angels in the outfield, giving kids wings

caring adults - building assets for kids

Tru's cheering section laughing

These pictures put such a lump in my throat, seeing all the love & laughter for and from my little guy – with grownups who don’t have to be but want to be part of his life. So much joy. My dad, a pioneer in the field of positive youth development, believed (and spearheaded research to prove) that caring adults – in addition to immediate family – are one of the developmental assets kids need to succeed. “If you’re breathing, you’re on the team,” he often said.

On Sunday, Tru had a whole cheering section at his baseball game. He’s part of a wonderful Miracle League for kids with cognitive or physical challenges. It takes an hour to play two innings and there’s no actual competition. But he thinks hitting the ball off the tee and running the bases is the greatest thing ever. When he crosses home plate and recognizes people he knows and loves in the stands – whom he knows love him – he just lights up. What kid wouldn’t?

Despite cold and rainy weather, he was cheered on by his godparents Michelle and Bill, his beloved “Neen” (Jordan, who was his nanny for his first 3+ years and is still a frequent presence in his life) and her darling beau, Stu. They stood in the rain, whooped it up for him and his teammates, and gave him big hugs whenever he left the field (a common occurrence!) to visit his peeps.

Both Tru and his big brother have had special cheerleaders at almost all of their baseball games this summer. But these caring adults show up for them in other wonderful ways, too and we’re so grateful. When kids grow up feeling safe and supported not just within the walls of their homes but out in the world, it has a lasting impact and boosts their chances of becoming happy and healthy adults down the road. The more caring adults a kid has to count on, the stronger his wings.

So, this is my long way of saying THANK YOU to the earth angels in my kids’ lives – and to all of you who make a point of building relationships with other people’s kiddos. In case you don’t hear it often enough, know that what you do matters. People like you are changing the world, one well-loved kid at a time.

How to find caring adults for your kids

kids with uncle kai

think they like their uncle kai a little bit?

When Brad and I decided to start a family, we envisioned our children having other adults they could trust and feel supported by. So we’ve been pretty intentional about making this a priority. Here are a few ways how:

  • We literally talked to some friends – particularly those with no kids or grown kids – about this desire, asking them to be active cheerleaders for our kiddos if it felt right. Most folks felt honored and welcomed the invitation to play an active role in their lives.
  • When we moved into our current home eight years ago, the selling point was hearing this neighborhood had a Halloween parade and other family-friendly activities – a sign that we’d be moving into a community that cared about kids. It has been a great place for them to grow up, feeling safe and supported. And we try to play our part in that, too. There are often neighbor kids playing in our yard, climbing our trees, grabbing a snack in our kitchen.
  • We try to let those angels in our kids’ lives know how much we and our boys value them. If either kid says something kind or asks about one of their favorite grown-ups, I send that person a text – and it often makes their day.

Got other tips? Got caring adults you want to celebrate – or kids who have stolen your heart? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear your experiences!

 art of choosing beauty : click for details

Quick Video Message: Let’s Make Sparks Fly on 9/12!

I’m totally excited to invite you to a special event!
Want to make sparks fly in your own life and with the kids you love or teach? 
Quick video message above from me, taken on the backyard swing.

To sign up for our FREE webinar via ParentFurther, go here.
Oh! And here’s a past post on why this matters so much to me!
Can’t wait to make sparks fly with you!!

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Sparks Flying: A Special Day, A Special Announcement

I can’t remember what we did for my dad’s birthday last year. Where did we eat? What did we give him? Birthdays are a big deal in our family and I can’t stand that I can’t recall how we celebrated his life that day.

Meanwhile, this birthday – the first without him physically here – will be hard to forget. Today would have been his 66th birthday – exactly seven months after we lost him. Back in October, Ryder asked if we could please still celebrate Papa’s birthday in May. So, today there will be cupcakes and the boys will blow out Papa’s candles. Today, we’ll plant new ferns in my dad’s fern garden. Today, we’ll cry.

And then I’ll board a plane because today I get to give and receive an amazing gift: the chance to carry on my dad’s legacy. For 26 years, he ran Search Institute and lived his passion, paving the way for parents, educators and communities to help kids thrive by focusing on what they’re doing right, vs. what they’re doing wrong. In the last few years of his life, he was  particularly passionate about a concept he called Sparks – the notion that we all come into this world innate gifts and passions. Search Institute’s extensive research shows that when kids are encouraged to define their own sparks and receive support and encouragement from adults in their lives, they flourish in the most wonderful ways and use their sparks to light up their corner of world.

Everyone has a spark. Not everyone knows what it is – yet. I get giddy thinking about the potential here. Imagine what the world could be like and how our collective happiness would soar if we all knew and nurtured our own sparks! To have research and a road map makes it not just a pipe dream, but a true possibility. My dad was giddy about this, too – and we had such fun brainstorming about the future of Sparks and how we could work together to create a quiet revolution. We even dreamed up the office space we’d share; he was set to “retire” this year and this was one of the dreams he’d make a reality.

Late last September, weary from cancer treatments but excited about the future, my dad pulled me aside at a family gathering to tell me he’d had some discussions and mapped out some ideas to have me start working more formally on Sparks-related initiatives. It was a great moment; the wheels were turning, sparks were flying.

It was not to be. At least not in the way we imagined. Unbelievably, I found myself days later, sitting by his bedside and choking back tears, telling him that no matter what happened, I was excited about carrying on his work – but with one caveat: “You still have to work with me,” I told him. “I have to know you’re standing right behind me.” He nodded.

The fact that my first Sparks project starts today – leaving on a jet plane on his birthday – confirms for me that he is here, still doing his thing and making sparks fly. I am so honored to be collaborating with Search Institute, with colleagues he adored, keeping his light alive. Happy birthday, Dad. A happy birthday, indeed.

{Note: for more information on Sparks, go here}


Mom, What’s My Purpose?

{Hugo with his Dad, via Yahoo}

After taking Ryder to see HUGO in 3D last night, I cried all the way home. I had never read the book and knew very little about the film going into it. I had no inkling it would move me the way it did, connect me to my dad, and deliver the sweetest gift a mama could ask for.


Lately, I’ve been immersed in the magic of exploring purpose. My e-course students are digging deep to find theirs in relation to their blogs. I spent a couple of hours this weekend writing and doodling about my own as I follow along with the Hello Soul Hello Business ecourse. I’ve been researching it for exciting projects in the works. I’ve reflected deeply about the ways my dad inspired millions of parents and educators to help kids embrace their own innate sparks.


So, I spent most of the movie with my jaw in my lap and my heart jumping out of my chest, watching this little boy – Hugo – defeat the odds by letting love, passion and purpose guide him through the darkness of his life. He and his loving dad shared a deep fascination with clocks and machinery. After his dad dies in a fire and Hugo’s life spins out of control, his saving grace is his passion for rebuilding a magical machine that he suspects will deliver messages to him from his beloved dad. At one point during the movie, he shows his friend Isabelle the view of Paris at night from the top of a clock tower, telling her he sees the whole world as one big machine in which every single part has a purpose. He says it’s the only way he can explain his reason for being – that he was meant to be here and that we’re all here for a reason.


As Ryder and I walked out of the movie, both with wet eyes, my almost-nine-year-old turned to me and asked, “Mom, what’s my purpose??” It was like a lightning bolt to the heart, to have my own child wonder what he’s here in the world to be and do. As we walked to the car, I told him finding his purpose will be the greatest adventure of his life. It’s why we encourage him to try lots of different things – from choir to baseball to art – so he can begin to realize what lights him up inside. Once he finds that passion, I told him, he gets to use it not only to bring himself joy…but to help others, too.


(Ryder with his Papa last summer}

As we drove home, I told him – through tears – that it’s what Papa {my dad} called sparks:an individual’s deepest passions and interests that give them meaning, focus, joy and energy.” He shared that message around the world, I told Ryder, and is surely so excited that now his own grandson, whom he so adored, is eager to find his. I felt my dad with me, sitting shotgun, beaming as he listened in. Ryder hung on my every word {which is a rarity nowadays} as I told him I wasn’t crying just because I missed Papa, but because I was so happy for the chance to talk about sparks with my boy. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I get it.” By God, I think he really does.



What Will You Leave Behind?

Yesterday, I received a beautiful, handwritten note from someone I haven’t talked to in years. He had heard about my dad’s death, read about his life and it stirred something in him – a question that keeps tugging at his heart strings:

what am I going to leave behind that really matters?
I can’t tell you how many people have shared similar sentiments with me over the past few weeks. Every time, it makes my heart skip a beat.

My dad, Dr. Peter Benson, was truly a bright light in the world; helping kids thrive and inspiring communities to rally around their youth was his life’s mission. God, how I miss our intense conversations about ideas, strategies and success stories.

Despite huge coups – from White House dinners to sharing his work with the Dalai Lama – he was incredibly humble. So many times, he’d waltz into our house for a family gathering with his latest book tucked under his arm, already inscribed to us. He’d set it on the table or stick it on a shelf, just to make sure we had a copy – no fanfare, no boasting.

Since his death, our family has been so touched by so many beautiful tributes, heartfelt letters and touching anecdotes about my dad – a compassionate, charming, quirky dude who left behind such a grand legacy. He was insatiably curious and incredibly compassionate. He saw the good in everyone – every kid, every grownup – and knew we were all capable of greatness.

To know that, in retrospect, his life is now inspiring others to question their purpose in the world is such a great blessing. He would be {and surely is, somewhere out there} so excited about that.

{Photo Credit: Kai Worrell, taken during a moment of tribute to my dad at this week’s TEDxTC event}

A Return To Beauty {10.24.11}

For the first time in weeks, I started – and finished – a painting. My dudio looked like a garbage dump, covered in debris from the past three weeks: leftover memorial service programs, junk mail, the hat my dad wore to the hospital, hangers and bags that held the kids’ funeral outfits, unsent Etsy orders.  

I didn’t have the energy to clean, so I pushed it all aside and sat down with a blank canvas before me. A felt a tear roll down my cheek and watched it splatter on the table. My heart was aching to create, but I didn’t know how to start. Usually, the words come to me first and they inspire the images I paint or collage. No words came. 

So, I made a pile of materials. Paint tubes. Brushes. Stamp pads. Pens. Paper. I let intuition guide me – no words to inspire me, no end result in mind. Slowly, an abstract sunset emerged. Then wildflowers, blowing in the wind, practically painted themselves onto my canvas. I felt a stirring in my soul. 

I thought about the way my dad lived his life. I thought about the way I want to live mine. I thought about one of my dad’s well-known quotes

“To dream what is possible and to put oneself into service of that dream is the formula for a life well-lived.” 

And suddenly, words grew like wildflowers from my heart onto the painting. 

“I want all of my days to be lived in full-color: vibrant, artful and bold. I’m choosing beauty.” 

A manifesto. A choice. A return to beauty. 

* * * * *

Speaking of art, I’ve re-opened my Etsy shop. And on November 5th, I’ll be part of WildRuffle’s holiday pop-up boutique in Prior Lake, MN with 20 other fantastic, artistic vendors. If you’re in the Twin Cities and want to give your loved ones unique and beautiful gifts this year, I’d love to see you there. 

Look Who’s Calling: Talking To The Other Side

First, let me say how much your comments and emails and tweets lifted me up after my last post. Wow. You are all so wise and thoughtful; I truly have the best readers ever. Some of you urged me to watch for signs that my dad is still around me. Oh, I do! And he has already come through loud and clear in many ways.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the afterlife and the possibility of feeling, sensing and communicating with those on the Other Side. We live in a universe bigger than we can imagine, on a planet that spins with perfect timing, blessed by inexplicable synchronicity and serendipity day after day. With all these unfathomable miracles in our midst, it seems a given to me that God would have also orchestrated ways for us to connect with our loved ones soul-to-soul when hand-in-hand is no longer possible.

Over the years, I’ve read dozens of books on this, watched so many shows, and listened to stories from countless people who have felt the very real presence of angels, spirit guides and loved ones. Many experts who have studied this phenomenon say the spirits of our loved ones exist at a much higher vibration level than those of us left down here. We’re weighed down by worries and burdens and, of course, our physical bodies.  This makes it tough to communicate directly, the way we’re used to. But there’s a common theory that the elevated energy levels in Heaven makes it easier for our beloveds to connect with us at higher vibrational levels – especially in our dreams {when our subconscious is most open}and via electronic devices like phones, radios, and TVs. Ever heard a song on the radio that you just knew was a little wink from above?

On the day we took my dad to the hospital because he felt so yucky, my brother and I were on our cell phones a lot with our mom, who had left for New York before we could catch her {don’t worry – she came back!}. After a few hours, my phone was running low on juice, so I borrowed my dad’s iPhone to call her. When I hit the button to “wake up” his phone, the screen showed the contact page for my Grandma Benson – his mom. He used to call her every single night, but there’s no way he had tried to call her earlier that day. She had died five months earlier. I proceeded to call my mom, going to her contact page in the phone and clicking on her number. After we talked, I hit “end call.” My dad’s iPhone screen immediately went right back to my grandma’s contact page. Again!? When I told him, he was equally surprised; I remember saying maybe she was calling to check in on him at the hospital. Now I wonder if she was actually helping to call him Home.

As I said earlier, I’ve been keenly aware of signs from my dad since he passed. Most feel too sacred and personal to share here right now, but as long as I’m talking about phone calls, I’ll relay this one to you…

My birthday was the day after my dad’s memorial service last week. Birthdays are a big deal in our family, so it was lovely to spend last Tuesday with relatives who were still in town. But I was so aware that, for the first time ever, I hadn’t heard from my dad on my birthday.

That night, I noticed there was a message on my cell phone. It was from my friend, Suzanne, who’s a professional intuitive. In the message, she said my dad had come through to her from the Other Side repeatedly that day, almost badgering her. “I hope you don’t mind me leaving this message,” she said. “But since 8am this morning, your dad has been begging me to call you and wish you a happy birthday. He insists I have to sing the song to you!” I nearly dropped the phone. On every birthday since I left home, I’ve awoken to a phone call from my parents, listening to them sing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone. If my dad was on a business trip or had an early meeting, he’d find a way to call on his own; he was a terrible singer, but he always sang the birthday song to me with gusto. There were other details Suzanne shared in her message that validated for me it really was my dad. I was so floored that he’d made sure his latest trip – to the Other Side, no less – wouldn’t keep him from singing to me on my birthday.

Recounting these stories is healing for me; I’m reminded how thin the veil between here and there really is. I hope in some way they’re helpful for you, too. Of course, I’d much rather have my dad physically here. With every day that passes, my longing for another hug or a long chat gnaws at me more. But I’m confident he’s here in other ways, still very much part of my life, which is the next best thing.

There She Goes Again… {10.18.11}

Okay, here’s the truth. I’m worried you won’t want to come around here anymore if I keep writing about losing my dad. I mean, why would you? Yet he’s on my mind constantly these days, so it feels disingenuous to share anything else right now. I tried yesterday…and I know my post fell flat. I suppose there’s some beauty in just being real with you about that.

Two weeks have already passed. I see my dad everywhere. I hear his voice all the time. I feel his hand on my shoulder. I think about plans we were making – for family trips, for working together, for talks we still wanted to have. I try to get things done and then I lose focus, lose my rhythm, lose my place.

I feel bad for strangers who catch me in my grief. I can go hours unfazed and then sadness crashes in without warning. Suddenly, I’m choking back tears at a coffee shop. Or staring into space in the cereal aisle. Or sobbing through the first part of Keith Urban’s concert {failed to mention that in the last post, didn’t I?}. I shield my eyes from physical reminders – like his picture, like his handwriting, like his emails to me – but then something so small and unexpected rips my heart open anyway.

People keep telling me to move forward one step at a time. Yes, right…but in which direction? Today, I looked at these gorgeous, light-filled woods and imagined walking through them. Which way would I go? How long would it take? Where might I end up? I had no answers, of course. Only a sense that I’d need to keep on keeping on – watching my step, taking it slow, asking for help, feeling my way through.

I know you can’t give me directions, dear ones. I must do this on my own. But if you’ve been at the edge of these woods before, I’d love any advice you have to offer. Thanks for hanging with me.

A Change of Plans {10.12.11}

Yesterday did not go the way I’d planned.

On the first day of the new year, I flipped through my new 2011 wall calendar and wrote in all the important dates – birthdays, anniversaries, special events. In the box marked October 11th, I wrote two things:

Liv – 37 (because that’s my birthday) and, in all caps, BOOK RELEASE DATE!!! 

Well, it was still my birthday yesterday – that didn’t change. But the book deal crumbled just before going to press (you can read about that here). I’d worked for two years with my publisher on every little detail, so it knocked the wind out of my sails when they suddenly stopped publishing new books – including mine. Still, I trusted there was a reason it was not meant to be. Now I know what it was.

Had I been planning a big release party, traveling on a book tour or worried about details surrounding the launch, I couldn’t have been fully present these past couple of weeks, during one of the most important and sacred times of my life. I doubt I could have sat with my dad day and night at the hospital or been with my family, distraction-free, in these difficult days of planning his memorial service. And I’m sure I couldn’t have felt overjoyed about my first book coming out while wading through grief.

I believe everything happens (or doesn’t happen) for a reason. That includes, hard as it is to swallow, my dad’s passing at such a young age and with so much work left to do. All I can figure is God must have had a really good reason for plucking him up from the earth and taking him home. It sucks that I may never know why. But when I step back to see the big picture, I am reminded there’s a master plan that’s so much grander than what’s written on my calendar.

Yesterday, I spent my birthday with dozens of family members who had come to town to celebrate my dad’s life and support us through this hailstorm of shock and sadness. I blew out candles on a birthday cake (albeit through some tears) and got lots of hugs from people I adore. It had not been part of my original plan, but it was exactly where I was supposed to be – focused on family, wrapped in love.

The book will happen someday, when the time is right. Because that’s how everything happens – good and bad, beautiful and sad, right on time. Much to my chagrin, I can’t control any of it. But I do have a choice: I can curse and detest the master plan or recognize the magic of how it all unfolds. I know for sure which one my always-optimistic dad would want me to choose. So that’s my plan – to keep finding beauty in each day. Even on the sad ones.

Grasping For Words

I’ve been dreading writing this post, grasping for words, clutching my heart. Part of me still believes my dad will waltz through the door or call me any minute now. But then reality sets in and I remember the truth: I lost my dad on Sunday.

It’s too soon to put this heartbreak into my own words, all too raw to recognize the droves of people who have showered us with love and light. So, I’m turning to one of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue, and sharing a piece that is perfect for my superhero dad and those of us who adored him.

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.

We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones. 

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you. 

May you continue to inspire us: 
To enter each day with a generous heart, 
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation, 
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind, 
And where we will never lose you again. 

To learn more about the wonderful ways my dad left his mark on the world, click here.