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Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 | Author:

If you told me 12 years ago that my world would change forever in a few months, I either wouldn’t have believed you, or I wouldn’t have been thankful at Thanksgiving. Not really.

I probably would’ve said that I’d be grateful — good, strong church kid that I was. But I wouldn’t have been. I’d have tallied it up with my chronic illness in the category of “things in which I just can’t get a break.” There would’ve been nothing sincere left in the “Thankful for” column as I was already an angsty teen.

I was 14 and I was thankful. Until my sister died. Then I was mad at the world and wore a fake smile.

Through many years, though, we rebuilt a “new normal.” I found people inside my family and out that felt like home. We created a good life together. A great life together.

In time, I was thankful again. So thankful. Abundantly thankful. My line was, “There’s not anywhere else in the world I’d rather me, nor anything else I’d rather be doing, than being here now, doing what I do.” And I meant it. I meant it down all the way through the drain pipes of my soul.

Three years ago you could not have wrung more thankfulness from my heart on Thanksgiving than I freely gave.

I had pre-thanksgiving thanksgiving (my brother’s term — friendsgiving to the rest of the world) the week before with some of my dearest, life-long friends. On the day of, I woke up, played football with many people that I loved and did life with everyday, while others in that same vein watched us play, then I spent the mealtime with my family. We watched all of the Thanksgiving episodes of friends and went to a movie — new traditions since Julie died. I remember thinking I could die then and still be happy. I was so thankful for my life. it was beautiful in so many ways.

If you had told me then that 40 days later I’d be alone, broken, with an inability for thankfulness again, I’d have believed you — but I probably would’ve hit you, too. Because I knew life was so beautiful, but so fragile, that I wouldn’t have wanted to know ahead.

But you’d have been right. 40 days later, I’d be holed up in my apartment, alone, broken, not just ungrateful, but stunned altogether. Once the dry heaves and violent sobs subsided, I was a zombie of grief and brokenness for a while. Then, after a few months, like the 14 year old me, I learned how to pretend to smile sometimes.

It would be four months before I smiled again for real. It would be a year and a half before I felt hope again. It would be two years until I felt free again. And it would be this past summer that I felt at home again.

But I do. I feel at home. I drive down the road and like a woman in the first stages of love, I see life in a rose-colored hue. The trees on the side of the road shine. The grass in the Kansan fields seems majestic. The cashier at the grocery store’s friendliness is energizing. The river water soothes my mind as I walk along its same course.

I have retained friends that I was sure I’d lose along the way, but they stayed. They came back. And they say things like “hey, just so you know, even if you f*** up big time and it’s completely your fault somewhere in life, I’m still here. I’m with you.” I have people that are my people that live scattered around the country and around the world and I know that they love me.

I am in love with life, and the people in it, and every day I’m in awe because of something.

I’m in a new town where I still don’t know a lot of people. I create marketing plans and serve sushi for a living, and I spend most nights watching Netflix with my dog, but even still, I’m in love with life again. I feel alive and free and at home again.

And once again, this is the most thankful I have ever been. I am thankful for new normals. For old and new friends. And especially thankful for new homes (*cough* Wichita *cough*).

When it comes down to it, this is what I’ve learned about life — Joy is a choice. You have to choose it. And keep choosing it. And thankfulness comes with it. Or visa versa, not really sure, I haven’t achieved yoda-level yet. I’m still learning.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for it all. I’m thankful for you all.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Author:


My brother sent me a post on facebook recently that I loved. It didn’t have any information on it, so it’s hard to verify if it’s true or not, but it said, “There are libraries around the world where you can check out a person as a living book and listen to their stories.”

If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written recently, you can guess how much I love this idea. But I noticed many comments on the post echoing a thought in the same key: Why go to a library to hear some stranger’s stories when we don’t even bother to talk to our neighbors or the people around us in restaurants?

While I understand the argument and the sentiment, I think the thing is, when we want to talk, we’re afraid that maybe other people don’t. Where we’d like to hear people’s stories, we’re not sure if the people around us are willing to tell their stories. Or maybe we want to tell our stories, but we’re not sure if the people around us would want to listen.

I have become more introverted as my years have increased in number, so while I am talkative many times, many other times I really do enjoy the solitude and aloneness that can come from traveling alone or dining alone in the company of only strangers. I think we’ve all probably been trapped on a plane next to someone who wanted to talk the whole way when we really just wanted to sleep, read, think, or whatever else it is you do on an airplane.

But aside from that, I think the majority of why we don’t talk, why we don’t share, why we don’t interact with those around us is fear. And that fear that is heavily supported by social conventions. Social conventions that say “Stay quiet.” That say it’s weird to say hello to a stranger standing in the same vicinity. That it’s inappropriate to reach out and interact with someone who has not invited you to do so.

There are of course times, and signs that those social conventions should be abided by (in my opinion). For example, you never need to talk to someone in the next stall over in the bathroom unless you need to embarrassingly ask them to pass you some TP. Or, when you’re at a cafe and you see someone with both of their headphones in, working away at something, it better be for a specific reason that you’re approaching them and asking them to disengage what they’re doing (like, “hey, I’m having a heart attack and my phone is dead, could you call 911 please?”). Not just for general chit chat.

But what I’ve found is that when I get over my fear, my social anxiety that our culture affirms that tells me to just stare at my phone instead of engaging the people around me, and when I finally venture out of myself into the world of others, I have found some beautiful interactions. I have found some beautiful people that are in my life now in large ways because I engaged them or visa versa who I otherwise would’ve just passed by.

The comments on the facebook post are right: we are surrounded by people with incredible stories that we don’t know on a regular basis, and we’ll continue to never know them unless we begin to interact.

I do it the cheating way: I ask people to tell me their stories so I can write it for them, which is an incredible blessing to get to sit in those spaces and hear those tales.

But before I was ever a writer, I was a toddler that would ask you who you were, where you lived, what did you believe.

Then I was the little girl who reached out to the middle aged woman struggling on the ice skating rink and asked if I could help her, and continued to skate with her for the next hour.

When I was very young it came naturally. But then adolescence hit and it was more uncomfortable to reach out. So it became a discipline instead of a natural disposition.

With this discipline, I was the middle school student who went to summer camp and met every single counselor there, and then continued to be friends with many of them for years later — up to and including one who opened a crossfit gym in my hometown when I was an adult and became my trainer.

And on and on.

Some of the dearest people I have in my life today are there because I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I talked with them, reached out, interacting in non-extraordinary ways that sparks extraordinary friendships, adventures, and tales.

So, as I challenge myself regularly, I challenge you: Reach out. Interact. See what happens.

If you want to reach out by encouraging someone you know to have their story written (so you and others can read it and know it), contact me directly (info below), or have them look over the story project website and contact me for next steps.

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 07th, 2015 | Author:

“We need to talk,” she said to me in a serious yet conspiring tone.

We walked with rushing feet to our personal conference room — the Children’s Church room at the back of the church where we’d hang out before church. We were two rambunctious 8-year-old girls who got to church early with our parents when they had to do something or another for the service.

Once within the confines of our private scheme-building room, we stood in the middle of the room, near the wall with the old piano that I’d play for us sometimes.

We stood facing each other, and I was not nervous as adults are when someone says to them, “we need to talk.” — I was eager to hear what was so important.

“Did you hear that his parents are getting a divorce?”

“I know,” I said, looking down, not knowing what that really meant or entailed, but knowing it was bad. “My mom told me.”

He was a boy in our grade who we’d known for the past few years. He was our number one enemy. His life goal was to annoy us. And our lives’ goals were to make him look like a fool by pulling pranks and such. This was the essence of most of our friendships with kids of the opposite sex, as seems to be the norm. But he and one other boy were our particular enemies and we paid each other more mutual attention than we paid the other kids.

medium_301168593photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

“I think we need to be his friend now,” she said to me, the decision already made.

“Yeah. I think you’re right. That would be good,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that, or realized it was needed until she said it. But once she did, it was decided. Third-grader conference of the year over.

It was one of the most important, efficient, and impactful conferences I’ve ever been a part of, and the decision stuck. We started that day at church. We didn’t drop the enemy act, but we had changed our heart toward him, and he changed his toward us. We continued to be frenemies all through high school.

When we were in junior high, he gave me one of the best christmas gifts I’ve ever received — he bought, with his own money, the movie Princess Diaries for me on VHS. He knew I loved it, and that was far above the $1-5 gifts we had sometimes exchanged in the past. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone he had gotten it for me because that would show that we were friends, so I didn’t, but we watched it together nearly weekly for about a year until we moved onto other fixations.

I’ve seen him a couple times this past year, and each time, I’ve thought how much I enjoy him as a person and a friend. But I may not have been friends with him had she not pulled me into that children’s church room and presented her idea for what we needed to do.

She saw disaster on the horizon and proposed a plan of action. I just followed.

We were in high school when her parents divorced as well. I was still friends with her, but in the of-course-we’re-friends way, not in the I-am-here-for-you-in-daily-life way. Our paths had started to take us in different directions, and I’m sad that I didn’t have a conference with anyone, declaring “we need to be friends with her.”

The truth is, a lot of people stepped away from her in that painful time. The girl who intentionally stepped in at 8. The girl who recognized the severity of the pain of divorce before she’d ever felt it. The girl who put aside sacred cooty-laws and annoyance-wars to be a friend. She was pushed to the outskirts and left alone in her time of pain.

It is a hard thing to see and recognize that you do not always reap what you sow. Mean people sometimes prosper and good people sometimes get left. At least it feels that way sometimes.

But the thing is, the girl who has heart enough to decide to be friends with a hurting enemy at 8 years old, she will be a woman who will live life well. She will be the type of woman who has deep friendships with people she’s met in passing. She will be a friend even when she is in pain. And some of those relationships will give back to her as well. The humility that lets her put aside childhood feuds also strengthens her to reach out to people who need a second chance in her life.

And that gives me hope about life and about the world. Because, almost two decades later, I still remember her as the girl who decided to be a friend when she didn’t have to be, and she got me to do so too. And the woman I know her as now still has that same understanding, supportive, caring heart.

I don’t know about the whole reap what you sow thing, because life has dealt her a crappy and painful hand several times.

But I am confident that when you have that goodness inside that she does, that everything will be okay. That you will continue to make a life worth living. That you will continue to build friendships worth having. That you will continue to find your way, and choose your path. That while life may be ugly and painful and hard, you will be the type of person that responds, that works through it, and that decides to love life again.

And that is really what matters above all else. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you or those around you in life, but you do get to choose how to respond. When pain shows up, will you step in? Will you give up or keep trying. Will you choose to love life again and again and again?

Life may not always be easier for good people, but it is more beautiful and more worth loving when you’re the type of person who steps in.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, December 09th, 2014 | Author:

medium_142324601photo credit: [phil h] via photopin cc

“Don’t tell them that you’ll keep in touch,” she said to us. “Because you won’t.”

One of the school administration was talking to the group of 5 of us from the US who were brand new to the school and were there for the semester as study abroad students. We were at a small (read: 25 students) university on the border of Switzerland and Germany. The rest of the students were from Europe. This admin gal was giving us a new student orientation, and she herself was American. But I was taken back by this strong command.

“What?” I asked. Maybe I had misunderstood.

“Don’t tell them that you’re going to be friends forever or that you’ll stay in touch or that you’ll come back and visit. It happens every year, and the thing is that while you might think you mean it, you don’t. Not to their standards. Keeping in touch once a year is not keeping in touch. So don’t promise anything like that.”

This started me out on a sour note at the school. But soon, I forgot her words as I was swept away by how much I enjoyed my new friends at the school. The whole place was a dream — we did school together and played together, we cooked together and ate together, we lived together and did chores together. It was this tight-nit incredible community and I loved being there. I even decided to stay for another semester as one didn’t feel like it would be enough. I didn’t want this community, this season of my life with these people, to end yet. So I delayed the inevitable.

But too soon, the second semester at the Switzerland school flew by, and before I knew it, it was December. We had Christmas parties and talent shows and went to Christmas Markets (Wienachts markts) and then we had a week left. Then a few days. Then it was the night before I was to leave, and the swine flu was sweeping through our little community like wildfire. Most everyone caught it in that last week.

And the last night before I had to leave, I remember sitting on my friend Bekky’s bed as she laid there miserably. She’d caught it a couple days prior and was already in the deep throws of it. Luckily I had just caught it just that day so I was in the beginning stages and could still be up and around and go around to everyone’s rooms to say goodbye.

I was sitting on the edge of her bed, and she was telling me about how our friend, Gideon, had taken her for a walk and professed his love for her and she was freaking out about it. She’s married to the man now, but at the time this was brand new information and she didn’t know what she wanted.

I remember those moments of sharing one last piece of important life turns amid the regular-life things like being sick. I got up to leave, and hugged her and my friend Sara who was hanging out with us, and they asked the question: Will you come back to visit? I remembered the Admin’s words, and made a decision that I would mean what I said: “Yes. I’m not sure when. But I promise I’ll come back.” And then I left them in tears, returned to my room to finished packing and sleep. I cried my sick self to sleep that night.

In the following weeks, “normal life” didn’t feel normal anymore. It was the first time I’d ever permanently moved away from a place, and it was a feeling of loss I can only describe as grief.

But what happened was that grief pushed me to stay in touch with my close people there — something I’d never been great at prioritizing before. The upswing of facebook helped severely, but it was the first time when I learned how to truly maintain relationships across such great distances. Coming from such a steady small-town upbringing, I had been used to just leaving for a month or two at a time for college, and then coming back and catching up with everyone, then repeat. But I had begun to realize that that only really worked with those long-standing life-long friendships from home. And it only worked with semi-regular visits in place. I’d need to do something different this time.

I have a friend I grew up with who’s blog url is TheDistanceIsWhatYouMakeIt.com (“The distance is what you make it” for those of you that struggle reading things like hashtags and urls without spaces). I believe she started the blog when she, too, was leaving for a semester abroad.

This notion, the distance is what you make it, is dead on. I didn’t learn that fully until I came back from my year in Switzerland. And I shake my head at the admin’s advice at the beginning of my first semester: “Don’t tell them you’ll keep in touch. You won’t.”

I’m not saying I’m great at keeping in touch with everyone. Statistically you can only truly have a limited number of people you’re regularly connected with in life. But coming out of that amazing year of community life, I was driven to try to figure out how to do it with at least some people.

And it’s taught me how to continue to do that as I move around in life. As I move around to different places now, it’s a comfort that my relationships are not cemented by time and place.

Just this summer I got to fulfill my promise to visit those friends Bekky and Sara (and 8 others) again for the first time in 5 years, and it was amazing to be there with them and to feel how incredibly normal it felt to be friends in person still.

My friend Kate told me once, “I think everyone collects something: You collect stories and people.”

And as I’ve continued on in life, and continue to get to know people and want to continue friendships with them even when there’s distance, I think she’s right. As I’ve moved around, I have less friends in every day life as I’m breaking into these new places, but I continually have many close friends all over. And I’m content with that, because my friend’s blog url is right:

The distance is what you make it.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Author:

It’s odd, because this is now the end of November, and for a month that is usually saturated in social media posts about thankfulness, I actually have only seen 2 posts of the sort this month. The month has flown by for me, and without being intentional to cultivate gratitude in my heart in this season, it has almost passed me by. Except, for no November reason, last night I found myself thinking about how grateful I am for one specific type of people in my life.


Confidence has always come naturally to me. For example, as a two-year-old I distinctly remember being so upset my first time riding a horse because they wouldn’t let go of the reins and let me do it myself. I was sure I knew how to gallop, even, by myself, and that I had the situation under control. Sometimes I have self-doubt, or am uncertain about my body or my skill or the way I measure up to others when I play that ugly comparison game of life — but for the most part it’s just come naturally. Not in a cocky way, either, I would say, though it can come off that way.


But I’ve been changing, growing, breaking and healing a lot over the past couple years, but part of what’s been broken that I haven’t looked in it’s glaring eye is the fact that I am no longer naturally confident in myself in many ways. I have kept up the confident charm, almost out of habit I think, but this past week two different close friends called me on it. One sensed my laughter and doubt under my tones of false confidence, and it was painful to realize that as she said, “You ARE amazing, you know that don’t you?” I couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“Look at me,” she said sternly as she watched me involuntarily look down when hearing her words.

I looked up at her, met her eyes, and with pain that I couldn’t explain said, “Please. Don’t.”

“No. We’re doing this. Look at me,” she pushed.

“We’re in public, celebrating, and I have mascara on my lower lashes. When I cry, it’ll run,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could.

“You’ll cry?” She was taken aback.

“Please,” I could feel the tightening of my throat and chest as I sensed her need for me to hear her on what she sees as true and good about me.

“Ok. We’ll talk about this later, then,” she said, and she let it slide as I had asked her to, but she gave me the same look I was subconsciously giving myself — the one that asks ‘Who is this person who can’t accept the good truth about herself without pain?’ She certainly wasn’t someone who was always this way.


Then later in the week, another good friend called me on it, too. “Look at me,” sounded out again as my eyes found their downcast way as if on command when my friend tried to affirm me. Several times, persistently the call of “look at me” washed over me and a gentle finger lifted my chin up to meet the gaze of someone who knows me and affirms me. Again, it was painful, but so necessary for me to hear those words of affirmation, for me to be forced to look at what’s good in me when I forget that there is anything there that’s good sometimes.

I am so grateful that I have a few close friends who see me, really see me, and who persistently want to remind me who I am — what I am — when I don’t remember, when I don’t feel that way. I’m  grateful for these kind of people in my life who don’t just let me look down, but lift my face to meet theirs as they remind me of what’s true.

A long while ago, I wrote a poem with this line in it: “Grace stings the wounded soul like hydrogen peroxide on a skinned knee. The cleansing hurts.”

That’s the image I got again with these friends this week. I am thankful for people who are full of the hydrogen peroxide of life, and who continue to help me clean this metaphoric skinned knee inside of me.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, September 02nd, 2014 | Author:


About six years ago now, I left my college, and then left my hometown to study abroad at a small school in Switzerland.  And I mean small. I thought that I had read or been told that it was a school of about 500 people. “That’s pretty dang small,” I had thought.  The two people I knew of who had studied or worked there both raved about how amazing of a place it was.

That, plus it’s physical address and the fact that it was small was all I knew of the school when I decided that I would study there the next semester.

It wasn’t until two days before I left for the semester abroad that people were asking me more about the school and I realized I really didn’t know anything. So I ended up googling it, and looking at it on google maps and seeing that it was right across the street from the Rhine River — awesome — and across some fields from the dense German forest — that would be fun — and then I saw, it’s in a tiny village, literally one street runs through the town. One street. Small freak out moment.

Then I was reading some more on the school website. And somewhere it mentioned it’s school body of “approximately 50 students.”

If you’re not great at math, let me do it for you — 50 is a lot less than 500. A LOT less. I had already suspended my enrollment in my regular university. I had already paid for the semester abroad and had already bought plane tickets. And seemingly didn’t have any other option but to go.  But when I learned that there were only 50 people really did make me panic.

“What if there are no cool people in the 50? What if I won’t make any friends? What if I’m miserable?” I had asked a friend of mine rhetorically, panicking. I often agree to do things that I don’t know a lot about. I suppose it’s the adventurer in me and my keen sense that I will be able to adapt no matter what.

But when I learned how few students there were, and realized how extremely little I knew about the whole living-4-months-in-a-foreign-country thing, I did experience some anxiety.

When I arrived, I found there were actually only 25 students, and they were varied, and interesting, and difficult, and wonderful people to study and live and be with. Two buildings held our entire lives. We lived in that one-street village, Buesingen, and we were each other’s peers, and study partners, and roommates, and dinner guests, and movie-watchers, and walk-takers, and river-swimmers. We were all from elsewhere, but all we had there was one another.

It only took 3 days for me to feel like I was at home. Something I had never felt anywhere besides in my hometown where I had been born and raised. It took 3 days for me to decide that one semester wouldn’t be enough. And quickly I found a way to work for the school to support my dream for one semester to become a year.

But still, one year is not a lot. That was one of the unique features of the school in Buesingen — every semester held some new faces and lost some old ones. Even in a school body of 25 students, there was turnover.

I asked one of the students there at the very beginning how she handled that turnover. “You are so sweet and welcoming. How do you do this? Becoming friends with new people every semester?”

“Well,” she said matter of factly, “you have to make a decision every semester. Don’t let new people in, or choose to have your heart ripped out every semester. I choose the latter.”

I am so glad that I asked her that. Because while she, and the others who embraced me so well there taught me so much about how to connect, they also taught me so much about goodbyes. And see you laters. And see you soons. They taught me that it’s an art form and a discipline to open your heart even knowing that the hurt of separation will come shortly. And they taught me that it was worth it. They were practicing vulnerability before Brene Brown made it cool, and they were doing it without the label. But what’s true is that because they were welcoming and open, and because I was the same, we forged friendships that still have lasted over the span of continents and oceans and years.

I recently was able to return to Europe and see, not all, but many of my good friends from my time there. It was so good to be with them again after 5 years since our goodbyes. I know that we are still friends because we decided the hurt of goodbyes with close friends was a worthy price to pay for good friendship.

As I said goodbye to them this time, my throat hurt again. And as I moved away from Rocklin earlier this week, I said more goodbyes. And as I camped with people from home this weekend, I said more goodbyes to them as I am moving to another state within the week.

And yet somehow, the goodbyes are still worth it.

I used to think this was a curse that I kept feeling led to live a life of comings and goings. I felt jealous of those who never had to say goodbyes.

But, I have such a different perspective now. I agree with the ever-wise Winnie the Pooh.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I’m about to embark on another adventure that I know nothing about. I know that in the comings and goings, I will have to decide to keep closed, or to open myself and have my heart ripped out. I choose the latter. And I’m confident that it’s worth it.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, July 01st, 2014 | Author:

Recently I was with one of my friends, and we were talking about working out, and summer, and diets, as many conversations between women go. And then she said it: “I’ve just been feeling so bad about myself recently. I haven’t even wanted to leave the house.” I was pretty shocked to hear those words coming from my beautiful, strong, fun friend’s mouth. “What?” I said. “Why?”

She went on to talk about feeling bad about her weight and body, something I believe 90%+ (if not all) women are familiar with feeling sometimes. Still, as her friend, with eyes outside of her own, I have never not seen beauty in this girl. She is one of those girls where I already feel happy for whatever man she ends up with because she is such a catch. If I’m honest, she’s one of my most favorite people.

And here she was, talking about having avoided going into public. My heart sank, but it also resonated with her.

I remember a time when I was at the end of my year studying abroad in Switzerland. There were only 25 students in the entire school, and we all lived in the same building and did life together pretty much all the time. We had class together, meals together, homework together, watched movies together, went on adventures and vacations with each other. We were, I imagine, about as close-knit as a group of people from all different countries could become.

At the end of my second semester there, it was Christmas time 2009, and we were having a school christmas dinner and talent show. The semester was wrapping up and I had much on my mind and my plate: finishing school assignments, packing my life back into two suitcases, finishing up work for my job there. And I was pushing the envelope on trying to get many of these things done right before the Christmas dinner.

As others had started to get ready I had kept working until it was about 10 minutes till the start. I was about to go down to the dinner when I realized that everyone was dressed very fancy. It was a formal dinner, and I hadn’t realized that before.

My hair was not done (it either needed to be washed and air-dried curly, or needed to be curled with a curling iron… the curse of the in-between wavy/curly hair). My make up was not done. I didn’t really have anything to wear. And on top of it all, I had the stress and emotions of finishing one of the best years of my life, and facing goodbyes I did not want to make.

The realization that it was a formal dinner just pushed me over the edge. Like my friend, I didn’t want to leave my room. I didn’t feel beautiful. With the people who were so close to me, whom I was so comfortable around, and whom I had never once tried to impress before… all of a sudden I didn’t feel beautiful enough, I didn’t feel fit to go. And I was going to let that stop me from spending the last night all together with these people who I had come to care for so deeply.

Because thats what happens when we lose sight of the beauty that’s in us — we begin to withdraw, to isolate, because we don’t feel fit to share in life with others in whom we can see beauty.

It took the prodding and convincing of two of my best friends to make me go. They helped me figure out that I had something that would kind of work to wear. And they convinced me my hair was fine. They waited while I did a very quick makeup job to get some of the shine off my forehead. And it really was a wonderful evening. I still didn’t feel beautiful when I entered, but by the time I left the evening, I had forgotten about what was beautiful and what wasn’t altogether. I was welcome. I was known. I was loved. And that seemed to be all that mattered once I got down there.

I’m convinced that beauty has less to do with looks, and more to do with being loved, being accepted, being welcomed, being known. And about extending those same things to others.

My friend that I mentioned as beautiful before — in looks she truly is. But so are lots and lots and lots of people. What makes her SO beautiful is the way she smiles and laughs. The way she cares so deeply. The way she makes me feel welcome and loved. And the way that she is welcomed and loved by those around her.

The thing about beauty is that we can see it in others much more often than we, as women especially, can see it in ourselves. We need to make sure that we are mirrors that show others their beauty. We need to make sure that we are the friends that draw a beautiful girl out of her room or her house and bring her into places where her beauty both shines freely and simultaneously doesn’t matter anymore in her mind because she is so welcomed and accepted. We need to make sure we surround ourselves with people in our life who will be mirrors to us when we forget our own beauty.

Beauty, when mirrored, is magnified. When you act as a mirror, your own beauty shines brighter too. Because, beyond looks, beauty is that something special within us that is able to both be loved and to love; both to be welcomed and to welcome; both to be known, and to know; both to be accepted and to accept another. Beauty can’t exist fully in isolation. It blossoms in the presence and relationship with others.

It’s no coincidence that the most beautiful people I know are those whose mirrors shine others’ beauty the brightest.

You, you reading this. You are beautiful. You are lovely. May you find the friends who are mirrors to continually show you that. And may you be a mirror to show the beauty of others.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 | Author:

Want to know my secret?

I plan to be adventurous and spontaneous.

In fact, my whole life is in preparation to be able to make those spontaneous, adventurous moments possible.

I stay in shape so that I can do fun active things at a moments (or days or weeks) notice.

I save my money into an nondescript “non-designated adventure fund”. (I also have many designated saved funds for specific big, longer-planner trips/activities.) This way I can make the decision to use these for-whatever-i-want adventure funds when opportunities arise (or when I create them).

I save my vacation time and my sick days and I plan ahead the most lucrative ways to use my time off (and my general free time). So when someone becomes my friend and is like, “Hey, let’s go to Europe next month,” I can be like, “yeah, I’ve got vacation days for that.”

I also try not to procrastinate, as I know that this leads to lack of accessibility for adventure. When I’ve put something off too long, and then the chance for adventure knocks, I’m left having to decide to be responsible and do you work, or say yes to the adventure. But if I do my work ahead of time, I can do both. In fact, when I do my work ahead of time, then I have the room in my schedule to be able to look around and ask “What fun thing could I do right now?”

The saddest part about procrastination is that I am most guilty of doing meaningless things with my time while I wait for the deadline to approach.  In college I made a mental shift. I knew I was going to procrastinate either way (I hadn’t overcome this tendency AT ALL yet), so I decided that instead of pretending that I was going to do my homework, I would just decide that I wasn’t going to start it until a later time.  That freed me up to really enjoy and use my time wisely until then. However, I would still argue that it gives you more freedom if you do your work earlier rather than later.

I know who might want to go with me on spontaneous things. It’s always valuable to invite a buddy along, even if they don’t end up being able to come.

And lastly, I say no to a lot of other things so that I have the time, the physicality, the funds, the freedom to say yes to the really great opportunities that come my way (even though sometimes that means saying no to other great opportunities to get there). I always remember that saying yes to something means saying no to something else.

So I practice that when planning to be spontaneous and have adventures.  And then when it happens, it all feels like it falls together so smoothly, it’s almost easy to forget that my life is structured in a way that the hard work is done up front so that the adventure can just be that — adventurous and fun.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 | Author:

powells bookstore card

I was in the famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland, spending over an hour browsing through their cards-and-quirky-things section when I pulled up one of the last cards that caught my eye, and it made me freeze.

In the middle of Powell’s, I could see people meandering around, chatting, browsing, loading their arms and their baskets with books, and I was paralyzed with gratitude. The card in my hand was plain white with a simple, dark-faded-to-light blue font. It’s message was simple: “I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. -Edgar A. Guest”

And just like that, I was that emotional lady in the greeting card aisle. The memories started bubbling up and brimming at the rim of my eyes: the faces, words, touches, presence of the people who have been a friend to me. And I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.

It was this beautiful mosaic of love flashing before my eyes showing me that in the midst of what has often felt like a life of brokenness and heartache, I am blessed. I am so blessed.

I have had people face shame with me, literally hand in hand. I have had friends who physically held me when I so desperately needed someone to, but didn’t even have the words to ask for it. I have had people who brought me comfort food in the dark hours. Friends who call me several times over the course of days and weeks, and when I don’t answer their calls, they aren’t deterred, they keep calling, keep checking in.

I have had friends who have made midnight drives when I needed them, friends who have flown to other continents to vsiit and adventure, friends who have loved me not because of what I do, but because of who I am and the fact that they decided to be my friend.

I’ve had friends who let me share my painful moments with them. Who, when I say honest things like, “I don’t know how to do this,” have responded honest things like, “You’re not supposed to know how.”

Friends who watch FRIENDS with me when it’s too hard to cope with the heaviness of life. Friends who make me laugh. Friends who let me cry (and some who cry with me). Friends who are honest with me about their own crap. Who journey with me. Who support me and let me support them. Who accept me, enjoy me, and make me lovable through the process of loving me.

And in the card aisle, as I wiped away the sweet tears of gratitude, I put the card back, because I couldn’t afford to buy it for every one of the people I had thought of in those moments. But as I moved from that spot into the rest of the store, I felt like it was time for me to make a move in my heart — a move from gratitude to fruitfulness. Like the card says, I want to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. I am so blessed by these people throughout my life. But it’s time I started to be a blessing to them, and others too.

Thank you for blessing me, and for showing me how incredibly powerful it is to be loved by a friend like you. And thank you for modeling how to be that kind of friend. Some of you may never read this, but you have shaped my life, and now you’re shaping my heart. I thank God for you.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon