Transformation is Intentional



Change is inevitable. In the song, “Closing Time” there is a lyric, “Every new beginning comes at some other beginning’s end.” Transformation is intentional. While a gift of grace, it is purposeful and not effortless. Within the depths of winter, it is hard to imagine spring. The beauty of nature takes time. Think of transformation as tending a garden – your very own little plot of earth. Trust that it can be cultivated and that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, you begin to plow this plot with patience, sowing the seeds of your future well-being. At the beginning, joy might be found in just feeling that your situation – your little plot of earth – is workable. You stop looking for a different or better place to be. This does not mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where there were previously only rocks. It means you have confidence that something will grow here. As you cultivate your garden, tending it with a quiet mind and an open heart, the conditions become more conducive to growth and transformation. Slow down, breathe deeply, listen to your heart. Have patience. Something will blossom.

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Be Mindful

I had the privilege and pleasure to spend about 10 hours in the presence of Jon Kabat-Zinn a couple if weeks ago. It was exactly the experience I needed at that time, a worthwhile reminder of the invaluable quality of mindfulness.

Jon was in the Twin Cities to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. I had the same privilege in 2005 when the Center was celebrating its 10th anniversary. 10 years ago I was just beginning to carry this message about change, after losing my hand to cancer in 2003. I had been aware of and practicing mindfulness for 10 years before that time, however; having taken a class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Jon is the program’s founder and his book, Full Catastrophe Living is the central text. My decision to take the course came along with the great need and genuine desire to grieve well the death of my sister, Kristin. She had died of malignant melanoma early in November of 1991. I knew I did not have the resources necessary for that journey.

Mindfulness, defined as full awareness, Is a subject that I know and subscribe to practicing. I am certainly not expert or perfect in my knowledge nor my practice, but I am keenly aware of it’s value and benefit. Presence, the ability to “be” where you are in the present moment, is a key characteristic of mindfulness. This is the goal of meditation: simply being present to this moment and the next moment and the one after that, for the infinite number of moments we have to live. No matter what form of meditation you practice (and there are many), presence is the conditioning that allows for a whole-hearted response to life’s experiences – good, bad or otherwise; mindfully embracing whatever is happening at any given moment. Being present, saying “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” is the path to awareness and acknowledgment of the richness of life, both the joy and the sorrow.

That is why I was drawn to mindfulness and found it so invaluable in my grieving journey. Every grieving journey is a unique one. There is no road map with which to travel, no time table and no neat progression from one state to the next. It is a necessary, even mandatory journey of awareness, acceptance, integration and …. of what or who is gone. It is a narrow spot, a loss, a change requiring awareness, attention, presence and patience.

Patience is not passively waiting until the pain goes away or while someone else does something. It is an honest, gentle relationship with yourself and the moments of your life. Patience is another key characteristic of mindfulness. When I find myself saying, “I don’t have time for meditation today.”, I (kindly)remind myself that it only takes a minute, a few short breaths, to bring myself around to awareness of what life is showing me at that given moment. That moment is a gift.

Presence and patience are two of the pearls on my string. Oysters create pearls as a result of sand getting inside and causing irritation. If you are at all familiar with my message, you know how important sand is. My pearls have been created by being mindful of the irritation that has gotten inside the hourglass of my life, either by accident, design or happenstance. My sand has been refined and redefined many times by my narrow spots. When I sit, mindfully, with patience and presence, I find the pearls while sifting through and discovering my sand’s new arrangement. It is always a worthwhile endeavor. You know what happens to the oyster that fails to create a pearl. Death will happen to all of us at sometime. I have set the intention to be mindful and create as many pearls as possible until that eventuality. Join me?

Listen to an interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Express Gratitude

‘Tis the season…

“People who come to recognize the benefit of navigating narrow spots with patience,
presence, faith, intention, humor and community
find expressing gratitude to be the beginning of giving back.”
Ruth Bachman (Growing Through the Narrow Spots, 2013)

Being grateful is an invaluable asset – professionally and personally. Gratitude is an attitude of appreciation that acknowledges some benefit or kindness received. It is the first step in giving back to an individual, organization or community for their generosity. Being thankful, and expressing it – no matter how small the gift – spreads abundance in the world, instead of scarcity. Scarcity is worry that somehow the gift is not sufficient – not quite right or what is expected. The world would certainly be a different place if more people came to each day with a spirit of abundance rather than scarcity.

For some time gratitude has been the focus of scientific research and is actually proven to have an impact on your well-being. From the Wall Street Journal: ”…adults who feel grateful have ‘more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not’, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics.”

Gratitude is good for your health! Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a leading scholar within social and positive psychology, is one of many experts on the subject of gratitude. She writes, “Positive emotions play an essential role in our survival. Positive emotions, like love, joy, and gratitude (emphasis mine), promote new and creative actions, ideas, and social bonds. When people experience positive emotions, their minds broaden and they open up to new possibilities and ideas. At the same time, positive emotions help people build their personal well-being resources, ranging from physical resources, to intellectual resources, and social resources (Positivity, 2009).

Practicing gratitude, whether writing in a Gratitude Journal for yourself, or writing thank you notes to others, is really about paying attention to the good things in life, some of which we take for granted: a beautiful day; a well-timed hug; a referral; recognition of a job well done; being given an opportunity to share your gifts; acknowledgment of your time, effort and commitment to a task or a cause. It’s easy to overlook the regular sources of goodness in our lives. One act of kindness deserves another. One can assume “they” probably already know you’re thankful, but by communicating it verbally or in written form, you are giving a gift in return. Expressing gratitude can make your day as well as that of the recipient.

So get started. Make someone else’s day at the same time you broaden your mind; discover new possibilities and ideas; and enhance your resources for resilience. Don’t communicate gratitude by text or email. If you must use electronics, pick up the phone for an in-person call. Better yet, get out your best pen and paper and reap all the benefits of saying “Thank you.”

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” — Melody Beattie

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The 3 A’s

Teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition, my inner knowing,the senses of my body, the blessings of my spirit. Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter my sacred space and love beyond my fear and thus walk in balance with the passing of each glorious sun. ~Lakota Prayer

That prayer is very meaningful for me. I found the quote on a notecard in a small gift shop over the weekend. The words struck a chord on my heart.

I am having trouble with my 3 A’s – Authenticity, Authority and Autonomy. By trouble I mean questioning my ability to trust who I am and where I stand in my sacred space. How does my sacred space create reasonable boundaries for interaction with others, allowing room for the sacred space where I stand and that in which another stands? Whenever I feel this way, it is easy for me to default to the messages I have heard, from myself or others, since childhood. These messages are ones I have memorized and can deliver to myself in a nanosecond, without hesitation. But today is different. I am resisting going to those familiar messages. They are not true for me any longer – at least not at this minute.

I am not going to share a list of what is found in those messages. I trust that if you have traveled down any spiritual path, or entered into any kind of therapy, you know what nature and voice those messages represent and the damage they can inflict. Instead, I want to share the insights I recognized in a relatively short time this week – but with great effort.

Dictionary definitions are helpful, but not always insightful for integration into life. Merriam Webster has the following definitions:
Authenticity: real or genuine : not copied or false
Authority: originator, a quality that makes something seem true or real
Autonomy: the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing

When it comes to integration, here is what I am thinking today.
Authenticity is being tuned into what I bring to each moment – whether by myself or with others. Paying attention to how my heart feels when I am in conversation. Slowing down to listen to my heart and having compassion for the people in my circle of life.
Authority is being real – confident in the knowledge that I am enough for what I need to accomplish today, in this moment; not bending my real nature to accommodate someone else’s without being aware of what I am doing and why.
Autonomy is being in control of how I respond to life’s circumstances. I may not get to chose what or when change occurs in my life, but I do get to control what I do with the change. “Yes, this has happened. And now what?”

One of my precepts for life, and a key component in my message, is that change is inevitable. Change is relentless. No sooner have you accepted something in life when something else happens. Your hourglass is overturned again. Sifting through the new arrangement in your sand, you find the possibility for moving forward – there is still room to live. Life is a story. Your story is determined by the significant moments – the narrow spots – where something happens.

Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion. ~Barry Lopez

When we tell a personal story out loud, we discharge some of its danger and darkness. Visiting an experience through story is like shining a light into a dark closet. Narrative is part of our human nature. We live it, hear it and create it each day. Stories connect us to others and help us process, heal, problem solve, express feelings, remember and celebrate.

Being free to be me – to live and tell my story – is a challenge. When I find myself being drawn off course, needing to correct and redirect that course so that I am being true to who I have grown to be; I look to the resources I have sifted out from my sand. I set an intention to move forward and learn new things about myself and others in an honest and open atmosphere.

Today I claim my sacred space and set the intention to walk there more often. Thank you for listening.

I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and great fear of shallow living.
~Anaïs Nin

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Know When to Hold ‘em AND Know When to Fold ‘em

IMG_3392I hiked Mt. Whitney in California in August. It was an adventurous experience initiated by a question posed at a speech given to the Edina Rotary Club in October, 2013. I had shared some of the stories from my trek in Nepal with Above & Beyond Cancer as part of my message about living life resiliently. One of the attendees asked, “So, will you become a mountain climber?” I laughed and answered, “No, but I would climb Mt. Whitney with my brother, if he invited me.” My brother, Bruce invited. I accepted. And the adventure began.

Bruce is 73 years old. He is a lifelong Boy Scout, with vast experience in camping, back-Bruce Mt. Whitneypacking and hiking. He has hiked Mt. Whitney 6 times in the past, most recently 5 years ago. Bruce is a 4 year, Stage 4 Prostate Cancer survivor (the cancer has returned in his torso) and he had a stroke 3 years ago, from which he is well-recovered. My request to hike with him was met with some fear and trepidation by my sister-in-law, Debbie. But as long as the doctor blessed the endeavor and one of his sons joined the group, it would be okay. My nephew, Kevin joined the team. The group was rounded out by my daughter-in-law, Jessica. Full of high expectation for the experience, we walked through the portal to begin our trek to the summit Mt. Whitney at about 8:00 a.m.. The altitude at that point is about 8,000 ft.

With a pretty good history of hiking in MN, WA, OR, CO, NM, CA, Italy and Nepal, I had Whitney 2015confidence in my ability to meet the challenge of the trail. I do not have vast experience in back-packing, however. I think I was a 10 year old Girl Scout the last time I carried an overnight pack. I quickly renewed my appreciation for the Sherpa of Nepal as we embarked on this journey. It was hard to carry what I would need for one night of camping and the summit attempt. My pace was slower than Kevin’s and Jessica’s, and I was grateful to be able to match that of Bruce. The bottom of the well-maintained, winding trail is beautiful, verdant forest. After our stop for lunch, we quickly reached the tree line and began the remaining 2 hours of hiking on the very rocky trail. I was grateful for Bruce’s pace. We reached the rocky terraincampground (altitude ~12,000 ft) at about 3:00 p.m.. As the sun went behind the mountains, it got cold. After an interesting meal of a variety of freeze-dried entrees and a dessert to celebrate Jessica’s birthday, we climbed into out sleeping bags for warmth and the hope of restorative sleep before attempting the summit early the next morning.

With high expectations and confidence, the 4 of us set out. First we encountered the infamous 99 switchbacks, and then continued to traverse rocky terrain toward the summit.more rocks At about 13,500 ft, Bruce said he was having trouble catching his breath. The desire to complete the hike to the summit was there – strong as ever – but his body recommended reconciliation with reality. It was time to turn back. I told Bruce that I did not need to summit, that my purpose had been met: to have this experience with him and the success would be found in what we had already accomplished and returning home safely. So the two of us turned around and Kevin and Jessica went onto the summit.

After everyone returned from the summit, we had a quick lunch, packed up (did I mention that I really longed for a sherpa or a yak to carry my pack?!) and headed down to the portal. While going down is theoretically easier than ascending, the descent became increasingly difficult. I longed to be free of my pack and Bruce was having increasing difficulty with his stamina. With about 45 minutes left in our hike, Bruce’s pack was shifted to Jessica, Kevin carried both his own and Jessica’s and I carried mine down the remaining winding mountain trail. We reached the portal in less than grand fashion. After a brief respite, we piled our belongings and ourselves into the car and returned home – safe, exhausted and grateful.

So what did this experience teach me? That I am a very fortunate thriver: I have learned “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ’em”. I willingly initiated and entered into this experience with an open-mind, a willingness to be present and what I thought was sufficient physical conditioning to meet the challenge. I depended on the knowledge and expertise of those in my company to navigate the unknown. I measured success by the total experience, not by the achievement or failure of others. I went to hike Mt. Whitney together with my brother. Mission accomplished. I am very grateful.

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Maintain A Sense Of Humor

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

At the National Wellness Conference, I participated in a breakout session, “Laughter: It’s No Joke” on the essential role humor plays in our well-being. It was led by Sandy Queen, a well-respected speaker and humorist. She shared some great jokes, as well as describing the structure of humor and pointed out interesting research about how and why we respond to humor. I was hooked before I entered the room.

Comedian, cancer survivor and friend, Brenda Elsagher and I worked together at a survivorship event in 2013. We met again soon after and she was very generous in helping me explore how to interject more humor into my speeches. I followed her suggestions and have come to realize that there is more humor in my story than I have been willing to share. Actually, I used to include a whole humorous section that I entitled “There is Nothing Funny About Cancer.” But over time, I got away from that format and lost some of that humor. The time for change has come. It is a bit of a narrow spot for me.

In July, I started a stand-up comedy class at Stevie Ray’s Comedy Club in Chanhassen, MN. Carl Olson, the stand-up comic/teacher has shared additional invaluable information about the structure of humor and the reality of stand up. I was busy writing jokes while attending a writer’s retreat in Taos, NM. I was the only “comedy” writer in the bunch. I tried out my routine on the assembled audience before returning home. They laughed! My “recital” is in two short weeks.

When we are confronted by a narrow spot in our lives – a change that feels difficult to navigate – it may seem irreverent to either express or accept humor. But experts agree that even during the most difficult circumstances, maintaining a sense of humor and allowing ourselves a laugh can work wonders, having a positive effect on our psychological, emotional, and physical health – our sense of well-being. Laughter can go a long way to heal us.

Humor has various benefits. Allen Klein, in his book, The Healing Power of Humor, discusses how humor can help us get through losses, setbacks, disappointments, and illness by giving us a sense of power and a way of dealing with these difficult situations. It does this primarily by helping us, even for a short period of time, to change our perspective and look at our situation from a different angle, developing a new relationship with what or who has changed. Humor and laughter can provide a respite from pain and sadness.

There is a growing body of research, some of it anecdotal, indicating that humor and laughter really are good, if not the best medicine. When we laugh, healthy physical changes are triggered within the body. Our immune system is enhanced by decreasing stress hormones and increasing infection-fighting antibodies, thus providing resistance to disease. Our entire body relaxes for up to 45 minutes after the laughter has ceased. Our heart experiences increased blood flow and enhanced function of blood vessels, which in turn can protect us from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. In addition, endorphins, our body’s natural “feel good” chemicals, are automatically released.

The benefits of laughter and even the benefits of a simple smile extend far beyond physical changes. Laughter is very strong medicine. It brings our mind, body and spirit into quick and meaningful balance. The depth and breadth of our sense of humor go hand in hand with having a positive attitude and building resilience. (Read more about building resilience in my March 14, 2015 Blog Post)

So, how do you promote humor and laughter in your life? Find your resources and keep them handy. Perhaps make a list of books, videos and/or movies that are sure to bring a smile to your face – and a deep, down belly laugh to your heart and soul. And don’t keep your sense of humor a secret. Laughter is contagious. Share it freely. Hang out with some funny people. Come to my Stand-up Comedy Recital on August 9. I promise to be funny.

Watch the video of the Re-Play on October 23

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Connection Is The Currency of Wellness

Replace I by We.001

“Connection is the currency of wellness.” John Travis, an elder statesman of the National Wellness Institute, stated that clearly and authoritatively in his remarks at the awards banquet held during the National Wellness Conference in Minneapolis, MN in June. I was privileged to be in the audience to hear him. Throughout the conference, I heard a variety of speakers share a variation on that theme: Isolation is deadly. All creation is in relationship. Humor is about relationship – not jokes. It was invigorating and enlivened my mission and purpose.

From the opening keynote with Dr Todd Kashdan to the final wrap-up session with personal comments from attendees about what was learned, gleaned and being taken away from the conference, I felt at home – in relationship – with people from around the globe who are interested in, advocate for and employed in the field of wellness.

With an obvious emphasis on body, mind and spirit, this did not surprise me. What I found exhilarating was that the message that I carry – accepting the inevitability of change, gathering resources not to be overwhelmed by change and recognizing change as a growth edge in our lives – was amplified and underscored by so many others, in so many ways.

I have long maintained that being in community is essential.  It is one of the “Pearls” in my book. To feel the powerful presence of a palpable web of support, care, concern and prayer can make a world of difference in the way we navigate the challenges of a narrow spot. It is also a good idea to have an awareness of your community of support before the narrow spot occurs. People will surprise you. Some will come out of the woodwork to help. Some will disappear for reasons that you cannot understand. Don’t be disappointed or take it personally. Everyone has their own journey to navigate. Count on those who are present and accept their help. Asking for and accepting help is a two-way gift.

So what are your connections? Who are the people with whom you affiliate? With whom do you have a special or sacred bond? What is an idea or cause about which you are passionate? How do you share that with others? With what organization or group are you associated? How do you create “relationship” with the people, things or ideas that nourish your soul? What do you send out into the world? How do you internalize what the world sends back to you?

Engagement in wellness – and in my opinion, it is not sustained by itself – is not a selfish act. It is self care. Well-being is our essential nature, so is being in community. Be connected.

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Right Hand and Cast of Left HandHands tell a lot about a person. Take a look at yours. Hands are the original and ultimate tool. Before AT&T they were the way we reached out and touched someone. Some people are “handy,” able to “lend a hand.” We fold our hands in prayer. Some jobs are so easy you can do them with one hand tied behind your back. We all now know what it means to be “hands free”. I read once that angels will read your life story on your hands. I am confident they will get my whole story.

Take a look at your hands again. What story will they tell?

At the end of each finger are your fingerprints. They are completely unique, like each of us, like the life journey on which we travel. I have found that it is a mistake to compare one person’s journey with another’s – all are different and worthy, and one is not more important or profound than another.

The telling of and listening to stories is the way we make sense of our lives. Barry Lopez said, “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”

Be authentic in your story telling. Life is a “hand[s]-on job.”

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The Power of Story

I have the privilege of sharing this content two times this month.  In my opinion, the handout, designed for audience distribution at SURVIVORville 2015 in Nashville, TN; and the National Wellness Conference in Minneapolis, MN; is worthy of a broader readership.  I hope you find it meaningful.

I describe change as the narrow spot in an hourglass. The sand, traveling from the top through that tight spot, arrives at the bottom with a new arrangement. Life is full of narrow spots. ~Ruth Bachman

Growing Through the Narrow Spots: Name Them, Tell their Story, and Gather Resources

The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. ~Viktor Frankl

Change is inevitable. It is the rule, not the exception. Small wonders happen every day; the kind we assume, like waking from sleep or the sun rising and setting; and the kind that surprise us, like a rainbow after a sudden thunderstorm. We look at these “natural” changes with anticipation and comfort, and even experience a bit of awe at their existence. Then there are all the “other” changes that are out of the natural rhythm of life. Changes in our family and personal life, finances, employment, living conditions, health, and more. When change occurs in our lives, we think we can control it, but the opposite is true. We can only control how we respond to change. Our attitude is critical.

Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion. ~ Barry Lopez

Narrative is an essential part of our human nature. We live it, hear it and create it everyday. Stories delight us. They connect us to others and help us process, heal, problem solve, express feelings, remember and celebrate. There is a relationship between teller and listener. To enter a story is to make room for its teller. With someone to hear the story, tellers know they are not alone and feel gratitude for being heard. As listeners to someone else’s story, we realize that we can help just by listening, being a witness. The listener confirms the worth of the teller by attending to the story being told. When we tell personal stories out loud, it is like shining a light into a dark closet, a way to discover wholehearted pathways to renewal and transformation.

Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls. ~Melody Beattie

Courage is required to share some stories. Trusting the listener is essential. The root definition of courage – coeur – means heart. Wholeheartedly sharing stories, as a teller or a listener, strengthens resilience and awakens new inspiration for discovering purpose in life.

Every one of us is a wonder. Every one of us has a story. ~Kristin Hunter

It is a mistake to compare one person’s life journey with another’s, all are different and worthy and one is not more important or profound than another. We are all complex, textured, layered beings. The uniqueness of our stories brings the richness and texture to our relationships, communities and our world. Your story is important because it is yours.

It is an insistent grace that draws us to the edge and beckons us surrender safe territory and enter our enormity. ~Stephen Levine

When faced with a life-changing event, most people feel overwhelmed. It often feels like going over a waterfall with an inner tube, drowning in new vocabulary and experiences. While there is a myriad of tangible and intangible resources available to aid in mitigating this feeling, there is not always a clear path to discovering those resources. A change in perspective is essential – moving from your head, which is racing with questions of “How” and “Why” and sinking into your heart, which assures us of possibilities for acceptance. Take the time to slow down, breath deeply and listen to your heart. This is not a selfish act. It is the cornerstone of self-care.

Maybe stories are just data with a soul. ~Brené Brown

Research shows that resilience is the outcome of being able to respond to change with resources that promote well-being and cushion us against being overwhelmed by it. A resilient response to change requires the skills of patience and persistence; along with setting the intention to work toward some goal, having faith in the outcome, accepting some coaching and help from others, maintaining a sense of humor, expressing gratitude and realizing that grace is present in it all.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves,…. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. ~Rainer Marie Rilke

Who are the people you know who live with a spirit of abundance? Those are the people you want to be around when you are experiencing significant change. Ask for their help. You may well discover that asking someone to help – allowing someone to help – is a gift to them as well as a gift to you. That help may come from a variety of sources because narrow spots affect all 5 dimensions of life: cognitive, behavioral, emotional, physical and spiritual. Remember that wisdom has no age requirement.

Change is inevitable. Transformation is intentional. ~Ruth Bachman

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Focus on Wholeness

I recently had the privilege of speaking at both IgniteMinneapolis 8 and bushCONNECT 2015. Both were exhilarating experiences – 5 minutes/20 slides (that advanced automatically – talk about no control…). My topic was “One-Handed in a Two-Handed World”.

My goal was to disarm the audience while inspiring them to see that having an obvious hole in my silhouette does not, in and of itself, limit my choices in life. On the contrary, that is a source of personal power. I get to choose what I participate in and work to accomplish. I wanted to be humorous. (I really wanted it to be a stand-up comedy routine – maybe next year.) Based on Twitter chatter after both events, people caught the humor and found the statements “Do you focus on the holes, or on wholeness?” and “Stop borrowing trouble.” to be quote-worthy.

I had a blast doing them both. It was well worth the challenge. Please watch the video and let me know if I succeeded in my goal. bush CONNECT is up on YouTube, IgniteMinneapolis will be there soon.

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