to it.

“I’ve been waiting over a year for you to come to LA, so when I heard about this show, I immediately checked out your site. And as I was reading, it hit me: ‘Holy fucking shit — the next time she does this, I’m on that stage with her.'”

Glennon stared at me, utterly blank-faced, for what seemed like eternity. Then she said, “I think you are. What’s your email?”

She typed my email address into her phone, took a selfie of the two of us, and said, “You just got yourself a job.”

And then she was off, done for the night.

Holy holy holy!!

Let me tell you, I had no idea what might happen if I got the chance to tell Glennon my story, but it sure as hell wasn’t that! Holy cow! I was up ’til 1 am that night, buzzing.

The next evening, I was trying to get Aidan ready for bed when I heard my phone going nuts in the other room. Text after text was coming in. What on earth, I wondered?

When I finally had a moment, I took a quick look and discovered a flurry from the friends I’d attended the show with, and a copy of this post from Glennon’s Instagram:

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-9-48-05-pm

Holy-MOLEY-cow!

What can I even say?

I will tell you this though: I absolutely LOVE Glennon’s version of what I said. It shows exactly how she received me, and I’m so honored by how she received me. What a dream, this whole thing is.

So I’m back to work, following the directives from that night back in the summer, nurturing my now bigger sprout. And I’m telling you about it because, after more than 5,000 likes and nearly 100 comments on Glennon’s post, there’s really no point in keeping it a secret.

Besides, the sprout just isn’t so tender anymore. This whole experience — how it came together, what I saw on stage, the love of my friends, the potent anniversary and, of course, everything that happened with G — has been one giant affirmation. My soil’s been amended way down deep.

No doubt, it would be indescribably thrilling to find myself on stage with Glennon and friends someday but, whether or not that actually happens, I’m forever grateful. I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, where I belong now. And that’s an immeasurable gift. I’ll keep organizing around it, taking each right next step, as Glennon said in her show. And where I land will undoubtedly be perfect and right.

Stay brave and stay true…. That’s all any of us have to do.

 

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The story that turned my son away from TV

Sitting down to dinner the other day, Aidan asked if he could watch TV while he ate.

“Nope,” I said, with the casualness warranted by a question we both know he knows the answer to.

“Whyyyyyyyyyyy?”

Not that I hadn’t said it before but… “Because this is a time for us to be together… to connect. You can tell me stories about your day… I can tell you my stories…”

“What stories?”

Oh-oh.

I’d hardly had a moment to register my day, what with living it at full tilt the last 11 hours.

But this wasn’t a moment to balk. One of my deepest values — and my point about dinnertime! — was on the line. I needed a story and it had to be especially good.

“Know how I found out I was pregnant with you?” I asked.

“No.”

“I peed on a stick.”

“What??!!??”

(Score!)

“Yep. When a woman thinks she might be pregnant, there’s this special stick she can pee on to find out.”

“That’s crazy.”

“I know, right?”

Then I told him how we’d been waiting for him for more than a year; how I’d had my heart broken again and again; how I’d learned not to get too excited each month; how I’d gotten the stick because my doctor told me to, not because I thought I might actually be pregnant; how nervous I felt peeing on it; how I wanted to be pregnant but was too afraid to hope; how absolutely stunned I was when the “+” sign came up; how I just sat there, staring at it, letting it sink in; how, for just a moment, I didn’t want to tell anyone; how I wanted to let it just be mine for a bit — me, my body, and him; how I couldn’t stand to keep it a secret anymore; how I got cleaned up, got back in my chair, and rolled to the office; how soft my voice was, trying to speak to his dad; how I held out the stick and said, “I think we’re pregnant”; how we spent the next few minutes exhaling loudly, hugging, crying, staring blankly at each other, and exhaling some more; how we spent the few minutes after that scrutinizing the stick — “That is a +, right?”
“Yeah… yeah… It’s got the flat line and the other line… Yeah… It looks, really, like a +”; how our excitement was tempered by caution because we’d already miscarried once; how our doctor ordered blood tests to be sure — the stick can be wrong; how, last time, our numbers had been low and then dropped by half a few days later; how, this time, our numbers started above 500 and jumped to 5,000 a few days later…

“So that’s when we knew. You were definitely in there.”

“And I was teeny-tiny.”

“And growing.”

For all his love of LEGO and Star Wars and books and TV, none of them rate against hearing stories about himself and the people he loves. Stories that let him see deeper into the world he lives in.

And one more dinnertime brought the connection I always hope it will.

There’s still room in this Saturday’s free, virtual, mini writing workshop. Why don’t you join us? You can mine some stories to share with your kids.

I know you’ll both be glad you did.

RSVP here to get connection details (or, if you’re reading this in your Inbox, click here to RSVP online).

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Sheroes Write — a free, virtual writing retreat

Last week, I talked about the alchemy that takes place when we tell our stories… How we become bolder and braver, more present to who we actually are, instead of quietly obsessed with who we’re afraid we might be.

And I said I wanted to create more opportunity for all of us to experience that power… Together, in community… and for free.

So here is. Our first opportunity:

Introducing Sheroes Write — A virtual, mini writing retreat.

Saturday, May 21

10am – 12pm PDT

It’s for you, me, and a few other Sheroes who want to step away from our mile-a-minute lives and sink into the delicious deep of our stories — for breath, for laughter, for healing and community.

And just for plain ol’ fun!

No writing experience or proficiency required. Just a desire to put pen to paper and see what comes out.

And yes, you can wear your jammies!!

To participate, just RSVP in the form below so I know how many gals to expect. A day or two before the event, I’ll send you details to connect via phone or computer.

Sound good?

Oh, I can’t wait to slip into the alchemy with you.

(If you’re reading this in your Inbox, the form below won’t work. To RSVP for the retreat, click here instead, and fill out the form online.)

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What happens inside — The alchemy of telling our stories

Dean and I were crossing paths in the kitchen the other day and I found myself trying to explain what happens when people tell their stories.

It’s something I’m very passionate about (I bet you guessed that!) but I often find it hard to explain. In fact, just trying to write this post has been ridiculously challenging. I’ve written and rewritten paragraph after paragraph because I can’t quite fit into words what I so often experience.

I think it’s hard to explain because telling our stories is SO much more powerful than anyone expects.

Take my recent clients. I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of weeks listening to other people’s stories thanks to the Your Shining Signature Story coaching service I offered. All of these people came to the table expecting to create a compelling story that well introduced them to their ideal clients. But what’s actually been happening is so much bigger.

Random events have come into obvious relation. Dots got connected where dots hadn’t even been perceived before. Meaning began to surface where it hadn’t been noticed lacking. And, before we knew it, each storyteller had seen herself in a new way.

But even that isn’t the whole of it.

Telling our stories actually changes us.

You know, when something happens to us – big thing, little thing, scary, funny, mundane, moving… doesn’t matter – we experience it in the moment. That’s one level of experience. We might, depending on the thing, think about it after the fact… That’s another level of experience. But when we tell the story, either by writing it or just speaking it to another human, something new happens. Our relationship with that thing changes.

I’m not talking about consciously changing our story in order to change the relationship. That’s an effective healing tool sometimes, rewriting a section of our personal herstory in order to give ourselves a different experience.

But I’m talking about simply relating what we remember, without great effort even, but with some focus and with enough room to let things reveal themselves.

It’s like magic… Or alchemy. Suddenly, the whole is new and much greater than the sum of its parts.

Power gets redistributed, away from things that have been given too much, and toward that which has been given too little.

We are bolder, braver. We feel more confident. More whole. If you imagine our bodies as empty shells, and we the beings that fill the shells… It’s like more of us is inhabiting our bodies. Where once we were a bit ephemeral, a bit waif-y, now we have more substance. And we move in the world with that substance.

It’s subtle but utterly profound.

I think the alchemy has, at least in part, something to do with empowerment.

The consummate Shero is skilled at living empowered. She chooses consciously her response to what’s happening, takes responsibility for her experience. But even so, life is still happening somewhat to and at her. There’s just so much (virtually everything, in fact) that we can’t control.

Every other person on the planet, the weather, the timing of traffic signals, even our own emotions cannot be controlled. We do our best to stay in command of our choices, intentions, and availability… but the rest is playing out as it is. And we are players in each moment, even if we choose not to participate, or feel we don’t have choices. Life is happening, and we can’t just close our eyes and magically will it away.

But when we choose to tell a story – first of all, there’s choice there; that’s already different. But in the telling, we become a witness to our lives instead of (or maybe, in addition to) a participant.

That’s true, to some extent, when we think about something that’s happened, too. But, I don’t know. The space between our ears is like a worm hole. Things get twisted and warped so fast. Never, not one time, have I seen thinking about things have the exalting effect that telling stories can have.

Telling our stories gives us a new level of ownership over our own experience.

And that command, combined with the emerging new meaning and substance, indicates one thing: Integration.

That’s probably the key to the transformation. Integration.

Everything finds its place… and we get bigger.

It is thrilling to watch.

And it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.

We don’t have to try. We don’t have to intend. We don’t even have to know what we’re doing (though a little bit of guidance helps).

It’s just the nature of the beast.

I want to create more opportunities for us to have that. All of us, not just those of you in business.

I want to make space — offer a pot, so to speak – for the alchemy.

And I want to do it for FREE.

So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Watch your Inbox next week. I’ll have more details on how you can spend some quality time with your stories, me, and other Sheroes on the journey.

Your power is calling. Let’s make some magic!

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The oatmeal is always greener

I’m serving clients this week, receiving and crafting their stories, so my mind is a little preoccupied when it comes to writing my own. So…

I pulled this one from the archive of my first blog… The one I shared with only six people.

You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. For three years I blogged for the benefit of six people. I guess you could say, I’ve come a long way. 😉

Anyway, I wrote this when Aidan was only a few months old. Still feels poignant.

I hope you enjoy…

————–

It’s amazing how early it starts.

The other day, Aidan was sitting with me on the couch. He had access to three of his favorite toys; a clear, plastic cup; all the other toys inside his toy bag; the toy bag itself; two favorite books; a frozen teether; and a dish towel… All treasured play objects.

So what did he do?

Over and over and over, he tried to clamber past me to get to a bowl of oatmeal on the table next to me. A bowl of oatmeal I wouldn’t let him have.

Isn’t that just so typical?

I don’t mean of babies. I mean of humans! With a couch full of wonderful things we love, and can have, we choose instead to clamber for the thing we can’t.

What is that about?

You know what I’m talking about…

The really great guy/girl we’re ignoring because we want the one who doesn’t know we’re alive. The good job that barely registers because it isn’t what we thought we’d be doing. The satisfying life that goes unappreciated because so-and-so has such-and-such and we don’t, or because something isn’t what or how we imagine it should be.

The grass is always greener, right?

I remember being up in the tree in Charmlee Park, minutes before I fell, having climbed to a spot that looked really appealing, only to spy another spot, a bit below me that looked even better somehow. I clambered down (must have that spot), got myself situated, discovered that I felt no different than I had in the previous spot, and then the branch broke.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to better ourselves and our lives. I’m all for self-improvement and conscious evolution. It just seems like, sometimes, we waste a lot of good chasing what might be better.

It reminds me a little of the first years I was injured.

I was pretty focused on recovery, trying all different kinds of therapies, trying to get my head in the right place. And it wasn’t a useless effort, even if it didn’t lead to walking. But if I had kept it up, I might have missed out on a really wonderful life, the one that was readily available just waiting for me to live it.

Now, that might have been a different story if I LOVED the recovery effort, if that was the path of my joy. But it wasn’t. I was chasing what I used to have, how I thought it should be.

I don’t fault myself for doing that, of course. And I’ll be mighty happy if what I’ve lost ever comes back. But there was SO MUCH goodness right where I was, right where I am. And once I stopped chasing, I was able not only to appreciate what I already had, but to dive in and relish it, to feed it and make the most of it.

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

I tried to tell Aidan, every time I scooped him up mid-clamber and re-deposited him on the other side of the couch, that he’d be a lot happier if he learned to enjoy the things around him instead of coveting what he can’t have. Didn’t work. And I don’t expect it will for awhile. What’s the toddlers’ motto? MINE!

But someday, I hope he’ll get it. I hope he’ll learn to take a look around and see what’s already there for what it’s really worth… and treasure it.

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