Tag Archives: Stephanie Nielson

They Help Us To Do The Hard Things

Esperanza and I were talking today about our love of a good memoir. I’m taking a hiatus from reading so I can focus on writing, but as I write more profiles I’m thinking: what makes these stories so compelling to me? Because each person I profile I admire very much. And I’m wondering, why we are so drawn to certain stories?

Esperanza is reading two memoirs I recommended, by two bloggers actually. The first is “Heaven is Here” by Stephanie Nielson. I’ve talked about Stephanie’s blog before (NieNie Dialogues: I’m a fan) but the book is something else entirely. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, once upon a time there was a beautiful young mother of four children, married to a handsome loving husband. A Prince Charming if you will. She was, as Esperanza put it, “so, so happy”. She’d created art out of her own life on her blog, and the beauty she generated from her cooking, decorating and photography led to acclaim from Martha Stewart Magazine and Conde Nast. Stephanie’s blog was inspiring to many women who aspired to be the kind of devoted mother and wife she was. Stephanie attributed her approach to life to her deeply held Mormon beliefs. In 2008, she was truly living the dream. She had everything.

Which is why what happened next was so shocking. She and her husband were in a terrible plane crash. They survived but their friend who was also in the plane did not. Stephanie was burned over 80% on her body (including her beautiful face) and was in a coma for 2 months. The pain, the injuries, the horror: it’s almost unimaginable. Yet, she survived and thrived and eventually even gave birth to another baby, Charlotte. How? How could you recover, mentally and emotionally from such a thing? In the book Stephanie credits her Mormon faith with much of her recovery in every way, and also her love of her family.

In the book, she attempts to hike a local trail to mark her recovery and gain a victory of sorts, even though every movement hurts. On the trail a child she has never met cheers her on, relating the message: “You help me do the hard things.”

The other book I recommended is “Bloom” by Kelle Hampton. Kelle’s a fun-loving photographer and mother-of-one whose world is rocked when her second child, her daughter Nella, is unexpectedly born with Downs Syndrome. The book tells the story of what happend next with honesty and sincerity. Kelle relates the depression she felt immediately after Nella’s birth and then the fierce embrace of her daughter and the decision she made to celebrate the “small moments”, the triumphs and the beauty of Nella’s life. Kelle eventually creates her own pretty unique approach to parenting: one of optimism and expecting the best of a situation, not the worst. The gorgeous photos help to tell the story as well. Kelle’s gang of girlfriends (she calls them “the net”) are at the root of how Kelle adapts to her new reality. Their love and support and words of wisdom are really at the heart of what allows her to fully embrace her new role as Nella’s champion.

After discussing these books with Esperanza, we decided we seek these stories out because they are about women dealing with hard, hard things. Life is full of hardships. It just is. So we seek out words of wisdom from those we think perhaps have answers we don’t, the key, so to speak of what is resilience. And how we can develop it on our own.

What stories speak to you, and why? Do you seek out memoirs?



Filed under Project Dreamcatcher, writing

Bye Bye Balloon!

There is a question that seems to be reverberating in the blogging world right now. At a session at BlogHer, Mel asked: “Who wears the pants on your blog: you, your readers or your topic?”

I have been ruminating on this, because honestly? My blog is all over the place, right? It’s OK to say yes. It’s a little of this, a little of that.

After two years of pondering life after infertility and loss, after years of questions, I’ve finally come to a sort of peace. And an idea of what I want this blog to be.

It all began in Tahoe. I read Stephanie Nielson’s book “Heaven Is Here” during my stay. I am a Nie Nie Dialogues fan from way back, but the book told her compelling story in a single narrative. In a blurb: Stephanie Nielson was a mother of four living a beautiful life until the moment she got into a plane crash and was burned over 80% on her body. In a very moving and honest way, she describes how she found her way back to her beautiful life. It was deeply moving to me.

I haven’t been living my life lately as if I were a lucky person. I have been fearful and terrified and sad. It’s understandable, after so much loss.

I am lucky to be here, to be inhabiting my life. I have the life of a truly blessed person: one who has so much. I’ve been blinded by grief, but as if my sight was restored, suddenly I see my husband in front of me: someone who’s strong and makes so much of my life possible. Fourteen years have passed since the day I met and instantly fell in love with him, waiting in line for a concert. He dazzled me with his wit and sophistication and challenged me. He’s still doing so today.

And My God, my children. They’ve been in front of me, all this time, shining.

My dreams of more, more, more. I don’t blame myself for wanting more: it’s a biological imperative to have many children, it’s an urge deep in my soul. But I am not going to let it rule my life anymore. I can’t.

I’ll always look wistfully at big families, but I’m letting go of that dream. Letting it go into the sky like a sole, lonely balloon as I did when I was a child. I’d beg my mother for a balloon and then inevitably let it go. As soon as it was unreachable, I would sob and cry: “Bye, bye balloon!”

“Bye bye balloon!” I’ll miss you, but I must let you go.

Please know this is only MY decision and I’m not applying it to anyone else.

Faces of ALI is my very small way of giving back to the community that has given me so much. I will continue to write my profiles. Publishers and famous authors by damned.

But here, now, I must start something new. I understand if you do not want to follow me anymore, I do. Dear readers, I owe you this peace I now feel. I don’t want to desert you. I understand how you feel and my heart will always be with you, it will. I will continue to read your stories and comment on your journeys.

But in my own place, I must in turn follow the beat of the drummer I am starting to hear. I feel the excitement, the joy, the adventure, the heartbreak. It’s waiting for me, just around the bend. I hope you understand. I must chase it, because we only truly exist once, here.


Filed under Blogging

Nie Nie Redux: Reflections on the 20/20 Special

I’ve been getting a bit of traffic for an old story I wrote about Stephanie Nielson, of Nie Nie Dialogues. When I did a news search to see why, I saw a link to a 20/20 story that aired about her last night. So I watched the story. And I hope you can watch it too, if time permits.

Stephanie Nielson survived a plane crash with 80% burns over her body. Her husband, who survived the plane crash as well, was faced with the decision to go back into a massive burning inferno and try to pull out his wife (and die in the process) or remain living for his children (he suffered significant burns as well), a choice no person should be forced to make. He chose not to go back. She made it out of the burning plane on her own, who knows how. What I have always admired about Stephanie, and now her husband as well, is the possession of honesty in the face of their great tragedy. She admits that she felt a terrible sense of abandonment. And yet, with no illusions and in the hard, frozen, iron light of day, she (and he) eventually chose optimism. She forgave him. He accepted her changed physical appearance, transformed by fire. And a real love story for the ages was unveiled.

We all have an idealized way we expect husbands and wives to behave. It’s easy to cast blame and imagine the heroic behavior we would engage in if we were faced with a terrible scenario like the Nielsons. But to forgive someone is quite possibly the most difficult thing in the world. To accept that the outside of our facade is only a glimpse of our true self is also incredibly formidable. To be truly honest with each other is almost excruciating.

So, Nielsons, I am so happy that you have held on to your love. Thank you for showing me what real fairytale love is like.


Filed under Discovering joy